October started on a high note, with two different organizations providing important legal services to and for transgender people and our community having important events in Manhattan on the same evening on Wednesday, Oct. 4. I guess it is either feast of famine, as I received invites to Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) and the Williams Institute.
The TDLEF is committed to ending discrimination based upon gender identity and expression and to achieving equality for transgender people through public education, test-case litigation, direct legal services, and public policy efforts.
The event was Victories and Vision, at the Chelsea home of Kevin Jennings. Kevin is the founder of the national Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) that cultivated many thousands of gay-straight school clubs around the country. In 2009 he began service in the Obama Administration as the Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools and was sometimes referred to as the “Safe Schools Czar”! The transgender folks running TLDEF today are personal friends for whom I have a great deal of respect and both my partner and I actively support their organization that effectively hones in on helping trans people. Although Jennings and I have been at several events over the years, we do not really know each other and I would have liked to thank such a high profile gay ally for his support and perhaps remind him that in 2002, national GLSEN was not perceived as an overt advocate for trans students.
Pretty much at the same time in mid-town, I received from a great ally an invite to “Join the Williams Institute and fellow donors and supporters for an intimate evening of conversation and cocktails with our new Executive Director Jocelyn Samuels and special guest Hon. Paul Feinman of the NY Court of Appeals”. Williams Institute — A think tank at UCLA Law dedicated to conducting “rigorous, independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.”
My partner, a gay woman, and I felt both were very important and decided to split up to attend each event. Since she most likely knew more folks attending the TLDEF event, it was the best choice. It’s also important to show gay support for a trans event.
For me, The Williams event would be better, as it was a more intimate venue, I would probably be the only trans person in attendance and that I wanted to meet Jocelyn Samuels their new Executive Director and was hoping to hear that they would be continuing to expand their focus and work on issues directly affecting Transgender people. Trans people need to show up!
The new E.D. Samuels has a very impressive resume having served as the Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “where she oversaw civil rights enforcement with respect to hospitals, healthcare providers, insurers, and human services agencies. In that role, Samuels spearheaded development of regulations implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act — the first broad-based federal law to prohibit sex discrimination in federally-funded healthcare. The regulations that she developed represented a groundbreaking development for LGBT equality, protecting LGBT individuals by prohibiting discrimination based on sex stereotyping and gender identity.” She has a very strong background in civil rights for LGBT people and women!
When she spoke to the gathering she specifically mentioned transgender specific and trans inclusive subjects that I had hoped to hear and the host was specific in mentioning that the audience was trans inclusive. Besides a top state Court justice, there were N.Y. State and City elected officials and staffers in attendance who were great allies whom I engaged.
October 4 was a very positive day, we got home later that evening comparing very positive notes, feeling upbeat and then . . . The very next day Jefferson Beauregard Sessions did his evil. . . another Trump day that will live in infamy!
UPDATE: Justice Department reverses stance on policy protecting transgender workers
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has issued a memo saying that the Justice Department will no longer argue that transgender people are protected against workplace discrimination by existing civil rights law. The memo reverses an Obama administration policy that said bias against transgender individuals was a form of sex discrimination, thus entitling them to protections laid out in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status,” Sessions wrote.
As we all should know that there is no federal law explicitly prohibiting discriminating against transgender people in the workplace. However, multiple federal court cases have interpreted bias against transgender individuals as a form of sex discrimination.
Sessions’ memo is the Trump administration’s latest attack to nullify the civil rights policies enacted in the Obama era.
Do elections have consequences? How many transpeople and their friends enabled Trump?
Against the backdrop of Trump and Sessions, in New Jersey, The week did finish up on a positive note with a very successful first ever LGBT Health Conference on Friday which had a very strong trans presence in the organizing and presenting and attendance.
Because of the new Trump policy that “Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs . . . It encompasses religious observance and practice . . . no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law.”
I joined a press conference that Health Conference partner Garden State Equality quickly organized during the event to speak out against the latest attack on our most vulnerable!
“Make no mistake, this license to discriminate promotes widespread, state-sanctioned, taxpayer-funded discrimination,” Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino said.
“I think it’s just throwing red meat to the base because nothing else has been delivered on. This is easy to deliver on, you can just roll back these protections,” said Assemblyman Tim Eustace.
“We’re all the same. We get cancer. We get diabetes like anybody else, so why are we going to be treated differently? Because of our sexual orientation and gender identity? No,” said Jackie Baras, a nurse at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerset. Jackie has been one of the prime moving forces to set up PROUD Family Health — the first specialized primary care center for the LGBT community, blazing a trail other N.J. providers are beginning to follow.
What makes this so exciting is that RWJ is now RWJ/St. Barnabas a merger of two large statewide hospital systems and there is a proactive effort as the systems integrate to educate the staff and culture to respect transgender patients. This is being done as well with the direct affiliation with Rutgers Medical School to educate and include.
Congressman Frank Pallone D NJ-6 was in attendance and spoke. Frank Pallone has been a consistent champion for full and inclusive LGBT Equality!
Rutgers Law Professor Christina Ho said LGBT health care is under attack in the courts where religion is being used to challenge nondiscrimination laws.
I was on a panel with another trans woman and a gay man talking about coming out to medical providers and our challenges. It was an opportunity to educate!
This conference proves New Jersey is on the forefront of getting it right for LGBT people seeking equality. This November we have a statewide election here in N.J. as well as Virginia, if we can flip the Governor in N.J. and hold the legislature, and in Virginia if they can hold the Governor and flip the legislature, I know we can make real progress and help ourselves!
What’s next? A real National Transgender Rights Political Action Fund?