Transphobia, Worker Rights, and Preemption

Map of "religious freedom", "conversion therapy", and anti-trans laws, as well as civil rights preemption laws, as of late 2015. (c) Human Rights Campaign.

Map of “religious freedom”, “conversion therapy”, and anti-trans laws, as well as civil rights preemption laws, as of late 2015. (c) Human Rights Campaign.

Since North Carolina fast-tracked the hateful HB2 into law last week, I’ve been struggling with how to talk about it. This bill was not the first time we’ve seen hate filled legislation limit trans rights, nor was it a unique use of rape culture and a complete misrepresentation of trans women to whip folks into a frenzy over men in dresses committing unspeakable crimes in women’s restrooms.

There’s been a growing movement, called preemption, where states pass legislation that prohibits municipalities from passing workplace protections like paid sick days or higher minimum wages. Sometimes, states truly preempt local control over these issues before any localities change their policies. But sometimes, states pass legislation after an advance has been secured in a municipality or county, thereby removing hard won rights from folks. This can lead to a sense of powerlessness that makes it even harder to build local, community-based progressive movements. Grassroots Change has more on the topic and a map that tracks a few topics with frequent preemption bills.

And this legislative season is the first time I can remember that we’ve seen right wing leaders “weaponizing transphobia as a lever to move their agenda”.

The mainstream press is reporting on the transphobic tropes that have led to the passage of the legislation. But there has been very little discussion of the attack on low-wage and hourly workers, the right of any existing protected class under state law to sue for discrimination. As a compatriot who helped me craft this post put it, “a black disabled trans woman just went from having a few ways to get justice for the many different ways she might experience workplace discrimination in the absence of trans protections to having NO statewide remedy.”

The agenda that drove HB2 is far broader than putting LGBTQ folks back into the closet, or making it more difficult than it already is for trans folks to negotiate public spaces. It is also an agenda that prioritizes corporate profits over living wages, that prevents municipalities from responding to the needs of its residents and workers, and that limits access to the courts. This is a scary precedent, and one that should chill you whether or not you are trans.

Hate and fear are emotions that cloud our judgment. Since this bill was successful, I can only imagine that we will see the same tactic used in other states where the feared group is immigrants, or refugees, or Muslims. The agenda behind it wants to keep us working a cross purposes and eating our own, and it helps them out when progressive movements are highly fractured. And the folks who benefit from this legislation are those who want to keep us all down to advance corporate profits over strong, healthy communities.

There is no doubt that we are living in scary and unpredictable times. The era of putting in your 30 years and retiring with a decent pension and a gold watch are over, but it’s not clear what is replacing them. Our nation is more racially, linguistically, religiously and socially diverse than ever, and this trend is likely to continue into the future. But we need to overcome this fear and instability by banding together, and remember to think critically about who benefits from splitting us apart.


Hello. I Love You.

Hi there.

Lots of us trans and queer folks are struggling today, reeling from the way the North Carolina legislature just went out of its way to tell us our lives don’t matter.

And if you’re reading this, I just want to let you know that I love you.


You are beautiful, just as you are. So beautiful it makes my heart explode. You deserve dignity and respect, no matter what the powerful tell you. You deserve to be safe. You are not alone. I see you. I stand with you, with an aching heart and a burning rage.

I don’t know if it gets better, or it gets worse, or it stays the same. But I do know that you have to be alive to find out. I know that sometimes it feels like you can’t go on one more moment, and then you do, and then one more, and then after a while it might feel possible to go on. If you feel like this is impossible, and like you are all alone, the folks at the Trans Lifeline would really like to hear from you at 1-877-565-8860 (US) or online here from anywhere.

If you need to cry or rage or get into bed or write in your journal, that’s ok. You don’t need to be in the streets to be worthwhile. So please find a way to stay. I’m processing my rage with love and I really need you in this world to do it.

And when you’re ready, these folks would really like to raise their voices with you. So would I.


Revisionist History

Jacket belonging to ACT UP activist David Wojnarowicz, reading "If I die of AIDS forget burial, just drop my body on the steps of the FDA."

Jacket belonging to ACT UP activist David Wojnarowicz.

In 1987, friends of my parents gave me a book of Oscar Wilde stories for my 10th birthday. No one ever told me what gay was, and it is only in retrospect that I recognize that they were a couple. By 1993, when I started volunteering for a youth AIDS hotline, one of them was dead and the other gravely ill. By 1994, when I started to come out to myself, I didn’t know any LGBTQ adults who weren’t involved in AIDS activism, and very few who weren’t sick themselves. I am only just starting to grapple with what it means to have come up and come out in a community that was itself coming out under the shadow of death.

I started activist work fueled by rage and anger. It burned away everything that was good, that generated life and dreams and possibility. It left me hollow inside. I didn’t have a concept of a healthy queer life. I subscribed fully to the “live fast, die young” model of civic engagement. I couldn’t imagine living past 30.

Now I’m 38, and I can imagine 38 more years of speaking truth to power. The older I get, the more I know that I need to be driven by love, by connection, by possibility. I’m still holding fast to my revolutionary ideals of liberty and justice for all. Most of the time I come to the work from a place of love and joy and inspiration. But reading Hillary Clinton’s comments on Nancy Reagan as an AIDS activist brought back the rage. Tonight, I want to BURN IT DOWN.

But today, Hillary Clinton praised Nancy Reagan for her quiet activism on AIDS, and I am DONE. I am ENRAGED. I can’t sit by and let her tell these egregious lies about the Reagan Administration, who arguably could have stopped the global pandemic we grapple with today, and instead chose to spit on their gay friends. Since Teen Vogue and The Guardian UK have written about this I don’t need to say more about the Reagans’ horrific legacy.

I haven’t spoken up much on this election cycle, for a lot of reasons. I’m pretty pragmatic at this point in my life, and I know there is no such thing as a perfect candidate. Many people, especially women, whom I love and respect are big Clinton fans. I can see the sexism in most of the arguments against Clinton. In a lot of ways Bernie Sanders speaks my language, but I’ve been around long enough to be cynical about the feasibility of a real class revolt. Everyone on the Republican slate scares the bejesus out of me. But today, I’m done being silent. Clinton’s hawkish positions on foreign policy, and her involvement in racist/classist “welfare reform” and mass incarceration of people of color makes me sick, not to mention the legacy of DOMA that we are starting to shake off. Yes, if she becomes the nominee we need to support her over any of the possible opponents, who want to roll back all of our rights save the right to bear arms. But we don’t have to accept that as the inevitable end game. SILENCE = DEATH. ACT UP. FIGHT AIDS. Live for more.


Love Letter to Weirdos (crossposting)

Crossposting my Love Letter to Weirdos here.

Dear Freaks, Outlaws, Queers, Agitators, Rabble Rousers and Misfits:

This is a valentine to you, for being brave enough to be your amazing selves. Whether you choose to live your life outside the lines of societal expectations, or whether you find yourself put there; whether you are engaged with changing the system or working around it; and frankly, whether we agree or disagree; your very existence makes people grapple with their assumptions, examine their own lives, and expand their perspective on the world. It’s tough to be an outsider, and by definition you don’t fit in, but know that I admire your courage and conviction and commitment. I am proud to be in your extended family, and though you may not see me as one of you anymore, I am with you in heart and spirit. You are loved.

With deep affection,


Coalition seeks Sen. Reed’s support of Respect for Marriage Act

Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI

Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI

Ian Donnis reports on a movement by a coalition of organizations supporting marriage equality to get Sen. Jack Reed to sponsor the Respect for Marriage Act which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (which Sen. Reed voted for in 1996 when he was a Congressman).

The online campaign by the four groups will collect signatures from a variety of constituents across Rhode Island. Currently, Rhode Island honors the marriages of same-sex couples married out of state, but those couples are still harmed by federal marriage discrimination under DOMA. The state does not presently allow Rhode Island same-sex couples to marry within the state. Reed is the only member of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation who has yet to cosponsor the Respect for Marriage Act. Representative Jim Langevin joined Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative David Cicilline in cosponsoring the bill nearly two weeks ago.

“As a distinguished military veteran and West Point graduate, we hope that Sen. Reed will recognize the importance of full equality for all Americans, particularly in this post ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ world,” said Rick Jacobs, chair and founder of the Courage Campaign, a national grassroots, progressive online organization. “We ask that Reed join his colleague Senator Whitehouse and the majority of American people in calling for the repeal of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.”

While Sen. Reed did vote for DOMA, that was 1996, a very different time, since then he has twice voted against a Federal Marriage Amendment. His website includes the following statement on the the Federal Marriage Amendment from 2006:

Senator Jack Reed stated, “I do not think the federal government should usurp the traditional role of the states by amending the Constitution to ban same-sex unions.” An intervention by the federal government to define marriage contradicts centuries of law and custom that allow the states to be the primary authority for family law. “Americans want Congress to work together and deal with pressing issues like finding a viable way to safely bring our troops home from Iraq. We should also be focusing on restoring fiscal discipline, securing our borders, and improving our nation’s health care and education systems. Congress needs to get to work on these issues and address the very real concerns that impact American families every day.”

While the Senator has not stated his support for marriage equality directly, his statement on states rights on the matter seems to indicate that he should be open to repealing DOMA.

MERI has a petition you can fill out on their website to urge the Senator to join the rest of Rhode Island’s Congressional Delegation in supporting DOMA’s repeal.


592 Marriages and 14 Civil Unions

ProJo reports that according to the census bureau, 1 in 5 Rhode Island same-sex couples are married. That is 592 marriages out of 2,785 same-sex couples in the state.

No wonder there’s no rush for Civil Unions, people are just going next door and getting married instead.

Word to the wise though, if you do decide to run for the border for your equal rights, be sure you are really really really sure you want to be married, because you can’t undo your marriage once you come back here.


RIACLU Report calls Civil Union Law “A Fiasco”; Harry Hay’s Life Continues to Inspire.

The RI ACLU today issued a report analyzing the adoption if the civil union law, in comparison with 12 other states with similar laws. Consensus? It’s a bust, and falling far short of the stated intent to provide same sex couples with equal protection under the law. It’s time to get organized, to find good pro-equality candidates around the state, and to renew the fight. Because settling for less just isn’t working. The full report is available here.

Also today, SAGE RI, the LGBTQ senior group, held a screening of Hope on the Wind, a documentary about the life of Harry Hay, gay liberationist, social radical, and founder of Mattachine Society and Radical Faeries. It was interesting to hear his reflections on getting kicked out of the gay rights organization he founded because his views were to fringy and the movement didn’t want to be tainted with his communist politics. As we celebrate the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and continue the fight for marriage equality, while such basic legislation as the Employment Nondiscrimination Act continues to founder, I think it’s worth asking what our goals as a movement are. Seems the assimilationst politics are winning for now. I keep hoping that the rightward swing of thr political pendulum will make room for a new queer-inclusive radical left to rise up for broadbased justice, freedom and equality writ large. And that I’ll have the conviction to risk being a part of it.



ProJo: “RI ACLU: New civil-union law ‘a fiasco;’ gay marriage better”

Since the law was enacted, the ACLU said, 14 gay and lesbian couples have sought “civil union” status. In its review of licensing statistics in a dozen other states, the ACLU found “no other state that has passed a law formally recognizing gay and lesbian couples has seen such a paltry and lackluster response to its passage.”

The report cites at least three major reasons why couples are shunning the new statute: the inclusion of “an incredibly broad ‘religious’ exemption” that significantly undercuts the law’s purpose; the dashed expectation that, after 12 years of effort, a vote on a marriage bill would finally take place this year; and the prevalence of marriage states throughout New England, where “Rhode Islanders can travel a few hours in just about any direction and be in a state that, unlike their own, recognizes full marriage equality.”


Marriage Equality RI: “Tell Rep. Doreen Costa not to stand with a bigot”

From MERI:

Rep. Doreen Costa

State Rep. Doreen Costa

Some of you may have received the email from us a few minutes ago related to the Tea Party rally that will be held in North Kingstown tomorrow morning at 11:30. We are asking our supporters to call or email Rep. Doreen Costa and let her know that we don’t support hatred in Rhode Island. You can email her here or call her (401) 206-6891. With politicians constantly thinking about reelection, a flood of phone calls & emails is the perfect way to make sure Rep. Costa knows we’re paying attention.

For some background on the back and forth between us and Rep. Costa today go to our blog. Here’s the GoLocalProv article.

Rep. Costa also gave an interesting response in a ProJo article:

“Costa says she opposes gay marriage, as Angle does, but she does not oppose granting gay, lesbian and transgendered people the same civil rights protections as other minority groups. She also supports allowing same-sex couples, if they are legally married, to adopt and raise children.”

If she doesn’t want to allow marriage equality then…….that would mean same-sex couples wouldn’t be able to adopt. (She also voted against the civil union bill and let’s just say it wasn’t because of the Corvese Amendment)

Good thing we’re gearing up for elections 2012!

Image from RI General Assembly website.


Chris Young guilty of resisting arrest, judge concedes to his “obnoxious” freedom of speech

The ProJo reports that perennial Providence Mayoral Candidate and cable news darling, Christopher Young has been found guilty of resisting arrest at the Rhode Island State House during a hearing on the Civil Union’s Bill.

He was not found guilty of disorderly conduct, the Journal writes (emphasis mine):

Judge Anthony Capraro Jr. found Young guilty of resisting a deputy sheriff’s attempts to remove him from the Senate gallery, where he and his fiancée, Kara D. Russo, had been protesting the same-sex civil union bill. The judge, however, acquitted Young of disorderly conduct saying videotape and photographs clearly showed the couple “minding their own business” while quietly holding signs opposing the bill along the back wall.

“I find it obnoxious what you were doing in the gallery that day. But one man’s obnoxiousness is another man’s free speech,” Capraro said.

Nice; in other words, just because you didn’t break the law, doesn’t mean you aren’t an ass.