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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.


Headmaster No. 2 PVD Launch Party


Rugby uniform by Joseph Segal, photographed by Jesse Burke

Thursday, August 18 • 6:00pm – 10:00pm
The Salon57 Eddy Street

The end of summer is nigh, but Headmaster wants to party with you just once before the fall term starts. Celebrate the release of Headmaster no. 2 with the magazine’s editors, contributors and models. Copies of Headmaster will be for sale, along with prints and t-shirts, if you haven’t gotten yours yet. DJ set by HARSHBOYS, plus a fancy Headmaster drink special and snacks.

Also, stick around after the party for a performance by B-Hive, Providence’s (the world’s?) premiere B-52’s cover band.

The party is free and open to everyone.


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.
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Garden Workshop

When I’m not working, or ranting and raving, I’m in the garden. (Those are my cherry tomatoes from last year.) The past couple of years I’ve had the great honor of working with the Southside Community Land Trust to teach others to grow healthy food. Next Saturday I’ll be teaching a workshop in the Beginning Growers Series. I’ll be covering Weeding, Harvesting, and Cultivating Fall Crops on July 9 from 10-11 am. (It’s not exactly LGBTQ but since I’m the instructor it will at least be a little queer.) I’ll be talking about my new favorite topic, organic fertilizing with fish emulsion, and there will be samples of fish emulsion to take home. The event is hosted by the Cadillac Drive Community Garden , which is worth seeing – I taught a bunch of workshops there last year and it totally knocked my socks off. The garden is near the corner of Early St. and Cadillac Dr., so get directions to 6 Cadillac Drive and come see the park. You can see the garden under construction and get directions here. Visit the Land Trust’s events page for more upcoming home gardening events.


Second Class

Last night the Rhode Island Senate passed a really problematic Civil Union bill. If you believe that a successful compromise is one that leaves everyone disapponted, it really hit the mark. The bill includes “religious exemption” language that might well set LGBT rights back 15 years in the Biggest Little, allowing religious institutions and individuals with “sincerely held beliefs” to ignore the very relationship status it creates. And because it’s so broad and sweeping, it may allow people to ignore the civil rights laws passed 15 years ago.

I’ve not been a supporter of civil unions for many years. Once Massachusetts, our neighbor state, began allowing same-sex couples to marry in 2004, the game changed. To pass a civil union bill now, in New England, less than a week after New York passed marriage equality legislation, makes us look provincial and stupid. To pass one with such wide reaching religious exemptions that it may actually remove queer folks’ rights to housing, hospital visitation, and funeral planning, well, that’s just wrong.

Context is important here. As I wrote in my testimony against civil unions this year, before the horrible Corvese amendment was added, “here in New England it is absurd to pretend that passing civil union legislation is a step forward for our state.”

Let us consider the following facts:

  • Our neighboring states of Massachusetts and Connecticut not only provide the full protection of marriage equality, but they recognize marriage as a constitutionally-guaranteed right (established through their courts) for all couples.
  • Four of 5 other New England states celebrate the freedom of all couples to marry
  • Rhode Island is unique in not having taken the step to either legalize or outlaw marriages between same-sex spouses. Additionally, out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples have largely been recognized.
  • The highest courts of both Massachusetts and Connecticut have ruled clearly that civil unions are not only an insufficient remedy to the unconstitutional exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, but also that they embody a clear message that gay families aren’t good enough.

Let’s not pretend that civil unions are a fresh answer to a new question. This esteemed committee has debated any number of pieces of legislation related to domestic relations for nearly 15 years. Hundreds of Rhode Island same-sex couples are legally married already, and hundreds more have access to marriage just outside our borders. In this context, it is clearly wrong to create a separate legal class for same-sex couples.

With full marriage equality available to same-sex Rhode Island couples just over the border in any direction, I don’t know why anyone would settle for a civil union. Marriage is a much stronger protection, and with the civil union law so tenuous, if I wanted legal recognition of my relationship, I’d head to Massachusetts or Connecticut.

So what’s next? I don’t know. People are talking about the 2012 election cycle, and I think that’s an important consideration. But I also think we need to find a way to demonstrate the harmful impact of this legislation, hopefully one that doesn’t wait until a civilly unionized couple faces religiously motivated denial of their rights. Maybe a “buy-in”, where we encourage queer Rhode Islanders and their allies to spend money in the “equality states” of Massachusetts or Connecticut? Don’t worry, Jef, I’ll give you a ride.


“We’re Here To Help” – June 9

We’re Here To Help is an evening of stories by six primarily gay and queer-identifying writers who are (or have been) in the business of sex. Organized by Matthew Lawrence the event is taking place tomorrow (Thursday) evening as part of Q30/30 Days of Queer Arts at 65 Eddy Street (behind City Hall) downtown. The reading starts at 9pm and will feature stories by Audacia Ray, Melissa Gira Grant, Matthew Lawrence, Maria Diaz, Lola D. Sorrow, and Will Vail.

Full performer bios below:
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