Tag Archives: Gender Identity

Celebrating the Fair Housing Act

11 Apr
LBJ expands his powerful legacy

LBJ expands his powerful legacy

On this date 46 years ago, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This important piece of legislation is better known as the Fair Housing Act. Its core purpose is to prohibit discrimination in housing — whether for lease or for sale. The law makes it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone … by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin.”

Sadly, even with the landmark civil rights legislation already passed, housing discrimination was rampant in the United States, particularly in urban areas. This blatant discrimination — including redlining, social steering, and other heinous practices — was not restricted to the South. Even though there was 100-year-old legislation (the Civil Rights Act of 1866) that implied the rights of property, the lack of a strong enforcement mechanism allowed many nasty practices to grow over time.

As the civil rights movement grew and the first major laws were passed — the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act — activists began focusing on housing. The Chicago Open Housing Movement was a trailblazing effort and federal legislation was drafted based on the successful aspects of that movement. Unfortunately, Congress had lost some momentum and many members felt that civil rights had been sufficiently covered — a view afforded to those with white privilege. The draft law languished.

Then tragedy struck. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Riots broke out and racial tensions rose again across the nation. Never one to miss an opportunity to take bold action, LBJ decided the time was right to re-energize the Fair Housing Act. He wrote personal letters to Congressional leaders demanding immediate action. As was often the case, he was sufficiently persuasive. One week after King’s death, he signed the Act into law.

LBJ has a complicated legacy, but he was a powerful, convincing leader whose passion for civil rights and equality cannot be questioned. No president before or since has done more to create legal protections for oppressed and targeted people. The Fair Housing Act created strict guidelines and penalties. It also established an enforcement agency, the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. The NAACP and ACLU have successfully pressed cases that have expanded the protections to include urban renewal planning. People with disabilities and families with children were added to the protection umbrella as subsequent legislation was passed over the years.

While this law was critical and made a real difference, housing discrimination is still a significant problem. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates approximately two million cases of discrimination every single year. Imagine what the problem would be like without a law in place! As with most federal protections, Fair Housing still does not carry protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Several states and localities have created protections, but without cohesive federal standards this piecemeal approach is not enough.

Call to Action: We who believe in freedom cannot rest. Given the current Supreme Court’s fondness for gutting rights laws and the blatant violations that still exist, we must be vigilant to ensure that the enforcement, protection, and punishment mechanisms that are in place remain strong. We must also work to include all people in this protection, demanding strong federal protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity.


Hero of the Week Award: December 21, Helena, Montana City Commission

21 Dec
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

Thanks to my friend and LGBT activist Mark Szabo for bringing this week’s hero to my attention. It’s a delight to recognize hard work for equality in places where the struggle is more than a little uphill. This week the Helena, MT city commission UNANIMOUSLY approved an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment and many kinds of public accommodation based on sexual orientation and gender identity. That’s a big step for the capital of one of 29 states that still provides no consistent protection for its LGBT citizens.

Special recognition goes to Commissioner Katherine Haque-Hausrath. She sponsored the ordinance and spent hours working with her colleagues to ensure language that could pass. She spoke passionately and clearly about the importance of the ordinance:

I believe, and I felt the commissioners believe, that being LGBT is part of the human condition. It’s something that people cannot change, and we believe that people should not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

Brava! The public hearing was animated but civil, with more than twice as many supporters as detractors. The opponents typically played the bathroom/locker room card, displaying their sad ignorance. Unfortunately, that concern watered down the ordinance, with an amendment forcing transgender residents to use facilities “where people ordinarily appear in the nude” designated for their “anatomical sex.” To Commissioner Haque-Hausrath’s credit, she pushed hard against the amendment, proposing one of her own that would negate it.

Despite this notable flaw, the ordinance provides broad protections that are simply part of civil rights. Congratulations to Commissioner Haque-Hausrath and her colleagues for being leaders in their state.

We have a delightful honorable mention this week. Remember the Easy Bake Oven? Hasbro still makes it, albeit with a very modern, updated look. McKenna Pope, a 13-year-old girl in New Jersey, wanted to buy one for her younger brother. She was concerned that the pastel purple or pink color options wouldn’t appeal to him, and mounted a petition to have Hasbro produce a wider range of colors. She recorded a YouTube video and got the petition on Change.org.

Things really heated up when celebrity chef Bobby Flay spoke up in support of wider options for the toy, making the obvious point that baking is no more just for girls than tools are just for boys. Hasbro did the right thing, introducing three new colors (black, silver, and blue). Now Easy Bakers –boys and girls — can get an oven in a color they like rather than one that plays into outmoded stereotypes. Says McKenna Pope,

[Hasbro] really met most or even all of what I wanted them to do, and they really amazed me.

Nicely done Hasbro, and big thanks to McKenna Pope and Bobby Flay.

Don’t forget that TSM is still taking nominations for Hero of the Year Award.

Hero of the Week Award: July 13, the Episcopal Church

13 Jul

Hero of the Week

Thank you to my friend David Jones for inspiring me to write this story. Continuing its tradition of being one of the most supportive mainline Christian denominations, the Episcopal Church took two significant actions this week. The church is holding its 77th General Convention in Indianapolis and addressed both same-sex unions and transgender rights.

As with the President and the nation, the church is still evolving on marriage equality. This week’s action stops short of blessing marriage for same-sex couples. It does, however, create a liturgy for blessing monogamous unions between two people of the same sex, something they have never done before. This is an important step toward embracing full equality in the church. Significantly, over 70% of the Bishops and members of the House of Deputies voted in favor of the measure.

The Convention also overwhelmingly approved two changes to its Nondiscrimination Canons. These add “gender identity  and expression” to the Canons. The action effectively makes it illegal within the church to bar from the priesthood people who were born into one gender and live as another or who do not identify themselves as male or female. The Episcopal Church is now one of a handful the expressly support the ordination of transgender priests.

Whatever one’s individual faith  or lack thereof, the LGBT community needs support from all quarters. Allies of faith are one important community in the larger conversation. Congratulations to the Episcopal Church for this week’s loud shout of support.

Fun Family Event For Good Cause

26 Nov

Mark Your Calendars: December 4

On December 4, 2011 from 2-5 pm, TransActive will be hosting a silent auction with food, fun, and an opportunity to raise money to support transgender youth.  The title of the event is Super Heroes for Super Kids, featuring guest speaker Janet Mock, the Associate Editor of People.com  Mock is transgender and she believes in giving back to the community. I encourage you to look at her bio, it is quite impressive.

All proceeds go to supporting and finding resources for transgender and gender non-conforming youth. Tickets are $15. in advance and $20. at the door.  If you are interested in buying tickets, please contact me!  This event is an opportunity for us all to make a huge difference in the lives of many young people. If you are not able to attend, but want to make a tax deductible donation, please make out a check to TransActive, or visit the website and use your credit card.

I hope to see many of you at this fun family event.  There will be lots of fun events for your kids.

Support Our Transgender Youth

1 Nov

Thank you to my friend Allison for reminding me of this fantastic, poignant story of a transgender girl that is now on Youtube. I hope all of you will take the time to watch the video and listen to her story.

Fortunately, Cammie’s mother is very supportive and understanding:

My child is gender variant (Transgender)… which means that during fetal development there was insufficient testosterone which resulted in the lack of male gender identity markers in the BSTC section of the pituitary gland in her brain. The result is a child who is born a natal male with a female gender identity. Gender exists between the ears, not between the legs. Everything that makes us who we are… our character, personality, temperament, and so forth – comes from brain function. Our physical bodies… fingers, toes, genitals, arms, legs, bellybutton, etc – have no bearing on “who” we are. This video/voice recording is Cammie, expressing her thoughts and feelings about what it’s like to live with this medical condition. She is 11 years old. Her hope is that one day the world will understand this condition for what it is. She dreams of a day when she – and many others – will be loved, embraced and accepted for “WHO” they are “on the inside.

Sadly, there are a great number of parents who do not know how to be supportive.

If you or someone you know is in need of support or resources please contact TransActive.  Transgender youth and adults disproportionately suffer from bullying, harassment, and violence.  It is our responsibility to to create an environment of safety for all.

Free From Gender Stereotypes (?)

23 May

As a prepubescent boy, I remember watching a PBS special about gender and how from the moment we are born people force gender stereotypes upon us.  The special I watched back in the 1970s even reported that assigning a blue or pink blanket to a newborn is already fraught with expectations for that respective gender.  Somehow I knew in my heart this to be true and thus the PBS special really resonated with me.

Now as a middle aged man who focuses on gender identity/conformity and issues around sexual orientation I am even more concerned with how children grow up and the expectations adults thrust upon them.  I came across an article about a couple with a precious, beautiful baby named Storm.  The couple, David and Witterick, have decided to keep Storm’s gender a secret for now.  Storm will be raised without gender expectations or stereotypes.  Witterick, Storm’s mothers says:

When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?…If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs.

I applaud David and Witterick and can only imagine how liberating it must be for Storm to grow up as a human being and blossom into the gender that is appropriate for Storm.  Here I think it is appropriate to underscore the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity.  While there is some overlap between gender identity and sexual orientation, the two are quite different. I am cisgendered, which means that my brain and emotions match my physical gender.  Someone who is transgendered the physical does not match up with the brain and emotions.  Storm will grow up with out any pressure from the family as to gender identity.  When one looks at the statistics of how many transgendered people endure bullying, the correlation between bullying and suicide, depression and contracting STDs, the need to grow up without expectations around gender is imperative for the health and safety of our youth. I’m hopeful and happy for Storm.  Click here to see the full story.

Kudos to the U.S. Labor Department

30 Apr

Kudos to the Department of Labor

Yesterday, April 29, 2011, the U.S. Labor Department announced it would finally extend equal protection under gender identity. This move on behalf of the Labor Department is no small thing.  Adding the category of Gender Identity as a protected population that is now illegal to discriminate against is huge; this sends a message to employers and to housing that it is now against the law to discriminate against a person due to their gender identity.  This protection is particularly helpful for our transgendered brothers and sisters. Rea Carey, the Executive Director of the task force said:

With this change, the federal government is doing what smart employers in the private sector have been doing for years. They know that in order to attract the best talent they need to show that diversity is important to their companies. We are grateful for the leadership of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on this issue and look forward to our continuing work with the administration to ensure greater fairness in federal policy.

My hope is that now the Federal Government will take the lead in preventing discrimination, as it should take the lead!  Brava, to Rea Carey. Click here to see the full story.

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