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Pumped-up Equality Forum

May 2nd, 2012 No comments

Here it comes again — Equality Forum, Philadelphia’s internationally known and always interesting cavalcade of events that celebrates, informs and provokes on all (or many, anyway) things LGBT. I’ve been blogging the event for the past three years (here’s a compilation of my entries), and am delighted to be doing so again this year.

If you’re coming to this site for EF updates each year, you might be surprised to see that there aren’t already entries for this year’s event. That’s because the format’s been compressed, squeezed from its traditional, week-long schedule down to four days. It kicks off tonight with a big welcoming party, and then jumps into high gear for a bunch of panels tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday.

This new format makes sense. It’s more attuned to people’s busy schedules — especially the many people who come (many of them, for years now) for the entire event. But it does make life tougher for a blogger, because  the highlighted panels for Thursday and Friday run concurrently. I’ll do some combination of running back and forth and simply choosing between the two panels for each session. I might not have any less blogging to do, but I’ll be doing it on overdrive. Highlights from each post will appear here, with links to the full story over at my cyber home-away-from-home, The New Civil Rights Movement. (You should check that site out anyway — it’s packed with information and opinion on LGBT issues. Site master David Badash is nothing if not relentless!)

You can get the full panel schedule here. (All of the Thursday and Saturday national panels are at the Doubletree Hotel.) It’s hard to choose highlights from among so many star-studded panels, but I’m especially looking forward to a few of them, viz.:

  • Tomorrow (5/3), at 7 pm is the National Transgender Panel. It features quite a diverse line-up of subjects of interest to the trans-community, judging from the panelists chosen. In my experience, the TG panels have been among the most reliably interesting, perhaps because, as a community, trans-people have been compelled to think about issues on a level of depth that is not always matched by the rest of our community. (There! I’ve said it.)
  • Also tomorrow, at 8:30, is the Featured Nation: Israel Panel. It features actual Israelis(!), including a city council member and a couple of LGBT tourism promoters. It’s moderated by Mazzoni Center Executive Director, Nurit Shein, who I’ll bet is more qualified than you to be on the panel — she was a career officer in the Israeli Army!
  • Friday at 4 pm, at the National Constitution Center, is the National Legal Panel. Get out of work early and go! Don’t make me repeat myself. They’ll be talking about Prop 8, DOMA, and (apparently) other issues of legal discrimination affecting our community. (I wish they would talk about civil unions, but that’s my axe to grind — and I ground it here.) The panelists are all good — a mix of litigators, policy-makers, and academics — but Bill Eskridge is especially worth the price of admission. He’s really good at explaining legal arcana to those who didn’t invest in a law degree.
  • Right after the legal eagles soar, the National Politics Panel takes the same stage (at 5:30 pm) to talk about the upcoming election and the political landscape. Will appeal to all political junkies of every party (all two of them here in the U.S.).
  • The full Saturday schedule is here. It’s chock-a-block, in part because that’s the day featuring collaborative panels with local organizations and interest groups. Based on my experience, it’s well worth poring over the local options, because you’re likely going to find something of major interest to you — almost every conceivable topic of interest to our community (broadly defined) is represented. There are also great national panels at 1 pm and 2:30 — again, two at each time, so you’ll have to choose (assuming you haven’t already picked a local panel!). Sports, Same-sex Marriage, Military — it’s all here. But perhaps most interesting will be the James Wheeler National Youth Panel, featuring a couple of young men who captured the popular imagination: Chris Armstrong, a U of Michigan student who was harassed by the creepy assistant AG of the state (but who fought back with a lawsuit that resulted in the firing of the jerk) and, most compelling, Zack Wahls. I could go on and on about him, but this will suffice:

There’s also a pretty good play, and more parties than you can shake a groove thing at! (Where…did…I…put…that…groove…thing?) Get busy!

Equality Forum 2011: Transgender Panel

April 27th, 2011 2 comments

Tuesday’s National Transgender Panel at Equality Forum was predictably excellent. This is my third year blogging the event, and the first two panels were just as information-packed, thought-provoking, and moving. (Here are my accounts of the panels from 2010 (second part here) and 2009.)

Moderator Heath Fogg Davis, a Temple University Associate Professor of Political Science, presided over the proceedings lightly, giving each panelist just a few minutes to speak before offering a follow-up question and then turning most of the session over to questions and answers – and the fifty-plus person audience indeed had questions and comments in abundance, drawing the panelists into some interesting and mostly open-ended discussions.

The panelists, in order, were:

Qui Alexander, a community health educator at the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia; Gabriel Arkes, Acting Assistant Professor of Lawyering at NYU Law School (and a staff attorney with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project); and Lorenzo Triburgo, a photographer who lives in Portland.

Each speaker was given just a few minutes to offer a few remarks (hardly as formal, it turned out, as the “opening statements” description suggested they might be).

Leading off was Qui Alexander, who teaches sex education to high school and middle school kids (as well as to adults) said that the most imperative task is to focus on youth. Too many – especially trans-yough, are homeless and depend on sex work to survive.

In this regard, Alexander brought up a simple point that had somehow eluded me until now. Although I’ve thought and written about the bullying of LGBT youth (and the ways I think it should be combated), I’d not stopped to realize that this only became a high-profile issue after white gay and lesbian kids started to die. This fate, he noted, is common to trans-youth – and generally unremarked in the mainstream media.

Alexander then concluded by saying that we need to talk about what gender is and what it means. By the end of the session, I’d become convinced that resolving what gender “is” is probably a doomed effort at creating a static definition from a complex process of constantly reimagined definition. Focusing on what it means – as contingent as that project will be – seems a much more fruitful undertaking.

Gabriel Arkes followed. He discussed two illustrative cases from his work on the Sylvia Rivera Project. That initiative, founded nine years ago, takes as its animating principle the insight that injustices aren’t separate, but linked, and then carries that insight into its legal work on behalf of those who are often multi-victimized. The two stories showcase that reality.

One was a young woman – a girl, really – named Elisa Rodriguez. She had grown up in the projects and was doing sex work in order to earn enough money for her sex change hormones. For this, she spent two years – starting at age 15! – in the juvenile detention center where she was imprisoned with boys, and tormented. (As Arkes pointed out later, under the law she would have been considered too young to consent to sex, and therefore been theoretically protected under the statutory rape law.  But never mind justice – or even following the law – when it comes to treatment of the trans-community.)

She sued, and settled for less than she might have in order to bring about policy changes to the juvenile justice system, which have since been implemented.

The second woman (whose name, unfortunately, I didn’t get) was in detention pending deportation because she was born in Mexico. Because of a serious medical condition she required antibiotic treatment, but her medications were taken away when she was in confinement.

Many of her fellow detainees were outraged, and demanded that this woman receive proper treatment. At long last, she was taken to the hospital – too late. Denied the life-saving treatment she needed, she died.

Arkles used these stories to illustrate three basic imperatives for the trans-community.

First, look at health care and ways to improve both its delivery and its quality.

Second, examine and challenge the mass incarceration of transpeople.

Third, stand in solidarity even when doing so courts real risks.

Lorenzo Triburgo then supplied an artist’s perspective on trans-issues, and asked more questions than he answered. He began by describing his work as photographic “representations of trans-masculinities.”

Part of his goal is to make visible female masculinity. (In various forms, each of the panelists made or agreed with the point that some trans-men try to bury their femaleness by creating a hyper-masculine image that, at times, incorporates misogyny.) Triburgo tries to create images of trans-men that depict a certain pride and that play with the idea that a photo can ever be more than a photo – not a representation.

What is at stake, he asked, when we have images created by others that we consume and that others consume?

He’ll be talking about his work today at 2:30 pm. If you want to get a better sense of his art than my poor description can provide, get yourself to his lecture. He’s an engaging and charismatic speaker, and deeply insightful about his work and its cultural context. And by all means, check out his show, which runs all week in connection with Equality Forum.

The rest of the session was taken up with a fascinating exchange between Davis, the panelists, and the audience, mostly about what I’d loosely describe as identity and coming out issues.  A few highlights from this colloquy will have to suffice.

Gabriel Arkles noted that it is unusual to be on a panel of all trans-people. This raises questions about what it means to be connected and represent instead of speaking for other people. (It was also noted, more than once, that the panel was all trans-men; the lone trans-woman who was to have participated had to withdraw at the last minute).

He also spoke to the prevalent conception that trans women are predators, and commented that this view is one of those profoundly damaging stereotypes that’s not based in reality but is instead a way to avoid talking about serious issues. As a pointed example, he discussed the case of young women on a college campus being sexually assaulted in bathrooms, and the diverting response of school officials: Worrying about whether trans-women should be permitted to use women’s bathrooms, given their (wholly unsupported) “safety concerns” —  while doing precisely nothing to combat the actual violence that was going on.

Qui Alexander followed this with the observation that many people would remark that he wasn’t a “real man.” But since he can “pass” as a (non trans-)man, he has the privilege of keeping his identity in reserve, and telling his story when he hears kids disparage the trans-community. He concluded that it’s important to put ourselves out there for others.

Triburgo had a slightly different take, asking these questions:  What are the pros and cons to our community in coming out? Should we make it into an issue? How do we create a space for gender variance?

Perhaps typically for a lawyer, Arkles expressed a more utilitarian view of how disclosive to be of trans-identity. Describing his strategy as “mercenary,” he decides whether to come out as a transperson according to the needs of his clients. (On the other hand, he always comes out as queer. This led me to think about the meaning of queer – isn’t the strength of the term that it takes in all kinds of consciously non-conforming behaviors and identities? – and about levels of societal comfort with these various types of non-conformity.)

Arkles also pointed to safety issues: There are many times when one shouldn’t come out (even less, out someone else) because the result could be their death.

Triburgo then added to the storehouse of things I’d not sufficiently considered before last night’s panel, by asking whether trans-people should use the “natural” argument – to gain legitimacy, and perhaps access to medical and social services they might otherwise be denied. Or should they accept agency for their trans-status, which is the position more in line with the reality of Triburgo’s own political life and identity.

That this had never really occurred to me is just embarrassing. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that homosexuality was “officially” considered a disorder. Getting ourselves “unmedicalized” was a vital step in our continuing battle for complete acceptance into the human community. So let’s start talking about the political and social costs and benefits of terms like “gender dysphoria.”

Let me close with a few observations about mortal matters. All this violence against trans-people – tolerated and even justified by many straight people, as this story about the beating of a trans-woman at a McDonald’s shows – made me think that, for some of them, “every third thought [is their] grave.” (Prospero, from “The Tempest.”)

Why should anyone have to live like this? Arkles spoke with passion in encouraging the more mainstream gay community to get involved in trans-issues.  The violence isn’t the only reason, but it’s reason enough.

I write with more passion and emotion than usual. I’m in the middle of a serious family health emergency, electrically aware of how all of our candles flicker and die. Mostly, we keep these thoughts at bay, but many trans-people don’t have that option, and too many can recognize themselves in Prospero’s chilling line. I wish only that the humanity that we often suppress would flash into the minds of those who would inflict, or stand by and watch, injuries to other human beings.

I won’t be able to deliver on my plan to blog the rest of Equality Forum. I need to attend to this emergency. Life has its own dictates.

Blogging Equality Forum 2011

April 25th, 2011 No comments

Equality Forum 2011 The Global LGBT Event

Starting very late tomorrow night, look for my blog posts — both here and over at 365gay.com — on this year’s Equality Forum. Here is the link to this year’s site. There will be a whole bunch of these posts, and it will probably take me a few days after the event to catch up.

I’m especially looking forward to the panels on LGBT rights in Latin America; the family panel; the TG panel; and the International Equality Forum dinner, where I’ll likely be interviewing Patrick Murphy (of DADT fame), Dan Choi (same, with a very different approach!), and Daniel Hernandez (the young man who probably saved Rep. Giffords’s life in Tucson, AZ).

Video from Sunday Out

May 6th, 2010 No comments

Well, it’s really a series of photos set to music — but the stills are moving, nonetheless.

I was talking to a colleague about my Sunday Out post, and I think a point we were discussing is worth reiterating here. Look at the riot of humanity expressing their love and commitment here and then tell me that gay marriages aren’t liberating to straight people, too.  Then ask yourself if you believe that they’re not.

Sunday Out at the Piazza — Equality Forum Concludes

May 4th, 2010 No comments

At about 1 pm this past Sunday, I set out with my pre-school twins for the newly chic Northern Liberties section of the city, where Equality Forum‘s Sunday Out event had moved. I was especially looking forward to the interfaith blessing of a slew of same-sex commitment ceremonies. Our neighborhood is very progressive and we have many friends but everyone else is either (1) straight or (2) if gay, childless. (Just a couple of weeks ago, a gay couple on the next block adopted a kid. Hooray!) So I thought that watching all of those commitments would provide a cultural corrective to the onslaught of straight messaging and iconography that is so, er, wedded to marriage that I sometimes worry that my kids have trouble understanding anything else — in spite of the evidence right in front of them.

Before I get to that event, though, I want to talk about the misnamed “Family Fun Zone.” It was for LGBT families, all right, but it wasn’t much fun and was hardly a “zone,” unless that term can be accurately applied to a rectangle of scorching blacktop at some distance from the epicenter of the Piazza. When we got there, only a handful of other kids were on hand, and the events were few. Hoping for something jumpy or watery, we settled for face painting — which was actually quite good. Alexa, heavily into a dinosaur phase, opted for T-Rex, whose teeth were cleverly painted around her mouth for a terrifying effect when she spoke. Courtnee opted for a full arm’s worth of rainbow butterflies.

After that, Alexa looked around and said, “There isn’t much to do.” There was no arguing with that (a much better effort needs to be made for next year), so we stopped for some ice cream and then headed back to the Piazza for the interfaith blessing.

We entered from the side furthest from the stage, and at first I wasn’t optimistic about the event. The Piazza was barely half full, and it was hard to see where the undifferentiated crowd gave way to the couples. So we wandered closer. And then I was delighted to be in attendance. The celebrants complemented each other perfectly: Tim Safford, who’d appeared at the History panel earlier in the week, was bright and affirming; Joseph Tolton, of the Rehoboth Temple, was emotional: happy, yet visibly angry at the continued injustice (here‘s a nice thumbnail of his ministry and activism); and Rabbi Linda Holtzman closed the proceedings with a heart-felt Hebrew chant and the ceremonial breaking of the glass. When has that act, meant to reflect the challenges facing the newly married couple, held such rich symbolism? Holtzman offered a communal narration of the ritual, reminding the couples that their joy would be found even in the face of the challenges that not only their relationship but the broader society would throw in front of them.

The kids were quiet and attentive. The only comment I recall during the ceremony was Alexa’s statement that she wanted to stay. Remarkable, given that it was easily 90 degrees on the paved piazza, and that we’d by that point been walking around for about an hour and a half. More than once, they asked me whether “all of these people” were two men and two women. Yes, look around. Two men in matching tuxes. A lesbian couple, with one in a dress and one in a beautiful pants and flowing blouse. An African-American couple, with one man in a wheelchair pushed by his spouse. Some very unconventional couples; others conventional in all but their sexual orientation.

How liberating! Not just for us, but for everyone who just wants to be able to define their marriage in their own wonderfully idiosyncratic way. By now, the crowd had doubled and a huge cheer went up at the end of the ceremony.

Why, oh why, is this so hard for people to understand or, failing that, to at least allow? In an image that flashed briefly in a video following the ceremony, I read this familiar but forgotten sign:

Some people are gay. Get over it.

Is it really more complicated than that? Does anyone still believe that our most virulent opponents are free of their own pyscho-social issues; problems that animate their vitriol? Just today, another story emerged of a sad man, George Alan Rekers — co-founder of the dangerously homophobic Family Research Council — who was spotted with a male escort disembarking from an airplane after a long vacation together. No one’s even surprised by these stories any more. (This guy was really nasty to the community. Read the whole stories for the infuriating details.)

Sorry…where was I?

After that, we wondered around a bit more, found a horse stable (fillies in Philly?) to spend some time, ran into a few folks, and left. While the Family Fun Zone needs some improvement to live up to its aspirational name, the kids learned plenty about family on Sunday.

———-

My piece on the Saturday conversation with Dan Choi will appear sometime during the next few days on 365gay.com. When it does, I’ll link from here. Then I’ll offer a wrap-up piece on the week-long event.

Still to Come on Equality Forum

May 3rd, 2010 1 comment
EF Logo

The event wrapped up today with the sweltering Sunday Out, but I’m still catching up. Here’s a summary of what’s to come:

I’ve written up my interview with David Boies. It will run on 365gay.com, either later today (Monday) or tomorrow. I’ll link to it and excerpt when that happens.

The Conversation with Dan Choi (tomorrow or Tuesday).

Impressions of Sunday Out (not later than Tuesday).

I may also do something on the Sports Panel (depending on availability of panelists to interview), and a wrap-up post.

And so to bed.

Equality Forum’s History Panel: Spotlight on Religion

May 1st, 2010 3 comments

Social justice

You couldn’t swing a rainbow cat at Equality Forum’s History Panel without hearing that phrase. In fact, social justice has been one of the recurring themes at the panels I’ve attended so far, suggesting that the movement is entering a newer, more mature phase and looking toward the day when we can move beyond the identity politics that circumstances have required of us to date.

Of course, one is entitled to expect that the panel of religious leaders would emphasize social justice, and the LGBT rights movement within that context. Although some misguided religious folks seem to spend most of their time on the attack against everything from our community to Obamacare to women’s reproductive rights, any religion (or part thereof) that takes its founding messages to heart invests both belief and blood in ameliorating the difficult conditions in which many people live.

But I was nonetheless heartened (not quite amazed, but…) at the panelists’ willingness to be as direct and forceful as they were. Perhaps the most progressive of the lot were Timothy Safford, who is the Rector at the historic Christ Church Episcopal Church in Old City, Philadelphia. I’ve been there. Two of our closest friends are congregants, and when my partner David had the honor of being named godfather to their second child we attended the baptism. Safford, who’s straight and married, will be one of the three officiants at tomorrow’s blessing of some 100 same-sex unions.

The Episcopalians, of course, are known and celebrated (well, by some) for their progressive stand on women’s issues and for being increasingly welcoming to the LGB (and, to a lessser extent) T community.  Safford and his gay twin (at least as far as dress was concerned — they looked as though they’d decided to confuse us by selecting almost identical clothing for the event) Rodger Broadley, Rector at St. Luke and the Epiphany, had a nice sort of back and forth on issues ranging from the debt the LGBT movement owes to the women’s movement (Safford is particularly eloquent on this point), and on the on-going struggles between the U.S. church and the “home office” back in Britain. With a second gay (lesbian, in this case) bishop to be ordained soon in L.A., both men expect that the U.S. church will be “voted off the island” and made to forge ahead, alone. But that didn’t seem to trouble them, and — oddly, to some — they thought it important not to walk away from the table no matter how exasperated and angry they became. Safford expressly decried his own “moderation” in supporting the compromise reached a few years ago, by which Bishop Gene Robinson’s ordination was “traded” for a promise to ordain no more openly gay or lesbian clergy. As Broadley so movingly put it: “Who are we to tell God who can serve?”

Approaching issues of history and faith from a more academic perspective was L.A. Rabbi Denise Eger. She explained the evolution of the various movements (less formally, “branches”) of Judaism on LGBT issues; as might be expected, the Reform and Reconstructionist sects embraced their LGBT fellow worshippers decades ago, with Conservative Judaism by now fairly far along on that path. She also mentioned that even the Orthodox branch had recently begun discussing our issues, and not in the kind of negative dismissive way that might have been the case earlier, but in a real effort to come to terms with the reality that can no longer be ignored.

Interfaith matters are an area of special interest to Eger, and she described the efforts of a female Muslim cleric in L.A. who is now trying to apply reform principles to that religion. Her comment reminded me that all four of the panelists — as good as they were — represented only the Judeo-Christian tradition. The panel would have been even more compelling had it showcased clergy from Eastern religions.

Rounding out the panel was Francis DeBernardo, who is Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, which has been described as a “national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for lesbian and gay Catholics. I’ll confess that I have trouble understanding why anyone who identifies as LGBT would consider himself or herself Catholic, but that’s my issue. Obviously, not all Catholics (in the U.S. or elsewhere) follow every pronouncement from the Vatican, and many see the Church’s undeniable good works (social justice, again, at least for the poor and the sick) as reason enough to stay. Thinking of what’s going on at the very top of the Church hierarchy these days (do I really need a link here, people?), DeBernardo said that reform within the Church has come at precisely those times when the Vatican leadership seems most ossified and out of touch. Perhaps the Church can get out of the sucking vortex that’s pulling it down, but I doubt it.

———

This post is a bit later than promised. I ended up attending the Tribute to Brian Sanders last night, staying out late, and then running from event to event today. The good news is that I’ve got tons to write about, and will be busy doing it well into next week.

BTW, the interview I did with David Boies earlier tonight will run on 365gay.com, not here — although of course I’ll provide a link and a summary when it posts.

Equality Forum Update

April 30th, 2010 No comments

Posts to come:

Early tonight or tomorrow morning: History panel.

Tomorrow evening: Recap of Saturday panels (conversation with Dan Choi; discussion with LGBT folks appointed by Obama Administration).

Sunday: Interview with David Boies (litigating marriage equality case with Theodore Olson; of Bush v. Gore “fame”).

Monday: Recap of Sunday out, including same-sex commitment ceremonies.

I’m also hoping to interview Brian Sims, who was a big hit at the Sports Panel last night.

————

Of course, this is subject to change….

Categories: Equality Forum Tags:

National Legal Panel at Equality Forum: Opening Wide for a Fire Hose of Information

April 29th, 2010 No comments

Did Lambda Legal’s Executive Director, Kevin Cathcart, really “start the LGBT movement for legal rights,” as National Law Panel moderator Brad Sears playfully suggested at the opening of last night’s Equality Forum event?

If he didn’t, he certainly has a deep understanding of what most people think of as the legal “movement” – the litigation that’s been waged for the past several decades in an effort to give LGBT people liberty and equality. Cathcart and Sears, who is Executive Director of the Williams Institute, the LGBT think tank at UCLA School of Law, were half of a predictably stellarly credentialed and excellent panel that’s always a well-attended highlight of Equality Forum. (I’d guess there were easily 100 people present for the discussion).

Sears, who certainly could have added much of substance himself, rarely used his prerogative to do so and instead devoted himself to effective moderating. On the one occasion that he stepped out of role, it was to commend the Obama Administration for “taking a chip out of DOMA” by making a real effort at counting LGBT households in the current census.

Cathcart, of course, focused mostly on the impact litigation that Lambda currently has underway. Among the highlights is a recently filed case in New Jersey, asking the state’s supreme court to declare that the civil union compromise they had permitted several years ago doesn’t confer true equality, and that full marriage rights are therefore needed.  There’s also a case in the court of appeals asking whether the DC marriage equality law can be placed on the ballot, and another in Hawaii asking the court to recognize civil unions for LGBT couples (since a constitutional amendment in that state prohibits full marriage equality).

During a second round of questions focusing on emerging issues, Cathcart found himself in a good mood after yesterday’s oral argument before the US. Supreme Court in Doe v. Reed, in which the losing side in the recent Washington State ballot initiative to remove full domestic partnership rights for gay couples sought to keep private the signatures on the ballot petitions.

“Butch up!”, Cathcart said in summarizing “Justice” Scalia’s reaction to the side that sought privacy. Politics is rough and tumble, and if you’re signing ballot petitions, you should expect some criticism. No big deal.

In this woe-is-us context, Cathcart spent some time dissecting the anti-equality force’s latest strategy, which is to argue that they are the ones being discriminated against and harassed,  and seeking to turn us into the aggressors. He aptly summarized this tactic as an effort to “turn around the facts of real life.”

James Esseks, who is Director of the ACLU’s LGBT and AIDS Project, summarized his work on challenging foster and adoption bans in Florida and Arkansas, and noted that it’s important to win these cases on constitutional grounds so that other legislatures don’t get the idea that these kinds of pernicious laws can work.

He then spent some time on the very hot case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, in which the University of California is pitted against CLS in a case that balances the equality interest of the LGBT (and non-believing) students excluded against CLS’s effort to keep them from full voting membership. (California stands with the excluded student by refusing to fully sponsor any group, including CLS, that discriminates.) Esseks’s worry – and mine – is that a decision favoring CLS could in principle, lead to the end of all anti-discrimination laws. Things look ominous in that case, although Esseks thought that the Court might find that the liberty and equality issues hadn’t been “well teed-up” and might punt the case back downfield (OK, not a very effective or comprehensible sports metaphor).

Esseks also mentioned the ACLU’s role in defending the vile Westboro Baptist Church in a case where the father of a soldier whose funeral was protested by these sociopaths had won a judgment for emotional distress. Soon, I’m going to write a post that might be titled: “How I Learned to Hate the First Amendment.” For now, I’ll just refer you to this excellent criticism of the way that freedom of speech has become a sort of secular religion. I don’t like it and I don’t buy it.

Toni Broaddus, who is the Executive Director of Equality Federation, which is described as a national network of more than 60 statea-based LGBT organizations, naturally focused on the level where much of the real action in marriage equality and non-discrimination has been taking place.

One of her sobering points is that it’s getting harder to pass LGBT legislation, like anti-discrimination laws, in part because the “easier” states have already been accounted for. She also noted that it’s been very tough to get gender identity protection passed as a “stand alone” – it works better when it’s folded into broader legislation for the entire LGBT community.  That lesson, she noted, was passed along to ENDA advocates, who belatedly saw the light and came to insist on protection for trans-people in this law, which, you may happen to know, still has not been enacted.

She also noted that LGBT legislation is increasingly building in broad religious exemptions, and that now such exemptions are global – notably in an Ohio law that says, quite directly, that “religious organizations may discriminate.” It perhaps goes without saying that such an exemption would be laughed at in the context of legislation protecting any other historically despised minority, but never mind.

There were also discussions of litigation challenging DOMA, the likelihood of ENDA passing this year (maybe), and a law that would repeal DOMA entirely (don’t hold your breath, but it does have more than 100 sponsors in the House).

I could go on (yes, there was still more), but that’s about enough for a blog post, don’t you think? I do want to close by saying that even though I teach law for a living, blog obsessively and now do a weekly column on legal issues of importance to our community, I always learn a great deal from this panel. There’s so much going on, and so many good people doing so much, that it’s hard to keep up. But that’s a good thing, right?

Mara Keisling: A Panel of One (Part Two)

April 28th, 2010 No comments

2010 John Culhane blogs from Equality Forum,  Mara Keisling: A Panel of OneIMG_1780 by Widener Law.

Mara Keisling and Stephen Glassman (facilitator) at Equality Forum (4/27/10). Courtesy of Cassandra King.

For me, the most compelling part of Mara Keisling’s one-woman show last night at Equality Forum was her rare foray into the personal. Typically, she doesn’t share this story with media (am I media? discuss!), because she’d rather leave that to other trans-people who otherwise don’t have a forum. This generosity and emotional maturity seemed to me a natural outgrowth of her personal journey.

I was glad to have heard about that journey, because it placed into helpful context what she’d said earlier. When asked to assess the struggle for LGBT rights from an historical perspective, Keisling said that the movement had “started out much more privileged” than others — notably, we weren’t property and we could vote. From my perspective, the transgender community has been one of the most vilified, marginalized and just plain loathed groups in our history. Look no further than the long-standing reluctance by many in the mainstream gay rights movement to embrace our trans brothers and sisters for the underlining to this point.

Why isn’t Keisling…angrier? It’s risky (and negative comment-inviting) to do too much psychoanalyzing based on the few snapshots of the transitioning process that she described, but it’s too much fun to resist trying. On the “what’s in a name?” front, Keisling said that she couldn’t settle on in her new life as a female. At one point, after she’d nervously consumed “76 rum and Cokes” — taking the Andrew Sisters’ invitation too far — she sat at a table filled with trans luminaries,1 and those present voted from a list of ten names she’d been considering. But her parents, in a moving show of support that many of us can only envy, got together with her and said that they wanted to name her.

If that’s not moving enough, consider this story, which Keisling guaranteed would bring us all to tears. It didn’t, stony asses that we were; but it is very moving. At her place of employment, the principals of her company gathered everyone together for a lunch at which the topic of her transitioning would be discussed. Understandably, she was nervous — especially about one “demographic”, a middle-aged white guy who had “a family and a mustache.” Before she got too far into her presentation, the guy stopped her to ask a question. She feared the question, but took it nonetheless. Here it is, in dramatic block quote style:

“Are you going to be OK?”

How could anyone not come out of such shows of support without charity of spirit? That, Keisling has in florid abundance. Perhaps because of that, she understands the frustration of those who want to scream and march in the street even though she’s not one of them. Sometimes, she allowed, that’s what you have to do.

  1. A great band name if ever there was one.