The Next Civil-Rights Movement [sic]

(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

The Cheat Sheet at The Daily Beast  provides us the following:

The Next Civil-Rights Movement

The 700,000 or so transgender people in the United States are, Eliza Gray writes in The New Republic, “some of the least protected, most persecuted people in the United States.”  One transgender person is murdered each month; more than one-third have attempted suicide; more than one-quarter say they’ve lost a job due to discrimination.  Gray tracks the story of one particular transgender woman, Caroline Temmermand.  In 2009, at the age of 55, she came out as transgender and soon thereafter began telling her family and children.  Last spring, she organized a vigil for Chrissy Lee Polis, the transgender woman whose attack was caught on video camera after she attempted to use a woman’s bathroom in a McDonald’s. “Transgender people clearly need more protection from our laws and society,” Gray writes. “But they can’t win these victories on their own.”

Welcome to Transgender Americans’ Civil Rights Struggle.  That is the hook The New Republic used to introduce Eliza Gray’s story Transitions, which is in essence is the story of Caroline Temmermand, a county government employee in Virginia who organized the demonstration in Baltimore supporting Chrissy Polis after she was attacked at a McDonalds.

I’d only be honest if my feeling upon first encountering this story weren’t, “Where the Hell have you been?  That’s probably because I have been working on this issue since I began transition in 1992.  It has been a long and often lonely fight, with many fewer successes than failures.  

In this country, civil rights movements have prevailed when they have convinced enough people that a minority is being treated in a way that is fundamentally un-American. For this to happen, people need to see members of a disadvantaged group as human beings before anything else. The gay rights movement, for instance, has made great strides in large part because increasing numbers of people know, or are related to, an openly gay person. For more and more people, gays and lesbians do not seem strange-but the idea of denying them rights does. Such a breakthrough seems unlikely for the transgender movement. According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, there are only around 700,000 transgender people in the United States, compared with around eight million gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.  They are invisible in a way that other minorities are not.

In hopes of solving the invisibility problem, Ms. Gray joined forces with Margy Slattery and TNR art director Joe Heroun to create Breaking Boundaries.

The Constitution’s Equal Protection clause and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender.  But, over the years, the courts have disagreed on whether these protections apply to a person who is born one gender and presents him- or herself as another.  In 2005, the 10th circuit ruled in Etsitty v. Utah Transit Authority that a bus company could fire a male-to-female employee, because it would be a liability to have a person with male sex organs using the women’s restroom.  However, in 2008, the D.C. district court ruled in favor [Schroer v Library of Congress] of a transgender woman whose job offer at the Library of Congress was rescinded after she told her new employer she planned to transition from male to female.  For the first time, a court held that discrimination based on a change in gender is no different from discrimination based on gender.  But, since the Supreme Court hasn’t weighed in, the legal picture remains murky.  “In most circuits, it is at best an open question,” says Shannon Minter, the legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.  “We are nowhere near any national uniformity.”

I’m sure that many of you know the history, but we are assured that not everyone does.  Indeed surveys show that many people think we already have equal rights in most things.  For the history impaired, Ms. Gray included a summary.  ENDA stands for Employment Non-discrimination Act.

When Democrats gained control of Congress in 2006, ENDA had its best chance of passing in years.  But, before the vote, Representative Barney Frank removed gender identity from the bill, arguing the omission would give it a better chance of success.  Hundreds of gay and lesbian rights organizations condemned the non-inclusive bill.  But HRC initially stayed silent.  For a time, {transgender board member Donna] Rose says, the group cut her out, refusing to answer her calls and e-mails.  Then, according to Rose, at a meeting to decide HRC’s position, Solmonese argued that Frank’s incremental strategy was the fastest way to get an inclusive bill.  After a divided vote, the board backed the gay-only ENDA.  Afterward, Rose felt forced to resign.  “There was never an intention of throwing transgender people under the bus,” says David Smith, a senior staff member at HRC.  “The decision was made to get to the most expeditious route to get an inclusive bill.”

But there was no question that the ENDA debate had exposed a rift.  Writing in Salon, John Aravosis, a gay man, accused trans people of threatening gay rights.  “When we are asked-well, told-to put our civil rights on hold, possibly for the next two decades, until America catches up on its support for trans rights, a lot of gay people don’t feel sufficiently vested in trans rights, sufficiently vested in the T being affixed to the LGB, to agree to such a huge sacrifice for people they barely know.”

That feeling exists even among so-called progressive and liberal web-voices.  Just the other day a commenter posted the following:

It’s frequently said that gender and orientation are different issues. I would like to separate them legally and politically.

Cui bono?  For whose benefit?  I asked him how, as a lesbian transwoman, I was supposed to divide myself?

I talked to one member of Congress who voted for the hate crimes bill in 2009 and got beat up over it by his constituency. His staff person said to us, ‘[He is] looking for an excuse not to vote for ENDA, so we are going to use the recent addition of gender identity as an excuse. Nothing personal.

–Mara Keisling, executive director, National Center for Transgender Equality

Sigh.  We’ve been a bargaining chip…which is why states that have had legal protections on the basis of sexual orientation for sometimes decades are just getting around to legal protections for transpeople…or not (see NY and MA).  We’ve been a scapegoat.  And now we are an excuse.

Thank you, everyone.  I guess we should check back with you all next century…if not next millennium.

4 comments

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    • Robyn on June 29, 2011 at 9:53 pm
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    …whenever they are passed, but equal employment rights would affect even people who are not in relationships.  If people’s lives are more stable, then they actually will have time to work on relationships.

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