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.”