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shot 2015-02-09 at 1.27.33 PMendangered Equal Rights Ordinance but at the same time don’t want to see that ordinance repealed.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

Obama uses ‘lesbian,’ ‘bisexual,’ ‘transgender’ in SOTU for the first time ever

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President Barack Obama

Tonight wasn’t the first time that President Barack Obama has mentioned LGBT rights in his State of the Union Address; last year he took a brief moment to reiterate his commitment to LGBT rights around the world. He was the first to use the word “gay” in a State of the Union Address in 2010 when he talked about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

But the 2015 State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, Jan. 20 did mark an historic event for the LGBT community: For the first time ever in a State of the Union Address, a U.S. president used the words “bisexual” and “transgender.” UPDATE: I just discovered this is apparently the first time the word “lesbian” has been used in a State of the Union speech, too.

The historic moment came near the end of the president’s speech, when he said that Americans “condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”

The president on Tuesday also called the ongoing battle for marriage equality “a story of freedom across our country” and “a civil right.” And he said that Americans now “value the dignity and worth” of gay people.

—  Tammye Nash

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



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