Monday, April 27, 2009

Operating Behind Enemy Lines

"When the Hoosegow police decided to come 'round they said:
"Boy what's the matter with you, what you trying to do?"" — Blind In Texas, W.A.S.P.

"As they say around the Texas Legislature, if you can't drink their whiskey, screw their women, take their money, and vote against 'em anyway, you don't belong in office." — Molly Ivins

One of my friends recently commented to me and expressed surprise that I had visited with and even gotten a photo with one of our conservative lightning rods in Texas, Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa). It’s something that surprises others, but I never thought it all that surprising personally. He was a legislator and I wasn’t someone who, even when I first began, ever shied away from going in and talking with the most conservative offices. Hey! I live in Texas! Most of our folks down here are the reddest of the red-meat folks.

Lately Texas has become the butt of everyone's jokes, nationally. For the past eight years, we've had to live with everything from George W. Bush's apparent choking on a pretzel and passing out in his White House bathroom (begging the question: who the hell eats pretzels in the bathroom?) to every one of his Bushism's and incomprehensible musings. Once he left office, I was hoping we might get at least a little reprieve.

But no! Our governor's the latest national fodder for late-night material with his support of the teabaggers and even Texas' secessionist wing. While our governor's got all the brains God gave a drunken turkey, most around the nation may have never had the clue that Texans grew up and were even taught the urban legend that we retained the right to become our own Republic again when we ceded to the U.S. It turns out that's not fact, but there has nevertheless been a radically conservative wing in the state that's advocated for seceding from the union for years. They were so far out there that even the Republicans wanted nothing to do with them.

"Out in the countryside, just about every place that's got a zip code has somebody or some group of people battling the economic and political exclusion that Wall Street and Washington are shoving down our throats." — Jim Hightower

At least that was true until Barack Obama became president.

Now it seems even our own Gov. Rick Perry will fan those flames. It's not an embarrassment for Texas' GOP folks to talk of secession openly now. Worse still, there was a recent poll published by Research 2000 that asked whether Texas was better as part of the U.S. or as its own independent nation. Per Pam's House Blend, the poll came back 60% favoring staying in the U.S. and 40% opting for independence.

However, of Texas Republicans polled the opinion was evenly split: 48% for remaining in the U.S. and 48% opting for independence. They used to roll their eyes and snicker about the "wacko" secessionists and now they're out there co-opting them and cheering in their own echo chamber! They used to belittle and snidely dismiss those of us who feared for the direction of our country after Bush's 2004 re-election so much that we considered moving to Canada and called us wonderful names like "deserters," "treasonous," and "America-haters" who sided more with the terrorists than with our own country.

Now my own damn state's hardcore conservative types are taking our own logic and boldly proclaiming it prominently! And they're taking down the whole damn state with them! We didn't do anything seriously fleeing en-masse to Canada, yet we were considered loopy loons. As I write, our own legislature's even considering a bill to reaffirm Texas' state sovereignty (never mind that they weren't too sovereign to accept U.S. Government stimulus money in these trying economic times except for additional unemployment funds). And these nutbags are (to put it in Rep. John Culberson's words) "the most patriotic Americans"?

"Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention." — Molly Ivins

"I'm blind in Texas, the cowboys have taken my eyes." — Blind In Texas, W.A.S.P.

Of course the blogosphere is alight with all those agreeing with Gov. Closet-Case Perry, bellowing for the door to hit us where the Good Lord split us and lots of other sentiments expressing that our total state's a lost cause and to cut us loose. Toss us out: baby, bathwater and tub!

Not all of us are brain dead nor oblivious to what's gone on in our state or the rest of the world's perception of it. Even before Bush was elected, I was nearly begging people not to vote for the guy! We'd had six years of his train-wreck leadership at that point. But nobody wanted to listen! "He seems like a regular guy" and other comments about Gore's maladroit communication style along with his wife's crusade against free speech in music ended up being the razor-thin margin needed.

After eight years of Bush, I wasn't surprised at anything other than the increased intensity towards his hard-right shift.

Now that we're post-Bush, all of us in Texas get to pay the penance for the good times shared by a privileged few during the Bush boom. Bush's Power Rangers. All the while, folks like me on the progressive side were busting butt and trying to keep from losing every last right we citizens have. It's been grueling and even a bit brutal. Even still, while the rest of the world seems to enjoy a move away from the darkness, Texas still deals with Bush-level, DeLay gerrymandered GOP right-wingers who make conservatives seem like veritable socialists by comparison.

"I thought I was conservative 'til I moved to Texas. I was wrong. I had to re-learn being a conservative all over again." — unidentified GOP political activist who moved from Missouri to Texas.

As a trans Texans, I'm a very easily dismissed target for GOPers. Operating down here for the past couple decades is like being behind enemy lines during wartime. I didn't get to choose where I grew up. This economy has long sucked in my world, and with no ability to get out I have to make due here. With all our collective energy over the years, the community and I have made small gains, but we're overwhelmingly outnumbered in the most hostile of territory.

So imagine what it feels like reading the commentary that we as a state should all be written off. There's no support at home here in this sociopolitical hell-hole that's our only home. And now there's no support elsewhere either. We might as well have not even bothered.

For whatever reason, certainly due to no fault of my own, our state's become a magnet for everything from the Branch Davidians in Waco, to the polygamist sects of the Mormons and a so-called "sex cult" known as House of Yahweh, to the moms who cut off her baby's arms and the other who bashed her kids to death with rocks because they were allegedly instructed so by God, to the couple who started the Heaven's Gate cult, and believed the UFO's were coming down to spirit them away until the founder and cult self-castrated themselves and committed suicide. I don't know why this happens here in Bible-land. With other such luminaries as Charles "Tex" Watson of the Manson clan to Ted Hagee (the anti-Catholic apocalyptic) and Karl Rove to Tom DeLay. No wonder it's the "Texas" Chainsaw massacre ....

Meanwhile, I've got to try to make something happen with virtually nothing. As I've found in trying to push the hate crimes law to finally cover transgenders, instead I'm getting almost no support from Democrats — even personal friends who apparently want to support Equality Texas in their two choices, not ours!

Which brings me back to Rep. Warren Chisum. Ten years ago, I took a couple friends on their first-ever lobbying experience with NGLTF's Equality Begins At Home in Austin. We went directly to Chisum's office first. My theory was that once they saw how I verbally advance, parry and remise with the toughest, they'd have confidence to go into offices on their own, even if they're tough offices.

Fate dictated it would be a great learning exercise as we determined what Chisum didn't like about the hate crime bill language, asked if he'd support alternate wording (as long as it was defined to cover us all.) We left getting a critical GOP sponsor who brought over other Texas Republicans' support! That was me and my proteges Mark Wood & Patrick McIlvain. Eventually it was enough to get the bill passed the very next session, but without covering trans folks like me.

Another lesson it taught was not to presume that simply because one was Republican that they'd automatically be an enemy any more than if one was Democrat would translate into automatic friend. Actually, Rep. Chisum's enigmatic, but honest. He’s a decent guy. And like a couple of the other GOP folks I have good relations with, he's not the neo-conservative types who tend to be the younger or newly-elected types. The old-line conservatives are tough, but they're not inhuman.

It's a different world working with them than working with most of the Democrats. But sometimes, even when you're operating behind enemy lines, you can occasionally find an ally in the most unlikely of places.

I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults." — Molly Ivins

"So farewell, my darling.
Perhaps we'll meet again
On some sin-infested street corner in Houston ...
Texas." — Heaven, Hell Or Houston, ZZ Top

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Justice For A Trans Hate Victim

"I've been tossed around plenty before.
Had this heart of mine broken and more.
I can't find me a reason for sure,
But I've gotten used to bad news." — Used To Bad News, Boston

Finally, justice.

Just from a cursory recall, I can't remember any case involving a trans victim in the United States where there was a life sentence meted out along with the hate crimes (bias crimes) enhancement added. The Angie Zapata murder case and ruling on the killer Allen Ray Andrade was truly a notable verdict.

In a sense, it seems almost wrong to foist upon him this ignoble "first".

Then again, this is something that been a long time comin' for the Trans community of America. So inured we are to being written off as "freaks" or "its" or "objects" in media and in the legal system that I was skeptical that the court in Greeley, Colorado would be able to apply an equal sentence for a case where the victim was trans. In fact, the minute I found out that the judge had instructed the jury to consider "negligent homicide" as one of the verdict options, I was apoplectic and deeply furious. How could this be happening again?

To their credit, the jury in Greeley took little time and arrived at a sentence in roughly two hours time! And the sentence was appropriate: guilty of murder in the first degree, and guilty of a bias crime – the first time the law enacted in 2005 in Colorado had been used and successfully convicted.

For most of the country, even some in the gay and lesbian community, this won't be anything out of the ordinary. However, the trans community has had to watch our own, even in the most heinous of violence, be treated as if we weren't worthy of legal considerations the rest of the country expected. We have been always been casually dismissed as hookers or objects not worthy of full consideration in law as human beings, even when victimized by crimes most brutal.

My knee-jerk reaction on hearing the possibility of a lesser verdict and sentence was immediate outrage. It was time for protest and even use as fodder for our upcoming lobby day to point out the stark inequity in application of law. The jury's verdict defied my expectations. It was a nice surprise, even a mild shock.

That got me to thinking: I've become conditioned to expect inequality. More than a decade of being politically involved and knowing well how "law" is applied when it comes to trans people has trained me to expect the worst. The Gwen Araujo trials, which to most of us was considered a well-investigated case, ended up with woefully inadequate sentences. I'll never forget my initial displeasure at Jason Cazares' (who arguably killed Gwen Araujo) receiving a seven-year sentence.

Adding insult to injury, we had folks from the Horizons Foundation and Chris Daley from the Transgender Law Center chiding our complaints about the sentences, trying to impress upon the trans community that this was a just sentence! That's something I'll never forget. The trans community and Araujo's family both were quite upset with the prosecutors' results of convictions and plea bargains with relatively light sentences. Those who criticized our dismay were playing for political consideration instead of realizing the message that sentence sent to us trans folk: accept whatever you get and be happy, even when it's less than equal.

In a nutshell, the Gwen Araujo trial was a glaring example of how law is unequally applied. We weren't equal, and per some of our so-called allies, it was folly for us to entertain the notion of being equal.

The Angie Zapata case has finally given us a glimpse of how equal protection works.

Will this change my general outlook on whether we're considered equal? Not yet, not completely. This is one instance out of many others that have preceded it. Inequality is still a way of life that we both recognized and battle against.

For the time though, my heart goes out to the Zapata family for staying strong and supportive of Angie's memory. With the carriage of justice, may they now have some peace.

My heart also goes out to the Guerrero family who did likewise for Gwen Araujo's memory. This has to be a time of both happiness for the Zapatas, and also reflection of a true justice that was watered down and incomplete for their daughter, sister, niece. One wonders what they could've done to impress upon the courts in Oakland that Gwen too was just as valuable, just as loved, just as human as these judges and attorneys' family members?

This first just decision is a beginning. But until we're truly equal, it's only a beginning. And being on the downside of all this for all our lives, I remain an eternal skeptic until I see it happening consistently in real life.

"Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both." — Eleanor Roosevelt

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hate Is On Our Minds

"Pick me up.
Been bleeding too long.
Right here, right now,
I'll stop it somehow.
I will make it go away –
Can't be here no more." — Alone I Break, Korn

Hate appears to be on the radar screens a lot lately. No, this time I'm not talking about the teabaggers or their hate of Obama and all things Democrat.

More to the point, hate crimes and legislation, laws and the prosecution of it are becoming the front-and-center as we prepare for hitting Capitol Hill. Just before the Easter break the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HR 1913) by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) was filed in Congress

On the one hand, it's good to have something in the House that explicitly states "gender identity." This is better than the alternative of having us out completely.

The problem arises over the quirky definition (kept over from the previous session) in Sec. 7 of the legislation, amending Title XVIII, Chapter 13, Sec. 249(c)(2): For the purposes of this chapter, the term `gender identity' means actual or perceived gender-related characteristics. It defines gender identity as gender-related characteristics, not expanding the term gender identity but redefining it.

As Kathy Padilla noted in her blog to Pam's House Blend:

"The new definitions can generally be said to cover gender expression but not gender identity. Which in the real world would present the likelihood that gender variant gay, straight and transgender people who don’t medically transition would be covered by the Hate Crimes Bill.... Transsexuals would not be covered."


The redefining of identity to mean characteristics (in this case gender expression) is something that case law has already addressed in Title VII cases holding that expression does not equal identity; in those cases racial and ethnic identity. These were expressions that the plaintiffs associated with their racial and ethnic identities; such as hair styles and the use of their native languages but that might not be considered exclusively associated with those identities. The obverse would be applicable here – expression being covered, but identity being excluded. The history indicates that if expression only is covered in the legislation; unless one can concretely associate an expression with an identity, the identity wouldn’t be covered. It should be obvious - but the definition of gender expression discrimination is that it is based upon gender expression that isn’t associated with one’s identity."
And on a later blog, Kathy added:

I followed up and asked if these [national-level organizations] had raised objections to the language in previous meetings and she confirmed that they had. The language hasn't changed since they raised these objections. And no one from these groups has stated that they were convinced their previous objections were groundless. It could just be that they maintain these objections, but won't voice them going forward out of process & political considerations."
"Drafting legislation is a highly skilled art. To be useful, civil rights statutes must be worded carefully. Sloppy or ambiguous language can create unintended loopholes or exclusions that may defeat the purpose of passing a law in the first place. Once a nondiscrimination statute is passed, courts will scrutinize the language very closely. Lawyers representing employers (landlords, businesses, etc.) will do their best to find loopholes and to persuade courts to interpret the law as narrowly as possible.... Individual litigants have won or lost cases depending on how narrowly or broadly a particular court has interpreted this single phrase. To avoid these problems as much as possible, it is a good idea to enlist the help of supportive attorneys and/or legislators who are skilled at drafting legislation, and who can help you anticipate criticisms, misunderstandings, and unintended consequences of language that is confusing, weak, or just poorly drafted." — the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force from their paper entitled "Transgender Equality."

While Mara Keisling of NCTE and presumably Lisa Mottet and other organizations' legal eagles had chance to review and even raised issue with the language (which I'd written about in my March 9 blog), since getting their hands slapped by Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) and Rep. Barney Frank they've all been conspicuously mute on the issue. Only recently did NCTE publicly respond, which I reprint from Helen Boyd's blog

From NCTE:

Last night, Representative John Conyers of Michigan re-introduced The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, H.R. 1913. This would be the first-ever federal law to provide protections for transgender people. It is identical to the hate crimes bill passed by the House of Representatives in 2007 and includes the language that transgender advocates requested. It is also the first transgender inclusive bill to be introduced during this Session.

In his comments introducing the bill, Rep. John Conyers stated, "Hate crime statistics do not speak for themselves. Behind each of the statistics is an individual or community targeted for violence for no other reason than race, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Law enforcement authorities and civic leaders have learned that a failure to address the problem of bias crime can cause a seemingly isolated incident to fester into widespread tension that can damage the social fabric of the wider community. The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 is a constructive and measured response to a problem that continues to plague our nation. These are crimes that shock and shame our national conscience. They should be subject to comprehensive federal law enforcement assistance and prosecution."

Representatives are heading home to their districts for spring recess from now until April 21st. It is vital that you call them in their district offices to urge their support for this critical piece of legislation. Those who oppose this legislation will be active during this time-we need to be as well so that members of Congress are hearing from those directly affected by this legislation. Please take this important step to help address the violence faced by transgender people.


The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, H.R. 1913, would:

Extend existing federal protections to include "gender identity, sexual orientation, gender and disability"

Allow the Justice Department to assist in hate crime investigations at the local level when local law enforcement is unable or unwilling to fully address these crimes

Mandate that the FBI begin tracking hate crimes based on actual or perceived gender identity

Remove limitations that narrowly define hate crimes to violence committed while a person is accessing a federally protected activity, such as voting.


For more information:

Read the specifics about this legislation from the Library of Congress, go to their website and search by bill H.R. 1913....

& That's exactly why I love NCTE: all the info you need to do what you need to do.
So much for noting Mara actually doing the right thing last month. Even Lisa Mottet, who was very hands-on with any proposed legislation and extremely keen on inadequate legislative wording becoming bad law, has been astonishingly silent. The very people who's paid job it is to make us aware of what's legislatively coming down the pike are, as Kathy put it, acquiescing to "process" for "political considerations." As I'd written about in February, this is what Washington has become.

Worse still, there's nothing we can do about it. LCCR's Henderson is already aggravated that the Hate Crimes wording has had to be expanded, most pointedly since it was the gay and especially the lesbian community who impressed upon him the pressing need for expanding the bill to cover atypical gender characterics. This coming after years of rebuffing the transgender community's calls for extending coverage! Reports are that he's of no mind to revisit it again.

And Ol' Barn'? "This is what you get!" is his general thoughts on it. He could not care less about what our concerns are on the subject. Gender expression is certainly covered by definition, meaning his community is now completely protected once it becomes law. Our opposing it gives Barney a delicious bit of irony: "this is what I get for helping them! (even with bad law language) Why should I bother?" Basically, it's all the cover he needs to leave us out of ENDA the minute we oppose it. And besides, he hired a trans man! He's got his "throw down" tranny! As comedian Jeff Foxworthy would say, "...there's your sign...."

I'm sure Barney, HRC and the back-room exclusionist queers are laughing so hard they wet themselves. One thing's for certain: none of these parties can ever look for to us ceasing the protests, or taking every opportunity to slam and embarrass them. Welcome to the wonderful world of dirty politics and crappy law.

"Whether it comes from a despotic sovereign or an elected president, from a murderous general or a beloved leader, I see power as an inhuman and hateful phenomenon." — murdered Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci

All the while this is playing out, we're also seeing the beginnings of the Angie Zapata murder trial and its barristerial gymnastics by Allen Ray Andrade's defense team, doing what they are paid to do: dazzling the court-watchers by pulling off a logic-defying feat of avoiding conviction at all costs. In theory, the district attorneys and the investigators should have done such a thorough job that such lawyerly twists, turns and double backflips will be pinned dead to rights.

Of course, we all know that nothing is perfect. As the Gwen Araujo case in California showed us, even the most diligently investigated of cases can still snag.

The results there got convictions, but it was less-than-optimal. The DA out there chickened out, ultimately. Worse, we had some in the gay and lesbian leadership out there, who'd sidled up to the Guerrero family to bask in some of the media face-time afterglow, later instructing those of us in the trans community who were involved in the case from day one that the eventual sentences were just (including a seven year stint for the Jason Cazares who likely struck the killing blow)!

Imagine having a standing hate crimes law on the books during a Matthew Shepard and having prosecutors justify this stuff by saying it was panic and settling instead for a seven-year plea bargain. Then imagine the trans community instructing the gay community to be happy about the outcome. The community would be roiling in outrage.

The Zapata trial is going well at the moment. The district attorneys laid out their case quite adroitly in its opening arguments. Of course the Andrade defense team is trying to counter with the trans-panic defense regardless. It appears from initial impressions that the defense is playing a losing hand. However, this is small town Colorado and also the first bill testing their freshly enacted Hate Crimes law. I look forward to a proper conviction and sentence, but I'm also mindful that courts aren't always fair to either ethnic minorities or especially toward transgenders.

"The lies, the hurt, the pain, the hate
Really keep fuckin' with me.
There's no where else to go." — Embrace, Korn

As I'd mentioned in my own state hate crimes testimony a couple weeks ago, not all hate crimes end in murder. Some don't even reach the point of physical conflict, but are extremely unnerving nevertheless. Sarah Anne Vestal dropped me a note about a recent incident she had on the day before my testimony in Austin while she was returning a rental car to the Little Rock airport in Arkansas:

Late yesterday morning, I returned a rental car to National Car Rental at Little Rock National Airport. The attendant, obviously noting that I was a male to female transsexual, forced me to park my car in three different spaces, move my luggage twice, then move the car again before he would provide me a receipt for my car rental. During this time, he referred to me as a “screwed-up man faggot” and used other derogatory male terms even though I was presenting entirely as female. (I am a post-operative transsexual who has lived solely as a woman for years.) When I asked for the manager, he pointed at the person in their key booth in the parking lot. He followed me to that person and when I tried to explain what happened, the original attendant interrupted and threatened to “take the head off the big motha fuckin faggot” if I continued with the story. He then took actions which led me to believe he was going to cause me physical harm such as running up to me and cocking his arm as to hit me. The man in the booth yelled at the attendant to stop, but he then chased me into the airport while screaming more threats of bodily harm. This incident was also witnessed by the National Car customer service woman who had walked out of the desk area. She made no effort to help me with the attendant.

... I went straight to the police area near check-in. The officer who was behind the door listened to my story, looked at me crying, and said he could not do anything since the man did not physically hit me. The police officer told me to go back to the National Car rental area and speak to the manager....

... On the way through security, I stopped and tried to speak to LRPD Officer “Mack” so as to understand why they would not help me. Officer Mack rudely told me that if I did not calm down, he would make sure I would miss my flight home.
While National Car Rental (also dba: as Alamo Car Rental) is on the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Assn. (IGLTA) as a Platinum sponsor for the past two years, they've apparently not bothered with impressing upon their rental associates things like sensitivity, much less professional customer service with GLBT people. In their press release, National & Alamo's parent group Vanguard's International Marketing Manager, Paul Huber, stated “I am pleased to be partnered with a great group as the IGLTA. I am honored to participate in the “Driving Proudly” sponsorship and look forward to the great things to come.”

It doesn't sound like terroristic threats are quite what Vanguard's Huber had in mind. However, it was also equally noteworthy that Little Rock police thought that was no real issue to even bother with. Unless you're actually physically attacked or killed, why should he bother getting his butt up off the stool? That seems to be the general attitude.

Yes, hate seems to be on everyone's mind these days. Will we have some foresight about not revisiting these horrific tragedies and do the proactive thing now? Or will it simply sit stagnating, waiting to fester into something worse?

In explaining his impression of when Texas was going to revisit the James Byrd Hate Crimes bill to expand it to include trans people, Randall Terrell said, "it's probably going to take another tragedy (like Matthew Shepard or Gwen Araujo) before they address this." As MLK said, and as exhibited in actions thanks to LGRL's Dianne Hardy-Garcia and Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis: "justice delayed is justice denied."

So the question begs: why?

"There are weapons that are simply thoughts and attitudes, prejudices to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill. And suspicion can destroy. And a thoughtless search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own." — Rod Serling (from the episode: The Monsters Have Come To Maple St.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Monsters Have Come To Maple Street … Or Creekside Park”

"Look at that street. It's nothing but candles. It's like going back into the Dark Ages or something." — the character Charlie from 'The Monsters Have Come To Maple Street' by Rod Serling

Well, since my original blog post yesterday got hijacked (read wiped out) by the 21-hour power outage due to yesterday's run-of-the-mill thunderstorm, I'm doing a different one instead.

Yesterday and especially last night was right out of Rod Serling for me, save for the meteor vs. space ship controversy, resulting paranoia and eventual, chaotic turning against ourselves. We had nothing but a typical thunderstorm with heavy rain and not even a notable amount of lightning strikes, but we couldn't explain nor determine why it required us a full day in the dark. The Monsters had come to Creekside Park Drive.

As night fell, it became obvious that our block was the only one left without power! Literally I could walk down to the main road, or over to the next street and see light, but then turn the corner onto our street and it was pitch dark! Literally there was one house with light and another with no power right next door!

It was kinda creepy being the only ones left in the dark for the night. Even though we were civil amongst ourselves, there was edgy frustration. No one was happy, and we were either sitting on porches or truck tailgates in driveways or restlessly wandering the streets.

It was as if the rest of the world was going on with their regular lives and we were left out and forgotten. Our street was singled out for the Dark Ages. Oddly it's how I felt: I had so much I needed to get done along with the blog and I was simply stuck in neutral with a fully wasted day!

So I began today inherently agitated. It also occurred to me the date: today is April 19th. This is the wack jobs nut-out and commit mass mayhem day. It's also a red-letter day for liberal-hating right-wing types as it's the anniversary of the siege at the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco. While his sect was deemed extremely controversial and referred to as a cult, the FBI raid and resulting violent immolation by David Koresh and his followers struck a nerve in neo-conservatives of the religiopolitical variety.

Extremist conservatives saw it as a catalytic date to strike back at the government. At the two-year anniversary, it was Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols who used the day to bomb the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Hopefully the day ends up with no incident, however the significance shouldn't be put out of mind with the current anti-government fervor by even more mainstream conservatives. To wit: the recent Teabaggers revolt. While the Teabag parties went on without incident on April 15, there was one incident in front of the White House where protesters tossed over a box of tea. In the post 9/11 world with America at war, it's no surprise that the Secret Service immediately seized upon the item and broke up the protest post-haste.

"Let me tell you: you're starting something here that ... that's what you should be frightened of! And as God is my witness, you're letting something begin here that's a nightmare!" — character Les Goodman from 'The Monsters Have Come To Maple Street' by Rod Serling

A number of articles looked at the tax day, teabag protests and seemed to note a lack of real message. It seems these are just protests of folks being angry just for the sake of being angry. And of course conservative politicians are taking every opportunity to be front and center, riding the wave of anger.

Brian Smith, a marketer from Greenville, S.C., in Washington on business who came by the rally stated his reasons for attending: "I love my country and I don't like what's going on. Government – to be honest with you, and this will probably be misquoted, but on 9/11, I think they hit the wrong building. They should have gone into the Capitol building, hit out, knocked out both sides of the aisle, we'd start from scratch, we'd be better off today." When the reporter from Salon pointed out that "they" did try to hit the Capitol, Smith replied "Yeah, I know, they missed. The wrong sequence. If someone had to go, it should have been the Capitol building. On that day I felt differently, but today that's the way I feel."

Neo-patriotism: Love your country, but cheer on any terrorist that takes out the U.S. Government! And this is post 9/11, coming openly at a rally that nationally featured a who's who of conservative Republican America! I recall Pres. George W. Bush stating before his initial joint-session speech after the attacks that "either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." So now in 2009 you can be with both?

The Washington protest crowd cheered loudly when neo-con radio pundit Laura Ingraham said they were all "right-wing extremists," referring to a Homeland Security report warning of danger from disgruntled conservatives. Actually I don't think that's so far-fetched to be scoffed. These types of protests, full of older, 'rock-ribbed Republicans,' would be perfect cover for agents provocateur. Toss in a Posse Comitatus or a WTO anarchist type with an incendiary device and this could get ugly very quickly.

And the jammed messaging in heavy rotation is that "this is the tip of the iceberg!"

"I know who it is! I know who the monster is! I know who it is that doesn't belong among us!" — the character Charlie from 'The Monsters Have Come To Maple Street' by Rod Serling

Even Texas' own Gov. Perry's comments are being both picked apart and strongly defended by many of his conservative colleagues! Fox's Geraldo Rivera called him "grossly irresponsible" and ripe for impeachment, but good conservatives like the unimpeachable Tom DeLay called Perry a "righteous governor" who was "standing up for the sovereignty of his state." To that end, Texas House is pushing through HCR 50, a resolution establishing Texas' sovereignty from Federal Government mandates. The Guv is also still pushing forth that he will reject at least unemployment funding (though his rhetoric indicates he's rejecting stimulus money en toto).

To that end, with little debate, the House on a voice vote approved erasing 96 percent of the nearly $24 million that budget writers had recommended for Perry's office operation over the next two years. "That's the headline: 'Two days after governor says we ought to secede, House zeroes out the governor's budget,'" said Appropriations Committee vice chairman Richard Raymond, (D-Laredo)

Impact the state's budget and the state will impact yours!

"Here's something you can do, Charlie. You can keep your mouth shut! You can quit sitting there like a self-appointed hanging judge and climb into bed and forget it!" — character Steve Brand from 'The Monsters Have Come To Maple Street' by Rod Serling

Now some are trying to pull back a bit and explain Gov. Perry's secession commentary on Teabag day. Rep. John Culberson (R-Houston) explained that Gov. Perry just got "excited. Texans are the most patriotic of Americans. Gov. Perry's a patriot, he just got revved up."

After all of the created controversy during last year's presidential campaign about whether or not Barack Obama had refused to pledge allegiance to the flag, it's ironic that Gov. Perry, presumably a "patriotic" pledger would make such statements even in excitement, considering the pledge declares: "one nation, under God, *indivisible* ...." side note to Gov. Rick Perry: Pledging "indivisible" means not dividing states away from the union ... just in case the term wasn't understood. One wonders how "excited" one must get to allow and excuse unpatriotic commentary, Rep. Culberson?

All of this revolutionary hubbub is over, what exactly? They've called them, and people are showing up with blood in their eyes. But what exactly is their point? There's not a tax-hike as yet and taxes are as low as they've been since the 20's, so the paying "too much taxes" doesn't pan out as a sudden problem. Some note the government spending, but this has been going willy-nilly for eight years under a heavy GOP-laden government and no one uttered a peep. Bank bailouts? Those began under George W. Bush, and would've been worse if the House had just buckled under to Bush & Paulson's initial request of $700 billion with no strings attached, nor any accountability!

All we've got is the anger, and as so many of the gleeful anti-Obama pundits have continued the mantra: this is just the tip of the iceberg. With everyone scared and in the dark, and the frenzy the media pundits have inspired now, the monsters have come to America now. The only question is truly who are the monsters?

"Throw them into darkness for a few hours, then sit back and watch the pattern.... They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find; and it's themselves. All we need do is sit back and watch.... Their world is full of "Maple Streets." And we'll go from one to the other and let them destroy themselves." — the lead observer Alien from 'The Monsters Have Come To Maple Street' by Rod Serling

"We have met the enemy, and he is us." — Walt Kelly from the comic strip 'Pogo'

Friday, April 17, 2009

Texas Talks About Splitting From The United States

"If Texas did secede from the union, we could then invade them for the oil!" — Jay Leno on the Tonight Show

"Texas is moving in circles he doesn't much care for.
Learned a lot of things he knows he ain't got no use for.
Texas is swimmin' in water way over his head.
Even a poor boy knows when he's better off dead." — Texas, Topaz

Yes, Texas is a state of mind. It's bad enough we've had to deal with our own internecine GLBT political controversy, but we're ever aware that even worse horse crap gets lobbed at us from our arch-conservative politicians. Yes, folks all think there was a moderating, progressive revolution in this country last November. Even in Texas we've seen some of that to a lesser level.

But make no mistake: Texas is chock full of nuts when it comes to its arch-conservativism. To that point, Texas' own Gov. Rick Perry dove into the nut bowl head first. He attended a number of Texas cities' Tea Party protests (oddly enough, named after a transgender convention – now defunct – that used to take place in Houston and San Antonio!) While there, he got carried away during his speaking gig and inferred that Texas could secede from the union to protest the government's heavy-handed policies!

We've had other groups, very, very conservative ones (read, right-wing extremists that even the conservative Republicans in Texas considered nutbags) who've developed even splinter political parties to address the need for Texas to once again become a republic. It's a notion popularized in school, where in our Texas history classes we learned that Texas (among other considerations upon ceding into the U.S.) could leave the U.S. without the approval needed by Congress to sanction it.

It turns out that's urban legend (damn inaccurate textbooks!). We can still divide into five states, but we can no longer secede whenever we feel like.

That said, nobody ever wanted to push this ... until now! We've got great Americans like Rush Limbaugh ("I want to see America fail!"), and Glenn Beck with all the stability of Jim Jones pushing everyone to far extremes for the recent measures by Obama on the bank bailouts!

"Texas is runnin' with people he don't like to look at." — Texas, Topaz

Now that over-extreme reaction is in vogue, even mainstream Republicans are finding the swimming fine in the nut bowl.

So besides Voter Photo ID, the next most vital bill the Texas Legislature has to address being fast-tracked at the moment is HCR 50, establishing Texas' right to its sovereignty. Basically it declares that anything the government mandates does not have to be followed by the state of Texas.

At first blush, this seems really bad. But then again, it means we can ignore a number of really bad, very intrustive legislation and orders passed by the Bush Administration!

Think of it: once passed into law, we can say "Hasta La Vista" to No Child Left Behind! It was an unfunded mandate, put hardships on the state in order to follow an arbitrary set of rules put forth by Washington, and did nothing but cause havoc. No Child Left Behind should be immediately terminated, and good riddance to bad Bush-baked bills of similar stripe as well!

The PATRIOT Act? Forget that too! It violates the Constitution on a number of fronts and has long been leaving Texas and numerous American citizens in fear. No to wiretaps, no to warrantless searches, no to illegal detainment and arrests without constitutional arraignment periods. It's time to end this immediately, if not sooner!

We can demand our money back from the banks immediately as well! Nothing in the Constitution says that we have to bail out over-large, revenue-drunken and arrogant businesses with taxpayer money! Whatever happened to that "free market principle" the Republicans used to repeat like a mantra? There's nothing free market about that!

Another bit of good news for folks along Texas' southern border: we should put an immediate halt to the Bush Wall along the Rio Grande! The government has been illegally seizing people's land, dividing and creating hardships for many of these landowners and spending money on a completely impotent boondoggle that's only success is the money it's bringing in for Bush-baby's no-bid contractor constructing it!

"Habits and debts, they don't wither away, they just grow." — Texas, Topaz

If Gov. Closet-Case Perry is serious about this sovereignty biz, then there's not going to be this hypocritical half-assed cherry-picking variety of only certain things. Nope. Pandora's box is flying open widely. Either overturn all the bad stuff, including Perry's buddy the Bush-baby's bills, or he faces backlash as nothing but a double-standard bearing, two-faced piece of garbage – and just in time for election season for 2010!

One more thought: America may just decide Texas has been more trouble than it's worth and give us our walking papers. We did spawn the likes of Enron, Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, Bush-Baby & Daddy, and Karl Rove. Even Dick Cheney kept residence here for a time while heading Halliburton/KBR (whose headquarters is in Houston). And if we're not building the wall between Mexico and Texas any more ... maybe the Obama Administration will decide they need to put up a wall along the Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico border.

To keep the Texans out, ya know?

"I'm just not real sure you're a bunch of right-wing extremists. But if you are, we're with you!" — Texas Gov. Rick Perry

"So pack up your bags, man, collect all your gear.
You'll never quite make it, not hangin' around here." — Texas, Topaz

"Let me tell you people that I found a new way
And I'm tired of all this talk about love,
And the same old story with a new set of words
About the good and the bad and the poor." — Space Cowboy, Steve Miller Band

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Testimony Time In Texas Legislature, Take Two

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent." — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Yes, this was supposed to come out on Sunday or Monday at the latest. Best laid plans ... my back spasms and not one but two teeth with an absess kept me a bit less-than-active. They're still nagging as I write (and it's all I can do to keep my mood on even keel).

Fitting, following last week. I'd described what happened on my testimony to Elections Committee, but there was still the issue of another committee testimony in Texas' House Criminal Jurisprudence subcommittee for extending the Hate Crimes statute to include "gender identity or expression" two days later.

Randall Terrell from Equality Texas (EQ TX) dropped in to watch proceedings, and I spoke with him afterwards about the Hate Crimes bill. Lo and behold, the bill that they weren't promoting and wasn't even submitted come Lobby Day, the one I'd been written to by my friend in legislature noting that there was fear our bill would "get Republicans thinking about stripping sexaul orientation from the bill instead," the very bill I was told wasn't going anywhere during the Lobby Day was moving through committee.

Suddenly Randall's telling me he'll be there to testify! On a bill with "no chance," no less! Not only that, but he's bringing in Lisa Scheps on their behalf to testify along with him! The irony wasn't lost on me (nor the sudden opportunism).

That news gave me extra concern to mull over. I have my own personal issue on why I'm antsy about telling my story on this before people other than the legislators themselves: they are the keepers of the keys! They have ability to pass law to protect us. Others don't.

However, a legislator I'd visited with earlier that day told me this committee was a good one: majority Democrat, the subcommittee we were assigned was all Democrat, and the chair, Rep. Pete Gallego (D) is tenured and efficient, meaning we'd have possibly a one-week turnaround from subcommittee to committee instead of the typical two weeks. So I had my work cut out: all day Wednesday was going to be hitting the halls and roping in co-authors and sponsors for the bill! Plus I still had to herd Rep. Chisum (R) to Rep. Thompson (D) in order that she could give him the info needed to make a decision on what language he'd be fine with to sponsor. No time to worry now.

After checking Facebook on my cell, apparently EQ TX didn't get the info out widely – their other trans board member, Katy Stewart, wrote in response to my previous night's status about my testimony saying she was unaware of the bill in committee or that anyone was even requesting testimony! Nice, eh?

As I'd already have to pay the $6 for 24 hr. parking, and it was off the street and at least a bit more secure than sleeping on the street, I just stayed put and slept there. It was cold, but having the extra clothes helped: I just piled them on top of me, homeless-style, for warmth. And having the Capitol just a block and a half off meant I had easy access to a restroom in the morning for make up, brushing teeth, etc. I'd stumbled on a great spot to stay while in Austin when you're on the penny!

Wednesday was a mad dash all over the Capitol. I got started at about 9AM with a visit to Chisum's aide, noting I'd have to continue monitoring that, and began nearly eleven hours of hitting offices to pull in co-sponsors for the bill. Having only my one sheet with the bill text, it was a little slower than simply a handout and walking. A few of the offices needed some background explanation as well, particularly the handful of Republican offices I visited.

In about ten and a half hours hoofing the marble in the Capitol, I'd hit about 80 offices in all. I'd also pulled in quite a number of supporters ready to sign, and others leaning towards it (something Randall would comment on the next day as he'd apparently called after I'd done my drop-ins looking for support, only to find they'd already had visits from me.)

After that, I retreated to the car and changed into a pair of jeans and my Nikes, grabbed my Walkman and began my power-walk to work off some of the edginess on the next day's testimony. After a quick stop at 8:30 to ask if Rep. Chisum had visited with Thompson's office (he hadn't!), I really needed to walk off the stress. So off I walked down Congress to Sixth Street!

It was a great night for it: balmy, light breeze and a nearly-full moon. I must've walked a couple miles on my circuitous meander downtown, before finally settling in at a little hole-in-the-wall on 6th with dollar Lone Stars and a really decent, Stevie Ray Vaughan-inspired band playing for tips – the Jamie Krueger Band. They were great (and the lead-man was a cutie too!) For a grand total of $5, I had three beers and a great way to get my mind off of my troubles!

At midnight, it was just a little six block walk up the hill to my car in the parking garage, where I ate some Cheese-Its for dinner (ha!) and had a nice sleep. The night turned out pretty good!

Once I woke up, I was afraid I'd overslept a little. It was nearly 8AM and I had to change pretty quickly, then run to the Capitol to put my face on in the Women's restroom during the morning rush! There, I met Julie DeGrace from San Antonio who also came up for testimony, and my nerves start stressing. Our committee room was more full than I'd expected, with even more of us in for testimony: Susan Pollock-French (mom of a trans man), Katy Koonce (one of TGAIN's helping professional lobbyists, and self-identified gender expressing lesbian as well), plus another friend, Randall Ellis (former E. D. for LGRL in their good period).

My nerves were wracking now! No, it's not because of testimony of a general basis. I could do that in my sleep. Randall had specifcally asked for someone who'd been a recipient of hate violence.

It meant I was going to have to out myself and talk about the fact I'd been through that myself. It's one thing discussing things third person, and even then (having two people I know being on the Remembering Our Dead website -- two friends) it's still not without its impact. But discussing things that happen first-person, where the memories are easily refreshed and the shock rushes back in almost automatically, makes for a more difficult task. I really didn't want to break down while talking about it. It's embarrassing.

About 45 minutes into the committee testimony (our bill was the third of four to be addressed), we were notified the House was called into session. Committee would have to delay until that afternoon after lunch! More time ... but also more time to think!

The previous night as I walked, I was going over testifying about what happened to me with TransFM's Ethan St. Pierre on the phone and threatening to back out of talking about it. He urged me to do it anyway, against my better judgement. For the next few hours, I had a mental tug-of-war over how I would testify. And I also began thinking that if the James Byrd Hate Crimes bill had included us, how different my situation might have been (considering it happened over two years after the bill became law). Then depression began to set in on top of it all!

"I felt a duty to testify." — former Atty. Gen, Ramsey Clark

Soon enough, those four hours flew by and committee reconvened. As I walked up to testify and stood before the committee, I could already feel the tightening of the throat. It was tough, especially with an "audience," but I managed to get through it without a breakdown. However, my testimony sucked overall as I was too focused on "not breaking down" and truncated my own allotted time in order to do it, leaving a number of other points uncovered. Thankfully, the points I'd have typically touched upon were covered by both Lisa Scheps and Julie DeGrace.

Maybe it's good being outed on that as it'll give me reason to focus on self-desensitizing the incident, which I do need to tackle. Yet I still fear the potential ramifications of it.

Once finished, Randall Terrell from Equality Texas called us outside the committee room to brief us on the next steps. He'd found out earlier in the day and did a victory dance over getting HB 1323 (an anti-bullying bill) out of committee and to the floor – good news! Then he again dropped the bomb on us all: this bill was virtually certified dead because we'd "reached our quota" on GLBT bills with the Anti-bullying and his desired bill commissioning a study on why the James Byrd Hate Crimes bill was not being utilized.

As soon as that bit of news popped out, and seeing my reaction to this, Lisa Scheps (a board member of EQ TX, mind you) made herself scarce.

"Playin' hard. Talkin' fast. Makin' sure that he won't be the last." — Mistra Know-It-All, Stevie Wonder

Terrell tried to play it off as not going anywhere (no thanks to them!) and how the study bill was much more important (obviously for him). His reasoning was that it would be good to understand why we are all not being covered, even trans! Gee, I could answer him that one all by myself after asking Harris County's Dist. Atty: trans folks aren't explicitly covered in the bill and they won't "create law" – only follow the letter of it as its written! It never ceases to amaze me how stupid they continue playing me off to be! Would they do likewise if it was someone gay or lesbian instead? Is it a habit of his to make disparate people feel like fools?

This is coming from a guy who admittedly can't even get Rep. Warren Chisum to support any of his bills, although I have no problem getting him to support mine! And I'm the dunce ... well! One thing that strikes me out of this is how he's taking ownership of a bill that has no GLB in it! If we left it up to him, we'd have virtually nothing. I didn't wait around expecting them to do for us – I knew better! The bill requests blasted out there came from me a month before Lobby Day, the notes to the committee folks, following up on the status, pushing Chisum to support, and all the footwork in the House side – that came from my side, not theirs!

And suddenly he walks in on a bill he declared dead a month earlier, wants control of it, only to control the agenda and ensure it goes nowhere? All because it counts as part of the GLBT quota, even though they (the GLB portion) already got theirs years ago? How selfish is that?

News flash: this is a Trans bill! If Equality Texas can't help, they damn sure should not hurt! If this is the way it's going to be, then next session's Trans bills, such as the name & gender change bill (something that doesn't affect sexual minorities) and the hate crimes bill expansion (they're covered already, we are not) will be taken back by TGAIN. It's not GLBT, it's T alone. We have different circumstances we have to address, such as Voter Photo ID legislation, which again does not touch the overwhelming majority of the gay and lesbian community, but it quite important to transitioning trans people!

We cannot depend on disaffected people to understand our issues completely, no matter how long we educate them (and I get the impression that that hasn't even been fully addressed either). All they seek is opportunistic glory, PR and a little bit of money. We see nothing like that. We only know our people continue being attacked and killed in Texas for being who they are, we have no protections and we have self-appointed advocates that are giving us short shrift!

Well, I'm over being depressed about it. Now I'm thoroughly pissed! It's time, Texas! It's time to take control of our own destiny for a change!

"Justice delayed is justice denied." — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Testimony Time In Texas Legislature

"I need you, my witness,
To dress this up so bloodless;
To numb me and purge me now
Of thoughts of blaming you." — Testify, Rage Against The Machine

It's been quite a wild week. Sleeping in my car a couple nights near the State Capitol, staying up late into the night at one House committee testimony and waiting around for a second bill's testimony 36 hrs. later, and finally driving home, collapsing in exhaust only to wake up the next day to find my dad's hometown took a direct hit by a tornado and we don't know what happened to all our relatives there (to say nothing of the family drama here at home with my sister and brother-in-law).

Weeks like this make it hard to figure out where to begin. After getting news Friday morning from the TLIS (Texas Legislation site) that the Voter Photo ID bill which passed in the Senate was coming to the House Elections Committee on Tuesday, I braced myself for another long drive and possible long night (the Senate version of it had me waiting nearly 20 hrs. to testify). Before I left, I saw a note on the same bill from Meghan Stabler, one of HRC's two trans folks. so I dropped her a note and a phone call to let her know what was needed and what to expect.

Then after discovering on Sunday the Hate Crimes bill I'd been pushing since returning from DC in early February was hitting subcommittee about 44 hrs. later. Initially I considered leaving the Voter ID bill testimony to Meghan and just driving in Thursday for the Hate Crimes testimony, but I thought better of it. Again I dropped a note to her with the update that I'd come in Tuesday and stay over until Thursday, thinking she might hit the second one as well.

It turns out Meghan's job kept her over, she did her class presentation at University of Texas that evening, afterwards went to dinner with her mate, Erin, got tired and went home. So I never saw Meghan. Even though I didn't feel like it, I'm now glad I went for both the Voter ID and the Hate Crimes bills (which I was unaware anyone else was attending by the time I left). Now we've got the crucial last piece: testimony on the bill in both Houses of the legislature and before both authors, alerting them that their proposed legislation will be stripping the right to vote from one law-abiding, taxpaying segment of the population whose photo ID's will not match: transitioning transsexuals.

Any attempt to push through Voter ID legislation in Texas that requires matching identification without dealing with name and gender changes in the state statute will result in direct and knowing violation of our civil right to vote.

And as fate would have it, I palled around with the executive director of the ACLU Texas while sitting in testimony. She saw the whole thing as well. So a little good came with the frustration!

First thing I noted when walking into the House hearing was that color-coding was in effect again, and the committee room was a sea of red! Pro Voter Photo ID folks dominated the meeting room; many of them from a name quite familiar to the trans community: Concerned Women For America!

This version of testimony was a bit more entertaining that the Senate. We had some real lulus testifying. One elderly woman from Corpus Christi who said her husband was Ben Garza who'd died a year ago (presumably Jr. as the LULAC founder died many years ago), started a disjointed rant about a number of groups such as LULAC (corruption), the Teacher's Union (founded by communists), La Raza [Unida] (socialists) and impugning other groups and organizations on what seemed like a ten minute ramble that never really made a point, other than to slam the Democrats (fascist and corrupt).

At one point, we had counsel from the Texas Attorney General's Office admonish both the committee legislators and the audience not to discuss two ongoing investigations of fraud in Progreso TX and in Harris County! Later a group from the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) of mostly elderly women called the OWLS (Objective Watchers of the Legal System) testified individually to support the Voter ID bill due to some of the aforementioned fraud in Progreso being actively investigated by the Attorney General's Office.

Later, when one of the OWLS women were testifying, State Rep. Betty Brown (R-Kaufman) began inexplicably reading affidavits with details about Progreso during the committee, becoming part of the record of proceedings in defiance of Attorney General's instruction! It's ironic that someone supporting this legislation before us, intent of which is to end voter fraud, would then defy the Attorney General's counsel and potentially jeopardize their case on ... voter fraud! Yeah, she seriously wants to end voter fraud, hmm?

But the hits kept coming from Rep. Brown! At one point while questioning Ramey Ko, testifying on behalf of Asian-American Texas voters was questioned by the affable Ms. Brown: "well, rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese, I understand it's a difficult language, do you think it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could more readily deal with here?" "Can't you see that this is something that...this is something that would make it easier for you and...the pollworkers if there were some means by which you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that was easier for Americans to deal with?"

Dig it. We're an enlightened state here in Texas. And this comes from the same conservative party that won't do anything to make transitioning trans people identities easier for pollworkers to "readily deal with"! I wanted to scream.

Later in the testimony, I saw Randall Terrell from Equality Texas walk in and chat with folks up near the podium. It was a bit surprising as it's not a bill that effects gay and lesbian (thus not really on their radar – it wasn't on the Senate side.)

Finally I got my chance to speak well after 11PM. The first thing I noted odd was the clerk, who usually sat at his desk next to the testimony lectern with the three minute timer physically got up and sat beside the committee chair at the committee table. He returned again to his desk after I finished. The next thing was the reaction of the committee members – almost immediately stand-offish. I was the only person testifying up to that point that was not asked follow-up questions, and instead was cut off by the committee chair ensuring me that transitioning transsexuals are "part of the bill" or if not, they'll ensure that we're "covered" in it.

Yet there was no awareness of Committee Chair Todd Smith (R-Bedford) of the bill's language (nor desire to discover), and he appeared all about ensuring me we're covered and having me leave the podium as soon as possible. All in all it was a bit curious behavior on their part.

Eventually though, I actually made it out of the hearing a little before midnight! Much earlier than I was fearing initially, but too late to go anywhere. After a discussion with Randall from EQ TX after completing my testimony, I learned others would be coming in to testify on the Hate Crimes bill expanding coverage for trans Texas (which I'll save for the next blog post.)

Afterward I walked back across the campus, reflecting in the fully lit glow of the limestone Capitol Building, and back across to the parking garage where I parked. On my way back I notic0.ed two other cars parked just outside the Capital Grounds fence with people in it, apparently camping out themselves. I take it they were living in their cars, simply looking for safe places to park for the night. Fitting imagery.

Once back in the garage, I pulled my suitcase out of the trunk to bring up front and camped out in my car for the night. Not a bad spot to sleep for the night, really. The next couple days were gonna be busy, and I needed some sleep.

(To Be Continued)

"On the corner
The jury's sleepless.
We found your weakness,
And it's right outside your door!
Now testify!" — Testify, Rage Against The Machine

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Outrage Is All The Rage

"You don't really know why
But want justify
Rippin' someone's head off....
Your best bet is to stay away, motherf*cker!
It's just one of those days!" — Break Stuff, Limp Bizkit

Decorum is out. Outrage is in. And it seems there's no end in sight. It's not just outrage from the right or outrage from the left. Outrage in America is everywhere.

Transgenders are outraged at gays and lesbians. Gay and lesbians are outraged at straights. Even straights are losing patience with bigoted churches and religiopolitical hypocrites and leaving organized religion in notable numbers. And of course the Moral Majority's religiopolitical leaders are outraged at politicians on all sides as well as all queers for allowing tolerance to happen.

The wealthy are enraged at the Wall Street investors who've ruined their investments, and in some cases created elaborate scams over the years to literally fleece them like sheep! Americans of all stripes who are not the wealth-class are livid with the wealthy executives everywhere, who profiteer on outsourcing jobs to other countries for years, then when the workers no longer buy, again shed jobs like crazy to retain their own jobs and living standards.

Political pundits and reporters are incensed at politicians for having no answers and allowing America to end up in this financial crevasse. Politicians are demanding greedy, insensitive executives' heads on a spit.

Republicans are outraged at Democrats who want to increase the deficit for infrastructure instead of just borrowing money to continue funding their tax cuts. Democrats are outraged at wealthy Republicans who voted for initial Wall Street bailouts, raised hell over spending and are now trying to run interference instead of taxing their Wall Street pals.

America's citizenry is livid with Washington elected officials (though more avidly so on those of parties opposite of their own), and as an example we see Tea Party efforts springing up around the country to protest. Meanwhile the President and his cabinet are starting to become testy with the critics who have them on a hot seat, wondering where the criticisms have been for the previous Administration while this economy tanked over the past couple years.

Even overseas, countries around the world are outraged and taking to the streets in mass protest over their governments, such as we've seen in France's protests against Sarkozy, and the British protests of the country's banks when the Obamas came to London. In both the U.s. and even in India where many of America's jobs were offshored to, angry employees facing layoffs commandeered and held employers hostage, with the one in India resulting in serious violence to their former boss.

This recent mood-of-the-day has begun to take on a life of its own. In some of the scenarios, if one projects this forward, we could be facing some extreme and maybe uncontrollable situations. All the ingredients are there – and this time it won't simply be World Trade Organization protests.

"Get out of my way!
Just step aside,
Or pay the price.
What I want I take.
What I don't I break –
And I don't want you." — Problem Child, AC/DC

Even former President George w. Bush (remember the Bush-baby?) foresaw the need last year to quell some serious foreseen outrage take the 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Brigade Combat Team fresh back from Iraq, train them during the summer and deploy them on October 1, 2008 right here in the U.S. True! It's the first time ever that an entire American brigade has ever been deployed in America (per Posse Comitatus, it's supposed to be the National Guard that handles those duties – maybe the folks in Washington are angling for an ugly fight?)

Since the election went the wrong way for them, these same GOP folks who grew used to having the world by the tail are now in a very special outrage. Forget their big pundits like Rush Limbaugh wanting America to fail, we just saw an outraged conservative type taking rage to a new level by putting on his bulletproof vest, arming to the teeth and when his mom called police for a domestic dispute, ambushed and killed three Pittsburgh police officers answering the call.

So does this mean it's time to put a lid on the rage and try to quell it? There's certainly the usual answer that this is a prudent way of dealing with a suddenly volatile situation. The last example I provided was a good example of rage gone wrong. There must be limits that aren't surpassed.

So then should all this rage be turned down and silenced?

Personally, I don't see that as being a good idea at all. It's exactly what those empowered types who've driven us to this point of utter outrage and desperation are counting on: we will self-control ourselves and simmer down, inuring ourselves to this new era of allowing the outrageous acts to continue with little to no recompense. This only emboldens the perennial transgressors to "screw" us yet again since there's no real disincentive, with an additional sense for the rest of us all to feel we were connived into letting the transgressors off the hook! That, of course, again increases the rage another notch.

At some point, the blatant disparities and the Machiavellian winner-take-all cheat-fest have to stop. We've been experiencing this sense for well over two decades and it's only building to a head. Allowing it to slide by yet again is tacit approval and leaves all those who've lost feeling the need for vindication.

Back in the day I used to half-joke about Bastille Day II coming. As Bush's arrogant presidency was nearing its end, it became much less a joke. While we have a much better sense of leadership coming from Washington these days, we're still feeling the institutions in business and politics are screwing the too-trusting White House and, most especially, the American citizens.

Something's gotta change drastically, and soon. But knowing our history and the stodgy resistance ingrained in those business and political institutions, I fear it won't change until it's forced.

"One - Something's got to give.
Two - Something's got to give.
Three - Something's got to give, now!
Let the bodies hit the floor!" — Bodies, Drowning Pool

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Suicide Prevention Groups Are Potential Trans-Allies

"Each victim of suicide gives his act a personal stamp which expresses his temperament, the special conditions in which he is involved, and which, consequently, cannot be explained by the social and general causes of the phenomenon." — French sociologist, Emile Durkheim

My last blog apparently broke open the floodgates on this subject, unintentionally. Just a note, y'all: I didn't do this to put out my shingle as some sort of community counselor. I'm not. In three days, besides C (subject on my last blog), I've now had to talk three people away from dancing along the edge perilously. I would go into the details but I just don't have the energy.

It's strange how things seem to come in waves. For me they seem to be extreme tidal waves, though maybe it's just me (and maybe instead I've just worked out my quota for the next four years or more recently). But just today, our local news featured a murder / suicide. In calling my friend C to make sure she was okay, she related a story of another community member in North Carolina who came home and "walked into her house, just in time to see her wife blow her brains out."

And even sitting here writing this entry this evening, there's a program about the economy's devastation worldwide, its effects on Japan, and how increasing numbers there are turning to prayer, and then to suicide. I don't like that fact that I hear it so frequently suddenly, nor that it's had it's rather close history to me.

But for me, just like in football, when you hurt an ankle, a leg or a foot, you don't favor it. You put your weight on it to the point where you reach your pain threshold – and continue the process. In time, you push the threshold further. In time, you are able to tolerate incrementally larger amounts of the pain. Maybe it's not for everyone, but it helps me shave time off of recuperation for me. You seek out coping mechanisms as best you can.

"People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing.
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin.

.... No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go." — Watching The Wheels, John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Coping, and finding the tools to cope, are key to living in these trying times. One of the things my friend C has been doing recently in order to cope is roughly what she's been doing before all this: avoiding her personal life and its problems and sinking herself into doing something, even volunteer work. The day after her suicide attempt, and again today, she dropped in on meeting with her state chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention ( This time it was a good move.

It's highlighted some natural alliances that really shouldn't be ignored. One of the things she mentioned is how survivors noted at the meeting an anguish of how others misunderstood their family or loved one's suicide. They felt that outsiders tended to think of suicide victims as being "freakish," feelings of being ostracized and of others not understanding. She then asked me "who else does that sound like?"

That doesn't even take into account the fact that trans people make up a disproportionate number of suicides for many obvious reasons: employment loss or long-term joblessness, family ostracization, isolation, stress, fears for their future or for their safety, etc. Just as with trans people, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions.

One thing most people may not realize is that approximately 35,000 people commit suicide in the U.S.A. annually. Suicides also consistently outnumber homicides by 3 to 2 per the Suicide Prevention Action Network ( That's over seven times the number that perished during 9/11. In one years' study for 2005, there were 32,637 suicides. Ironically, the prime ages for those committing suicide were between the ages of 35-55. This is a wake up for folks like C, and me too! But for society at large, as well as trans people, we're finding that age met where you reflect on life at a time when larger and larger swaths of society are finding that "American Dream" has vanished. It stands to reason these would be the most vulnerable ages.

And the highest per capita rate was actually from those age 75 and older, with teens and pre-teens the lowest percentage, though for those 15-24 it was still more than 10 per 100,000 people. More than twice as many women attempt suicide, however men succeed in suicide more than four times more often. In fact, women attempt suicide on average of once every 78 seconds in this country. Men actually commit suicide once every 90 minutes.

That said, women have the best coping mechanisms typically: a social circle of friends. That social circle is key to surviving this condition. Isolation, or feelings of being alone and uncared for tend to be one of the strongest symptoms of leading people to feeling suicidal.

Yet even with the prevalence of suicide, it's rarely discussed, rarely addressed in Washington and rarely ever is given a high profile in seeking legislation to proactively effect programs or measures to help mitigate the problem. Like trans issues, it's nearly always a political hot potato legislators handle gingerly it at all.

We share more than community overlap, but also some common frustrations at the political pace of progress – or lack thereof.

"Whatsoever I've feared has come to life.
Whatsoever I've fought off became my life.
Just when everyday seemed to greet me with a smile,
Sunspots have faded and now I'm doing time.
Cause I fell on ... black days.
I want to know, if this could be my fate." — Black Days, Soundgarden

There's certainly a need for us to be not only finding ways to incorporate our folks into the helping professional and suicide prevention community, but to seek a partnering on other issues as well as it relates to our community overlap. For some time, there's been discussion in the trans community about trying to expand Day of Remembrance (remembering victims of hate violence) into a larger memorial to simultaneously include victims of suicide.

They are, however, two separate issues. Hate violence deals with specifically directed violence by a person or persons that physically causes injuries or death. While suicide can have an ulterior cause being some of the discrimination and lack of understanding, or even violence threats, they tend to be more murky inasmuch as there's often no direct link to a person who committed physical violence on the victim. It's more reactive, not a physically predatory action committed toward the victim.

Further, equating the two diminishes the unique sense of pain and outrage felt by families whose loved ones died at the hands of such extreme violence. Conflating the two issues doesn't help either surviving family or friends cope adequately.

That said, there is certainly reason to be remembering the victims of suicide as well. Lord knows we've had an inordinate number of them in the trans community, even some of our community leaders.

C had also mentioned that Sept. 10 is the national day of Awareness for Suicide Prevention. Perhaps we may have an opportunity to partner with a non-GLBT entity on something that effects us both. Maybe we could port a Day of Remembrance-styled observance to the designated day for suicide awareness.

It's just a thought. But we need to keep in mind the suffering by the families and friends of suicide victims as well, and find ways to alleviate their concerns about the gulf of unawareness between us. We should be preparing ourselves now to know the reasons, symptoms, and ways of getting those still with us on a more sure footing and able to proceed with their lives.

My most abject fear is that these next few years will be overly daunting enough, and that conditions will be overripe for a wave of trans people falling through the cracks of society, falling into that abyss. Worse, I feel there's a complete disconnect between our leaders – Washington politicos and our own community's advocate leaders alike. There's no sense of the stark realities down here at the bottom, and most of us tend not to look anyway out of our own fears or discomforts.

Hiding our eyes from it won't make it go away. If anything, the problem will quickly snowball and could even create reverberating echo effects from folks that would not normally be in such position save for the tragedy and coping of their own friends' untimely departure.

If we don't start seriously looking at this now, we may be paying a much greater price later.

"Try as you might to remember how a person lived his life, you always end up thinking about how he ended it." — news show host, Anderson Cooper