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

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First, They Came for the Muslims. Then, They Came for the Children Who Were Trans.

A few days ago my wife went to the Emergency Department with symptoms which suggested a life-threatening illness. In the end, the symptoms subsided and as far as we know she is okay.

But for a few hours, it was possible that my wife was dying.

I sat in the Emergency Department with her and our youngest. Our youngest did what homework they could. I stroked my wife’s forehead and sang to her and told her that I loved her. And when she closed her eyes and rested, I tried to distract myself with a bit of online reading.

Which is when I learned that newly-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had used part of his first two days on the job to target trans children.

And just as trans people were starting to dare to hope that we could receive equal treatment under the law.

It was just last May that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch gave a frank and coherent speech about the rights of transgender people. The Washington Post did a good job of explaining why her speech was so significant.

Several LGBT advocates said they were stunned by her words. It is not that the Obama administration has not been supportive of their cause, but never before had they heard the government come to their defense so unequivocally and so eloquently, they say.

As Lynch announced that the Justice Department was countersuing North Carolina to stop its bathroom law from going into effect, she gave a passionate and direct defense of transgender and gay rights that in no uncertain terms put their battle in the context of a decades-long civil rights debate.

She drew on the ghost of Jim Crow and separate-but-equal bathrooms for black and white Americans to make parallels to today’s bathroom battles. And she delivered her defense in soaring words not normally used in the ho-hum, legalese-heavy news conferences typical at the Justice Department…

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta could not have made it plainer, even against the background of Lynch’s speech:

Transgender men are men. They live, work, and study as men. Transgender women are women. They live, work, and study as women.

Nevertheless, it was Attorney General Lynch herself who really hit it out of the park:

…Let me speak now directly to the people of the great state, the beautiful state, my home state of North Carolina. You have been told that this law protects vulnerable populations from harm. That is just not the case. Instead, what this law does is inflict further indignity on a population that has already suffered far more than its fair share. This law provides no benefit to society, and all it does is harm innocent Americans.

Instead of turning away from our neighbors, our friends, and colleagues, let us instead learn from our history and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past. Let us reflect on the obvious, but often neglected, lesson, that state-sanctioned discrimination never looks good, and never works, in hindsight. It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had other signs above restrooms, water fountains, and on public accommodations, keeping people out based on a distinction without a difference.

Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself. …No matter how isolated, no matter how afraid, and no matter how alone you may feel today, know this: that the Department of Justice, and indeed, the entire Obama Administration want you to know that we see you. We stand with you, and we will do everything we can to protect you, going forward.

I had never heard any representative of my government speak so forcefully and so plainly in favor of the notion that I am the equal of any American, and entitled to the same bare minimum of public accommodation. I wept, on hearing that, on hearing it from the Attorney General of the United States!

That’s all gone.

Now we have Jeff Sessions. Sessions doesn’t see us, and doesn’t stand with us, and not only won’t do everything he can to protect us, but will do everything he can to make us live as second-class citizens.

Next month, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments over whether Gavin Grimm, a Virginia teenager who has not been permitted to use the boys’ room at his high school for several years, is male.

Grimm came out as a transgender boy while a student at Gloucester High School in Virginia. After he began using male facilities, the Gloucester County School Board passed a policy passed a policy resolution requiring that access to changing rooms and bathrooms “shall be limited to the corresponding biological genders, and students with gender identity issues shall be provided an alternative appropriate private facility”. At the school board meeting, speakers addressing the board called Grimm a “freak” and compared him to a dog. When he refused to use the girls’ bathroom, Grimm was offered the use of some broom closets that had been retrofitted into unisex bathrooms.

This is what Jeff Sessions wants to happen to children. The shredding, corrosive impact of that kind of exclusion, that kind of shunning, is beyond most people’s ability to understand, because most people have never been shunned.

I have been shunned. It was shockingly difficult to take; it undermined me in a way no previous stress in my life had prepared me for. It is a constant pressure and a constant corrosion. It wears at your soul.

Probably no one has laid it out better than the author of the Coy Mathis decision, Steven Chavez, the Director of Division of Civil Rights in the State of Colorado, when he found himself having to explain his ruling to protect a six-year-old girl who was trans:

The evidence suggests that the restroom restriction also created an exclusionary environment, which tended to ostracize [Mathis], in effect producing an environment in which [Mathis] was forced to disengage from her group of friends. It also deprived her of the social interaction and bonding that commonly occurs in girls’ restrooms during those formative years, i.e., talking, sharing, and laughter. An additional problematic issue with this solution is the possibility that [Mathis] may be in an area where she does not have easy access to approved restrooms. As a result, at six years old, [Mathis] is tasked with the burden of having to plan her restroom visits to ensure that she has sufficient time to get to one of the approved restrooms. Even if [Mathis] was in the vicinity of the staff or health office restroom, she would have to explain to her friends why she is not permitted to go with them into the girls’ restroom. Telling [Mathis] that she must disregard her identity while performing one of the most essential human functions constitutes severe and pervasive treatment, and creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive.

These body blows, things like being compared to dogs, don’t just happen to children, although that would be bad enough. All TLBG people get told many times a day that it’s okay to debate our humanity. As drag queen Rory O’Neill, aka “Panti Bliss” famously put it (and her video is worth listening to in its entirety):

Have any of you ever come home in the evening and turned on the television and there is a panel of people – nice people, respectable people, smart people, the kind of people who probably make good neighbourly neighbours, the kind of people who write for newspapers. And they are all sitting around and they are having a reasoned debate on the television, a reasoned debate about you. About what kind of a person you are, about whether or not you are capable of being a good parent, about whether you want to destroy marriage, about whether or not you are safe around children, about whether or not God herself thinks you are an abomination, about whether in fact maybe you are “intrinsically disordered”. And even the nice TV presenter lady who feel is almost a friend because you see her being nice on TV all the time, even she thinks it’s perfectly ok that they are all having this reasoned debate about you and about who you are and about what rights you “deserve” and don’t “deserve”.

And that feels oppressive…

Have you ever gone into your favourite neighbourhood café with the paper that you buy every day, and you open it up and inside is a 500-word opinion written by a nice middle-class woman, the kind of woman who probably gives to charity, the kind of woman who you would be totally happy to leave your children with. And she is arguing, over 500 words, so reasonably about whether you should be treated less than everybody else, arguing that you should be given fewer rights than everybody else. And when you read that and then the woman at the next table gets up and excuses herself to squeeze by you and smiles at you and you smile back and nod and say, “No problem” and inside you wonder to yourself, “Does she think that about me too?”

And that feels oppressive…

Have you ever turned on the computer and you see videos of people who are just like you in countries that are far away and countries that are not far away at all, and they are being imprisoned and beaten and tortured and murdered and executed because they are just like you?

And that feels oppressive.

Yeah, it feels oppressive. And all for nothing. Trans people are not assaulting cis people in bathrooms. Quite the reverse, actually. But cis people excluding trans people from bathrooms, and especially trans children from bathrooms, has consequences.

Is this the damage we want for our transgender children?

Jeff Sessions thinks so.

This is not a surprise. It did not come out of nowhere. Trump may have said that he had nothing against trans people. He may have been willing to let wealthy Republican and trans woman Caitlin Jenner use the women’s room in Trump Tower. But he chose Michael Pence as his running mate. He chose a Vice President who is among the most poisonously anti-LGBT politicians in this country.

And if Trump gets hit by a bus tomorrow, we will still have Michael Pence and Jeff Sessions.

And people like me will sit in emergency departments, holding the hands of the people we love, and wonder when the axe will fall. Will a healthcare worker feel emboldened by those in power to refuse us care? If the local healthcare workers all behave professionally, then the next time I travel, maybe to the American South, do I have to worry about my health if I’m admitted to an Emergency Department there? These people who are running the government of my country — when they are done forcing the trans children to dance for them, to perform in a gender role those children demonstrably cannot tolerate, will these people take away my family’s healthcare, the healthcare which is the reason I could immediately say to my wife, when she was experiencing crushing, disorienting pain, “Call 911”? Will they nullify our marriage? Will I, a trans woman who is married to another woman, no longer be able to sit with her in the hospital, and stroke her forehead, and sing to her?

If, at this point, you want to reassure me that they won’t do these things, spare me. I’ll be willing to have a reasoned discussion about whether my family is at risk sometime after the officials of my country stop arguing in reasoned tones that the law should relegate children who are trans to public accommodations which are separate but equal.

If you are a citizen of this country, you have a responsibility to your fellow citizens, especially to those who are children, to vote responsibly. It doesn’t matter whether the candidates are folksy, or whether you could have a beer with them, or whether they’re a member of your tribe. It matters what policies they are going to enact. It matters whom they appoint, and what they let those people do.

If you voted for Trump, you voted for this. You voted for me sitting in the Emergency Department, holding my wife’s hand, and reading about how the Attorney General of the United States is rushing to implement the suffering of children who are trans, and knowing that a man who is willing to crush trans children certainly won’t hesitate to crush trans adults, and trans marriages, and trans families. Me. Us.

For the love of all that is good, next time make a different choice.

Grace

On Wearing Hijab for the First Time, and Why

On Wearing Hijab in Public for the First Time, and Why

02-01 was World Hijab Day. A friend of ours invited us to protest Trump’s travel ban by standing with signs at the corner of the Dartmouth Green, wearing hijab.

Which we did.

Before I go further, it’s important to acknowledge certain things.

The question of whether and when and how to wear hijab is hotly debated even in communities where it is common. It means different things to different people in those communities. World Hijab Day is debated within those communities. And that’s all before we start to consider the meaning of wearing hijab in a country like the United States, where, regardless of what the wearer or community might want, people attach additional meanings to the practice. Some well-intentioned by naive women from cultures where it is not common to wear hijab have tried to experience what it is like to do so by wearing hijab. Some of them have had eye-opening experiences as they received the side-eye and abuse which some people feel it’s appropriate to bestow upon a woman wearing hijab. However, they have the freedom to walk away from it in a way that is not possible for people for whom wearing hijab can be bound up in cultural and religious identity. Because of those disparate backgrounds, a Western and non-Muslim woman wearing hijab does not, and cannot, experience it in the same way.

I have read only a tiny fraction of this debate. I have the impression that it’s rather like the debate among many Western feminists about the use of makeup. Some women object that makeup reinforces an artificial beauty standard, is expensive and time-consuming. Other women argue that they use makeup to enhance their appearance, and that they like it, and as adults capable of making their own decisions about their own bodies, they should be able to wear makeup. The center of the argument always seems to me to pivot around whether it’s a choice, and to what extent, in that it may technically be optional, but if, for instance, it’s expected in a competitive workplace, it become mandatory for those who want to get ahead. “Optional” is not a binary switch; it is a continuum of coercion.

Which is also true of the bit of debate I have seen around wearing hijab.

So, my wife and I were under no illusions that what we were doing in wearing hijab was equivalent to one of our Muslim friends wearing hijab.

Not wanting to offend those who matter to us personally because we know them, we checked with a friend of ours who is Muslim to ask if she, personally, would not be offended. She said she would not, and showed us different ways to wear it. (And, learning from her, it became clear to me that wearing hijab is a learned skill, rather like tying your shoes. Her movements were deft, and her hijab stayed in place. Our hands were clumsy, and ours unraveled easily.)

And then, armed with that crumb of knowledge, we wore hijab as a political statement, in solidarity with the women and men who were targeted by Trump’s ban.

Did the protest accomplish anything with our statement? I don’t know. After we arrived, several more people joined us, native-born Americans and immigrant Americans, both. A group of three Dartmouth students came and interviewed us on videotape. By the end of the interview they revealed themselves to be somewhat inclined to defend the current administration. The apparent head of the group objected to one of us characterizing Steve Bannon as a white supremacist. At the end, in response to something the leader said, one of my fellow protesters made what sounded like a nuanced and thoughtful statement about the state of Israeli politics, and the leader reduced that statement to a brief rhetorical question which baldly mischaracterized what my friend had just said. It was so nakedly twisted that I laughed out loud, and at that point the leader apparently thought better of it and they decamped.

I was glad my friend was there to tackle that topic; it’s certainly not one I feel qualified to speak on.

In the end, we got plenty of waves, and some honks.

And we stood up. Which is the first, and most important, thing.

Grace

The Women’s March, belatedly

I spoke at the Concord, NH, Women’s March. (Text below, and links to the audio. I’d have posted about this sooner, but we have to make a living and pay our child’s college tuition, so first things first.)

In December, I preached at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Concord, NH. (Sermon title: Trans People and the Cornerstones of Unitarian Universalism. Contact me if you’d like me to bring it to your church.). One of the happy results was that one of the congregants (I don’t know if she’d want to be named publicly) was impressed enough to pass my name and a recommendation along to Gayle Murphy, who was organizing the Women’s March in Concord. Gayle and I chatted by phone. I asked her how long she wanted me to speak for, expecting something perhaps along the 15-20 minute line, as is often the case when I preach or speak to groups. She said, “Two to three minutes.”

Well, I thought, This will be a challenge. I’d never written a speech like that before, and never given a speech publicly to an audience which could contain anyone.

But I came up with something which I thought would work. It ran about 3.5 minutes, timed cold. Being a newbie to rabble-rousing, I neglected to account for audience response, so in the event it ran about 8 minutes.

I invited my daughter, Valkyrie, to come with me. She follows her own mind, so I had no idea if she would choose to come along, but she did! So, on the appointed day we drove down to Concord, parked several blocks away, and walked to the event, where we listened to the end of the morning speeches and soaked up the vibe.

It was awesome. There were pussy hats everywhere (including on my own head, knitted by my wife, Sparrow, who is a competitive knitter (no, seriously — they have things like mandatory rest breaks to prevent nerve damage)). Valkyrie, knowing her own mind, said, “I’m not going to wear something that is historically degrading on my head.” I asked her if she minded if I wore mine, since we would be together. She expressed her complete indifference. Apparently, in her opinion, what she wears on her head is up to her and what I wear on my head is up to me. That’s my girl. It’s almost like she thinks she’s in charge of her own body. Republicans beware.

There were signs:

“I stand with Planned Parenthood.”

“Women’s Rights = Human Rights.”

“With Liberty and Justice For All,” followed by a marriage equality symbol.

“MOMS clean air FORCE – FIGHTING FOR OUR KIDS’ HEALTH”

“Fight Big Money”

“Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy”

“Respect our Mother”, superimposed over a picture of the globe.

“DIGNITY”, with each letter a different rainbow color.

“Our babies will not be warlords!”

“History has its eyes on you”. Shout out for the Hamilton Reference! XXXXXLINK

“Let us RESPECT all people CONSERVE and share EARTH’S RESOURCES”

“Girls just wanna have Fun-DAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS”

“Keep Your Laws off MY BODY”

“FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE MUSLIMS … NOT THIS TIME MOTHER F$@)(#%”

“Take Back Our Elections”

…and my favorite, which I loved even before I noticed that a friend of mine was holding it:

“Jews have seen this before and know how it ends.”

One member of the crowd made sure that Daniel Webster, present as a statue, wore a pussy hat.

There was a counter-protest on one of the streets along the edge of the square, handing out literature to people who were willing to talk to them. They didn’t seem to be doing much business.

As has been much-remarked about the marches generally, it was all very peaceful and orderly. There were bored detail officers from Concord PD having nothing to do. I decided to extend a bit of sympathy and do a bit of activism which, as a retired officer, I was specially suited to do: I walked up to two of them, wearing my pussy hat, and introduced myself by name and as a retired officer, naming my department. We shook hands. I thanked them for looking out for us. I asked them if they were all set for water and snacks. They said that they were, as I knew they would; as an officer, you don’t accept food and water from people you don’t know. But it was a way to say, “I know what a detail can be like.”

I don’t know if they heard me speak, later, but if they did, that’s a second bit of activism, too.


Speaking of incidental activism, at one point, during the event, I interacted peripherally with someone who did not know I was trans, at first. We greeted each other politely and all was friendly. During conversation, the fact that I was trans came up, and someone else asked me a question, which brought it to their attention. From then on, each and every time I looked at this person, they were scanning my face with a manner both reserved and intent. I would meet their eyes for a second or two and then look away again, attending to business. The meeting-of-eyes lasted long enough for each of us to communicate awareness that we had noticed, but not so long that I was bothering to challenge their gaze.

I am familiar with this dynamic. Certain people, most often older and more conservative people, go through life under the impression that they have never seen a person who is trans in person, before. They have encountered a person who is trans, of course, because we are around 0.5% to 2% of the population, and distributed throughout the population by virtue of being born throughout the population, and so it’s impossible to go through life without brushing past us. But they carry with them the belief that they have never encountered a trans person, and so the first time they actually do, they have to process the differences between reality and their previous conceptions, which probably have to do with such things as The Crying Game and The Silence of the Lambs. I know what’s probably going through their heads, because this dynamic is often accompanied by such phrases as, “I’ve never met a trans person before” and “You’re not what I expected”, though that didn’t happen in this case.

It’s not particularly pleasant to be on the receiving end of it, but what are you going to do? It has been said that the most powerful activism a TLBG person can engage in is simply to be out. This is why: because everywhere you go, people are exposed to you as a real human being capable of actual thoughtful and caring social interaction… and the unconscious biases our society planted in them suffer a little bit of damage via reality-check. Sometimes I think of it as “interacting with the muggles whilst simultaneously trans and sane”.


Valkyrie and I located the organizers and participated in the last-minute briefing and planning on what order we would speak in, and how we would change speakers on the podium. I had never been involved in an event like this, but everyone seemed organized, knowledgeable and capable, so I followed their experienced lead.

The person who had been slated to do the final unifying speech was ill, and so Gayle asked Valkyrie if she wanted to. Valkyrie asked what was involved, looked over the speech, and agreed to do it. She did her vocal warm-ups and approached it like a pro. (I recorded her, too; clickable link, below, to audio of my daughter being awesome.)

As it turned out, I was among the first speakers, which turned out to be a good thing, because the crowd was fresh and responsive. I’ve never had the opportunity to fire up a crowd, before, and I have to say it was a lot of fun, and very gratifying to hear everyone’s enthusiasm roared back at me (literally; listen to the crowd reaction at 5:51 in the recording).

Here is the text of my speech:

Once, when Abraham Lincoln was waiting to hear the results of an election, he commented, “Well, it is the people’s business, — the election is in their hands. If they turn their backs to the fire and get scorched in the rear, they’ll find they have got to sit on the blister.” [pause] When I was young, they told me that in the United States, anyone could grow up to be President. Now a large minority of voters have demonstrated that it’s true. And we’re going to have to sit on some blisters.

It sure would have been nice if we had had Instant Runoff Voting, so that qualified candidates didn’t split the vote. We need Instant Runoff Voting, and total voter access, and the end of the Electoral College.

The notion that anyone can be president is built on a key assumption: that merit matters. Our whole system is built on a foundation which says that we all have the same rights, that we all start essentially even, that our success depends upon our merits and our hard work, that our children are judged on the content of our character.

And yet, in fact, we grapple with a system where one cancer diagnosis, one drunk driver, can wipe out a lifetime of savings. 99% of us cannot earn enough in our lifetimes to be safe from a bad spin on that roulette wheel.

We also spin that wheel at birth. Over fifty percent of Americans grapple with a system where our own bodily autonomy is up for debate. We labor under a system where other people feel free to block access to necessary medical care because they don’t like the choices we might make if we were free to make them. Trans people experience this, both trans women and trans men. Cisgender women experience this. Cisgender men are free to ignore it, and when they are the only people in the room making decisions, their decisions show it. Representation matters.

This is not meritocracy. It is rouletteocracy.

We are the wealthiest society in the history of our species. We can do better than this. A child’s healthcare should not depend on the job prospects of her parents. As a society, we should be able to take care of our children. ALL people should rest secure in the knowledge that we make our own decisions about our own bodies, not just cisgender men. ALL people should rest secure in the knowledge that they can get medical care, and never mind any preexisting conditions.

Right now, our playing field isn’t even level and our elected representatives are tearing up the most level parts. We saw it last week, as they started to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. It’s going to be rough, but when you fight for your freedoms, that’s what it takes. Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, … want crops without plowing up the ground. … They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”

We are women! Hear us roar! Make sure your friends and family hear you, and model what you’re doing. I’m here with my daughter so that she can witness this, and learn it. Maya Angelou said, “I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”

We kick ass right now. Make them pay attention. When your representatives are planning iniquity, flood their phones. Exhaust their staff. Make it impossible for your representatives not to listen to you. Make them react at your speed.

When they work toward the common good, for ALL Americans, send them a letter to tell them that you noticed. Let them digest it at their speed, and savor it. And remember it in 2018.

My name is Grace Alden. I am a woman who is trans. I am a woman who values her autonomy and the autonomy and worth and dignity of others.

And I am a woman who lets her representatives know it. I hope you all do the same.

Thank you.

I recorded our speeches:

Audio of my speech.

Audio of Valkyrie’s speech.

Afterward, people were very complimentary. I got my hand shaken a fair amount, and many people said, “Thank you” in various ways. A couple of them asked why they had never heard of me, before, and I had to explain about how I had been publicly neutral while I was a sworn officer. One simply said, “Public office!” in response to which I shuddered visibly. I learned yesterday that Arnie Arnesen commented favorably on my speech on her radio show.

It feels good, to take action, and to receive the appreciation of others for it.

In the time it has taken me to make a living since the Women’s March, a lot has been happening. I’ve wanted to write about it, and especially about the spontaneous demonstrations of support at JFK Airport. What a shining example of Americans being awesome. It feels good to know that many, many people in my country are also willing and able to take action on behalf of our country, and each other, and our family and friends who happen to be foreign nationals.

Show up.

If you can’t show up, then call your representatives, and the White House.

If you can’t call, then write.

This is our system. “It’s really stupid, but it can be made to work.” *

Let’s make it work.

Grace

* Cordelia Vorkosigan, in Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Public service announcement: “Obamacare” and the Affordable Care Act ARE THE SAME THING

President Abraham Lincoln is reported to have commented, in the agony of awaiting election results, “Well, it is the people’s business, – the election is in their hands. If they turn their backs to the fire and get scorched in the rear, they’ll find they have got to sit on the blister.”

We’re gonna be sitting on a lot of blisters.

Possibly among the biggest is the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which is apparently NOT known to everyone as “Obamacare”, because some people seem to be under the impression that they are not one and the same.

For the record: they are one and the same.

This kind of ignorance is what we get when our candidates who have actual, readable policy positions which can be analyzed on their merits (as Hillary Clinton did) have to deal with a media which would rather give free press to a buffoon with no substantive policy positions (that would be Donald Trump).

It’s also the kind of ignorance we get when we permit one party to reframe the public discussion in such a way that the terms we use hide the actual meaning we intend. Republicans are fond of characterizing liberal speech as “Orwellian”, but then turn around and engage in exactly that sort of rebranding. Much of that is courtesy of Frank Luntz, a professional pollster, who, on at least one occasion, actually redefined “Orwellian” as a good thing. Most famously, Luntz gave us “death tax” instead of “estate tax”. He also gave us “climate change” in place of “global warming” (because it sounds less scary), “energy exploration” in place of “off-shore drilling”, “opportunity scholarships” in place of “school vouchers”, “tax relief” in place of “tax cuts”, “personalizing Social Security” in place of “privatizing Social Security”, and, perhaps most chillingly, “electronic intercepts” instead of “wiretapping” or “eavesdropping”. He encourages Republicans to say “liberal” instead of “progressive”, because it resonates with the idea of loose morals or profligate spending.

At least as long ago as 2009, Frank Luntz counseled Republicans to characterize health care reform in scary terms: “government takeover” instead of “health care reform”.

Government takeover? Today’s Republicans managed to eke out a win in the presidency and both houses of Congress and made repeal of the Affordable Care Act their first priority. If that’s not a “government takeover” of our healthcare system, I don’t know what is.

On the campaign trail, Trump promised to “repeal [Obamacare] and replace [it] with something terrific”.

It damn well better be “terrific”, because the Affordable Care Act, while imperfect, is better than what came before by actual measurement. For one thing, it requires coverage of people with pre-existing conditions. That’s important to several people I know who have chronic conditions which didn’t used to be covered, and now are, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Trump said that he was going to keep coverage for pre-existing conditions, because it was one of the ACA’s best points. BUT, apparently not. Let’s hear from Mike Pence:

“We will protect Americans with pre-existing conditions so that they are not charged more or denied coverage, just because they have been sick, so long as they have paid their premiums consistently,” he said.

But that’s not something ordinary people have complete control over, is it? If you’re fired from employment, or have to move unexpectedly, you may not be able to have continuous healthcare. Once you don’t, you’re in the high-risk pool for the long-term.

And there’s the flaw in healthcare, right there: pools. If you sell healthcare in a free market, then as a coverage provider you can’t make money in that market unless you charge more for people who need more. When you’re buying kitchenware, or a boat, that’s fine, because people can choose to economize. But it’s not possible to economize on healthcare by not having an expensive condition. I’m a cancer survivor, and I promise you, I would have economized by not having cancer. But that wasn’t an option.

About 60 million Americans have pre-existing conditions. That’s about 18% of the population. This is not a small problem.

Most Americans believe in meritocracy. Work hard and earn what you get. The implicit promise behind that belief is a reasonably level playing field. Well, when it comes to healthcare, the playing field is not level. A lot of your health is luck-of-the-draw. Some people get cancer. One accident I investigated, during my career, involved a woman who fell asleep behind the wheel and crossed over, taking a car head-on and breaking both of the other driver’s knees and hips, among other things. Let’s hope he was insured, because he’s going to need lifelong healthcare just for that, let alone the fact that he’s just as likely as anyone to draw the cancer card.

Where is the merit in that? Is there any possible way that he could have saved enough to pay for that roll of the dice, while doing the other things we expect of him, like paying on a mortgage and saving for his childrens’ college educations? That’s not meritocracy. That’s rouletteocracy.

How many times have you heard someone say that they hate their job, but they have to stay in it for their family’s healthcare? Conservatives say that they’re all about the entrepreneurial spirit. If our healthcare did not depend on our jobs, if we could know that our basic health was taken care of, so that we could take small risks instead of huge ones, they would see an explosion of entrepreneurs such as they have not dared to dream of.

Instead, they want us to make free-market decisions in circumstances which are famously opaque, where not even experts can get real costs on medical treatments, where parents with no medical training make medical decisions. What if your ten-year-old child falls and hurts their arm? Republican Bill Huizenga says you wait until the next day to take them to a doctor, in order to avoid a costly visit to the emergency department. But hey, don’t worry! Huizenga’s kid’s arm was just broken. Waiting didn’t hurt anyone, right? I mean, anyone besides the ten-year-old?

Republicans want people to make healthcare decisions they are not qualified to make in order to keep their costs down.

What if Huizenga didn’t have health insurance? Then his child would not be insured at all. Rouletteocracy again.

The system we have is ridiculous. We are the wealthiest society in the history of our species, and yet, we do not ensure healthcare for our society’s children. The Affordable Care Act improved our system somewhat. The Republicans are planning to delete it.

Enough of this shame.

We should be improving this system, not dismantling it. Call your representatives and tell them that. Tell them to cover all children, whose healthcare should not depend on the employment status of their parents. Tell them to decouple healthcare from employment.

Grace

How to Contact Your Federal Government

Hello, all!

When you want your government to hear your voice, there are more effective ways and less effective ways. This is a reference document which I will be linking to when it’s time to make your voice heard.

Most effective: Call the elected representatives local office and speak to a staffer, in person. For our federal representatives, the local office is the office located in the state where they were elected.

To find your representative in the House of Representatives, click here. You can enter your ZIP Code and a page will pop up with a link to your representative’s website. Somewhere on that page will be a link to “Offices”, and you will find a local office number there.

To find your Senator, click here. Then search on your state abbreviation. You have two Senators, and they both represent your entire state. Click on their name, and it will take you to their website. Somewhere on that page will be a link to “Offices”, and you will find a local office number there.

The White House line for public comment is (202) 456-1111.

When you call, have a script. Tell them who you are. If you’re calling a Representative, tell them the town you live in, so that they know that they represent you. If you’re calling a Senator, tell them the town and state you live in, so that they know that you live in their state, and so that they picture roughly where, and for verisimilitude. Anyone can claim to be from a state. Few people who are lying will pick a town.

Be polite. You want them to listen.

“Hello. My name is {your name}. I live in {location}. I am calling to urge {Title, Name} to {support or oppose} {specific issue}.” Then give ONE reason why you care so much that you’re calling: “This legislation is going to make it impossible for people like me, who have had cancer, to get health coverage.” Or whatever.

They will reply. As long as the conversation stays relevant, stay polite and keep talking. Actual transmission of detail is secondary. Your primary goal is to grab their attention. You want that staffer to say to their boss, “Wow! The phones have been OFF THE HOOK with people hating on this legislation! I’m exhausted and can’t get anything else done!”

In other words, be polite, be relevant, and be unignorable.


Basically ineffective: Twitter, Facebook, email. Staffers don’t have time to look at the likes or read the comments.

Slightly more effective: a physical letter, mailed via the US Postal Service. They tally them, batch them, and reply with form letters. That times time and expense.


Does all of this favor the verbally able and disempower people who work best in print? Yes. It’s not fair. It’s just what works. I’m a writer; I feel your pain. But it’s what works. That’s why you write a bit of script on a napkin before you call. There’s a good writeup on how to do this contacting if you have social anxiety here.


This series of tweets from a former congressional staffer, Emily Ellsworth, went viral, and explains pretty well. I excerpt it here, for the day when the link is no more.

I worked for Congress for 6 years, and here’s what I learned about how they listen to constituents. First, tweeting or writing on Facebook is largely ineffective. I never looked at those comments except to remove the harassing ones. Second, writing a letter to the district office (state) is better than sending an email or writing a letter to DC.

But, the most effective thing is to actually call them on the phone. At their district (state) office. They have to talk to you there. [emphasis added]

We repped half a million people, it was impossible to read and respond personally to all letters. Impossible. This was something in particular that I cared about as a staffer and worked very hard on, but the sheer volume of emails is overwhelming. So, we batched them with computer algorithms and sent out form letters based on topic and position. Regardless of method received.

But, phone calls! That was a thing that shook up our office from time. One time, a radio host gave out our district office phone # on air. He was against our immigration policy and told our constituents to call. And they did. All. Day. Long. All I did all day was answer phones.

It was exhausting and you can bet my bosses heard about it. We had discussions because of that call to action.

If we started getting a pattern of calls, I called up our DC office and asked if they were getting the same calls and we talked.

In other words, use a contact method which is not ignorable. No one has to read an email or a Facebook message. But someone has to answer the phone.

But that just gets you a staffer. What if you want to talk to the actual elected representative?

If you want to talk to your rep, show up at town hall meetings. Get a huge group that they can’t ignore. Pack that place and ask questions.

We held town halls consistently that fewer than 50 people showed up for. And it was always the same people. So, shake it up.

If you run an advocacy group, invite local staffers to show up to your events. Let them talk to people you work with and set up meetings.

As always, please be kind but firm with those staffers. They will listen and talk to you. I always, always did. …if the staff knows you, when they have a question about a piece of legislation or amendment, [you] will be the one [they] call.

Don’t waste your time. Make them listen.

Grace

URGENT: Call Congress on Congressional Ethics Oversight

Update, 13:40:

REPUBLICANS BACK DOWN. Rachel Maddow reports.


URGENT. CONGRESSIONAL ETHICS VOTE THIS AFTERNOON.

“We’re from the Government. We’re here to help.”

Those words are a cliché of chilling authoritarianism precisely because we don’t trust the government with oversight of their own actions. They are accountable to us, not to themselves.

Well, now the Republicans would like the body which judges the ethics of members of the House of Representatives to be accountable to … The House of Representatives.

As reported over at Politico:

In one of their first moves of the new Congress, House Republicans have voted to gut their own independent ethics watchdog — a huge blow to cheerleaders of congressional oversight and one that dismantles major reforms adopted after the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Monday’s effort was led, in part, by lawmakers who have come under investigation in recent years.

Despite a warning from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Republicans adopted a proposal by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee.

The office currently has free rein, enabling investigators to pursue allegations and then recommend further action to the House Ethics Committee as they see fit.

Now, the office would be under the thumb of lawmakers themselves.

The vote is this afternoon. Call your Representative.

Grace

ETA: I just called my representative, Ann McLane Kuster, her Concord office: (603) 226-1002. “Hello. I am calling to urge Congresswoman Kuster to keep the Office of Congressional Ethics independent, and NOT to put it under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee.”

Congresswoman Kuster’s staffer told me that Congresswoman Kuster is advocating against this measure, and will vote against it when it comes to the floor for a vote.

The actual call took 1 minute and 48 seconds.

You can find your Congressional representative here. It is more effective if you CALL (rather than e-mail or like on Facebook or text). If you call at their state office, not their Washington office, they have to take your call, and it has more impact.

Make your voice heard!

Discrimination: Now Available With Consequences

So, in the previous post, I suggested that anti-LGBT forces might think twice about enacting bills like the infamous HB 2, which probably made the difference in the gubernatorial election in North Carolina.

According to Rewire, it looks like I was right.

“North Carolina’s governor was just voted out of office because of his support for a discriminatory law that took an immediate and devastating toll on his state’s economy,” McTighe said. “It’s not surprising that business leaders and elected officials from across Texas are sounding some early alarm bells over Dan Patrick’s fixation on similar legislation.”

What’s this world coming to? When it became socially unacceptable to attack LGB people, we still had T people to slap around, but now it’s getting so that when you discriminate openly against them, there are sometimes consequences!

Ah, well. There’s still covert discrimination. We’ll always have that.

/sarcasm

But seriously, a big, heartfelt “thank you” to all the cis allies who made that happen. Trans people are not exactly an economic powerhouse, but cis people who cared about targeted discrimination made all the difference in North Carolina, and that difference is now rippling.

Grace

Dispatches from the Bathrooms (unfortunately)

Some of you may be familiar with HB 2, though not by name. Here are some links. Brief summary: among other things, HB 2 required that people use the public bathroom designated for the gender shown on their birth certificate.

Legally, for cis folks this is a distinction without a difference. For many trans folks, it can make participation in the public sphere very difficult. Some states don’t permit anyone to change their birth certificate at all, which means that people born in those states must out themselves every time they apply for a job. Some states which technically permit you to update your gender marker issue an amended certificate, so that the original data is still visible (because that won’t cause you any problems when you try to get a job). Many states require proof of genital surgery before permitting you to alter your gender marker, but many trans people don’t get genital surgery, because it’s expensive, can be medically contraindicated for unrelated medical reasons like heart conditions, because there are no good surgical options for their particular circumstances, or because they don’t effing WANT to and it’s nobody’s business but theirs. Some states issue a brand new certificate upon a doctor’s assurance that someone has undergone irreversible medical treatment (and thank Heaven my mother happened to be standing in California when her labor started) BUT the paperwork and fees are beyond the means of trans people who are having trouble finding dinner, let alone court filing fees.

So as trivial as it sounds, getting an updated birth certificate can be impossible, or several flavors of difficult.

(Which is, doubtless, the whole point. I doubt that the Republican legislature which passed this monstrosity knew that birth certificates could sometimes be amended. They’ve figured it out, by now, because we’re starting to see bathroom legislation proposed which requires that you go to the bathroom on your original birth certificate, or which references chromosomes. Sucks to be one of the small-but-extant number of cis folks whose birth record clerk made a typo; if they have their way you’ll never be able to get that thing fixed. (But it won’t matter, for you, because you’ll be able to get a doctor’s letter attesting that you have always been the gender you were assigned, paperwork notwithstanding, and then you’ll be able to get hired by the same folks who just wouldn’t be comfortable shaking hands with a trans person.))

Laws like HB 2 can also, colaterally, make participation in the public sphere uncomfortable for cis women, who might find that these men are required to share a restroom with them. Finally, cis men might be uncomfortable with the notion of opening the door to the toilet stall to find these women trying to scoot in safety to a toilet. (History suggests, however, that it is the trans women who would likely suffer, as a significant minority of cis folks consider them outside the law when it comes to assault, including some elected legislators.)

Apart from being a disaster on a rights level, HB 2 was shoddily written and hastily passed at the direction of North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, so that there would be no opportunity for public comment. And then, when people started to react with outrage, as Fortune 500 companies decided to put call centers and other facilities elsewhere, as the NCAA moved games out-of-state, McCrory doubled down, and kept doing it, until he found himself in a race for re-election against his own Attorney General, Roy Cooper.

It was a tight race. There was some recounting.

But McCrory lost by several thousand votes. He was the only incumbent governor in this year’s election to lose his seat. Maybe others will think twice before passing such legislation. Certainly Republican South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard thought so when he vetoed a similar bill in his state this year (good brief news video at that link, by the way).

So North Carolina, as a state, and former Governor Pat McCrory, as a politician, have paid a heavy price to pass a discriminatory bill which was so shoddily-written that it didn’t even have an enforcement provision.

The 2016 election was a disaster overall, but there’s a point of light for you.

North Carolina experienced quite the negative consequence to solve a problem which didn’t exist. In states which have protections for trans people in place, there have been no problems, at least not for cis people.

Chief Anthony Colarusso, of Dover PD in New Hampshire, put it this way:

As Chief of the Dover Police Department and a member of law enforcement for over 31 years, I know our communities are safer when everyone is treated fairly and equally under the law and that includes transgender people. This group is actually disproportionately targeted for harassment and assault. However, in places where legal protections are in place, rates of violence against transgender individuals go down with no uptick in public safety incidents. Transgender equality and equal treatment for all is ultimately about building stronger communities for everyone.

Here in New Hampshire, the Democrats won the governor’s office, but the Republicans won both the House and the Senate. I expressed some hope, in the post before this, that we might see a nondiscrimination bill in this state. Alas, I’m told by an experienced politician that they are not sure whether they could succeed, and by filing, they might actually make matters worse. A Republican House and Senate could modify the legislation to something worse than what we have right now (which is nothing). So we may end up waiting for that, especially given the climate on the national scene, where Vice President-Elect Pence is appointing [1], as Trump’s top domestic policy advisor, Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow with the Family Research Council, which is an actual hate group.

Meanwhile, the State of Virginia has decided to go to the mat on this issue via the courts. Gavin Grimm is an ordinary 17-year-old boy who is also trans, and his school is willing to go to the Supreme Court of the United States to keep him in the girls’ bathroom. The case will be heard in June of this year. Recent case law is very much on the side of trans people, but of course the Supreme Court is not bound by case law any more than they choose to be. The decision could be narrow, or very broad. And, it could go either way. For trans people, and trans children, and our participation in public schools, this could be our Brown v. Board of Education, or it could be our Plessy v. Ferguson. If it’s the latter, then I might very well be dead before I’m allowed to use the women’s room in most of the landmass of my country; it took the court 58 years after Plessy v. Ferguson to set the matter right.

So this is an extremely important case for Americans who are trans, and if decided broadly, could also establish powerful precedent on workplace segregation of sexes generally.

Lambda Legal is among the organizations filing amicus briefs with the Supreme Court. An “amicus brief” is an advisory filing by someone who is not directly party to the case, but who has an interest in the outcome. Lambda Legal is looking for police officers willing to sign on to this brief. They believe a large signing by officers would be an eye-opener for the justices on our Supreme Court. I’ve signed it. If you are an officer willing to stand on the side of increased public safety, I urge you to sign it. If you know such an officer, I urge you to urge them to sign it.

In this instance, the voices of cisgender allies would be especially powerful. It’s easy to discount my voice; I have a vested interest in this outcome. But cisgender allies benefit from a presumption of impartiality. You will be heard. People will give your words greater weight. Please: stand up and assert what they know, that trans women and trans girls are not a threat in the women’s room, and that trans men and trans boys are not a threat in the men’s room.

I’ve sent an e-mail to Chief Colarusso, in Dover. Let’s support the serving officers who are getting on the right side of this issue. They don’t have to be taking a stand on rights as a political issue. They can take a stand on the issue as a matter of public safety, the protection of which is their sworn duty.

Grace

[1] It has become clear to me that we have actually elected Mike Pence as our functional president. Trump will be a figurehead, easily duped and easily distracted away to Twitter, while Pence puts together the most regressive government of my lifetime. Does Trump scare you? As an LGBT person, I’m far more scared of Pence, who is an advocate for conversion therapy, also known as “reparative therapy”, a therapy practiced upon gay and trans adults and children, which has been so discredited that the American Psychological Association has issued a resolution against it (at least for gay people; trans people, apparently, might still be nuts).

Nondiscrimination Bill Coming in NH

A few days ago, a friend of mine told me that a legislator was introducing a nondiscrimination bill in New Hampshire. Ed Butler was involved in the last attempt to get a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination bill in New Hampshire, back in 2009. At that time, I was still closeted, and from the closet all I could do was watch from the sidelines as Republican opponents to the bill dubbed it a “Bathroom Bill” and convinced the relevant Senate subcommittee to unanimously vote it “Inexpedient to Legislate”.[1] I can tell you that to me, at the time, it felt like a kick in the teeth from my fellow Granite Staters. It helped delay my own transition. When I finally did transition, I had to assemble a host of legal decisions to make it clear that I was probably protected, legally. If this law had been in place, it would have been certain that I was legally protected. I could simply have pointed to it.

This new bill is going to include all public accommodations, including locker rooms and bathrooms, thereby avoiding the mistake they made in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, in order to get an LGBt bill, they gave up locker rooms and bathrooms for trans people; LGB people were protected everywhere, but t people were protected everywhere except locker rooms and bathrooms. That necessitated a separate and harder fight for full inclusion in Massachusetts, a fight which is going on right now. Massachusetts finally passed a bill including bathrooms and locker rooms, but opponents have succeeded in collecting enough signatures to force a repeal of the new law onto the ballot as a ballot measure. So, we’ll see what happens in 2018.

New Hampshire now has the opportunity to do better.

So, I put Ed’s name into Google, together with “NH”, and came up with his official state house page, which had his e-mail on it. Then I sent him an e-mail. I asked him if it was true that he was sponsoring a nondiscrimination bill. I identified myself as a trans woman. He replied, asking if I was the same person featured in in this news article.

I replied, told him that I was, and told him that I was a decent public speaker and had been doing educational speaking. He asked if he could pass my information along to the folks at Freedom NH.

I told him he could.

We’ll see what happens.

So, today’s ATIP: network with people, find out what’s in the planning stages, and contact the people involved with information on what skills or resources you can bring to the effort.

Grace

[1] This is an example of how language changes. Republicans used to dub these bills “bathroom bills”, in an apparent effort to trivialize them, or evoke unpleasant imagery. And it worked. Just seven years later, when Republicans pass asinine fear-fodder like HB 2 in North Carolina, we do the same thing to them. The presumption is swinging, even in the Deep South.