June 29, 2009
STONEWALL: MY INTERVIEW WITH YAGG
The French online gay magazine Yagg has published an interview with me on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, in which I discuss my memories of the period and am asked to evaluate the impact and meaning of Stonewall and what followed it. You can read the interview by clicking here:
June 26, 2009
ADD QUEERS TO U.S. CIVIL RIGHTS ACT -- Sign the petition
When I was a twentysomething lad, I managed the successful Congressional campaign for my dear friend and comrade in the movement against the Vietnam war Bella Abzug (right). In her six years in Congress, she compiled a record of many "firsts" -- including the first-ever proposed federal protection for civil rights for lesbians and gays. Her proposal was simple: add queers to those protected by the existing U.S. Civil Rights passed in 1964. I'm proud to say I had a hand in her introducing that bill.
Now, a new online LGBT organizing site called The Power Line has launched an online petition asking Speaker Nancy Pelosi to lead in amending the U.S. Civil Rights Act to include protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
This is the right approach, instead of the fragmentary attempt to accomplish these goals piece by piece. And it's long past time when we need to get back to first principles.
You can join in signing the petition by clicking here.
OBAMA APPEASES RELIGIOUS RIGHT
I wrote the following for The Guide:
When candidate Barack Obama announced last summer during his campaign that he would expand President George W Bush's so-called 'faith-based initiatives' program, this bad news was greeted with moans of distress from those who believe in the separation of church and state. Among them: the Rev Jesse Jackson, who was caught on videotape whispering into an open TV microphone that Obama's proposal was so repugnant to him that he'd 'cut his nuts off' over it.
When Obama rolled out his re-baptized 'Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships' in February, he refused to repeal the Bush executive order permitting discrimination by religious groups receiving federal funds. It was a Scud aimed squarely at nonbelievers. Remember, Congress has yet to pass a law protecting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans communities against discrimination in employment. There is no constraint on church-sponsored programs from refusing employment to the sexually different.
Women's groups submitted to the White House a list of prospective religious figures who, like the majority of Americans, favor a woman's right to choose and are against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But Obama rejected that list, choosing instead a council with only two pro-choice religious representatives -- the two Jewish members. By and large, Obama's appointees are not people with proven records of providing services without blurring the church-state boundary. His appointments are political ones, designed to bolster his centrist image and appease conservatives.
Oh, there is one openly gay member. The compromisers and trimmers at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) inexplicably allowed their staffer in charge of religious outreach to serve as a queer fig leaf, helping Obama hide the domination of his advisory council by conservative anti-gay religious zealots. HRC thus helped further demolish the separation between church and state and gave its blessing to alliances with anti-gay bigots.
Only the simple-minded can possibly buy the argument that using taxpayers' money to fund social service programs run by religious institutions is merely a way to help the needy and that it doesn't subsidize religion-based intolerance and proselytizing.
Money is fungible, and relieving a church of part of the financial responsibility for its social service programs allows equivalent sums to be freed up for use in things like 'reparative therapy' for homosexuals who the god-botherers consider 'sick' and 'sinful.'
Our founding fathers, who were profoundly mistrustful of any links between religion and government, must be turning over in their graves. Thomas Jefferson, author of our Declaration of Independence, declared, 'History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.' James Madison, who wrote our Constitution, maintained, 'A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy.'
Gays and lesbians should take to heart the dictum of the second president, John Adams: 'This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.'
June 24, 2009
Trans rights go global
I wrote the following article for Gay City News, New York City's largest lesbian and gay newspaper:
May was an historic month for the transgendered around the world. The issue of transphobia was inscribed on the global LGBT agenda thanks to new initiatives from the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO). The effort includes a global petition campaign in favor of rights for the transgendered aimed at the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), and governments around the world, which has already resulted in major changes in the status of the gender-variant citizens of several countries.
These initiatives came from the fertile mind of the brilliant French academic Louis-Georges Tin, president of the Paris-based International Committee for IDAHO, which he founded. Tin (left) is the father of the Declaration to the United Nations in favor of the universal decriminalization of homosexuality, which has already been signed by the governments of 66 nations, including the Obama administration. The declaration was presented to the United Nations General Assembly last December (see this reporter’s Mar. 20-Apr.1, 2009 article, “U.S. Joins Global Gay Effort,” and his Dec. 24, 2008-Jan. 7, 2009 article, “An Historic Day at the UN.")
Tin, who is also a star of the emerging French black civil rights movement, hopes to repeat the success of the UN decriminalization declaration with IDAHO’s global transgender position. “In 2010, the World Health Organization is to conduct a review of its list of mental disorders,” Tin told Gay City News by telephone from Paris. “That’s why this year we changed the name of IDAHO to the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and launched our global online petition campaign for transgender rights.”
The new petition, entitled “Reject Transphobia, Respect Gender Identity,” includes a call for the WHO to stop considering trans people as mentally disordered; for the UN’s human rights bodies to examine the human rights abuses they face around the world; and for governments to adopt the Yogyakarta Principles in favor of LGBT rights. The declaration also seeks to insure that transgendered people benefit from health care, including the right to gender reassignment if they wish it, and the right to adapt their civil status to their preferred gender. (See below for the complete text of this petition.)
IDAHO is celebrated every year in more than 60 countries around the world on May 17, the anniversary of the day in 1993 when the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
“The gay movement owes an enormous debt to the transgendered, because we must not forget that transgenders, transvestites, and other gender dissidents were in the forefront at Stonewall and have greatly contributed to our movements since,” Tin said. The IDAHO president also reported that there were a lot of negative reactions to IDAHO’s decision to adopt transdender rights as its theme this year.
“Sometimes it’s been a very violent reaction,” Tin said, adding: “A journalist who’s the specialist in LGBT questions for one major French media outlet practically reproached me for having chosen this theme because, she told me, ‘When I raised it in our editorial meeting, everyone laughed, and while I can write about homophobia, if I write about transphobia they’re going to kill my article.’ I responded that while this was going on, transphobia is killing transsexuals. We need to emphasize transphobic violence, because today murders of the transgendered are too often treated the way murders of homosexuals were treated 15 or 20 years ago, as obscure crimes without motivations or only minimal references to the gender status of those killed, so the victims die and the witnesses to their deaths are afraid to speak.”
However, the IDAHO transgender rights petition has already won concrete results in France and the Netherlands. After a year-long lobbying campaign led by Tin, last year the French government officially endorsed IDAHO and agreed to use its six-month term in the rotating presidency of the European Union last year to launch the campaign for the UN declaration on decriminalization of homosexuality. (See this reporter’s May 22-28, 2008 article, “France Fights for Decriminalization” ).
This year, IDAHO’s petition for transgender rights was published in full in France’s newspaper of record, Le Monde, with the signatures of a host of VIPs, among them Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe and Jacques Delors, former president of the European Union’s governing commission; and writers, academics and scientists, and including two winners of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professors Luc Montaigner and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, honored for their work in the discovery of the HIV virus.
To underscore its support for this year’s IDAHO events, on the eve of May 17 the French government officially announced it would no longer classify transgender identity and expression as a mental disorder, becoming the first government to take that action. French Minister of Health Roselyne Bachelot announced on May 16 that she had directed the country’s Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS, or High Authority for Health) to execute this change in policy.
At the same time, in the Netherlands, at a May 15 conference on LGBT rights sponsored by the Dutch Parliament in connection with IDAHO, the country’s minister for Foreign Affairs, Maxime Verhagen, announced that the government would end the legal requirement that transgendered people must first undergo gender reassignment surgery before obtaining new government identity documents. Verhagen acknowledged that existing Dutch law violated Principle 18 of the Yogyakarta Principles, the right to be protected from medical abuses.
“These breakthrough victories in France and the Netherlands show that we can achieve our goals,” IDAHO’s Tin told Gay City News. The IDAHO petition for transgender rights has already been signed by more than 300 organizations from 75 countries, “a majority of which are from the global South — Africa, Latin America, and South Asia,” Tin said. In another first, the petition has been endorsed by seven organizations from China.
Also for the first time, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, under its new executive director Rea Carey, broke its long refusal to engage in international LGBT solidarity actions by endorsing the IDAHO transgender petition. Other U.S. organizations supporting this petition include Soulforce, Equality Nevada, the Durham Gender Alliance in North Carolina, and the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, NYAGRA. Still, support in the US for IDAHO remains remarkably sparse, and the largest US LGBT organization, the Human Rights Campaign, continues to boycott IDAHO and has failed to endorse its transgender rights petition. In contrast, IDAHO has been officially endorsed by the European Union, which represents 27 countries, as well as by individual governments like those of the United Kingdom — where LGBT organizations staged more than 80 separate IDAHO events this year on May 17— Costa Rica, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and, of course, France.
For more information on IDAHO and its global online petition campaign for transgender rights, click on idahomophobia.org/wp/.
IDAHO’S TRANSGENDER RIGHTS DECLARATION:
Reject Transphobia, Respect Gender Identity: An Appeal to the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the States of the World
Every day, people who live at variance to expected gender norms face violence, abuse, rape, torture, and hate crime all over the world, in their home as well as in the public arena. Though most cases of violence never get documented, we know that in the first weeks of 2009 alone, Trans women have been murdered in Honduras, Serbia, and in the USA. Trans men are equally victims of hate crimes, prejudice, and discrimination despite their frequent social and cultural invisibility.
The basic human rights of Trans people are being ignored or denied in all nations — be it out of ignorance, prejudice, fear, or hate, and Trans people overwhelmingly face daily discrimination, which results in social exclusion, poverty, poor health care, and little prospects of appropriate employment. Far from protecting Trans citizens, States and International bodies reinforce social transphobia through short-sighted negligence or reactionary politics:
Because of the failure of national law and social justice, in far too many States Trans people are being forced to live a gender which they experience as fundamentally wrong for them. In most countries, any attempt to change one’s gender can lead to legal sanctions, brutal mistreatment, and social stigma.
In other countries, legal recognition of gender change is subject to sterilization or other major surgical intervention. Trans people who cannot or do not wish to submit to this cannot obtain legal recognition of their preferred gender, and are forced to “come out” whenever they cross a border, run into a police patrol, apply for a new job, move into a new home, or simply want to buy a mobile phone.
Contributing factors include that current International health classifications still consider all Trans people as mentally “disordered.” This outdated vision is insulting and incorrect and is used to justify daily discrimination and stigmatization in all aspects of Trans people’s lives.
Recently though in some countries with very different social and cultural contexts significant legal advances have been made. Following in the wake of bold judicial decisions, State action has led to increased acceptance of Trans people within their society. This demonstrates that understanding and progress is possible.
Currently Trans people everywhere in the world rise up to reclaim their human rights and freedom. They carry an unanimous message that they will no longer accept to be labeled sick or treated as non-human beings on the basis of their gender identity and gender expression (such as transvestite, transsexual, transgender, and other cultural identities related to cross-gender dressing and living).
This is why we ask:
The WHO. to stop considering Trans people as mentally disordered and to promote access to adequate health care and psychological support, as desired by Trans people.
The United Nations Human Rights bodies to examine the human rights abuses that Trans people face around the world and to take action to combat these abuses.
The States of the World to adopt the international Yogyakarta Principles and ensure that all Trans people benefit from appropriate health care, including gender reassignment if they so wish; be allowed to adapt their civil status to their preferred gender; live their social, family, or professional lives without being exposed to transphobic discrimination, prejudice, or hate crimes and that they are protected by the police and justice systems from physical and non-physical violence.
We call on the UN, the WHO, and the nations of the world, in adopting these measures, to refuse transphobia and welcome the right of their citizens to live fully and freely in their preferred gender, assumed as an expression of cultural freedom.
You can sign this online petition by clicking on http://idahomophobia.org/wp/?page_id=28&lang=en.
June 12, 2009
Join the Oct. 11 March on Washington for Total Gay Equality
There's been quite a debate going on in the leadership circles of our LGBT communities about whether or not the proposed October 11 March on Washington for total gay equality launched by sterling veteran activist Cleve Jones (PHOTO LEFT) is a good idea or not. I've been wavering, because although I'm usually in favor of militant grassroots street actions that are well-conceived I feared a new March would be too difficult to organize, and thus not get a large enough crowd, on such short notice. But now that it seems clear the March is going to happen anyway, and that it will be (as conceived by Cleve) a no-frills affair that won't cost an arm and a leg, I think it should be supported, and we should all try to make it as large as possible. My old and dear friend Sean Strub -- PHOTO ABOVE RIGHT; he's the founder of POZ magazine, has just become CEO of Cable Positive, the cable TV industry's AIDS-fighting program, and has been a terrific gay activist since the '70s -- wrote a well-argued note to a leadership listserv I'm on, where the debate about the March has been raging, which erased any lingering doubts I had about supporting the October 11 March. So did today's news about the court action in defense of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) by the Obama administration. With Sean's permission, I'll share his convincing arguments with you here:
Last night Cleve Jones was honored by the American Foundation for AIDS Research at a lively event in New York. David Mixner gave a stirring introduction--it was classic David, at his finest--and then Cleve gave a rousing speech, calling for a March on Washington in October. Lady Bunny gave quite a speech as well, but I'll share those details off-list with anyone interested.
The crowd responded wildly to Cleve's call for a March, clapping and standing, with some stomping their feet or pounding the tables. They were mostly gay white men, to be sure (and donors, as it was a fundraiser). But their heartfelt and hopefelt response made an impression on me.
I went to bed reflecting, with admiration, on how often Cleve has been in the vanguard, feeling the pulse of the community's "new" roots: the young, the newly-out and the newly-committed as well as the previously-dispossessed just gaining a grip on their personal power to affect change.
Cleve is, at his core, a street activist, with a particular talent for organizing those who had previously not been involved, whether it was for Harvey's campaigns, organizing labor, immigrants or street kids, the earliest responses to the epidemic, or inspiring people to stitch panels for the quilt. Yet he also is able to inspire an authentic and incredibly enthusiastic response from affluent and somewhat jaded gay white men in New York.
I had been ambivalent about a march this fall, for many of the reasons that have been eloquently expressed by others on this list over the past couple of weeks. The debate and discussion was important, as it forced us to confront and consider with a clear eye the challenging realities of trying to organize such a large-scale event in a short period of time.
But I contrasted those legitimate concerns and reasons with what I heard from LGBT folks with whom I discussed this in rural northeast PA, what I read on non-leadership listserves or comments on blog posts (overwhelmingly in favor), what I witnessed when Cleve spoke last night and what has stirred in my own heart, which is an exciting and even a bit frightening sense that this may be a moment unlike any other, a moment that will be gone a year or two from now when reelection politics will dictate the administration's every move.
I am now convinced that the time to debate whether to march or not is over. If I had any residual doubt, today's news about the Justice Department's approach to DOMA erased them. The march this fall is not going to be a small affair. It is going to happen and it is going to be significant.
Cleve has always had an extraordinary talent to rally the grassroots. With the release of the movie Milk, his already-significant credibility with the media and major funders, as well as his celebrity stature, has increased dramatically.
I understand that permitting for an October 11 LGBT Equality March on the Capitol's west lawn has been assured. Robin Tyler, David Mixner, Torie Osborn and others calling for this march are amongst our community's most accomplished and respected leaders; their political judgment and informed perspectives earned from decades of activism are not to be dismissed easily.
I appreciate the voices of those who have passionately argued against the march. Some of them are individuals or from organizations who have, in the past, carried a disproportionate burden for coping with what a march means for the community in the Washington area. Their concerns mustn't be ignored.
But let's recognize that decentralized organizing for this march is underway and the march is going to happen, albeit in a much different way than marches in the past. It will probably have more of a grassroots feeling of the 1979 march than the increasingly-corporatized "movement as a market" events we've seen in more recent years. That's a good thing, in my view.
I hope those who have opposed the march can find their way to embrace these realities and try, in whatever ways they can, to help make the march as successful as possible.
We are a movement of free will; no one has to support or participate in any given endeavor. And there will surely be further debate over the merit to an October march and it its potential for success or failure, which is as it should be. We should celebrate the many ways in which technology has enabled our community's conversation to be broadened to allow more voices to participate.
But I hope that discussion can take place within a constructive context, one that does not sabotage the genuine and heartfelt need to take our issues to Washington and demand equality. One can oppose the march without seeking to impair its possibility for success. One can support it without vilifying or thinking less of those who oppose it.
The march will raise our expectations, broaden our vision and inspire hope. That's what every one of the national marches has achieved in the past. But let's also make this march demonstrate our community's shared struggle with those combating racism and poverty and sexism and transphobia and HIV and all those fighting for social justice. Let's let this march teach us all more about the moral authority and political power we gain when coalition-building is our priority rather than our problem.
Let's focus not on the quantity of people in attendance, but the quality of our message. We can show that, to us, "special rights" means that every person is special, that our movement is special because we so broadly embrace the struggles of all who are oppressed and that we are special because without us, the broader society would be bereft of something they so desperately need.
See you in Washington.