Tuesday, June 16, 2020

When We Rise

When We Rise chronicles the real-life personal and political struggles, set-backs and triumphs of a diverse family of LGBT men and women who helped pioneer one of the last legs of the U.S. Civil Rights movement from its turbulent infancy in the 20th century to the once unfathomable successes of today. The story of Cleve Jones who Born in 1954, and was among the last generation of gay Americans who grew up wondering if there were others out there like himself. There were. Like thousands of other young people, Jones, nearly penniless, was drawn in the early 1970s to San Francisco, a city electrified by progressive politics and sexual freedom.

Jones found community—in the hotel rooms and ramshackle apartments shared by other young adventurers, in the city’s bathhouses and gay bars like The Stud, and in the burgeoning gay district, the Castro, where a New York transplant named Harvey Milk set up a camera shop, began shouting through his bullhorn, and soon became the nation’s most outspoken gay elected official. With Milk’s encouragement, Jones dove into politics and found his calling in “the movement.” When Milk was killed by an assassin’s bullet in 1978, Jones took up his mentor’s progressive mantle–only to see the arrival of AIDS transform his life once again. It was Cleve who his conceived the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the largest community art project in history. He founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, The Names Project Foundation, and led the 2009 National March for Equality in Washington, DC and served on the Advisory Board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which challenged California’s Proposition 8 in the US Supreme Court which again was a milestone until another yesterday.

Cleve is still very much an activist and is working with Unite Here, a hospitality industry group or in common terms,a union, in San Francisco. One of the many infamous characters in the Gay Community in the 70s his path I am sure crossed with his East Coast counterpart, Larry Kramer, who just died and would have been loud and proud yesterday when The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a landmark federal civil rights law from the 1960s protects gay and transgender workers, a watershed ruling for ­LGBTQ rights written by one of the court’s most conservative justices. An irony or just a conundrum I am never sure with our current court what the fuck they do and frankly it is another institution that needs reform.

To prove how bizarre this was the reasoning behind the decision as written by Justice Gorsuch: “We must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear,” Gorsuch wrote. “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.” That is the irony or the conundrum as only 5 years ago Gorsuch and Roberts — the chief justice was on the losing side when the court voted 5 to 4 that the Constitution provided a right for gay people to marry — were joined by liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

It was that weekend I was oddly in New York City for my annual Broadway tour and there I shared the stage with the then iconic figure of Caitlyn Jenner who was in the audience of two musicals we attended. I quickly after one raced to the Village to see the party in full blown action and it was transcendent and then time has passed and Jenner is just an afterthought of one who was literally idolized at the time and has since been relegated to the 99 cent bin as no one cares... about her. Could all the Kardashian Klan go as well; as like all in the family, that idiot did nothing to help any movement.

On Sunday the #BLM movement marched with a focus on Trans lives as they too have been brutalized by Police and many crimes against them, again like sexual assault on women overall, are ignored or simply not investigated. This too must be addressed in the attempts to reform and change the mindset.

But today is one of celebration as we move into a new landscape and this may mean the times are a changing. Again hope is a dish best served with time and planning and none of this came easy. From Gay Rights to Aids it was 30 years in the making and it is nothing but irony that another virus is wreaking havoc throughout the globe with little idea how to solve, cure or even treat it. Ah too familiar I am afraid.

But I am afraid it is too soon to pack the flags and quilt up as there is another battle on the horizon.

Hundreds of thousands of trans and non-binary people face barriers to voting in November

Difficulties in obtaining identification mean large numbers of potential voters are vulnerable to disenfranchisement

Sarah Fielding
Tue 16 Jun 2020

When My-Linh moved from Texas to New York, they knew they wanted to vote in elections without risk of discrimination against their non-binary identity. But the only options on the form to get a state ID are male and female.

“The system set in place is very unfair, and it doesn’t give any opportunity for people who have intersectional identities to be able to feel comfortable to identify themselves,” says My-Linh.

Few states in the US have passed a law requiring voting registration forms to include an X or unspecified option for anyone who doesn’t identify as male or female. Only 18 states and Washington DC have that option when getting a driver’s license – neither Texas nor New York, where My-Linh would vote, do.

For non-binary people, as well as the transgender community as a whole, barriers to getting an appropriate ID leave hundreds of thousands people vulnerable to disenfranchisement.

In a February 2020 report, the UCLA School of Law Williams Institute estimated that 965,350 transgender people will be eligible to vote in November’s presidential election. But of the 45 states that conduct elections in person, 42% of transgender people don’t have the correct identification. These numbers don’t account for the estimated 25% to 35% of transgender people who identify as non-binary, or those who are non-binary but not transgender – which a 2014 study in the UK estimated as about 0.4% of the population.

The 2015 US Trans Survey also found that a third of the people who showed ID which didn’t match their gender presentation faced negative results such as harassment or even assault – something that can discourage transgender and non-binary people from casting a ballot.

Allison, a trans femme who had recently moved to California before the November 2016 elections, had not changed her gender marker due to the high cost of the paperwork. Though she had registered online, poll workers asked for her ID, citing their reasoning being it was her first time voting in the state which does not have strict voter ID laws. She only received a provisional ballot, meaning her vote may not have counted.

“Having to have photo identification to show up at the polls disproportionately affects our transgender populations,” says Arli Christensen, Campaign Strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union who focuses on trans justice issues. “For transgender folks, it is often very difficult to get an ID that accurately reflects who they are, has a legal name that corresponds with who they are, and has a gender marker that matches who they are.”

The high rate of inaccurate IDs doesn’t come from a lack of trying. Trans people face a complicated and expensive ordeal involving legal fees, a potential need to publish their name in the newspaper – thus outing them – and sharing invasive medical documentation. Most states, including New York, require publishing changed names in a newspaper for creditors and other interested parties. In some states gender markers can’t be changed without proof of surgery.

Earlier this year a 28-year-old transgender woman sued North Carolina and Mecklenburg county election officials after facing discrimination while voting last November. While the state doesn’t require identification for voting, the woman, who has lived as a female since the age of 14, was asked to present her ID. When asked why it was required, she said the precinct judge said: “Because your face doesn’t match your name.”

She was finally allowed to vote after over an hour but was emotionally shaken up.

These barriers become even more difficult in states with strict voter ID laws, promoted largely by Republican legislatures concerned about voter fraud – though voter fraud occurs only 0.0003% of the time. Thirty-six states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls and in 19 of these states voters are required to present photo identification, said Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign.

“These voter ID laws are a solution in search of a problem and all they really do in the end is make it harder for people to vote,” says Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director for policy and action at the National Center for Transgender Equality and a transgender man.

Heng-Lehtinen was out as a transgender man and going by Rodrigo for five years before he could legally change his name. “Everyone knew me as that. That’s how I was recognized in the world, with my job, my friends, my family, everyone. But there was no government document that reflected that,” he says.

He had to go through a DMV and Social Security Administration in California before eventually reaching the California court system. The cost was about $450. Something he stresses is “extremely out of reach for many transgender people who disproportionately are more likely to work low-wage jobs”.

There’s also the impact of mass incarceration in the US. In 2015, 2% of transgender people were imprisoned in the past year, compared to 0.87% of the general population, with an even higher rate for people of color in the community. The inequality in prison sentences means losing the right to vote in states where people with felony convictions don’t have access to the ballot.

“Transgender people are disproportionately subject to discrimination, so it’s harder for us to find a job and we’re put into more desperate situations. A lot of transgender people are doing sex work or other jobs like that just to get by, which then makes us more likely to be in prison,” says Heng-Lehtinen.

With the presidential election less than six months away, advocates are hoping that some measures can be taken to make it easier for transgender and non-binary people to vote. David advocated for changing state laws to make it easier to change voter forms and IDs. Christensen said poll workers should be educated about IDs so they don’t bar someone from voting, and hoped that a national conversation would continue.

“If there’s a gender discrepancy between your ID and the way you walk through the world, that is not a reason to be denied a ballot,” said Christensen. “We need to make sure that as a community, as a society, we understand trans people. Our democracy is strongest when all people have access to vote.”

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