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Federal court ruling says LGBT workers in Texas are protected from discrimination

This is a big deal.

For the first time in Texas, a federal judge said LGBT workers should be protected from employment discrimination based on their gender identity and sexual orientation.

Judge Lee Rosenthal, the chief judge in the Houston-based Southern District Court of Texas, said in a decision last week that federal employment law protecting workers from discrimination based on sex also applies to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Nicole Wittmer, an engineer who alleged she wasn’t hired by energy company Phillips 66 because she’s transgender, couldn’t prove her claim, Rosenthal ruled. But if she had proof, the judge added, Wittmer would have had cause to sue under federal law.

Rosenthal’s ruling doesn’t mean it’s suddenly illegal in Texas to discriminate against LGBT workers. But it may be cited in the future by others who believe their sexual orientation or gender identity was a factor in workplace decisions, Wittmer’s lawyer told The Dallas Morning News.

“We’re certainly disappointed that this particular ruling did not fall in her favor,” Alfonso Kennard Jr. said Monday. “The silver lining here is it has helped to define the landscape for people who have been discriminated in the workplace due to their transgender status.”

“This ruling is earth-shattering — in a good way.”

[…]

Harper Jean Tobin, policy director at the National Center for Transgender Equality, characterized her decision as part of a growing consensus that Title VII covers trans workers as well.

“This ruling, along with dozens of others, shows that discrimination against transgender workers is illegal under federal law,” Tobin said in a prepared statement. “This is the overwhelming approach of the courts across the country over the last decade.”

Dale Carpenter, a constitutional law and LGBT rights expert at Southern Methodist University, said the ruling was the first of its kind in Texas.

It goes beyond a 2008 case in which another federal judge in Texas said gender nonconforming persons could not be discriminated against in the workplace, he said, because this one also recognizes transgender status as a protected trait.

Here is a copy of the ruling, which is embedded in the story. Other federal court judges have made similar rulings, but none have been in the Fifth Circuit, so those rulings did not apply to Texas. My non-lawyer’s take on this is that while it has laid down a principle, we won’t know how that applies in specific cases until someone files a lawsuit based on this principle. I suspect it won’t be very long before that happens, so let’s keep an eye on this.

Wisconsin case undermines even the scaled back bathroom bill

Special session or not, this could be a big deal.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit likely just handed the Supreme Court a new case about a transgender student to consider. The Court’s opinion, issued Tuesday, eviscerates a Wisconsin school’s arguments for discriminating against one of its students.

Ashton Whitaker (“Ash”), now a 17-year-old senior, first filed suit against Kenosha Unified School District a little over a year ago, arguing that the school was illegally discriminating against him by prohibiting him from accessing the boys’ restrooms. He had previously used the restroom for six months without incident before the new policy was implemented. Ash was instead forced to using single-stall restrooms that were very far away from his classes and that further stigmatized him among his classmates. His bathroom usage was then policed, with the school even considering requiring him to wear bright green wristbands or stickers to easily identify him, though it never actually took that step.

Back in September, U.S. District Judge Pamela Pepper granted Ash a preliminary injunction against the policy, ensuring he could use the facilities that match his gender identity throughout his senior year. The school appealed, but Tuesday’s ruling upholds the injunction, allowing Ash to finish out the school year without being segregated because he is transgender.

The decision is very unforgiving of the school’s arguments against Ash’s integration, to say the least.

For example, the district claimed that Ash’s harm was “self-inflicted” because he didn’t take advantage of the accommodations that were provided. The decision noted that this argument fails for a number of reasons. First, segregating him to a separate bathroom caused anxiety related to his transition, as well as the fact that it invited scrutiny from his peers. This anxiety prompted Ash to avoid drinking water to avoid using the restrooms, which exacerbated physical symptoms he experiences due to his vasovagal syncope, a condition that causes him to experience fainting and/or seizures when dehydrated.

This was all in addition to the fact that the bathrooms were on the opposite side of the building from his classes. “Therefore,” the Court wrote, “he was faced with the unenviable choice between using a bathroom that would further stigmatize him and cause him to miss class time, or avoid use of the bathroom altogether at the expense of his health.”

The district had in turn argued that allowing Ash to use the boys’ bathrooms would somehow infringe on “the privacy rights of all 22,160 students” in the district. The Court dismissed this argument as being “based upon sheer conjecture and abstraction.”

Ash had used the boys’ bathroom for six months without incident. It was only after a teacher — not a student — noticed him using the bathroom that the policy was implemented. The district also claimed to have received just one complaint, and it was from a parent — again, not a student. The Court further countered that this reasoning “ignores the practical reality of how Ash, as a transgender boy, uses the bathroom: by entering a stall and closing the door.”

The parallel to Texas isn’t exact because it was school district policy in Wisconsin that was at issue, not state law, but as Vox explains, it’s the remedy that really matters.

If existing federal law and the 14th Amendment shield trans people from discrimination, then it’s not just Whitaker’s rights that are protected here, but all trans students’. And if bans against sex discrimination in particular apply to trans people, then it’s not just students’ rights that are protected, but all trans people who face discrimination in other settings where sex discrimination is banned — so not just schools, but the workplace and housing as well.

[…]

The Seventh Circuit Court’s case does not have the limitation of being attached to the guidance or any other regulation that the Trump administration could rescind. Instead, it poses the straight question: Are trans people protected under federal law? If other courts agree with the Seventh Circuit Court, that could reshape the face of civil rights laws in America — and help fill a void that’s left trans people legally unprotected from discrimination across most of the US.

Under most states’ laws and federal law, trans people aren’t explicitly protected from discrimination in the workplace, housing, public accommodations, and schools. This means that a person can be fired from a job, evicted from a home, kicked out of a business, or denied the correct bathroom facility just because an employer, landlord, business owner, or school principal doesn’t approve of the person’s gender identity.

LGBTQ advocates argue, however, that federal civil rights law should already shield trans people from discrimination.

The argument: Discrimination against someone based on their gender identity is fundamentally rooted in sex-based expectations. For example, if someone discriminates against a trans woman, that’s largely based on the expectation that a person designated male at birth should identify as a man — a belief built on an idea of what a person of a certain sex assigned at birth should be like. So since federal civil rights laws, such as Title IX, ban sex discrimination in the workplace, housing, and schools, they should ban discrimination against trans people in these settings as well.

This isn’t just a wild interpretation by LGBTQ advocates; there’s legal precedent for it. Joshua Block, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who worked on Grimm’s case, cited a 1998 Supreme Court case, Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services Inc., in which the Court unanimously agreed that bans on sex discrimination prohibit same-sex sexual harassment. Same-sex sexual harassment was not something the authors of federal civil rights laws considered, but it’s something, the Supreme Court said, that a plain reading of the law protects.

Oncale says that’s irrelevant whether [Congress] contemplated it,” Block previously told me. “That’s not how laws work. This is literal sex discrimination. Whether or not that’s what Congress was focused on doesn’t make it any less a type of discrimination covered by the statute.”

Seventh Circuit Judge Ann Claire Williams embraced this view in her ruling on Tuesday: “A policy that requires an individual to use a bathroom that does not conform with his or her gender identity punishes that individual for his or her gender non‐conformance, which in turn violates Title IX.”

But the court went even further — arguing that the Kenosha Unified School District’s actions violated the 14th Amendment. The school district claimed that it treats all boys and girls equally — meaning it forces them all to use certain bathrooms based on the sex they were assigned at birth instead of their gender identity. But Williams ruled that this is “untrue,” adding, “Rather, the School District treats transgender students like Ash, who fail to conform to the sex‐based stereotypes associated with their assigned sex at birth, differently.”

You can see how that would apply to Texas, or any other state that doesn’t already have a non-discrimination law that includes transgender people. It’s just theoretical at this point because Texas isn’t in the Seventh Circuit, but the case is a road map for any litigation that would result from the passage of even the watered-down bathroom bill that could have passed in the regular session. That won’t stop Dan Patrick, of course, and Lord only knows what the Fifth Circuit might do once such a case crossed their threshold, but the point here is that a precedent now exists, and anything the bad guys do from here will have to take that into account. RG Ratcliffe and Buzzfeed have more.

North Carolina “repeals” HB2

It’s “repeal” in a mostly meaningless sense.

Late Wednesday night, for the second day in a row, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R) and Senate leader Phil Berger (R) held a press conference announcing that they’d established yet another “compromise” to repeal HB2 with Gov. Roy Cooper (D). They are planning to force it through the legislature on Thursday. The “compromise” is not a clean repeal of the anti-transgender law, HB2. It would maintain much of the discriminatory aspects of the law its replacing.

The reason Republican lawmakers are rushing is that the NCAA reportedly set Thursday as a deadline for the state to repeal HB2 or risk losing the opportunity to host any championship games through 2022. This means that Thursday’s “compromise” effort is specifically geared toward making money off all those games, but if the NCAA’s concern was removing discrimination from the law, this effort doesn’t meet the standard.

Thursday’s “compromise” bill actually maintains many aspects of HB2. The law prohibited municipalities from establishing LGBT protections at the local level and mandated that in all public facilities, transgender people could only use facilities that match the sex on their birth certificate. The proposed “compromise” repeals HB2, but then immediately reinstates much of it:

  • Only the state legislature would be able to pass any legislation related to the use of multiple-occupancy bathrooms. Thus, no city or public school could assure trans people that they can use facilities that actually match their gender identity.
  • Municipalities would still be banned from passing any LGBT nondiscrimination protections until December 1, 2020.

Cooper agreed to the plan without consulting any LGBT groups. Cooper said he supports the “compromise,” explaining, “It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation.”

LGBT group’s anger over the “compromise” has been directed as much at the Democratic governor who promised to repeal HB2 as the Republicans trying to hold onto it.

Businesses are opposing the “repeal” bill as well, since for all intents and purposes it isn’t really repealing anything. Naturally, the Republicans who are pushing SB6 think this is great.

“North Carolina appears to be replacing their original law with a new measure that is similar to our state’s SB 6, the Texas Privacy Act,” Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, the author of the Texas proposal, said in a statement. She added it’s “no surprise the Texas Privacy Act is seen as a thoughtful solution to protect everyone equally while allowing businesses to set their own policy.”

[…]

The Texas proposal includes some of the original restrictions that North Carolina is now repealing. Kolkhorst’s Senate Bill 6 would limit bathroom use in government buildings on the basis of “biological sex” rather than gender identity and would nix local anti-discrimination laws meant to allow transgender residents to use public bathrooms based on gender identity.

[…]

Meanwhile, tourism officials from big Texas cities have warned that the proposal could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. Almost a week after Houston hosted Super Bowl LI, the NFL raised the prospect that SB 6 could impact future championship football games in Texas. And in a statement regarding Texas’ proposal, the NBA has indicated it considers “a wide range of factors when making decisions about host locations for league-wide events like the All-Star Game; foremost among them is ensuring an environment where those who participate and attend are treated fairly and equally.”

Pointing to the North Carolina vote, representatives for the Texas business community on Thursday indicated it should serve as another warning sign for Texas lawmakers.

“The turmoil of the past year, coupled with today’s action by North Carolina lawmakers, should send a loud and clear message to our own Texas Legislature: reject Senate Bill 6, a discriminatory and unnecessary bill that does nothing to address safety,” Texas Association of Business president Chris Wallace said in a statement.

The right answer is to not pass discriminatory legislation in the first place. And if someone else passes discriminatory legislation, don’t screw around with compromises. Repeal away. The Current and the DMN have more.

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.

The challenges transgender children face

At least now we’re starting to talk about those challenges openly.

One month after voters in Houston rejected an equal rights ordinance that proponents say would have protected transgender people from discrimination, Ben and his parents, Ann and Jim Elder of Friendswood, are among families nationwide challenging their communities to respect the identities of kids who feel their true gender doesn’t match their bodies. Their experience, and Houston’s, illustrate the gap in understanding gender identity issues and the divide over how best to deal with them in places such as public restrooms, courthouses, day care centers and schools. As much as the country has changed in accepting gay marriage, transgender rights remains a new frontier, rife with uncertainty.

Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she expects to see a tipping point as more transgender children like Ben express themselves, just as gay rights gained momentum after families began supporting openly gay children.

Until then, misunderstanding reigns.

Take the case of two former Katy child care workers. A week after the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was defeated following the airing of TV ads alleging the law would permit transgender men to assault girls in women’s bathrooms, the workers said they were fired by the Katy center for refusing to treat one of their students as a transgender boy.

Accepting the child’s assertion at such a young age “just didn’t make sense to me,” said one of the workers, Madeline Kirksey, who argues that she had the child’s best interests at heart. Kirksey has filed a federal discrimination complaint challenging her dismissal and is represented by an attorney who fought to bring HERO before voters, leading to its ultimate defeat.

“I still believe that, at that age, they’re exploring,” Kirksey maintained. “It’s innocence. … Let her explore for herself until she gets older and then decide.”

Meanwhile, the Texas Association of School Boards describes transgender issues as “relatively new in public discourse, understanding and the law.”

While state law does not explicitly protect students who are transgender, it says students are safe from discrimination “based on their gender identity and their free speech expressions of that gender identity,” including choice of clothing, name and gender, according to a written explanation from the association’s legal division.

The association provides sample policy documents to protect against discrimination based on gender. Districts like Houston ISD have taken the language further, to explicitly cover “gender identity and/or gender expression.”

Conflict in the state regarding bathrooms and locker rooms, however, “is not legally settled,” the explanation reads, concluding that schools should “assess each situation as it comes … to reach a resolution that protects the learning environment for all.”

[…]

While the medical community doesn’t have clear data on why individuals identify with a certain gender, kids as young as age 3 may begin to understand “what their preferred gender roles are, what their gender expression will be,” said Robert McLaughlin, a clinical psychologist and dean of the school of allied health sciences at Baylor College of Medicine.

Early on, features that may indicate gender dysphoria can manifest in a preference for the clothes, toys, games or even peers of the other gender, said Meredith Chapman, a psychiatrist with Children’s Health in Dallas. In more severe cases, children might say they wish to be the other gender, express unhappiness about their body or try to harm their genitals.

There isn’t a clinical consensus on specific treatment methods for gender variant kids, Chapman said. But experts agree that denying a child’s claims or trying to coerce him or her to be one way or another likely has dangerous ramifications.

“We never know a child’s outcome,” McLaughlin said. “All we know is the child we have before us. We can make that child’s path miserable and tragic, or we can make that child’s path supported and affirmative.”

I have a certain amount of sympathy for the Katy child care workers, because not that long ago I would have thought the same thing. I know more now, which (along with their choice of attorney) limits the amount of sympathy that I feel. Gay and lesbian kids generally have an easier time of it than they did even 10 or 20 years ago because we all know more as a society about who they are and what they’re experiencing. There’s still a long way to go, and far too many gay and lesbian kids still encounter hostility and rejection, but the progress is obvious and the direction we’re going is clear. We need to get there for trans kids as well, and the sooner we do the fewer of them we will lose to violence, drugs, and suicide. A year ago at this time blogger/pundit Nancy Sims wrote about her experience as the parent of a transgender child. Go read that and remind yourself why this matters. Every kid deserves a chance to grow up and be loved and accepted for who they are.

Violence against transgender people

There’s way too much of it.

For a few transgender Americans, this has been a year of glamour and fame. For many others, 2015 has been fraught with danger, violence and mourning.

While Caitlyn Jenner made the cover of Vanity Fair and Laverne Cox prospered as a popular actress, other transgender women have become homicide victims at an alarming rate. By the count of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, there have been 22 killings so far this year of transgender or gender-nonconforming people — including 19 black or Latina transgender women.

The toll compares with 12 last year and 13 in 2013, and is the highest since advocacy groups began such tallies a decade ago.

“Most Americans think it’s been an amazing year for transgender rights,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “But for the transgender community, it’s been one of the most traumatic years on record.”

Death by death, the details are horrific. Kiesha Jenkins was beaten and shot dead by a cluster of assailants in Philadelphia. Tamara Dominguez was run over multiple times and left to die on a Kansas City street. Police said the most recent victim, Zella Ziona, was shot dead in Gaithersburg, Maryland, last month by a boyfriend embarrassed that Ziona showed up in the presence of some of his other friends.

There’s no question that anti-transgender hatred fueled many of the killings, yet activists and social-service professionals say there are multiple factors that make transgender women of color vulnerable. They have documented that numerous victims were killed by intimate partners and many while engaging in prostitution.

“For many of these women, it’s chronic unemployment or participation in survival sex work,” said Louis Graham, a University of Massachusetts professor who has studied the experiences of black transgender women.

Many are beset by homelessness and economic desperation, sometimes ending out in coercive and violent relationships, Graham said.

Chase Strangio, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, said that for many perpetrators of the violence, “there’s a sense of transgender people being less than human.”

See here for some background. So often it is the case that a population that is demonized and marginalized is at a much greater risk for crime and violence than the larger population that fears them. We still have a long way to go to get to a society that treats everyone equally.

Transgender acceptance

I have a question to ask about this.

The trans civil rights movement began with stacked odds because it represents such a minority, less than 1 percent of the population, according to various studies. The movement is seen as the frontier beyond gay marriage rights, and trans activists “have moved so much faster than any of these other social justice movements,” said Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “It’s because they’ve all laid the groundwork for us.”

She expects to see a tipping point as more transgender children come out, just as gay rights picked up support from families with openly gay children.

Minneapolis became the first city to pass protections for transgender people 40 years ago, and more than 225 other municipalities and 19 states have followed suit. Houston is one of the only major U.S. cities without such a law.

Despite those ordinances, the rights of transgender people are being disputed in court or considered by federal authorities.

[…]

In 2013, the Public Religion Research Institute reported that 9 percent of Americans had a close transgender friend or family member. In 2014, the Human Rights Campaign said 17 percent of American survey respondents knew or worked with a transgender person, increasing to 22 percent this year.

It jumps to about 80 percent when the question is about gays and lesbians.

Remember those “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets that were all the rage a few years back? I always thought they were obnoxious, but it seems to me they might serve a purpose these days. What would Jesus do with transgender people? Would he spit on them and call them perverts and refuse to let them use public restrooms, or would he embrace them as his brothers and sisters under a just and loving God? I’m just asking. I guess you can tell how I feel by the way I framed the question. I also know that this is a matter of life and death for a lot of people. I know that we will become more accepting as a society over time, but for too many people that won’t be soon enough.

On being transgender in Texas

Good story.

As celebrities like Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner and actress Laverne Cox seek to bring transgender issues to the mainstream, Texas is battling against the movement toward acceptance.

There is no single definition for “transgender.” Broadly, it refers to someone who identifies as a different gender than their sex at birth. How someone exhibits his or her gender depends on the individual. Some people make no outward physical changes, while others undergo extensive hormone therapy and surgery to change their sex to match their gender identity. People identify as a transgender man, meaning they were not born male but identify that way, transgender woman, or as “gender fluid” – somewhere in between. Sexual orientation is a separate question. For example, a trans woman may be attracted to men, or consider herself a lesbian and be attracted to women.

It is nearly impossible to estimate the number of transgender Americans. A 2011 study put the number at somewhere around 700,000, a number that is likely to grow as Americans develop a greater understanding of what it means to be transgender.

As their numbers grow, so do their support networks, especially in large urban areas. Houston has a number of locations, like the LGBT clinic The Montrose Center, that offer counseling for issues such as substance abuse and domestic violence specifically for transgender Texans. There are also a number of support groups across the state that cater to trans Texans and their families, and the Dallas Children’s Medical Center in February unveiled the region’s first pediatric program for transgender children.

[…]

Texas still has a long way to go to catch up to the likes of California and other states whose local and state leaders actively work to extend equal rights to their transgender citizens.

“I would say that we’re probably in the middle, towards the bottom,” said Lou Weaver, the transgender outreach specialist for LGBT rights group Texas Wins. “Obviously, it could be worse, but we’re not doing well as a state at all.”

Many agree one of the greatest barriers for many transgender Texans at this time is finding employment. Texas is one of 33 states in which it is legal to fire, or refuse to hire, someone for being transgender, Weaver said. There also are no state laws protecting transgender Texans from school bullying or housing discrimination. Many do not have access to necessary physical and mental health services, or the funds or insurance coverage for medical services to assist with transition.

“Rates of discrimination were alarming in Texas, indicating widespread discrimination based on gender identity,” read a 2011 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality. One in 10 respondents reported living on less than $10,000 a year, with one in four reporting they lost a job or were denied a promotion because they were transgender. Nearly half reported physical assault at school and verbal harassment in public places; 41 percent said they had attempted suicide at least once, 26 times the average for the general population.

The statistics are even bleaker for transgender Texans of color, who are far more likely to experience violence in their everyday lives. The Texas transgender community is actively working to reverse this trend, this weekend convening its annual conference in Dallas for black transgender men and women from across the county.

“The absolute, most prominent issue is our black and Hispanic transgender women being murdered and nothing being done about it,” said Colt Keo-Meier, a transgender man and licensed psychologist practicing in Houston. “That’s our No. 1 issue, keeping our people alive.”

State law does not include gender identity in its hate crime statute, making it impossible to track how many Texans are targeted for being transgender.

“Right now, there’s no consistency in justice,” said Bow, who said the “disproportionate treatment” transgender Texans receive largely is due to conflicting protections under the law. Transgender people are “tolerated,” she said, often because they’re ignored.

What I liked about this story, beyond the useful information in it, was that there were no “balancing” quotes from the Dave Welch/Jonathan Saenz crowd. Lord knows, that would not have added anything worthwhile. As we are doing nationally with gay rights, we will get to a point where transgender folks are an accepted and unremarkable part of mainstream society. I don’t know how long it will take, and I’m not saying it’s just going to happen without a lot of work from a lot of people, but it will happen.

More on the jail’s new non-discrimination policy

Here’s the Chron story on the new non-discrimination policy that was implemented at the Harris County Jail.

Crafted in the last 16 months with input from local and national LGBT community leaders and groups, it strictly prohibits “discrimination or harassment of any kind based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” and provides for the special handling of LGBT inmates to mitigate safety concerns. Included is a provision – required by the new federal standards – that transgender inmates be housed based, in part, on which gender they identify with rather than their physical anatomy, the sex they were assigned at birth or the one they used the last time they were incarcerated. Therefore, an inmate who is physically a man could be housed in the women’s unit or vice versa.

Geared particularly toward transgender inmates, the policy also requires all jail staff to address inmates by their “chosen name” and “proper pronoun” and says employees who violate the rules can be fired or face criminal charges or other penalties.

It also calls for all employees to go through training on the policy, including “refresher” training every two years. About 80 staffers will be certified as so-called “Gender Identification Specialists,” charged with interviewing inmates and helping decide where to house those who are LGBTI.

A “Gender Classification Committee,” according to the policy has the “final authority” in deciding how LGBTI inmates are housed.

[…]

The LGBT community and detention experts generally applaud the policy, but some say it could pose some problems in practice or that it does not go far enough to protect an inmate population the U.S. Justice Department described last year as “among those with the highest rates of sexual victimization.”

Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy at the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality, who worked on the policy with Garcia and his staff, said Harris County “is certainly to be commended for being out ahead in this regard.”

National PREA Resource Center Co-Director Michela Bowman, however, said there are benefits and dangers in creating a separate set of rules for LGBTI inmates based on the new standards, which also apply to other vulnerable populations.

Bowman said it could encourage rather than curb discrimination if not done carefully.

“We want to encourage efforts like this, certainly, but it’s very sensitive and you want to make sure that it’s done right,” Bowman said. “It seems to come from a well-intentioned place and it seems to be a clear effort to protect people, but there are just certain elements of it that make me scratch my head a little bit.”

See here for the background. Everyone quoted is positive about the policy overall, but some have concerns that this aspect or that might not work as planned. I suspect that has more to do with Harris County being out front with a policy that goes beyond the basic recommendations than anything else. Some parts of this will likely need to be refined once we see how they work in practice, and that’s okay. No one is screaming and pointing at a particular aspect of the policy saying “this will fail!”, we just don’t have any hard data to go by so we’re taking our best guesses as to how things play out. Down the line, as the bumps get smoothed out, Harris County can serve as a model for others to emulate. That’s a pretty darned good position to be in.