Why I am Fasting for Immigration Reform

December 3, 2013

by Mara Keisling, Executive Director, National Center for Transgender Equality

Last evening, I began fasting in solidarity with the brave and resolute activists participating in the Fast4Families effort, who have been fasting for 21 days (since November 12). They are fasting to call for Congressional action on immigration reform. I join them in asking that my country pass a common sense reform law that will allow millions of families to stay together, families who are just as deserving as mine to feel safe and welcome.

My fast comes after several years of thinking about immigration and the people it affects. As a fourth generation American, I can’t help but see what our broken immigration system is doing to families– families who are just like mine, except that they live each day in fear knowing that they can be separated at any time, be sent away from their homes, be abused by criminally immoral employers, be placed in solitary confinement, or be sent back to a country that is unknown and unsafe for them.

My fast grew from meeting transgender immigrants who came to the U.S. because they were transgender and not physically or economically safe where they were. Once here, they are unsafe in our broken immigration system because they are transgender. Our flawed enforcement programs funnel vulnerable transgender immigrants into our inhumane immigration detention system, and because they are transgender, they are routinely assigned to the torture of solitary confinement for an average of 9-12 months.


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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.

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 …

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!

At work on ENDA

April 29, 2010

Great work happening today on Capitol Hill for ENDA. We got a picture of a few of them in the hallway this afternoon: Mara Keisling from NCTE, Rhodes Perry of PFLAG, Lisa Mottet of the Task Force and Emily Hecht from the Family Equality Council.

It’s definitely time for everyone to pitch in for ENDA.

Need ideas or information about how you can help the Employment Non-Discrimination Act? NCTE has a new page: www.TransEquality.org/ENDA.

NCTE Talks to Hill Staffers about Trans Aging

April 22, 2010

Today I was privileged to speak to Congressional staffers and aging advocates about the challenges facing transgender older adults. In conjunction with the National LGBT Aging Roundtable, SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force presented a briefing this morning at which I shared the podium with Laurie Young of the Task Force, Hope Barrett of Chicago’s Howard Brown Health Clinic, and SAGE’s John Johnson.

Like transgender people of all ages, trans older adults face social stigma and discrimination in the workplace and when seeking housing, health care and social services, and suffer serious health disparities. In the NCTE/NGLTF National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 30% of adults over 60 reported having lost a job because they were transgender. Trans older adults are also more likely to live on their own, tend to have fewer social supports, and are vulnerable to elder abuse. They face systemic inequities, such as the frequent exclusion of medically necessary care under Medicare, and use of gender markers on Medicare cards that out people when they seek basic care.

One problem that we focused on in the briefing is discrimination in long-term care. Whether in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or other community- or home-based care services, trans people frequently encounter discrimination by the very people providing them essential and often intimate care. In a recent survey of  LGBT long-term care recipients, providers and caregivers, conducted by the National Senior Citizens Law Center along with NCTE and others, we heard stories of trans people being referred to by the wrong name and pronouns, of staff mocking trans residents’ bodies, of trans people being outed to other residents or staff, and even of staff refusing to perform basic care for trans people, or barring them for social activities and from dining with other residents. Federal and state laws exist to prohibit this kind of ill treatment of any older person, but oversight and enforcement are weak. Long-term care providers and other aging service providers (along with all health-care providers) are badly in need of training and education on working with transgender people.

NCTE looks forward to working with the National LGBT Aging Roundtable and with Congress and federal agencies to address these disparities and ensure that transgender older adults receive the care and services they need without discrimination.

Securing Fair Access to Credit for All

April 16, 2010

This week the Senate is gearing up to tackle legislation that would seek to protect consumers from the bad financial practices of recent years–from hidden fees and outrageous penalties to risky loans and securities that undermine the financial system. It’s a fitting moment for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) to throw its support behind one consumer protection that isn’t in the House or Senate financial reform packages – prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in credit and lending.

CUNA, which represents 90% of the nation’s credit unions, announced its support this week for the Israel-Frank Freedom from Discrimination in Credit Act (H.R.4376), a 2-page bill that would add these categories to existing federal protections based on race, sex, religion, national origin, marital status and age.

CUNA isn’t waiting for the bill to pass; it’s also making nondiscrimination against LGBT consumers part of its organizational policy. We applaud CUNA for recognizing that no one should be denied a loan because a bank officer thinks they don’t look sufficiently “masculine” or “feminine,” or because a credit card company thinks being transgender means you’re an unreliable borrower. Transgender people, like everyone else, should have access to credit and lending on fair terms, based on objective financial qualifications, not prejudice or stereotypes.  We hope CUNA’s leadership will help advance this common-sense legislation.