Thursday, October 18, 2007

Finally - and Forever - a Family

It was an historic day in Maine.

So said Cumberland County Judge of Probate Joseph Mazziotti, who yesterday signed and certified documents naming Ann Courtney and Marilyn Kirby the legal parents of the two siblings they have been raising for the past six years.

Packed with friends, family, and supporters, the courtroom erupted in applause when Mazziotti announced that six-year-old Ryan and 10-year-old Michelle after years of struggle finally had two legal parents—parents he described as some of the best-qualified, most caring he’d met in his time on the bench.

“It’s a wonderful day for our family,” Marilyn said later at a celebration at the family’s home in Portland. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Read about the recent ruling by the Maine Law Court that led to this historic day.

See the Press Coverage on this Story: – Channel 8, Portland (Video) – Channel 6, Portland

Portland Press Herald

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why ENDA Must Cover Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Posted by Jennifer Levi, GLAD Senior Staff Attorney

Ever since attending a meeting last Friday with staffers from members of Congress who have said that they are going forward with a non-inclusive ENDA, I have been thinking about 2 questions I heard from those who disagree with the nearly 300 organizations who have pushed exclusively for an inclusive ENDA. They are: (1) why can't you continue to do the educational work you started on the gender identity portion of the bill after a sexual orientation-only bill goes forward; and (2) what is the harm of the so-called incremental approach that splits off the gender identity provision and moves forward with only sexual orientation protections. My answers to these questions are related and I answer them here.

The problem with the approach is that formally dividing a bill that is intended to cover the entire lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community does not reflect the experience of many of us in the community. I would argue that to be the case for most of us but certainly nothing in my answer hinges on that empirical assessment. Perhaps more importantly, what separating out the provisions does is to artificially impose a classification structure upon the community that serves to divide us in ways that we do not naturally divide ourselves.

What do I mean by this? Well, from a very personal perspective, I identify as both lesbian and transgender. How could that be? The answer is that to much of the world I appear to be a man. When I go to restaurants, servers refer to me as "sir." When I board an airplane, the people at check-in often ask why I have someone named Jennifer's identification? And, although I look like a man, my body parts are more typically associated with someone who is female. I have the name of Jennifer because it is the one my parents gave me.

Sometimes it is hard to move through the world with a masculine expression in the body of someone female. But for me, it would be harder to move through the world with a gender identity, one that is more easily read as feminine, that does not match my inner, lived sense of who I am. The difficulties I encounter stem, I believe, from having to face others' discomfort. At least I do not have to live with my own.

Certainly, there were times when I did. There were years when I tried to change the outward expression of who I am in order to get along and not have to face others' discomfort. I wore more feminine clothing, shaved my legs and removed my beard. The psychic pain of this choice was mostly unbearable. Rather than sacrifice myself, I risk and face society's discomfort with the mismatch between my gender identity/expression and my sex.

As to why I identify as lesbian, well, I nearly always have. I came out as lesbian earlier in my developmental process than I identified as transgender. My intimate relationships have mostly been with women. As someone with a mostly female physical body, identifying as lesbian has assuredly made it easier to get dates.

So, for me, and I venture to guess many in our community (pretty much all of the butch lesbians and feminine men), the characteristics of gender identity and sexual orientation are inextricably intertwined. It is nearly impossible for me to understand my identity through one lens and not the other.

The reason, I believe, there has been such an overwhelming outpouring of community support in response to Congressional efforts to strip ENDA of gender identity protections is because it is so painful, maybe indeed impossible, for the LGBT community to even understand the distinction that would be imposed upon us by a bill that advances with one and not the other.

Laws are supposed to advance protections and do no harm. Stripping ENDA of gender identity does serious harm. It forces our community to accept, and worse, advertises to the rest of society, a distinction that is artificial - one that undermines for many of us our self-identity and lived experience. Because of the inaccurate definition of community we are left with, it also makes it nearly impossible to educate because the bifurcation reflects a fundamentally flawed description of who we are.

To be sure, there was a time when the community wrestled with whether we should forge political community across the LGB and T divides. Those were hard years for many of us, personally and politically. But we as a community are completely in a different place. That different place does not reflect compromise or political correctness. Rather, I believe strongly, that it reflects growth and a development of awareness that we cannot separate sexual orientation and gender identity.

Asking us to move forward with a bill that only includes sexual orientation does a grave disservice to each of us for whom that is not a real distinction. Moreover, it does so for partisan political purposes. In the end, a "historic vote in the House" that will assuredly face a presidential veto gets us no legal protections. And, if taken on a bill that strips gender identity and leaves only sexual orientation, the vote would come at a very high cost indeed.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Weakened ENDA makes no sense

GLAD supports a fully inclusive Employment Non Discrimination Act (“ENDA”). ENDA would make it illegal in all 50 states for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

In 1964, when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act protecting a number of groups from discrimination on the basis of a number of characteristics, no consideration was given to protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Politically, we were simply not on the radar.

But the political climate changed significantly as awareness of gay and lesbian issues rose and, in 1994, congressional leaders advanced a bill focused narrowly on prohibiting sexual orientation-based discrimination in employment. It was thought that the narrow focus would help it pass quickly.

Of course the political weather changed yet again, becoming unfriendly to LGBT people, and ENDA languished for 13 years and with no hope of any advancement. Nearly five years ago, GLAD, Lambda, the ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights joined to reexamine that very narrowly focused 1994 bill to see if it still made sense legally, strategically, politically and ethically.

In light of what we have learned and how our movement has evolved since 1994, it did not. First, our movement has increasingly become inclusive of transgender people, recognizing our shared experience and history. GLAD in fact added “gender identity and expression” to its core anti-discrimination mission on this basis. This is not only a matter of justice but a recognition that discrimination against sexual minorities comes from related sources.

As GLAD knows from the calls we get on our InfoLine, the discrimination experienced by many gay men, lesbians and bisexuals is based not directly on their sexual orientation, but on their presentation — their gender identity or expression. They are “too feminine” or “too masculine” and they make employers uncomfortable — and they’re fired.

And from a series of unprincipled court decisions dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, we learned that existing federal sex discrimination laws would not prevent employers from firing trans people unfairly.

Consequently, we felt it was critical to add language explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or expression to proposed federal and state laws. It would protect all of us, and it was the right thing to do. Our legal groups, alongside the political groups, worked intensively with congressional leaders to a place of unity and support for the fully inclusive ENDA that became HR 2015.

Two final practical points support our position. First, our experiences in state legislatures, and most recently in Congress, involving work on hate crimes, show that legislators know how to ensure that laws protect the full community. Second, in other contexts we have learned the lessons associated with asking for less than we want and deserve. Our efforts on marriage equality prove that there is no point in our community selling itself short.

Having come to this position, it makes no sense for GLAD to support a weakened ENDA, and we would urge others to take that position as well – as nearly 300 groups across the country have. The time is right to stand together as one community supporting one bill.