Unity of Diversity

After President Obama’s endorsement of same sex marriage earlier this month, gay rights became a main focus of the 2012 election. News stations on both the far right and the left were broadcasting constantly talking about the latest poles saying that more than half the country now supports same sex marriage and more than two thirds support civil unions. MSNBC shows more and more elected and appointed officials coming out to support LGBT rights, while Fox shows their Tea Party making announcements on the superiority of having more white straight babies (Sadly this is only a slight exaggeration)

Needless to say, public opinion is shifting. For many, many years, at least back to the 1960’s, but likely many years before, the Right has used a divide and conquer strategy to keep LGBT people from becoming publicly accepted. It’s the same tactic they use against African American groups, Latino groups, Women’s Rights groups, Labor groups, and groups dealing with the rights of impoverished people and those who cannot help them selves. The Right tried to divide these groups, pitting them against each other whenever possible. And sadly, this was massively successful. One of the clearest examples has been between the African American community and the LGBT community. For instance, the reason Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage in California, is said to have only passed because so many African Americans came out that year to vote for Barack Obama. And the President’s decision to publicly support same sex marriage immediately highlighted a schism in the African American community, with leaders in the community fiercely debating their Christian traditions of opposing same sex marriage with wanting to support the first African American president.

Just today I saw dozens of tweets going off from major LGBT organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force about a huge announcement. The NAACP, one of the most prominent and well known groups in the African American Community, have officially endorsed same sex marriage

http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/naacp-board-endorses-marriage-equality

This represents a huge, huge step forward for LGBT rights. This highlights how quickly public opinion on LGBT issues is changing. This endorsement, along with the President’s, challenges the decades of division between the two minority communities. This is amazing, for when all the minority communities join together, we are, by far, the majority. When we can put the differences between us aside, and recognize the shared experience of discrimination and oppression that each minority group faces, we can stand united for equality for all people.

This is an amazing sign for the 2012 election. The right was banking on doing as they had in 2004, splitting the democrats between the moderates and the “extremists” who believed in equality for all people and a woman’s right to choose. In 2012, with still almost 6 months till the polls open, it has been made absolutely clear that tactic will not work.

 

Trans in the Courtroom: A Name Change

One of the biggest and most frequent problems I’ve encountered as a transgender woman is my legal name. As of right now, my legal name remains my male name. This, obviously, causes a lot of problems in my life. For example, I once handed my driver’s license to a bartender, which resulted in me being called “Sir” all night, very loudly. I once called my credit card company and, because of my voice, my account was frozen and I was forced to go through an hour of jumping through hoops to do something as simple as pay my bill. My legal name has caused years of discomfort, discrimination, and even danger. So getting my name changed is very, very much a priority.

Lucky for me, I was able to connect with an amazing attorney, Natalie Hrubos, who helps transgender clients with the legal name change procedure pro bono. Her help walking me through the whole process has been amazing. And last Tuesday, she and I met at the courthouse in Easton for my first of two hearings. The hearing last week was sort of a preliminary, before we actually put in for the name change hearing. The hearing would be held in chambers, so it was just the judge, my attorney, a stenographer, and myself in the small office behind the court room. Despite being an activist, despite speaking in front of crowds of hundreds before, I was trembling as I sat there, waiting for my time to speak.

When the judge sat down and looked at my attorney and I, he had the unmistakable air of a very busy man who felt like his time was being wasted. This was either a very good, or very bad sign. Impassively, he let my attorney speak, then the time came when I was to speak. He looked slightly bored, but watched me and listened courteously as I explained the discrimination and danger I have faced as a transgender woman. I spoke for about 5 minutes, and then I stopped, and waited. He started talking about some technical stuff with my attorney, and I still wasn’t entirely sure whether he was really on board, or really reluctant.

And then I made out something through the legal-ese. The judge said “Why do we have to have another hearing in two months? You’re here now, can’t we just do it now?”

I can’t describe the feeling of elation as I deciphered his support, and frustration at so much of his time being taken up by this. My attorney’s disposition also suddenly shifted. It seemed she was trying to stop herself from laughing. Carefully, she explained there were procedures and laid out steps we have to go through, though he could sign off that we wouldn’t need to come back in 2 months, after all the paperwork was done. And so, I was told,  the paperwork would take, at most, 60 days. After that, the name change will be done.  For the entire rest of the day, I was literally bouncing up and down with joy! And now, as of today, my name will be legally be Ashley within the next 54 days!

Obama and Gay Rights in Decision 2012

Just earlier today, President Obama officially announced that he believe same-sex couples should be able to get married.  This, obviously, is a VERY big deal. The situation that led to him making his announcement was highly unexpected; Joe Biden said, on Meet the Press, that he believes same-sex marriage should be legalized, which forced Obama to either take a stance in support of gay couples or to walk back the comments of his VP and remain indecisive.

Obama’s position up till now was that Civil Unions were an acceptable alternative(which they are not, given the hundreds of rights tied specifically to the word ‘marriage’ not to mention dividing the citizens of the US up into two types of unions, separate but equal…sound familiar?), but over the course of the past 3 years,  he has decided that to him personally, gay people deserve the full and equal rights, including marriage. While he has always been a very pro-LGBT president, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, refusing to sign on to the Defense of Marriage Act, signing the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, even sending the head of the Housing and Urban Development department to the National Center for Transgender Equality’s conference earlier this year. He has always been a quiet ally, but by publicly making this statement to the entire world as the first US President to ever endorse same-sex marriage, he has not only drawn a CLEAR divide between himself and Mitt Romney, who is now saying he never will support marriage equality. Not only that, but Obama has sent a strong message to the world that yes, LGBT people exist, no they are not inherently lesser people who deserve lesser rights, and yes I do support them.

I won’t go into politics too much at this point, but to all of the queer people reading and every ally, I want you to keep this in mind when you go to the polls this November, along with all of your personal opinions on politics and the complexity of the situation, there is one underlying belief to add to the stack of things on your mind. One side thinks you, your friends, your family do not deserve the same rights and privileges they enjoy, that you are somehow less of a person, a second class citizen, based on your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The other side now publicly acknowledges that LGBT people are not flawed or lesser people and they do deserve equal rights. The democrats aren’t perfect; I can understand a lot of complaints against the party.  I’m not saying “GO VOTE DEMOCRAT NOW” (though I may feel that way…), but please keep this underlying reality in your mind when making your decision.

An Award and The Importance of a Picture

In April of 2010, I was presented the Thomas Justin Baker Person of the Year Award from Student Senate at Millersville University.  I was given this award for all of the work I had done and was continuing to do on campus for the LGBT community, especially my coalition building, bring multiple diverse groups together to address the hate that faces us all because of the things that make us different. They gave me a nicely framed certificate for the award, and I thought that was all there was to this award. I only found out almost 2 years later that another part of the award was having a plaque hung in the Student Memorial Center on campus. It’s hard to put my reaction to this discovery into words, but suffice to say I was amazed, flattered, and honored. As of last week, my plaque was completed and hung in the student center on campus. If you’re on Millersville’s campus, definitely go take a look.

The award and the plaque were both huge deals for me, however, that barely starts to scratch the surface of what this means.  Now,  I haven’t done research to ensure everything, but to the best of my knowledge, this is the very first picture Millersville University has EVER posted on their campus of a transgender person. For all I know, this may be the first time a PASSHE (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education) has so publicly acknowledged a transgender member of their campus.  Not only was it the first picture, but the text directly below it openly speaks of the LGBT community in a very, very positive way.

But its not just an award, an honor for a trans person. It is the acknowledgment that, YES, there ARE transgender people on campus, they’re nothing to be ashamed or afraid of, and we have recognize when an transgender individual works hard for our campus. Of course, this award was given by Student Senate, not the campus itself, but the way it is publicly still sends a message of support.

For any other transgender person on campus, be they out, transitioning, in the closet, part time, cross dressing, questioning, curious, genderqueer, transsexual… anyone under the transgender umbrella, they can look at this picture and see something of themselves in it. They can look at this picture and see there are other transgender people on campus, that they’re not alone.  This doesn’t even go into how a young, just coming out of the closet gay person would feel to see the picture of a transsexual woman so publicly honored. Just the simple action of hanging a picture can send a strong message about the entire university.

I really wanted to take this chance to thank the group of girls who nominated me for this award, getting the information for the application by tricking me into showing them my resume on the guise of wanting advice on their own. I also want to thank Student Senate, of course, for awarding me this honor. Most of all, thank you to everyone in MU Allies who worked together  to make such a difference on our campus. While this award was given to me, it was all of us together who made the true change on campus.

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