Legislator files weird, but still discriminatory, trans panic ‘bathroom bill’

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State Rep. Gilbert Pena, R-Pasadena

HB 2801 filed this morning by Rep. Gilbert Pena, R-Pasadena, relates to public facilities in a public school. It’s not just another damned bill targeting the transgender community; it’s also just an odd bill.

School districts must “adopt a policy providing that only persons of the same biological sex may be present at the same time in any bathroom, locker room or shower facility in a building owned by the district,” but here’s a twist: school districts must also provide “reasonable alternate” public facility accommodations to a student if the student’s gender identity is different from the student’s biological sex and the student’s parent or guardian consents in writing to the provision of alternate accommodations.”

What could have been thoughtful, however, turns nasty once again: School districts are liable for a student’s “mental anguish” if any district employee knowingly allows a student whose gender identity doesn’t match their “biological sex” to enter the bathroom, locker room or shower facility with other students,  or fails to take “reasonable steps” to keep that from happening.

If the student flips out, sues and prevails — let’s call it trans panic  —the student gets up to $2,000, plus the district must pay their court fees as well as “damages for mental anguish even if an injury other than mental anguish is not shown.”

No word if a transgender student can sue the school district for the mental anguish of getting beaten up by the other student.

—  James Russell

Debbie Riddle to the rescue: Defending Texans’ virtue since 2002

Debbie Riddle and the horses

Texas state Rep. Debbie Riddle

Once again, a Republican lawmaker is sallying forth to defend the virtues of Texans by making it a criminal offense for transgender people to use public restrooms in the Lone Star State.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Spring, has introduced two pieces of legislation that just goes to show how utterly ridiculous some people are in their zeal to make sure that people who aren’t like them don’t get to be treated fairly.

Equality Texas today (Tuesday, Feb. 24) issued an action alert against HB 1747 and HB 1748, both of which were introduced by Riddle.

According to Equality Texas, Riddle’s HB 1747 amends the definition of “disorderly conduct” to make it a crime for transgender people who have not been able or do not choose to correct their official gender markers to use “public gender-segregated space appropriate to their gender identity or expression.”

HB 1748 makes it a state jail felony for most business owners if they repeatedly allow a person who has at least one “Y” chromosome to enter a space designated for women, or a person with no “Y” chromosome to enter a space designated for men. The bill also makes it a Class “A” misdemeanor for a person with at least one “Y” chromosome to enter a space designated for women or a person without a “Y” chromosome to enter a space designated for men.

You can go here to read what Equality Texas and the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund have to say about Riddle’s bills and to find the link to Equality Texas’ Action Center and let Riddle know what you think. This is what I think of it: As a butch cis-gender woman who has spent my whole life in dread of having to use public restrooms because I am so often mistaken for the guy, the very idea of this stupid woman and her stupid bills make me want to pitch a fit. I cannot begin to imagine the anger and the fear of the transgender men and women these pieces of so-called legislation are intended to target must feel.

But we can’t say good ol’ Debbie didn’t warn us. In a Jan. 13 post on her Facebook page (which also went out on her Twitter feed), she notes: “This is the 1st day of our Legislative Session here in Texas. I am rolling up the sleeves of my new red dress & getting to work. I have several bills I think you may like. One will protect women & children from going into a ladies restroom & finding a man who feels like he is a woman that day.”

She also noted that she planned to address “property tax” and “2nd Amendment rights & my Open Carry bill will be a major focus for me this Session.” of course, along with “not raising taxes … & limiting the size of government … . I set politics aside & focus on getting the job done with honor & dignity. Thank you for allowing me to serve you.”

Riddle, just so you know, is 65 years old, and was raised in Houston. Her bio on the Texas Tribune website notes that she has been a realtor, volunteer firefighter, volunteer EMT, Cub Scout den mother and preschool Sunday School teacher at Champion Forest Baptist Church. She is married to a lawyer named Mike Riddle. They have three child and own R&R Horse Farms.

The Tribune says: “Riddle has served the Republican Party as the Harris County Republican Party’s Finance Committee vice chairwoman and as the Texas Federation of Republican Women’s chairwoman. She is also past president of the Texas Tea Party of Republican Women and has served on the board of the Spring Independent School District’s Education Foundation and Klein Independent School District’s Education Foundation. Riddle also serves on the board of the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs out of Washington, D.C.

“Rep. Riddle currently serves as chairwoman of the Select Committee on Criminal Procedure Reform, and is a member of the Corrections and Transportation committees. She has previously served on the State Affairs, Ways and Means, Financial Institutions, and Border and International Affairs committees. She has also served as the chairwoman of the Joint Interim Committee on Long Term Care.

“Riddle has an associate degree from South Texas Junior College and attended Southwestern University in Georgetown.”

Riddle was first elected to the Texas House in 2002, and won re-election to her seventh term last November with about 72 percent of the vote.

In a March 6, 2003 interview with the El Paso Times, Riddle was quoted as saying: “Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.”

She has defended the Texas House’s unwritten policy to cast votes for absent and indisposed members, because, she said, lawmakers often do not get breaks to tend to any other business. That came after she was shown on an Austin TV station voting for Rep. Edmund Kuempel.

Riddle made the claim on Anderson Cooper 360 that Middle Eastern women were coming to the United States to give birth and were then returning to their home countries to raise their babies as terrorists who also had US citizenship. And she opposed legislation protecting breastfeeding in public because she believes women should be “modest.”

And, if you need any more evidence of where good ol’ Debbie stands, here is her Tweet from Jan. 7: “I just thought of a cool new T shirt idea — ‘Hands up — praise God!’ I Timothy 2:8.”

—  Tammye Nash

Two anti-trans bills in Texas House slammed by LGBT groups

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State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Spring.

Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Spring, filed HBs 1747 and 1748 on Friday, Feb. 20 targeting transgender Texans.

HB 1747 makes it a crime for transgender Texans to use a public accommodation such as a bathroom or locker room if the gender marker does not correlate with their gender identity or expression. HB 1748 makes it a felony for business owners to repeatedly allow a person to use public accommodations if that person’s gender identity does not match their chromosomes.

Numerous state and national LGBT groups have slammed the legislation.

“Criminalizing basic bodily functions puts Texans at risk,” Equality Texas released in an action alert. “Access to gender-segregated space should be based on gender, and only gender… not on assumptions of genetics.”

Michael Silverman, the Executive Director of Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, released a statement denouncing HB 1748 and a similar bill in Florida:

Bills like these target transgender people for harm by criminalizing the simple act of using a bathroom. They are an end run around non-discrimination ordinances in local areas that protect transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations. Lawmakers who sponsor this kind of mean-spirited legislation purport to be looking out for public safety.  But in reality, they are creating unsafe conditions by putting transgender people at great risk for harassment and violence

Transgender people must be able to access public facilities like bathrooms without fearing for their safety. When it comes to bathroom access, discrimination is wrong and unjust. Criminalization is outrageous and intolerable. These bills are pernicious. We hope they are soundly defeated.

Riddle has served in the House since 2003 and is a long-time opponent of LGBT equality. She currently serves as Vice Chair of Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee and a member of Calendars and Energy Resources.

—  James Russell

HUD reiterates protections for LGBTS in lending, shelters

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued two sets of guidances intended to clarify the Equal Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 2.29.48 PMAccess to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Rule. The clarifications are intended to make it easier for LGBT people applying for home loans and for transgender men and women seeking access to homeless shelters.

The Equal Access Rule, published in 2012, ensures that housing across HUD programs is open to everyone, regardless of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.

The guidance on eligibility for HUD assisted and insured housing programs, makes is “clear that housing that is financed or insured by HUD must be made available” regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, real or perceived.

It also prohibits those who own and/or operate HUD-funded or HUD-insured housing from asking about an applicant’s sexual orientation and from denying housing on that basis.

Sexual orientation and gender identity “should not and cannot be part of any lending decision when it comes to getting an FHA-insured mortgage,” according to a HUD press release.

The second guidance focused on how to serve transgenders in single-sex shelter facilities, which will “help to address the fact that almost 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT and the majority of them report harassment, difficulty or even sexual assault when trying to access homeless shelters,” the press release said. “This guidance states that a transgender client’s or potential client’s own views with respect to personal health and safety deserve serious consideration when placing the person in a single sex shelter.”

The guidance addresses appropriate placement of transgenders in single-sex facilities and it guides providers on the best way to address privacy and safety concerns in shelters without segregating or isolating trans women and men.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro said, “It’s an injustice that any transgender person is mistreated when seeking help. We issued this guidance so that shelter providers treat these Americans with the dignity they deserve. This measure is an important step in shaping a future where every person is accepted, respected and housed.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

Tyler media wrong about Ty Underwood’s gender

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Ty Underwood

Years and years ago, when Nicholas West was abducted from a park in Tyler and murdered, I was surprised and pleased at the way Tyler law enforcement responded. Donald Aldritch — one of the men convicted of West’s murder who has since been executed for that crime — bragged about his part in the murder, even to police. After all, Nicholas West was just a faggot; who was going to care that he had been killed?

But instead, law enforcement and prosecutors in Tyler and Smith County took it very seriously indeed. They arrested three men — Aldritch, Henry Dunn and David McMillan — and tried and convicted all three. Aldritch and Dunn were sentenced to death and have since been executed. McMillan was sentenced to life in prison.

Last month, when we heard the tragic news about the murder of trans woman Ty Underwood, I was glad to see that once again Tyler Police showed they were making every effort to find her killer. In a world where the murder of trans women, especially trans women of color, happens frequently and too often is more or less ignored by law enforcement, seeing the Tyler PD’s diligence was a welcome change. Today they announced that Carlton Ray Champion has been arrested and charged with Underwood’s murder.

I can’t say the same, though, of Tyler media: Both the Tyler Morning Telegraph and KLTV television station have ignored the fact that Ty Underwood was a transgender woman and have instead referred to her as a man in their coverage of the murder.

KLTV’s online post today about Champion’s arrest totally avoided mentioning Underwood’s gender all together. But an earlier post about her death had an headline referring to Underwood as “he” and in the lead paragraph called her “a Tyler man.” One person quoted in the story, identified only as a friend of Underwood’s named Antonio, used male pronouns in referring to the dead woman. Another friend, Kenya Darks, used female pronouns. But the TV station used male pronouns, as did the Tyler police officer quoted in the story.

Where the TV station may have learned from its early mistakes, the Morning Telegraph continues to refer to Underwood as a man and using her pre-transition male name. The newspaper also seems to be trying to sensationalize the case with a headline referring to the “sexual connotations” of the relationship between Underwood and her killer (police have said the two appeared to have dated for a brief time).

What better proof that, despite the many advances in LGBT rights, we still have so many battles left to fight. And once again it looks like the ones with the biggest battles to fight are our trans brothers and sisters. And just like the LGB parts of our community couldn’t have gotten where we are without allies, the transgender community needs each and every one of us to be an ally for them.

With that in mind, here is the contact info for KLTV, and here is the contact info for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. Take a moment to let them know what you think of their coverage of Ty Underwood’s murder.

—  Tammye Nash

TENT explains position on Plano ERO, looks for lobby day sponsors

Transgender Education Network of Texas officials released a statement today (Monday, Feb. 9), explaining why they do not support Plano’s Screen shot 2015-02-09 at 1.27.33 PMendangered Equal Rights Ordinance but at the same time don’t want to see that ordinance repealed. (Read it in its entirety here.)

TENT is also looking for sponsors to support the organization’s TransTexas Caucus/Lobby Day, coming up April 26-27.

TENT’s statement on the Plano ERO reads, in part:

“The Transgender Education Network of Texas does not appreciate the fact that an ordinance was written with the intent of adding gender identity protection without input from the transgender and gender non-conforming community. We find the restroom exclusion confusing and not acceptable. We find the exclusion of non-profits allowing them to deny important and often necessary services to the transgender and gender non-conforming community lacking.

“However, we do recognize the intent of the city to provide protection to the transgender and gender non-conforming community that was previously not provided. We do acknowledge that this new policy was not an amendment to their existing policy, but replaced it and therefore the repeal of the policy would leave Plano with no Equal Rights Policy.

“We also recognize that the vote to repeal this existing policy would, in all probability, make it almost impossible to get a policy even this inclusive passed in the future.

If the ERO withstands the Plano vote and remains the law in Plano, TENT is committed to actively pursuing amendment of the ordinance so that offensive language and discriminatory exclusions are removed.

“Therefore, considering all these facts, the Transgender Education Network of Texas is opposed to the Plano Equal Rights Ordinance, but is against the repeal of the Plano Equal Rights Ordinance.”

The statement in its entirety is available here. It includes a number of “Facts Discovered,” including the fact that no one from either the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of North Texas (GALA) or Equality Texas were asked to be involved in the wording of the ordinance, nor were representatives of those organizations able to examine the ordinance before its presentation to and approval by the Plano City Council.

The statement also includes a number of “Reflections,” as well, including noting that TENT officials believe it was “unwise of the city of Plano” not to solicit input from transgender individuals or organizations, and that they believe the city was put in place an ordinance that “protected everyone, including the transgender community, without infringing on the rights of others.”

Still, the statement notes, “TENT does feel that the bathroom exclusion is problematic for both the transgender community and the private business owners.”

 

TransTexas Caucus/Lobby Day

TENT is also seeking sponsors to help support TransTexas Caucus/Lobby Day, a two-day event set in Austin for April 26-27.

TENT is pairing with Equality Texas for the second year in a row to host the transgender specific lobby day, where the trans community and its allies can come together to discuss what legislative changes are needed “to prevent transgender Texans from falling through society’s gaps,” and then to lobby lawmakers to make those changes.

Sponsors are needed to help fund the logistical costs of the event, including refreshments, printing of booklets, bringing in speakers, audio/visual set-up, venue fees, a special fund to help attendees who need assistance in defraying some travel costs.

Go here to explore sponsorship opportunities.

—  Tammye Nash

Rea Carey lays out agenda at Creating Change

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Rea Carey

National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey spoke today (Friday, Feb. 6), at Creating Change in Denver, setting out an agenda as the movement achieves one goal: marriage equality.

Among the top items on the agenda is to secure nondiscrimination protections that protect our lives without broad religious exemptions.

“I don’t become less of a human if your humanity is recognized,” Carey said.

Ending policies that criminalize our lives, such as criminalizing people with HIV or using condoms as evidence that a trans person is a sex worker, is another Task Force goal.

Carey also called racial profiling an LGBTQ issue that must be stopped. She spoke about Ty Underwood, the trans woman killed in Tyler, and called hate against the trans community an epidemic.

—  David Taffet

Vigil set in Tyler for murdered trans woman

Ty Underwood Vigil

Local and state LGBT and allied organizations are holding a vigil at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4., at Bergfeld Park in Tyler in honor of Ty “Nunnee” Underwood, the 24-year-old transgender woman murdered Jan. 26 in Tyler.

Some of Underwood’s family members will speak at the rally, along with representatives of some of the organizations hosting the event.

Tyler Police Department Public Information Officer Don Martin said this morning (Tuesday, Feb. 3) that police there do have leads they are investigating, but have no new information they can release at this time. “There are some things coming up, and if those things come through, we hope to be able to make an announcement” soon, Martin said.

Underwood’s friends and family have said they believe her murder was an anti-trans hate crime, although police have so far not designated it as such. Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Tyler Police Department at 903-531-1000 or Tyler-Smith County Crime Stoppers at 903-597-2833.

Underwood worked at a nursing home, and friends and family members said she planned to go back to school to become a nurse. She died early Monday morning, Jan. 26.

Police said a woman called police to report the accident, saying her children had heard gunshots, after Underwood’s car crashed into a telephone pole in the 400 block of West 24th Street in Tyler. Police said they believe Underwood was trying to escape in her car after being shot when the accident occurred.

Underwood died at the scene. She was originally from Lufkin, and funeral services were held Saturday, Jan. 31, at Woods Memorial Chapel Church of God in Christ in Lufkin, under the direction of Colonial Mortuary and Cremation Services. Underwood was cremated.

Organizations participating in the vigil on Wednesday are Transgender Education Network of Texas, Hope for Peace and Justice, Project TAG (Tyler Area Gays), Tyler-East Texas PFLAG, Longview PFLAG, Tyler Transgender Group, Tyler Junior College SAFE (Students Advocating For Equality), UT-Tyler Gay Straight Sexuality Alliance, Life Covenant Church of Tyler, Woodland Christian Church of Longview and Equality Texas.

According to Southerners on New Ground, Underwood is one of six transgender or gender-non-conforming individuals killed since the new year began. The other five include Jesse Hernandez, 17, who was shot by police in Denver, Colo.; Candra Keels, 20, who was allegedly stabbed to death by her girlfriend; Yazmin Vash Payne, 33, allegedly stabbed to death by her boyfriend in Los Angeles; Lamia Beard, shot to death in Norfolk, Va.; and a gender-non-conforming black gay man killed in Louisville, Ky.

The park, located at West Second Street and South Broadway in Tyler, is the same park from which gay man Nicholas West was kidnapped, then murdered, a little more than 21 years ago in November 1993. A “Stop The Hate” rally in his memory was held at the park about a month after his death, with about 700 people attending. A marker placed in the park commemorated West.

—  Tammye Nash

Saks backs down from claim on trans people and Title VII

Leyth Jamal

Leyth Jamal

The National Center for Lesbian Rights reported today (Monday, Jan. 26), that Saks Fifth Avenue has withdrawn a motion to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee on the grounds that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender workers. In addition, an NCLR spokesman noted, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed an historic statement in that same case declaring that Title VII does, indeed, protect trans people.

This is the first time the DOJ has stated without a doubt that Title VII prohibits any time of discrimination against transgender people, not just discrimination based on gender stereotypes.

Saks’ action and the statement from the DOJ are both connected to the lawsuit filed by Leyth Jamal, a trans woman, who claims that she faced extensive discrimination and was eventually fired from Saks in Houston because of her gender identity. NCLR and the Human Rights Campaign became involved in the case after Saks filed its brief saying trans worker are not covered under Title VII.

In a statement announcing that the company was withdrawing the motion to dismiss, Saks officials again denied having discriminated against Jamal:

“We have decided to withdraw our motion to dismiss because important concerns about transgender rights under the current law are overshadowing a clear case of employee misconduct. Our position is, and always has been, that it is unacceptable to discriminate against transgender individuals.  Saks does not, and will not, tolerate discrimination and legal strategy should not obscure that bedrock commitment.  We did not discriminate against this former Associate. And we want to see all individuals protected under the law.”

Saks said Jamal and another former associate were fired for using “inappropriate and offensive language on the selling floor” in front of a customer. The other person fired does not identify as LGBT, the Saks statement said.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for HRC, said, “We are pleased that the case can now be resolved on the merits of the claims and not a sweeping negation of basic Title VII protections.” And NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter credited Saks with “correcting its position and recognizing that it has a legal obligation to treat transgender workers equally.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2012 ruled in Macy v Holder that discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity is sex discrimination and so constituents a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed complaints in federal courts in Florida and Michigan in 2014 against two separate companies accused of discriminating against trans employees (Aimee Stephens and Brandi Branson). And last December, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ will no longer assert that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex “does not encompass gender identity per se (including transgender discrimination).”

 

—  Tammye Nash

‘A landmark moment’ for trans Americans, but there’s so far left to go

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President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama made history Tuesday night (Jan. 20), when he actually said the words “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “transgender” during the his State of the Union speech. It was the first time those words had ever been uttered in a SOTU address.

President Obama said: “As Americans, we respect human dignity. … That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We do these things not only because they are the right thing to do, but because ultimately they will make us safer.”

It was, I think, an especially sweet moment for the thousands and thousands of transgender Americans. We are making progress toward full equality every day, but still, our trans brothers and sisters are the ones still being left behind. So hearing the president of the United States truly acknowledge them had to be a great moment.

The press releases and written statements I found flooding my email inbox this morning reinforced what I already believed:

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said: “What President Obama said about trans people last night … he actually said it. …. His mention of us [last night] let’s us know that whenever he’s spoken of children, he has meant transgender children too. Or when he’s spoken out about immigrants, he’s meant transgender immigrants too. And when he’s talked about service members and veterans, he meant transgender service members too.”

A statement from the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund called the mention “a landmark moment,” adding: “This is a moment of promise for transgender people, who before now, had never been mentioned in a State of the Union address. We are grateful to President Obama for including our entire community in his speech, and for highlighting and condemning the persecution of LGBT people. Through his stirring and heartfelt words, the president has again demonstrated his commitment to creating a world where people are treated equally regardless of who we are or who we love.”

As uplifting and empowering as that moment was, though, my email inbox also provided ample proof that we still have a very long way to go, especially in protecting transgender Americans — their rights, their freedoms and their very lives.

A press release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights notes that NCLR and the Human Rights Campaign on Tuesday filed a joint friend of the court brief in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, supporting a former Saks Fifth Avenue employee, Leyth Jamal, who says the company discriminated against her because she is trans.

Saks attorneys have asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender workers.

I also had an email from a group called Care2, “a community of 27 million standing together for good,” taking to task InTouch Weekly for its horrendous cover story speculating on the gender identity of Olympic champion Bruce Jenner.

I saw that cover while standing in the check-out line at the grocery store; it made me sick, and it made me angry. It depicts a heavily altered photo of Jenner to show what he would look like as a woman. I didn’t read the article — although Care2’s statement says it was full of speculation and nothing else. Us Magazine reports Jenner himself is “upset” with the cover and story.

According to the press release, there is a new Care2 petition by Julie Mastrine demanding that “David Perel, editorial director of InTouch Weekly, be more sensitive to the struggles that actual transgender people face and refrain from gossipy speculation about someone’s gender identity.”

Mastrine said: “Publicly speculating as to whether or not someone will be coming out as transgender illustrates a flippant lack of empathy toward people who actually struggle with making a gender transition. It robs Jenner of his right to identify as he wishes.”

BuzzFeed says the magazine likely imposed Jenner’s face over British actress Stephanie Beacham’s body, and even comedian/actor Russell Brand condemned InTouch, calling it “bullying.”

 

—  Tammye Nash