The Challenge

fannie-lou-hamer-activist-nobodys-free-until-everybodysOkay, my LGBTQ and sex positive friends and allies:

This is your call to action.  Maybe you’ve been burning with anger, or immobilized by fear. Maybe you just don’t want to think about political stuff at all — jeez, I know I don’t.  I’m not a policy wonk, and while business-as-usual hasn’t worked out that well for me as a disabled person, I’ve survived.

But the battleground is set, and it’s on the edge of a volcano. We hear the ground rumbling underneath us.  It’s more heated right now than I can remember anytime in my life — and I’m in my fifth decade. The fight for human rights feels more urgent to me now than anything since Stonewall, since the fight against AIDS in the 1980s & 1990s, since the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, since the rallying cry around the death of Matthew Shepard or any of the myriads who’ve died for the crime of being different.

In the last five years we’ve seen the LGBTQ  community gain some amazing strides: the legalization of marriage nation-wide, the Obama administration interpretation of anti-discrimination law, some strong moves forward and statements by cities, states and school districts in support of their LBGTQ population.

We have met these changes with triumph and with regret that they are still so little and long overdue.  To us, it is obvious that all human beings must have the equal rights to access to love, security, housing, education, and jobs.

For the most vocal of the Trump supporters, no.  The election results were not a surprise to me, nor to many of my friends who’ve lived in rural America.  Anyone who is poor could probably see this coming. We know what shadows lie in the system of business-as-usual, and what has to be sacrificed to keep our awareness down, to keep from being ground under its wheels.

Throughout this election year and especially after the election results, it has become more obvious to us that people are tribal. We’ve noticed that many people’s definition of tribe can’t encompass an entire country, and maybe ours can’t either. But those of us who have been in this fight, whether for years or decades, need to redouble our efforts to put the good for the whole country over the good for just the people we like.

And how do we do that?

We need to challenge the idea that any life can be disposable. We need to broaden our perspective.  We have to struggle even harder for our own rights while simultaneously insuring that the rights of other people aren’t sacrificed for our security and peace of mind. Not in this country, and not on this planet.

We need to stay informed. And we need to get our information from good sources. Read many sources not just a few.  Cruise the news. Try checking out The Guardian or another foreign paper to get news on US politics.  Don’t rely on the same sources every day. And definitely get on the mailing lists for your own representatives to stay apprised of what they are working to do.

We need to stop vilifying people.  We can despise actions without despising the humanity of the people who perpetuate them.  We aim for understanding of those who are our worst critics. Tha

We need to commit to what we can actually do.  It’s easy to get swept up in post-election fervor and it’s not hard for most people to participate in a nonviolent protest. But if I’m agoraphobic, that’s not going to be my style of activism.

What small thing can I actually do to change the world today?  Would my efforts be more useful at a local level or state level? Am I more of an online activist or a call-your-senator type?  Maybe I’m a person wh0 believes that meditation or prayer has a place in activism.  Or maybe my Vietnamese next door neighbor needs me to go with her to Social Security to make sure that communication lines stay clear because she doesn’t speak English well.

I remember why I left the peace movement in the late 1980’s — I reached a wall. I felt I’d done what I could and I didn’t have any more to give. I was angry all the time, and some part of me felt that I couldn’t be marching for peace until I had more peace with who I was. Sometimes you need to change the world and sometimes you need to let the world change you.

The Challenge

I completely understand the desire to hide away somewhere peaceful or to Netflix out for awhile — and there’s a place for that. But don’t let that be where you stay.  Make a small amount of time for political action — an hour a week, or a phone call a day. Pick an organization working for change and meet with them in your city.  Because we really can’t afford to numb out all the time. We have a clear example of where inaction leads us. Now let’s see what we can really do.

 

(Value added: LGBT rights by country or territory)

 

Case Study: Arkansas

“…we have a long way to go for actual equality and justice, not only in the law, but in the eyes of the people. For now, we’ll start with the law.”

I’m looking at transgender rights and where we are in each state with the fight to get rights for transgender people. It’s a struggle that is just starting to garner support from the public in some places– and a very hot issue right now.  Even in states where there are ample protections in place for sexual orientation, there are still no protections for gender orientation.

In my research I’m looking at three areas:  does the state have protections against discrimination by gender orientation? Does the state have protections for hate crimes against transgender people? And, what does it require to get a birth certificate name changed.  But I keep bumping into a more interesting story.

Take Arkansas. Please. (Rimshot.)

Arkansas is a perfect example as to where the controversial issue is right now for most of the country in early 2016.  Now, sexual activity between people of the same gender has been legal for — gosh! — about 11 years now, although there are still no legal protections against discrimination of gay people, let alone any protections for hate crimes.  So you know that transgender rights and protections aren’t going to be an easy sell.  I mean, it’s the South, right?

But along comes the Fayetteville City Council with their highfalutin espresso drinks and liberal ways.  In 2014, they passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.  That’s less than two years ago.  Lest you think that Fayetteville is stockpiled with extra radical sex positive people, though, the voters of Fayetteville defeated the ordinance that December by 51%.  That’s a mighty close margin.

Now on high alert, the state Senate met and passed the Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act in February of 2015.  That’s a little over a year ago. Why it’s called an “Improvement Act” and what it has to do with “Intrastate Commerce” is a mystery we’ll leave to brighter political minds than mind.  This is an act that prohibits “any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state from adopting or enforcing an ordinance, resolution, rule, or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law”.

It makes an exception for employees of a local government.  So basically it’s saying, go ahead Fayetteville City Council.  Do your thing and make your statements. But they’ll never be law. This Act passed both the state Senate (24-8, 2 abstentions) and the state House of Representatives (58-21, with 21 either abstaining or just voting present).

It’s worth noting that it passed without the signature of Governor Asa Hutchinson who seems okay despite being an old privileged white guy.  He made his name early in his career by prosecuting a white supremacist organization and more recently came out in favor of medical marijuana use.

While the Improvement Act was being hotly debated on the state Senate floor, the Eureka Springs City Council had their own ideas in mind.  The very same day the Act passed the state Senate and went to the state’s House of Representatives the Eureka Springs City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In April 2015, the board in Little Rock voted in protections for transgender people.  In June 2015 that pesky Fayetteville City Council passed a new ordinance with protections for transgender people.

It’s looking good, right?

Not so much. On September 1, the Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued a statement that the Fayetteville ordinance was in violation of state law and unenforceable. Not to be squelched, the Fayetteville city council sent the ordinance to the voters, and this time it was upheld by 52% of the voters.

Arkansas is a microcosm of the kind of battle most states are having with transgender protections. People in those states just don’t want to give up their right to discriminate against deviants and use a bathroom in which presumably all the other people share the same plumbing that they do.

California, by contrast, has had anti-discrimination protections for gender orientation since 2004.

So there’s hope, but we have a long way to go for actual equality and justice, not only in the law, but in the eyes of the people.  For now, we’ll start with the law.

This piece is Part One of a series on Transgender Rights.  If you want to help along the causes of social justice, please contact your state senators and representatives, and your federal senators and representatives, and let them know this issue matters to you.  

— Virginia Lore is a cisgender woman who volunteers with The Center for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle, WA.