Communication at the airport

November 23, 2010

While many Americans have general privacy concerns about new airport security procedures, there are many groups of travelers whose concerns about privacy or insensitive treatment by TSA personnel are especially acute, including religious minorities, transgender people, and people with a variety of medical conditions, disabilities, or assistive devices.

One specific concern shared by many of these groups involves communicating with TSA officers about sensitive personal or medical matters in the often noisy, crowded, and rushed environment of security checkpoints. To give travelers an additional option for addressing these issues, TSA has developed a standardized notification card that anyone can use to discreetly inform officers about any disability, medical condition or medical device that could affect security screening.

Notification cards front and back

Front and back of the Notification Cards

Travelers simply write their personal information on the wallet-sized card and hand it to the security officer. These cards are purely optional, and they do not exempt anyone from security screening. However using the card should make it clear that officers should handle your condition or item in a sensitive and discreet manner. It also allows you to inform the officer without having to make verbal statements that could be overheard by other travelers.

No one is required to use this card, but you may choose to carry it and present it at any time. For example, you may wish to present it if an officer asks about an item on your person that may require additional screening. If this seems useful to you, simply print out the card and complete it, writing clearly a brief word or phrase to describe your condition or item in the blank. You may use any term you feel is appropriate to communicate with the officers.

NCTE has issued information and resources to help transgender people understand the new procedures and prepare for holiday travels. For more information, including how to file a complaint or take action, please follow this link.

The Day of Remembrance

November 19, 2010

The Transgender Day of Remembrance, which falls on Saturday this year, is a time to honor the transgender people who have fallen to violence in the last twelve months. Each name, each face represents a precious life that ended because of another person’s consuming hatred and fear.  It is, quite simply, a terrible tragedy.

Last night at NCTE’s anniversary celebration, Ruby Corado from the DC Trans Coalition spoke so powerfully about the shift that our community has made from picking up the bodies of victims to the conviction that we can and must fix the problems that leave bodies behind. She talked about the work that is needed to heal and to help those who have been survivors of violence but also the ways in which we are called to change policies and attitudes to make things better.

She is absolutely right. We must extend our deepest compassion and care to those who continue to face violence and discrimination because of their gender identity or expression. At the same time, we must be passionately committed to rooting out the causes of that violence and creating a safer world for all of us.

Transgender people can face violence in every aspect of our lives—in doctors’ offices, in schools, at home, and in the streets. This is absolutely unacceptable—there is simply no other way to put it. But hope is seen in the reactions of people when we talk about this. Two of our staff members conducted trainings this week, one for public health officials and one for educators; in both cases, people were shocked that their peers were engaging in violence and harassment. And sometimes all it takes to interrupt an act of violence or discrimination is one person who is aware that it wrong and has the courage to stand up to injustice and abuse. We hope that we planted seeds this week that will cause others to take action when the rights of transgender people are violated.

There is, of course, no one solution to the problem of violence against transgender people. We need to work to create hope. We need to work to create a society in nwhich transgender people can get and keep jobs. And we need the protections of federal laws—available to us for the first time this year in the Matthew Shephard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act—that will instigate both law enforcement action and study to address the issue of hate motivated violence. We must continue to educate our families, our friends, and the public about the realities of transgender lives, to broaden their understanding of who we are.

We must continue to work to create supportive environments—at work, at home, at school—where we are safe from hateful words and violence.  And we must continue to expand and to grow those places.

As we approach the Day of Remembrance, let us take a moment now to reflect on the tragic loss of real people, on the ways in which we can reach out to those who have survived violence—both those who have been targeted or the families and loved ones of those murdered—and on the ways in which we can take action to end it. Things must change … and together, we are the agents of that change.

Two transgender judges to serve

November 19, 2010


This week, two transgender people achieved victories as judges. Phyllis Randolph Frye, a veteran transgender legal advocate, was appointed by Houston mayor Annise Parker as an Associate Municipal Judge. The City Council unanimously approved the appointment and she was sworn in yesterday. Phyllis’ contributions to the transgender community over the decades are numerous and groundbreaking. She truly has been a pioneer securing legal rights for transgender people and standing up for those who would not otherwise have a voice.

And in Alameda County, California, the vote count is finally done and Victoria Kolakowski was officially declared the winner of her race for Superior Court Judge. She will be the nation’s first out transgender person elected as a trial judge. She, too, brings decades of legal experience to her work.

“Both of these women achieved what they did because of their qualifications,” noted Mara Keisling, NCTE’s executive director. “Both are deeply dedicated to their profession. The people of the United States deserve the very best judges and that is what they got in both of these cases. What is important here is that Mayor Parker of Houston and the voters of Alameda County removed the artificial barriers that are put in place by anti-transgender discrimination and made their decision based on the qualifications of these two outstanding women.”

NCTE extends its congratulations to both Phyllis and Vicky. This is truly a victory as barriers fall and two deserving judges take the bench.

Calling All Veterans

November 11, 2010

I am a veteran.

I love telling people that for two reasons; I’m proud of my service and it nearly always surprises people.  When you meet me, you meet an extremely liberal, out lesbian who is often mistaken for a man.  I was a vegetarian for eight years, I am very much against the death penalty, and I work hard to topple the status quo of classism, racism, sexism, and every other form of oppression.  So how could I also be a veteran?

Veterans are too rare a breed in the world of liberal politics.  And I’ll admit, some of my views have changed since I turned to Uncle Sam 20 years ago to help me get through college in the form of an ROTC scholarship.  But the common thread that runs through my life from military service to fighting for social justice is both my belief in the value of democracy, and the understanding that it is a participatory activity.  It doesn’t work if we don’t do it.

To some extent, my military service was a radicalizing experience for me.  I guess you get out of it what you bring to it, but I learned the joy of mass actions, the benefit of socialized medicine, and witnessed people from all walks of life setting aside differences to work towards common purpose.  Furthermore, I learned some great topple-the-status-quo skills in the military and use them in my fight for social justice now.

To my fellow veterans: Happy Veterans’ Day.  At NCTE, we salute you and we invite you to join us in continuing the fight.  Defending democracy doesn’t have to stop when we leave the out-processing station.

We love our adopted pets!

November 10, 2010
Our adopted pets

Ruby, Monty, Puffington and Nibaru

It’s National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week and we wanted to show off our staff members’ wonderful adopted pets.  Ruby (a border collie and pit bull mix), who is part of Stephanie White’s family, and Monty (a chocolate lab mix), my dog, were both adopted from animal shelters after being found as strays. Mara Keisling’s Puffington (a Shih Tzu) came from a breed rescue. The only cat in the group is Nibaru, adopted from an unwanted litter by Harper Jean Tobin.

All of these animals make our lives much richer and we encourage you to adopt a pet when you are looking for one.

For more information about Animal Shelter Appreciation Week, visit the Humane Society of the United States website.

We Salute Kye Allums and Trans Student Athletes

November 5, 2010


George Washington University junior Kye Allums is one courageous basketball player. Though he debuted as a GW player in November 2008 (by scoring 12 points against Coppin State University), this month he’s making another and even bigger debut – as the first openly transgender athlete on an NCAA Division I team. Transitioning from female to male on a women’s basketball team may seem like a daunting challenge, but the university, the NCAA and Kye’s teammates are behind him, according to reports that were all over the media this week. Under current NCAA policies Kye isn’t eligible to compete on a men’s team, and he still has has a scholarship to play on the women’s team. Though this will probably take a little getting used to for some, the GW Colonials are setting an example for other teams but respecting Kye (and referring to him) as the talented young man he is. Soon enough, the press attention will pass, the season will get going, and Kye and his teammates will keep focusing on their game and their studies – which is the way it should be.

Pursuing athletic competition and being part of a team are a dream for many young people. Yet transgender athletes face numerous obstacles, including lack of understanding and acceptance from teammates, coaches or opposing players, to organizational rules that frequently exclude them altogether. Fortunately, a growing number of school athletic organizations – such as the high school athletic associations in Washington and Colorado –  have begun to develop new policies to include and support trans students, and the NCAA has announced it is revising its own policies. A new report issued by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Women’s Sports Foundation last month outlines best practices for providing equal athletic opportunity at all levels of student competition. The report explains that schools must act affirmatively to ensure that trans students are included and treated equally, and to protect their personal privacy. It also explains how concerns about trans students having an unfair competitive advantage are either unfounded or exaggerated, and urges the development of comprehensive national standards that would give every student the opportunity to compete.

We hope that the NCAA will incorporate the principles in the report, and that being part of the team will soon be easier for all transgender students. We salute Kye and the GW Colonials, and all those who have supported Kye in approaching this very public transition — and wish them a very good season.

Transgender People and Breast Cancer

October 29, 2010

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time dedicated to educating the public about breast cancer and raising money for research on the disease’s cause, prevention, and cure.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a cancerous (malignant) tumor that starts from cells in breast tissue. It is the second most common and deadly cancer for American women. However, many individuals who are diagnosed with breast cancer are able to live long lives because of improvements in screening and treatment.

How does breast cancer affect transgender individuals?

There is not nearly enough research on how transgender people are affected by breast cancer or any other disease but those who work on transgender health note the following:

  • For a transgender woman, the risk of breast cancer increases following breast development and five or more years of hormone therapy.
  • For a transgender man, excessive testosterone can be converted into estrogen by the body, which leads to increased cancer risk. Additionally, transgender men may feel uncomfortable with either self-exams or medical exams, and may not realize that top surgery does not remove all breast tissue. Self-examination is a useful prevention tool that can be life-saving, regardless of a person’s gender.

We strongly encourage you to speak with your doctor about what screening and prevention measures are most appropriate for you and for your body.

What are the risk factors for breast cancer?

Women are more likely than men to have breast cancer; both transgender men and transgender women can be at risk. Besides gender, other risk factors for breast cancer include:

  • Increasing age;
  • A family history of or genetic susceptibility to breast cancer;
  • A history of radiation treatment to the chest wall;
  • A history of breast biopsies;
  • Nulliparity (which means never having been pregnant);
  • Having children after age 30;
  • Beginning menstruation before 12 years of age;
  • Undergoing menopause after 55 years of age;
  • Excessive alcohol consumption;
  • Obesity.

How can I reduce my risk of developing breast cancer?

Even though some risk factors for developing breast cancer cannot be changed, like your family history, you can reduce your risk for breast cancer through healthy eating habits, drinking in moderation, and exercising regularly. Annual mammograms are recommended for those over 50, and some organizations recommend them for those over 40. Monthly breast self-exams may also help to ensure early detection.


To learn more about breast cancer, please visit the following websites:

Department of Education: Title IX prohibits gender-based harassment

October 26, 2010

The Obama Administration sent a letter today to approximately 15,000 school districts, as well as to colleges and universities that receive federal funding, providing additional guidance about their responsibilities for ending harassment and bullying whenever and wherever they occur. The letter also includes concrete examples to help schools better understand and implement the law.

Importantly, the letter clarifies that gender-based harassment, including that which targets transgender students, is forbidden under Title IX of the Education Code and this applies when LGBT students are targeted based on their gender expression:

“… it can be sex discrimination if students are harassed either for exhibiting what is perceived as a stereotypical characteristic for their sex, or for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity. Title IX also prohibits sexual harassment and gender-based harassment of all students, regardless of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the harasser or target.

“Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, Title IX does protect all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, from sex discrimination.”

The letter also addresses other forms of bullying, such as harassment based on race, religion and disability.

The White House and the Department of Education held a briefing call today that included the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan; Russlynn Ali, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and the author of the letter released today; and Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office of Safe & Drug Free Schools, to answer questions from stakeholders about the letter. In that call, the Department of Education officials specifically mentioned bullying that is based on gender identity.

The letter is just part of the Department’s work to end bullying in schools. NCTE applauds the Department for addressing gender based bullying and for recognizing the ways in which gender stereotypes are used to target children for harassment.

You can read the full text of the letter here.