Author Archive: Babs NJSD

DNC Summer Meeting From a LGBT Perspective

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) held its Summer meeting from August 27 -29 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since next year is a presidential election year, this meeting featured a “meet the candidates” session, as four of the announced candidates, Governor Lincoln Chafee, Secretary Hillary Clinton,  Governor Martin O’Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders ( in alphabetical order) addressed  the membership. Only Senator Webb who has been polling next to zero was not present reportedly for family obligations. Although he has not announced, Vice President Biden had supporters present who were meeting with DNC members and State party senior staff.

There were opportunities to meet and greet the candidates and their campaign staff at the host hotel as well as at receptions both at the hotel and at offsite venues.

As the Republican Party becomes more reactionary in policy and action, it’s apparent that the DNC’s support  for LGBT rights becomes stronger and more inclusive.

At our LGBT caucus meeting there were several positive things on which to report:

Ending Trans Discrimination In The Military, The Rest Of The Story

On Monday July 13, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter announced that next year, after a six-month study, transgender Americans should be allowed to serve openly in the armed forces along with their gay and lesbian compatriots. It is a long overdue action to remove a barrier to open service for a small but significant minority whose participation in the military is proportionately greater than that of the general population.

Secretary Carter has asked his personnel undersecretary, Brad Carson, to set up a working group of senior military and civilian leaders to take an objective look at the issue. One senior official said that while the goal is to lift the ban, Carter wants the working group to look at the practical effects, including the costs, and to determine whether it would affect readiness or create any insurmountable problems that could derail the plan. The group would also develop uniform guidelines for transgender inclusion throughout all the services.

During the six month study period, transgender individuals still would not be able to join the military, but any decisions to force out those already serving would be referred to the Pentagon’s acting undersecretary for personnel, the officials said. One senior official said the goal was to avoid forcing any transgender service members to leave during that time.

2014 Was, On Balance, A Very Good Year for Transgender People in America.

2014 Was, On Balance, A Very Good Year for Transgender People in America.

image: http://cdn.bilerico.net/assets…

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As a trans activist there was much to celebrate for our movement and even the most negative happenings gave hope for a silver lining and future progress. Personally, there was an embarrassment of riches in recognition and awards that give me an added incentive and I hope an incentive for other transgender people, especially our younger activists to keep pushing for equality and societal respect in a bold yet measured and responsible way.

In Part 1, I will concentrate on events on a national level that affected transgender equality.

In April, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) issued guidance which makes clear that the federal Title IX law prohibits discrimination against transgender students. The guidance, from the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), states:

   “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation.”

This announcement was a huge breakthrough for transgender students and made it clear that they can seek protection from the DOE and the courts if the schools fail in their responsibility to ensure that they are safe and respected. (Recent research indicates that 4 out of 5 transgender students feel unsafe at school).

Actions later in the year indicated that the DOE was in fact enforcing the new policy — walking the walk!

Workplace Protections

After it became obvious that Speaker Boehner would not allow the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which had passed out of the Senate by a 64-32 vote in the fall of 2013, President Barack Obama announced in late June at the White House Pride reception that he would be signing an executive order protecting transgender federal workers from discrimination and prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination for employers that work with the federal government as contractors or subcontractors.

On July 21, 2014, I was present at the White House to witness and celebrate President Obama signing the executive order extending gender identity and sexual orientation employment protections to 28 million workers across the country. The executive order aims to fill gaps between Title VII sex discrimination protections and a handful of state laws that ban anti-LGBT discrimination. Today, only 18 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have gender identity employment non-discrimination laws on the books. New Jersey has had protections since 2007. It is significant to note that New Jersey’s Congressman Frank Pallone took the lead in the House of Representatives in drafting a letter formally urging President Obama to issue that Executive Order!

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The National Center for Transgender Equality reissued two resources to help transgender workers understand their employment protections. The first is “Employment Discrimination and Transgender People,” a broader employment guide for transgender people that outlines existing workplace protections — including the new executive order for federal contractors — and explains how transgender people can advocate for their employment rights through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The second is “Transgender Federal Employees: Your Workplace Rights,” which explains how the executive order bolsters their Title VII sex discrimination protections.

Speaking of “walking the walk,” in July, the Labor Department announced that it would extend employment non-discrimination protections under current policy to transgender workers.

In a blog post on Monday, June 30, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said that his department would prepare guidance to make clear that anti-trans discrimination is discrimination based on sex:

   “As we celebrate Pride month and approach the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the Labor Department is reaffirming its commitment to equal opportunity for all. That’s why we are updating enforcement protocols and anti-discrimination guidance to clarify that we provide the full protection of the federal non-discrimination laws that we enforce to transgender individuals.”

The DOL issued that guidance in August, informing the 200,000 federal contractors that they may not discriminate against transgender workers. They clarified that that sex discrimination laws extend to individuals discriminated against based on their gender identity or transgender status, and that this will be in force even before the President’s executive order adding gender identity protections is fully implemented. DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs will oversee compliance with these newest guidelines.

In 2012, under the leadership of Chai Feldblum, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to prohibit anti-transgender bias. In September 2014, the EEOC for the first time used the 1964 Civil Rights Act to file federal lawsuits against two companies for discrimination against transgender people.

Medicare

On May 30, 2014, an independent board within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today ruled that a Medicare policy from 1989 that categorically excluded transition-related medical procedures, regardless of medical need, is unreasonable and invalid based on today’s medical science. Medicare can no longer arbitrarily exclude medically supported treatments for trans people! (Learn more about how this ruling affects transgender people in NCTE’s “Fact Sheet on Medicare Coverage of Transition-Related Care.”)

Military Discrimination

image: http://cdn.bilerico.net/assets…

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In May, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stated on network TV news that the Department of Defense should review the military’s policy that prohibits open transgender military service. Current military medical regulations automatically disqualify transgender recruits and require the discharge of service members found to be transgender. This old policy, which is based on ignorance, brands all trans people with a societal stigma.

In a sign of hope, in December, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James came out in support of lifting the military’s ban on transgender service.

Violence, Suicide, and Family Acceptance

Although violence against transpeople continued to rise in 2014, more and more people were made aware of it, and the number of observances of Transgender Day of Remembrance and Transgender Days and Weeks of Awareness continued to grow.

The tragic, dramatic, and highly visible suicide of Leelah Alcorn in Ohio in late December woke up millions around the world to the needs of transgender children as well as the harm that parents can do to the children when they profess love, yet ignore the reality of their child’s basic identity.

Fortunately, in states like my own state of New Jersey, the deadly reparative therapy that her parents subjected her with is now illegal. We need a national law!

At the Golden Globe awards on January 11, 2015, Transparent writer/producer Jill Soloway stated, “This award is dedicated to Leelah Alcorn and transgender people who died too young.” Soloway made the remarks during her acceptance speech, invoking the memory of Leelah — the transgender teen whose suicide became a rallying point for the trans community and its allies.

It was powerful, and it reached far and wide. There is hope going forward! We must never forget! We must make change!

Exclusive photo of executive order signing ceremony by John Becker for the Bilerico Project.

Read more at http://www.bilerico.com/2015/0…

A Victory for Transgender Vets and Hope for Open Service

Cross-posted with TG Forum. Babs is a well-known advocate, and longtime friend of Blue Jersey. For those who don’t know, she is also the first, and highest-ranking, out transgender person ever to serve the DNC. Promoted by Rosi.

In the last couple of weeks, Transgender American Veterans celebrated a big victory and trans Americans in the military, and all trans people got another glimmer of hope that the stigma of not being able to serve might be gone in the foreseeable future.

First, on November 24, two New Jersey-based transgender veterans represented by the ACLU of New Jersey were notified that they won a victory in a battle to change their names on a key military identification document, with implications for transgender veterans throughout the country. The Army Board for Correction of Military Records agreed to change the names of the two veterans on their “DD-214 Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty” forms, principal documents for any action requiring proof of veteran’s status.

 

Reflections on Transgender Day of Remembrance

Cross-posted with The Bilerico Project. Promoted by Rosi.

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For the last dozen years as November 20th approaches, I tend to get particularly reflective and become aware of a depressive cloud that sometimes haunts me.

No, it’s not because it is my birthday and I’m another year older and not much wiser, but because it is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), and I will be speaking about the insidious crimes committed against people like me — just because we choose to be honest about our gender identity and want to live as ourselves in a culture, a society, a socio-political/religious environment that for whatever reason tolerates, condones, and promotes fear and hate. It’s a culture that wants us gone.

The more violent the culture, it seems the more violent the crimes against us. As transgender people make strides in gaining rights and positive visibility, so it appears that the crimes against us, including murders, grow in number and become more gruesome.

Why Transgender Vets Can’t Get Military Benefits

Trans veterans much more likely to suffer discrimination than non trans civilians. NJ decorated war vet has a new mission.

As we know, Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” did nothing to allow transgender people to serve in the military. But, as the spotlight of LGBT rights shines on the recent progress of lesbians and gays, it also highlights all the areas where transgender people are left behind.

In 2012, a Bilerico blog highlighted the story of a trans woman, Sergeant Major Jennifer Long , a decorated war hero who was promoted to E-9, the highest enlisted pay grade, who was awarded a Bronze Star and a “French National Defense Medal” remarkably while serving in “stealth” in the middle of her transition as a woman.

http://www.bilerico.com/2012/0…

But that was just the beginning of her story, her mission to really accomplish things to help her fellow Americans, her fellow veterans and her fellow transpeople.

Well, she got that job in New Jersey in the financial sector, made a commitment to be active in LGBT political advocacy and also in veterans affairs, working for all veterans, and was recently elected Post Commander of her VFW Post. As impressive as that may sound, she was not the first transperson elected “Commander” of a VFW post. That distinction belongs to another “Jersey Girl,” another Jennifer, and friend and warrior,  Jennifer Denklau, who retired to Northern Arizona and was elected Commander in 2010.

One of the greatest challenges to transgender people is the documentation of our being in our modern data driven gender binary society. Most all trans people need change their names, we need to change our gender on documents to match our actual gender identity, our true selves.

We’ve actually come a long way with the Federal government.  The Obama Administration has overseen changing  gender markers for Social Security, and under Secretary Hillary Clinton the State Department has made common sense rules for changing the gender markers on US Passports. Although the Veteran’s Adminsitration has made some accommodations to recognize and respect trans veterans, roadblocks still remain.

Here in New Jersey I worked with State officials in 2009 to modernize and simplify the procedure to change the gender markers on NJ Drivers Licenses. It was a success as it worked for our drivers as well as our Motor Vehicle Commission. In 2013 I recruited Jennifer for our task force to pass legislation to modernize the policy and procedures to change the gender markers on our birth certificates. While working on that she was inspired to take the lead with the ACLU on another mission, to change the gender marker on the basic military ID form the DD214.

National Public Radio has picked up her story and the real life reasons for needing to make the changes.

http://www.wnyc.org/story/tran…

I just want to emphasize that perhaps 150,000 or more vets are affected and the acknowleged FACT that transpeople serve in the US Military at a significantly higher percentage than the general population.

Jennifer summed it up well, “You faced the enemies of the United States,” … “What a shame that you have to hide that service because you’re afraid of someone’s perception of you.”

High School Democrats

A couple of weeks ago athe the DNC meeting I met and engaged some young folks involved in an affiliate organization, High School Democrats.  They want to start a dialogue about any involved high school students currently involved in New Jersey and see if there was the potential for them to develop local chapters.

If anyone here on Blue Jersey has any thoughts or leads please let me know or If you want their contact info and speak directly to them.

Also, for those thinking about being a delegate in 2016, there will be an overall roughly 14% reduction of convention delegates from 2012, but still more than 2008. Start thinking now…

An Important week for Transgender and LGB Americans

Babs Casbar Siperstein is the first out transgender person to ever be elected to the Democratic National Committee, and the first on the DNC’s Executive Committee. The highest-ranking out transgender Democrat in American history is a New Jerseyan. We join her in celebrating the good news of Obama’s exec order and in welcoming Andy Bowen to Garden State Equality and to NJ. — Rosi

The last full week in July was an incredible week for transpeople in America. On Monday July 21, 2014 President Obama signed an executive order doing 2 things.  First, it added “gender identity” an existing executive order protecting gay and lesbian federal workers from discrimination thus protecting transgender federal workers. (It institutionalized and strengthened an existing Federal policy which started under the Obama Administration). Secondly, and more importantly, it prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination for employers that work with the federal government as contractors or subcontractors.  

Thank You, Rob Andrews!

Almost lost amid all the noise and bustle here in NJ as the drama, the virtual acrid smell of large scale corruption and malfeasance surrounding the Christie Administration slowly intensifies, was the unexpected retirement of a champion of LGBT rights and most significantly transgender rights in Congress  which was abruptly announced on Tuesday, February 4, 2014.

Rob Andrews, the 12 term congressman from South Jersey, announced that he would resign from Congress and leave office on Feb 18 to lead the government relations practice of a Philadelphia law firm. Andrews was a Vice- Chair of the House LGBT Equality Caucus. It was in his role as Chair of the Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Sub-Committee that he stepped up, kept his word to me and other Trans leaders and presided over the historic Congressional hearings, which, in my opinion, made it impossible for Democrats to forward an Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) that was not trans-inclusive!

A little history is in order.

Reps. Bella Abzug (D-NY) and Ed Koch (D-NY) introduced the Equality Act of 1974, which sought to ban discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals, unmarried persons, and women in employment, housing, and public accommodations . It was the first-ever national piece of proposed legislation that would end discrimination against gays and lesbians in the United States. It did not, however, include transgender people. Unfortunately, the Equality Act of 1974 never earned enough support to make it out of committee in the House, and it was never introduced in the Senate. Similar bills and efforts also failed in the late 1970s.

While the Equality Act of 1974 was broad, ENDA is narrowly focused on a single issue: employment discrimination. Lawmakers first introduced ENDA in 1994. That version of the law would have made it illegal to discriminate against employees in all aspects of employment based on a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation. Both the House and Senate versions of ENDA died in committee that year, a story that would be repeated for the next several years (though in 1996 ENDA received a floor vote in the Senate but failed by a one-vote margin). After 1996 a version of ENDA was introduced in every session of Congress except the 109th.

On April 24, 2007 members of Congress introduced HR 2015 the first version of ENDA that included discrimination prohibitions on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. History will record that this inclusive version of ENDA died in Committee with 185 sponsors and that on September 27, 2007 prime sponsor Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) made a second attempt at moving the bill through, HR. 3685, this time without the provisions protecting transgender workers from discrimination (nicknamed SPLENDA for being a light version or imitation of the real bill).

On November 7, 2007 the House passed this non-inclusive ENDA by a vote of 235 to 184. The Senate version was never taken up or referred to a Committee, due to the exclusion of gender identity from Rep. Frank’s bill (We have to thank people like the late Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey who stated that he would only support an ENDA that was trans inclusive) and the acknowledged fact that President George W Bush had expressly stated that he would veto any ENDA bill thus making it an exercise in futility.

Let history show that by giving up on the inclusive ENDA, splitting the T from the LGB, a barely repaired schism within the LGBT community was re-opened, with HRC, the gay rights 800 pound gorilla abruptly reversing course from their own  stated public policy by standing with Barney Frank and Speaker Pelosi, while just about every other LGBT organization, led by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, rallied behind Tammy Baldwin to fight for transgender inclusion. Barney Frank then introducing two bills on the same day September 27, 2007, HR 3685 ENDA as it has historically existed, banning discrimination on sexual orientation and HR 3686 ENDA with transgender protections to that basic scheme. He stated, “Passing ENDA in part and then moving on to add transgender provisions when we can is clearly preferable”. The congressman from Massachusetts was saying, lets protect the gays and we will come right back for the transpeople “when we can”.

“When we can”, can be a long time!  For example, in 1989, Massachusetts prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in credit, public and private employment, union practices, housing, and public accommodations. 22 years later Massachusetts finally passed a law prohibiting discrimination for almost, but not all of the aforementioned categories. Maybe you can also sell transpeople a bridge?

Barney Frank envisioned that Congressman Andrew’s Education and Labor subcommittee would hold hearings on his transgender only bill HR3686 (which I will refer to as Barney’s GENDA)  to “focus exclusively on transgender issues, to give Members a chance to meet transgender people, to understand who they really are, and to deal with the fears that exist.”  But Barney’s GENDA was anathema to the transgender community.

Having a relationship with Rob Andrews, I was able to communicate the disappointment that we had for his support of the gay only ENDA and his sponsorship Barney’s GENDA. In fact, his New Jersey colleague Rush Holt, bucked Pelosi and Frank and voted against the bad ENDA! I stressed that we wanted and needed hearings to educate America about the rampant and widespread discrimination, and specific employment discrimination in our country but that those hearings could not be connected at all to HR3686 which in itself was created from the history of trans discrimination.

He “got it”, immediately. We next met in February 2008 at a “Hillary” Primary victory party at the Skylark Diner in Edison NJ where he confirmed all would be a “go”!  In fact, no mention was ever made of Barney’s GENDA at those hearings. The Republican ranking member did make an indirect reference to the legislation in a question, but that question was unanswered!

Rob kept his word and always made note with pride of the historical significance of those hearings in the summer of 2008.  Whenever I brought a group of transpeople to the Hill to lobby, Rob’s office was always a stop, not only to visit a friend, but to show our folks how comfortable and natural and genuinely interested he was in person when meeting with a diverse group of constituents.  He had many contacts on the “other” side of the aisle and was always willing to reach out to them for our legislation. I can’t help but wonder if he had been the Prime sponsor of ENDA in 2007 or even in 2009 if it would have been a done deal!

ENDA 2007 HR2015 was introduced April 24, 2007 with 59 sponsors. A week before I got a call from one of Barney’s senior aides that he had under 30 sponsors and wanted to go in with at least 60 in this first ever trans inclusive ENDA.  At the time I was on the Board of National Stonewall Democrats and we put our political folks into legislative advocate mode and brought in at least 20 more sponsors. In the middle of May, I traveled to DC to lobby for ENDA with the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) as well as meeting up with a smaller group of advocates from NTAC (National Transgender Advocacy Coalition). It was a week of much LGBT activity in the Beltway … but amid all the enthusiasm was a sour note from some of the NTAC folks … news that the Democratic Black Caucus would not support the trans inclusive ENDA. Ironically, a similar message from two entirely different sources, both sworn to secrecy, came to me the next day.  OK, I said to myself, you know that there is a problem… go out and address it. Fix it! You’ve got HRC and all the other organizations, you’ve got the resources … you know there is a problem … do it!

In early September, Joe Solmonese, President of HRC, addressed participants at Southern Comfort , perhaps the largest transgender conference in America, explicitly telling those gathered that HRC would not support a non-inclusive ENDA. Within 2 weeks HRC flipped and supported the gay only version. My words to describe the events are not for publication.

I’m going to end this blog on a positive note.

First Congressman Andrew’s Historic Hearings in 2008

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

See the 4:30 mark at    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

After Chairman Andrews acknowledges our Jersey group, he goes after the Harvard educated lawyer who represents the religious haters and utterly destroys his legal arguments … it is so sweet watching him at work!

NJ’s late Congressman Donald Payne had made some remarks after voting for the Non inclusive ENDA in Nov 2007 that upset many of us in the trans community.  Garden State Equality objected and Chair Steven Goldstein, myself as Vice-Chair, and a small group of Trans Board Members and supporters met with him to educate and explain. He certainly understood discrimination and he quickly “got it”.

See the 6:00 mark, Cong Payne sees me and remarks that I had “harassed” him with a smile.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

The odds on favorite to win Andrews’ seat in the next election is current State Senator Donald Norcross. NJ’s Congressional District #1 is heavily Democratic and Sen Norcross has already been endorsed by almost all the South Jersey politicos, labor leaders, our new Speaker as well as U.S. Senator Cory Booker.  Donald will have big shoes to fill, but based on a brief talk with him, I’m encouraged that he can and we will encourage him to try and succeed.

Meanwhile to Congressman Rob Andrews, the Trans community says, “Thank you!”

NJ LGBT Democrats Organize an Active Caucus

promoted by Rosi

Ok, NJ Lesbians and Gays have “marriage equality” … We’ve got LGBT workplace protections, inclusive hate crimes, anti-bullying laws and a trans inclusive gay reparative therapy law. So, really, what’s next? Anything? Can we go home now? Well, not quite.

More on this, and how to find out about the LGBT Dems organizing meeting Tuesday in Edison, below the fold.