Author Archive | Jenn Steinfeld

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,


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.


Never Forget

Rudolf Brazda, believed to be the last surviving person who was sent to a Nazi concentration camp because of his sexual orientation, died yesterday at age 98. I’m all about asset based communities, and don’t want to dwell on disturbing new hate crime stats or persecution, but by the same token it’s important to remember that much of our sense of community today was forged in persecution and prosecution of yesterday. So let’s celebrate the freedoms we have to be, wear, and love who we like, even as we advocate for more.


Beyond Tolerance

Looking into the history of the India Point Project for yesterday’s post, I was struck by how our description of ourselves and our organizations changed as we became more visible to the mainstream. Take two articles from the same publication, by the same author, describing community groups meeting at two different locations. In this 2002 Bay Windows article, one of the partners in the still yet-to-open India Point Project was described as “the Enforcers (a gay social group that funds nonprofits)”. But in this 1999 article about the groups displaced by the closure of RITA’s Place, the same group is described as “Enforcers RI, a group of leather, S&M and fetishist people that conducts fundraising for AIDS and other causes”. I remember when the Enforcers were still around – they met at AIDS Project RI when I worked there and were my first exposure to an organized leather community. While they were certainly very engaged in raising funds for LGBT groups, I wonder how they felt about having their central purpose vanillafied to “a gay social group that funds nonprofits”.

Part of the reason that I left full-time LGBTQ activism is that I didn’t want to sell the “we’re just like everybody else” line. (Also because the pay and the hours sucked, but that’s a post for another time.) Our movement was launched out of the closet by a police raid on a club full of drag queens, butches, gutter punks, homeless queer youth and sex workers who couldn’t be pushed any farther (see pic below), but we’ve lost track of our roots. We’ve moved from Stonewall Riots to Stonewall Kitchen. As I said to Jef a while ago, there’s no gay sex in the gay rights movement, because talking about gay sex makes people feel squirmy and we’re just here for our rights. I guess I’m sort of a bourgeois queer liberationist, believing that there are differences in our various subcultures which should be embraced and celebrated. As the gay rights movement nationally moved toward a set of mainstream ideals (queers should have the right to get married and join the army), and sold out our trans brothers and sisters again and again, I got very personally disillusioned with the work, and very concerned about my own ability to personally represent the party line. We started to push a “teaching tolerance” agenda that I just couldn’t get behind. I don’t want to be tolerated, like a bad smell or a too cold meal. I don’t want to be asked to change or pretend or tone it down and stop making people uncomfortable. I want to be part of a liberation movement that asks us all to confront our own discomfort and recognize that difference is beautiful and vital and critical.

I’m not sure how to end this post except to acknowledge that this is an ongoing conversation that I hope keeps happening within and outside queer communities. I’d love to have some of it here, so please feel free to respond or repost.


Community Center?

Do you remember when Rhode Island had a gay community center? The India Point Project briefly operated one on the East Side in Providence, but went belly up and abruptly locked its doors back in 2004, when I was still a Baby Professional Queer. While part of the vision behind this blog is to function as a virtual community center for LGBTQQIAXYZ Rhode Islanders, we’re clearly quite a ways away from achieving that vision. So in the meantime, we encourage you to take the Community Center Survey that Options Newsmagazine is running right now. We’ll post the results when Options does.


Queer Salon 2

Apparently the ‘zine I found so compelling last week was distributed at a dance party, and led to some folks feeling like they weren’t queer enough to be at a queer event. I didn’t go to the event so I don’t know all the details, but it seems some folks felt like the nature of queerness was being rigidly policed, and felt that they had to explain, justify, or defend their identities, genders, partners, and behavior. As a result, some of the party organizers are hosting an event on Wednesday:

Queer Salon 2: An conversation on the politics, visibility and space of/for queerness in our community.

Wednesday July 27th 8pm
280 Broadway Room 200, Providence, RI, 02903

Further info on the discussion after the jump. Unfortunately I have class, so if you go and have stuff to share, please email us so we can post a follow-up.
Continue Reading →


My new Love

Don’t start any rumors, I’m keeping my old love, and not just because I’m afraid to give up the political connections our partnership contains. But I’ve got a new love: local anonymous queer propagandists f.i.e.r.c.e.n.e.s.s.. They have posted a really excellent text on privilege and queerness, which I’m happy to attribute to its author if they come forward….

It’s not just what you know — it’s what you never have to know. It’s happening every day, at that party or park or potluck, when you can look like what you really are and touch who you really want to touch without feeling like you’re violating others’ expectations. It’s never being forced to examine accepted ideas of gender and sexuality, despite their arbitrary nature. It’s never having to realize that people are seeing you as something you know you are not.

Privilege is about safety and belonging. It lies hidden in identities and desires that don’t need to be justified or defended or even spoken of, because they reaffirm the identities and desires of most of the people around you. Privilege is assuming, before you even get there, that your gender and your sexuality are welcome and expected wherever you might want to go. (emphasis mine)

I don’t know about you but I think about how welcome my gender and sexuality will be whenever I go out, and I’m almost always prepared to be unexpected at best. It doesn’t usually influence where or when I go, or much of how I present myself, but it certainly influences my feeling of armoring up to go out into the world. Being visibly queer is a complicated thing, and many brilliant folks I know are marginalized because of it. Being accepted in the mainstream is lovely in many ways, but it comes with the pressure to be acceptable to the mainstream. I think hard about where I am and am not willing to compromise. (I don’t shave my legs, but I always wear pants.) My gender is not an unconscious thing – it’s something I do, think about, wrestle with, and prepare to confront folks about on a daily basis.

I’ve been hearing some pushback that some recent queer events have been hostile to folks perceived to be heterosexual or heteronormative. This is not part of my vision of queer liberation. I’d love to think and talk more about how we create spaces to be queer in its original sense: transgressive and nonconformist, outside the norm. Not to rigidly expect that everyone look like us, or that only freaks and outlaws be invited, but where the new norm is no norm. Because we all deserve the privilege of feeling like we’re welcome and expected.