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The need for transgender education

by Robbi Cohn Contributing Writer
I have been a guest columnist for Q-Notes on and off for the last couple years, but I am honored and delighted to bring to light the first column of Transmissions. The name implies education and that will be my trans mission. As far as we have come in the struggle for human rights, there is so much more that needs to be addressed.

Just within the past three weeks, we have experienced five instances of hate crimes against gender variant individuals: Sanesha Stewart in New York City, an unnamed victim in Detroit, Lawrence King in Oxnard, Calif., Simmie Williams, who was brutally murdered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and 18-year-old Adolphus Simmons of North Charleston, S.C.

It must be evident that crimes born from hate are not diminishing. Fear, hate and violence are all part of a vicious cycle that must be broken. The issues that gender variant individuals face are survival issues, as recent events show.

One might presume that the right to fair housing, employment and public programs — and, yes, even the right to exist — are basic human rights to which all are entitled. All too tragically, Sanesha, Lawrence, Simmie and Simmons have been denied the right to exist.

Even though 2007 was, in many respects, a year in which transgender issues received national attention, again, our efforts seem to have fallen short. The hate crimes bill passed the U.S. House, but the machinations of the Democratic Party to have it surgically attached to defense appropriation legislation were feeble at best.

The good news was that the Local Law Enforcement Protection Act was gender-identity inclusive and would have established some method of statistically tracking the incidence of hate crimes. The bad news, other than it’s stalling, was the fact that it was written with little teeth. There were no provisions for more stringent sentencing guidelines for crimes committed with the added feature of having been the product of hate.

ENDA, as many are aware, was an abysmal failure regarding the implementation of safeguards for gender-identity and gender expression. Once again, we must be reminded that survival is the issue in this regard. The inability to find work and remain employed is undoubtedly the most severe crisis confronting those who express gender variance.

We have few hard and fast statistics upon which to rely, but there are some who put unemployment in the 35 percent range and underemployment in the 60 percent range.

Because there have been very few systematic studies and because being gender variant has not been considered important enough to include in census data, it is likely that any statistics we have may tend toward conservative estimates. Anecdotally, however, it would not be too far from the truth to state that every trans support group has a significant number of un- and underemployed members.

And, anecdotally, it is equally evident that far too many gender variant individuals are homeless or face the prospect of becoming homeless in the near future. Yes, the inability to find and keep a job is nothing short of survival.

Another common issue often faced by gender variant people is the refusal of name change petitions. Any average citizen has a greater chance of receiving a discretionary name change than do many who have opted to transition. The difficulties one may encounter as a result of incongruence of legal name and gender markers are varied and pervasive.

The Real ID Act will prove to be the bane of the trans community. Too many individuals fall far short of document congruity and the repercussions are severe — denial of the ability to enter federal buildings, denial of the ability to use air travel and denial of voting rights among them.

Many believe that the so-called “bathroom issue” — transitioning transwomen in public restrooms — is the common denominator for many cases of transgender discrimination. It will be part of my trans mission to debunk the fallacies of this spurious argument.

I look forward to becoming your source for insight into what it means, from my point of view, to be gender variant. This column will also bring to you the thoughts of transgender leaders to give you a myriad of perspectives. Your feedback and input are welcomed.

Ed. Note: Comments and questions for Robbi Cohn can be sent to editor@q-notes.com. Q-Notes also accepts letters to the editor and guest opinion submissions.

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