Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Texas Senate Slumber Party: How To Keep Trannies From Voting

“A man without a vote is a man without protection.” — former Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson

Texas Capitol building, very peaceful at 2AM ....

The Texas Legislature is pulling extraordinary measures to enact a law that will strip transitioning transsexuals right to vote. This is a violation of our voting rights to knowingly strip law-abiding, taxpaying citizens from the vote. And I fully encourage all trans people in transition to go vote, take along a witness to take notes, and the minute you are turned away after providing your photo ID (and per the new law, the election workers or election judge should do so), contact an excellent an aggressive attorney and file a federal lawsuit against both the State of Texas and Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay)

Shortly after I arrived back home from Austin this morning, the Texas Senate forced through a passage of a Voter Photo ID bill (SB 362) after nearly 24 hours of live testimony and senate debate. Sure, there were experts testifying from 5:45PM Tuesday until 7:45AM this morning. Yes, we all sat through an all night session virtually non-stop in the State Capitol’s Senate Chambers.

And those of us who signed up for public testimony Tuesday before 1PM finally saw our opportunity to testify before the entire Senate begin shortly before 8AM this morning! Ultimately, the fix was in. We shouldn’t have bothered wasting our energy.

The Senate undertook this one bill for the purpose of ferreting out only some potential fraud (not all) and additionally to find ways to disallow votes from people who may not bring both voter certificates and valid, matching photo IDs: elderly, the poor, the recently foreclosed homeless, minorities, the disabled of varying stripe and transitioning transsexuals – overwhelmingly people who are Democrats.

(And for those who don’t know, Texas is dominated on all three branches – with special thanks to Tom DeLay’s mid-term redistricting – by Republicans).

The Senate also suspended the normal protocol of working this through committee, and suspending the needed 2/3 vote for passage; so urgent was the need to deal with this potential voter fraud epidemic. This was highly unusual.

With this, and the potential for what this would do for trans community voters, I decided to make the trip to Austin to testify before the Senate.

“Identity Matters!” — TX State Sen, Florence Shapiro (R-Plano)

Both the transgender community and I couldn’t agree with the good senator more! For well over a decade, the transgender community has been pushing for passage of a name and gender change bill that would make the process much easier (alleviating the need for attorneys, courts, the idiosyncratic judges and their individual “discretion,” and especially the cost!) And for well over a decade, the legislature has ignored us. People transitioning, who have an ID in one gender but live as the other, will effectively be disallowed the vote per the Voter ID bill.

As Sen. Shapiro said in debate on the Senate floor, “we’re just trying to make sure everyone’s identification matches.” Sen. Fraser as well reiterated, declaring “I just want to make sure this person is who they say they are!” The trans community has been attempting to facilitate that with our own for years, and yet it’s these same partisans who’ve done nothing to attain that – zero. Therefore we have problems getting identification that matches our gender thanks to Texas’ Republicans and other Democrats running in fear of them – and yet also have to listen to the likes of Sen. Fraser complain about identities that don’t match!

"Sen. Wendy Davis (R) deposes (and is ignored by) Sen. Troy Fraser (L) during senate debate."
This especially impacts a couple friends of mine who are transitioning here in the Houston area. In both cases they are going through divorce, and per the judge’s decree, they are instructed by the court to not proceed with any change of name or gender until their divorce is final. We can’t fault the judges in this case: there is no such Voter ID law in effect at the time of their ruling, so they can’t be faulted for violating the voting rights of those in court before them.

However, the Texas Senate is fully aware. I testified openly to that fact to the whole of the Senate, with the bill’s author, Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), standing in front of me not forty feet away, staring me down as I testified. He heard every word – unless of course he considers me a woman. During his dismissive debate with freshman Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), Sen. Fraser kept asking her to repeat herself, saying “I have problems hearing women’s voices.” My sympathies to his wife.

One thing that struck me as odd about Sen. Fraser is his apparent lack of knowledge of his own bill. During debate, Sen. Leticia VanDePutte asked him if his bill required having both the voter certificate and the photo ID, or just the photo ID?”
"Sen. Troy Fraser (R) responds to Sen. Leticia VanDePutte (L, opposite corner) during senate debate."
Sen. Fraser answered her: “I don’t know. I need to look at [the bill].” Odd, considering that he responded to Sen. Davis at one point that his bill was “not rocket science.” There’s actually a couple oddities in the bill that I noted that seem to open a back door to new fraud. I wouldn’t be surprised that Sen. Fraser hasn’t noticed this, but I won’t divulge at the moment – I need to get this to our House members and have them bring this to light.

Of the expert testimony, Hans von Spakovsky from the Heritage Foundation was one of the highlights. He gave glowing testament to passing the Voter ID bill including studies conducted while he was a career employee with the Bush Dept. of Justice (DOJ) on Georgia and Indiana, two previous states with the same statute. Next Sen. Elliot Shapliegh (D-El Paso) deconstructed the expert’s premise, noting numerous complaints from his tenure among DOJ employees for ignoring data and cherry-picking – as well as letters of criticism from sitting congressmembers. On one point, von Spakovsky noted one claim made against him was a lie – to which Sen. Shapleigh pressed him to admit the author of the letter was a “liar” in his words.

The author of that letter was then-Senator Barack Obama. I’m sure the President would be interested in that.
"Sen. Eliot Shapleigh(top far side) questions expert witness Hans von Spakovsky (at podium) during senate testimony."
Even though I was disappointed in my own testimony due to brain fatigue and too short of a time to speak to all the points I wanted to make, it at least had the attention of the Senate – including the Republicans like Sen. Dan Patrick, Sen. Steve Ogden, Sen. Fraser and my own Sen. Joan Huffman. Or at least they seemed to listen intently.

Once I walked out the door of the senate chamber, I was chased down by Sen. Shapiro and Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) and gave me a big hug. After I got over the initial shock, both mentioned they were just discussing the courage of some of the public coming up to testify and by coincidence I then began my speech and caught their attention. It apparently went better than I’d thought for the two senators to make a special trip to come outside the chamber to visit with me.

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst stands next to Sen. Fraser in the back. If you look really closely at the close on the back wall, you'll see it says 2:45 ... that's AM!
“Courageous” testimony aside, Sen. Shapiro voted for passing the Voter ID bill, knowing our situation and the potential for federal lawsuit for voter disenfranchisement. I’m sure much of this had to do with the Texas Senate’s version of the “barking police dog” keeping everyone in line – Sen. Dan Patrick. He’s the quintessential hyper-partisan and even a radio talk-show, Rush Limbaugh wannabe. He and Tommy Williams are Texas’ versions of Trent Lott and Tom DeLay – hammering all their party members in order to keep uber-discipline and ensure pure party line votes.

“One thing I do know is if you want to really mobilize voters, try to take away their right to vote! They’re going to be out and active in the next election and they will remember!” — unidentified woman giving public testimony before the Texas State Senate on 3/11/09

At least some good came from my trip to Austin for the senate testimony, besides scoring points with a couple senators. We better start seeing some serious push on the name and gender change bill as a result of their awareness of us. Otherwise, they’re active participants in disenfranchising us – not helpful when the federal lawsuits are filed.

Note to Phyllis Frye: we need to start pressing some folks like Senators Fraser, Shapiro, Huffman, Patrick, Ogden and Craig Estes.

On other legislation, I also managed to get the new bill number for the House expansion of Hate Crimes to include “gender identity or expression”: HB 2966. Additionally I also set an appointment during my testimony wait time with Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) and reminded him of our visit a decade earlier and the need to add the final categories to the Hate Crimes bill. He’s not sure what “gender expression” is, but I think I may have successfully impressed upon him that that term is a choice (something that was important to him). If he can agree on our existing wording, all the better!

Later I also visited with Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s staffer Brete Anderson (and personally let her know as well) that I’d gotten Rep. Chisum on a good day, and that we were ready to proceed with discussing bringing him on board. This makes it even better that we visited and brought on a few of the other Republicans in the House already. We even had such a nice visit that chatted about other things like our love for the old rock and roll music, why Lubbock’s GOP Rep. Delwin Jones’ office had Elvis paraphernalia and not Buddy Holly (Lubbock’s native son), and the differences between life in the Panhandle and life in Houston.

After his wife called and he had to leave, I even managed to grab a quick photo with him. I just realized, that may be a first … a photo with the Rep. in Warren Chisum’s office! Little victories ….

“The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice” — former Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson.


Bunny said...

Seriously,I have never understood why any open-minded, or gender or sexually non-conforming individual would even WANT to live in Texas. I have met my share of Texans, follow Texas politics, and have always been surprised by not only their arrogance, but also their ignorance about any thought patterns that diverge from their own.

Texas should be allowed to secede from the Union; It would be better for all concerned. As far as being a state goes, it's been rather an embarrassment at times to the other 49 of us :-)

Is a possible solution to simply get your driver's license with your female picture on it, matching your face, but still have your legal male name and birth sex on the license?

That's permissible here in Ohio, and that's how my license is. I only have a problem with my license when I pull it out while in boy mode.

Failing that, you should seriously consider just moving.

Vanessa E. Foster said...

Sometimes I wonder why I deal with this as well, Jamie. But then, I own my house here -- and won't ever be able to buy another one if I sold this.

Moreover, I have deep roots here. My mom's people got here when Texas was still a separate country, one ancestor fought and died at the Alamo and another was in the Republic of TX army somewhere else. I probably have as much or more right to be here than maybe 2/3 of the Texas legislature (like Bush, Cheney, Rove, etc). So my thought is why the hell should I have to get out? Why can't they go back where they came from instead?

At least, in Texas, we learn how to fight with the best of 'em!

Bunny said...

Well that makes sense. Just not to me, because personally I guess I'm more inclined to leave when I'm not wanted.

But I admire people that are willing to stand and fight. Probably because I don't have that.

Keep on fighting the good fight. Some day you may even wind. It's possible, that even in Texas, a new generation can grow-up someday unencumbered by their parents prejudices.

Vanessa E. Foster said...

After 13 years of this stuff, it's my wish that we'll win and that I get to live to see it, maybe even benefit from it. So far, though, everything I've helped pass or enact hasn't helped me personally one whit -- net negative actually. Maybe your way's better. But then someone's got to do the unglamorous, dirty work in these ugly places. If I can get a photo with Rep. Warren Chisum, I must be making at least some progress....

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