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February 2006 Newsletter
After decades of activism, Washington state finally bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. In California, legislators take a new approach to hate crimes, targeting the “panic defense.”
For almost thirty years, activists in Washington State have been working for the passage of a bill that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. Last year, the trans-inclusive bill fell just one vote shy of passage. But in January of this year, both houses of the legislature passed a bill that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression protections in the areas of employment, public accommodation, and housing. The bill was signed by Governor Christine Gregoire’s office on January 31.
Washington is now the eighth state to protect its transgender residents from employment discrimination. The other states are Minnesota, Rhode Island, California, New Mexico, Illinois, Maine and Hawaii (housing only).
With these new protections, approximately 30% of the people in the United States will live in jurisdictions with anti-discrimination laws that include transgender people. This compares to 5% five years ago. 48% of people live in jurisdictions with sexual orientation protections.
“This is great news from Washington. The advocates there have been working tirelessly for literally decades,” according to NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling. “So many folks have steadfastly insisted on transgender inclusion in the bill and today they have shown the advantages of moving forward together.”
A right-wing group has already announced plans to seek a referendum on November’s ballot to repeal the measure. More information is available on the Equal Rights Washington website at www.equalrightswashington.org.
In California, the state Assembly has approved three bills that include provisions based on gender identity. The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act (Assembly Bill 1160) would prohibit defendants from using a so-called “panic defense” to justify assault or murder. Proponents of the measure argue that hate-motivated violence is not legal under state law; therefore, stating that a person’s bias caused them to commit a crime should not be a legitimate defense. Those who oppose the legislation, including a statewide organization of criminal defense attorneys, fear that it will limit a defendant’s ability to accurately describe the state of mind that led them to commit a crime.
The bill is named after Gwen Araujo, a California transgender teen who was killed in 2002. Her attackers attempted to utilize a “gay panic” defense saying that they flew into a rage when they discovered that she was transgender. Their first trial ended in a deadlocked jury while the jurors in their second trial rejected the panic defense. All of the defendants have plead guilty or been convicted of Araujo’s murder.
The bill now goes on to the state Senate for consideration. In addition, state senators will consider the Fair Campaign Act, which asks candidates for public office to sign a voluntary pledge agreeing to not engage in negative campaigning targeting people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, sex, religion, national origin, physical health or age. Finally, the Assembly sent to the Senate The Safe Place to Learn Act, which will require schools to follow previously existing anti-discrimination laws. All of the bills were sponsored by Equality California. More information is available on their website at www.eqca.org.
Human Rights Groups Highlight Anti-Transgender Abuses
The two largest human rights groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have in recent months issued Action Alerts to their memberships about anti-transgender violence.
In January, Human Rights Watch documented the severe abuse faced by transgender people in Nepal. Over the last few months, multiple incidents have been reported in which police officers have arrested, beaten and sexually harassed metis, the local term for transgender women. On January 12, Scott Long, the Director of the organization’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program, sent a letter to the Nepalese government urging that the allegations be investigated and that police abuse cease. He also called for training in human rights, including the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, to be given to law enforcement officials.
More information is available on the Human Rights Watch website at www.hrw.org . The Blue Diamond Society, an organization for LGBT people in Nepal, can be found on the web at www.bds.org.np (website is in English).
Amnesty International is calling on activists to write letters in response to the killing of one trans woman and the wounding of another in Guatemala. Witnesses believe that their attackers were police officers and are said to be too frightened to testify against them. In Guatemala City, on December 17, four men on motorbikes shot the two transgender sex workers. Both women were connected with a local AIDS organization, Organización de Apoyo a una Sexualidad Integral frente al SIDA (OASIS), one as a staff member and the other as a volunteer. Local activists report at least seven killings of trans sex workers earlier in the year.
Amnesty officials contacted their membership asking them to write letters to Guatemalan officials asking for protection for the surviving transwoman and immediate action to end the intimidation and murder of sex workers and LGBT people. Information about how to write in response to this situation is available on Amnesty International’s website at www.amnestyusa.org. You can also access the OASIS website at OASIS (website is in Spanish).
Amnesty International also recently released the report, Stonewalled: Police Abuse and Misconduct Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in the United States. Many of the reported incidents of violence were targeted against transgender people. The report is available as a free download at www.amnestyusa.org.
You may also want to thank both human rights groups for their continued vigilance to counter anti-transgender violence.
Peeing in Peace
The Transgender Law Center has recently unveiled a new resource designed to help trans people increase access to bathrooms. The 48-page booklet, Peeing in Peace: A Resource Guide for Transgender Activists and Allies, is available as a free download from their website and includes multiple, practical options for dealing with this issue. Throughout, a strong case is made for the right of all people to use restrooms in a equitable manner and to maintain their dignity.
The book includes a discussion of similar historical struggles, such as the movement to end racially segregated bathrooms and to ensure accessible restrooms. It also lays out a number of strategies, from ones that an individual can use if harassed in a restroom, to larger plans to create organizations to address this issue systemically. They also include one model for grassroots organizing that may be helpful to some. The real strength of this resource lies, however, in its clear articulation of viable strategies focused on restroom usage.
You can find Peeing in Peace on their website at www.transgenderlawcenter.org.
In Memoriam: Dr. Stanley Biber
Dr. Stanley Biber, a surgeon who performed thousands of sex reassignment surgeries, died in January of complications from pneumonia. He was 82. A native of Iowa and a surgeon at a MASH unit during the Korean war, Dr. Biber set up his practice in Trinidad, Colorado in 1954. He began doing SRS in 1969, performing approximately 5,000 surgeries before his retirement. Biber described himself as “on old country doctor” and had a cattle ranch in addition to his surgery practice. He was married and the father of ten children.
“Everybody liked him,” said Mara Keisling, the Executive Director for the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Dr. Biber was a pioneer not just in sexual reassignment surgery but in providing caring expert health care to transgender people. He's helped thousands of people by being willing to provide health care when other physicians would not.”
Dr. Marci Bowers took over Dr. Biber’s practice in 2003. She can be reached at www.marcibowers.com.
National Public Radio ran an obituary for Dr. Biber which can be heard by clicking here: www.npr.org.
Scholarships Available for Trans Students
Transgender students and our allies can access a growing number of available scholarships. Applications deadlines are coming up soon so students should apply quickly.
PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) has a number of scholarships, including 13 newly announced ones. In addition to general academic scholarships, there are awards for student athletes, community leaders and others. The PFLAG scholarships are for high school seniors who are entering college this year. More information is available at www.pflag.org. A number of their local chapters offer scholarships as well so be sure to check those. The deadline for applications is February 14.
The Houston Transgender Unity Committee is also offering scholarships to seniors who will graduate high school this year and go on to college. The awards will be announced at their Unity Banquet, to be held on April 15. Applications are also due on February 14. For more information, go to their website at www.houstontransgenderunity.org.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is offering scholarships up to $10,000 for LGBT undergraduate students attending an accredited four-year college and studying journalism, communications or a related field. The application deadline is February 24. More information about the Messenger-Anderson scholarship is available at www.thetaskforce.org/aboutus/messenger.cfm.
The Point Foundation offers scholarships to students at all levels of their education, including graduate and undergraduate students. The application deadline is March 1. Scholarships are for LGBT students and those who are leaders in the GLBT community, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. More information is available at www.thepointfoundation.org.
The Transgender Scholarship and Education Legacy Fund (TSELF) is also available for transgender students in the helping professions (including health care, social sciences, law, religious studies and teaching). The deadline for applications this year has already past. If you would like more information about these, their website is www.tself.org.
If you are currently a student, check with the financial aid offices at your school. Often financial aid staff will assist in finding a scholarship program. There are other local scholarships for LGBT students, many of which welcome applications from transgender students.
Transgender On Screen
Felicity Huffman won a Golden Globe award for her portrayal of Bree, an MTF who makes a cross-country voyage with her son, in the film Transamerica. The star of Desperate Housewives has also been nominated for an Academy Award; the awards will be given in early March.
Here’s more on the L-Word’s transgender character: According to Nick Adams, of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, “This character on "The L Word" is the first regularly occurring FTM character in the history of television *and* the first transgender character to transition during the course of a show. Season three of "The L Word" began on January 8 and introduced us to Moira, the new person Jenny is dating. Moira is a very androgynous computer programmer from a working class background. When Moira follows Jenny back to LA and meets all of Jenny's friends, there is some friction around issues of class and gender expression. In the 1/29 episode, Moira met an FTM artist, and then told Jenny that he had considered transitioning since he was a kid (which was news to Jenny) . In the 2/5 episode, Max faced discrimination when applying for a job because of his gender expression.
“Over the course of the remaining episodes, Moira will begin taking testosterone and transition to living as Max. It remains to be seen how the show will handle Max's transition. But given the near-complete invisibility of FTMs on television -- particularly in scripted television -- this is a significant development for FTM visibility.”
You can read an interview with Daniela Sea, the actor playing Max, here: www.afterellen.com