Wyoming: “The Inequality State”

Wyoming’s latest opportunity to prove that it’s state motto is even partially true has dissolved.

The “Equality State” has rejected even domestic partnerships for same-sex partners after bringing it to the House floor yesterday. From the Casper Star-Tribune:

Seal of Wyoming

Seal of Wyoming (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Wyoming House has shot down a bill that would have allowed same-sex couples to create domestic partnerships carrying most of the legal rights of conventional marriage.

The House voted 35-to-24 against the bill. It marked the first time that pro-gay legislation reached a full floor debate in the state Legislature.

Proponents of the bill said that it would grant same-sex couples as well as other citizens a way to share their property and make health care decisions for each other.

Opponents warned that the bill threatened to open the state to legal action seeking to force it to approve same-sex marriage.

A separate bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that would outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. That bill now heads to the full Senate.

Wyoming, the state where Matthew Shepard was tragically murdered- now has an opportunity to outlaw discrimination. I will be delighted to see it happen- but it doesn’t seem very likely at this point.

Sad. If I were a Wyoming legislator, I’d introduce a bill to change the motto to “The Inequality State”.

Please Share Your Story With Fair is Fair MT

The Fair is Fair campaign, a project of the ACLU of Montana, is dedicated to increasing public support for domestic partnerships by telling the stories of real couples who have been denied equal protection because their relationships are not legally recognized.
We are looking for same-sex couples who are willing to share their stories about how they have been denied basic protections afforded to other families.
 
MainLogo21If you are in a committed relationship with a same-sex partner and you have experienced difficulties (tax problems, pension issues, problems related to caring for children or making medical decisions for your family, or any other types of difficulties) because your relationship isn’t legally recognized, please e-mail me at niniab@aclumontana.org.
 
All communications will be handled as confidential by the ACLU.
 
Right now, loving, committed same-sex couples and their children still don’t have the protections they need to live their own lives in Montana.  The ACLU has brought a lawsuit, Donaldson and Guggenheim v. State of Montana, to win equal protection for same-sex couples.  Court cases are important, but to win lasting fairness for gay and lesbian couples we need to convince not just the courts but also the general public that Montanans need domestic partnerships.
 
Please don’t pass up this opportunity to tell your story and to help Fair is Fair change hearts and minds.
 

Limits on Understanding

An attempt at a discrimination graphic.

An attempt at a discrimination graphic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

It was 9:30 at the Helena City Council meeting when the mayor slightly rolled his eyes as he tapped his gavel, signaling the close of the public hearing portion on final passage of the LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance.

 

“What’s your pleasure,” he said to the council members.

 

The council took up four amendments proposed by the sponsor in a vain attempt to rescue her two years of campaigning and soulful work on this ordinance to make it as fair and inclusive as possible.  The other members of the commission were simply not having it, as she tried to persuade them to drop the trans phobic “locker room” amendment.

 

“It’s beyond the limits of my understanding,” the mayor proclaimed with exasperation, and a council member said the same a few minutes later.

 

And, then again, “This is beyond the limits of my understanding,” the mayor repeated, seemingly liking the sound of the phrase he had coined even more the second time around.

 

He just as well have said, “I don’t understand, and I don’t want to understand!” for that is what I heard with a sinking feeling that remains with me, now rooted in my psyche just as firmly as the amendment is now part of the ordinance, which to some now codifies the vilification of trans people, and legalizes a certain form of discrimination against them.

 

I had not considered these thoughts prior to the hearing, and I apologize to the trans community for failing you.  I had taken the amendment lightly, as if any self respecting pre-op trans woman would be caught dead showing off the wrong genitalia in the women’s locker room.  (I focus on trans women only because that was the sum and substance of the hysteria at the hearing, though I do not wish to belittle the safety risk to trans men in the men’s locker room.)  I know that I would not have dared reveal my pre-op attachment – I was way too afraid of being read.  I’m thinking a penis would have been a dead give away.  But, more than that, I am far too modest and respecting of the women around me to compromise them in such a way, for I take my solidarity with women as a sacred trust.  For it is to this sisterhood that I belong, and losing that sense of belonging, as a woman among women, would be a fate worse than death.  Indeed, it would be as akin to death or more, while yet breathing, as were the last years of living as a man, drunk, dispirited and demoralized.

 

Could I have made a difference by continuing to urge a more specific understanding, as I had in general terms in my testimony?   Some have suggested that the council member who proposed the amendment relied on his belief that I “was okay with it” in so doing.  Well, I wasn’t okay with it.  In fact, I had posted just last week (and sent the post to the council) a suggested compromise to the  amendment whereby a public accommodation would not be discriminating if they asked a person who displayed socially inconsistent genitalia in the locker room to leave.  Some would have trouble with even this compromise, although, given my statements above about fear, modesty and solidarity, I think it is entirely reasonable.  I stand by it.

 

Nonetheless, I did not talk about bathrooms in my testimony, so, council members evidently did not feel that the trans community objected.  I am just one person who testified, I realize, however, many have looked to me to represent their interest and I did not.  I let you down and I regret that.

 

As I ponder these matters, in the quiet half light of dusk, with a growing philosophical sense, I realize that I am not to blame.  No one is that powerful – to enlighten the minds of those with limits upon their own understanding.

 

 

Bittersweet Win In Helena

Tonight, Helena took another step toward equality.
 
An LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinance was passed by Helena’s City Commission unanimously with five votes. The citywide ordinance prohibits discriminatory acts in employment and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. However, it only provides some protections in public accommodations.

Bill sponsor Katherine Haque-Hausrath was unable to convince her colleagues to eliminate an amendment requiring transgender people to use the bathroom or locker room that matches their “anatomical sex regardless of their gender identity.”

Jamee Greer, Montana Human Rights Network’s LGBT organizer, called the amendment “cowardly.”

“The capital city in Montana has become the second city in the state to pass an ordinance, which is historic,” Greer said. “I’m incredibly proud of all the hundreds of hours of volunteer work; people came to hearings starting in March 2012 and continued to come over and over. It’s a bittersweet victory for me knowing that many transgender people in our community are excluded from part of this ordinance. It feels like I can’t own it.”

While we are aware of the hard work ahead, we are grateful to all the community members who attended and/or testified at the hearings and to the staff at theMontana Human Rights Network for their leadership on this ordinance.

Together, we will continue to move our community forward.
With Pride,
Caitlin Copple
Regional Development Organizer in Montana

 

Help! Helena Non-discrimination Poll Freeped By Haters

Also published on Bilerico.com

A poll in this week’s Helena Independent Record asks the question “Does Helena need a non-discrimination ordinance?” This is seemingly in response to the order of business currently before the Helena City Commission – an ordinance of non-discrimination [pdf].

“State and/or federal law prohibit the denial of civil rights or discrimination on the basis of age, race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, creed, sex, pregnancy, marital status, familial status (solely for housing), and physical or mental disability. In addition to these protections, it is the intent of the City of Helena that no person shall be denied his or her civil rights or be discriminated against based upon his or her sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

Thumbnail image for Welcome to MontanaYeah, kind of a big deal for Montana.

At first, the numbers were fairly even on both sides – then those in favor of the ordinance outnumbered those opposed.

By hundreds.

Typically the IR polls receive about 500 respondents total, but it appears that some conservative blogs, websites and facebookers have called in their forces to vote (in this very unscientific poll) against this ordinance currently being considered by the Helena City Council.

While I’m not sure that this is a huge issue (the poll, not the ordinance), it irks me that those opposed are marshaling the forces of discrimination across the country to weigh in.

Well, turnabout’s fair play. Vote here – and show Helena that the nation is watching.

Why You Shouldn’t Donate to the Salvation Army Bell Ringers

Reprinted from Bilerico.com

By Bil Browning

As the holidays approach, the Salvation Army bell ringers are out in front of stores dunning shoppers for donations. If you care about gay rights, you’ll skip their bucket in favor of a charity that doesn’t actively discriminate against the LGBT community.

The Salvation Army has a history of active discrimination against gays and lesbians. While you might think you’re helping the hungry and homeless by Thumbnail image for Why you shouldn't give to the Salvation Armydropping a few dollars in the bright red buckets, not everyone can share in the donations. Many LGBT people are rejected by the evangelical church charity because they’re “sexually impure.”

The church claims it holds “a positive view of human sexuality,” but then clarifies that “sexual intimacy is understood as a gift of God to be enjoyed within the context of heterosexual marriage.” The Salvation Army doesn’t believe that gays and lesbians should ever know the intimacy of any loving relationship, instead teaching that “Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life.”

On its webpage, the group claims that “the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation.” While the words are nice, their actions speak volumes. They blatantly ignore the position statement and deny LGBT people services unless they renounce their sexuality, end same-sex relationships, or, in some cases, attend services “open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army’s doctrine and discipline.” In other words, if you’re gay or lesbian, you don’t qualify.

The organization also has a record of actively lobbying governments worldwide for anti-gay policies – including an attempt to make consensual gay sex illegal. (Yes, you’re paying lobbyists with those donations.)

After the break are some highlights from the evangelical Christian charity’s recent anti-gay political lobbying, a handy video with more information, and a list of charities who don’t discriminate against their clients and employees.

Click here to read the rest at Bilerico.com

The State Of The Ordinance

“With liberty and justice for all,” the people said, with their hands upon their hearts.  They shuffled as they took their seats or remained standing in the crowded council chambers at city hall in Helena.  I wondered how many in attendance actually believed in those concepts they had just pledged their allegiance to.  Many seemed to believe that liberty and justice should be applied only to those they alone deemed worthy.

Rosa Parks' mugshot

Rosa Parks’ mugshot (Photo credit: rbanks)

The opponents had arrived early and assured that their ranks would take all the seats, leaving standing room only for the gays and lesbians, the Bi-s and transgender, and all their allies (friends, family and supporters).  Though seemingly greater in number they were mostly relegated to the hallway outside the chambers, or an overflow room set up for viewing the proceedings on a large screen.  It was filled to overflowing as well.

I had arrived early enough to take one of the last places for standing inside the chambers – in the aisle next to the last row of high-backed seats.  I thought of the pews in the Catholic church of my youth as I stood firmly, almost defiantly, and prayed for grace and tolerance.  Though transgender, I remain just old fashioned enough to have wondered if any of the good seated gentlemen would offer me their seat.  None did.

At that very moment I wondered if I had not begun to understand just a glimpse of what Rosa Parks felt as she resolved to take her seat at the front of the bus.  While the opponents wore stickers which implied that LGBT rights are “special rights,” they graphically displayed exactly why they are necessary.  The inequality of the seating arrangement was readily apparent and not lost on many of those standing outside, craning their necks to hear and see the proceedings inside.  Were they not marginalized by the very people who proclaim it is not so?

As the council progressed through its agenda the tension mounted to a palpable level no matter which side of the LGBT rights issue you stood on.  It could be felt collectively.  The mayor came to the matter he correctly surmised we had all come to hear.  The council made and discussed amendments to the pending LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance that proposed to protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation.

The first was the “locker room” amendment proposed with ambivalence and stated with reluctance by one commissioner due to an email he received about a pre-op transwoman in Evergreen, CO who had apparently, yet inadvertently, dropped the towel which covered her genital area while in the sauna, offending another woman.  The amendment would not extend protections to such transwomen in bathrooms, locker rooms or public facilities in which people customarily are nude.

The second amendment was of greater consequence, though not immediately apparent.  It provided that persons who felt they were discriminated against due to their LGBT status would have to first file their claim with the state Human Rights Bureau, and could only file with the city if the state rejected their claim.

Both amendments were adopted, and now came the time for public comment.  As a proponent, I got to speak first.  Here is some of what I said:

I am a civil rights attorney here in Helena.  I am also Transgender, as many of you know. I am anatomically consistent with my appearance in all respects for whatever that is worth to others – I know and am very grateful for what it is worth to me.

I support the ordinance without the “swimming pool”amendment because I have experienced discrimination here in Helena on more than one occasion, although never in the locker room, or bathroom, or anywhere else of that nature – even during the year prior to surgery when I presented full time as a woman, though anatomically still male.

The irony of the position that I find myself in is not lost on me.  Other than undergoing a procedure to correct something that was wrong my entire life,- a procedure that some think is a bit radical, I am a pretty conservative woman – in presentation, dress, style and activities.  I go to church, work here in Helena, shop here, and pay taxes.  I do not drink, smoke or gamble and don’t go with the boys who do.  In fact, I don’t go with boys, but that is another matter.

I am also rather modest & find it difficult in public to talk about, of all places, the bath room, and I wonder what kind of mind conceives of the threat a person such as myself presents in the rest room.  What kind of mind conceives of prurient activities in bath room stalls?  The thought repulses me.  Nonetheless, I can assure you that I (and others I know in this area) have only one interest in the rest room or locker room – relieving myself or changing my clothes

Now I wonder if there is anyone in this room whom I offended when I went to the woman’s rest room or locker room.  No one has ever said a single word about it, nor even cast a cross glance at me.  In fact, in the beginning, I was more afraid of everyone else than they could ever be of me.  For a trans person, the greatest single fear we live with our entire life is being found out – getting “read” in trans parlance.  That fear is so strong, that some people kill themselves or hide in a self constructed box for decades because they are afraid that if people knew they were transsexuals they would be reviled, rejected, scorned and perhaps worse.  Trans people are assaulted every day, and in some cases murdered for trying to overcome their fears and be true to themselves.  That fear is based on actual events – it is real, it is rational and it is pervasive.

On the other hand, when was the last time you saw a man expose himself in a woman’s rest room?  When was the last time you saw an anatomically incorrect person in the locker room in all their glory?  I have not had that experience in the five+ years I have lived and worked in Helena.  I wonder if the sheriff and police chief could enlighten us with the number of calls they have fielded of this nature in the last ten years?

So, I ask you.  Is the fear of males in the woman’s locker room real?  Is it rational?  The reality is that trans people are so afraid of being read, that they are not “passing” in the gender of identity, that they would not dream of exposing themselves until they are anatomically consistent, and would sooner forfeit their life than take that chance.  There may be some men who would do that, but, I assure that their issues are not gender identification dysphoria and the laws are already in place to prosecute them.

I say it again – trans people have by far more to fear from society than any part of society has to fear from them.  It is a public safety issue – and it is the trans people would need protecting.People in Helena are already using the bathrooms and locker rooms where they feel safest and most comfortable.  If a transman or transwoman were to expose him or herself for some prurient interest, the circumstances are amenable to prosecution under the criminal code.  This ordinance does not change any criminal codes (like sexual assault or indecent exposure, i.e. exposure for sexual gratification).  If a crime were to take place, it should be investigated the same way that crimes are investigated currently, and similarly prosecuted.  We can work together as a community to prevent and address crimes, make our city safer, and more just.  We can do the education necessary to make sure that all members of our community feel safe and are able to fully participate. This ordinance is one step in making our community safer and stronger, and reflecting our values of liberty and justice for all.

St Helena Cathedral in Helena, Montana, USA; p...

St Helena Cathedral in Helena, Montana, USA; picture taken from Mount Helena. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe that still.  However, the amendments now threaten to swallow the rule and dissolve any gains we might have made in the effort to end discrimination.  The “locker room” question is a tough issue, and as a former elected official, I have great empathy for the council.  No one should be forced into a position not of their own choosing where they are threatened and afraid; and this cuts both ways.  Imagine the shock a genetic woman might feel as she turns a corner, naked, only to see a pre-op transwoman in all her beautiful glory.  On the other hand, imagine the ridicule and risk to safety for a naked transman in the woman’s locker room, or the risk to safety for the transwoman, both pre and post op in the men’s locker room.  Thus, we have a dilemma.

It seems to me that when faced with such a dilemma that compromise is the only solution.  The compromise I propose is that the “locker room” amendment should be revised to preclude only those with socially inconsistent genitalia from revealing as much, from exposing such inconsistent genitalia.  To be clear, a pre-op transwoman cold be excluded from the female locker room if she exposes her penis, and similarly a transman if he reveals the lack thereof in the male locker room.  I make this suggestion knowing that many trans people will feel deprived from full participation in activities like showering at the gym, or sitting naked in the sauna in their true gender.  While true, I cannot see that it can be helped.  It is a comprise after all, and like any settlement, no one is completely happy.

The second amendment, which I refer to as the HRB amendment, is in fact of greater consequence and should be stricken.  First, the HRB operates under the auspices of the Montana Human Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.  The MHRA affords no LGBT protection and could not be relied upon in pursuing an HRB claim.  The Civil Rights Act provides only speculative relief for the LGBT folks, and a merely persuasive argument for trans folk in employment only in accord with Macy v. Holder, an administrative law opinion rendered by the EEOC which recognized, as a number of federal courts have, a “gender stereotyping” claim under Title VII of the act as a means of sex discrimination for trans people.  Moreover, if the HRB, the defacto discrimination expert accepts an LGBT claim under Title VII, than the city claim will not be necessary.  On the other hand, if the HRB rejects a claim it will not likely be possible because good lawyers would use it as evidence in a motion to dismiss the city claim.  When the HRB says that it could not find reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, it is both compelling and persuasive.  I believe it would be dispositive in this circumstance, rendering the city ordinance a nullity.  Thus, this amendment must be defeated.

If Helena, as a community can iron out these difficulties and pass this ordinance than we will take one step closer to liberty and justice for all.  And I hope that we do because Everybody Matters.