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.

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