Thursday, December 1, 2011

Policy Matters 12/01/11

Front Page Headlines

HUD Secretary Donovan Addresses NCTE: On Tuesday, November 15th, the Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary addressed the eighth anniversary National Center for Transgender Equality awards ceremony. The event, held at the Mayflower Hotel, drew a crowd that included many notable D.C. LGBT politicos and, according to NCTE, marked the first time a cabinet secretary addressed a transgender organization. Sec. Donovan discussed his commitment to obtaining housing rights for all Americans by fighting discrimination and LGBT homelessness. [Metro Weekly]

MLB’s New Collective Bargaining Agreement Adds “Sexual Orientation” to Discrimination Clause: The new collective bargaining agreement, released Tuesday, added the words “sexual orientation” to its section on discrimination. In the new agreement, the words “sexual orientation” were added to Article XV which originally stated “The provisions of this Agreement shall be applied to all Players covered by this Agreement without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.” [NY Daily News]

Memorial and March in San Francisco Celebrates Activist Harvey Milk: On the 33rd anniversary of Harvey Milk’s assassination in San Francisco, residents filled the streets to remember the life of an inspirational LGBT activist and public official. Cleve Jones, a prominent LGBT and HIV/AIDs activist spoke at the rally, reminding participants of Milk’s legacy: “It’s been 33 years…[Harvey Milk] was not a saint, he was not a genius, he lived right up the street, his life was full of the humiliations and defeats and challenges that all of us endure in our lives. But he was an honest man, he had courage...he changed the world and so can all of you.” [2011 Memorial Video ]

St. Petersburg Prepares to Pass Anti-LGBT Ban on “Propaganda:” In November 2011, St. Petersburg shocked the world. The legislative assembly approved, in its first reading, a bill which outlawed the promotion of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality to minors and equates homosexuality to pedophilia (which the bill also lists as a banned category). If the bill passes individuals could be fined between $100 and $1,600 for “public activities promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism, and transsexuality.” [Radio Free Europe/ Guardian UK]

Policy Watch

Gov. Patrick Signs Gender Identity Bill: Gov. Deval Patrick has signed a bill designed to protect transgender people from discrimination in Massachusetts. Some suggest this is a partial victory due to the agreement to drop public accommodations language that critics said would lead to a breakdown of privacy in rest rooms, locker rooms, and other gendered facilities. “It gave me pause,” Gov. Patrick said, “[But] after consulting with [advocates and transgender people] and my team and my own consciences, I wanted to sign this bill. And then, we’ll come back around to public accommodations.” [Boston Herald]

Gender Identity Bill Poised for Council Approval in Howard County: The County Council is poised to make gender identity a protected classification under county law. All four council Democrats sponsoring the bill confirmed their support for it after a public hearing Monday, Nov. 21st, that was filled with personal stories about transgender discrimination. The hearing drew more than 50 supporters of the bill, which aims to prevent transgender and gender non-conforming persons from being discriminated against with regard to employment, housing, and public accommodations. [Baltimore Sun]

Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act Re-Introduced to Congress: Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced legislation which would provide benefits for and require obligations for the domestic partners of federal employees, including benefits such as health benefits, family and medical leave, and federal retirement benefits. According to the William’s Institute, over 30,000 federal workers live in committed same-sex relationships with partners who are not federally employed. [US Senate Press Release]

Amid Battles to Protect Benefits, LGB Service Members Seek Equality: Lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members have begun to press for benefit equality. Advocates are lobbying the Department of Defense for regulation changes, filing challenges in federal court and pressing Congress to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which prohibits extension of federal benefits, including military allowances, travel costs and health care, to spouses in same-sex marriages. The Miller Institute Social Research Center estimates that these benefit issues impact as many as 66,000 LGB service members. [Military.com]

Question from the Field

Dear Policy Matters,

I am a Maryland advocate for the gender identity bill which our state lawmakers will once again consider in the 2012 legislative session. I read the news about Massachusetts’ new law last week and was again dismayed that protections for public accommodations were cut out of the legislation. I am concerned how Massachusetts’ new law will impact our work. As I talk to people from my neighborhood about our own pending legislation, I find myself faced with many questions about why public accommodations should be included in next year’s bill. Do you have any suggestions for how I can talk about this?

Thank you so much,

Julia

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Dear Julia,

Thank you for writing to Policy Matters! As we all know many critics of gender identity protections are misinformed about why this legislation is so desperately needed. Thanks to the groundbreaking report, Injustice at Every Turn, we know the reality of what transgender and gender non-conforming people are up against in the absence of these lifesaving protections: double the rate of unemployment, widespread mistreatment at work, and a much higher risk of experiencing homelessness due to the loss of a job.

When advocating for gender identity protections, the issue of public accommodations— including gender segregated facilities like restrooms and locker rooms — is most often placed in the public eye, and is one of the most debated aspects of legislation that includes gender identity protections. Opposition groups dedicate a great deal of time and resources to misinform the public about how non-transgender people’s safety would be compromised in gender segregated facilities, and yet even with all that they invest in their lies they have yet to substantiate evidence supporting even one of their shameful assertions. The reality of the problem is that a majority of transgender people report being verbally harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation, including hotels, restaurants, buses, airports and government agencies. Widespread abuse in the public sector is also incredibly common for transgender people to experience, with abuse coming from the hands of “helping professions and government officials” being most often reported (see Injustice at Every Turn).

While it’s important to remind our communities about the realities of how unsafe transgender people truly are in the absence of legal protections, it’s also helpful to take a step back and think about what public accommodations actually include. “Public accommodations” is an umbrella term for the many public services and places we encounter on a day-to-day basis. They are: lodging establishments (hotels, motels) that have more than five rooms and are not actually occupied by the manager (for example, owners who live in their own “Bed and Breakfast”), restaurants, cafeterias, or any other place which sells food for consumption (like gas stations or retail food courts),movie theatres, concert halls, sports arenas, bars, public swimming pools, and any other place of entertainment, retail stores, banks, government agencies, hair salons, taxi cabs, food banks, shelters, shopping malls, dry cleaners, laundromats, doctors’ offices, hospitals, museums, libraries, parks, zoos, amusement parks, private schools, day care centers, health spas, bowling allies, and hospitals.

Within this list alone there are over 35 public places which fall under “public accommodations.” Only two of these affirmatively address gender segregated spaces: restrooms and locker rooms. And we know that in these spaces in particular, the reality is that transgender people endure the threat of physical violence, verbal harassment and disrespect. In fact, Marylanders are painfully aware of the very horrific and public beating of a young transgender woman who simply wanted to use the bathroom she felt safest using at a local McDonald’s in Baltimore County last spring. Unfortunately, several women challenged her choice by verbally humiliating and physically beating her until the point of her having a seizure and blacking out. Employees did nothing to intervene and it wasn’t until an older woman came to the scene of the crime that officials were called for help and assistance.

According to our friends at GLAAD, this incident is:

Evidence of a culture that still does not accept its transgender brothers and sisters. We need more public education around the everyday hardships that transgender individuals face, from using public transportation and showing identification to interviewing for jobs, filling out employment or housing applications, and obtaining medical care. Until more of the media stops under-representing or misrepresenting transgender people, none of this will change.

In addition to the public education that chapters like PFLAG offer, we need legislation that affirmatively protects transgender and gender non-conforming in the spaces where they are the most vulnerable. Until then, we are likely to hear of many more reports just like the incident that occurred in Baltimore County last spring. Let’s do the hard work now of letting our communities know the real facts—let’s get out and talk about the real challenges transgender people endure, and help pass laws like Maryland’s gender identity bill to ensure that our families and friends have a level playing field to a job, a house and yes—public accommodations.

Thank you for moving equality forward,

Policy Matters

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P.S. Have you downloaded our new edition of Bringing the Message Home yet? Get your 2011 version of the how-to guide to PFLAG advocacy now and share it with your chapter. Visit PFLAG nationals' website for more information now!

If you would like to have a policy-related question featured in our next edition, please e-mail rperry@pflag.org with your question no later than Friday, December 9th, 2011.

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