Sunday, July 15, 2007

Justice, American Style

July 15, 2007

It was striking seeing a blurb by a spokesperson in the Iowa Republican Party responding to the prospect of former-President Bill Clinton lobbying for his wife Hillary’s presidential campaign: “After Bill Clinton tarnished the name of the president of the United States, the Republican Party restored hope, respect and morality within the Oval Office by bringing positive ideas and conservative values back to the White House.”

Reading this caused me to respond with one of those GEICO© caveman moments: “Yeah, I’d like to respond to that. Uh … WHAT?!?”

As if that reality-disconnected soundbite weren’t enough of a head spinner in the era of the three-man destruction crew of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, we get more reinforcement of Republican morals a couple weeks ago. Credence, increasingly a rare commodity among the R-suffixed folk, was suspended fully when our President the Decider decided to commute the sentence of Irving Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, former chief of staff of Dick Cheney.

Basically, there will be no sentence, no punishment, no fallout from the outing of a CIA agent. An outing during war, no less! And who was CIA agent, Valerie Plame’s body of work specializing in? Iran. Bush/Cheney’s wet dream of a new conquest: Iran. But hey, America went into Iraq fairly blindly, and look how well that turned out, eh?

After news of the commutation of Libby’s sentence, Bill and Hillary Clinton did themselves no favors by criticizing the decision. Pres. Clinton pardoned some 140 odd folks at the final hour of his presidency, something no Republican would ever forget. Just pointing that out only appeared as cynical hypocrisy on the Dems side. But, not to be outdone, the hypocrisy was quickly one-upped by the GOPpers in criticizing the Clintons’ criticism. Why I can hear the Straw-man singing now … “If I Only Had a Brain”.

The message of all this? Outing CIA agents apparently isn’t treason any more. Hey, why not just write treason out of the constitution entirely with one of the President’s signing statements? In fact, who needs that? Just have the Vice President in his unitary executive powers call it unconstitutional and have it excised. Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales will sign off on it, loyal man that he is. Treason is AOK … until a Democrat, or any other non-conservative commits the act.

The last scene in this episode shows the President the past week finally admitting that someone in his Administration may have outed Valerie Plame, but that this whole affair has “run its course” and he doesn’t expect any further investigation or charges. In fact, he hasn’t ruled out a full pardon for Libby. All that money spent, all that time investigating, and absolutely nothing was accomplished.

Yep, you’ve gotta love the justice system in the U.S. of A.

Meanwhile in West Palm Beach, Florida, a trial was taking place to prosecute a 17-year old who severely beat a transwoman he’d picked up outside of a bar. Later that evening, he discovered she still had male anatomy, he “beat the transsexual until his hand was sore,” according to an officer who took the statement. After the assailant went back to his car, he returned and, according to a witness who was seated atop a lifeguard stand, “forced her to kneel in the sand while he punched her and slammed her head into [the] lifeguard stand. The impact of the head-slam shook the lifeguard stand.

Once the case came to the judge’s decision, Judge Peter Blanc said Monday that he does not believe the boy was guilty of a first-degree felony hate crime. The judge opined in court "Your anger, from your perspective and from many other people's perspective, may be justifiable anger."

"In many ways it appears from the testimony that was presented here that there are two victims in the case," the judge added. Unique concept: if you’re trans in America, and someone attacks you, the attackers are the victims. But this is typical of justice in America. We've seen it play out more times than we care to recount when the victim was transgender. If you commit treason, you’re much better off than being a trans person who is attacked for victimizing someone by ... being out in public!

To the attackers’ credit, he said the victim threatened his life. The witness testified that the trans victim did not fight back, but as he described during the initial investigation, he had a “couple of sissy scratches” to show for his “attack.” Certainly sissy scratches are serious -- considered life threatening in Florida’s justice system.

The judge added that teen did not seem to beat the victim “because of sexual orientation,” Blanc said, but because of his anger and desire for retribution. Retribution for what?!? Realizing he was making out with someone who was anatomically male??? Certainly nothing about sexual orientation, and the hate derived from that, eh?

At the least, I suppose the trans community can take solace in that their arguments made and dismissed over the years by gay and lesbian leadership, and legislators as well, have specifically been proven as inadequate. So much for gender or sexual orientation covering transgenders.

Small consolation that is.

But such is justice in America. If you want to avoid punishment most severe, don’t be transsexual. Even if you’re attacked or victimized, you’re culpable for making your attacker the victim. If you do want to avoid punishment, even treason, simply be a connected Republican, like Libby.

Knowing what kind of Democracy and system of justice our President is exporting to the rest of the world really gives you a warm spot in your heart, doesn’t it? Kinda like … heartburn.

Love Thy Neighbor?

July 14, 2007

As the Hate Crimes amendment to the Defense Funding Authorization is being debated in the Senate, it’s funny hearing some of the arguments coming from those opposed to allowing the additional protections to sexual orientation and gender identity. Many of the callers advocating for killing the Hate Crimes amendment have taken liberty of saying it infringes on free speech.

Nothing in the Hate Crimes bill (S. 1105), nor the amendment to the defense-spending bill with the exact same wording, makes any notation of hate speech. Nothing.

Yet still, the callers and advocates – specifically from the conservative religious groups – continue to equate this with being locked up for speaking their minds! Literal calls to senate offices have beseeched senators to not let the bill pass, and “don’t let them lock up my preacher.”

Hearing these arguments, the terms “specious” and “exaggerated” come to mind, but those descriptions fall way short of accuracy. Even hyper-exaggerated is inadequate. Their arguments are nothing short of absolute fabrication, pathologically so.

There’s always the perennial argument as well: protecting people who made choices to be gay, to be transgendered. At least that argument had validity, to an extent. We could choose to repress who we are. But then, why?

Religion itself is a choice. Back in the day, when Ronald Reagan railed about the “evil empire” – then known more commonly as the Soviet Union, or U.S.S.R. – religious citizens of all stripes were choosing to repress who they were. The government back then would come down on Soviet citizens who chose to express their faith openly. There were consequences for their choice. And we correctly considered that a travesty of human rights.

Indeed, people can choose to be religious or not, or even choose to change their religious faith. Why would any of the religious faithful speak with anyone outside of their own sect about their faith if it weren’t, at some level, to hope to draw others to their own religion? That’s choice, and America officially embraces that to the point of protecting those from being attacked for their choice. With the multitudes of various denominations, people should have the right to choose and not be condemned for it.

So why are so many opposed to what they see as choice of a different kind. (Yes, I’m aware of the studies on gender identity and sexuality that have pointed to biological underpinnings – that’s an article for another time. For the sake of argument let’s just agree to “choice” now and continue.)

To say that religion, or “the churches” are opposing hate crime expansion is inaccurately broad. Many progressive and humanitarian denominations support it. To my knowledge, we haven’t heard one religious denomination officially come out and categorically oppose expansion of hate crimes for sexual orientation and gender identity. They will officially state they don’t approve of the lifestyle choices. But opposing laws deterring hate violence against these expanded communities, as a denomination is a step beyond the pale. It states that that religion tacitly approves of hate-borne violence against gays, transgenders, etc. because of their choice.

Ultimately, this opposition for hate crime protection on GLBT people it has less to do with religion and nothing to do with Christ-like spirituality. It has everything to do with individuals leading congregations, or those using religious affiliation out of convenience and taking liberty to speak representatively in their behalf.

As we’ve seen, it’s a wonderful shield against reproach for these opportunists. Nobody cares to be seen as taking on a religion, which can easily be flipped into an assault on God. This built-in irreproachability gives them automatic advantage, something they never lose sight of.

It also allows these opportunists the ability to weigh in on and indirectly influence others’ choices by encouraging or protecting punitive reaction against them. Their ultimate hope is to effectively end choices made which these self-appointed arbiters deem wrong. Once they successfully deny protections against gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgender Americans, what do they do for an encore?

One glaring omission from the current hate crimes bill is the homeless. Will these same folks speak out, railing against protecting these people who they feel made the wrong decisions in life? Will they feel the homeless have chose to be too slothful or incorrigible to be protected, and that free speech – or wielding bats as seen on TV in Florida – should be what is protected?

And how about religion, the other choice mentioned earlier? We live in what we advertise as a pluralistic society, and that all are free to worship howsoever. But does everyone agree with such open tolerance toward those who choose religions that may contradict our own scripture?

Just last week during Senate prayer, a Hindu priest provided the opening invocation. Shortly after beginning his prayer, jeering yells like “abomination,” “there is only one true God,” and “we are Christians and Patriots” came down from above. No – not from heaven but from the gallery of visitors over the Senate Floor. Christians upset with a Hindu prayer, upset with a man who made different religious choices then they.

If precedence is given to those who would implicitly oppose any stoppage of hate violence to those who made “choices” they didn’t agree with, then where does this leave others whose choices they don’t agree with. Even though religion is a category currently covered by hate crimes law, what about those whose religion is deemed by the prevalent faith to be what they consider “making the wrong choice?” How long before they begin turning a blind eye toward violence against them?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

July 1, 2007

Pride Party this year was fun, and probably left most of us a little fuzzy-minded. Like all parties where we partake a bit too much, there’s always the obligatory hangover.

This year I made good on a promise and attended a friend’s Pride party at THE Pride Parade in New York City. Yes, my hometown Houston’s Pride Parade is unique in that it’s at night, with lit up floats – the only night Pride Parade in the northern hemisphere. Even with that, nothing tops the sheer size of the Pride Parade in New York. It’s befitting. After all, this is the catalyst point and the anniversary date that the GLBT community points to as beginning this “movement.”

Just last week I was in New York enjoying the Pride Parade with some trans friends I’ll call Ann and Melissa. Neither of them is out at work due to concerns for their careers, and I don’t blame them. But once a year they throw a blast and open their apartment to the community. The building they reside in is right on the parade route and has numerous Pride parties on Pride day. Their party is the hit of Trans NYC, and they extend invitations to their friends from all walks of society: straight, gay, lesbian and trans in fairly equal numbers.

One of the neat aspects of this one-day blast is that neighboring parties tend to migrate to each other’s parties on the other floors of the building. At one point, a group of the trans girls and I (admittedly in pursuit of a hunky NYPD officer making the scene) decided to go crash the party two floors below.

Arriving downstairs, it was a lively and typically (for New York) crowded affair. We were very welcomed to the party, no problems there. One thing struck me shortly after arriving. This was a very homogenous affair. Before we arrived, it was a 100% gay male event – most all seemingly coupled. It was in sharp contrast to the party I’d just left.

After a bit, I wandered back upstairs to Ann’s party and watched the entry for Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) walk by. The ESPA marchers all held up signs that had “Marriage Equality” on one side, and “GENDA Now” on the other. For those of you not familiar, New York passed a non-discrimination bill in 2002 called SONDA – Sexual Orientation Non Discrimination Act. GENDA is the Gender Expression counterpart to that as, obviously, coverage for transgenders was left off.

The reason I knew of this and became involved was that the push for this began at a time of internecine struggle within the state’s transgender organization (NYAGRA), and followed immediately on the heels of Sylvia Rivera’s funeral. The timing was exquisite for ESPA, but callously calculating from a trans perspective.

Back to the parade, the ESPA group marched with their signs held high … and to a person, all but one of them held it with the Marriage Equality side out to the crowd. Only one bothered to hold the GENDA side out.

Flashback to 2003, at the signing of SONDA, ESPA and their executive director, Matt Foreman, promised that GENDA would now become the group’s top priority. Well, other things got in the way … things change … people forget. It didn’t happen. Malicious intent probably wasn’t the culprit. More likely, we just didn’t cross their mind.

Back to the parade, ESPA only got a lukewarm reception that paled in comparison to who followed them: AVER – the American Veterans for Equal Rights. It also didn’t help much that many of them chose to wear those infernal equal signs on their chest or sleeve.

A while later, HRC’s entry rolled up. Cheering ceased, and not just at our party. The entire building went mute. No boos or raspberries, just silence. It was mildly amusing to watch some of their marchers peer up at the building in bewilderment. Then again, I also felt a bit sad for them. It’s likely their marchers were volunteers who couldn’t understand why the cool reception or the history behind it. All they knew was what was marketed to them, and the possibility they saw in that vision.

From the trans community and beyond, we’re all just likely folks who never really crossed their mind.

And truly, why would we? They’ve got their own laundry list of wishes on their agenda. Their organization staffs are very homogenous because, hey, those are the people they know. It’s kind of like the party two floors down from Ann and Melissa: they invite the people they know, and those are the people they know.

Regarding GLBT organizations, transgenders and other disparate segments of the greater queer community don’t readily come to mind for hiring, leadership or other considerations. Why would we pop to mind when it comes to political agendas – especially if they don’t have to dig their asses out of the fire for some exclusionist faux pas? It’s a case of out of sight, out of mind.

So why do we refer to these organizations as GLBT anyway? True, we worked hard over the years in the 90’s to be recognized as a part of the community, but that didn’t mean our entire fight boiled down to being nothing more than a T at the end of an acronym. It’s like saying our entire goal was to be the butt on a pig, with all the significance. Dandy! So why don’t they just advertise just GL or GLB? Sure, it’s not PC. But what the hell good is being PC if all it requires is just saying “I’m GLBT” and never giving it another thought (at least not until those screaming trannies throw their asses in the fire when they’re forgotten again)?

If these organizations were all trans staffed, trans funded and led, chances are that we would be accused of unequally focusing only on our own issues and not having theirs come naturally to mind. It’s possible we could be just as guilty of the same behavior … of course with no chance for that, we’ll never know.

Meanwhile, back at Ann and Melissa’s party, I reveled in what was the vision of true equality at their party. Not just trans, and really not even overwhelmingly trans … just a bunch of G and L and B and T and straight folks enjoying a great Pride Party. At least in some corners of the world, we can all be kept in mind.