Thursday, September 27, 2007

Separate AND Equal

I want to preface these thoughts by stating that I am a lesbian and I passionately support the work of the Human Rights Coalition and any other organizations working to establish and insure equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

My partner of 24 years and I were legally married in April of 2004. In March of 2005 the Oregon Supreme Court annulled our marriage and those of more than 3,000 other couples. It was a devastating decision.

That same year I testified before the Oregon State Legislature in support of Senate Bill 1000 which would have granted civil unions rights and responsibilities to gay and lesbian Oregonians.

In May of this year (thanks in great measure to the hard work of Basic Rights Oregon) the Oregon Legislature passed both a statewide anti-discrimination law (fully inclusive of transgender people) and the most "marriage-like" domestic partnership bill in the USA.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has the potential to extend those same protections (at least on paper) to lesbian, gay and bisexual people at the Federal level. There is however, a significant difference between the Oregon law and the dismembered version of ENDA that the House of Representatives is currently considering.

After all of the debate, haggling, re-writing, negotiation, conservative rhetoric, Evangelical intolerance, political lobbying and rampant homophobia, it appears that transgender inclusion in ENDA is the deal breaker. According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Barney Frank, transgender inclusion in ENDA would be "asking for too much" at this point in history.

Our 'friend' Barney Frank said the following in response to the potential removal of transgender inclusion from ENDA:

"I think the notion that we should let the whole bill die if we can't pass [a] transgender [provision] is a terrible idea." Frank points to the Civil Rights Movement as a template. Black justice, he said, "...was won incrementally, not all at once with one law."

I'm going to be blunt here. Barney is, on this issue at least, a duplicitous back-stabbing political weasel with a distinct lack of understanding when it comes to the art of analogy.

The Civil Rights Movement is only a template if there are examples of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders having excluded dark-skinned blacks from civil rights victories because "asking white America to accept dark black Negroes is too much to expect at this time." It's only a template if, at ANY point in that struggle, Dr. King, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, Thurgood Marshall or James Groppi promised to "come back later" for dark skinned blacks once their lighter skinned brothers and sisters had reached the promised land.

Transgender children, youth and their families don't want anyone to "come back for them"...because they don't deserve to be left behind in the first place.

Mr. Frank...while the brain chemistry of transgender and gender non-conforming people may be different from yours, they are not BRAIN DAMAGED. They are, according to some researchers, statistically smarter than the average bear. And while many transgender people are children and youth, most of them were not born yesterday. They didn't fall off the turnip truck nor are they interested in buying beach front property in Death Valley.

As my gift to you I offer this analogy, which I believe works within the context of the Civil Rights Movement. You have my permission to repeat this as often as possible.

It's time for transgender people to refuse to surrender our seat to the politically expedient demands of "friends" and "allies" like Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi, among others. It's time for them to say "thanks for the lift" to the so-called leadership of the LGB community, but the T will no longer be content to ride in the back of the acronym bus.

Two weeks ago today I sat in the audience and listened to Joe Solmonese tell an audience of nearly 900 transgender and genderqueer men, women and their allies that the HRC is committed to the trans inclusive passage of ENDA. He looked that audience in the eye and told us that in order to assure passage of ENDA, they were going to bundle it with the Defense Appropriations Bill, thereby putting Mr. George Bush under considerable pressure to not veto it.

Mr. Solmonese told us that not only would that increase the likelihood that ENDA would pass, but that it would pass as is.

As I write this, HRC is the ONLY major LGB*T organization that has not voiced it's lack of support for a non-trans inclusive version of ENDA. So much for unity.

I've felt for some time now that, while the modern Gay Rights Movement was established literally on the heels of the (mostly Black and Hispanic) drag queens and transgender women who resisted police harassment at The Stonewall Inn, it is not the best frame or standard bearer for transgender equality.

One of the core components in my education and advocacy work on behalf of transgender and gender non-conforming children, youth and their families is to emphasize that gender identity pre-dates and is completely independent of sexual orientation. Most transgender people are painfully aware of their gender non-conforming feelings or identity years before they develop or express a particular sexual orientation.

Gender therapists, authors, talk show hosts and trans people themselves spend a great deal of time, energy, bandwidth, ink and breath differentiating gender identity from sexual orientation.

How is the relationship between a T-bone steak, a baked potato and butter the same as the relationship between people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual and those who are transgender?

While they are frequently seen together and in many cases share the same plate/space, (the potato and the butter even share the same skin) they are not the same. A trans person and a lesbian can share the same skin, but that doesn't make them identical.

In educating and advocating for transgender and gender non-conforming children and youth, sharing a public identity with the gay, lesbian and bisexual community doesn't really make sense or serve a useful purpose. In fact, for the most part it's a liability.

So...where do trans people go from here?

Trangender people have no choice but to move forward. They move forward politically, socially and educationally in securing full equality and safety for transgender adults and MOST importantly, children and youth.

Transgender citizens move forward by not being held back by those whose loyalty to the lesbian, gay and bisexual community prevents them from either fully understanding the needs of transgender individuals, or from being willing to risk a setback for some in order to assure equal protections for all.

They move forward by overcoming their submissive tendencies and willingness to accept table scraps. Transgender people must insist on sitting at the head of the best table in the house rather than simply being offered a seat at a table near the kitchen.

I started this post by stating that I am a lesbian and that I fully support the work of the HRC and other organizations who are fighting for my rights as a member of the LGB community.

As a lesbian American, I thank them VERY much for their commitment to the passage of ENDA and The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes legislation. It's a truly historic achievement on behalf of all lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans. It will have a profoundly positive effect on the quality of life for millions of my LGB brothers and sisters.

I thank them...and at the same time I must say shame on you.

Shame on you for lying to me and others about your unwavering commitment to trans inclusion. Shame on you for waiting until the eleventh hour to betray transgender people by using the removal of gender identity protections as a bargaining chip with the spineless inhabitants of Capitol Hill.

Shame on you for selling out our transgender children and youth. For trading their future opportunities and safety in order to protect your access as lobbyists to appeasing weasels like Barney Frank and others.

Shame on you for assuring my seat at the front of the bus by throwing transgender people under the bus.

I am a proud lesbian and I cannot find any reason to celebrate the imminent passage of ENDA.

The reason for that is years before I became a proud lesbian I realized that I was transgender.

Tonight I'm sad and giving myself permission to wallow in my own pain. Tomorrow, I need to find a way to put it all behind me. Tomorrow, I will have to explain to 2 transgender children and their parents why their rights aren't important enough to be included in ENDA.

I love my job.


libhom said...

Nancy Pelosi is the one who has engineered all of this. She queer baited Harry Britt to get her House seat and always has been heterosexist.

Pelosi's goal is to divide and conquer the queer community. Everyone knows that Bush will veto any version of ENDA that reaches his desk. Pelosi pressured Democrats to oppose the trans-inclusive version because she wants us too weak and divided to fight for a real bill if Democrats keep Congress and win the White House.

That doesn't let Barney Frank off the hook. He knows he is betraying the queer community, but he is putting his personal political ambitions ahead of his loyalty to his own and any sense of human decency.

The only queer Barney Frank cares about is himself.

Vickie Davis said...

Well said, girl. I was at SCC when Joe said he would back us.

I also went to your afternoon seminar, and fell in love with your mission.