Thoughts While Driving Home as a Second-Class Citizen: Look After the Children

Yesterday I showed up on the State House steps in Concord to lobby in favor of HB 478, which would have added “gender identity” as a protected class in NH law, alongside such things as sex and race. I saw some old friends and made some new friends, and we held signs and greeted the arriving Representatives politely and thanked them for voting in favor of our equal protection.

Today, seconds after the bill came up, Speaker Shawn Jasper called for a vote to table the bill, which meant no discussion on its merits, and no vote on whether it should become law. The House voted 187-179 to table it. All but two of the 187 were Republicans. All but eighteen of the 179 were Democrats. A later vote to take it off the table (and therefore debate its merits and vote on the bill) failed.

I went to my evening activity knowing only about the first vote. I knew the likely outcome, but I managed to distract myself with physical activity among friends. I only thought about it twice. But afterward, when I was the last car in the lot, as the engine warmed up I couldn’t resist calling up the result on my phone.

And so I drove home knowing for sure that under NH law, I’m still a second-class citizen.

I’m not all right, tonight, but I will be. I’ve weathered worse, including in 2009. And I’m in the lucky minority of trans people who has never considered self-harm.

But I worry about the other trans people in this state, and especially about the trans kids. As I posted previously, civil rights decisions have an effect on how many children kill themselves.

This decision by our state government will be a blow to vulnerable people, which surely includes many trans people and gender non-conforming (GNC) people in this state, and which surely includes trans and GNC kids.

If you know someone who is trans, please look out for them. If you know a child who is trans, or just GNC, if you know an apparent boy who is feminine, or an apparent girl who is masculine: please keep an eye on them. Tell them that a wise man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Tell them that we will keep fighting for their equality under the law.

We’ll be back next year, and each year until we’re no longer legally second-class citizens.

Grace

How to help with HB 478, an open letter to a NH rep, and some humor

Hello, all!

Important things are going on, so I have a threefer for you, today:

A. How to help with HB478

B. A copy of my open letter to Representative Jess Edwards, in case anyone needs talking points.

C. A bit of humor, because humor makes life better, and we could all use a little mercy, now.


HB 478 is scheduled to go before the NH House for a vote tomorrow (Wednesday). Right now, there is a movement to table it, and not vote on it. This is because the e-mails they are receiving are running 4-to-1 against. I spoke with one of my reps, Lee Oxenham, yesterday, and she said that she’s seeing a lot of repeat names in the e-mails, which means that some busy beavers are sending as many as they can. Apparently this is having the effect of clogging some representatives’ mailboxes and creating the impression of a tide of opinion against the bill.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: According to Lee and other legislators we have spoken with, right now the most important thing is to be seen on the Statehouse steps, Wednesday, at 08:30, with clear signs. Wear green, which is the color of the effort to pass this bill. I will be going down with Sparrow in order to stand up for trans rights. Our signs will read:

“PROTECT TRANS CHILDREN FROM DESPAIR AND SUICIDE”

“TRANS KIDS ARE WATCHING TO SEE IF YOU HATE THEM”

“IT’S NOT ABOUT BATHROOMS”
and on the reverse:
“AND IT WAS NEVER ABOUT WATER FOUNTAINS”

So, e-mail, call, do whatever you can, but IF AT ALL POSSIBLE, please: show up in person.

Summary:

Show up on Wednesday, 03-08, at 08:30.
Address: 107 N Main St, Concord, NH 03303
Wear green.
If possible, have a sign.


So, Rep. Jess Edwards gave an interview to New Hampshire Public Radio. This is my reply, which I e-mailed to him directly, at Jess.Edwards@leg.state.nh.us.

Good morning, Rep. Edwards.

I just read an interview which you gave, in which you said that although you voted to move HB478 out of committee, you would now be voting to table it in the full House. If you were quoted correctly, then you said that there was “just no evidence” of discrimination against Granite Staters who are trans.

Of course, there IS evidence; you heard it at the committee hearings. Testimonial evidence. I know you did, because I was there, too, and you seemed attentive and asked questions several times.

You say that only one case has gone before the courts. But of course most trans people don’t have access to the money and knowledge which it takes to drive an uncertain case through the court system. And, of course, many times de facto discrimination cannot be proven in court, which doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. Often, you can see in the pattern what you cannot prove in individual cases, which is why survey data can be so useful. Trans people are unemployed at a far greater rate than the general population, despite being generally more educated, and despite serving in our nation’s armed forces at twice the rate of the general population. Most trans people who experience discrimination don’t have the footing to challenge it, and simply have to look elsewhere for equal treatment.

You said that you didn’t think there would be a business impact. But you heard testimony from a biomedical researcher, Dr. Elena Long, who is trans, and who testified at the hearing that she was in the process of deciding where to locate her business, and that whether or not NH had trans protections was going to be one of the most important factors in her decision.

When I transitioned at my place of work, my employer, the City of Lebanon, had to hire a lawyer to do the legal research to determine that my employment was protected, (and even after spending thousands of dollars on that, and after training personnel, there were problems). This law would make such costs unnecessary, by clarifying the legal landscape for everyone involved. That would mean a savings for business and government in the Granite State.

In the interview, you also said that our NH constitution already protected trans people. I just looked up what it says: “All men have certain natural, essential, and inherent rights – among which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting, property; and, in a word, of seeking and obtaining happiness. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by this state on account of race, creed, color, sex or national origin.”

Sadly, we know from our nation’s history that sometimes a constitutional assurance is not enough. Our Federal Constitution was amended in 1869 to prohibit the denial of the right to vote on the basis of race. By 1969, it was clear to everyone that the amended Constitution was not sufficient.

In this case, our NH constitution does not mention gender identity. So, each time there is a dispute, someone has to make the case, all over again, that discrimination on gender identity is discrimination due to sex, and therefore protected. This law would clarify the legal landscape for all parties.

I urge you to vote in favor of this bill. It hurts no one, and it helps to protect a beleaguered minority.

Please.

Thank you for hearing me out.

Grace Alden, police officer (ret.)


Finally, because we could all use a bit of humor, some pointed commentary from a white, cis, straight woman who uses bathrooms for their intended purposes, on what would make her feel safe:

Enjoy!

How to contact your NH legislators.

Grace

Marriage Equality = Fewer Adolescents Killing Themselves. Some Implications:

JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, recently published a study: “Difference-in-Differences Analysis of the Association Between State Same-Sex Marriage Policies and Adolescent Suicide Attempts”.

Findings …same-sex marriage policies were associated with a 7% reduction in the proportion of all high school students reporting a suicide attempt within the past year.

Meaning Same-sex marriage policies are associated with reduced adolescent suicide attempts.

Results Among the 762 678 students (mean [SD] age, 16.0 [1.2] years; 366 063 males and 396 615 females) who participated in the YRBSS [the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System] between 1999 and 2015, a weighted 8.6% of all high school students and 28.5% of 231 413 students who identified as sexual minorities reported suicide attempts before implementation of same-sex marriage policies. Same-sex marriage policies were associated with a 0.6–percentage point (95% CI, –1.2 to –0.01 percentage points) reduction in suicide attempts, representing a 7% relative reduction in the proportion of high school students attempting suicide owing to same-sex marriage implementation. The association was concentrated among students who were sexual minorities. [emphasis added]

A 0.6–percentage point decline in suicide rates for all students would be equivalent to an estimated 134 446… fewer adolescents attempting suicide each year, based on the 2015 US population estimates of adolescents aged 15 to 19 years.

In other words, in each year following the establishment of nationwide marriage equality, about 130,000 American adolescents didn’t attempt suicide, who otherwise would have. Between 2.5% and 10% of suicide attempts result in death, so that’s roughly 3,000 to 13,000 kids alive each year who would have been dead otherwise.

Note that it was true of all adolescents, not just LGBT kids. The effect was more pronounced in LGBT kids, but it was present in all kids. LGBT equality is a tide which lifts straight boats, too.

That’s just considering death. There’s also the human suffering to consider, both of those who remain alive and of those who ultimately killed themselves. People don’t kill themselves on a whim. They do it because they can’t bear the agony that they’re going through, and they run out of whatever hope or determination was getting them through that day, or that hour, or that minute. They do it because the fear of death and the risk of surviving maimed are less painful than the pressure they are under, whatever that pressure is.

We know that chronic pain increases suicide risk. So does traumatic brain injury, and kidney failure requiring hemodialysis. A cancer diagnosis roughly doubles the risk of suicide. Being a veteran of war roughly doubles or triples the risk of suicide, depending on the study.

The rate of suicide attempt in the general population is about 4.6%. If attempt were perfectly correlated with completion, then the attempt rate in the population of war veterans would be about 10-12%, but studies show that veterans are more likely to complete a suicide attempt, which would mean that combat veterans have a suicide attempt rate lower than 12%.

The rate of suicide attempt among trans adults (those who were still alive to respond to surveys) is about 41%.

Ever since the Williams Institute published the study which contained that 41% figure, anti-trans people have used it as “evidence” to argue that trans people are mentally ill — because only mentally ill people would kill themselves, right?

But we don’t make that argument of combat veterans, do we? Somehow, most people understand effortlessly that human beings who survive the toxic, corrosive stew that is combat are often wounded because of it.

We don’t make that argument about victims of bullying, either. It’s well-known that being bullied increases the risk of suicide, but when someone suggests that children who kill themselves after being bullied are ill, or weak, and just needed to be tougher… most people understand effortlessly that if a person says that about a bullied child, that person is acting like an asshole.

Trans people deal with daily, hourly corrosion, and the result is that for some of us, the fear of another day of it, or another hour of it, comes to outweigh the fear of death or maiming.

I’m not going to try to explain what that corrosion is like. Getting into that headspace thoroughly enough to describe it to someone who has never been there… that is difficult and corrosive in itself. (Especially when the person you’re explaining it to still doesn’t get it. People who don’t get it are not necessarily bad people, it’s just that they have no life experience sufficiently parallel to enable them to grasp it. It’s a level of unrelenting pressure qualitatively beyond their experience. The chasm is too wide to leap.)

Instead, consider it from the other side. If trans people are not fundamentally mentally ill, if we are “just folks”, and most of our troubles, like other folks’ troubles, arise from having to grapple with how people in our society treat us…

…then the treatment our society metes out to us must be truly hellish, to produce an average level of suicidal despair more than four times higher than that of combat veterans.

And indeed, our society’s treatment is hellish. And also, like all folks encountering extreme difficulty, when the difficulty moderates somewhat, we do better. A 2015 study in Canada, focused specifically on trans people, found that

High levels of social support (90th percentile) versus low levels (10th percentile) were significantly associated with a 49 % reduction in suicide ideation… and with a further 82 % reduction in attempt risk among those with ideation… This would be associated with potential prevention of 100 cases of ideation per 1,000 trans persons… and a further prevention of 220 attempts per 1,000 trans persons considering suicide…

This is not a shocking finding, but one of the basic tasks of scientific research is to discover whether what we believe is supported by the evidence. So, there we go: there is some evidence that lower levels of social support result in more dead people.

It’s especially important not to be rejected by your family. According to The Trevor Project,

LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Administrative support matters, too. Back to the Canadian study:

Having one or more identity documents concordant with lived gender was significantly associated with reductions in past-year ideation… with the potential to prevent 90 cases of ideation per 1,000 trans persons… and 230 attempts per 1,000 with ideation.

In other words, being able to legally assert your identity is positively correlated with survival.

Nothing succeeds like success. Success begets hope. Hope begets resilience.

Harvey Milk knew this from his own lived experience, way back in 1978, almost forty years ago:

Text:

Somewhere in Des Moines, or San Antonio, there is a young gay person, who all of a sudden realizes that she or he is gay, knows that if the parents find out, they will be tossed out of the house, their classmates will taunt the child, and the Anita Bryants and John Briggs are doing their bit on TV, and that child has several options: staying in the closet, suicide. And then one day that child might open a paper that says, “Homosexual elected in San Francisco” and there are two new options. One option is to go to California, [and the other option] is to stay in San Antonio and fight.

Two days after I was elected, I got a phone call, and the voice was quite young. It was from Altoona, Pennsylvania. And the person said, “Thanks.”

And you’ve got to elect gay people, so that that young child, and the thousands upon thousands like that child know that there’s hope for a better world, there’s hope for a better tomorrow. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the asians, the disabled, the seniors, the usses, the usses. Without hope, the usses give up. I know that you cannot live on hope alone. But without it, life is not worth living.

And you, and you, and you: you’ve got to give them hope.

Probably most of those adolescents who didn’t kill themselves weren’t planning on getting married, specifically. But the movement of our nation toward equality gave them hope, so that when the next moment of suicidal ideation came, they were able to push past it, and survive.

When Attorney General Loretta Lynch gave her powerful speech in support of trans people

… it gave us hope. I’ve talked about that speech before. I felt that sense of hope.

Conversely, in 2012, when the government of New Hampshire last considered the rights of trans people to equal access in public accommodation and it never got out of committee, and was unanimously voted “inexpedient to legislate”… I felt that sense of despair.

If our society stopped treating trans and gender nonconforming people like pariahs, we would kill ourselves no more often than other folks.

And some evidence for the truth of that proposition is in the reduction in adolescent suicide which followed nationwide marriage equality.

Last summer I attended a meeting at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier. One of the things they do to support their community’s LGBT youth is to regularly open their doors to them, I think every other week, and throw a social, where those kids can have pizza and do their thing in a safe environment. That program has saved lives. They know this, because the survivors tell them. A kid arrives, planning to commit suicide later, and mentions it, and people rally around, and protect them, and they make it through to another day, with more hope.

This issue is not merely a matter of principle, of fair treatment. This is a matter of survival. It is as lethal as a heart attack.

…lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Let’s give kids hope, here in New Hampshire. All the kids, including your kids. Especially LGBT kids… some of whom might turn out to be yours, too, since we LGBT folks are born to every kind of parent.

Let’s pass HB478, the New Hampshire gender identity nondiscrimination bill. In 2012, it died in committee. Here in 2017, it made it out of committee and into the whole House.

This week, I’m meeting with one of my reps. She’s in favor, but she has questions about details and wants to be able to understand trans people better, which will enable her to advocate better.

Here’s my offer: I will make time to meet with any rep who wants to meet with me. I’ve called all of mine. If you have one who would like to meet a trans person who is thoughtful, knowledgeable, and pleasant, please have them contact me at this e-mail, minus the chaff (to defeat robots): Grace.Alden.contact@gmail.comchaff.

Let’s pass this thing.

How to contact your NH legislators.

Grace

NH Nondiscrimination Law Scheduled for a Vote: CALL YOUR REPS NOW

This just in from Freedom New Hampshire:

HB478, #TransBillNH, is the NH nondiscrimination bill which would add gender identity to the list of people who deserve equal treatment under NH law, is COMING UP FOR A VOTE.

HB478 will make it legally clear that trans people have a right to equal treatment under the law. It will simplify the legal landscape for employers and employees, for landlords and tenants, for business owners and customers.

HB478 will receive a vote in the NH House of Representatives late Wednesday, 03-08, or early Thursday, 03-09.

It would be a lot less meaningful to call after that.

So call now.

How to contact your NH legislators.

Grace

Diversity is a Virtue

Around 2009 or so, Google rolled out Google Wave. It was an attempt by Google to do a kind of social media. It didn’t make it.

Google rolled it out the same way they rolled out Gmail: initially, only existing users could invite new people, and each existing user had a limited number of invites. That way the growth of the system was organically limited to a rate which Google could keep up with. When you signed up, Google Wave automatically sent some of your information to your most frequent correspondents in your Gmail account, as a way to promote networking and get the word out.

Problem: if you are in the process of extracting yourself from an abusive relationship, your abuser may be among your most frequent correspondents. …and now your abuser has more information about you.

There are plenty of groups of people who have good reason to keep information about themselves as inaccessible as they can (a feat which was more possible in 2009 than it is in 2017). Among these are:

Abuse survivors.
Closeted trans people or gay people who will lose jobs or families if they are outed.
Police officers, whose work sometimes follows them home in the form of vengeful criminals.

Any of these groups could have told Google’s engineers that automatically sending out private information was a bad idea, and why… if they had been in the room when that design decision was made. But Google, like almost all tech companies, tends to swing male, and straight, and white, and highly-educated. They do employ abuse survivors, and trans people, and former or part-time police officers, and others, whether they know it or not.

But apparently none of those people were in the room.

This is one of the benefits of diversity. Different viewpoints enable organizations to catch errors.

Different viewpoints also enable groups to come up with ideas which would not have occurred to a more homogenous group. This is one of the reasons my country, the United States, is such a powerful engine for generating ideas and innovation.

Because it works in government, too: when minorities are in the room, the output of the room is different. The work product of the people in the room is informed by the lived experience of the people in the room. If some of those people hear “the people you e-mail most with” and picture their college buddies, that’s fine… as long as there are ALSO people who hear “the people you e-mail most with” and picture their abusive partner, or the troll who has decided to bombard them with 100 messages a day.

If you have three women in the room, chances are good there is a woman in the room who has had an abortion. No matter what you think of abortion, that’s a powerful and important viewpoint to have in the room. Whether that woman speaks for or against abortion, she can speak to what it was like to make that decision, to have to make that decision, in this society. And the decision-making process is richer for that experience.

Representation matters. Indeed, my country was founded on that idea: “No taxation without representation.”

And exposure to those varied viewpoints uplifts us all. We learn to see ourselves in others. When we have positive experiences of different kinds of people, when someone tries to demonize a group, we have a chance for our unconscious mind to serve up a picture of someone we know, someone we care about … instead of a anonymous bogeyman.

We all have things in common. And we are all different. And that’s diversity.

Grace

Nondiscrimination Bill in NH Could Succeed and Needs Help

If you believe that I should have the same employment protections under the law that you do, please call your legislators.

How to contact your NH legislators.

Today, I called my legislators.

Here in New Hampshire, there is an important bill which will be voted on in the House sometime in the next nine days. It is HB478, which would add “gender identity” to RSA 354-A, which is New Hampshire’s nondiscrimination law. Already included in the law are “age, sex, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, physical or mental disability or national origin”.

Last Tuesday, I went down to the hearing on this bill, with the House Health, Human Services & Elderly Affairs Committee. We packed the room until it was standing room only and overflowed into the hall. I stayed all day and took notes. More on that in a later post.

A couple of days later, we heard that the Committee voted 15-2 to recommend that the bill be passed by the House. With an endorsement like that, the bill has a solid chance for success in the house. One legislator I talked to described their current view of the bill as “cautiously optimistic”.

Which sounds really good until you remember that the attitude of a lot of people in this country toward the prospect that Donald Trump would not be our next president could have been described as “cautiously optimistic”.

So now is not the time to sit back. Please, please call your legislators in the NH House.

How to contact your NH legislators.

If you believe that employers and landlords should not be able to discriminate against trans people and gender nonconforming people, please call your legislators.

If you believe that I should have the same employment protections under the law that you do, please call your legislators.

And spread the word. Be willing to be a little impolite. Be willing to bring it up at dinner.

Seriously. New Hampshire is the only New England state that doesn’t already do this. I live here and work here. For twenty-one years I worked long hours, midnights, blizzards, and crime scenes with dead bodies, all to keep the people in my community as safe as I could keep you.

For me, there is no explicit protection under the law. I protected you and yours for over two decades. Please do this, now, to protect me and mine.

In posts in the coming days, I’ll talk in more detail about this law and the treatment trans people receive. This is the short version:

It’s not about bathrooms, in the same way that it was never about drinking fountains.

Please contact your legislators and spread the word.

How to contact your NH legislators.

Thank you.

Grace