I had a pause in the presentation of these thoughts before crafting this fourth part of the story. I took the time to speak to the sponsor of HB235 in her office in Annapolis, not once, not twice but now three times. I visited with the Vice Chair of the Health and Government Operations committee, who happens to be one of my delegates, at least two times. My state senator whom I have called on every time I have been in Annapolis who now knows me by sight and name when I come into his office. I attended several of the EQMD trans legislative working group meetings. I testified before that same HGO committee as an advocate for HB235. I attended the 2011 NCTE Lobby Day in DC and went to see my US Senator and Representative. I met and talked to a lot of other legislators, aides, gay and lesbian advocates and yes, many other transpeople. I had wanted to obtain some of their perspective before writing this down.
I mention all of that because I think going and seeing a cross section is of value. So many of the pundits make their claims and decisions from the comfort of the chair and computer keyboard without benefit of talking to real people in person. And the rhetoric of division does not serve us. You need to be visible. This past Monday I again lobbied in Annapolis with many others. A large number of people walking the halls advocating for the bill were not trans. They were LGB or supporters from places like PFLAG. This has been more common than not in my experiences over the last few months. This is indeed a coalition of the willing. I have met so many people who are willing to call me friend it is almost overwhelming. This is the future I am striving for.
Again I reiterate, I am an engineer. I solve problems with systems. More often than not they are legacy systems. Things that were there before I showed up but that presently were not working, or needed extension or enhancement. So I again beg your forgiveness in working on a solution to what I see.
Let me state the problem clearly and concisely if I can.
Transpeople of all varieties face discrimination and presently do not enjoy the same legal protections afforded other classes of identified persons in the State of Maryland.
That was not too hard now was it. The real debate now is how do you fix that? I contend you do not do it any one arena with great effect. Be it in society, culturally, legally or personally. If you excuse the expression, it takes a “combined arms” effort. I will break this down into the 4 parts that I think need doing.
- Legal Change
In most of history fear has been a great motivator of peoples for either change or to maintain status quo. And for the most part fear is the number one reason for prejudice and discrimination. The ugly reality is that it is probably in our DNA. Social groups form to insure survival. Fear of outsiders, those different than us, probably served a survival goal. We are wired to be afraid. Often those fears have been institutionalized. In our world it is found in religious beliefs, political views, and even in what local sports team do you support.
Fear of transpeople is real. Accept that. We challenge long set notions and ideas that are fundamental, and visceral, to many people. We put them in an uncomfortable place. We make them think about gender. They do not like having to think about it, but yet, there we are asking them consider such questions prompted by our mere presence.
This would not be the first time this has existed in our nation or others. Fear of persons of color. Fear of non-Christians. Fear of gays and lesbians. These have all been front and center and yet today in large measure they are dropping away because we have found ways to mitigate fear. The same is true for transpeople. So how do we start that process?
We educate. We do it calmly. We do it quietly. We do it directly. Our band needs to find a way to rally around a set of clear objectives that teach the world about us. And explain who and what we are and more clearly what we are not. And how we are not a threat, or concern to them or their loved ones.
I see this education falling into several organized outreach efforts.
2) The Media
3) Lawmakers and Politicians
4) Religious Organizations
For the purposes of brevity in this writing I will not enumerate details on each of these efforts but suffice to say that the goal is having an informed public about the issues facing transpeople will allow them to posses the tools to counter those opposed to us. And create a set of allies which are sorely needed.
This is probably the biggest challenge to the trans community. As our goal in many, dare I say most, cases is to blend in. That is not to say be stealth or go into the “woodwork”. However many do. And as such there is a talent drain on our community. And I can understand the young transperson’s desire to “just live life”. But there are many of us who are late transitioners. Who have had a lifetime of experience and connections to our worlds. Be they professional, social or personal. We need to be out. And visible.
Recently I was chastised by some for remaining a Boy Scout Leader after transitioning. The reality of this is two fold. First, I am still a Boy Scout Leader! Go figure. I was asked by my troop to stay on. I offered to go and they said no, we would like to keep you. My decision to stay and be visible will result in many future interactions with scouts and other adult leaders. For most I suspect I may be the only transperson they ever see or interact with. I will make change from within. And that kind of change is permanent.
I did the same with my work in robotics at the local high school. And the result is the same. I have had no issues with any single student or parent. In fact I got a note from a concerned parent upon going full time. Her concern was that I would quit. Her words, “Thank goodness you are only changing gender.” And I have done the same with my business, remaining and doing my job as so many of us do.
Do I advertise that I am trans to everybody. No. No more so than I identify my blue eyes to people. They can see. If I am asked I do not deny my history. This is different than flaunting it. You will not find me walking the mall with a sandwich board that reads, “use to be a dude”.
The problem with hiding means that people do not know us. And for us to progress forward, they need to know us.
As recent events in Japan have highlighted a Tsunami is a force that you cannot stop. So is fundamental change. I note that the behavior of the Tsunami was not like you see in the movies. This very tall, high speed, wall of water, crashing into buildings obliterating them into matchsticks. As we can see it happens very differently. It creeps up on you. Rising with a slow deliberate pace. The force gradually, and relentlessly pushing. And eventually nearly everything gives way. And floats off in a stew of human made refuse and seawater. The images are remarkable. The power, not the speed, is what is impressive. And that, is indeed, momentum. And momentum is what makes change happen.
Our trans community has very little momentum. I find it amusing to hear friends of mine say they have a “movement”. A true movement in this country of 300+ million would have to be a good sized number, probably tens of thousands. I am pretty sure it is not just 20 activists holding signs in front of a public building. And so how do we become a substantial movement? Well the first two things I have listed, education and visibility, go a long way to that. It creates allies. And allies when combined with ideas and action can create a movement.
Instead of bashing our LGB friends we should be adopting their play book. They, unlike us, are actually making progress. Marriage Equality will happen. And likely so in many places. And will do so in the next few years. DADT is done. DOMA is dead or dying. This is not by chance. This is because there is a Tsunami sweeping the country. And this is because our LGB friends took their time and generated momentum for change.
Here is what I think we need to do.
- Establish organized trans action groups (by state, or county or whatever)
- Ally and build coalitions with like minded organizations, trans or otherwise. Any group seeking the advancement of civil rights is common ground
- Develop plans for legislation that helps all groups
- Support plans for legislation that helps specific groups, whether it is your group or not
- Mind the tone a rhetoric that may offend your ally
- Insure that you have native leadership from the region where you are trying to effect change. (All politics is local)
Some of this has started in Maryland already, but absent all of it you will have a fractured and factional group setting. We must gain allies. You will not win without them.
The last bit is the hard one for the trans community. You are going to have to commit two things that are in short supply. Time and money. You see if you do take a look at that LGB playbook you will find that both of those were amply supplied. And that means we are going to have to learn how to do the same. This is a marketing campaign folks (something a I know a little about as a business executive). And even the most modest efforts (like TransParent Day) still require some money to lubricate the machinery. And until we figure that out we are going to be on the sidelines.
I listed this last on purpose. Because it is, last. If we have done the first three things I have listed here then this one becomes a much easier thing to do. The first part of legal change requires us to create momentum by being visible and educating our legislators. Yeah I know what a nutty idea. But the reality is these folks are not too responsive to somebody shouting at them. Either from the street corner, or on the phone, or by TYPING IN ALL CAPS IN AN EMAIL OR A BLOG. They are just going to turn you off and ignore you.
So the first step in effecting legal change is going to see them. In Maryland those folks meet to do work in 90 days starting in January. And as important as it is to go see them when they are in session it is even more important to see them when they are not in Annapolis. And frankly if you are going to see them during session there is no way you can get a block of their time to get them to an understanding of what is needed. You are there too late. So go see them. It makes a difference.
Here is my plan of how to proceed in Maryland. Whether HB235 passes or not, there will still be no support for Public Accommodations in Maryland in 2011. This is a sober fact. And so the work is incomplete.
1) In light of how discrimination law in Maryland is actually handled and considering the only places where public accommodations have teeth, the focus must be on passing Gender Identity law with Public Accommodations at the county level.
Only certain counties are allowed to do this in the state constitution. Montgomery (which already has GI protections), Prince Georges, Howard, Baltimore County, and Baltimore City (Also with protections). Our immediate efforts need to be applied in Howard (where I live), PG and BC. Once those protections are in place you will cover about 61% of the state population.
We need to organize by county. Find willing leadership in each of those jurisdictions. Meet with county legislators and executives. Build a coalition and start a dialog. Now.
2) In order to fix the problem with Maryland (our referendum) we should amend the constitution accordingly. Last fall the voters voted to have a constitutional convention. But the measure failed due to a narrow interpretation of how to count.
So we have to take that through the normal channels. :(
I would propose raising the number of signatures to at least 6% or maybe even 10%. The question is can we convince legislators of doing this. And this is a great reason to go see your legislator and ask him/her about it. Imagine their surprise at a transperson coming to see them on a non-trans issue.
If we ally with our LGB "friends" on this matter it would go a long way to eliminating one of the objections of legislators to Marriage Equality. I suspect any group which has been seeking support of fence sitting legislators has a stake in this change.
3) Once we have all the available counties onboard and the referendum updated you go back to the legislature and ask them to give the same rights enjoyed by %61 of the population to the remainder. Those where the law is already in place would have cover.
You can also get bills like HB285 moved ahead which would finally begin to put some teeth into public accommodations in Maryland.
My guess is this can be done in 3-5 years with a concerted effort. With the counties coming online first.
This has been just one Marylander’s opinion. You are certainly entitled to your own. But I note that unless we modify our tone. Find ways to work collectively as transpeople and with other allies this is all moot. I am pleased that HB235 has woken up so many. Now you are going to have to get out of your chair and do something. And if you are unable or unwilling to do so I might suggest you stop taking pot shots at those who are.
This will be long, hard, relentless work. You are in the business of creating a Tsunami of your own without the benefit of an earthquake to kick it off. Let’s get busy Maryland.