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Lou Weaver

When your gender doesn’t match your birth certificate

The Daily Beast looks at what it means in practice to be a transgender person in Texas facing the prospect of having to use your birth certificate to use the bathroom.

According to the Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank based out of the UCLA School of Law, there are over 125,000 transgender adults in Texas, most of them black or Latino. North Carolina, for comparison, is home to about 45,000 transgender adults. The Texas total falls just shy of 9 percent of the 1.4 million transgender adults in the entire country. No other state besides California has a larger trans population.

And if SB6 clears the state house—an uncertain possibility, given that Republican House Speaker Joe Straus has said he’s “not a fan of the bill”—those 125,000 transgender adults and thousands of transgender minors would be barred from using public restrooms unless they have successfully updated the gender markers on their birth certificates.

That’s where things get especially tricky for transgender Texans.

“Getting your documents updated in the state of Texas is rather difficult,” Lou Weaver, Transgender Programs Coordinator for the LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas, told The Daily Beast.

“Rather difficult,” in this case, is an understatement. The majority of U.S. states have written policies allowing transgender people to change the gender markers on their birth certificates with either a doctor’s letter specifying that they have had “appropriate clinical treatment” or proof of sex reassignment surgery, which not all transgender people want or can afford. About twice as many states require surgery as those that do not.

But the state of Texas goes a step further, requiring transgender people to obtain a court order—generally after surgery—to change the sex on their birth certificates.

Not all judges are willing to provide such an order.

As the National Center for Transgender Equality notes, “current case law and evidence indicates that some Texas officials and judges are averse to issuing the necessary court orders.”

Transgender people may have to travel to a different county to locate a court that will accommodate their request. And even when they people do find a willing judge, the process takes time.

In other words, someone who has had gender reassignment surgery but who has not been able to get the arduous process of updating their birth certificate changed would still have to use the public restroom of their birth gender under SB6. You want to see people with penises in the ladies’ room? SB6 will do that.

Strategizing for the next HERO fight

Good move.

Stung by setbacks related to their access to public restrooms, transgender Americans are taking steps to play a more prominent and vocal role in a nationwide campaign to curtail discrimination against them.

Two such initiatives are being launched this week — evidence of how transgender rights has supplanted same-sex marriage as the most volatile, high-profile issue for the broader movement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists.

One initiative is a public education campaign called the Transgender Freedom Project that will share the personal stories of transgender people. The other, the Trans United Fund, is a political advocacy group that will engage in election campaigns at the federal and state level, pressing candidates to take stands on transgender rights.

“We welcome the support of our allies,” said Hayden Mora, a veteran transgender activist who’s director of Trans United. “But it’s crucial that trans people build our own political power and speak with our own voices.”

From a long-term perspective, there have been notable gains for transgender Americans in recent years — more support from major employers, better options for health care and sex-reassignment surgery, a growing number of municipalities which bar anti-transgender discrimination.

[…]

“All the people who lost the marriage equality fight, they’ve now decided that trans people are fair game,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “They’re going to claim trans people are sexual predators, but the public is quickly going to learn that’s just nonsense.”

The outcome in Houston prompted many post-mortems among LGBT activists — What went wrong? How should the bathroom-access argument be countered in the future?

“It’s been an alarming wake-up call since November,” said Dru Lavasseur, Transgender Rights Project director for the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal. “We need to prioritize bringing transgender people into the movement in leadership positions, with transgender voices leading the way.”

There has been widespread agreement that a key plank of future strategy should be enlisting more transgender people to share their personal experience — a tactic that was successful for gays and lesbians during the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage.

“In most parts of this country, people don’t know a trans person,” said Kasey Suffredini, a transgender attorney who’s director of the new Transgender Freedom Project. “The work in front of us is to put a face on who the trans community is. That’s the way that we win.”

The project, undertaken by an advocacy group called Freedom for All Americans, has a first-year budget of about $1 million, with plans to expand thereafter.

Nationwide success “will not happen overnight,” said Suffredini, suggesting a 10-year timeframe was plausible.

“What happened in North Carolina, as terrible as it was, has really galvanized people,” he added.

Part of the problem in last year’s HERO fight was that we were caught off guard – after winning the petition lawsuit in district court, we didn’t expect to have this issue on the ballot in the fall. The bad guys were way ahead of us in organizing and spreading lies. This is an attempt to counter that as the fight has shifted mostly to state legislatures. This can’t be all that there is, but it’s a good start.

And since we know that the fight is coming to our legislature, too, it’s vital to be out in front of it here as well. Thankfully, that is happening.

That’s in part why Lou Weaver is encouraging transgender Texans like himself to become more vocal and visible as the legislature approaches the 2017 session. “Something like 80 to 90 percent of Americans know an out gay or lesbian person now, and that’s led to a dramatically different discussion on issues like same-sex marriage,” Weaver told the Press. Surveys show only about 10 percent of Americans know an out transgender person, Weaver said.

Last week Weaver, transgender programs coordinator with Equality Texas, helped launch what the organization is calling its “Transvisible” project. The idea, Weaver says, is to reduce violence and prejudice against transgender people by introducing Houstonians to their transgender neighbors. “If you don’t know trans folks, it’s easy to be mystified and to believe the lies and stories that are spread about us,” Weaver said. “It’s much harder to do that when you realize we’re your neighbors, your co-workers, just everyday Houstonians.”

I agree completely. It’s a lot easier to fear or hate a faceless bogeyman than a neighbor or co-worker. Again, this is just a first step, but it’s a necessary one. I’m glad to see it.

I should note, this post started out as a discussion of this good report from the post-HERO referendum community forum on what happened and what happens next.

HoustonUnites

LGBT advocates plan to eventually launch a petition drive to get the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance back on the ballot.

First, however, they intend to draft a strategic plan, set up a citizens advisory committee, and conduct a robust public education campaign about the need for an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said those were among the recommendations that emerged from a two-and-a-half-hour community debriefing on HERO that drew around 200 people on January 12. “We agree that whatever happens next has to be citizen-led, not council-led,” said Burke, who chaired the meeting. “But everybody is in agreement—both the organizing groups and the public at large—that we can’t even think about that until we figure out how to overcome the bathroom argument. We need a multi-pronged public education campaign that’s aimed at transgender prejudice reduction.”

Houston voters overwhelmingly repealed HERO on November 3, based largely on opponents’ false, fear-mongering ads suggesting the ordinance would lead to sexual predators entering women’s restrooms and preying on young girls.

“The truth is, nobody knows how to combat the bathroom message,” Burke said. “We don’t in Houston, and they don’t anywhere else in the country. All the great minds in the country are trying to figure out how to respond to it. We have to come up with our six-word response to No Men in Women’s Bathrooms.”

That was from February. You can see why I’m glad that there’s some action on this, because at that time we really weren’t sure what to do. My response to this story was simple, only needing four words: They’re Lying To You. I know it’s more complicated than that, but it gets to the heart of the matter. Because these guys are shameless liars, if we do manage to come up with a perfect response to “no men in women’s bathrooms”, they’ll just invent some other lie to tell. I mean, they used to claim that it was the gays that were the depraved perverts and child molesters that threatened us all. The fact that people no longer believe that didn’t slow them down. I don’t want to spend too much time trying to debunk one piece of bullshit, because as soon as we do there’s plenty more where that came from, and now you’re fighting the last war. We have to attack their credibility so that people will be disinclined to believe them whatever they say. Easier said than done, I know, but that’s how I would approach the question.

That’s what I wrote in February, and I still believe it. But I’m more than happy to see another approach. As for what the future holds:

Burke said it’s unlikely any petition drive would be completed in time for HERO to appear on the November 2016 ballot. HERO supporters would need to gather 20,000 signatures for a ballot initiative to amend the city’s charter. But reviving HERO through a petition would take the political onus off of council members, who’ve said they’re in no rush to revisit the ordinance given that the public vote was so decisive.

Incoming mayor Sylvester Turner, who supported HERO, told OutSmart that his top priorities are addressing the city’s infrastructure needs and financial challenges—issues that have “universal agreement” among voters.

If he can first conquer potholes and pensions, Turner expects voters will give him permission to tackle other issues, including possibly HERO. “I think anything that’s a distraction from dealing with the infrastructure and the financial challenges really does a disservice to those particular areas,” Turner said. “So whether we’re talking about nondiscrimination, whether we’re talking about income inequality or educational initiatives, all of those things are important, but until we have met the challenges that are being presented by the infrastructure, and the financial challenges, I really don’t think at this point in time that Houstonians have an appetite for too much more than that.”

Turner is talking about building up some political capital before tackling a controversial topic like HERO, and I completely agree with his approach. That suggests to me that we’re unlikely to see any action on this until Mayor Turner’s presumed second term. Just a guess, but I do think letting some time pass is a smart idea. Not so great for the people who would benefit from HERO, unfortunately. I wish I had a better answer for that. ProjectQ Houston has more.

Interview with Lou Weaver

Lou Weaver

Lou Weaver

This week’s interviews are going to be about the referendum for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which the Supreme Court ordered to be on the ballot. It is City of Houston Proposition 1, with a Yes vote being in favor of keeping the ordinance, which as a reminder prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy. Lou Weaver is a consultant and activist in the LGBT community, helping various groups by by educating, training, and advising on matters of inclusion, equal access, equal care, and the equal treatment of transgender individuals. He was one of many people who worked hard to get HERO passed last year. We talked about his experiences as a transgender man and what HERO means to him and the city:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Hickman’s “plan” for an LGBT policy

It’s sort of something, I guess.

Sheriff Ron Hickman

Lou Weaver grew up respecting the badge. His father was a cop. His father’s friends were cops. And so Weaver never feared the police.

That changed when Weaver, who is transgender, was pulled over several years ago on a traffic stop. The officer’s reaction to Weaver explaining that he was a transgender man, not a lesbian woman, was so brash that Weaver thought he might end up in cuffs. Then he wondered what would happen if he was ever booked: Would they house him with women because he didn’t have a penis? Would they house him with men because he had a beard and a man’s voice? But what if he was raped the second he stepped into the shower?

Weaver, a local activist and LGBT consultant, is certain that these are the thoughts of every transgender person who faces police in any situation. It’s why he was thrilled in 2013 when then-Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia wrote up an LGBTI policy to protect against discrimination, aid jailers in appropriately housing and classifying inmates by gender, and keep LGBTI inmates safe. It was heralded by many as the best LGBTI jail policy in the country, Weaver remembered. And Weaver was hired to train those jailers on how to best implement it, how to handle the intricacies that come with transgender issues.

He lost that job not long after Sheriff Ron Hickman was appointed to replace Garcia, who stepped down to run for Houston mayor in May.

[…]

At a meeting on Wednesday night with a group of local Log Cabin Republicans, Hickman said he didn’t understand why he got so much flak for those decisions.And he also said that, actually, he plans to expand Garcia’s LGBTI policy. Still, he offered little detail except to say he wants to focus on three areas: inmate classification (already a main focus of Garcia’s policy), how to address LGBTI people during traffic stops, and how to deal with LGBTI crime victims. “In my 40-plus years,” he said after mentioning these points, “there have been a myriad of circumstances where every person in front of me needed very special, very unique type of treatment, and that’s the way we’ll approach it.”

Yet later on, when Hickman explained why he decided to cut the LGBTI liaison program, special treatment was certainly not something he supported. Hickman said he cut the program because it was rarely ever used—and because no other minority groups had a program like that, so why this one? One woman at the meeting objected, saying she had many LGBT friends who would find it important that certain officers be identified as LGBT-friendly. The idea appeared to almost offend Hickman, who shot back that the badge itself should be enough to indicate that an officer is safe to talk to. In an interview afterward, he elaborated, saying, “How many generations have we been telling kids, ‘this is the person you can talk to’? So now, having a unique, special label seems contradictory.”

Then he added: “It was just stuff they just never did. They put this policy in place but nobody ever followed it.”

See here for the background. As the story notes, some things were in the works but not yet in place by the time Adrian Garcia resigned. Given how his tenure as Sheriff has gone so far I can’t say I have a lot of faith that Hickman will follow up, nor do I particularly think he will wind up doing as much as Garcia would have, but I’ll be happy to be proven wrong. One way or the other, I’m sure this will be an issue in next year’s election.

No more LGBT liaison at the Sheriff’s office

So according to the Houston Press, it would seem our new Sheriff is not exactly comfortable with gay people. First, he told to his surprise at a Republican club meeting that the HCSO website has a small rainbow flag tucked into a corner:

Ron Hickman

Needless to say, that rainbow flag is now gone. What’s more worrisome to LGBT advocates is that Hickman has also axed the LGBT liaison program entirely.

Here’s the explanation Ryan Sullivan, the new HCSO spokesman, gave us this week:

“The LGBT liaison program didn’t have the capacity which you would expect by looking at the website. …Those requests were kind of administered ad hoc. Should a request come in, it would be processed around through the department until it could be fulfilled. We already have systems and structures in place through our community services division to take care of those things directly.”

That the department’s LGBT liaison program was somewhat loosely organized and that requests for an LGBT-friendly officer were handled on an “ad hoc” basis, as Sullivan puts it, is technically true. Lou Weaver, a local LGBT activist and consultant, says she worked closely with Garcia’s office in helping craft policies dealing with everything from discrimination to hate crime allegations to how the sheriff handled gay and transgender inmates in lockup at the county jail.

According to Weaver and others who are familiar with how the LGBT liaison program was set up, Garcia identified officers and employees within the agency who could act as points of contact whenever something LGBT-related came up. Many of those employees went through hours of training in how to better serve the LGBT community, particularly jailers tasked with implementing Garcia’s rather groundbreaking policy directive to classify and house inmates based on gender identity and expression rather than biological sex — a policy that Hickman’s office says will continue.

Weaver and others were already troubled that Maj. Debra Schmidt, a 29-year veteran of the department who helped implement protections for LGBT inmates and employees at the sheriff’s office, was among Garcia’s top commanders who were demoted once Hickman took over. Axing the LGBT liaison program in the name of “productivity” is equally worrying, Weaver says.

“It’s important that we have a point of contact for people to feel safe going into the jail, contacting the jail if something happens, someone to air our concerns if we feel we’re not being treated fairly,” Weaver told the Press. “Unfortunately, it looks like the current sheriff does not take those concerns seriously.”

Garcia made waves last year when he and several deputies marched in the Houston Pride parade; it was the first time HCSO ever made an official appearance. Not surprisingly, Hicmkan’s office says he has no such plans for the Pride parade later this month – although, as Hickman’s spokesman Sullivan put it, “the sheriff encourages any employees who wish to participate, he encourages them to do so as individuals.”

I think now we all understand the complaints about his un-diverse staff a little better now. Politically speaking, this sounds like the action of someone who fears his primary more than he fears November; I’m not so sure I agree with that calculation. And yes, as some people have observed, Sheriff Hickman’s actions do Adrian Garcia’s Mayoral campaign no favors. Beyond the politics, though, this is just bad policy that will almost certainly mean worse treatment for a non-trivial number of people. Everyone has the same rights, but not everyone has the same needs. It makes no sense to disengage from and refuse to communicate with a significant portion of the population.