Thursday, April 30, 2009

We matter

Also cross-posted over at Shakesville.

Yesterday was a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me.

I took grim satisfaction that the Library of Congress was ordered to pay Diane Schroer nearly $500,000 in what is the largest award in transgender job discrimination case. (Short version: Schroer, a former Army Special Forces commander, was widely agreed to be the most qualified applicant for a job as a terrorism analyst, but when the woman who offered the job found out that Schroer was transitioning from David to Diane, she had a blatantly transphobic freak-out and yanked the job offer the next day. We're still waiting to see if the Obama administration will appeal the decision.)

I was pleased to see the U.S. House of Representative once again passed a bill expanding anti-hate crimes laws to include both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. (The real test will be when the Senate votes on it.)

I was ecstatic when the New Hampshire Senate unexpectedly passed a marriage equality bill, making that state poised to become the fifth one to allow same-sex marriages.

But there was also some news you probably didn't hear about. That same morning, the New Hampshire senators unanimously -- let me repeat that, unanimously -- voted to kill a bill that would have extended housing and employment anti-discrimination protections to trans people.

This came after the fundamentalist haters used a campaign of bearing false witness lies to portray it as a "bathroom bill" -- a nickname picked up and used by the local media -- that would allow male sexual predators in dresses into women's bathrooms. (Never mind that there's been no bathroom incidents in the 13 states that have similar laws. Or that trans people are already in bathrooms, because you know... sometimes we have to pee too.) Now evidently there was some sort of political maneuvering behind the vote, since even the sponsors voted against their own bill. One of the sponsors said that passing it now would only worsen the situation for trans people because of the way the bill was portrayed. (I guess they had to destroy the village to save it....) But whatever the good intentions, the 24-0 vote wound up sending the message: You don't deserve the same rights as everybody else. You don't even deserve a valient-but-losing effort. You just don't matter.

It was yet another Prop. 8-like moment for trans issues, particularly given the contrast to the same-day marriage equality vote. I feel the same sort of bitter aftertaste to sweet success that I felt on Election Night. I'm beginning to feel like we trans people are human shields, taking the brunt of the anti-LGBT hatred out there while marriage equality is becoming mainstreamed. We're "those people," the ones who can be demonized, the ones who by comparison make the shiny, happy sex-same couples waiting to walk down the aisle looking ever so "normal." Because after all, they're the ones who matter.

You probably didn't hear about the vote, not even in the LGBT media/blogosphere. I guess having a ghost at the banquet is a bit of a downer. (FYI, I know a number of these sites knew about the story because I personally alerted them to it.) The thing is, it's just latest incident in their all-too-frequent deafening silence when it comes to trans-related issues and news. Schroer's victory was also MIA today. A week ago, a jury in rural Colorado took less than two hours to convict the killer of Angie Zapata of first degree murder and committing a hate crime -- the first U.S. hate crime conviction ever in the murder of a trans person. It was the trans communities' equivalent of the Matthew Shepard murder and attracted hordes of attention from the mainstream media. The gay and lesbian media... not so much (with a few notable exceptions) -- even on the eve of the federal hate crimes bill going to a vote. Because apparently the T in LGBT doesn't seem to matter.

But I wouldn't give the MSM a cookie either. All too often their coverage began: "A man who claimed he snapped after discovering a transgender woman was actually male..." -- repeating as fact the exact same self-serving "trans panic" defense, the same "deceptive tranny" victim blaming, that the jury specifically rejected. Nor did they bother to mention that the evidence showed Zapata's killer knew she was trans 36 hours before she died, that there was no evidence that Zapata had sex with him that night she died, that he returned to finish her off when he realized she wasn't dead yet. Because we don't matter enough to get the story right.

I'll admit it, my nerves are a bit raw about this. In the past few weeks, we've seen a feminist blogger crack a tranny "joke" and then tell people who objected to lighten up (and STFU). Because after all, it was about "Mann Coulter" so it was OK. We've seen similar "you're just being too sensitive" comments posted over at Bitch Magazine directed toward those who thought a cartoon about lesbians who fetishize trans men was embodying the very attitudes it supposedly was critiquing. We've seen a series of problems with trans people being silenced in the comments discussions at Feministing and Feministe. (Though to their credit both sites are trying to address the problems.) These problems ranged from plain old privileged cluelessness -- "stop the discussion until someone explains what 'cisgender' means because I can't be bothered to figure it out for myself," to "I want to talk about how I deserve a cookie for being so enlightened about those exotic trans people," to "I know the post was about trans rights, but I want to talk about how I don't like sharing bathrooms with men" -- to insisting that people's lives conform to someone's pet ideology, to outright transphobic attacks. When men engage in this sort of silencing behaviors, especially in feminist spaces, many feminist women are quick to anger and quick to call them on their shit. But when some of these very same women do the exact same thing to trans people... well, not so much. Because we don't matter.

Except, we do.


ginasf said...

The New Hampshire vote was disgusting, a sad moment in our history. The New Hampshire democratic state senators should be ashamed of themselves for being too chicken to stand up and vote 'yes.' And also sad because as so often in past, our 'allies' have ditched us and ran when they couldn't stand the heat.

I feel happy for Diane, but far more concerned about all the underemployed and unemployed transpeople out there. While I lament what happened to Diane, she (and people like Susan Stanton) are actually in quite a privileged position compared to most of the community. I don't think our situation is worse now than it was several years ago. In fact, with Obama in office and the democratic majority, I think inclusive ENDA passing is almost a certainty as is the hate crimes bill. As with all freedom movements, for every push forward there is a recoil from elements of society resisting it.

proudprogressive said...

Wow Lena , just wow, another spectacular post, no small wonder you are on your next to last nerve..thank you for the post, the links , for doing all the work you do for all of us.

just sending you some love , pptg

and yes we do matter and hopefully that bill they killed will be brought up again - i suspect the timing was too much after the marriage bill - don't get me wrong i am all for marriage equality but frankly without Hate Crimes and ENDA we do not have a solid foundation - it is my point of view that ENDA and Hate Crimes legislation are THE MOST important cornerstone of the lgbtq liberation struggle.

proudprogressive said...

oh an after thought here and a if this case is illustrative of anything..its this to me at least : we need to get Hate Crimes passed THIS SESSION and be prepared to wait until next session for ENDA because of precisely this effect. The conservatives and even the dImocrats feel they will recieve too much back lash - with patience though we will succeed. Believe me like many i wanted ENDA yesterday - don't like the idea of waiting but fear a backlash similiar to exactly to what your post documented.

i also agree with ginasf - we have to keep on eye on our "allies" and the heat they are subjected to. And always realize that our battle is a battle that ultimately encompasses class, priviledge and the politicians never really have cared much about the non franchised. Money talks, and all that.

However ...all that aside we will win full equality and soon , yes very soon esp compared with other historical civil rights struggles.

VĂ©ronique said...

Lena, I did see plenty of links to the 24-0 New Hampshire vote, in all kinds of media.

However, I agree about media coverage of the Andrade trial. The jury decided that case based on the evidence the prosecution presented, yet you'd think from reading articles that the only evidence was the lies that Andrade presented and which were discredited. That's disgusting, irresponsible journalism. And then there was the legal commentator who said the jury had made a politically correct but legally incorrect decision. Which trial was she watching? Did she even bother to take all the evidence into account? Thankfully, the jury did.

Victoria S. said...

Hi Lena - Just wanted to say, "Great commentary!" I wish I could give you a hug in person. Victoria Stuart, Vancouver, B.C., Canada (;

Victoria S. said...

Hi Lena - I just wanted to say, "Great commentary!" I wish I could give you a hug in person. Victoria Stuart, Vancouver, B.C., Canada (;