Rebecca Juro

Unequal Equality

Filed By Rebecca Juro | October 05, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: civil rights, Equality Matters, LGBT civil rights, LGBT rights, transgender rights, unequal equality

We hear it a lot these days, don't we? The term "marriage equality" is used to describe the right of gays and lesbians to marry, "workplace equality" is used to describe states and jurisdictions which have laws which protect the rights of LGBT workers, national-equality-march.jpgand there's even a national civil rights organization which calls itself "Equality Matters". As common as it now is to hear the term "equality" thrown around with such abandon in our national conversation about American LGBT civil rights, is it really accurate or even fair to describe many of our community's most recent political gains with this term?

Is it really accurate to describe a situation like in New York, Massachusetts, or other states where gay and lesbian citizens now enjoy full anti-discrimination protections and the right to marry, but transgender citizens are denied such basic civil rights protections, as "equality"?

Let's start with some basic definitions. Merriam-Webster defines the term "equality" as "the quality, fact, or state of being equal". Obviously, for a full definition we need to define the word "equal" as well. The first two definitions of the adjective form of the word seem to provide the best answer:

1. "exactly the same in number, amount, degree, rank, or quality"
2. "not varying from one person or part to another"

The clear truth is that when only the wealthiest, most populous, and most politically favored groups are protected from discrimination in the workplace, in housing, and in public accommodations while poorer, less politically potent and popular minorities are denied those same rights and protections, it doesn't qualify as anything that can accurately be defined as "equality".

You can call the right of gays and lesbians to marry in a given jurisdiction "marriage parity," "the right to marry," and many other things, but when the breadwinners of straight, gay, and lesbian families are legally protected from discrimination in their workplaces while trans workers can still be fired, denied employment entirely, or be subject to hostile working conditions which would be illegal to impose upon other workers, those breadwinners and the families which depend on them are, by definition, not equal to their non-trans co-workers, and the term "equality" cannot be truthfully applied.

When a law-abiding, taxpaying family can be legally evicted from their rented home for no other reason than because that family includes a transgender-identified member while their gay, lesbian or straight neighbors are protected by law from being treated in the same discriminatory way, that's not a situation which can be reasonably termed "equality".

When gay and lesbian Americans are free to serve openly in our nation's military but transgender Americans are still automatically declared unfit to serve for no other reason than because they are transgender, you can't realistically call that "equality" either.

The only way you can define the situation we currently have in most of this country as "equality" is if you believe that transgender Americans don't matter, that our lacking these basic American civil rights is of no consequence to the greater struggle of all Americans to strive for a better life.

Just as it is not "equality" for gay and lesbian workers in 29 states to be denied the same workplace civil rights their straight co-workers enjoy or the right to marry in the 44 states which still refuse that right to their gay and lesbian citizens, it's no more accurate to use that term to describe the states which do protect their gay and lesbian citizens from unjust discrimination but continue to exclude their transgender citizens from those very same protections.

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But Becky, you know they'll come back for us, they said so. They just didn't mention they were taking the long way back and stopping at every roadside attraction along the way.

Seriously, I ask all the time why trans people (especially women) are so heavily involved with the LGb movement. Given the level of inaction on anything inclusive of, much less specific to, trans people compounded with the constant refrain of "what are they doing here anyway?" I think it's amazingly silly for us to still be here and not reclaim our stuff and go.

Also describing trans people as "poorer, less politically potent and popular minorities" may be currently true (in a way) it wasn't always the case. We need to remember that it was us who lobbied and had laws passed, it was us that had a loose movement getting the public aware, we have a history and long standing legal wins that we don't use to our advantage. We also have a good number of well connected heterosexual men who do, in fact, want to see us prosper because they are sick of having to resort to sex workers to meet one of us. These guys lack a movement to back or belong to that isn't also tied to gay men.

You wrote:

"We also have a good number of well connected heterosexual men who do, in fact, want to see us prosper because they are sick of having to resort to sex workers to meet one of us. These guys lack a movement to back or belong to that isn't also tied to gay men."

Well, actually there are several barriers to admirers forming community -- homophobia is one, and we're another. It will happen someday, though. And I guarantee that we will find the language they develop as they're sorting out how to define themselves to be *very* button pushing...

I'm in these spaces with these guys, and yeah the language is often initially "button pushing" and pornographic and all that. If we ignore these guys as we traditionally have been and discount them as "perverts" or "chasers" then their understanding an language will reflect that.

We spend so much time as a movement going over the same issues with the LGB every few months. I have visited porn forums and dating sites and explained WHY some language is really not helpful and some terms are best left on planet porno. After a few weeks of engaging these guys some of them "get it" these guys take this and carry it on to the next guys so I/we don't have to. It isn't perfect and the day of the fetish-seeking guy looking to use trans women to fulfill a fantasy isn't going away. But if we are looking for allies, this seems a more logical place to cultivate then folks who often view us as either traitors or interlopers.

Seriously, I ask all the time why trans people (especially women) are so heavily involved with the LGb movement.
Because it's the right thing to do.

If we don't speak up for others, how can we speak up for ourselves?

It's the same argument I use against those LGB's who are anti-T. If you don't care for others, why the heck should anyone care for you?

If those who you try to help don't return the favour - and yes, I do mean Mass. and NH and NY and all the rest - that's their business. Absolutely the only asset we have is to keep the moral high ground. They can get away with betrayal - we can't. So I'm being pragmatic too, not unrealistically idealistic.

Honesty compels me to confess I'd feel the same way even if it wasn't pragmatic though. I dislike injustice against others even more than I do when it's against me personally. That I can deal with.

Zoe - it isn't an "either/or". Why can't we simply be supportive because it IS the right thing to do? Why do we have to keep pinning our needs to a movement that views us as both useful and pathetic? We are useful in plumping up their numbers for unemployment statistics as well as bargaining to pass their laws. We are "pathetic" because we have treated them like the only game in town - that we need them more than they need us and we have no options no matter what they do. If that's the case, we need to develop our own options because they really aren't helping much now are they?

Oh Becky, you have such a baaad attitude. Can't you just be happy when people from our LBBTQ community have equality? You don't want the gays, lesbians and bi's to think you're not grateful to just be allowed in their coalition and hang on their coattails?

Make that LGBTQ... I got tripped up in my own sarcasm! :)

"These guys lack a movement to back or belong to that isn't also tied to gay men."

Well, we should do something to fix that, eh?

Angela Brightfeather | October 6, 2011 1:43 PM

Why is it that when reading your post and following it, I did not hear the rattling of cans and the thunderous pounding of hoofs to the rescue?

Could it be that GLB people have just turned down the sound when it comes to equality associated with the Transgender population. Is it that if we make believe they are not there, maybe they will shut up and go away?

We have been fighting this fight for true equality for so many years now, that I am sure that many GLB people are simply tired of hearing about it. In fact, we know for sure that when United ENDA was formed as a backlash to what happened the last time with the legislation, there was an active and intentional movement in some major LGB circles to just abandon Trans people and to walk away from their issues of equaity that caused everyone to spank them on the fanny when it became obvious that straw polls were more important than Trans issues and the last thing they needed was to side with the Trans issues and lose any ground they had gained on GLB issues. In fact, how many times have we heard that ENDA might have passed if Trans people were not included?

So why is this such a surprise to everyone. Now we are out here on the limb by ourselves after being pushed into a relative political limbo, isn't it time for us to amp-up the volume another notch, so more than just Horton can hear a Whoo? The big question is how do we do that and who is going to get it started to turn up the volume?

So far, I haven't seen anyone willing to reset the equality bar to include Transgender people. But here are my suggestions;

We need a large showing at the upcoming Democratic convention in Charlotte, NC. More than just delegates...the issues they bring to the platform need to be backed up by people in the streets with signs and pushing for equality and ENDA legislation that is inclusive and that instead of cutting out Transgender people, eliminates entirely the fact that churches and religious organizations are exempt from harrassing and discrimination against GLBT people. We have to at least gain equal ground and attention with the SSM issue.

We need to continue to press HRC at their dinners with "educational initiatives" designed to open up our issues and make Trans people more avaiable for discussion with their high rollers.

We need to openly work for boycotts of corporations and businesses that continue to discriminate in hiring Trans people and ask other organizations to participate in those boycotts.

We need to press the DOD to change the rules and for the POTUS to draft up a directive (not legislation) that allows Transgender people to serve their country equally.

We need to increase our lobbying in DC, which has dropped of in the last few years to the point of invisabilty.

If we want our equality, we have to be willing to shed our blood and tears to get it at this point...not because we want to, but because it is the only way left.

I totally agree, Angela, and I think there are two big reasons why:

First, because when push comes to shove the Democratic Party cares far more about what's most politically convenient for its own membership and most lucrative for its campaign coffers than about what's best for America, just like the GOP. While the two parties come at things from different sides politically, their true agendas are pretty much identical in terms of who and what they're really fighting for first and foremost.

Second, because unless we're the son of famous entertainers who gets on Dancing With The Stars, the mainstream media just doesn't give a shit about us and so we get no coverage even from the supposedly progressive news sources.

Interestingly, last night on Countdown Keith Olbermann read a statement from the Occupy Wall St. folks. Along with many other issues they called out the Wall St. banks for, the statement included this:

"They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation."

These folks haven't forgotten us, even if the politicians and the media have. We need to become more aggressive in getting ourselves and our issues into the mainstream media. This is the very first time I've ever heard Keith Olbermann say something positive about us on his show, and we need to make sure that its not the last, for both Olbermann and for the rest of his contemporaries.

In Georgia, none of us have any equality with straight people. The trans community works with GLB people because we are all trying to get our rights together. Trans people are not left out of any attempts to change state laws, because we do all work together.

What you speak of, Becky, is a Northeast/New England situation, where gays and lesbians never associated with trans people in the beginning, and kept that tradition going on through today. California, New Mexico and a few others don't follow your model. And, those like Georgia, with no rights at all, also don't follow your model. National level is another story all together.

Actually Monica, that's not entirely true. I can't speak for other states, but here in New Jersey gay and lesbian and trans activists have worked together on a number of issues, including the trans rights bill that passed in '06. Personally, I credit Garden State Equality (there's that word again) with fighting for our rights as hard as they do for their own. It's a big reason why despite what I say about the situations in New York and other states I am a full-throated supporter of gay marriage here in New Jersey. LGBT New Jerseyans already have full protections in the workplace, housing and public accomodations, so it's right and just to join our lesbian and gay fellow activists in calling for same-sex marriage here.

We can work together successfully to the benefit of all of us. We've proven it here in New Jersey. I only wish other states and those working at the federal level would follow our example.

I still see it as a question of trans activism having to come from trans people and stakeholders (i.e. our loved ones). If allies want to join us, that's excellent, and part of building a movement is building those alliances (and also reciprocating support, but that's another rant) -- but if they don't, we forge on anyway.

"We can work together successfully to the benefit of all of us."

Yes we can. But if our potential allies won't, then we keep going -- neither with nor against them, but regardless of them.