Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk will introduce legislation at the January 17 council meeting that will both gender identity and sexual orientation to the County’s existing anti-discrimination legislation.
Baltimore County is following the lead of neighboring Howard County, which added gender identity to their anti-discrimination legislation last month. The action of both counties follows several high profile crimes against transgender women: Tyra Trent was found dead in an abandoned house in Baltimore last February, and the case has not been solved. Crissy Lee Polis, another transgender woman, was beaten viciously in a Baltimore County McDonald’s for using the women’s restroom. The attack was captured on video, and it went viral and sparked quite a bit of outrage.
It’s sad that it takes violence, and even more specifically violence on camera, for action to be taken on transgender rights. That said, more power to Councilman Quirk for taking initiative to introduce a bill.
I had no idea until last week that Wikileaks whistleblower Bradley Manning had expressed feelings about Gender Identity Disorder in his chats with Adrian Lamo. Now his lawyers are using it as a defense, and the story has blown up in the media.
For those that aren’t familiar, Bradley Manning leaked thousands of documents to Wikileaks, including a video that showed US soldiers killing journalists from a helicopter in Iraq. He was caught because he confided over instant messages to Adrian Lamo, a hacker who is well known to be gay. Lamo ended up giving the chat logs to the government and Wired magazine, which has published the entire chat log here. The chat logs definitely show Manning expressing feelings of gender confusion, and he says over and over how much of an emotional mess he is.
This has raised some controversial issues. An important issue raised by some writers including Jos Truitt at Feministing, is the media’s continued use of male terminology including Bradley and “he” to describe Manning. Jos and others have written that the media is “ungendering” Manning by forcing him to use the pronouns based on his appearance instead of his gender identification. I do think that this can and probably will be an issue in the Manning case, but the problem is we don’t have a definite answer from Manning himself yet. We are going off of a few chat logs, and there are a lot of degrees of transgender. Deciding that we are going to use female pronouns and his female name is effectively forcing the transition onto Manning, and it’s also forcing him to choose among binary genders. I do think it’s likely that Manning did want to transition. He set up a Twitter account, and I’ve read that he also set up a Facebook account under the name Breanna.
But making the jump from setting up an alias online and living your entire life under a different gender and name are very different things, and I think there is often a long road in between the two steps in a gender transition. Most people who have gone through the gender transition process have probably tried to explore and interact with the trans community online, and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted my public transition forced upon me as soon as I made an online profile (even though I think it would have been good for me). In fact, I needed several years to interact with people online to confirm with myself that I was transgender because online was the only place I could find other transgender people to talk to. The whole point of setting up an online alias that is different from the one you use in real life. It’s easier to set up the online identity, and it doesn’t involve a lot of the pain that the actual transition process involves.
The media and his lawyers have already made a lot of the difficult decisions for him by outing him, but we have no right to force this upon him. He may not even actually want to go through with the transition now that the realities are out in the open. This is a decision for Manning to make, and as soon as he does, then we can start the process of convincing the media to use the proper pronouns. Again, it’s his decision, not ours.
In an interview with The Washington Blade, Barney Frank said that it is “politcally stupid” for being outraged that the recently passed transgender rights bill in Maryland did not include protections for public accomodations.
Frank was also instrumental in pushing ENDA in Congress, and he took a lot of heat from transgender activists for the exclusion of transgender protections from that bill. To be honest, I didn’t follow the ENDA debate as closely as I should have, so I don’t really want to write about his involvement there.
As far as the bill in Maryland, I will say that it is progress, but the bathroom issue is a huge one. I have seen some people tire of the bathroom discussion because it is a drum that is continually beat by trans activists, but it is particularly salient one because it is one that can still put transgender people in jail in some parts of the country. It can also cause students to get suspended, and it caused Crissy Lee Polis to get the shit beat out of her so bad that she had a seizure. So yeah, bathrooms matter.
I don’t think that it is necessarily a bad move to accept compromise in a bill, but our political system will likely prevent the public accommodations issue from being addressed anytime soon. It also represents a victory for the bathroom scaremongering, which is probably the most effective way that conservatives have found to gain support for transgender people. It worked in Massachusetts, and it seems to have worked in Maryland, despite whatever claims they use being utter bullshit.
I also feel the need to point out that there is broad support for transgender rights in America, so there is really no reason for politicians to be afraid to stand up for trans rights.
So is it “politically stupid”? Maybe. We shouldn’t demonize politicians that are generally transgender supporters like Barney Frank, but we also shouldn’t stop fighting every single step of the way.
(Image of Frank via Wikipedia)
A new study of minority trans people has found appalling rates of poverty and health among this marginalized community. Being transgendered and Latino in America gives you 28% chance of living in a household that makes less than $10,000 per year.
Other depressing figures from the report (.pdf) by the National Coalition for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: