Puerto Rico Governor Signs LGBT-Inclusive Nondiscrimination Bill Into Law

May 29, 2013

NCTE celebrates the passage by the legislature of Puerto Rico of a law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, and marital status in employment. Puerto Rico joins 16 states and the District of Columbia with LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws.

The passage of this legislation is particularly important in light of the epidemic of homophobic and transphobic violence in the territory in recent years. In December, the Puerto Rico Police Department entered into an agreement with the the US Department of Justice meant in part to remedy findings that police abused and failed to protect LGBT people. Despite these enormous challenges, Puerto Rico’s LGBT community has continued to fight hard for protections such as the employment measure, which Governor García Padilla signed into law today. Also yet to be passed are a law protecting LGBT victims of domestic violence, which was  Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives sent on to the Senate law week, as well as protections in housing and in business establishments serving the public, which were omitted from the just-passed bill.

NCTE salutes Puerto Rico’s LGBT community, as well as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force for its role in achieving this major milestone.

Report from the Conference on the Rights of LGBT People in Europe

April 17, 2013

I was privileged to represent NCTE and join lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex activists from across Europe, as well as a few fellow North Americans, last month in Paris at the “Conference on the Rights of LGBT People in Europe”, hosted by the governments of France and Poland.

The conference, attended by government ministers and human rights activists from around the continent, is part of a series of international meetings focused on elevating these issues within the global human rights framework. An Asian regional meeting was held earlier in March in Kathmandu, Nepal, and a Latin American regional meeting will be held this week in Brasilia, Brazil, concluding in mid-April with a global summit in Oslo, Norway, hosted by the South African and Norwegian governments.

NCTE was invited to attend as a member of the Council for Global Equality, together with Council staffer Mark Bromley, and I was very honored to be asked to speak on one of the workshop panels regarding legal gender recognition as a human rights issue. The conference was a tremendous opportunity to meet colleagues from Transgender Europe (TGEU), the Organization Intersex International, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association of Europe (ILGA-Europe), and other ILGA-Europe member organizations. These activists are doing fantastic work across Europe and beyond. No country today can boast a perfect record when it comes to the human rights of LGBTI people – though some have further to go than others – and these activists along with others around the world are doing incredible work from which US activists should draw inspiration and insight.

I was particularly honored not only to attend but to participate as a speaker in a workshop on “Liberties – Fighting Discrimination Against LGBT Persons,” which focused on the topics of gender recognition and attacks on the rights of expression and assembly. The following are my prepared remarks from the workshop:

I would like to outline for our discussion this afternoon the issue of gender recognition and its connection to fundamental rights.

The designation of one’s gender by the state is a constant presence in everyday life today. For most it is experienced as perhaps benign and hardly noticed, but for millions of trans people today it is a source of ever present anxiety, humiliation, and fear, because our official documents and records announce a gender at odds with our core personal identity. This means that, for example, a trans woman like myself must display a male gender marker every time she seeks to:

  • apply for employment
  • enroll in school
  • open a bank account
  • travel
  • apply for public benefits
  • or even seek help in a crisis

Lack of gender recognition, and the ever present documentation of the wrong gender identifier not only “outs” individuals involuntarily in numerous and often vulnerable situations; it not only thrusts one’s trans status into the forefront in every part of social and economic life; it does even more than that. Lack of gender recognition also has the effect if conveying to everyone we encounter the stigmatizing message that we are not who we say we are, and implicitly that our core identity is a kind of fraud, to be disregarded or regarded with disdain.  In effect, lack of gender recognition imposes a mark of inferior social status.

Read the rest of this entry »

Honoring Trans Veterans

November 11, 2012

On this Veterans’ Day, NCTE salutes the contributions and sacrifices of transgender veterans. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 1 in 5 transgender adults has served in the armed forces. These brave Americans have served in silence, and often been denied the benefits they worked so hard and risked so much to earn.

In recent years, we have begun to make progress. In 2011 the Veterans Administration issued a directive calling for respectful and appropriate treatment for transgender veterans seeking health care. NCTE has continued to work with the VA to implement that directive across the country, from providing guidance to VA medical staff to updating patient records to reflect a person’s gender identity. And with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we have finally begun a much-needed conversation about open military service for transgender people.

There is still much to do. Trans people are still forced to serve in silence, as our non-trans gay, lesbian, and bisexual brothers and sisters thankfully no longer have to do. Trans veterans are still denied their hard-earned health benefits when it comes to medically necessary transition-related surgeries. NCTE will keep working to fulfill our promises to trans servicemembers and veterans.

NCTE’s resource on VA benefits and the VA transgender directive can be found here.

Read the Veterans Health Administration Directive here.

NCTE Meets with Ecuadorian LGBT Activists

October 25, 2012

NCTE Director of Policy Harper Jean Tobin with the delegation of Ecuadorian LGBT Activists.

Last Tuesday, I was thrilled, along with colleagues from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, to meet and discuss LGBT activism with a group of incredible LGBT activists from Ecuador. The U.S. State Department regularly facilitates visits by distinguished community leaders and human rights activists from around the world to meet and exchange knowledge with their counterparts and other experts in the US. In recent years, the State Department’s exchange programs have increasingly connected international LGBT activists with U.S.-based activists, and the results have been enriching for all involved. As part of this all-LGBT, all-Ecuadorian visit, our guests were meeting with leaders and activists here in the nation’s capitol and elsewhere.

While we Americans can often be very, very US-centric in our focus, we have a lot to learn from our counterparts around the world. This was first driven home for me years ago when I wrote a scholarly article on gender identity recognition around the world, and discovered that some nations such as the United Kingdom and Spain were, at least by some measures, well ahead of the United States when it comes to the rights of transgender people. In recent years there has been a tremendous amount of LGBT and specifically transgender activism throughout much of Latin America, including major developments in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina to name a few.

Watch: Proyecto Transgenero’s video educating Ecuadorians about trans people and the identification challenges trans people face.

Read the rest of this entry »

Re-Cap: Trans Issues at the Aging in America Conference

April 6, 2012

I was pleased to be able to attend and present last week at Aging in America, the nation’s largest multi-disciplinary conference on aging issues, which this year was held in the nation’s capital. I attended a number of great sessions on topics such as cultural competence in aging services, the experiences of transgender people at mid-life, improving responses to issues of intimacy and sexuality in long-term care settings, and how the Affordable Care Act benefits multicultural elders. There was an incredible track of LGBT aging programming at this year’s conference, with more than a dozen LGBT-focused workshops.

I was privileged to join Karen Fredriksen-Golden of the University of Washington School of Social Work and Loree Cook-Daniels of FORGE Transgender Aging Network for a panel on what some of the most recent transgender survey research can tell us about trans older adults. In addition to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, we discussed the recent Aging and Health Report on LGBT older adults, surveys by FORGE on sexuality and sexual violence among older adults, and research documented in the new book The Lives of Transgender People.

Read the rest of this entry »

Re-cap: Bringing Trans Issues to the Motor Vehicle Administrators Gathering

March 14, 2012

Yesterday I had the opportunity to give a presentation to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) at their annual Spring Conference in New Orleans. AAMVA invited NCTE to speak to their members on providing appropriate and effective customer service to transgender people, as well as best practices for updating gender designations on driver’s licenses and state ID cards. I discussed the growing trend toward streamlined policies that enable updates to be made quickly and easily with a simple form and without disclosure of detailed medical information, using the District of Columbia DMV policy as a model of this trend.

Having presented a webinar to AAMVA’s members last year together with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, I was pleased to be able to meet so many of them in person. AAMVA’s members, who are motor vehicle administrators from jurisdictions throughout the US and Canada, gave me a warm welcome and were very interested to hear about these topics, which every agency must deal with but which have until recently received little focused attention in most jurisdictions. I was impressed by how seriously AAMVA’s members take providing professional service to all their customers and developing policies that work for everyone. For my own part I was able to learn a lot about all the hard work that goes into producing secure and user-friendly driver’s licenses – though I was disappointed to miss the session on “Emerging Vehicle Issues,” i.e. flying cars (!).

Read the rest of this entry »

NCTE @ the National Summit on Gender-Based Violence Among Youth

April 11, 2011

Conference Notebook ImageThis week I had the chance, along with a number of other LGBT advocates, to attend the National Summit on Gender-Based Violence Among Youth, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, with the participation of the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services.  The summit brought together youth, educators, researchers, service providers, advocates and policymakers to discuss solutions to violence that is based on gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  The summit took an integrated approach, bringing together discussions and efforts focused on sexual harassment, dating violence, sexual assault, and violence targeting LGBT youth.

A major theme of the summit was the need for research and for evidence-based interventions.  We know that harassment of transgender youth in schools is pervasive – according to research by GLSEN, more than half of trans students have been physically harassed at school in the past year.  However, little research has been done to compare experiences of bullying, physical abuse and sexual harassment against trans youth, to look at who sexually harasses trans youth and in what circumstances, and to understand how this harassment may differ from sexual harassment of non-transgender girls and boys. We know even less about dating or intimate partner violence experienced by trans youth or adults.

Although there has been little research focusing on sexual violence against transgender youth or adults, existing studies report a lifetime prevalence of sexual assault ranging from 21% to 59%.  In the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 12% of adults who had attended K-12 school as a trans or gender nonconforming student had been sexually assaulted by a fellow student, school staff or teacher.  More than one in five trans people who has tried to get access to a homeless shelter – many of them youth – has been sexually assaulted in a shelter.

Advocates and educators working to prevent and respond to gender-based violence have become increasingly aware of the vulnerabilities of trans youth and the need to develop interventions that include and protect them. While local LGBT anti-violence projects and groups such as Break the Cycle and the Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse have led the way, all the attendees at this week’s summit, including administration officials, acknowledged the importance of making sure that their work is fully LGBT-inclusive.

There is still much to do.  Too often, schools still treat transgender and gender-nonconforming youth as the problem instead of the abuse against them.  NCTE will continue to work with anti-violence advocates and  federal agencies  to address all forms of violence that affect transgender young people.

What can schools and communities do to prevent and respond to violence against transgender youth?

  • Train educators, administrators and counselors about transgender youth and their needs and vulnerabilities;
  • Adopt comprehensive policies on harassment, bullying and abuse that enumerate vulnerable groups, including transgender youth;
  • Adopt school policies that ensure full inclusion of transgender students, including students’ ability to dress, access restrooms, and compete in sports consistent with their gender identity;
  • Support student efforts such as the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance or participation in events such as the National Day of Silence or Ally Week;
  • Institute age-appropriate, inclusive curricula on harassment and dating violence;
  • Use posters and stickers in offices and classrooms to help youth identify supportive adults;
  • Partner with local anti-violence projects to develop efforts tailored to the local community;
  • Never blame a young person’s gender identity or expression for violence against them.

NCTE @ the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention

March 29, 2011

I was honored to participate in the historic White House for a Conference on Bullying Prevention on March 10 on behalf of NCTE. At the White House’s invitation, I joined about 150 students, parents, researchers, policymakers and education leaders in a day long discussion that focused on the causes, effects, and solutions to bullying for all students. The vulnerability of LGBTQ youth was a major focus of discussion, as was targeting of students based on disability, religion and ethnicity, and the importance of strategies for ensuring that all students are respected and protected.


Harper Jean Tobin at White House Conference on Bullying

Harper Jean Tobin (directly behind First Lady Michelle Obama) listens to President Obama's opening remarks

The morning started – as many events at the White House do – with more than an hour spent waiting in line, going through security, and being escorted to the right room. This was not dead time, however – there were a lot of introductions and conversations among attendees who came to the problem of bullying from a variety of different points of view and expertise. It wasn’t until a few moments after sitting down in the East Room that I realized I’d chosen a seat just a few feet from the podium where, shortly, the President and the First Lady arrived to deliver opening remarks. The First Lady noted that:

As parents, it breaks our hearts to think that any child feels afraid every day in the classroom, or on the playground, or even online. It breaks our hearts to think about any parent losing a child to bullying, or just wondering whether their kids will be safe when they leave for school in the morning.

The President issued a call to action:

We’ve got to make sure our young people know that if they’re in trouble, there are caring adults who can help and young adults that can help; that even if they’re having a tough time, they’re going to get through it, and there’s a whole world full of possibility waiting for them. We also have to make sure we’re doing everything we can so that no child is in that position in the first place. And this is a responsibility we all share — a responsibility we have to teach all children the Golden Rule: We should treat others the way we want to be treated.

A panel discussion by leading researchers was followed by break-out discussions led by key administration officials. Mine was led by Russlyn Ali and Tom Perez, who head up civil rights enforcement at the Departments of Justice and Education. The discussion was free-flowing, informative and inspiring. Even more than the words of the President and the First Lady, I was moved by the courage of the parents and students in attendance who had felt the impact of bullying in their own lives and acted to prevent it from happening to others.

For me, the best part of attending the conference was having the opportunity to meet and have conversations with leaders representing government, teachers, parents and youth across the country about the challenges and hazards that transgender and gender non-conforming students face. According to research by GLSEN, nearly half all of transgender students say they’ve been physically assaulted at school; nearly half say they’ve recently skipped school because of mistreatment; and more than one in three had heard staff make negative comments about their gender expression. The risks trans youth face are exacerbated when they are singled out by teachers or administrators over issues such as they way they dress or which restroom they use; more than 50% of trans students say they’ve avoided restrooms and locker rooms out of fear or discomfort. And research conducted by NCTE and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force shows that bullying significantly increases trans youths’ risk for attempting suicide. Addressing these serious risks requires that educators and policymakers understand the experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming youth.

In order to prevent bullying and protect youth, we need to create a culture of respect in schools and ensure that all students are included as equal members of the school community – regardless of their gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnicity, disability or any other factor. And we need to involve all parts of society in the solutions. Toward that end, the conference was used to announce the launch of no fewer than ten new anti-bullying campaigns and resources by participating organizations ranging from Facebook to the National PTA to StopBullying.gov, a federal website bringing together key resources, including resources on protecting LGBT youth. NCTE, together with our allies at GLSEN, PFLAG, the Trevor Project, and other LGBT advocates, will continue to work with agencies across the federal government to ensure that the Obama Administration does everything it can to protect and support our youth.