It’s Time to Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

May 27, 2010

NCTE fully supports the repeal of the deeply flawed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy used to discharge gay, lesbian and bisexual people from the US military. We stand in solidarity with those who want to serve openly, without fear that a revelation of their sexual orientation will end their careers.  We recognize, too, that military service is an important path for some to obtain education, jobs, housing and other important benefits.

While DADT is specifically focused on sexual orientation, not on gender identity, it very much impacts transgender service members. Differences in gender expression have been assumed by some to signify a lesbian or gay sexual orientation and so have triggered investigations and discharges. There are many active duty service members who identify as transgender; however, contrary to modern medical understanding, the military continues to wrongly consider gender identity as a mental illness that disqualifies people from entering or serving.

The movement to repeal DADT and the work to pass federal employment protections through the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) share a common root—a person’s right to pursue the career path they choose.  One of the freedoms Americans cherish is the right of individuals to determine the course of their own futures. Whether that path is military service or another way of earning a living, none of us should be curtailed from pursuing our dreams and goals because of the prejudice of individuals or institutions.

It is time to remove the barriers to full and open employment for all LGBT people in both the military and civilian sectors.

FDA to Review Its Blood Ban for Men Who Have Sex With Men

May 26, 2010

On May 20, 2010, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would start reviewing its policies on blood donation to consider ending its permanent ban against blood donation from men who have sex with men (MSM). Many transgender people are turned away from donating blood because they are often viewed as being MSM.  The Department of Health and Human Services will host public hearings on the FDA’s blood ban from June 10 and 11th at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville, Maryland.

NCTE supports overturning the blood ban because it unfairly targets LGBT people. MSM are explicitly and permanently banned from donating blood, no matter what their HIV status or actual risk level. The FDA does not have such an onerous rule for other people who engage in high-risk behavior; for example, the FDA requires heterosexuals who have sex with someone who is known to be HIV positive to wait only one year before donating blood.

Additionally, the FDA’s blood ban affects transgender individuals even though they are not mentioned in the FDA’s policies. For example, an uninformed intake person at a blood center may decide to deem a transgender woman as male. If she had sex with a man even once, then she can be permanently banned from donating blood.  A transgender man can also be deemed to be an MSM if he had sex with a man.

The FDA instituted its policies in 1983 during a time when HIV/AIDS was poorly understood. And yet, 27 years later, the FDA is still using the same outdated and discriminatory policies to regulate the blood supply despite scientific research that has advanced far enough that a ban is unnecessary. For example, after donation, blood can now be tested for a variety of diseases including hepatitis B and C, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The FDA’s permanent ban against any man who has sex with another man from donating blood is scientifically unjustified.

The American Medical Association, the American Red Cross, and America’s Blood Centers all support overturning the FDA’s blood ban. Many of these organizations support requiring MSM to wait for a one-year or five-year period before donating blood, similar to the one year waiting period for heterosexuals who engage in unprotected sex.

The committee in charge of reviewing the FDA’s blood ban will be tasked with reviewing

  1. Societal, scientific and economic factors for making the policy change,
  2. Whether available scientific research supports making the policy change or whether there must be more studies on this issue,
  3. Whether monitoring tools or surveillance activities should be established before making the policy change, and
  4. Whether there should additional safety measures.

NCTE supports overturning the FDA’s blood ban because it is scientifically unjustified and stigmatizes LGBT individuals. The FDA should revise its policies to reflect current scientific knowledge while safeguarding the United States’ blood supply

Why are we still asking you to call Congress?

May 17, 2010

Calling Congress doesn’t seem glamorous to some folks and people have asked us why we keep asking people over and over again to call their member of Congress. Is this doing us any good? Why should people keep doing it?  These are very legitimate questions.

Here’s the answer from our perspective: calling Congress matters and it has been doing an incredible amount of good. Your calls—and the calls of thousands and thousands of people like you—are the reason we have the votes we have for ENDA. Because LGBT people and our allies have made it clear to members of Congress that we need the protections that ENDA will offer, we are now on the brink of passing this bill. We cannot stop at this critical juncture.

Do they actually pay attention to the messages we leave? Staffers on Capitol Hill say that they absolutely pay attention to the calls and e-mails for and against ENDA. Especially since this is the first time we are really holding our own with the religious right—we are finally matching their calls in many districts and in some places surpassing them. This really matters.

Calling and e-mailing your member of Congress definitely should not be—and is not—the only strategy for passing this bill. Work is being done on all fronts, from direct actions to visits to Capitol Hill, and your calls and e-mails are one important part of that strategy. There are many other things you can do as well. Check out the endaNOW website  or go to our ENDA page to find out what folks are doing and get ideas about how you can join in. But on the way, take a couple of minutes and make that call again …

Life Can Be Very Unfair

May 7, 2010

This is cross-posted from Gender DynamiX, which is “the first African based organisation solely focussing on the transgender community.” They provide resources, information and support to trans folks, their partners, family, employers and the public. Justin met with the groups’ wonderful founders a few years ago in Cape Town.  Here’s a glimpse of what life is like for transgender people and our advocates in other parts of the world:

I have gone through trauma my whole life because the whole community hated the fact that I acted like a girl. What they didn’t know was that it was not a choice I had made but something I was born with.   I am God’s creation just like everybody else. I was beaten many times and even lost part of my hearing that way.  The hardest thing was that I could not confide in anyone since in Zimbabwe it is taboo and illegal to be the way I was (transgender). My life and the life of my parents’ were at risk because people were threatening to burn down our house. That is when I decided to run away, in order to protect both myself and my family. I decided to come to South Africa, where I have met wonderful and caring people through Gender DynamiX. My life is just starting to make sense and I have a little bit of peace in my heart, something that I haven’t felt before.

My name is Tandi* and I am a 21 year old Zimbabwean. I was born a boy with a male organ and everyone thought my parents had had another son. It was while growing up that I started showing feminine interests and mannerisms.  Everyone realised that I had looked and walked and done everything like a girl since childhood. My friends were girls. I played with dolls and wore feminine clothes. My first crush was on a boy in grade three. My mother was a teacher at my primary school.  I would cry to get into the girls’ netball team. She would let me play and it felt right to be among other girls. When you are a child, people realise that there is something wrong but they don’t pay much attention to it and they do not bug you about it. So my childhood was a lot better because I was still young and my parents let me do most of the things I wanted to do.

My troubles all began when I started getting older. Everyone- my family, neighbours and the community, were on my case and asking me why I was acting like a girl. Some accused me of doing this intentionally and letting it happen. In church I couldn’t sit with the boys or the girls. In high school, they wrote bad things about me on notice boards and called me all sorts of names. I had to drop out because I was in a boarding school and the students were making my life difficult.  They would force me to go into the bathroom with them to make sure I was a real man. I started going to a day school but even the teachers would pass all sorts of comments that always made me feel down. I could not concentrate and my mother tried to home school me but I failed my final exams.  I was staying in the location and  it became serious when the guys started beating me and some of them even tried to get me to bed. They tried to gang rape me and I managed to escape. I was beaten when I tried to go to the shops and lost part of my hearing due to the beatings. They even threatened to burn our house. For me that was the final straw.

I sat down with my parents and pleaded with them to try and raise money for my visa. I knew I had to get away, to remain alive and protect my parents as well. I was not living a life. I had never been involved in a relationship with anyone because I was so afraid of what would happen to me.
I came to South Africa. In Cosmopolitan magazine  I read about Gender DynamiXand called them. They found me a shelter to stay at. Gender DynamiX has been my rock and I can feel that I am starting to live and I am free.

When I first came to South Africa it was hard for me because I was staying with a cousin in Johannesburg.  Her landlady did not like people spending the whole day at her house, so I had to spend the day outside, looking for any jobs around the city to pass the time. This also made me spend the little money I had. Travelling to and fro looking for a job used up a large amount of the money I had, so it was really tough. Life in South Africa is generally cheaper than in Zimbabwe. The weather is quite a challenge for me  because it is so cold here and I just had no clothes. I did not imagine that winter here could be so bad. I am getting around anyway and getting help from anonymous donors who are giving me clothes. The other challenge was in the township that I was staying in. The men could sometimes be mean and I couldn’t understand what they were saying but I could see by their look that they were not saying something nice. If they greet you and realise that you do not understand them they try to grab you or make fun of you.

Life was somehow starting to make some sense to me. Sometimes people would invite me to spend time with them, and even ask me to spend the night at their homes. This meant a lot to me.  I realise that there are people who are willing to sacrifice everything to make someone happy. It makes me cry sometimes just to think that people in a foreign country, who know so little about me, are the ones who are willing to make me happy and get nothing for it.  I can’t wait for Sunday’s, because I go to church and afterwards people take me out with them and have dinner and talk and dance and laugh. It makes a huge difference in my life and I cannot wait for the next Sunday. I am sure life will never cease to have its challenges though. One night we decided to go to a club for a girls’ night out. When I got to the door the bouncers would not let me into the club. I was hurt. I had to go back home and I felt bad because I think it took away the joy the other girls were supposed to have.

I have a journey I want to take and I realise that it is not going to be easy and a lot of people will judge me. I just have to hang in there. I know things will work out and I am proud to be the woman I am. It does not matter that I am waiting, but what matters is that I know what I want. I am so depressed sometimes that I cannot even breathe. I just feel I cannot take it anymore, but I know that nothing sweet comes easy. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and cannot sleep and I do not know what is bothering me.  I have been seeing a wonderful therapist recently and he is really helping me to appreciate myself more. I can talk to him about anything. I finally realise there is actually light at the end of the tunnel.

To apply for refugee status is no easy task

Another issue I have been dealing with is sorting out my refugee status but it is not an easy road. When Liesl and I went the first time they told us they were not dealing with Zimbabweans that day. We then went to the Law clinic at UCT for advice and they gave me a letter so that I will not be in trouble if the police ask for my identification and status.

We then went back to Home Affairs at four o’clock in the morning on the actual day for Zimbabweans. We had to bribe muscle-men there to stay in the queue. There were separate queues for the first timers and for those who wanted to renew their status. There were also massive queues of other foreigners from different countries. Everything was just chaotic.

Men in the queues were fighting for positions and once someone smashed a bottle on a woman standing behind me and she was injured. They were throwing bricks at each other and we had to duck so as not to be hit. The security guard would just come and hit with his sjambok and it almost hit us in the face. We had to scream so he would know there were ladies since it was dark.

We waited for six hours and afterwards they just took three of the ladies who were in front of me and ten men.  They then said that they had taken enough people for that day. After being outside in that harsh weather we had to go back home empty-handed again.

Last words

I wish whoever makes rules and regulations should be answerable for all the trauma and torture. It’s a pity that people in Zimbabwe feel that way towards God’s creation.  What these people need to understand is that you can control many things in the world but there is one thing that you just cannot control and that is human feeling. It is a  human right to do what is right from the heart. Human rights are beyond their control. And human rights should be obeyed whatever the circumstances. That is what happens if someone is gay, lesbian, intersexed, transgender or whatever. Something needs to be done to free these tortured souls and to allow us the chance to show what God proudly gave us. I am proudly in the process of becoming a real woman and I will not let anything stand in my way.

*Name changed for security reasons

People are telling Congress: I WANT A JOB!

May 3, 2010

Jennifer Chavez is a 52-year-old Transgender women who lost her previous job within 2 months of letting her employer know that she was transgender. She has taken action to let her member of Congress know that she needs a job; we asked her if she’d let us know how it went. Here is her story:

I am a ASE Master certified auto repair technician with L-1 Advanced Driveability Specialist certification with 37 years experience in all facets of the industry, shops are in desperate need of a person with my skills, yet no one will hire me due to my transition.

I found out about ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and of all the organizations and people involved with trying to correct this social injustice, our loss of Civil Rights. I contacted my Senators and Congressmen to tell them of my hope that they support ENDA and discovered that Senators Saxby Chambliss, Johnny Issakson and Congressman Phil Gingrey all oppose us for various reasons, none of them logical. Their explanations are easily broken down when put to the test. When NCTE posted on Facebook that we should take our resume’s directly to their offices, I thought what a fantastic idea!

I composed a letter to Congressman Gingrey since the bill, H.B.3017, is in the house legislature at the moment, asking him once again to reconsider his opposition to ENDA and I included my resume, along with a copy of my voter registration card, my initial letter to him with his response and my response to that and a copy of my certifications and training so that he could see first hand who I was. I also asked for suggestions as to what I should do to find a job, and I delivered it directly to his office in Marietta, Georgia. I am awaiting a response.

Thank you, Jennifer, for taking action. The personal stories and actions of individuals make a huge difference in passing bills like ENDA.

We wish you the very best in your job search!