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
A driver’s license is a big deal. And not just in that “I was 16 once” sort of way. A license is important for many things—including the simple fact that you need it to legally drive anywhere. Whether to school, work, or the grocery store, public transit isn’t always a feasible option depending on where you live. A license is also necessary for opening a bank account, checking in at a hospital or hotel, purchasing auto insurance, going to events that have age restrictions, and more. A license is a central part of functioning in daily life, and for Oregon’s 3.9 million residents, it is a basic necessity on a thousand levels.
That’s why it’s shocking that so many people lack access to appropriate identification documents including driver’s licenses, especially LGBTQ people and undocumented immigrants (267,000 of whom are LGBT). Many states have made efforts to update their policies on ID documents for LGBT people, and a growing trend is emerging, as states pass legislation to create a process for undocumented immigrants to access driver’s licenses. While awaiting comprehensive immigration reform, 10 states, as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico, have enacted legislation for driver ID cards that are issued to eligible applicants, regardless of immigration status. On Election Day, voters in Oregon have the opportunity to weigh in on the decision too.
The initiative, Measure 88, called the “Alternative Driver Licenses Referendum,” would enact a driver ID card provision, which would issue driver ID cards to any eligible applicant regardless of immigration status. In order to qualify as eligible, applicants must meet fairly standard criteria—pass the driver’s test (written and behind the wheel), provide proof of residence in Oregon for more than a year, and provide proof of identity and birth. Unlike a driver’s license, the driver ID card is only issued for a four-year duration, does not require proof of legal presence in the U.S., and does not carry citizenship benefits (cannot be used for air travel, voting rights, access to federal buildings, or government programs or benefits for U.S. citizens).
The Yes on 88 campaign and others in favor of the card argue that it will keep roads and communities safe. Think about it—for Oregon’s community and law enforcement, the law allows Oregon to regulate who is on the road and to know who is driving, and it also helps drivers meet insurance requirements. Overall, it would reduce the number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers on the road. Those opposed to the card primarily assert that undocumented immigrants shouldn’t be in the U.S. in the first place and that federal immigration reform is key.
The fact remains that there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants throughout the U.S. today, 160,000 of which live and work in Oregon. People, especially those that have fought hardship and barriers to be here, are working hard to build families, support the community, and contribute to the economy. Undocumented workers and families produce positive economic impacts. Not only do families need goods and services (which increases demand for jobs), but also undocumented workers pay taxes, and a fairly substantial amount at that. In 2010 alone, undocumented immigrants in Oregon paid nearly $94 million in state and local taxes, including nearly $47 million in state income taxes, $23 million in property taxes, and $24 million in sales taxes. In fact, studies show that if all undocumented immigrants were removed from Oregon, “the state would lose $3.4 billion in economic activity, $1.5 billion in gross state product, and approximately 19,259 jobs, even accounting for adequate market adjustment time.”
Preventing people from accessing licenses is an unnecessary obstacle to progress. It just puts another roadblock in the way. There’s no reason to add insult to injury, and adding more barriers doesn’t somehow make someone’s work less valuable. There are about a million reasons why people come to the U.S., and denying them a livelihood or the ability to get around is not in line with our values as a country and the American dream.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt said:
by Stacey Long, National LGBTQ Task Force Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs
In 1970, the federal minimum wage rate was $1.60 per hour, which is about $9.61 in today’s dollars. Today, in 2014, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. After nearly half a century our country now snatches over two dollars every hour–$2.36 to be exact–from the pockets of its workers because of its refusal to raise the minimum wage to keep pace with reality. How can we take pride in being a country rooted in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness if we are failing at ensuring access to a livable income? On November 4, voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, and South Dakota have the opportunity to do what Congress has not– raise the minimum wage. If you are a resident of those states, I urge YOU vote to increase the minimum wage.
LGBTQ people, women, and people of color make up a substantial portion of minimum wage workers, and their economic security would greatly benefit if the wage is increased. About 33% of LGBTQ individuals identify as people of color, and people of color represent 42% of minimum wage earners. If the minimum wage was increased, 60% of the people that would cross the poverty threshold would be people of color. Additionally, the increase would drastically improve the lives of transgender people, who are four times more likely than the general public to be living in extreme poverty while earning less than $10,000 per year.
We also still live in a time where women – including LGBTQ women –are only paid 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. Inequalities like this, which are not specifically LGBTQ targeted, still affect the community, and furthermore 24% of lesbian and bisexual women live in poverty. It is imperative for the LGBTQ community to support progressive policies that address these inequalities and move us towards a more just society.
Even if you are not part of the demographics most affected by the minimum wage, the wages of America’s lowest paid workers affect you. Those living with privilege, whether race, class, gender, or orientation, should care. If the working class can earn a livable wage it increases their spending power while boosting economic security and growth. Economic growth as a result of increased minimum wage rates, creates greater business confidence, improves workplace morale, decreases employee turnover, and reduces training costs. Essentially, increasing the minimum wage would be better, not just for the working class, but for every class. Economic growth is a concept that everyone can benefit from, including the CEO of a major corporation.
Another important slice in the pie of economic justice is worker’s access to paid sick leave. Should a parent really have to lose a whole day’s pay because he stayed home with their sick child? Who is to blame for the child’s illness? Certainly not the parent, yet employers all over the country continue to punish them and other workers in this position. If employees had guaranteed paid leave days, the workforce would experience increased efficiency and allegiance rather than lower productivity and an increased risk of spreading illnesses.
In addition to the ballot measures to raise the minimum wage in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, and the advisory referendum on the ballot in Illinois, there is a ballot measure in Massachusetts that would provide all workers the chance to earn sick paid sick leave. Who knows, maybe the next jurisdiction to raise the wage will compel neighboring localities to do the same. At the very least, voting to raise the wage for your friends, neighbors, children, parents, or employees will help prevent another two dollar pinch from their pockets for the duration of the next half century.
by Trevoria Jackson, National LGBTQ Task Force Holley Law Fellow
During Asexual Awareness Week we celebrate the asexual community, also known as the “ace” community, and challenge ourselves to incorporate asexuality into our advocacy work. Asexuality is a sexual orientation describing people who do not experience sexual attraction, and asexual or “ace” are umbrella terms for a spectrum of identities including demisexual and gray-asexual.
Even though I believed myself to be a well-informed queer activist on a college campus, I had never heard of the ace community before last year. However, during my time as a fellow with the National LGBTQ Task Force, I had the opportunity to research the history of asexuality and the formation of the ace movement as well as to interview prominent movement leaders. What I learned truly redefined how I saw myself as a queer activist and showed me that, as an advocate, I am never done learning.
Part of this redefining period was the result of learning about the overlap between ace and queer communities. According to the 2011 Asexual Community Census, 41% of respondents identified along the LGBTQ spectrum in addition to identifying as asexual, demisexual, or gray-asexual with 20% identifying as transgender or questioning their gender. Additionally, 38% did not identify as LGBTQ but did consider themselves LGBTQ allies.
The census also cites that about 40% of respondents are currently attending college/university and almost 19% are currently attending a high school/secondary school. Many of these young adults look for spaces on their campus where they can have conversations about intimacy, attraction, and identity. These groups are often exclusively LGBTQ campus groups that may act as the first safe space an asexual person may come out in. But even in LGBTQ spaces, ace people may be the target of hostility and exclusion due to misconceptions about what it means to be asexual.
Realizing that a queer student organization, like the one I am a part of, could potentially exclude or invalidate a person’s identity motivated me to make sure that we were as welcoming to all student who may reach out to us. This meant initiating structural changes, such as forming a new Asexual, Bisexual, Pansexual, and Fluid community within our organization, which established a space for ace students to have a voice on campus. But it didn’t stop there. Being intentional about ace-inclusion means ensuring the language we use around sex and intimacy does not alienate or marginalize members of the ace community, and acknowledging the types of relationships we privilege and see as legitimate in our community.
The need for ace-inclusive LGBTQ activism isn’t just an individual imperative on college campuses. It’s part of a larger conversation about disrupting the boundaries between single-issue movements and challenging what is really meant by—and who is included within—queer activism. Some LGBTQ organizations, for example, have made racial justice and immigration reform top priorities, understanding that members of our own community are also affected by the systems and discrimination that oppress people of color and immigrants. Through this, advocates learned when we look across movements, we can see that we face similar barriers although our experiences of them may be different.
Both LGBTQ people and the ace community face barriers and discrimination on both the interpersonal and institutional levels. Our communities fight for similar rights: accurate visibility and representation in the media, preventing physical and sexual violence, access to affordable and culturally-competent health care, relationship recognition, adoption rights and employment protections.
Employment discrimination against the ace community is becoming a growing trend as more people come out as asexual. The rise of asexual-identified employees will drastically increase in the next 5 years, as the 81% of ace individuals under 25 enter the workforce. Unfortunately, increased visibility may lead to widespread discrimination for ace young adults. In looking at the history of other marginalized communities, once the general population is widely aware that a minority group exists, we often see an increase in discrimination targeting that community.
In order for the LGBTQ community to become more inclusive, we have to educate ourselves about the asexual community and dedicate ourselves to fight for their rights. Only then can we stand in solidarity with all those who have felt the sting of injustice for simply trying to be their whole selves, no matter their sexual orientation or identity. As a queer activist, I have dedicated myself to making my activism ace-inclusive. I will step up when it is appropriate for me to demonstrate leadership and step back when it is important that other voices be heard. I will acknowledge what I do not know, educate myself, and stand in solidarity with the ace community. I will hold LGBTQ advocates and organizations accountable to do the same. We are stronger when we all stand together.
You can find resources to host your own Asexual Awareness Week events and social media campaigns here.
By Emmett Patterson, Former Task Force Policy Institute Fellow
Sometimes, it is fun to pretend to go back in time. I mean, it’s precisely the reason I love visiting Renaissance festivals, hiking away from the city, and cooking from old school recipe cards written in mostly faded, somewhat indiscernible short-hand.
As entertaining as those hobbies are, I know it’s just pretend—I know I’m not actually traveling back in time, and there’s a good chance I wouldn’t if I could. See, I’m not willing to swap medical care and air conditioning for archery and jousting, I always carry bug spray when hiking, and I have a box of cake mix in the pantry as a back-up.
I guess that’s the reason I get so nervous when I look at the upcoming election. This year, voters in three states will have the option to go back to a time before Roe v. Wade.
For the Nov. 4th election, Colorado, North Dakota, and Tennessee each have ballot initiatives that would result in banning abortion, regardless of the circumstances. There would be no abortion at all, not even for rape, incest, or to protect the mother’s life. Colorado’s Amendment 67 would literally make abortion a crime–adding unborn humans to the definitions of “person” and “child” in the Colorado Criminal Code. North Dakota’s Measure 1 would grant the “right to life of every human being at any stage of development.” And Tennessee’s Amendment 1 would give the legislature unlimited, unrestricted authority to make any decisions they like regarding abortion, because as the measure states, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion.” Supporters of these legislative initiatives are primarily concerned with the protection of women and their unborn children.
But, in reality, these amendments don’t just ban abortion—they restrict access for those with limited economic means (i.e. cannot afford to travel to other states for the medical care they need). Which means banning abortion for individuals of low income, and largely those from communities of color. Let’s take Tennessee as an example. People of color make up roughly 20% of the state’s population. Of the 18% of the state population living in poverty (just over half of which are women), an estimated 84% are people of color. This means that, nearly half of all the Tennesseans living in poverty are women of color.
With Halloween around the corner, I can’t help but think that this is just a nightmare. Women make up more than half of our population, over 62 million are of reproductive age, and 99% have used contraception at some point in their lives. On average over a million women seek access to abortion services annually, including 16% of pregnancies in CO, about 10% of pregnancies in ND, and 18% of pregnancies in TN. I mean—it’s been 40 years since the Supreme Court decided in Roe V. Wade that women have a right to terminate their pregnancy should they decide to or should they need to.
And yet, it’s not just pretend. This conversation continues to be debated year after year, in state legislatures across the country. Women continue to encounter a number of unnecessary political barriers when seeking access to abortions. And in this election, abortion rights will be subject to a public vote. So, depending on the turnout next week, women in Colorado, North Dakota, and Tennessee could be transported 40 years back in time. The only difference is they’ll still have cell phones and the ability to wear pants (without scorn).
So, I wonder what’s next. I know right now, I live in a modern world where women have the right to consider all their options, not just ones that the legislators and the ill-informed public decide they should have. Will it stay that way?
I know that for me, personally, I’m looking forward to a future that provides fair treatment, regardless of economic status, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. I’m looking forward to the day I can take my child (which I will have when and I how I choose) to a Renaissance festival and reflect on how lucky we are to not be living in the past.
So, why should LGBTQ people care about these issues?
Apart from all the other reasons, the bottom line is this is a question of bodily autonomy and access to quality healthcare—two issues that are essential to our lives and underscore the entire LGBTQ movement.
By Dominique Chamely, National LGBTQ Task Force Public Policy Fellow