Damn. I hate writing this particular column. Each year I hope this will be the year I can write that trans homicides have subsided, that trans violence has taken a downturn and that we no longer need to gauge progress through the measurement of death and beatings. Sadly, that is again not the case in 2011.
Much has been written about the upcoming revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the volume often called the “psychiatrist’s bible.” This is the main tool wielded by alleged gatekeepers who so often smugly deign to diagnose those of us who have self-defined gender and/or sexuality. Not all clinicians fit into this categorization, but enough do that the situation remains problematic.
Upon my return from traveling on Tuesday, July 19, I found my inbox flooded with news that a dear friend had passed on. I can’t say that I knew Pamela Jones nearly as well as I would have liked, yet she and I shared many far-ranging conversations and I always felt her to be a kindred spirit.
My dear friend Robyn is forever reminding me that it’s a trap to focus solely on trans related stories which only serve to accentuate the trans-person-as-victim narrative. I hope this will redeem me; this is my personal success story!
Over the past two years, many state and local jurisdictions have enacted laws making discrimination against trans individuals illegal. That’s the good news. The bad news is that those who would prefer to keep discrimination alive and kicking (not hard to figure out who these people are) have a new tactic; well, not really new, but one they’ve taken to exploiting as fully as possible. It’s the kind of effort one might describe as extreme, yet as many on the religious right have become desperate as they continue to lose the battle over hearts and minds. And we all know desperation foreshadows crazy tactics.
One Maryland trans activist called it a “perfect storm.” Barely a week after the state’s proposed Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act died in committee, a brutal and unconscionable attack on a Baltimore-area trans woman occurred at a local McDonalds restaurant. This event captured the nation after the video of this unprovoked beating went viral. Sadly, this was not a one-in-a-million occurrence or even one in a thousand. This kind of brutality has become virtually commonplace. You can bet that everyday, somewhere, a trans person is in the midst of a verbal and/or physically violent attack.
In many states, if a bill has not been passed through committee by a certain juncture, it’s considered dead. Such was the fate of Maryland House Bill 235, the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act. This highly contentious bill garnered some support, but was also deemed by many to have been constructed with inappropriate language. Championed by Equality Maryland, National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), as well as by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), it mandated protections for trans individuals with respect to employment, housing and credit. Conspicuously missing, however, was one critical component of anti-discrimination legislation: public accommodations.
I don’t expect this to be the most popular column I’ve ever written. In fact, this will probably be deemed contentious and recalcitrant. I know how important the issue of marriage equality is to many within the gay and lesbian communities. You may have wondered why some of your trans friends are turning their collective backs regarding this issue. It’s not that we don’t support the general agenda of equal rights. We do. And, it isn’t that spousal equality doesn’t affect trans individuals. It does.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s (NGLTF) and National Center for Transgender Equality’s (NCTE) survey has been percolating for the last 12 months. Finally, groups have released findings from the most comprehensive survey ever directed toward the trans community. The results are seriously disturbing. Suffice it to say, preliminarily, that standards of living and working for trans identified individuals are well below national averages. And, suicide rates are soaring.
Words have consequences. That’s what Gabby Giffords said before the tragic events in Tucson had transpired. Words have consequences. That’s what many of us in the LGBT community think, as well. Spend just one November evening remembering our dead on the Transgender Day of Remembrance and it’s crystal clear that language all too often leads to violence.
I hate that it’s so easy to get source material exposing the bigotry still alive and well in this state. Within a span of 12 days, three stories made news, right here in North Carolina. Another appeared on their heels. They’re indicative of how much animus, intolerance and downright hate still exists in this state vis-à-vis trans and LGB issues. I sometimes have to wonder if we’ve made much headway in the court of public opinion. Given that real change is usually a grassroots kind of thing, watching how social mores evolve gives us insights into how tolerance and diversity evolve. Judging by these letters and articles, it would seem that we’re still living in the dark ages.
With all the topics you’d think would be open for discussion in the trans community, it seems we always get stuck on a certain few: bathrooms, nomenclature, ENDA and trans etiologies. I presume the reason is that we’ve made the least progress in these specific areas. This time I’m recycling the “passing” issue.
It’s been about a year since we lost Christine Daniels, the Los Angeles Times sportswriter who transitioned and later killed herself (read my post column on the topic at goqnotes.com/4549). After reading the LA Weekly article, I was devastated — perhaps one of hundreds who innocently subjected her to pressure for advocacy. I suspect she would not have wanted us to feel remorse, yet her death, along with the latest bullying-provoked suicides, has once again called me to re-examine the taking of one’s own life. But, there’s another reason, too.
By a very rough estimate, since January I’ve counted 19 instances of hate crimes perpetrated against trans individuals resulting in death, worldwide. These are the lives we recall and commemorate each year on Nov. 20, the annual Trans Day of Remembrance. These are the lives that have been tragically snuffed out prematurely because of hate and fear and ignorance.