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January 2006 Newsletter
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
by Mara Keisling, NCTE Executive Director
|Mara Keisling, NCTE's Executive Director|
2005 was a remarkable year for trans-inclusive legislation at the federal and state levels. We’re delighted to have so many victories to celebrate. While we continue to face challenges from those who oppose us, we are looking forward to 2006 being another strong year for civil rights for transgender people.
NCTE has been diligently focusing on federal legislation to protect transgender people from employment and other discrimination. We have also put significant effort into introducing a federal hate crimes bill that explicitly includes gender identity and expression. This May, after we were told for years that Congress would never introduce an explicitly inclusive bill, Congressman John Conyers introduced H.R. 2662, which for the first time had new language to cover anti-transgender crimes (previous versions of the bill used “actual or perceived gender” – a term too vague to cover anti-transgender crimes with certainty). This bill is truly historic and I was fortunate enough to be asked to share a microphone with Congressmen Conyers, Frank, Shays and Congresswoman Baldwin at a news conference announcing the bill. Within a few months, the historical significance was amplified when the bill passed the House of Representatives by a wide margin: 223-199. That bill is now bogged down in the Senate, but we’re getting there.
The holy grail of trans-related federal legislation is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which is also progressing nicely, though not as quickly. We have been working actively with a coalition of LGBT and other progressive groups to draft an ENDA that will include all LGBT people and be something we can all be proud of. We have been meeting regularly with key Congressional supporters and we expect a bill to be introduced this Spring. Related to this, as you probably have seen, NCTE teamed with the Human Rights Campaign to place ads in Roll Call (a congressional newspaper) aimed at educating Congress on the need to pass a strong trans-inclusive ENDA—another example of NCTE collaborating to accomplish something we might not have been able to afford to do alone.
We would never try to take all of the credit for how well our federal legislative agenda is progressing—so much goes to the hundreds or thousands of trans people and allies around the country doing the day-to-day education work as well as to numerous allied organizations in DC and elsewhere—but there is little doubt that NCTE’s presence and collaborative spirit are making a huge difference.
Other Federal Policy
Clearly, there is much more policy activity in Washington, DC that impacts transgender people than just legislation. A few additional areas in which we have become involved include:
Of particular concern this year to NCTE and transgender people around the country is the Real ID Act and the requirements it places on states regarding what information must be on driver’s licenses and what information must be stored in a database accessible to every local and state police agency in the country. NCTE has been working overtime to mitigate the damage that this new legislation is already causing for transgender people and others. And, as always, we are working by leveraging our resources through strategic collaboration with very committed allies. In the case of the Real ID Act, we have been working with privacy rights groups, immigration groups and others.
While our focus remains on federal policy, state laws impact federal policy very directly and their passage is pivotal to our efforts in DC. Therefore, whenever possible, we provide technical assistance and expertise to advocates in the states. Inevitably, these same advocates then participate in some federal policy effort arranged by NCTE to further our mutual goals in the nation’s capital—maybe they attend our lobby day in DC or participate in Congressional Education Week, an NCTE program in which transgender people and allies around the country visit and educate their members of Congress back home in their districts.
This has been the best year ever for transgender people at the state level. You may remember that we started the year with four states (California, Minnesota, New Mexico and Rhode Island) with legislatively-created employment protections for transgender people. Five years ago, only Minnesota had such a law. Last year alone, four additional states (Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois and Maine) passed anti-discrimination laws. And, although the governors of Colorado and Hawaii vetoed the bills after they passed the legislature, this shows how far we have come. In December, Washington, DC also unanimously passed a local law.
The New Jersey legislature will be taking up an employment discrimination bill and the prognosis is very good for passage. New Jersey transgender activists are hopeful about passage shortly after the first of the year.
Another two states (Oregon and Washington) came very close to passing trans-inclusive anti-discrimination laws. The bill in Washington State lost by only one vote in the state Senate and, in Oregon, the bill only lost after a last minute maneuver by the Speaker of the House.
Thanks to transgender and allied activists around the country, 2005 has been an amazing year in terms of passing state laws and NCTE is working hard to ensure that the next few years are equally successful. This Spring, we will be hosting a networking and training conference for advocates from the ten states in which there are currently laws protecting gay people but not transgender people.
Our focus has remained solidly on our mission of impacting federal policy and issues of national significance for transgender people. And our primary tools have remained empowerment, advocacy, education and collaboration.
We are very proud that NCTE has been able to significantly leverage our resources by collaborating with allied organizations. Since our founding, we have collaborated with almost every national LGBT organization, many state and local LGBT organizations and other allied organizations. Maybe we don’t get as much credit that way, but we get a whole lot more accomplished for transgender people.
Training on transgender issues conducted at numerous employers, universities, communities of faith and other venues including government offices of NASA and the Central Intelligence Agency.
NCTE has seen tremendous growth this year. We are still incredibly lean by most standards and vastly outspent by those who fight against us, but we are utilizing everything we have as wisely as possible. Highlights
All in all, our Board of Directors has carefully planned our growth in a way that is both aggressive and realistic. We have been meeting these goals and expect to keep meeting them with your help.
Looking to 2006
We have some exciting projects and publications planned for 2006. As noted, our plans are for increased budget and staffing. Assuming that these plans are met with generosity by people like you, we will pursue the following projects among others.
These are all projects that we are very excited about and will implement as resources allow.
I hope that gives you a good idea of what we have been up to and what we are planning for 2006. Please let us know if you have questions about what I have included here or anything you think I may have left out.
I am very proud of all that we have been able to accomplish together. And I really mean it when I say that we simply could not have done it without your generosity. I hope you will consider continuing your support of NCTE.
We face a fairly hostile environment and numerous much better funded adversaries, but with your continued help, we will continue doing our work: educating, advocating, collaborating and empowering. We really are making a difference.
New Laws Take Effect January 1
On January 1, new anti-discrimination laws went into effect in Maine, California and Illinois. These exciting victories extend the rights of transgender people in all three states in new ways. The California laws include a measure banning discrimination by health care companies and service provider plans, while in Maine and Illinois, gender identity and expression have been added to the anti-discrimination laws. A local ordinance was also passed in Northampton, Massachusetts.
California had the most sweeping changes on January 1, with an update of the Civil Rights Act to include gender identity and sexual orientation and the nation’s first law to protect transgender people from insurance discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 2005 extends protections covering public accommodation, including places people work, live and shop, such as malls, homeowners’ associations and restaurants, just to name a few. The bill passed the legislature in August and was subsequently signed by the governor. The Insurance Gender Non-Discrimination Act bans insurance companies and health-care service plans from discrimination against transgender people in creating or maintaining coverage, and was passed in September 2005. Two other laws that increase legal protections to gay and lesbian people were also enacted at the start of the year.
In Maine, a new law now prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression and sexual orientation in public accommodations, housing, employment, credit and education. The law defines sexual orientation as “actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexuality, or gender identity or expression,” and bans discrimination in education, public accommodations, employment, housing and credit. The bill was initially passed in March. Maine is now the second New England state to have explicit protections for transgender people, along with Rhode Island.
In 2005, Illinois achieved what activists have been seeking for decades—a non-discrimination bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. The Human Rights Act bans discrimination in housing, employment and credit. The law was signed by the governor almost a year ago but went into effect on the first of this year. A number of Illinois’ cities had passed anti-discrimination measures but this was the first state-wide law to be enacted there.
On December 16, the city of Northampton, Massachusetts enacted legislation barring discrimination based on gender identity and expression. The city council passed the bill unanimously and it was signed the next day by the mayor. The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) has worked for three years to ensure passage of the law in the western Massachusetts city. In addition to Northampton, similar laws are in effect in Boston and Cambridge.
52 Things You Can Do For Transgender Equality
Achieving our goal of transgender equality requires activism at the local, state and national levels. While NCTE focuses on federal policies, we strongly support and encourage the vital work of grassroots activists. Each week during 2006, we will feature an idea for action that you can take at a local level. Some will be challenging, some will be simple; all are effective ideas and we will include links, resources and thoughts to help you get started. Some are things you can do on your own, while others are ideas for local groups to work on. We hope that you will take on projects that spark your interest and that meet a need in your community as we work together for equality for all people.
New Trans Character to Appear on L Word
The new season of the L-Word, Showtime’s series about lesbians, will have an FTM character, according to the creator and executive producer of the show, Ilene Chaiken. In an interview with Planet Out, she noted that the character will not be played by a man, stating that she finds it disrespectful when other shows have done that. She also said that the show will be exploring gender more in upcoming episodes. You can read the interview at Planet Out
Beyond that little tidbit of information, the show is keeping quiet about exactly what will unfold with their transgender characters. You’ll have to tune in to find out. The L-Word premiered on Sunday, January 8 on Showtime with no sign of the FTM character yet, but the season has just begun.
Puerto Rican Law School Adds Anti-Discrimination Policy
The governing board of the Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico adopted a resolution in December that it would seek to “eliminate all manifestations of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” The measure was spearheaded by the Commission to Fight Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation at the law school, which is located in San Juan. The Commission noted that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and transgender people face widespread discrimination, including the denial of equal relationship rights to couples.
The governing board sent their resolution on to the governor, the heads of the state legislature, the Secretaries of Education and Labor, and the president of the Civil Rights Commission, urging them to enact similar measures on a statewide level.
For those who read Spanish, the original Press Release reads as follows:
COLEGIO DE ABOGADOS DE PUERTO RICO
COMUNICADO DE PRENSA
Contacto: Vanessa Droz
COLEGIO DE ABOGADOS
ADOPTA POLÍTICA INSTITUCIONAL
EL DISCRIMEN POR ORIENTACIÓN SEXUAL E IDENTIDAD DE GENERO
La Junta de Gobierno del Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico aprobó una resolución para adoptar como su política institucional "la eliminación de todas las manifestaciones de discrimen por orientación sexual e identidad de género en la ilustre Institución". La Resolución, la número 25 que aprueba la Junta de Gobierno vigente, reitera, además, el apoyo del Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico a los reclamos de que se erradiquen las manifestaciones de discrimen y desigualdad por razón de orientación e identidad sexual que persisten en Puerto Rico.
La Lic. Ada Conde, miembro y portavoz de la Comisión para Combatir el Discrimen por Orientación Sexual del Colegio de Abogados, indicó que "el prejuicio y el discrimen contra los homosexuales es similar al sufrido por los negros y las mujeres. A pesar de que se trata de puertorriqueños que aportan día a día al bienestar de nuestro pueblo y de que están cobijados por los mismos derechos constitucionales, el Estado, las leyes y las posturas asumidas a nivel público, tanto por los políticos como por muchos hacedores de opinión, toleran y promueven que los homosexuales y lesbianas sean discriminados en el empleo y que las parejas del mismo sexo no gocen de los mismos derechos y responsabilidades que una pareja heterosexual."
Conde explicó que el Censo del año 2000 informó que 6, 818 parejas del mismo sexo residían en Puerto Rico, por lo que el país ocupa la posición número 29 entre los estados y territorios con el mayor número de parejas del mismo sexo reportadas en toda la nación americana. "No obstante", aclaró la abogada, "hay que tener en cuenta que estas cifras solo incluyen aquellas parejas del mismo sexo que se atrevieron a reportar su status".
También informó la portavoz de la mencionada Comisión que la Resolución fue enviada al gobernador, a los presidentes de las cámaras legislativas, al Secretario de Educación, al Secretario del Trabajo y a la presidenta de la Comisión de Derechos Civiles. "Hemos estado trabajando en gestiones encaminadas a reconocer la necesidad de legislar para que se respete la dignidad y los derechos de las minorías sexuales. De igual forma", agregó la Lic. Conde, "la Comisión iniciará una campaña de orientación en los medios de comunicación y con funcionarios clave sobre la necesidad de educar a los ciudadanos en general sobre el respeto y la tolerancia hacia las minorías sexuales y hacia la igualdad de derechos para todos".
Según señala la Resolución, "el discurso tradicional sobre la igualdad da por sentado que las leyes que garantizan iguales derechos han resuelto el problema de la desigualdad y de las violaciones de derechos. El reclamo por el trato igual a que tienen derecho los homosexuales, lesbianas, bisexuales, transexuales y transgénero se diluye mediante expresiones, posturas e inobservancia que soslayan la verdadera dimensión de los obstáculos que confronta este sector de la comunidad por alcanzar el pleno disfrute de sus derechos ciudadanos."
La Comisión para Combatir el Discrimen por Orientación Sexual del Colegio de Abogados insta al Gobierno de Puerto Rico, a las organizaciones privadas, comunitarias y a las asociaciones profesionales a redoblar esfuerzos para fortalecer los procesos educativos y las acciones concretas que permitan a toda la población entender el impacto negativo, tanto social y económico como psicológico, del discrimen por orientación sexual e identidad sexual que afecta nuestra sociedad.
Riker’s Island Closes Facility for Transgender and Gay Prisoners
The New York City Department of Corrections has decided to close a unit dedicated to gay and transgender inmates. According to the New York Times, the department cited security concerns for the very prisoners that the unit was designed to protect. Because prisoners could enter the unit simply by claiming that they were gay or transgender, inmates who wished to prey on the gay and trans populations had an easy way to gain admission.
Prison advocates disagree, however, about whether the change is needed or helpful. New rules proposed by the jail would require an inmate who feels threatened in the general population to apply for protection in a special hearing. If the protection is granted, the person would be subject to rules which would require them to be held alone in their cells for 23 hours a day, just like prisoners who are being disciplined. Since those held at Riker’s are awaiting trial, they have neither been convicted nor sentenced. Activists argue that it would be extremely harsh to use a model designed to hold dangerous prisoners to secure vulnerable prisoners, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
A coalition of eighteen groups has petitioned the city’s officials to reconsider this decision and take different steps to protect transgender and gay inmates.
More information about the issues that transgender prisoners face can be found on Silvia Rivera Law Project website at Silvia Rivera Law Project
Barbie's Gender Issues
A controversy has erupted over a poll on the Barbie.com website. Under a headline reading, “Barbie Promotes Gender Confusion,” Concerned Women for America (CWA) objected to the doll’s site. It allowed children to choose between “I am a Girl,” “I am a Boy,” and “I don’t know” on a poll about favorite winter activities aimed at 4-8 year olds. The director of CWA's Culture and Family Institute, Bob Knight, stated his belief that this was the result of influence by the transgender community and cited concerns that the poll would create “bisexuality gender confusion” among children.
Since then, the website has been changed to give kids the options, “I am a Girl,” “I am a Boy,” and “I don’t want to say.” A spokesperson for Mattel, who makes the popular toy, noted that the point was not to create an issue about gender but simply to give children who visit the site the choice of answering the question or not. Mattel also noted that they only knew about the controversy when they were asked for comment by the media.
Trans Academics Celebrates Three Years
An excellent resource for information is the Trans-Academics.org website. You can find lists of publications, current research projects, active bulletin boards and more. While this site will certainly be useful to academics, those who are not involved in the world of education will also find it helpful. The site is 3 years old and reports that they had 41,419 unique hits last year. Check it out at Trans-Academics.org