Friday, January 9, 2009

Civil Rights Don’t Exist For USA's Transgender Citizens

Picture yourself as a transgender person, going out dressed as your new gender, when “nature calls.” Then picture yourself going to the restroom, only to by stopped and informed you cannot use any restrooms there. You can’t use the women’s and you can’t use the men – they have no facilities for people like you to use. Most folks would think this was something that occurred only during the Jim Crow era with “whites only” facilities. It happens as recent as yesterday, January 8, 2009, for transgenders in suburban Houston.

Fleshing out this story, it wasn’t in just any old public haunt either. This was in the County Courthouse in a county adjacent to Houston. A county where the person in question was ordered to come in for a court hearing regarding her divorce. The deputy who stopped her – addressing her as ma’am (as she was presenting!) – instructed her not to use either men’s or women’s restrooms, that there was no restroom to use, and that this was by order of the judge presiding over her divorce case. She said her attorney confirmed that was indeed the judge’s request.

A week from today I’ll be arriving in Washington with the intent of watching my first Inauguration in person. It’s heady times as a number of us in the Democratic transgender delegation will be the first trans people attending an inauguration for a Democratic President, Barack Obama. We aren’t the first, as one of Houston’s Republican transwomen, Charles / Kathryn McGuire, attended George Bush’s inauguration in 1988. But in many ways, we in the trans community have come a long way.

“Each person must live their life as a model for others.” — civil rights icon, Rosa Parks

This inauguration itself is historic in that we are finally electing our first non-white male to the White House over forty-four years after the Civil Rights Act eliminated America’s shame of no service or no facilities available for people of color. It seems quaint and remote remembering a time when such blatant discrimination was open and allowable.

The Civil Rights Act was long overdue, especially if one were to follow the true spirit of the preamble to the Constitution. It was proven that there was a demonstrated, systematic discrimination of a class of people, there was demonstrated economic hardship as a result and there was a demonstrated lack of this class empowered or elected to office, preventing any direct advocacy to rectify this disparity. Now codified, America’s finally made good on the promise “you can grow up to be President someday.”

Progress … but to this very day it’s legal to fire someone in this country for being gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. Now most of these companies in these states will point to the fact that they don’t discriminate and have hired and even promoted gay and lesbian employees. Most states will point to an out gay or lesbian elected official. But when discussions of this progress occur, transgenders suddenly become invisible and unheard in the discussion.

“Vote for me and I’ll set you free!
Rap on, brother. Rap on!” — Ball Of Confusion, the Temptations

Trans people, even in 2009, are overwhelmingly unemployed and under-employed, or disproportionately “disemployed” from previous employers once their status is discovered, even if they were in positions of authority (as was the case with Largo, Florida’s longtime city manager, Susan Stanton).

Even in the most enlightened environ for GLBT people, San Francisco, only 4% of transgenders responding to a study earned the median income of $61,200 or above, while 59% earned less than $15,333. The only other category in the U.S. that has a lesser per capita income that trans people would be Native Americans (and don’t get me started on that as I’m a “breed”.)

Trans people are typically considered to be nothing more than the prevalent stereotype for male-to-female trans people: streetwalking prostitutes. Accordingly, the court system is anything but kind to out gays and lesbians, much less transgenders. Unlike other classes, though, trans people are incarcerated with people of our birth gender, meaning a female-appearing male in with other male prisoners. A study in California observed that 59% of transgenders in prison were frequently raped and beaten by male inmates, and often were punished with being thrown in “the hole” if they raised the issue with guards.

How many states can point to having an out transgender person as an elected official? Two: Missouri and a just-elected mayor in Oregon. The first out trans person ever was just hired a couple weeks ago to work on Capitol Hill in Rep. Barney Frank’s office. We have no state officials, no federal officials, and no way to access and directly appeal our issues.

With George W. Bush’s Real ID Act coming to fruition, even the issue of obtaining identification becomes dicey, affecting our drivers licensing and passports – and increasingly, states requiring photo ID for voting. We already experience Social Security Administration sending letters to employers to amend their employment records to reflect transitioned transsexuals birth gender, not the one which they publicly represent. The potential for being disallowed voting in all of this chills me to the bone. May there come a time when we may be turned away from the polls because of mismatched gender identification?

“I knew that I could vote and that that wasn't a privilege; it was my right. Every time I tried I was shot, killed or jailed, beaten or economically deprived.” — activist & Black Panther, Stokley Carmichael

I’ve been in an Applebee’s in College Park, MD where they wouldn’t serve us, and made it distinctly clear (as we waited for over an hour) that we were the only table that wouldn’t be served. I’ve watched a trans man and person of color (and leader of NTAC) blatantly passed over when they came to our table to take our orders. There have only incurred two instances where I was refused usage of the women’s restroom – one in a lesbian bar, the other in a straight bar. The latter instance, I went into the men’s restroom (not wanting the Houston police officer to arrest me) and almost immediately upon entering was accosted by a man who was clearly inebriated and grabbed me by the elbow – I left the bar immediately and never went back.

I’ve been directly let go from jobs due to my transitioning and transgender status. I’ve been pulled over by police early in my transtion, before my ID was corrected to my current gender, and had the officers interrogate me over “where I was working tonight” – i.e. where I was “hooking.”

I’ve heard well the epithets (even a couple from gay men during this election cycle as I was campaigning for Obama instead of Hillary), though the most graphic ones came from straight men, including a couple who were black. And yes, I’ve felt the boot of the more physical manifestations of discrimination.

It’s a historic time in our country, and I’ll also join in the revelry of beginning of physically demonstrating the promise of Civil Rights as we see President Barack Obama take the helm. In my opinion, it can’t come soon enough. Hope as a word lost meaning for me many years ago, but Change means a lot. And change we must!

Yet I also must keep in mind transgenders will continue seeing systemic discrimination from the courts to the workplace, our lack of employment (as I’m experience now) will keep us economically at a severe disadvantage, and the prospects of having a Trans person in Congress currently do not exist. That said, without a sufficient voice to make this issue known, this is a situation we’ll be living with for some time as there are many, many priorities inherited by this president that will preclude even the most remote chance of extending civil rights for Trans America. That hasn’t changed, and we must find a way to work around it until the day that occurs. Like the Isley Brothers sang many years ago, “we’ve got work to do!”

For now, if a judge decrees it, we do not have the right to use any restroom in public. If we violate the law, we should not expect favorable treatment in courts or in jails after. Even without violating a law ourselves, we most frequently can expect not to be equally protected by those same laws. Economically, we can expect not to see “equal” for many years to come, nor the subsequent entré into politics or power.

Civil rights are being realized by many and being taken for granted as fact. But for us in the Trans community, those rights still don’t exist.

“There is a higher law than the law of government. That's the law of conscience.” — activist & Black Panther, Stokley Carmichael

“I favor the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it must be enforced at gunpoint if necessary.” — former Pres. Ronald Reagan


TransmanAZ said...

Great blog, thanks! I hope people will pay attention.

Speaking of restrooms....

When I transitioned, I began using the men's rest room rather than the women's. Right here in Phoenix, in 2006, in a GAY bar, I was told by the bartender who followed me into the men's room that I was not allowed to use it, I would have to go to the women's.

Pointing out that I was taking testosterone, in transition, did not change his mind. Asking about the MtF's using the women's room didn't seem to get through to him either.

His words? "THIS is the MEN's room. Everyone ELSE has to use the OTHER restroom.

I pulled down my pants, sat down on the toilet, and laughed at him while he stood there with his mouth open.

I haven't been back to that bar since then. Maybe I should go. LOL

Vanessa E. Foster said...

What the hell did he think you were gonna do in there? Actually I'm astonished you sat down in there ... I *hate* using the men's room in gay bars because everything is wet! They either get really sh:tfaced or they have reaallly bad aim! My fave drag bar when I first moved to Houston, you could not touch anything in there, and one time -- I swear -- there was something dripping from the ceiling in that claustro one-holer! Yuck!

Not excusing the lesbian who wouldn't let me in, but some of the CD and esp. drag or working girls would get trashed, and wouldn't sit. Or aim.

You're a braver soul than I!

Either way, that guy's reaction was bizarre! Maybe he was afraid (sitting down) you wouldn't mess the bathroom up -- hell, maybe it's a rite! What do I know of them?

If I were you and went back there, I'd go just to use the restroom and not spend a dime in there! Clog his toilet up with towel paper! Heheheh

Abby said...

The person who was ordered by the judge not to use the restrooms in the courthouse should file a complaint with the state judicial conduct commission or whatever they call the body that supervises the conduct of judges in Texas (it might be the state supreme court). The judicial canon of ethics requires judges to treat all parties with respect and not to discriminate on the basis of race, sex or "other" grounds, which can include transgender status and sexual orientation. Regardless of the judge's personal feelings, s/he had no right to order her not to use the restrooms and should be disciplined.

Also, regarding the impact of the Real ID Act, the provision that presented the greatest dangers for trans people was changed in our favor when the final regulations were issued last spring. Those regulations specifically leave the circumstances under which a person's gender on her/his driver's license or other ID to each state to determine. In other words, no national standard was imposed, for example, requiring SRS in every case. Thus, existing procedures in each state can continue to exist. Of course, the requirement that everyone must submit a birth certificate, passport or similar document to obtain a Real ID compliant driver's license or ID card continues. Those documents are then scanned and archived, which means that the risk of privacy violations arising from access to documents showing a change in gender also remains. Nonetheless, convincing the Dept. of Homeland Security to leave the determination of gender to each state was a major victory.

KristyDi said...

I feel your absolute pain sister. I too have been in similar situations even in supposedly Trans-Friendly Seattle. I have even been ordered by my employer who claims to have a "true diversity" policy that I'm not woman enough to use the ladies facilities in the employees only area of the working facility. We are not different than any other woman on earth. We are women we just happened to be transgender that's how we got there. (For our Transbrothers You are men. You just happen to be transgender that's how you got there.)