The Creating Change conference is such a unique experience. I’m so glad I had the opportunity this year in Denver to engage with so many incredible advocates from all over the country. The rich breadth and depth of the conference participants’ expertise was on full display during a workshop I presented called “Hack the Law: Using Policy for Change.”
I am a Senior Policy Analyst for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, and I created the workshop along with Meghan Maury and Patrick Paschall from the National LGBTQ Task Force and Alison Gill from the Human Rights Campaign. The purpose of the workshop was to talk about our work on state and federal administrative regulatory advocacy, to hear what participants were working on in their cities and states, and to work with them through an activity to figure out what needs to be done after an LGBTQ non-discrimination law is passed to ensure it’s properly implemented.
To be perfectly honest, prior to our presentation, my co-panelists and I were a bit apprehensive that there just wouldn’t be a whole lot of interest in regulatory advocacy, and that we’d be having a conversation with ourselves in a near empty room. I’m going to take this opportunity to apologize for underestimating the nerdiness of LGBTQ advocates, particularly those that attend Creating Change. We not only had a full room, we had folks sitting on the floor. Meghan introduced herself to each and every participant in the room and was an absolutely phenomenal moderator. I can’t stress enough how fantastic the participants were. They asked many thoughtful and insightful questions, so that instead of just talking at them, we were able to have a two-way conversation about tactics and strategies and all the different issue areas people in the room were working on to advance LGBTQ rights, from police profiling, to healthcare, to immigration, to civil rights. I even reconnected with a college friend I hadn’t seen in years!
After the presentation, participants split up into groups to develop a regulatory advocacy strategy to ensure a hypothetical local LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance would be properly implemented. The ideas generated were really creative and interesting, including ways to get community buy-in and direction for shaping the ordinance’s implementation. We traded contact information with the workshop participants, and now I can’t wait to hear more about the regulatory advocacy work they’ll all be doing in the future!
Sharita M. Gruberg, Senior Policy Analyst for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.
Creating Change 2015 was my third year coming to the conference. I am a filmmaker and activist; and my documentaries have shed light on subjects of injustice, human rights, gender and leadership for the whole spectrum of diverse communities that encompasses our LGBTQ family.
What attracted to me the conference was the creation of a day-long Latino Institute. Having been in the programming committee for the last three years has opened up my eyes to a myriad of other very particular issues that face us queer Latinos including immigration, violence, faith and family acceptance.
Family acceptance and support for me and my queer Latino brothers and sisters is the key to empowerment and social change. It has also allowed me to meet some of my heroes and role models including veteran activists such as Dolores Huerta, Roland Palencia, Valerie Spencer, Bamby Salcedo and so many others young and old alike.
This year was particularly special for me since I brought a piece of queer history to the fore and proudly presented a rough cut screening of my newest documentary in progress, “Nelly Queen: The Life and Times of Jose Julio Sarria.”
Jose Sarria was a defiant and notorious civil rights activist from San Francisco. He was the first openly gay man to run for public office in the USA in 1961. When he ran for city supervisor he got nearly 6,000 votes. He didn’t win but created the gay voting bloc that paved the way for Harvey Milk to become our first LGBTQ elected public official.
Jose passed away in 2013 at the grand old age of 90 after having founded many organizations including the Imperial Court System, which cemented his legacy as a LGBTQ role model and as a pioneer in our movement.
To learn more about “Nelly Queen: The Life and Times of Jose Julio Sarria,” please check out the following website: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/nelly-queen-the-life-and-times-of-jose-sarria/x/1953968
By Guest Blogger Dante Alencastre, Filmmaker
While messaging on marriage and child rearing has often centered on a heteronormative model, LGBTQ families come in infinite varieties. Increasingly, people are willing to discuss relationship and parenting arrangements that do not fit into a traditional mold. Alternative family models confront issues of race, legal protections, working with straight allies, and non-traditional parenting.
Additionally, there are lingering issues with stigma surrounding transgender individuals in mixed orientation relationships and even just coming out again as not just LGBTQ, but as being in a relationship that doesn’t fit within societal expectations while raising children.
At the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change Conference in Denver we (Andrew Solomon and Julie Childs) will be hosting a panel on Friday, Feb 6 at 3pm titled “The Artifice of the Nuclear Family” , which is a storytelling session where we explore alternative family models and non-traditional parenting. The inception of the session is rooted deeply in the anguish you experience as a queer person navigating through a world clinging to the ideology of two-parent marriages as the only acceptable ideal.
Here is a little preview:
“When I was growing up, I believed I had to make a tragic choice between being true to myself (by acknowledging that I was gay) and having a family (which gay people mostly didn’t or couldn’t do then). Time showed me that this was a false opposition. But even as I understood that, I didn’t imagine how many new possibilities there were—not merely that my husband and I could be parents, but that we could enter a more complex world. He has two biological children with some lesbian friends in Minnesota; I have a daughter with a college friend; my husband and I have a son who is with us full-time, of whom I am the biological father.
So we have four children in our orbit, all of whom call us Daddy and Papa. As I sometimes say, we have five parents of four children in three states. The liberation from a narrow idea of family into a sweeping and encompassing one has been the revelation of my life. Love does not have to occupy the narrow parameters with which I grew up. We can instead benefit from the quiet radicalism that has allowed us to invent family anew, which has, for all its challenges, allowed us to come to a fresh definition of joy itself.”
“When I came out to my father in 1996 he was openly disappointed that I would not get married or have children and that my life would be hard, because I am queer. I manifested his outlook on my future and applied it to my life.
In 1998 Matthew Shepard was brutally killed and the incident further endorsed the idea of a life of turbulence and upset for young queer people. Ironically, that same year I met someone that I admired. Someone with deep passion for the values I held dear in the world. He and I decided to have a child together in a non-romantic relationship.
And so we set our course, but like most plans that we make in life the universe would shift. I met my wife shortly thereafter and together the three of us started a family. We parent our two daughters with their father in a partnership. The beginning of our journey was marred with skepticism and even outright negativity from family and friends who destined our definition of family to fail. In 2004 we welcomed our first daughter and two years later our second and then we got married, striking two things off my dad’s list.
Our family is not built around the premise of hetero-normativity. Yeah, we look different. And we are. We are happy together and raising two amazing children that have three parents, supported extended family and an abundance of friends. Life is messy, imperfect and can’t be compartmentalized into neat little boxes. We are pioneers on a mission to show the world that the possibilities of are limitless and something as dear as family is for YOU to define. It’s okay to be unconventional, be you.”
For more information about the Creating Change Conference and to download the program, please go to: http://www.creatingchange.org
by Julie Childs, Special Assistant to Executive Director Rea Carey, National LGBTQ Task Force
Yesterday marked the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. But abortion is still not a reality for millions of women, especially those with limited economic means. There is a big difference between something being legal and it being accessible.
For the women living in one of the 87% of counties in the U.S. that have no abortion provider, access to abortion still remains elusive, and may even be altogether impossible. Without local service providers, these women must travel long distances to get the medical services they require—an expensive, time-consuming undertaking.
Take, for instance, a woman living in the city of Amarillo, Texas. Amarillo has a population of nearly 200,000 people, about 25% of whom are not insured, and it has no abortion providers. The nearest provider is in Dallas, Texas. By car, Amarillo is five and a half hours from Dallas, but for the many who have to travel by bus, the trip will cost nearly $200 and take an average of 8 hours. On top of that, a woman seeking services needs to comply with numerous Texas laws including undergoing mandatory counseling, hearing her ultrasound described in detail, waiting 24 hours for the service, and notifying her parents if under age 18. Once she meets all those requirements, and either pays for it out of pocket or with insurance, she can finally have her procedure—and prepare for return trip that could take up to 8 hours.
This very limited access to abortion for low-income women is becoming further restricted across the country. In the four years since the Affordable Care Act was passed, state legislatures have enacted 231 abortion restrictions—more than the total number of abortion restrictions enacted from 2000-2010. So, what kinds of bills are we talking about?
One of the most alarming bills came from Texas, passed in 2013. The law, SB5, made Texas one of only nine states to ban abortion after 20 weeks. It required “oversight” of over-the-counter abortion-inducing drugs, required all abortion clinics to meet the same standards as other surgical healthcare facilities and hospitals, and required doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The law imposed these strict regulations on abortion clinics, resulting in the closing of all but eight clinics, before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of the law. Why?
The Court viewed portions of this law as a thinly veiled attempt to make abortions inaccessible in Texas. Given that abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures for women in the U.S.–with less than 0.5% of women experiencing complications, and with a risk of death one-tenth that of childbirth –the Court recognized that the legal requirement and its $1.5 million price tag for facility upgrades were not meant to improve the safety of women.
The next law that comes to mind is particularly hard to stomach. According to an Alabama law, minors seeking an abortion without parental consent can actually be put on trial by their fetus. Alabama law requires minors seeking to bypass the parental consent for an abortion to obtain it from the court system—this isn’t unique to Alabama; about 38 states require parental consent and may or may not have a bypass process. However, what is unique to Alabama is that as of last February, HB494 enables the court to appoint an attorney to “represent the unborn child,” by calling witnesses and arguing against the woman seeking an abortion. This is a violation of the basic premise of Roe v. Wade and ACLU has filed a suit to litigate this matter.
These are just a few examples of the laws states are passing. These laws are clogging up our legislative processes while trying to undermine a federally protected right.
Meanwhile, we still lack mandatory sex education in 28 states and mandatory contraception education in 32 states. Contraceptive coverage has expanded dramatically, but so too have exemptions—20 states have exemptions from the mandate.
At the federal level, we have an uphill battle. First, we must continue to push for repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits use of federal funds for abortion and disproportionally harms low income women. And unsurprisingly, less than one month into the new session, House leadership has already introduced two abortion bills. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which further prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions passed 239-179 yesterday on January 22, 2015. The other bill was the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks, unless the life of the mother is physically endangered, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest (which has been reported to police). However, the vote for this bill was canceled after women House Republican members withdrew support for the measure.
So here we are, 42 years later, and during his State of the Union address, President Obama said, “We still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.”
We’d like to believe we agree on this, but the numerous barriers that exist seem to indicate otherwise. There are at least 231 reasons from the past four years to believe the debate is still strong.
Public Policy and Government Affairs, National LGBTQ Task Force
On a summer day when I was around ten years old, my aunt and uncle walked into our house and plunked down a dark grey binder with four capital letters in white: “GMHC.” In small lettering below, it spelled out the acronym: “Gay Men’s Health Crisis.” I don’t remember what the binder contained, but I do remember how I felt when I read the cover. Scared. Angry. Hopeful. Grateful. I knew immediately that it had to do with AIDS, I hated that I didn’t understand what was going on, and I was angry that it didn’t seem like the adults did either. At the same time, I was happy that we were admitting it was a crisis, and that there was at least one whole binder full of everyone’s best guess at how to approach it.
When I was a kid and a teenager, HIV and AIDS felt urgent and omnipresent. For gay and bisexual men, transgender women, and IV drug users, it almost felt as if you were just waiting for the day when you got your diagnosis. There wasn’t really any other conceivable path. Every time you tested negative, it was like you’d gotten a reprieve. As friends, family, and lovers got sick, we felt devastating sadness, survivor’s guilt, and overwhelming hopelessness.
Today, we observe the 26th World AIDS Day and much of the urgency and hopelessness we felt about HIV/AIDS two and a half decades ago has eased. Progress in HIV treatment means that the life expectancy for people living with HIV is almost the same as for people living without HIV. Studies show that daily PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) use lowers the risk of contracting HIV by up to 92%.
As exciting as these developments are, there’s a significant negative impact connected to the loss of urgency and our community’s resulting failure to maintain the same level of education and advocacy. According to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, gay and bisexual men are now less likely to get tested as often as advised – seven in ten have been tested at some point in their lives (which leaves 30% who have never been tested), but only 30% have been tested in the last year. This isn’t an indicator of irresponsible behavior. Instead, it’s a reflection of systemic failures.
More than 1.2 million people in the United States are currently living with HIV and AIDS—and about 15% of those aren’t aware of their status. In 2011, gay and bisexual men accounted for over half of all new AIDS diagnoses in the U.S., yet more than half of gay and bisexual men say that a doctor has never recommended they get tested for HIV. Six in ten say they rarely or never talk about HIV when they visit their doctor. The numbers for people of color and transgender women are even starker.
At this year’s U.S. Conference on AIDS, I attended a session about how to establish stronger ties between HIV/AIDS organizations and LGBTQ organizations. While the participants recognized the shared history of the movements, it was clear that the two had developed along distinctly different paths. The separation has contributed to backslides we’ve witnessed in testing and new infection rates.
To be clear, I’m ecstatic that there’s reason for hope, and for a decreased sense of anxiety among those at highest risk for transmission of HIV. The fear, incomprehension, and despair we felt in the 80s and 90s was abhorrent. Still, we can’t let complacency translate into a failure to educate our community and ourselves about the continued risk of transmission as well as the current landscape of treatment and prevention.
The Crisis is still a Crisis.
Two decades ago we couldn’t imagine a world free of AIDS. Today, the possibility of a world without new HIV infections feels only slightly outside our reach. I feel an immense amount of privilege knowing that I work for an organization that encourages me to carry on the work of my aunt and uncle and a generation of other advocates. For more on how the National LGBTQ Task Force continues to engage in this fight, as well as a glimpse into her work doing street outreach in the late 80s and early 90s, check out our Deputy Executive Director, Darlene Nipper, speaking with Michael Kaplan of AIDS United here:
I hope you will stand with us as we refocus the movement on this issue, partner with groups like AIDS United, and continue to create the types of change that will have a lasting impact on the fight against HIV/AIDS.
by Meghan Maury, National LGBTQ Task Force Policy Counsel
guest post by Monica Roberts:
Today is the 15th anniversary of the Transgender Day of Remembrance(TDOR). TDOR was conceived by Gwen Smith in response to the murder of African-American trans woman Rita Hester on November 28, 1998, and Hester’s subsequent mis-gendering in gay and straight Boston media.
As of this writing, Hester’s killer has yet to be apprehended. Smith organized a vigil that happened in San Francisco and Boston in 1999, and it didn’t take long for TDOR to go national and eventually international.
TDOR 2014 finds me as one of the people still around that noted when the initial TDOR stated in 1999. I have participated in TDOR events in Long Island, NY, Louisville, San Antonio, and Houston, and I have seen the event grow substantially over the past 15 years.
TDOR is a time to remember our lost trans brothers and trans sisters that were tragically taken away from us from November 21 of the previous calendar year to November 20 of this year.
One of the things that really angered me this year was that all 11 trans people we lost in the United States were trans women of color. One of our lost sisters, from Brazil, was just 8 years old. Many of our fallen sisters are predominately POC under age 40, and Brazil continues to be unfortunately the world leader in trans murders.
But to shift back to the TDOR: it is an opportunity for the trans community to raise awareness that we exist and that these murders are happening. It gives us an opportunity to partner with our allies, community build, grieve for our dead, and steel ourselves for the ongoing task to ensure that we do the necessary work to make future TDOR’s unnecessary. Many locales also wrap trans educational events around the TDOR memorials. Some are sponsored by churches, or take place on college campuses.
The work that we need to do to create that better world that will hopefully make Transgender Day of Remembrances unnecessary is to educate people about trans lives.
We must advocate for trans human rights protective laws at the local, state and federal level to drive home the message that we are part of this community too. We must agitate for effective policing when our people are murdered. We must push for swift capture of the perpetrators of anti-trans violence, and when they are captured by law enforcement, punishing them for hate crimes. We must educate the law enforcement community how to respectfully treat deceased and living trans people. And we must also insist from the media respectful treatment of our deceased brothers and sisters as they cover these stories.
TDOR events are not just for the dead and all the people who loved and treasure their memories. They are more for the living. The Transgender Day of Remembrance reminds us on one level that there but for the grace of God go us, and that we never forget the people whose lives were tragically taken. It also is a powerful exhortation to do all that we can in conjunction with our allies to advance the human rights of the trans community at large and make a better world for ours and future generations of trans people.
by Monica Roberts, Native Houstonian, proud Texan writer, award winning blogger and civil rights activist fighting to make the world a better place for all. You can find more of her writing at her blog TransGriot. Also, follow her on Twitter @TransGriot.
“How could anyone ever tell you , you were anything less than beautiful; how could anyone ever tell you, you were less than whole….”
With the words of Libby Roderick’s lovely and poignant anthem playing in the background, I spent last evening completing my PowerPoint presentation for tonight’s Transgender Day of Remembrance service in Minneapolis, an event held in locations across the country each year on November 20. On this day we gather as a community to acknowledge the humanness of our trans brothers and sisters, and to mourn those who’ve died from anti-transgender violence.
This year there are 81 people we will be memorializing – 81 trans people from 8 to 55 years old – who lost their lives just for being their beautiful selves, just for being their whole person.
I have convened this particular TDOR event for the past 15 years and I am always struck by how difficult, yet powerful this gathering is.
Why have thousands of trans and trans allies gathered in public squares, churches, government buildings across the globe to for the past 16 years for this day of remembrance?
To me, the answer lies in the short snippets of information we have about each of these trans victims as we listen to the reading of their names.
For some we have a few brief notes and newspaper accounts about their life and passing; for others we have just a few sentences. Many died in horrendous fashion laid out for us with graphic descriptions.
There was Betty Skinner, a 52-year-old disabled trans woman from Cleveland who on December 4, 2013 was killed by blunt force trauma to the head; and a day later in the same city, Brittany Stergis, a 22-year old African-American trans woman, was shot in the head.
And then there was Alex, an 8-year-old child beaten to death by the father for refusing to get a hair cut, for liking women’s clothes and for enjoying dancing. This is just a brief example of the brutality that these 81 individuals had to endure at the hands of their killers.
Even sadder are those who died alone and unknown. While we know how they were killed, we know nothing at all about their lives and aspirations, except that they were murdered for being trans – for being their whole selves.
“How could anyone ever tell you , you were anything less than beautiful; how could anyone ever tell you, you were less than whole….”
However, rather than immobilizing us with sadness, I have found the Transgender Day of Remembrance to be a catalyst for our community.
Yes, we cry tears and hug each other for comfort. But we also walk away stronger for the sense of community that we have experienced, more committed to take action – in our own ways – to honor the lives we have lost and to also make our trans communities more visible and more secure.
Many of us are are called to take to the streets to take action to stop these senseless murders, to voice our indignation and ensure our voices are heard – heard by the systems and cultures that must change before these senseless killings cease. The National LGBTQ Task Force has been working mobilize and coordinate transgender activists through our #StopTransMurders campaign we launched this past September. As part of this campaign, we supported the first-ever National #TransLivesMatter Day of Action held earlier this week on November 18. Taking action also means working from the inside to change the systems and cultures that oppress transgender people.
No matter how you choose to take action, let your energies, voices and words be translated into programs that will make our lives known and understood. Find a venue where your passion for trans equality can have an impact whether that is direct service, political advocacy, faith work, education, or other venues.
“We will remember” is what we say in unison in our Twin Cities TDOR gathering in response to the reading of each name. It is both a literal and figurative answer to each of the tragedies just recalled for the participants.
It is a literal expression that comes to life in the way we take these lives and tragedies into our hearts, and let them guide us in our work for trans equality in the places where we live, work, play, pray and/or gather for community.
Come join us – find the Transgender Day of Remembrance in your community (http://tdor.info/) and participate – then take action.
How could anyone ever tell you
You were anything less than beautiful?
How could anyone ever tell you
You were less than whole?
How could anyone fail to notice
That your loving is a miracle?
How deeply you’re connected to my soul?
by Barbara Satin, National LGBTQ Task force Assistant Faith Work Director