Saturday, July 23, 2011


My dear friend Robyn is forever reminding me that it’s a trap to focus solely on trans related stories which only serve to accentuate the trans-person-as-victim narrative. I hope this will redeem me...this is my personal success story!

Some of you may know a little about the many years of my denial, I managed to create for myself a small niche as photographer for the Grateful Dead. This wasn’t a job I was hired to do, merely a way to stay on tour with the Dead and one thing led to another. Eventually, I became the first photographer the Dead ever licensed, and I remain the only photo licensee to this day.

But, as many of you know from personal and direct experience, life has a way of changing when you decide transition is no longer something to ponder, but a critical component of your very survival. There are probably as many ways to approach transition as there are people faced with the decision. Many wait until their lives are somewhat stable financially; others, like me, after so many years of repression, can’t live the lie for even one more day.

The consequences of not waiting were dire. I lost my marriage, my career, everything. In the wake of a separation and divorce marked by extreme hostility and animus, I lost my photo gear, my archives, my darkroom, virtually all my inventory and my livelihood. ( I should mention that we are, again, friends.) But for the support of my Mom, who refused to let me down, I would have surely become homeless.

After realizing the problems the search for employment would entail, I opted to return to school and pursue a marketable career. What problems, you say?? Well, other than the obvious conundrum of a trans person finding work, I refer to the identification/document catch 22. In many states, you can’t get an identification card...say, a driver’s license...with the correct gender marker unless you can prove you’ve had surgery. When you go for a job interview, many prospective employers ask for identification. Imagine how readily employers are to hire you when your driver’s license says you’re a man, yet you appear to be a woman. The answer is...not at all.

It seemed obvious...employment equality for me and everyone else would never happen if we didn’t become vocal and active, so I studied to become a paralegal. Where better than the legal and political world to effect change! I worked hard, graduated top in my class, only to find that jobs were no more available to me as a paralegal, with an “M” on my ID card than they had been before. I knew I wasn’t going to be employed until I got that damn “M” changed to an “F”, so I nagged and cajoled and finally got the DMV to accede...mostly, I think, to get me out of their hair because they were reticent to set any new policy.

By that time, I had blown my chances as a paralegal...all my resumes had already gone out and it was clear the local and state attorneys were NOT thrilled to hire an openly trans woman. Several gay attorneys even told me they would most likely lose clients if they hired me. In a moment of desperation, I put in an application at WalMart, where I was to spend the worst three years of my life. I became so depressed and withdrawn and downright mean spirited that I finally attempted to take my life. Pills, carbon monoxide, slit wrists and the three days I hung between life and death...somehow...something, somewhere would not allow me to die. It, evidently, was not my time.

Since those days when existence was in the balance, my life has been miraculously redeemed. I have learned to appreciate that we don’t have foreknowledge of the future. I have accepted that any life can go in any direction, and that our only job is to be authentic and follow our inner voice. I’m not sure of the source for this can call it what you want, but there are often questions to which we find no suitable answer. We must work through the medium of faith in ourselves and that inner voice.

I made the decision to resurrect my life. It’s hard to imagine, for me, but I had thought my career as a photographer was in the past and over, never to be reanimated. The medium of social networking has allowed me to reconnect with old friends and to connect with new friends and members of my extended Grateful Dead family. I finally acquired a digital camera...not the greatest, but one that would at least allow me to begin photographing again.

The “aha” moment happened about a month ago, when I was at a local music festival shooting images of bands. I was in the little roped off area in front of the stage, and had this presentiment of utter clarity. Here I was...back in the saddle again, as it were, doing what I used to do and what I loved so dearly. It was the culmination...well...not really, because nothing has life is a graceful and beautiful crescendo...of what I have described to some as a complete sensation of being reborn.

I know that reclaiming my past has been nothing short of miraculous, at least for me. I don’t pretend to know the where’s and why’s of existence, but I DO know that regardless of who you are, how you look, what you believe or where your life takes you...there is a place for you in the universe, and no one, no government, no person can deny you as long as you don’t deny yourself. Neil Young penned those same words years ago... “Don’t be denied”. And I never will again!!

Please follow your hearts...your minds will follow...and remember... no one has the right to deny YOU the right to be who you are!

Monday, June 27, 2011


The good news is that, over the past two years, many state and local jurisdictions have enacted laws making discrimination against trans individuals illegal. The bad news is that those who would prefer to keep discrimination alive and kicking (not hard to figure out who these people are) have a new tactic; well...not really new, but one they’ve taken to exploiting as fully as possible. It’s the kind of effort one might describe as extreme, yet many on the religious right have perceived they are losing the battle over hearts and minds and they’ve become desperate. And we all know desperation foreshadows crazy tactics.

The idea they are utilizing is to walk back legislation...if a city or county passes anti discrimination laws, well, then the state can countermand those laws by passing a bigger bill which somehow supersedes the lesser jurisdiction’s ruling(s). Or, state’s courts can find the legislation unconstitutional.

As mentioned, this is not really new. The ballot iniative leading up to Romer v. Evans was a sort of precedent which right wing and fundamentalist groups and legislators are currently not hesitating to utilize. Colorado Constitutional amendment 2 was introduced in reaction to legislation passed by several local jurisdictions barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

According to attorney, Dr. Jillian Weiss, legal scholar and professor at Ramapo College, “in 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case involving a Colorado ballot initiative amending the Colorado Constitution "precluding any judicial, legislative, or executive action designed to protect persons from discrimination based on their 'homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships.” The US Supreme court held that this proposed amendment to be unconstitutional.

Fifteen year hence, in 2011, we’ve seen several attempts to undo legislation which seem to fall in the same bailiwick as Romer. Earlier this year, the city of Missoula, MT, home of University of Montana, faced a challenge at the state level regarding anti discrimination legislation it had enacted adding protections to its already existing laws for sexual orientation and gender identity. The state’s Republican legislature pitched a fierce battle to overturn the Missoula ordinance, but finally lost. It must be noted here, and in other instances of “walk back” legislation, that the concept of lower jurisdictional autonomy which the Republican party continually espouses...the “smaller government” meme...makes a complete hypocrisy of this kind of government interference.

A similar, yet somehow different, scenario played out in Maine over the past few months. Based on a Maine Human Rights Commission finding, Orono, ME public schools had allowed a trans teen to use a gender appropriate bathroom in school. LD 1046 would have mandated that this student would have to use bathroom which not only did not match her gender presentation, but which ultimately would have been potentially dangerous for her. Her other choice was to use a private bathroom which would serve to ostracize her from the other students. Furthermore, as reported in the Lewiston Sun, LD 1046 “would have prevented transgender individuals from filing complaints against schools and other public institutions for restricting access to bathrooms and locker rooms.” Fortunately, LD 1046 failed, 61-81.

This brings us to Tennessee and SB 632/HB 600. This bill was introduced, and eventually passed, as a response to a Nashville city ordinance preventing businesses with city contracts from discriminating against its LGBT employees. A few weeks ago, Tennessee Governor Haslam signed the bill into law, thereby undoing Nashville’s protections. But, that wasn’t the entire substance of SB 632/HB 600, which now effectively precludes local Tennessee jurisdictions from passing ANY anti discrimination ordinance which is not fully aligned with State of Tennessee law as already written.

Advocacy groups are weighing in. Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project released the following statement. "We are disappointed that the majority in the General Assembly and
the Governor have given their assent to SB632/HB600, which overturns a Metro non-discrimination ordinance, prevents any city or county in Tennessee from adopting a similar law, and redefines "sex" in the Tennessee code to the detriment of transgender people. You can't
create jobs by allowing discrimination. And you can't say you're for smaller government when you take away the power of citizens to determine how their local tax dollars are used in government contracting. All Tennesseans deserve to be free of job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and we will continue to work toward that goal."

Efforts to thwart this de-evolutionary effort include lawsuits aimed at challenging the constitutionality/legality of SB632/HB600. Former director of Lambda Legal, Abby Rubenfeld, has joined with several other attorneys to bring suit against the state’s passage of this heinous legislation. And, according to The Tennessean, “State Sen. Jim Kyle has filed a non-non-nondiscrimination bill —that’s what I’m going to call it anyway — that would reverse the
legislature’s reversal of Metro’s nondiscrimination ordinance.”

I will refer you to Dr. Weiss’ insightful interpretation which makes the case for why SB632/HB600 is unconstitutional.


She writes, “the key issue in terms of the constitutionality of SB 632 is whether its denial of rights to any groups outside of the approved state list has a rational relation to some legitimate state interest.” Tangentially is the issue of neutrality and how and why the bill was crafted and its intent, which was obviously targeted against the trans community. Within the language of the bill is a definition of sex which is blatantly discriminatory: " ‘Sex’ means and refers only to the designation of an individual person as male or female as indicated on the individual's birth
certificate.” (Dr. Weiss)

Of course, the possibility exists that challenges to SB632/HB600 may exceed the ability of Tennessee to adjudicate and will end up in Federal court. And, given the nature and composition of the Sixth District, as well as the US Supreme court, there are hardly any guarantees regarding the disposition of laws states undertake to pass whose intent is to undermine equality in a way which seem to defy established law.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


One Maryland trans activist called it a “perfect storm”. Barely a week after MD HB 235, the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, died in committee, a brutal and unconscionable attack on a Baltimore area trans woman occurred at a local McDonalds restaurant. This event captured the nation after the video of this unprovoked beating went viral. Sadly, this was not a one in a million occurrence...or even one in a thousand. This kind of brutality has become virtually commonplace. You can bet that, everyday, somewhere, a trans person is in the midst of a verbal and/or violently physical attack.

In dealing with trans discrimination issues, there are often several recognizable elements that typify these events. Most common are employment issues, public accommodations issues, and hate crime issues; but, as set forth in my column, “Injustice at Every Turn”, there are many particulars wherein trans persons find they have not been accorded a level playing field. We don’t always have a clear path to determining the core’s often a combination of many factors.

What went wrong in this Maryland McDonalds? Where does the culpability lie? And, what can we do to put an end to this needless and senseless violence that makes the lives of many trans persons survival obstacle courses?

Many have called for accountability regarding this incident. Many have pointed the finger at McDonalds. It’s certainly true that the fast food chain fired the employee who originally filmed the four minutes of hell for the victim, Chrissy Lee Polis. And it’s also true that they issued a statement condemning the actions of the two customer perpetrators. Regardless, I find myself wondering if McDonald’s still shares some blame for this incident.

Yet, is this really about public accommodations? Ms. Polis reported that one of the perpetrators had made a disparaging comment about her (the victim’s) use of the women’s restroom. “That’s a dude, that’s a dude and she’s in the female bathroom.” The fact that the beating took place in a public establishment lends credence, whether deserved or not, to charges that there were public accommodations concerns. That a McDonalds employee made the video and posted it on You Tube furthers that assumption. Some have made the case, however, that even were Maryland to have had enacted public accommodations protections in HB 235, incidents like this one would still occur. And this may very well be the case. But, at least mandated legal protections would go some distance into establishing that vicious behavior motivated by hate would have serious and remedial consequences should establishments be found culpable.

So, even though it would be convenient to call this a public accommodations issue, that’s really only part of what should concern us here. And, even though it’s apparent that malice and hatred played a huge role in the events as they unfolded, it would be incorrect to look at this event merely through the prism of hate crimes and hate crime enhancement (the DA has decided to handle this as a hate crime). published a petition from one individual demanding redress from McDonalds. “Despite a decent record of workplace discrimination protections for gays and lesbians, McDonald's lacks standard policies for protecting transgender individuals. McDonald's does not include gender identity or gender expression in its anti-discrimination policies, nor do they require employees to go through diversity trainings that cover the subject of gender identity and gender expression.”

Furthermore, McDonalds has a deplorable track record regarding the hiring of trans individuals. I corresponded with Denise Leclair, president of the International Foundation for Transgender Education (IFGE), about this problem. She responded, “McDonalds has promoted the fact that for a tremendous number of people it has been their entryway into the job market. They have run commercials to this effect, showing successful businesspeople who say that McDonalds was their first job. They use this to position themselves as an American institution, like mom and apple pie. However, this is not true if you are transgender.

I have heard from countless trans women that they can't get hired there, and they have no corporate policy protecting gender identity or gender expression. If they are the gateway that they claim to be, then they are also defacto gatekeepers, locking an entire population out of the job market. The message is clear: people like you (trans) don't belong here.

If people in places like McDonalds had ever had a trans coworker, they might see trans
people as actual people, not just stereotypes. It might not have made any difference in the Chrissy Polis case, but maybe it would have. What I do know is that this is not an isolated incident. There have been numerous cases of discrimination against trans people in McDonalds, both as potential employees and as customers. It might be legal, but isn’t ethical, and the bottom line is that is it is simply bad business.”

The violent behavior at this Baltimore Mcdonalds may have been averted had the company pursued a policy of equal hiring practices and if local and national workplace protections (ENDA) were in place. Certainly, having trans employees goes a long distance in the education process, and may help to remedy the kind of ignorance which is part and parcel of hate motivated crime. It’s possible that, had a trans individual been employed at this McDonalds, co workers would have had a different response than to film and watch while an innocent victim was being pummeled and dragged across the floor by her hair!

A comprehensive perspective on this incident and others like it makes it clear that efforts to reduce and/or remove discrimination require we factor in workplace protections, public accommodations protections and hate crime protections. It should be obvious that education is not only the mortar by which we craft legislation, and public policy; it’s our only hope to move forward towards a world free of ignorance and discrimination. But it’s hard to educate when you can’t even get your foot through the door.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


In many states, if a bill has not made it past committee by a certain juncture, it’s considered dead. Such was the fate of Maryland HB 235, the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act (mid April, 2011). This highly contentious bill garnered some support, but was also deemed by many to have been constructed with inappropriate language. Championed by Equality Maryland, National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) as well as by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), it mandated protections for trans individuals with respect to employment, housing and credit. Conspicuously missing, however, was one critical component of anti-discrimination legislation: public accommodations.

The case EQ Maryland and its allies made was that including public accommodations was untenable given the state of Maryland politics, and the decision was made to introduce the bill sans PA protections. This choice led to a trans insurrection...activists both within and outside Maryland leapt to defend the importance of public accommodations and to make the case that a bill without these critical protections was not only insufficient, but counterproductive.

What is meant by public accommodations? The kinds of things generally indicated are transportation facilities, schools, hospitals, malls, homeless shelters, restaurants, other retail areas...and, of course, public bathrooms. After all trans activists have written about the bathroom issue, it must be obvious that a bill which leaves huge gaps in these critical areas does so because of all the mis-information that’s been put forth to scare people about purported predation by “trans-freaks” upon innocent women and children. There has NEVER been any evidence to support or corroborate these allegations...they’re merely the ravings of uneducated doom predictors who preach fear as their daily message. And...isn’t this really where the resistance to public accommodations derives and finds root?

The failure to include all of these aforementioned (and other) areas within the aegis of anti-discrimination language leaves HUGE gaps in both actual protections and in how the public perceives and interprets these protections. It may even be possible for those predictors of doom to use such non –inclusion to bolster their baseless attacks leveled at trans persons...and...mostly at trans women, a case of unadulterated transmisogyny.

Am I saddened at the death of HB235?? No and yes. I say “yes” because of the dissension/lack of concord amongst trans advocates vis a vis the best way forward. But, my gut tells me “no”, because the repercussions and consequences of passing a bill without public accommodations language are potentially disastrous.

One of the reasons trans advocates have become alienated from the larger LGBT community is due to the disparity of enacted legislation. According to the NGLTF website, if gender identity and sexual orientation are not bundled together for the initial anti discrimination bill, than a gap averaging 14.5 years exists between passage of laws protecting gay and lesbian individuals and passage of the same legislation that protects trans persons. Just as in Maryland, we are told to wait, be patient, give it time until the lawmakers and the public are “ready” to accept(??) us. This is UNACCEPTABLE given the length of time usually needed to revisit many of these pieces of legislation.

The list of jurisdictions which have passed laws protecting gays and lesbians yet which have not enacted laws to protect trans persons is vast. One might think that, of course, New York and, especially Massachusetts, the first state to ratify marriage equality, would have taken steps to protect their trans citizenry...but...the answer is no.

I spoke with Robyn Webb, a Baltimore, MD resident and a former board member for the International Foundation for Transgender Education (IFGE), just after the bill had died in committee. Her exact words were, “This is not a trans issue...this is an American issue.” Furthermore, she reminded me that the City of Baltimore and Montgomery County, MD had already passed protections regarding gender identity which supported public accommodations as a critical area of concern. Had HB235 passed, she and others residing in Baltimore and Montgomery County would have been subject to a curtailing of their individual civil rights.

What kind of message do we send when we attempt to legislate poorly constructed bills without a sufficient radius of coverage? Are we setting a precedent? Of the thirteen states which have enacted gender identity inclusive legislation, each and every one has mandated public accommodations as part of the bill. Only one state...California...passed all inclusive PA protections after it had already passed workplace. The others states bundled each of these protections together with one other exception...Hawaii omitted workplace protections and is only just now about to overcome that shortcoming. It’s been almost six years! Of the hundreds of jurisdictions which have locally taken steps, most have stipulated PA provisions. Had Maryland chosen to follow the path of California, there is certainly no guarantee that a follow up bill would have been forthcoming.

Not including buses, lunch counters, homeless shelters, state office buildings, and the other areas a bill which opted out of PA language would exclude, means depriving people of their civil rights. Imagine the Civil rights Act of 1964 guaranteeing right to work, but insisting upon separate bathrooms and lunch counters? It’s hard to make the case that discrimination is unacceptable, when we hedge on what is and what is not deemed “discrimination”.

Precedent goes even further when we talk about the court of public opinion. Many will buy into the fanatic position that standing for full and equal rights means allowing men in dresses license to prey on women and children in bathrooms; that men in dresses will be free to teach their children; that no one will be safe with these gender confused people lurking around. A bill without public accommodations essentially gives power to this baseless mindset; if there were no problems then why exclude critical areas of need? No wonder so many of these transphobes rename bills in their respective states “bathroom bills”.

Passing legislation which protects ALL citizens of any given jurisdiction should be no big deal. But, when we quibble over what will and what will not be protected, we are treading on civil rights. And we empower those who would perpetuate baseless allegations that some people are dangerous and don’t deserve equal rights. Wasn’t that part of the argument in 1964?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


I don’t expect this to be the most popular column I’ve ever written. In fact, this will probably be deemed contentious and recalcitrant. I know how important the issue of marriage equality is to many within the gay and lesbian communities. You may have wondered why some of your trans friends are turning their collective backs regarding this issue. It’s not that we don’t support the general agenda of equal rights. We do. And, it isn’t that spousal equality doesn’t affect trans individuals. It does.

The rationale underlying my lack of interest/support for marriage equality must be seen through the eyes of proportion. Last month I wrote about the results of the mammoth trans survey which has plainly demonstrated that opportunities and quality of life for trans persons indicate “injustice at every turn”. For a significant portion of the trans population, life has become a matter of survival. For a majority of trans identified individuals, life is substantially burdensome. And, too many trans persons are marginalized, vilified, ostracized and, in some cases, murdered.

Yet, the history of trans activism within the LGBT umbrella has seen a consistent pattern of pejorative treatment. If it wasn’t the baseless and untenable argument that we should be patient and wait our turn, then it was the patronizing and condescending handling of trans issues or the co-opting of trans tragedy as a fundraising tool to increase the coffers of Gay, Inc. and its single minded effort to work on legislation paramount to the gay community. To wit: marriage equality, DOMA, and DADT.

The history is remarkably clear. Even as far back as the early ‘90’s (much earlier, in fact) we see evidence of an extreme lack of sensitivity and understanding by the gay hierarchical structure vis a vis the inclusion of trans issues in the broad umbrella of discrimination. This is all the more incomprehensible given that, in many cases, discriminatory behavior has been generally prompted by the alleged transgression of gender expression in a world which thrives on gender normativity.

The view towards LGBT solidarity was irrevocably damaged after the 2007 ENDA (Employment Non Discrimination Act) fiasco. It became obviously apparent that many in the LG world not only did not understand the nature of trans discrimination but displayed an acute insensitivity towards the repercussions of a non inclusive ENDA. We’ll come back for you later, we were told. Yet, reality proves that revisiting this kind of legislation is rare and that many in the gay and lesbian communities could care less. HRC made that abundantly clear.

Fast forward to the Obama administration. We thought the time had come for total inclusivity. We’ll all get there together. We’ll pass ALL the legislative measures for which we’ve been fighting...and first, and foremost, will be ENDA.

That’s not what happened. Instead, the first bill passed was a relatively toothless hate crimes bill. Sure, this was necessary, but not the most important piece of legislation needing passage. Regardless, ENDA still appeared to be on track, until the fight for health care became a juggernaut with its own mass dominating politics. ENDA was essentially shunted to the side, even though talk still circulated that leant credibility to its possible introduction and support.

Sadly, this wasn’t the case. In fact, the contentiousness of Congress and the inability to address cloture issues, the perpetual boondoggle agenda mobilized by the Republican caucus, essentially doomed ENDA. Yet, there was enough support for the dismantling of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and the lame duck congress, along with executive support, managed to see this bogus program get dumped. There is every reason to presume that ENDA might have been that last ditch piece of legislation, yet it seemingly wasn’t even up for consideration.

Now that DADT has been undone, what is the most important issue that most gay and lesbian acrtivists are hoping to advance? Is ENDA finally the consensus favorite?


The number one issue which members of the L & G communities hope to advance is marriage equality, as well as the corollary DOMA.

The political affairs of the state of Maryland have been a microcosmic slice of what activists are addressing nationwide. And, the hypocrisy is blatant. Many bloggers in the trans community have addressed this disparity, foremost amongst them Transgriot, ENDAblog and Planetransgender. What is the nature of this disparity? In Maryland, concurrent bills were put before the state legislature...a marriage equality bill and a transgender protections bill.

Of course, when it comes to marriage equality, the tactic of incrementalism is unacceptable. Nothing short of full equality in marriage will be championed or accepted. Yet, the bill which would make discrimination against trans individuals illegal was amended to remove the “public accommodations” language. A transgender protections bill without public accommodations is essentially worthless. Most trans activists would rather see no bill than one so poorly constructed. Yet, Equality Maryland has been fully supportive of this incremental approach for the trans rights bill, even thought that kind of strategy is deemed unacceptable when we talk about marriage equality.

In Maryland, public accommodations protections for gay and lesbian individuals were passed in the early ‘90’s under the aegis of across the board anti-discrimination legislation. Yet, here we are in 2011 and Equality Maryland supports a bill which denies trans persons the identical protections it’s members enjoy. Insisting that something is better than nothing subverts the very safeguards that gay and lesbian persons would insist upon for themselves. And to only advocate legislation mandating full marriage equality rather than work towards a compromise (read incremental) civil unions language appears to make a fairly clear statement. Incrementalism is acceptable for the trans bill, but unacceptable for the marriage equality bill.

The trans community is merely asking for fair and equal treatment, made all the more difficult when our allies neither understand nor support our core issues.

Next month this column will address the issue of public accommodations and why it’s such a critical part of any anti-discrimination legislation.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


This survey has been percolating for the last twelve months. Finally, the Task Force (NGLTF) and the National Center for Transgender Education (NCTE) have released findings from the most comprehensive survey ever directed towards the trans community. The results are seriously disturbing. Suffice it to say, preliminarily, that standards of living and working for trans identified individuals are well below national averages. And suicide rates are soaring.

Link to Preliminary Findings (8 pages):

Link to Full Report (228 pages):

Link to Docudharma whose excellent Blog has examined this study:

Over six thousand transgender and gender non conforming individuals were queried regarding an entire gamut of issues. Areas covered in this in depth report include education, employment, health, family life, housing, public accommodations, identification documents, police and incarceration. Much of this column will be comprised of actual citations from the study. The conclusions cannot be overstressed...injustice at every turn!!

Three meta trends were remarkable (quoting from report):

1. Discrimination was pervasive throughout the entire sample, yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural racism was especially devastating. People of color in general fare worse than white participants across the board, with African American transgender respondents faring worse than all others in many areas examined.
2. Respondents lived in extreme poverty. Our sample was nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/year compared to the general population.

3. A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population,2 with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%).”

By category:


78% of respondents reported harassment as a student in grades K through 12, 35% of it defined as physical violence. There is evidence of a consistent negative impact of school experiences upon individuals throughout their lives as a result of these experiences.


As might be expected, these conclusions evince serious problems. Unemployment is fully double the national rate. 90 % of respondents reported harassment in the workplace, 46% had negative job outcomes like having been fired or denied promotion, and 26% had actually been fired. Across the board, the impact of adverse employment scenarios was marked in all respondents.

Housing discrimination & homelessness

19% had been refused housing and 11% had been evicted directly as a result of their gender identity and/or expression. 2% are currently homeless, although 19% reported having experienced homelessness at one time or another. Of this group, 55% had been victims of discrimination vis a vis emergency and shelter housing. As far as home ownership goes, the number of trans persons who own their own homes falls well below the national average...less than half...32% contrasted with the 67% national average.

Public accommodations

“Fifty-three percent (53%) of respondents reported being verbally harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation, including hotels, restaurants, buses, airports and government agencies.” That’s over one half and to any way of thinking unacceptable. Places where respondents had experienced discrimination include retail stores, restaurants, hospitals, police stations, transportation carriers, legal clinics and a handful of other milieus. Treatment of gender diverse persons ranged from services denied to harassment and even physical violence.

Acquisition if ID documents

Only one fifth of respondents had fully matching and corrected ID’s. One third hadn’t updated any ID documents. This includes, but is not limited to, birth certificates, social security cards and driver’s licenses. Regarding the latter, 41% reported not having a license which matched their gender expression.

Police and Prison

One fifth of interviewees stated that they had experienced harassment at the hands of police. Of those who had been incarcerated, 16% had been subject to physical violence and 15% had been sexually violated. Almost half of the respondents expressed fear if they had to interact with the police.

Healthcare (quoting from report):

• Health outcomes for all categories of respondents show the appalling effects of social and economic marginalization, including much higher rates of HIV infection, smoking, drug and alcohol use and suicide attempts than the general population.
• Refusal of care: 19% of our sample reported being refused medical care due to their transgender or gender non-conforming status, with even higher numbers among people of color in the survey.
• Uninformed doctors: 50% of the sample reported having to teach their medical providers about transgender care.
• High HIV rates: Respondents reported over four times the national average of HIV infection, with rates higher among transgender people of color.viii
• Postponed care: Survey participants reported that when they were sick or injured, many postponed medical care due to discrimination (28%) or inability to afford it (48%).

Cumulative effect

The report finds that 63% of those who responded had experienced discrimination as a result of
their identification as trans and 23% had experienced catastrophic discrimination which may
have included several or many discriminatory events or prolonged discrimination.


“It is part of social and legal convention in the United States to discriminate against, ridicule, and abuse transgender and gender non-conforming people within foundational institutions such as the family, schools, the workplace and health care settings, every day. Instead of recognizing that the moral failure lies in society’s unwillingness to embrace different gender identities and expressions, society blames transgender and gender non-conforming people for bringing the discrimination and violence on themselves.
Nearly every system and institution in the United States, both large and small, from local to national, is implicated by this data. Medical providers and health systems, government agencies, families, businesses and employers, schools and colleges, police departments, jail and prison systems—each of these systems and institutions is failing daily in its obligation to serve transgender and gender non-conforming people, instead subjecting them to mistreatment ranging from commonplace disrespect to outright violence, abuse and the denial of human dignity. The consequences of these widespread injustices are human and real, ranging from unemployment and homelessness to illness and death.”

Injustice at every turn...

Comments and corrections can be sent to
To contact Robbi Cohn, email

Saturday, February 05, 2011


Words have consequences. That’s what Gabby Giffords said, before the tragic events in Tucson had transpired. Words have consequences. That’s what many of us in the LGBT community think, as well. Spend just one November evening remembering our dead on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and it’s crystal clear that language all too often leads to violence.

I have not personally been a victim of first hand physical violence because I am trans; yet, as I’ve written previously, as a person of Jewish descent, I am all too familiar with how words can escalate very quickly. I saw my brother verbally, then physically, beat and battered, and then watched him bully and hit me. Oh yes...this kind of behavior is sadly not an alien construct.

My recent letters to the editor in Lexington, NC have not gone quietly into the night. Instead, the rhetoric has been ramped up to the point that I now have actually had to consider the possibility of physical violence to me.

One writer had averred that we live in a Christian nation which has now deteriorated because of so called deviant homosexual behavior animated by the Antichrist. He then elaborated with this sentence, “You can be homosexual, bisexual, murderer, rapist or whatever because there's no moral law against it.” I responded that I was Jewish AND American and that diversity of religious expression is alive and well in the United States.

Here’s his edited response:

“Editor: Now I’m called a bigot by a Jew for not condoning immorality, and Christians must respect Jewish people, because they are God’s chosen people. Mr. (Robbi) Cohn thinks I’m harsh and a bigot, but Jewish law, the one he is supposed to live by, is far harsher than Christ’s law. A homosexual under Mosaic law was stoned to death, not a pleasant way to die. I’ve seen an Iranian lady receive the final blow with a cement block to her head, yet people defame my God saying he is harsh and question how can a God supposed to be loving and kind require such harsh penalties for sin?
Mr. Cohn says we are all brothers, but we are not all brothers. Jesus said to some, “You are of your father, the devil.” God created hell for Satan and his angels but enlarges it daily to accommodate evil men.
I feel America has gone downhill in every way. Many are hooked on drugs, alcohol and sex, and unless God intervenes in their lives, they are doomed. Your manner of life has consequences. “The wages of sin is death” isn’t just ancient scribbling but absolute fact. Those who’ve lived long enough have seen and know it’s true.
Is Israel’s God your God, Mr. Cohn, or are you Jewish in name only? Be Jewish inwardly not outwardly and serve the Lord God of Israel with your whole heart; not merely give him lip service, and please note: Christians love the Lord God of Israel because he is their God, too.”
After penning my response three times, the events in Tucson transpired. And it gave me pause. Words have consequences. Here’s my as yet unpublished response.

“Dear editor,

I’ve started and stopped this letter to the editor three times, now. Honestly, I am unsure what to say in response to “ ” . After this weekend’s tragedy, I’m in no mood to engage in this level of discourse. Still, I am saddened by the rigidity and intemperance displayed in this forum and felt it incumbent upon me to post some kind of acknowledgment.

I will try and be as patient and understanding as I can. I find your interpretation of my letter disquieting. Your choice of words was meant to hurt me. You don’t have that power, but it seems that the entire tone of your missive was intended to bully and batter me. I never lorded myself as a person of Jewish faith, yet you insinuated that I felt superior or due some degree of respect solely on that basis. You also, with no provocation on my part, assumed that I am not a practicing Jew. Whether I am or not is none of your business, but, again, the intent was to demean and hurt me.

Not all persons of the Jewish faith would agree with your sentence of stoning as an acceptable punishment for me being me, whether it’s historic or contemporary. I doubt most individuals, in this day and age, would encourage that kind of behavior. It reminds me of “honor killings” which still are practiced today, in the 21st century. Such inclination towards violence concerns and worries me.

In truth, the only reason for the mention of my Jewish heritage was to make the case that the assertion that the U.S. is a Christian nation is not quite correct. I was not throwing anything in
“ ” ‘s face; yet, his prickly defensiveness seems to me to belie an underlying intolerance for anyone who does not think like he does. Again, I am deeply saddened that we can no longer communicate, we can only accuse. And perhaps I am equally guilty and I hold myself to the same level of culpability.

If there is one thing I’ve learned lately it’s that what we say and how we say it mean something. That isn’t meant as a suggestion to abridge First Amendment rights, but to deny that our words have consequences is misguided and plain wrong.

In these dark days, it’s critical that we engage each other, work through our differences and try to at least find a way to agree to disagree...without the concomitant short temper, intolerance and sarcasm. Again that includes me, Mr. Callahan. I extend my hand to you, and my heart. Perhaps some day you might meet someone who is could be a learning experience for both of you. You might BOTH find to your amazement and delight that we truly ARE really brothers and sisters after all!”