Reflecting on Bruce Jenner

Olympic champion took a brave step that could mean progress for all transgender people

Leslie McMurraySo, Bruce Jenner was on TV. No big deal, right? People are probably tired of seeing Jenner and the Kardashian clan on the tube.

But Friday, April 24, was different.

For months now, there has been speculation in the media about whether Bruce Jenner was dealing with gender issues. Jenner was spotted with nail polish, or longer hair, or whatever. I believe if someone is transgender, and they want you to know, they will tell you. Until then, it’s frankly no concern of yours, even if that person has a reality TV show.

They still deserve to have a private life and to live it with dignity.

On Friday night, Bruce Jenner said the words that many had been been dreading. It was indeed a shock when he admitted, on national TV to Diane Sawyer and the nearly 17 million Americans watching — Bruce Jenner is…a Republican!

O.k., Bruce also came out as transgender.

I will admit I was worried. I feared a media circus, a freak show. But what I saw was different. It was balanced, thorough, emotional and real. I saw many of the feelings expressed that I had as a kid — the loneliness and fear.

I’ve seen some criticism of Jenner because, for now, he is sticking with male pronouns. Living life as a woman will soon change that, but he gets to decide when.

I’ve seen articles that insist on using feminine pronouns when referring to Jenner under the guise of respect. But if we are going to expect people to ask our preferred pronouns, then we are obligated to respect the response of trans people when they tell us, even if we disagree with their choice.

Some were critical of his insistence that he is heterosexual yet attracted to women. It can take some time for one to wrap their head around suddenly being a double member of the LGBT community.

In the end, Jenner’s transition is Jenner’s alone. Mine was different, but it was mine. This is an intensely personal and difficult journey, and each of us approaches it differently and does the best we can.

There is no roadmap or “one size fits all.” Jenner faced what all of us faced — nagging and endless gender dysphoria. He is doing what he needs to do to make it stop. For some, hormones are enough. For others, it takes surgery.

Fame and notoriety should not deprive him of the ability to make the choices he sees fit.

Jenner and ABC did a lot of things right. For one, Jenner mentioned the ridiculously high suicide rate in the trans community. Jenner also rightly pointed out the obscenely high murder rate among trans women of color. And ABC used video to show an attack on a trans woman who was using the women’s restroom, perfectly illustrating who is really in danger in public restrooms.

The addition of respected members of the trans community as well as doctors and therapists all contributed to a depiction of transgender people as not mentally ill, but as humans dealing with a medical issue of biological origin that is 100 percent treatable.

Making all of this possible was ABC dedicating a precious two full hours of network airtime to a subject that  has been so misunderstood. It’s not something that can be handled with sound bites. I know.

I was a guest on a radio station morning show on a news/talk station in California. They had maybe three minutes to discuss the issue. I understand that, but one can’t even begin to scratch the surface of such a complex topic in three minutes. Hell, I can hardly say hello in that time.

That’s how it’s been for too long. There might be a story relating to the subject, and we are reduced to a 15-to-20-second sound bite, if that.

What made me feel differently about this is the large audience. An estimated 17 million people tuned in. That’s the largest non-sports audience on a Friday in about 12 years.

That’s a huge number of people learning about something most people have never heard of. Only 8 percent of people even know someone who is transgender. Now, they know Jenner.

He readily admitted that he’s not the spokesperson for the community. Oddly, no one really is. Every story is different, yet we all share so much in common.

If I could have a wish, it would be that the takeaway from this is that we aren’t scary people. We aren’t a threat to anyone.

Gender transition is a very difficult and very private thing to experience. That’s what made me admire Bruce Jenner on that Friday night even more than I did when he won the Olympic decathlon in Montreal: He stepped into the spotlight and cried as he courageously said those words that can’t be unsaid, And I cried right along with him.

Leslie McMurray, a transgender woman, is a former radio DJ who lives and works in Dallas. Read more of her blogs at lesliemichelle44.wordpress.com.

—  Tammye Nash

Congresswoman re-introduces resolution calling for end to reparative therapy

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Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California.

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, re-introduced the Stop Harming Our Kids Resolution today (Tuesday, April 14), which calls on states to protect minors from the discredited practice of reparative therapy, also known as “conversion therapy.”

“It’s time to end this abusive quackery masquerading as medicine. Being transgender, gay, lesbian or bisexual is not a disease to be cured or a mental illness that requires treatment,” Rep. Speier said at a press conference. “That view has been rejected as scientifically invalid by the American Psychiatric Association and many other mental health groups for nearly 40 years.”

National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling lauded the resolution. “Discredited by every major mental health organization in the U.S., these unsafe programs take advantage of vulnerable transgender and LGB kids and their parents. Today’s resolution draws attention to these baseless programs and encourages states to take steps to protect minors from these efforts,” she said.

“Transgender youth face extraordinary challenges. Many desperately need real support. Nationally, 75 percent of trans youth feel unsafe at school. Unfortunately, many parents just don’t have information about what it means to be transgender. They are reaching out for insight and support, because they love their child,” NCTE Director of Policy Harper Jean Tobin added. “So-called ‘conversion therapy’ offers a dangerous illusion for these families–instead it delivers harm…Today’s resolution draws attention to these baseless programs and encourages states to take steps to protect minors. Every child deserves to be loved for who they are.”

The action comes on the heels of White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett’s response last week to a “We the People” petition calling for a federal ban on conversion therapy. The petition, which generated more than 120,000 supporters, was sparked by the tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen in Ohio who was forced into conversion therapy by her parents.

“We share your concern about conversion therapy and its devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth,” Jarrett said. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban conversion therapy for minors.”

Currently California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have banned conversion therapy. Bills have been introduced in 18 states, including Texas, that would ban the process. Texas Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, who authored HB 3495 to ban conversion therapy, is currently awaiting a committee hearing on her bill.

—  James Russell

Religious school creates ceremony to mark student’s transition

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Rabbi Tsipi Gabai

A California Jewish Day School created a special ceremony for a 13-year-old boy at the school.

Usually the age of 13 marks the bar mitzvah, but this ceremony marked a trans student’s transition from female to male, according to the Times of Israel.

Many schools and synagogues have made gender-neutral bathrooms available, but this is believed to be the first time a Jewish ceremony was created to affirm a gender transition.

The school also began a year-long process of understanding and learning about gender with a partnership with Gender Spectrum, a local group that provides education, training and support to help create a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for children of all ages. Gender Spectrum led workshops for students, faculty and parents.

Tom Sosnik, the 13-year-old trans student, said he came out after he read about the suicide of a 17-year-old trans girl in Ohio who was forced into reparative therapy. Sosnik thanked his family and his school for their support. He transferred to the school after being viciously bullied at his previous school in Fresno.

Rabbi Tsipi Gabai said she took into account the high suicide rate and the Talmudic commandment that to save one life is like saving the world when deciding to create the ceremony.

—  David Taffet

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