Friday, May 28, 2010

Insightful Yet Still Blind: MSNBC Just Doesn't Get the LGBT Civil Rights Movement

I mean, what else could it be? How else can you explain the logic involved in presenting the kind of excellent coverage MSNBC has been doing on Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the virtually absolute silence from the network on its "Big Sister" bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act?

Surely, it can't be about the policy itself. Both efforts if successful would do essentially exactly the same thing: Open the workplace to more LGBT Americans (it should be noted that the repeal of DADT would allow gay and lesbian but not transgender soldiers to serve (read: work) openly in the military, while ENDA's protections for civilian workers would cover both sexual orientation and gender identity). It can't be about the relative impact (and therefore potential audience interest), either. If we're talking sheer numbers, it's absolutely ludicrous to even try to compare those who could be potentially directly affected by the repeal of DADT against the rest of the United States LGBT workforce, most of which would be impacted by ENDA to varying degrees depending on current state and local laws.

Could it be that MSNBC really isn't quite as progressive as some of its pundits like to make it out to be? Well, first and foremost, as with all commercial media, MSNBC exists to make money, to keep you entertained long enough to sit through the next block of commercials, and the next, and the next. That said, however, MSNBC, like Fox News, has chosen a side. While MSNBC is infinitely more even-handed and comprehensive in how they present the news to their viewers than Fox, their choice of which commentators and perspectives run on their air speaks as much to the audience they're seeking to attract as Fox's choices do to theirs.

So what's the real difference between DADT and ENDA for MSNBC? When you get right down to it, there's really only one: On DADT, MSNBC has their very own ratings-generating rock star, Lt. Dan Choi. Lt. Choi came out publicly to great media fanfare on The Rachel Maddow Show, and since then has become the recognized public voice and face of the effort to repeal DADT. Choi and other gay and lesbian soldiers actively or formerly serving in the military have appeared on the network numerous times to tell their stories, thus effectively promoting that effort but also apparently unintentionally ensuring that whatever MSNBC airtime might be devoted to covering the LGBT civil rights movement is virtually exclusively devoted to covering DADT, no doubt to ensure (what NBC believes will be) the maximum ratings boost from the coverage.

When Keith Olbermann got his viewers to donate millions to fund nationwide heath care fairs, MSNBC demonstrated that they understand that the real impact of government law and policy (or the lack thereof) isn't felt most deeply at the highest levels of Washington, but rather at ground level, by the true victims of these failures of government, by average Americans still being squeezed to the bone financially by this "economic recovery" of ours.

What's most interesting here is that it seems that when an issue directly impacts the lives of average Americans like health care or the BP oil spill, MSNBC takes its coverage to "the streets", covering in great detail the efforts being made to help Mom and Pop America deal with this ongoing problem, but when the issue at hand is one that chiefly concerns LGBT Americans, MSNBC heads straight for the big shiny like a crow on meth.

Average Americans in desperate need of health care get the coverage they deserve on MSNBC.

Average LGBT Americans serving in our nation's military and in need of civil rights protections get the coverage they deserve on MSNBC.

Average LGBT Americans in our civilian workforce, a far larger group of American citizens who are just as desperately in need of civil rights protections as our soldiers, don't get so much as even a causal mention from MSNBC.

How does this make any sense at all? How is it consistent? How is it credible? How is it comprehensive? Most of all, how can it possibly be considered progressive?

We in the LGBT media often treat DADT and ENDA as separate stories in our coverage because we cover these issues in far greater detail and with far greater frequency than is generally seen in any straight mainstream newsmedia. Despite that, we know and understand that both of these efforts are really just two aspects of the very same issue: Ensuring full equality in the workplace for all LGBT Americans.

How can it be that MSNBC gets it on health care, gets it on environmental issues, gets it on DADT, gets it on so many important issues, but doesn't get it on ENDA, nor apparently understand how completely it intertwines with DADT? You have to ask yourself if anyone at MSNBC has ever thought to investigate exactly what kind of lives these soldiers will come home to once they've left the service.

All that said, I want to make it clear that this isn't an attack on MSNBC. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm a loyal viewer of both The Rachel Maddow Show and Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and MSNBC is always my go-to channel for coverage of big stories. It's precisely because MSNBC has demonstrated that they can consistently meet such a high standard that I feel compelled to call them out on this and ask why this standard isn't being met in their coverage of the LGBT civil rights movement. In short, we know MSNBC can do better than this because they already are doing better than this on any number of the important issues which fill their airtime. The question that must be asked is why aren't they doing better here?

In the end, it comes down to just one point, one which I hope will resonate with the folks at MSNBC should any of them actually read this, and that point is this: When you focus solely on the shiniest, sexiest part of a story and completely ignore the rest of it, the dirty, unpleasant parts where there are no brass buttons shining in the sun or American flags flying proudly in the background, just the unattractive, unsexy daily lives that most LGBT Americans struggle to live, you then become that which you spend so much of your airtime condemning: Hypocrites.

If it's sauce for Fox, it's sauce for MSNBC.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

JB interview in the School Library Journal..

The School Library Journal did this interview with herself, posted today. I'm hoping it's relevant to what we talk about here. For me, the interesting balancing act is discussing "adult" issues like trans stuff in the context of children's literature. I think the blogger (NYPL librarian and all around mensch Betsy Bird) did a very nice job:

I don't often host folks who've appeared on Oprah, Larry King, The Today Show, and a Barbara Walters Special (just to name a few). Few of the authors I speak to in my interviews have been portrayed on Saturday Night Live by Will Forte. And fewer still are on the judging committee of the Fulbright Scholars. But that's the thing about Jenny Boylan, you see. She keeps you guessing. You don't know what she's gonna do next. Like, say, for example, write a middle grade novel about a boy who, at the onset of adolescence, discovers that he's turning into a monster. That's the premise of Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirroron one level. On another level you have a story within a story that I think a lot of kids are going to be able to identify with. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my supreme honor to introduce to you the newest voice in the children's literary sphere. One, I assure you, that you have not encountered before.

Fuse #8: You are, to the best of my knowledge, the only transwoman to successfully publish a work of children's fiction with a major publisher in the United States under her own name. To say that you are groundbreaking is to put it mildly, and this is but one of your many accomplishments. You've written for numerous periodicals, appeared on multiple television shows, taught creative writing as a professor, and on and on it goes. Care to give us the full background and lowdown on who exactlyJenny Boylan is?

Jennifer Finney Boylan: Well, that makes me sound quite fabulous, I must say. But I guess I just see myself as a storyteller. I know I'm seen as some sort of spokeswoman for civil rights but the only thing I really know how to do is tell stories. Still, that's a good day's work, isn't it?

It's true that being trans has given me the opportunity to tell a particular kind of story that hasn't generally been told, at least not by someone trained as a writer, and I'm grateful for that. It seems to me that we can break through to people with stories in a way that we can't in any other way. My mother has a saying, "It is impossible to hate anyone whose story you know." And so I have tried to tell stories of people who are

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The VA has a New Directive on the Treatment of Transgender Veterans

By Monica F. Helms

The VA has a new directive on the treatment of Transgender Veterans, BUT they won’t release it. This is becoming a theme with the Obama Administration. Tell LGBT people that their issues are important then do nothing to make them a reality. Transgender veterans have decided not to be quiet about this issue any longer.

First, a little history. In January of 2003, the Transgender American Veterans Association was formed with the primary mission to work with the Department of Veteran Affairs to have their medical facilities treat transgender people with dignity and respect.

In 2008, TAVA created a survey where 827 transgender veterans gave us information on all kinds of issues, especially their treatment at the VA. One third of those who took the survey had used a VA medical facility at one time of another. More than twenty percent of them had been mistreated by staff members, other patients, nurses and even doctors. The survey ended on May 1, 2008, and the raw data became public record. The Palm Center put out the White Papers in August.

TAVA was told by a VA insider that the raw data from the survey had reached the Veterans Health Administration, the medical department of the VA, and in June of 2008, they began drafting a directive to rectify the problem. In March of 2009 (after the Obama Administration took over,) the VHA sent a draft of their proposed directive to a few VA medical facilities for review by their transgender veterans. They didn’t contact TAVA or NCTE on this. The draft had misinformation, inaccuracies, incorrect descriptions and disrespectful definitions. It looked bad.

TAVA spent the next month communicating with some of the new people in the VA, some of whom had previous experience with transgender people and their medical issues. They agreed that the problem of mistreatment of transgender veterans needed to be fixed. TAVA felt hopeful that these new people now leading the VA would help us.

In May of 2009, the VHA sent a draft of their proposed directive, called “Providing Healthcare for Transgender and Intersex Veterans,” to NCTE to have them be the point organization in assuring the directive’s language looked correct in every way. With the help of trans lawyers and TAVA, NCTE put together a wonderful directive that would greatly improve how transgender veterans will be treated. The VA received our corrected version in July of 2009.

What the directive does cover is all the things that are available to other veterans, such as psychotherapy for PTSD, mammograms, prostate exams, pap smears and other important medical services, which had been denied to many transgender veterans in the past. This directive does indeed ensure that transgender veterans will be treated with dignity and respect.

I will not show the entire directive, because it may not be the final version. It has three pages total, with one page of definitions, a half page of references and the rest covering what the VA can and cannot do for transgender veterans. The language we will show you is from the draft of the directive we sent to the VHA and may have some tweaking before they release it. Sounds like we stepped into the ENDA territory.

Here are some of the important parts as they appeared in the revised draft:

-- This directive does not apply to patients who receive benefits under the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA).
-- A diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder (GID) is not a pre-condition for receiving care consistent with the Veteran’s self-identified gender.
-- All staff, including medical and administrative staff, are required to treat as confidential any information about a patient’s transgender status or any treatment related to a patient’s gender transition, unless the patient has given permission to share this information.
-- Diversity awareness training, (which educates staff on providing unbiased, respectful care to ALL Veterans) is available to supervisors and employees.

The following has to be said in bold capital letters for the good of those who will try to spread lies about this new directive. “THE DIRECTIVE SAYS THAT THE VA WILL NOT, DOES NOT AND CANNOT COVER SEX REASSIGNMENT/GENDER RECONSTRUCTION SURGERY.” That particular restriction is written into the Public Law that the VA has to follow in order to provide health care for veterans. It cannot be overridden by a simple directive change. However, it might be affected by other recent federal rulings. We’ll have to see.

As I stated, the VHA received our changes in July. They told us we would see it come out in August . . . then October . . . then February . . . and here it is May, a year from when we started making the changes, and still no directive.

To those LGBT people fighting for the repeal of DADT and the passage of ENDA, does this sound familiar? The difference is that this is not something Congress has to vote on. It’s a directive that can be implemented in a heartbeat and not a law that takes time to pass the House and the Senate. What is with the Obama Administration’s VHA when they hold back a simple directive that will instantly help part of the veteran community? I’ll let the conspiracy theorists play with that one. All we ask is to stop sitting on this and put it out to the VA medical facilities. It that so hard?

Since July of last year, when the VA had this directive in their hands, several transgender veterans have contacted TAVA saying that they had been treated badly at the VA, so we know that it could have prevented this if it had been introduced. And, even if these issues happen after implementation of the directive, the veterans would finally have it in hand to give them more clout when talking to the VA Patient Advocate. What is holding up the process? Who in the Administration is preventing this from coming out?

TAVA hasn’t been sitting idle since July. We have faxed a letter to the current DVA Secretary, retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki and his secretary assured us he read it. Nothing happened. In early March, I personally presented the problem to the top administrator for Rep Joe Sestak, a retired Admiral and a champion for veterans’ rights, and Rep Sestak read the information. Sestak then sent me a letter saying he was “investigating and will respond soon.” Since then, he entered the final stages of a Senate race to replace Senator Arlen Specter and won. We hope to hear from him soon.

Other people have spoken to Representatives and Senators on our behalf, including NCTE, but still nothing happens. We wait for people to do the right thing, while transgender veterans have their basic health care denied. This issue will probably not cause a blip on the LGBT radar, and no one will be handcuffing themselves to the front doors of the DVA building. The transgender veterans will have to go it alone on this, as they have all along. The directive will eventually come out. We just hope it’ll be sooner than later.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

RIP Chanel Larkin

I just received some sad news from Michael Munson of FORGE about a local woman who was killed in Milwaukee not even two weeks ago.

Chanel (Dana A. Larkin) was murdered on May 7, 2010. The person who killed her was caught and charged. Chanel was an African-American transwoman who was 26 years old. She was killed in the middle of an exchange of sex for money - shot three times, the fatal shot to her head. It was totally a hate-motivated crime. The person in custody who has admitted to killing her has part of their interaction recorded on his cell phone and the violence definitely ensued after she revealed her trans status.

There was a vigil for her a week ago (5/10/10), a fundraiser to help cover burial costs (5/13/10) and a funeral and burial on Friday (5/14/10).

The funeral was attended by 200-250 people and was rich, kind, respectful, honoring of all aspects of who she was. Her family was there (Grandma is definitely the head of the family and the person she was closest to).

Chanel was an active member/leader in SHEBA (a Milwaukee-based organization for African-American MTFs who have emerged from the gay men's community -- and communities of houses and balls).

You can make a donation to FORGE and indcate how you'd like the funds used.

Here are the two local news reports, both of which suck so bad it's ridiculous: WTAQ radio, TMJ Channel 4.

Today in my Trans Lives class, it just so happens that we were finishing reading Stone Butch Blues in class and discussing Boys Don't Cry; it's the day I usually teach TDOR, its origins, the intersectionality of sex work and race with transphobic violence, disclosure/dating issues, the problems of a hegemonic, violent masculinity based on homophobia, and, of course, the utterly crap way these cases are presented by journalists.

I have to remind myself that I teach this stuff so that it will stop.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Current ENDA Language Regarding Transgender Workers Revealed, Concerns Mount

During his show Sunday night, TransFM founder and host Ethan St. Pierre received a call-in from International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE) Executive Director Denise LeClair, who revealed for the first time what the current language regarding transgender workers and bathroom usage currently being considered by the Congress may mean in a practical, everyday sense.

Among the key points:

* Employers will not be permitted to force a transgender employee to use a bathroom that is opposite of their gender identity, but they also will not be obligated to allow that employee to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, as long as (currently undefined) reasonable accommodations are made. In other words, employers will be allowed to segregate transgender employees and create the modern equivalent of "Whites Only" and "Negro" bathroom facilities specifically intended to exclude Transgender-Americans from the rest of the workforce.

* These rules may only be applied to transsexual employees who are currently transitioning, and those who have already completed the transition process will not be affected. What we don't yet know here is what will be the requirements to be considered as fully transitioned. There is concern that if Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS) is required in order to be considered fully transitioned this will create a situation where those who are healthy enough and can afford SRS will enjoy at least some protections in the workplace, while those transpeople who cannot afford SRS, don't want it, or are not eligible candidates for SRS for medical or other reasons will continue to be denied full civil rights as Americans in perpetuity.

Right now, this is really all we know and it should be pointed out that none of this is carved in stone, all of it is negotiable and probably is being negotiated right now in Congress. This is just a read on what they're currently talking about.

For more of my take on this, check out my new podcast, #13.