I remember my grandfather as both a brilliant intellectual and a humble, caring man. He grew up in Puerto Rico, and served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war he moved to New York City where he found work as an electroplater at a factory making Goody hair products. He handled toxic chemicals with little to no safety protections. Because of these working conditions, he started attending labor organizing meetings in secret. He was afraid of being branded as a socialist and facing even more discrimination. However, he did find a way to publicly advocate for his fellow workers when he became the head of the local electroplating society.
My grandfather lived at a time when a hard day’s work was rewarded with a fair wage, and he was able to rent a house in Queens, provide for my Grandmother and put my mother through college. He also helped my grandmother, who emigrated from Guatemala, through the arduous process of becoming a U.S. citizen. Over the years my grandfather’s health deteriorated due to industrial toxins in his liver and complications from the malaria that he contracted while serving in the Philippines during WWII. However, he stayed with Goody for 35 years, eventually becoming a respected supervisor. At his retirement he was given an engraved company watch, which was later passed down to me.
After retirement, he used his savings to buy a small plot of land in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. He taught himself everything he needed to design a house, from architecture to plumbing, then worked alongside local Mayan builders to construct it. My grandfather had always demonstrated a compassion for others no matter their differences and wasn’t afraid to cross racial lines, such as his involvement in improving sanitary systems in nearby communities. When my family visited we were always welcomed into houses in nearby villages with open arms. My grandparents’ house was open to all, including LGBTQ individuals, and was a gathering place for local artists and intellectuals. My grandfather inspired me to seek wisdom and justice, and that knowledge must also be accompanied by hard work and tempered with compassion.
Kayley Whalen, Digital Strategies and Social Media Manager, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
*This blog post was written as part of the Jobs With Justice #TheWayTheyWorked story-telling campaign in honor of Labor Day and Grandparents Day. You can read more stories about how our grandparents worked at thewaytheyworked.org
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has announced that early bird registration is now open for the 27th Annual National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. We are expecting more than 3,800 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community leaders and activists from across the country to assemble in Denver, Colorado, on February 4-8, 2015 for the nation’s premier annual organizing and skills-building event for the LGBTQ community and their allies.
“Creating Change offers attendees the chance to engage on a multitude of issues and action – from changing laws to improving lives. For more than a quarter century, the conference has trained over 40,000 activists and community leaders from across the country and elsewhere in the world,” said Sue Hyde, Creating Change Conference director. “The conference brings together pioneers and emerging leaders from diverse communities of the LGBTQ equality movement by cultivating a unique space that enables innovative ideas to be shared, critical skills to be taught, and new friendships to be formed. We’ve made significant gains in our work to secure basic rights for LGBTQ people, but our nation’s promise of full equality is yet to be fulfilled. Our work to create change continues, and along with our coalition partners we’re excited to open registration for 2015’s conference in Denver.”
Creating Change’s Early Bird Registration Rate ($300) is available for all attendees registering before the October 31 deadline. A Presenter rate of $225 is offered to anyone who submits a Request for Proposal (RFP) by the September 30th deadline and a special complimentary rate of $0 is offered for those under 16 and those over 65. A Limited Income and Student rate of $165 is also available for anyone for whom the cost of attendance may be prohibitive.
Included in the cost of registration is admittance to any of our many pre-conference daylong institutes, welcome reception, four dynamic plenary sessions, and over 350 skills-building workshops, presentations, and trainings. Attendees may also choose to engage in the Task Force’s Academy for Leadership and Action sessions, in which our team of Task Force organizers offer trainings and strategy sessions on a range of issues. In addition to its plethora of programming the conference offers attendees the chance to attend receptions, caucuses, film screenings, networking sessions, hospitality suites, interfaith services and much more.
For more information about the conference and to register, please visit www.CreatingChange.org
For media credentials, please contact Jorge Amaro at jamaro@theTaskForce.org
With sweaty palms and an empty stomach, I sat in Representative Frank Lobiondo’s office on Capitol Hill waiting for my appointment to begin. I nervously twiddled my thumbs as I looked around the office filled with South Jersey memorabilia and reminisced about my childhood in Egg Harbor Township. The Congressman has been representing my district for almost as long as I’ve been alive, and I was minutes away from speaking to him about an issue I cared about: Transgender equality. As I sat there, I reviewed my training until I heard:
“Hi, I’m Frank.”
I had never lobbied before, so participating in this year’s Transgender Lobby Day was a first for me. Immediately, I was impressed with how well organized the Lobby Day was. While the actual lobbying took place on Tuesday, July 15 the event was actually two days long. Monday, July 14 was a mini-conference in which different speakers educated activists on best practices. On the second day, over 200 activists from across the country—and even some from outside the U.S. — applied their learned skills to speak with Congressional officials about the need for legislation to protect transgender people.
Beyond its focus on lobbying Congress, Lobby Day itself was an opportunity to build a queer community and a chance to share our stories with one another. It was a space to also express the pain that comes along with queerness, specifically within the trans* people of color community. As I learned firsthand at Lobby Day, while society lumps us all into one category of LGBT, it is important to recognize the subtle differences between each of our distinct identities and also within each of those letters—“L” “G” “B” and “T.” Differences of opinion are not uncommon especially when qualities such as race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status among others are incorporated into the conversation. As Parker Hurley from the Trans People of Color Coalition during Lobby Day said, “We do not exist in single issue movements. We are not single issue people.” These disagreements are hard to avoid in communities with such broken histories – histories that are filled with so much suffering, but together we can move past that pain to build a stronger, more inclusive movement.
As one of the organizers who helped prepare for Lobby Day, I spent many late nights in the Task Force office making hundreds of phone calls and writing countless emails. The hard work continued up until and through Lobby Day itself. The environment behind the scenes was always high energy with no time to even think about slowing down. As participants attended different sessions, other people prepared food, printed handouts, and even continued to secure appointments with Congressional leaders.
I am so grateful for everyone I got to work with for Lobby Day, and want to thank those who gave me the opportunity to help. Thank you to everyone who put in so much hard work to make the Transgender Lobby Day a success. All of the hard work paid off.
Victoria Kim, Creating Change Intern, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Last week I was dispatched to Chattanooga, Tennessee for the fourth LGBTQ ballot measure campaign I’ve worked on since coming to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 2009. But, unlike my time in Pocatello Idaho; Royal Oak, Michigan; and Rochester, Minnesota, the experience of working on the Yes Chattanooga campaign was unique for me because the battleground was my hometown.
The outcome of the campaign was, of course, disappointing – we lost, which means from now on it will be perfectly legal for city workers to be fired or not hired on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Even those who keep their jobs will also now not be able to offer their benefits to their same-sex domestic partners. But, when I really think about it, my overriding feeling is not so much disappointment as confusion.
Of course there are many reasons not to be confused about this outcome – the early polling numbers, the fact that Tennessee arguably has the worst legal environment for LGBTQ people of any state in the US – but what remains befuddling for me is the extent to which this feels contrary to my own experience growing up in Chattanooga and the nearby town of Signal Mountain.
I count myself lucky whenever I tell my story of growing up and coming out. My multiracial family has always been fiercely supportive. My mom has even gone so far as to make transgender justice a part of her work in the world, co-founding a local peer support group and making sure that trans people have access to the mental health provider letters they need to get hormone replacement therapy and surgeries.
Even as a very young child, I felt well-held in Chattanooga. I got to attend a kindergarten and pre-K where my language arts teacher was a gay man who provided me with a role model from a very young age. I met my first gay male friend when I was six years old and the benefits of having another little boy as feminine as I was have undoubtedly stuck with me through today.
Later, when we went to high school, I came out at my all-boys Christian school and never had a lack of guys to pal around with and date. Plus I was able to assemble a group of friends that included lesbian and bi women, trans women and trans guys, as well as all manner of other queers experimenting with a range of articulations of their genders and their desires.
So I think it’s easy to see why I can’t cast Chattanooga as a place entirely unfriendly to LGBTQ people despite this electoral loss. However, many of the city’s queer residents have not enjoyed the same love and support I did. Also, I know firsthand the problems of racism and segregation that Chattanooga continues to struggle with.
And despite our loss, there was incredibly important work accomplished during this campaign to educate residents of Chattanooga about LGBTQ lives. Leading a diverse team of LGBTQ individuals and straight allies from Chattanooga and nearby areas in having conversations with their friends, family members, and strangers at their doors has undeniably changed the culture of Chattanooga for the better. Also, the work done by all the campaign organizers and the field director, Reece Rathgen, truly touched the lives of volunteers like Lee, Ty, and Jill, who learned to take leadership of their own individual liberation. I know that all our collective work left Chattanooga queerer than it was before.
Jack Harrison, E-Learning Manager, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Academy for Leadership and Action
In the wake of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, ignorance and anti-LGBTQ bias led to state legislatures across America passing a myriad of laws criminalizing people living with HIV/AIDS. These laws were based on and furthered misconceptions about HIV transmission. In the decades since these laws were passed, they’ve caused untold amounts of harm by legalizing discrimination and bias against LGBTQ people and people with HIV. While our scientific understanding of the cause and treatment of HIV has changed substantially since the height of the AIDS epidemic, currently nearly two-thirds of states have HIV criminalization laws in place.
Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released new guidelines urging states to reform their criminal codes to reflect current scientific understanding about the transmission of HIV. In its memo to state attorney generals, the DOJ explains the current scientific understanding of transmission risk, tying current science to HIV-specific criminal laws, and urges reforming these laws.
Rather than help people living with HIV find treatment that would help them and at the same time prevent HIV transmission, HIV-specific criminal laws stigmatize HIV positive individuals and forced them to live in fear, and cause others to be afraid of getting tested for HIV. This stigma is compounded for LGBTQ people already facing discrimination, especially trans people and people of color. State laws often criminalize the failure to disclose HIV-positive status to a partner well as behavior which poses almost no risk of HIV transmission, such as spitting or biting. What’s worse is that people charged under these laws are prosecuted regardless of whether HIV was actually transmitted. Additionally, they face lengthy sentences and in several states are required to register as sex offenders.
A groundbreaking report published in May 2014 by the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School, “A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People Living with HIV,” which included policy suggestions from the Task Force, offers additional insight into the problems with HIV-specific criminal laws. It also includes this personal story by David Plunkett:
On September 18, 2006 I was jailed and eventually sentenced to a ten-year state prison term for aggravated assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. According to the county Supreme Court the deadly weapon was my “HIV infected saliva.”… After my arrest I lost many things I had worked hard for: I lost my business, my home, and most importantly my reputation. I have had to start my life all over, and finding employment has been impossible with the nature of the alleged crime…
Simply put, these laws are wrong. Lack of understanding and baseless opinion should never be the leading motivation to criminalize a group of people. As the work continues to repeal these hurtful and ill-conceived laws, the DOJ’s guidelines are a valuable tool for advocates and a step in the right direction.
We at the Task Force welcome DOJ’s new guidelines but know that they are imperfect. For example, many states that don’t have HIV-specific laws do use someone’s HIV status to charge them with crimes such as reckless endangerment or assault for the same behavior (spitting, biting, etc.), yet the DOJ guidance fails to address this issue. Also, the DOJ’s guidance could go further by calling for an end to all HIV-related felony prosecutions.
This week AIDS and HIV researchers and activists from around the globe are gathering in Melbourne, Australia to convene at the annual International AIDS Conference. As we look forward to the conference, and mourn the tragic loss of key scientists responsible for cutting edge HIV research in the Malaysia Airlines Flight 7, it is important to reflect on the unfinished work on HIV that lies ahead.
Yesterday’s federal court decision on the death penalty was victory in the fight for universal human rights. U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled that the California death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. And this is indeed the truth. Since 1977 California has sentenced over 900 people to die; however, more of those inmates have died in the limbo of death row than have actually been executed. California has 22% of the death row inmates in the United States, over 700 people. All 700 are victims of a broken system in the most heavily incarcerated society in the world. Race, gender, class and sexual orientation are also factors in the likelihood of receiving the death penalty. Specifically speaking, Black & Latino working-class people and queer women are disproportionately represented in death row populations, which makes it clear why it’s so important for LGBT and civil rights organizations to work together on this issue. This system is broken, and it impacts people like me and my loved ones the most.
This court decision is particularly important to me, not simply because I personally oppose the death penalty, but also because I was especially lucky in 2012 to be able to work towards a California without the death penalty. That year, a broad coalition of organizations, which included the Task Force worked on a ballot measure to eliminate the death penalty in California. Through our work on the ground, I met many former death row inmates who were falsely accused of a crime. Listening to these heartbreaking stories of cruelty and injustice was a transformative experience that strengthened my conviction. And while we changed many hearts and minds on this issue, we were unable to successfully win in the ballot box. Yet I still believe it is well past time for our country eliminate the death penalty.
It is the Task Force’s commitment to doing intersectional work that placed me in a context where I could work for a change that is so important to the liberation of queer & trans people of color. It is my sincere hope that in the wake of this decision, Californians pressure the state Attorney General’s office not to appeal this decision. The state of California should not have the power to decide who lives and who dies. It is my dream that one day we can live in a world that educates and empowers people instead of setting them up for a lifetime in prison. I am sure that yesterday’s decision is a step in that direction.
by Malcolm Shanks, Organizer, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Yesterday, as I heard the story of Aurora Adams, a trans woman dealing with the stresses of being who she really is in a world that ridicules and denigrates her at every turn, I gave thanks to Minnesota Public Radio for having the insight and courage to air this report and spread a glimmer more of attention on my community which is so misunderstood or ignored: Stress, discrimination makes LGBT community more vulnerable to health problems, suicide
Aurora shared with Minnesota Public Radio her struggles with years of depression and anxiety–including a suicide attempt–that continue to take a toll on her mental health. Aurora’s situation is not unique. I know too many trans women, trans men and gender non-conforming individuals – young and old – who can echo her story or relate experiences or treatments that are even worse. Of the over 6,450 transgender respondents to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 41% of respondents reported they had attempted suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.
The difficulty with these individual tales of gender discrimination, distressing as they are, is that policy makers and rule setters demand data to back up their efforts to create change in the way trans people are treated.
Until the publication of “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey” by The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2011, few statistics about the difficult, sometimes overwhelming, challenges faced by trans folk were available to help shape public understanding and policy.
Valuable as this resource is it needs to be supplemented by more research and studies on the variety of challenges that the trans community faces on a daily basis. Health and health care related issues would probably top the list of research priorities but social issues such as violence against trans persons; bullying, safe school environments; appropriateness of social services; employment opportunities and work site policies; needs of at-risk trans people of color – the litany of research opportunities is long – and unfilled.
As a trans woman turning 80, I am concerned about the lack of knowledge by health care professionals, social service agencies, senior care providers and faith communities around the aging needs of trans people (religious denominations are zealous gate keepers to a great number of the senior care facilities across the nation).
Many of the concerns we face are similar to those impacting the cisgender segment of the old population. But among our paramount concerns are our isolation and lack of support systems plus the fear of how, where and by whom we will be treated when we need the care of others.
Also, a majority of old trans people live in poverty – due in large part to the lack of employment opportunities and job security during our working days – thus our access to housing and health care is often limited or jeopardized.
Aurora’s story on Minnesota Public Radio was an important, valuable glimpse into the lives of trans people. But we need more than occasional glimpses, we need appropriate studies and research that will allow for good laws, public policies and rules that will lift the lives of trans people out of the shadows of misunderstanding and allow us to shine as the whole and vibrant people we are.
by Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force