NCTE on Capitol Hill: Nancy Pelosi’s Youth Roundtable

July 15, 2011

Photo Credit: Campus Progress

I was recently invited to attend a small youth roundtable hosted by U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to discuss the current debate over government spending. House Minority Leader Pelosi wanted to get a better understanding of what young people thought before returning to the debate.

Attendees felt that immigrant rights, student loan debt, and Medicaid were of great import. But the subject of employment for transgender people was also, of course, important. In a weak job market, transgender people, especially transgender people of color, are often among the hardest hit. I said, “if our representatives consider the impact of their decisions on transgender people and other people who face discrimination, then their decision should be clear.” Speaker Pelosi was supportive in her response, mentioning how she defended the inclusion of gender identity in the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

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NCTE at the Campus Progress National Conference: a New Direction for the LGBT Movement?

July 8, 2011

Mara Keisling at CPNC11Photo Credits: Campus Progress

Wednesday July 6th, I attended the 2011 Campus Progress National Conference with Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. The Conference gathered over 1000 young people to learn and share perspectives on social justice and political change.  Mara spoke at a panel entitled “The Current State of LGBT Movements,” alongside Trina Olson, Senior Training Manager at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Kenyon Farrow, member of the executive committee for the Center for Gay & Lesbian Studies and former executive director of Queers for Economic Justice.

What is the current state of LGBT movements? Not well, says the panelists. Despite recent high-profile victories such as marriage equality in New York, there is reason to be concerned about the direction of the movement as a whole. There was universal agreement among the panelists that the money funding marriage equality efforts is drying up. Mara was straightforward: there is simply too much focus on this particular issue. Trina Olson and Kenyon Farrow expressed similar beliefs, referencing the many different queer issues that still wait to be addressed. Kenyon pointed out that the image of the white gay person is becoming “normalized” while the queer community continues to divide itself along race and class lines. Mara also emphasized this point, saying, “If you are not doing racial justice work, you are not doing queer work, or at least you are not doing it well.”

Listening to the panelists, it was easy to agree with what they were saying. If you turn to any major news source, the LGBT issue that is getting real coverage is same-sex marriage. But studies such as Injustice at Every Turn or GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey demonstrate that there many queer people who still fight for access to basic rights and humane treatment.

View more pictures of the conference here.

UN Passes Resolution to Prevent Human Rights Violations for LGBT People

June 17, 2011

Today, the international community took an important step in the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights around the world. In a narrow 23-19 vote, the United Nation’s Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling attention to the daily mistreatment, discrimination and violence that LGBT people face. It charges the Human Rights Council High Commissioner, Navanethem Pillay, with preparing and presenting a study on discriminatory laws and practices that restrict or oppress LGBT people.  The resolution also establishes appropriate follow-up to seek recommendations to eliminate them.

This act makes history as the first time the UN passed a resolution solely focused on protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In December 2008, 66 countries signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirming protections of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, from which the United States was sorely absent in support. While inspiring hope in many countries, the 2008 statement had little power to create significant change for those struggling. However, today’s announcement has strong potential to bring attention to the horrifying experiences of transgender people by thoroughly documenting the laws and institutions that perpetuate them.  Notably, this resolution marks the first time that sexual orientation and gender identity has ever been included in a formal UN resolution, showing a distinct improvement in worldwide awareness of transgender rights.

The Obama Administration has been a strong advocate for worldwide LGBT rights, and was a key player in the passing of today’s resolution. Mara Keisling, the National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director said, “This resolution is a historic step in the global movement for transgender rights and strengthens our own work at home.” She continued, “I am proud of our country’s support of the resolution. President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s leadership here is among many examples of this Administration’s commitment to real change for transgender people everywhere.”

JUNE 20th UPDATE:  President Obama released the following statement on the passage of the resolution:

Today, for the first time in history, the United Nations adopted a resolution dedicated to advancing the basic human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons. This marks a significant milestone in the long struggle for equality, and the beginning of a universal recognition that LGBT persons are endowed with the same inalienable rights — and entitled to the same protections — as all human beings.  The United States stands proudly with those nations that are standing up to intolerance, discrimination, and homophobia.  Advancing equality for LGBT persons should be the work of all peoples and all nations.  LGBT persons are entitled to equal treatment, equal protection, and the dignity that comes with being full members of our diverse societies.  As the United Nations begins to codify and enshrine the promise of equality for LGBT persons, the world becomes a safer, more respectful, and more humane place for all people.

NCTE @ the Federal LGBT Youth Summit

June 10, 2011
Trans Youth

A Series of Posters Tell The Stories of LGBT Youth

This week I had the opportunity to attend, along with several colleagues and many other LGBT advocates, the first ever federal summit focusing on the needs of LGBT youth. The summit was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, and brought together federal employees, policy makers, advocates, and of course gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and other youth themselves. These youth were what the summit was truly about. Though many adults spoke over the course of the two-day summit, the voice of the young people who are currently struggling in this country was what attendees were listening for, and this voice was heard.

The youth who were present provided a plethora of thought-provoking comments, and their insights were recognized by the officials present. Over the course of the two-day event we also heard many heart-wrenching stories of abuse and mistreatment faced by the LGBT youth who spoke. Being there to stand among us and share their stories shows their strong dedication to making this world a better place for themselves and their peers. However, we also heard the stories of some who were not present; children and teens who were so overwhelmed by constant harassment, threats, and acts of violence that they felt their only choice was to end their own lives. This event drove home just what it is we are fighting for in our efforts to end bullying among youth.

In addition to the voices of youth, many officials attended to educate us on a variety of topics. Covering  as much ground as possible within the wide scope of the summit, presentations included such topics as reducing teen suicide rates, LGBT youth in rural communities, LGBT students of color, and LGBT youth in the juvenile justice and foster care systems. It was clear that the people present wanted to make an effort to make sure that the true range and complexity of the issues of LGBT youth were addressed.

Part of this effort involved an increased resolve to address transgender issues. Though it’s said that the T in LGBT is often silent, participants at the summit showed a marked interest in transgender specific issues. This interest was met by a panel presentation led by Emily Greytak, senior research associate at GLSEN, who reported data showing the harsh lives led by transgender students. Greytak received a particularly strong round of applause when she commented that researchers should only include the “T” in their LGBT surveys when they have truly taken the transgender perspective into account, and should not endorse the tokenization of the transgender community. Another presentation, led by both myself and fellow NCTE staff member Bryce Celotto, discussed policy recommendations for improving the student lives of transgender youth in schools.
However, despite the evidence of an increase in trans awareness, much still remains to be done. Transgender youth are still too often an invisible demographic in LGBT advocacy, and it could be a long time before recommendations made at the summit can be effectively implemented. Still, this summit has shown that our current administration is behind us in our struggle for equal rights.