Transgender couple put a human face on the debate over inclusive EEOC polices in Mesquite

Jeannot Jonte BoucherOn Monday night, June 6, my wife, Ashley Boucher, and I braved Metroplex evening traffic to make it from Grand Prairie to Mesquite for the Mesquite City Council meeting. The council was set to vote on adding sexual orientation and gender identity to their employment nondiscrimination policy, a vote that had been in the works for a year.

I work for the city of Dallas and am a teacher in the Dallas ISD. So my wife and I keep a close watch on the policies of cities around us. What if we wanted to move to Fort Worth or Mesquite? What if we were offered jobs there? Getting involved helps us, as a transgender married couple with kids, expand our possibilities for employment and safety. To our joy, the Mesquite City Council approved adding those protections to their policies.

Still, it is easy to feel unsafe at these events, even with police presence. On either side of you, there are opposed citizens cheering speakers who deny your identity, who call  transgender women “men in disguise,” and use “American values, faith and family” and “this changing world” as code for discounting your humanity.

We looked at each other in culture shock as the mayor invited a pastor to open the meeting with Christian prayer to Father God and Lord Jesus. The entire room stood with bowed heads, praying along with the pastor over our “changing world.” Everyone responded, “Amen,” as if it were a matter of course to marry evangelical Christian faith with city politics.

You have to understand, for many LGBTQ persons, experiences of churches are less than compassionate. Area evangelicals frequently back so-called “values” organizations that work to keep us strangers to civil rights, to marriage marriage and even to charitable help like homeless shelters.

So linking government to religion immediately puts us on guard, in this part of the country.

My wife and I are still reeling from our experience at the Fort Worth ISD board meeting in May, when they opened discussion on their policy guidelines for transgender students. Based on my experience there, and now in Mesquite, I have to question if those opposing protections for transgender people even know what transgender people are. Indeed, one of the Mesquite councilmen openly admitted he isn’t sure what the word transgender means.

So we have to stand there, in the flesh, as everyone talks about us. We have to allow debate to rage on as to whether we are dangerous or mentally ill; listen to them question whether we could be appropriate employees; listen to them theorize that we might like transgender-only accommodations (Perhaps “those people” would like some converted individual staff restrooms?) rather than access to the appropriate bathroom

Mayor Stan Pickett repeated again and again that the policy nothing to do with bathroom access. But if I am a city employee, would it not protect my access to all staff facilities?

My skin crawled and I bristled as I listened to one after another uninformed person talk about “the transgender’ds.” Do they actually know any transgender people?

I was so proud of Ashley for speaking to the council after hearing so much vicious language levied against women like her. She is an executive corporate chef and caterer, and she spoke of dreams of opening restaurants in the city. She brought them back to thoughts of capable and talented employees whose work had been spoiled by discrimination.

But most of all, she gave them the face of a real transgender person. She presented herself as evidence of what the crowd was going on about. She showed them that we are right here, not some vague theory.

We are model citizens. We are parents. We are taxpayers. We are transgender. Stop talking about us like we are a problem, an issue, a debate. Protect women and children? How better than by protecting vulnerable transgender women and children!

The height of social harassment comes when men like conservative attorney Jonathan Saenz of Texas Values come up from Austin to incite prejudice against transgender people. He stood at the podium in Mesquite, insulting my community and calling for a return to “values.”

That character walked over to us after all that bloviating and gripped my hand to shake it. I shouted at him over the whole council — quite out of order — to look me in the eyes after what he had said, to look at me and my beautiful wife and tell us we don’t deserve to have a job or use a restroom.

“I’m looking at you,” he answered quickly, his eyes empty and glassy. “I’m looking at you.”

I justI stared back.

For the record let me say these few more things, on my own behalf and on behalf of my community:

My community stands for family values. My two children and our loving home attest to it. Our huge chosen family of adoptive grandparents, adoptive aunts and uncles — chosen out of love and care for the vulnerable — is as real a family as any you could name.

We stand for America. On my shelf is my treasured Teacher of the Year award, given by the Chamber of Commerce, recognizing my work in public schools. I pledge allegiance to our flags every day, and I teach the meaning of our home to children, for the first time.

We stand for freedom. We have fought to be ourselves in the Bible Belt, with grace and dignity, showing hospitality to our neighbors and kindness to strangers other charities wouldn’t help.

We stand for faith in humanity, still, ever after the carnage people like Jonathan Saenz leave among our loved ones. I dare anyone speaking against the transgender community to sit through our annual Day of Remembrance services, to listen to the hundreds of names of transgender people murdered each year, in cold blood, for daring to live as who we are. Yet we still go on in faith that it will be better.

I am a Texan. I am transgender. Texas does not belong to the liars and fearmongers who want to define hate as “values.”

While others move to a safer home, we insist this is our soil, and if it isn’t safe, we have to make it so.

Yes, we transgender people are Texas, too, and we are proud that the Mesquite City Council approved its policy and made Texas a little safer for our community. Blessed be the ties that bind us together, in hope for an even brighter future in the Lone Star State.

Jeannot Jonte Boucher is a public school educator, graduate student at the Southern Methodist University and the Montessori Institute of North Texas, and native Texan. Jeannot and spouse Ashley, transgender parents, support advocacy for the gender diverse communities in the South.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2016.