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TPP Fast-Track Bill Raises Serious LGBTQ Concerns

June 10, 2015

The upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Fast-Track bill is stirring much controversy as it works its way to the House floor; the bill could be voted on this week. If passed, the bill would create special rules empowering the White House to negotiate and sign trade agreements without Congressional oversight. This means that international trade deals could be made relatively in “secret” with limited ability for Congress to accept or reject it.

TPP Fast-Track impacts not only international trade, but also raises significant concerns for human rights. Specifically, the bill would open the door for agreements with countries who are actively against LGBTQ rights such as Brunei and Malaysia. Last year, the sultan of Brunei implemented a law that made “homosexual acts” punishable by stoning and Malaysia punishes LGBTQ sexual acts by imprisonment and whipping.

Just yesterday, June 9, the White House issued a fact sheet to address the many human rights concerns associated with the TPP. In it, the White House discusses that it plans to work with TPP-included countries to conform to the “uniformly recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The fact sheet states that the TPP will enforce many labor, anti-trafficking, and transparency standards.

The bill could also pose substantial healthcare ramifications. According to the New York Times, pharmaceutical companies, insurers, and large manufacturers are among those who stand to benefit best from bill. By giving countries more trade leeway, companies may restrict access, skyrocket prices, or eliminate lower-cost HIV medications for those who need it most.

A broad coalition of advocates have spoken their opposition to the bill, including Feminist Majority, Communications Workers of America, and Pride at Work. Last February, five members of the LGBT Equality Caucus wrote the President a letter, showing opposition to Brunei and Malaysia’s inclusion in the bill. Here is the letter:

TPP Letter1TPP Letter 2

Congressmen Jared Polis also communicated his concerns in a letter to the President. You can find his letter here: http://www.washingtonblade.com/content/files/2015/02/Brunei-Malaysia-TPP-letter_Final_Signed-2.pdf

The United States has made great strides to recognize LGBTQ rights both domestically and internationally, but many claim that TPP Fast-Track appears to be a serious step in the wrong direction.

As the TPP Fast-Track bill is under review in the House of Representatives, we urge you to contact your local Congressman and share your concerns.

by Beckham Rivera, National LGBTQ Task Force Holley Law Fellow

Ban the Box: Create LGBTQ Employment Opportunities

June 10, 2015

Imagine being held in a prison cell for 23 hours a day with no access to classes, programs, or communal meals. The only choice, other than this isolation, is prison general population. General population is a place of terror for LGBTQ prisoners, as almost a majority of LGBTQ prisoners report being raped or sexually assaulted.

And then the day you’re released from prison should be a day of relief.

Except that it isn’t for many people reentering their communities. They’re met with challenges accessing jobs, housing, and health care.

Francesca Rebecca Acocella, Holley Law Fellow

Francesca Rebecca Acocella, Holley Law Fellow

That’s why we need to support formerly incarcerated people. We must help them access education, employment, and housing. Only then can we help them break the cycle of poverty and violence that lead to high prison recidivism rates.   Statistics indicate that more than two-thirds of state prisoners are rearrested within three years of their release and half are re-incarcerated.

Reentering LGBTQ people face particular challenges: homophobic or transphobic parole or probation officers, lack of access to transition related or HIV-related medical care, sex-segregated housing in community corrections centers or shelters, and lack of resources for LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence. But they also face the same challenges most reentering people face: finding a job, finding housing, and accessing health care.

In most states, reentering people, who need jobs to meet the terms of their probation, are legally discriminated against in hiring practices. Private and public sector employers in a majority of states are permitted to ask about an applicant’s arrest record—employers regularly include a “box” on job applications that applicants are required to check if they’ve ever been convicted of a felony.Ban-the-Box-300x300

At the state and local levels, advocates are working to ensure reentering people have access to employment opportunities and are not placed in programs that will make successful reentry nearly impossible. Those programs affect LGBTQ formerly incarcerated people, who face additional institutional challenges in reentering.

On the federal level, federal contractors currently deny reentering people a fair chance in hiring by asking about prior arrests. President Obama could issue an executive order that would “ban the box” on job applications, granting new opportunities to reentering people and contributing to economic growth for us all.

That’s why we ask you to join us in urging President Obama to ban the box on job applications for federal contractors. The box is a barrier to employment and self-sufficiency.

Already, seventeen states and the District of Columbia have banned the box for state government contractors, in addition to corporations like Koch Industries, Target, Wal-Mart, and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Banning the box means committing to fair chance hiring and economic growth. The federal government needs to join these states and companies and be a leader in providing resources and opportunities for formerly incarcerated people, to treating them with respect, humanity, and dignity, and to committing to economic growth that will benefit us all.

Join us today, Wednesday, June 10, 2015 in a Ban the Box Day of Action as we urge President Obama to issue an executive order banning the box in federal contractor job applications. Tweet, send a Facebook message, or write a letter telling President Obama to require all companies that are federal contractors to ban the box. Click here for more information on how to tell President Obama you support formerly incarcerated people and their families.

Let’s work together to make the day formerly incarcerated people leave prison is a happy day in their lives, a day when they know they’ll be greeted by structures in place to build them up, not send them back to prisons and jails, and that will give them the fair chances they deserve.

By Francesca Rebecca Acocella, National LGBTQ Task Force Holley Law Fellow

 

King, the Royal Pain to the Affordable Care Act

June 3, 2015

Hormones get expensive. When I first started hormone replacement therapy in 2011, I gladly paid $300 a month for my testosterone. I didn’t have insurance at the time, but I picked up additional shifts to pay the care I needed. Classes got tougher, so work was on the back burner for a little bit. At the time, insurance definitely wasn’t the answer either. I just couldn’t add another bill to the pile. I asked some of my transgender friends how they went about obtaining their “livelihood in a bottle.” One shared that she had great insurance through her job, another said that he’d been off hormones for some time. He continued to tell me that he used to buy his testosterone on the street, what some refer to as “Street T,” until his friends convinced him that it wasn’t worth the risk.

Graphs: The Affordable Care Act Makes a Difference for LGBT Communities

In 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, was implemented to give millions of uninsured individuals and families affordable healthcare insurance. The ACA required states to set up an “exchange” for its residents to obtain health insurance. States that didn’t create the exchange directed residents to a federally created one. Also, the Act required people to obtain coverage or pay a tax penalty unless they fell within an unaffordability exemption: either Medicaid, or an insurance subsidy. Medicaid ineligible individuals who fall within 100-400% below the federal poverty line, are eligible to receive a substantial discount on their premium thanks to the subsidy (1).

This month, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) will be rendering their decision on King v. Burwell, a case that could strip subsidies from millions of insured individuals and families. Under the ACA’s language, insurance subsidies are available to state markets, leaving it unclear whether they are available to states running through the federal exchange. The IRS bridged the gap with regulation making the same subsidies available to federal exchange shoppers.

This is a particularly important issue for the LGBTQ community. In King, petitioners argue that the IRS regulation is unconstitutional, and therefore should not be enforced against those who sign up on the federal exchange. Why is this important? Currently, 34 states lead residents to the federal exchange. This amounts to approximately 5.5 million insured on the verge of losing their healthcare incentive (2). If SCOTUS finds the petitioners have it right, these 34 states are left to choose whether to start their own exchange, which they chose not to do in the first place, or force those with subsidized premiums to lose their government-funded discount.

According to the Center for American Progress, 1.12 million uninsured LGBTQ individuals are eligible to receive insurance subsidies (3). These subsidies help pay for much needed care such as: HIV treatment, mental health, substance abuse, and some transition-related services. If the court finds that the IRS regulation cannot extend the subsidies to the federal exchange, many newly-insured individuals will be forced to drop their insurance if they cannot pay the unsubsidized premium. Furthermore, those who cannot afford to keep their coverage will be faced with another penalty; the tax for failing to maintain coverage.

If SCOTUS rules for the petitioners, this case could just be the start to dismantling the ACA as an institution. States that have previously chosen against establishing a state exchange will likely maintain this stance, further burdening their low-income residents.

Since 2011, when I took my trip to the marketplace and became insured, I have also benefited from the ACA’s insurance subsidy. As we anxiously await the King decision, I can’t help but remember my friend who had to go to the street for the care he needed. I hope that he, and the millions of others who benefit from the ACA, can maintain their access to healthcare post-King.

by Beckham Rivera, National LGBTQ Task Force Holley Law Fellow

Creating Change with my 70-year-old Indian parents

May 14, 2015

After I told my parents I was gay at 18, our relationship went through several difficult years. And while I grew up in Southern California, what people perceive as a liberal stronghold, my parents were the quintessential super-strict Indian parents. But after their own glacially-paced (or so it seemed in my American-born eyes) coming out, they have become the amazingly cool parents I would have never imagined. They have marched in San Francisco Pride three times (twice with more enthusiasm than me), been to a couple of queer weddings, and often enough ask me if I have met the perfect man.

Shobha Bajaj, Shiv Bajaj and Saurabh Bajaj

Shobha Bajaj, Shiv Bajaj and Saurabh Bajaj

So there we were at the Saturday afternoon plenary in Denver earlier this year, for Rea Carey’s State of the Movement speech. The Ferguson organizers took the stage as planned, and in true Creating Change fashion, stayed on stage for many more minutes protesting the need for community recognition of black lives and black trans lives.

My parents absolutely abhor cursing. I once said “piss” in front of Mummy and thought I would need to vacate the premises immediately. And now we were at the plenary, and on stage a million “fucks” were being thrown.

I listened carefully to what my fellow people of color had to say about the need for all of us to recognize the struggle and demands of black LGB and black trans folks within our own progressive LGBTQ movement.  One woman’s words about the epidemic of violence against trans women of color brought me to tears: “Remember [my] name: Raquel. Because if something happens to me for loving a person I love, that’s the death I face.” Her courage was breathtaking, and the need for it, heartbreaking.

I also listened in horror to all the “adult” words, wanting to sink through the floor, as I thought about how offended my parents must be. I honestly thought about asking them to turn their hearing aids down.

The plenary finally came to an end and we left the hall. I was exhausted. The difficulty of hearing the choice in words was far behind the difficulty of hearing the pain and anger in the voices and stories of black folks on stage.

My parents looked just as exhausted, but then again, they’re 70 plus. When I asked Mums how she felt, she surprisingly said “refreshed.” She hadn’t liked the language on stage, but thought that people had said what they needed to express, and she was glad to have heard it. Then Pops spoke up: “The woman at the end was so nice, so sweet.”

Over the years, my parents and I have talked about the many challenges transgender people face. They know real equality for me means full lived freedom for all, including trans people. They had questions, of course, but also drew on their knowledge of hijras in India. I remember one year Mummy came back from a visit in Delhi and relayed with excitement how the city was treating hijras with more dignity and respect.

And now my parents both were sharing their admiration of Aaryn Lang, a black trans woman, who to them had spoken so beautifully on stage (and to their pleasure, with few curse words). Aaryn said, “Helping trans people is so simple; it’s treating us like you want to be treated out in the streets.” The words had resonated with Mummy and Papa, who had endured prejudice when told to “go back where you came from” many times as young immigrants in Los Angeles county.

All of our journeys are incredible. My parents’ journey took them from fleeing what is now Pakistan during the Partition of India, to their arranged marriage in Delhi, to a move all on their own to California to raise three kids, to being out and proud parents of a very out son. And now, in their seventh decade, they have changed and become the advocates I wouldn’t have expected them to be.

Positive and lasting change can often seem like a slow and difficult process. And while there is still more work to be done to end anti-transgender violence, eliminate racially biased policing, and secure full freedom, justice, and equality for LGBTQ people, it is important to acknowledge significant changes we have already made. For me, I have been lucky enough to create change alongside my parents.

By Saurabh Bajaj, Director of Individual Giving, National LGBTQ Task Force

Donation, Not Discrimination: Lift The Blood Donor Ban

May 13, 2015

For years, I helped save lives and brought joy to my life by donating blood. My blood type is needed and sometimes in short supply. Yet the FDA’s decision to ban gay and bisexual men from donating blood in the 1980s ended my ability to help others through this simple act.

Picture of Russell Roybal

Russell Roybal, Task Force Deputy Executive Director

 The FDAs decision in the early 80s was partly ignorance. But ultimately, it was a political move that was intentionally discriminatory. I was far from the only person impacted. Millions of gay and bisexual men were blocked from donating lifesaving blood, despite the fact that screening for HIV had become a standard part of the donation process. The ban targeted every man who had sex with men, regardless of risk behaviors. It didn’t matter whether you used protection, how frequently you were tested for HIV, and if you had one partner or multiple.

And that’s not even the whole story. The FDA at the same time also banned donations by people who injected drugs and people who at any point in their life exchanged sex for money – again, regardless of frequency, risk behavior, or how long it had been since the person had engaged in those behaviors. In practice (and by some reports, in policy), the FDA bans donation by all transgender people who have had sex with men. Each of these bans is grounded in stigma. They create whole classes of people who are marked as irresponsible and dangerous.

Though the ability to test for HIV and scientific understanding of transmission risk has been available for many years, the FDA waited for 30 years to begin to lift the ban against some gay men donating blood. While this decision by the FDA is a step forward, it is far from a victory. The “lifting” only applies to gay and bisexual men who haven’t had sex with men in the previous year, and doesn’t change any of the other discriminatory bans. The science exists to protect the blood supply, and the way forward is clear: it is time to stop discriminating against gay and bisexual men, people who’ve engaged in sex work, and people who’ve injected drugs.

Donation not discrimination.001  Join us in calling on the FDA to lift the ban completely.You can do so by submitting your own thoughts online through their public commenting portal here.

By Russell Roybal, Deputy Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force 

A Good Start, But Still Just a Start

May 6, 2015
Barbara Satin, founder of Twin Cities Transgender Day of Remembrance and National LGBTQ Task Force Assistant Faith Work Director

Barbara Satin, National LGBTQ Task Force Assistant Faith Work Director

It was with some trepidation that I turned on the local NBC affiliate to watch the Bruce Jenner interview on 20/20 with Diane Sawyer.

Shaping my attitude were a number of similar interviews of high profile trans people by media stars – Katie Couric and Piers Morgan are the freshest in my memory but this has been a road badly traveled before and I had low expectations for this newest attempt. Given Jenner’s connection to the celebrity-seeking Kardashian clan added to my apprehension.

I will quickly admit I was relatively pleased with the program: Sawyer earns applause for leading the interview but not strangling its authenticity. Jenner rates an ovation for being honest and open about this journey and willing to address the issues Sawyer posed – even the ones that were challenging. The answers were not always as complete or articulate as might be hoped for but there were answers.

The weak spots were the explanations of who we are as trans people – who makes up this beautiful, complex world of gender non-conforming people.

For what my opinion is worth, I rate the two hours as well spent and see the interview as a wonderful start to a much broader conversation across this nation.

Yes, a good start but still just a start.

The complexity of trans lives is too much for a two-hour program to capture more than just a glimpse of what it is to be trans – whether a trans woman (like Jenner) or a trans man, a gender queer or gender non-conforming individual.

And once we begin unpeeling this trans onion (I am drawn to this metaphor because an onion adds zest to wherever it touches, can be sweet and tasty yet still capable of producing tears) we uncover the myriad of identities that make up our gender variant lives: transsexual; crossdresser; transgenderist; androgynous; two-spirit; intersex: and the litany of pre-op, post-op and non-op. The list goes on.

In the Jenner/Sawyer interview we heard the open, heart-felt revelations of how challenging it is to be a women-identified trans person who is white, wealthy, old, established and. a celebrity. That is the Jenner story.

It’s important that we hear that story and talk about it.

That narrative, however, will differ significantly from a story by a black trans woman living in poverty — because of discrimination and racism. Or if she is employed there is no job security and she lacks health care for gender related medical treatment. She even experiences problems finding a medical professional willing to treat her even in an emergency.

It’s important that we hear that story, too, and talk about it.

Or, the young person who doesn’t want to be labeled with any gender marker, believing that personal freedom lies in breaking the ties of gender binaries but, as a result, is bullied relentlessly because of behavior and appearance – for things like wanting people to use non-gendered pronouns like “they and their” as a descriptor and for adopting clothing choices that don’t fall into the traditional styles that mark someone as girl or boy.

That story is also important for us to hear and talk about.

And the violence that is brought down upon trans people simply for being who they truly are – the murders and assaults that tarnish our nation – especially for people of color and black trans women in particular. Then there is the violence that is often hidden by society’s unwillingness to talk about suicide and especially the outrageous 41% rate of suicide attempts by trans and gender non-conforming persons who feel they have no other options in their lives.

We need to hear that story and talk about it.

Before the show started on Friday evening, I had asked my Facebook connections who were going to watch the interview to comment..

The response came from a wonderful mixture of queer and straight, trans and cisgender, young and old individuals. The comments were overwhelmingly supportive – even while some had issues with parts of the conversation. But the biggest part of the comments centered around the need to know more – “I want to know more – continue…” was a response that seemed to capture the need for more – more conversations, more informational resources, more stories, more, more, more.

Let me cite just one of my responders as a wrap-up to this commentary: “What a rare occurrence of celebrity and media coalescing for positive change in the world. So many valuable ripples can come out of this…. a milestone in evolution.”

Yes, a good start but still just a start.

By Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director, National LGBTQ Task Force

Commitment to Full Inclusion of Transgender Women at MichFest

April 11, 2015

We are writing to state clearly our commitment to the full inclusion and welcome of transgender women, as women, in the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (Michfest). We will continue to actively work to fulfill that goal.

After a number of conversations, we do not believe the petition/boycott is going to be ultimately productive in achieving the goal of a fully inclusive Michfest.

There have been a number of misstatements and distortions that have been included in some media reports, social media and blogs about our positions regarding Michfest that have wrongly equated taking our names off the petition with a lack of support for trans women.

We have not abandoned our efforts to work for a fully inclusive Michfest. Our goal is a Michfest that fully welcomes trans women.

What we have done is remove our names from the petition in order to pursue an active, intentional dialogue which we hope and believe will be a more productive course in achieving the goal of a fully inclusive Michfest.

We encourage people who have not done so to read our full letters below.

-Rea Carey, National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director, and Kate Kendell, National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director

 

Kate’s Letter:

As you know, last summer NCLR signed the petition sponsored by Equality Michigan calling on the organizers of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (Michfest) to embrace the presence of transgender women at the iconic gathering. In the wake of our signing, you contacted us to express your disappointment and anger that NCLR would sign a petition which called for a boycott of the festival.

Many of the letters we received recognized transgender women as women and sisters in struggle, while also arguing that the intention of Michfest does not diminish the lived experience of transgender women.

Since then, we have been involved in a number of conversations with Michfest womyn, Equality Michigan, transgender leaders and colleagues who signed the petition. These conversations have made clear that there are essential values and perspectives we all share and that the petition was not going to be an effective vehicle for a resolution.

NCLR has removed our name from the petition and will be actively engaged in conversations in which we honor our differences while also pursuing a conclusion that supports the gender identity and inclusion of all women in Michfest. We have faith that such a resolution is possible.

This entire process has been one of great learning for me and, while we may disagree on some issues, I think there are many values we share. I signed the petition on behalf of NCLR because our core passion and commitment is that we all be able to live fully and be embraced as our authentic selves.

We are grounded in some deeply held principles, including the belief that discrimination and bigotry against lesbians is rooted in sexism, misogyny and the devaluation of women. We do not believe it is possible to win liberation for lesbians in a world where misogyny thrives. We also do not believe we can end the oppression of women and lesbians in a world where transgender women are reviled and targeted.

NCLR has come to a deeper understanding of what Michfest means to our community and seeks to honor that through this process. We also acknowledge the Michfest organizers have been involved in an ongoing conversation over the years on this issue. We are committed to honest and forthright dialogue as a more constructive means for seeking resolution and common ground.

Sincerely,

Kate

Kate Kendell, National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director

Kate Kendell, National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director

 

Rea’s Letter:

Greetings,

Last year, the National LGBTQ Task Force signed onto a petition organized by Equality Michigan which called upon the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (Michfest) to fully welcome and include transgender women, as women, at the festival.

You took the time to write to me and I appreciate that you did – you and others shared with me your perspectives and experiences on the land that some described as “sacred,” “an annual touchstone,” iconic” and “home.” I heard that you are angry and hurt by the Task Force and other organizations signing the petition.  I heard from you and others that Michfest is a truly historic and transformative annual event that has influenced, inspired and helped to liberate millions of womyn/women from the daily trials and tribulations of misogyny and sexism. It holds a very special place in the hearts of lesbians and other womyn/women.

In the months between then and now, I have talked with womyn/women who have attended, womyn/women who would like to attend, and other people who have a variety of views.  I’ve talked with our colleagues at Equality Michigan, leaders of other organizations who have been engaged in this, and with transgender women.  From these conversations, I have gleaned shared values, differing opinions, and have come to a view that in order to move forward in any type of dialogue we must move beyond the petition.

I am writing to let you know that the Task Force has asked that our name be removed from the Equality Michigan petition and we will be seeking other ways to be in dialogue about Michfest’s intention regarding transgender women. As we reflected on the petition’s contents and read carefully letters from concerned people like you, we came to understand that the point in the original petition that called for a boycott of vendors and performers was misaligned with our own support for womyn/women artists, craftspeople and musicians.  Although that point was withdrawn from the petition, we recognize and share the deep concern about the possible economic impact on womyn/women striving every day to make a living through their art, craft and music.

Please know that the Task Force’s view regarding the MichFest intention is rooted in our core value of inclusiveness and the festival’s extraordinary transformative power. For over 40 years, the Task Force has worked for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer identified people in all areas of our lives – whether it be in the workplace, the government, companies and, yes, in our own community.

The Task Force will remain in active discussion with MichFest womyn/women, Equality Michigan, transgender colleagues, and other organizations that signed the petition.  The Task Force is committed to productive discussions in which we honor our differences and also pursue our desire for MichFest to fully welcome the gender identities of all womyn/women at the festival, including transgender women.

For over 40 years, the Task Force has worked for a changed world. A world in which we can all experience liberation. A world in which misogyny cannot thrive. A world in which womyn/women, lesbians, bisexual women and transgender women no longer experience sexism, targeted attacks and the most horrible form of violence – murder. As we intensify our work to take on all of the challenges we face as a movement, know that these values are at the heart of what we do.

Sincerely,

Rea

Rea Carey, National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director

Rea Carey, National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director

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