Tickets to see Laverne Cox at UNT go on sale tomorrow

Laverne-CoxLaverne Cox, the first transgender person to be nominated for an acting Emmy Award and a vocal advocate for LGBT issues, will present her talk “Ain’t I a Woman: My Journey to Womanhood,” at the University of North Texas Super Pit coliseum in Denton on Feb. 24. A Time magazine cover model, Cox is a co-star on the Netflix hit series Orange is the New Black, and will discuss the racism, classism and gender bias she have dealt with. She’s being presented through the Mary Jo and V. Lane Rawlins Fine Arts Series of UNT.

Tickets go on sale Tuesday: $10 for the general public, $5 for UNT staff, and free for UNT students. Go here to get yours.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Ask Lambda Legal: Prison Rape Elimination Act

By Jael Humphrey

Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal

 

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Jael Humphrey, staff attorney with Lambda Legal

Q: My friend was recently incarcerated in prison in Florida and I’m worried about her safety because she’s transgender. Are there laws that can protect her?

A: Unfortunately, the situation your friend is in is all too common — prisons incarcerate a transgender woman in a male, rather than a female, facility where she is at constant risk of sexual abuse and other violence. When someone is incarcerated, their health and safety becomes the responsibility of the state. But not all prisons protect the people in their custody, tolerating a culture where staff threaten, beat or sexually assault some people in custody or permit other incarcerated people to do so, just because they are transgender.

If your friend is threatened or abused, it is important that she file as soon as possible an “administrative grievance,” or complaint, that puts the facility on notice that she believes her rights have been violated. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, a federal law passed in 1996, people in custody who wish to file a lawsuit in federal court must first exhaust all administrative remedies available to them, sometimes within very short deadlines.

This step is crucial, because correctional facilities use the failure to exhaust administrative remedies as a reason to ask courts to throw out cases filed by people in their custody.

If she first exhausts, she may be able to sue in federal court. In October of last year, Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Passion Star, a transgender woman currently in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, arguing that TDCJ officials are deliberately indifferent to her safety.  Passion is in constant danger of sexual assault, but TDCJ officials have ignored or made her problems worse, even though she has filed dozens of grievances, complaints and requests to be placed in safekeeping.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act, a federal law to eliminate sexual abuse of people in custody, has provisions to protect incarcerated transgender people, if it is implemented fully. Among other things, the PREA standards instruct prison officials to screen and separate particularly vulnerable people — such as transgender women in male facilities — from likely aggressors and make individualized housing decisions prioritizing gender identity and safety, not merely genital characteristics.

While most states are working to implement PREA, some states — like Texas, Florida and Indiana, instead decided to pass up funding earmarked for the prevention of sexual assault. Perhaps not coincidentally, Texas is home to five of the 10 prisons with the highest rates of reported rapes in the country.

Sign our petition urging Texas to fully implement and abide by the Prison Rape Elimination Act. See more at here.

For more information about transgender prisoners in crisis, see here.

If you have questions, or feel you have been discriminated against because of your gender identity, sexual orientation, or HIV status, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 1-866-542-8336, or see here.

 

—  Tammye Nash

Justice Department rules transgender is included under Title VII

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Atty. Gen. Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder said sex discrimination listed in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be interpreted to include transgender.

“I have determined that the best reading of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination is that it encompasses discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status,” Holder wrote in his letter.

He said the most straightforward reading of discrimination “because of sex” includes whether a person is a member of a particular sex or is transitioning or has transitioned to another sex.

“For these reasons, the Department will no longer assert that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex does not encompass gender identity per se,” Holder wrote.

He wrote that he was not encouraging any course of litigation, but that gender identity is part of sex discrimination.

—  David Taffet

First Circuit denies gender reassignment surgery to transgender inmate

michelle-kosilek1The full First Circuit Court of Appeals today (Tuesday, Dec. 16) reversed an earlier ruling that Massachusetts must provide Michelle Kosilek, an incarcerated transgender woman, medically-necessary gender reassignment surgery.

Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said, “I am appalled by this decision, which means that Michelle Kosilek will continue to be denied the life-saving medical care she needs and has been seeking for years.  It is difficult or impossible to imagine a decision like this one – that second-guesses every factual determination made by the trial court – in the context of any other prisoner health care case.  This decision is a testament to how much work remains to be done to get transgender people’s health care needs on par with others in the general public. ”

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals issued an initial ruling Jan. 17, upholding the finding of District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf that the Massachusetts Department of Corrections engaged in a pattern of “pretense, pretext and prevarication” to deny Kosilek treatment, in violation of her 8th Amendment right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. The commonwealth requested and was granted a rehearing of the case before the full bench. Oral arguments took place on May 8.

Kosilek was denied gender reassignment surgery by the department against the recommendations of multiple doctors.

“There is no scientific or medical basis for denying transgender people their health care needs,” Levi said. “The consensus position of the medical community is that surgery may sometimes be essential treatment.”

Kosilek is serving a lifetime sentence for the 1990 murder of her wife, Cheryl McCaul.

—  James Russell

Mom ‘corrects’ birth announcement for trans son

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Kai Bogert, center, with his mom, Yolanda Bogert, and Guy Kershaw

Some 19 years ago, Yolanda Bogert of Jimboomba in Australia had a birth announcement for her daughter, Elizabeth Anne, published in her local newspaper.

But when her “daughter” came out to her recently as transgender, Yolanda Bogert published a new birth announcement in Australia’s Courier-Mail for her son:Screen shot 2014-12-02 at 12.15.38 PM

“In 1995, we announced the arrival of our sprogget, Elizabeth Anne, as a daughter. He informs us that were were mistaken. Oops! Our bad. We would now like to present our wonderful son — Kai Bogert.”

Yolanda Bogert told the Courier-Mail that publishing the “birth” announcement was a “no-brainer” because “I needed to show my son I support him 100 per cent and wanted to let the world know that.”

We could stop right there and the story would be perfect. But as the parent of two teenage boys — ages 18 and 15 — I have to say it was the rest of the ad that really really made me smile. After the “present our wonderful son” line, Yolanda Bogert added: “Loving you is the easiest thing in the world. Tidy your room.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

Here’s to the day we no longer need TDOR

By Rizi Xavier Timane

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Rizi Xavier Timane

Every year on Nov. 20, transgender individuals and their allies around the world commemorate the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

But make no mistake: This is not a holiday, and the ceremonies we hold are certainly not celebrations.

Rather, the Day of Remembrance is a solemn time when we can come together and reflect on the battles we have fought and continue to fight and those individuals we have lost — the transgender and other gender-nonconforming individuals who were innocent victims of violence because of who they were, because they had the audacity to live as their authentic selves.

I would like to say I’ve never experienced this extreme sort of prejudice before, but like most trans people, I have my stories. While I thank God there have never been any attempts on my life, there have been people around me who thought I would be better off — or they would be better off — if I were dead. While I was a university student in London, another young person studying there passed away, and some of my fellow African students (I am from Nigeria) made a point of saying, loudly and closely enough that they knew I would hear, that it should have been me instead.

Besides the defeating personal implications of hearing such a thing, this incident continues to be a sad reminder to me of how deeply many people undervalue transgender lives and how, at any moment, someone out there could hate us enough to kill us. It reminds me that it could easily be our pictures shown at memorial services on the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

But this is part of what the day is for: to remind us that we all share this heavy burden, that we are not alone in our persecution and suffering.

Is this comforting? In some ways, yes. It’s always a comfort to know someone else feels as we do.

But it’s also problematic. That we even have to have such a day is, in my opinion, shameful not for those of us who participate or those we remember but for society as a whole — for the culture of conformity and hatred that keeps us hidden within ourselves, afraid to come out for fear of rejection and outright violence.

I don’t want a day of remembrance. I want a Pride day, like the LGB community has. Or no day at all because the murders of transgender individuals have ended in every nation around the world.

How can we make this happen? How can we eradicate the need for a Transgender Day of Remembrance?

In general we need more allies, more compassion, more understanding and more tolerance. We need more safe spaces in which we can raise our voices and share our stories. We need mandatory diversity training in schools and universities, police departments, hospitals and businesses so everyone will be aware of and understand transgender individuals and issues. We need nationwide laws to ban discrimination based on gender identity and presentation.

We need all this for our safety. Most of all, we simply need the deaths to stop.

Rizi Xavier Timane is a transgender minister, author, recording artist and outspoken advocate for the LGBT community. He has performed his positive, LGB-inclusive inspirational music at venues all across the U.S. and internationally. In his memoir, An Unspoken Compromise, Timane shares his journey to self-acceptance as a trans man of faith; he also writes for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance blog, is a sought-after public speaker on the intersection of religion and LGBT civil rights, and holds a master’s in social work and a Ph.D. in Christian counseling.  As the founder of Rizi Timane Ministries and The Happy Transgender Center, he provides affirming spiritual support to people of all faiths, sexual orientations and gender identities. Having been subjected to what he terms, “involuntary religious-based abuse” in the form of multiple exorcisms to pray the gay or trans away and the subsequent self-loathing and drug/alcohol abuse that resulted from that Timane is a firm believer in spiritual affirmation for the trans community. His greatest accomplishment has been the establishment of an annual transgender surgery and hormones scholarship for trans-persons who, for whatever reason, cannot afford the surgery or hormone therapy they want and need.

—  Tammye Nash

Elton John AIDS Foundation funds transgender HIV project

AIDS ribbonElton John AIDS Foundation and Transgender Law Center will partner for a one year pilot program to identify the structural inequities that drive high rates of HIV incidents in transgender communities.

The Transgender Law Center will use the funds to form a national advisory board of eight to ten trans people living with HIV, with a strong focus on trans women of color. The advisory board will assist in a systems gap assessment, identify best and promising practices in community response to HIV and issue recommendations.

“With the support of the advisory board, Transgender Law Center will engage the community meaningfully in the examination of how systemic barriers and social conditions  (such as discrimination, transphobia, criminalization and violence) drive the HIV epidemic and negatively impact health outcomes.” said Cecilia Chung, Senior Strategist of Transgender Law Center. “This will also give us an opportunity to support and strengthen the leadership of some of the most vulnerable members in the transgender community.”

—  James Russell

Cowtown Pride: Annual TCGPWA Parade held Saturday in downtown Fort Worth

Tarrant County Gay Pride Week Association staged its annual Pride Parade Saturday in downtown Fort Worth, featuring entries ranging from LGBT bars to LGBT churches, LGBT employee affinity groups from major corporations to gay-straight alliances to Metroplex Atheists. The festival followed on Main Street in front of the FW Convention Center.Here are just a few photos from the parade and festival.

Watch for a second slide show of photos from the TCGPWA Picnic, held Sunday at Trinity Park.

Parade photos by Tammye Nash

—  Tammye Nash

EEOC files first-ever lawsuits on behalf of transgender workers

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has, for the first time ever, filed federal lawsuits on behalf of transgender workers fired by Screen shot 2014-09-26 at 1.52.29 PMemployers because of the gender identity/gender expression.

EEOC filed suit against R.G & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes of Garden City, Mich., on behalf of embalmer and funeral director Amiee Stephens, and against Lakeland Eye clinic in Florida on behalf of Brandi Branson, according to reports by CBS channel  WWJ-TV in Detroit.

Stephens was fired in 2013 after 6 years with the Garden City funeral home when she told her boss she was transitioning from male to female. That lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Branson was fired from her job as director of hearing services at Lakeland Eye in 2011 after saying that she would be transitioning from male to female. The lawsuit in her case, filed in a Tampa federal court, alleges that when Branson began wearing “feminine attire” to work, including makeup and “women’s tailored clothing,” she saw her coworkers snickering and rolling their eyes at her, and that coworkers “withdrew from social interactions with her.”

EEOC attorney Laurie Young told the Detroit TV station that federal law “prohibits employers from firing employees because they do not behave according to the employer’s stereotypes of how men and women should act.”

—  Tammye Nash

Know Your Rights at Work

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Greg Nivens

As we get ready to celebrate the Labor Day weekend holiday, Lambda Legal is launching the newest section of its “Know Your Rights” information hub, this time focusing on workplace rights for LGBT and HIV-positive people.

Greg Nevins, a Lambda Legal counsel and Workplace Fairness Project strategist based in the agency’s Atlanta office. said that workplace issues continue to be a major concern among those who call Lambda Legal’s Legal Help Desk. The new Know Your Rights Workplace site “will help people advocate for themselves as well as assist them if issues arise,” Nivens said.

He said the hub will soon be mobile-friendly and translated into Spanish. It includes legal and advocacy guidance on a wide array of issues, including what to do if you experience discrimination, what laws protect you, HIV discrimination in the workplace, what to do if you are fired, gender identity discrimination. job searches, immigrant rights, good company policies, how unions can help and same-sex spousal and partner benefits.

This is Lambda Legal’s third Know Your Rights hub. The other two are Know Your Rights: Teens and Young Adults, and Know Your Rights: Transgender.

—  Tammye Nash