Category Archives: LGBT Rights

President Obama Wants Conversion Therapy Banned

Transgender 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn wrote in her suicide note that one of the ways her family rejected her was by forcing her to see “Christian therapists.”  These therapists told her that she was selfish and wrong, and should look to God for help. Soon after her suicide, a White House petition was started, calling for “Leelah’s Law,”  which would ban all forms of the cruel ex-transgender and ex-gay conversion therapies.

Recently, the White House responded to the petition in agreement that conversion therapy should be banned.  Valerie Jarrett, White House Senior Advisor, said, “The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm.”  She added, “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”

President Obama Wants Conversion Therapy Banned

Jarrett believes that even with the best intentions, families can cause harm to their children who are LGBTQ. She said, “Countless families and guardians across the country proudly support their LGBTQ+ children. Too many LGBTQ+ youth, however, lack this support system, which can have devastating consequences. Negative family reactions to LGBTQ+ youth can be perceived as rejection by children, often contributing to serious health issues and inhibiting a child’s development and well-being. And when it comes to LGBTQ+ youth, some actions by family and caregivers can be harmful, despite even the best intentions.”

This year, Republican lawmakers have defeated several legislative bans that were pending in various states; some are still pending. Currently, only California, New Jersey, and Washington, DC have banned conversion therapy for minors. According to Jarrett, a national ban would require congressional action. But, she said: “We’re hopeful that the clarity of the evidence combined with the action taken by the states will lead to broader action that the administration would support.”

Jarrett stated in an interview with the New York Times that Obama was incredibly moved by Alcorn’s story and added that it’s not a unique experience: “It’s not the story of one young person,” she said. “It is the story of countless young people who have been subjected to this.”

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New Jersey Schools Still No Stranger to Gay Hate

Now, with social media, it is easier than ever to discover the views and routines of the people that we work with through websites like Facebook where one can “like” a post and have it show up in the newsfeeds of friends and even friends of friends. Of course the downside of this is that private opinion can quickly become public. Such was the case when Reverend Warren Hall, one of the directors at Seton Hall University in New Jersey “liked” a gay equality “No H8” photo on facebook.

Reverend Warren Hall claims that the facebook post cost him his job. Seton Hall University declines to comment on the incident, but the Reverend states that the incident is reason to address the issue of LGBT rights more frequently among religious organizations. The anti-gay Facebook comments that were allegedly made by a High School teacher earlier this year leads one to wonder if the New Jersey School system needs to address LGBT issues more frequently. New Jersey Human Rights laws do prohibit bullying and discrimination in schools, but the failure of the state to fire teachers such as Knox that make anti-gay remarks in the name of free speech smacks of an ineptitude for truly resolving LGBT rights issues.

New Jersey Schools Still No Stranger to Gay Hate

The real issue here is not just one of privacy and discrimination. The mood of a nation is being threatened by a stigma, and it’s this same stigma that prevents LGBT youths and young adults from seeking the health counseling that they need. The failure of the education system to address LGBT sexual health and relationships is perhaps the biggest obstacle in the fight against the spread of STDs, so it is important that people in communities where injustices like this occur raise their voices.

If you are interested in becoming more involved in your community’s awareness of LGBT issues the website http://www.lgbtcenters.org/ has local directories.

Transgender Activists and Radical Feminists Battle on Social Media

There’s something trending on Twitter—but also offline. Both transgender activists, and feminists who do not view trans women as women are debating online and on college campuses.

#TERFs (trans exclusionary radical feminists is a hashtag being used and is a pejorative term used on Twitter to describe anti-trans feminists. Anti-sex work, anti-porn, anti-trans feminists seem to be reappearing from the 1970’s. Many wonder why.

An open letter published in the Guardian of London and the Observer that claimed those who expressed opinions regarded as “transphobic” were being censored on England’s college campuses triggered a significant debate on social media. The letter posted revealed a strong hostility that many wouldn’t be aware of unless they were in specific activist or academic circles, that is occurring between transgender activists and a certain group of feminists who do not believe transgender women are ‘real’ women. Beliefs they hold include, transgender women should not be let into feminist events or female bathrooms. Some of these women are even doxing transgender teens, which means they are revealing their identities to the public online.

Transgender Activists and Radical Feminists Battle on Social Media

These radical feminists have been nicknamed “the Westboro Baptist Church of feminism”, referring to the church known for its hate speech that pickets at funerals of LGBTQ people. Urban Dictionary has a definition listed, which describes them as “group of feminists that claims that trans women aren’t really women, as biological determinism is only a fallacy when it used against them, not when they use it against others.”

One of the loudest anti-trans feminists is Germaine Greer, a 1970’s feminist who wrote the book “The Female Eunuch”.  Greer, now 76, has said that transgender women are a “ghastly parody”, that they are men with “delusions” who use their male privilege to sneak their way into the feminist movement. She believes that transgender women don’t know what it is to “have a big, hairy, smelly vagina”.

Some people regard this as transphobic hate speech and connected to essentialist ideas regarding sex that have been challenged since around the 1990’s, when debate was shifted from sex to gender and its social construction.

It seems that that, according to the “TERFs”, one must be a woman who has suffered sexism in order to be a feminist. Thankfully, present day feminists tend to believe this is an outdated and narrow-minded approach. More and more people are understanding the importance of inclusion, and not rigid definitions about what it means to be a man or a woman. Hopefully this will only continue.

Kentucky Senate OKs Bill to Make Transgender Students Use Separate Restrooms

Recently, Kentucky’s state Senate voted for segregation of transgender students when using public school bathrooms. Atherton High School in Louisville made a decision to allow a student born male, but identifying as a female to use their girls’ restroom—this was reversed when the Senate voted 27-9 in favor of a bill against this decision.

When the school allowed the transgender student to use the girls’ bathroom, some students and parents objected due to their reported discomfort in sharing a bathroom with someone they felt should not be using, having been born of the opposite sex. This is when Republican Sen. C.B. Embry of Morgantown decided to introduce legislation, which is receiving support from the Family Foundation of Kentucky.

Republican Sen. Mike Wilson of Bowling Green does want those, such as his daughter, to be uncomfortable in a bathroom. He thinks society is being pressured to change because we live in a day of political correctness. He said, “I don’t want that situation for my daughter to be in a place and a state of undress in front of the opposite sex, whether they identify with her sex or not.”

Kentucky Senate OKs Bill to Make Transgender Students Use Separate Restrooms

However, some voted against the bill; 3 Republicans and 6 Democrats, for various reasons from believing this should be a decision made at the level of the school involved, to the belief that this is a dangerous step towards discrimination.

This bill requires school officials to provide the “best available accommodation” to students who say their gender is not that of their biological sex, who also have parental consent in writing. The bill even defines biological sex as “identified at birth by a person’s anatomy.” Some of the accommodations include: unisex bathrooms, single-stall restrooms, or “controlled use” of faculty bathrooms.

A 16-year-old transgender student, who attends a private Louisville school, spoke of his experience when his school made him use a separate bathroom and testified before lawmakers saying, “It was outing me every time I had to walk in there because nobody else used them.” And, “For me and other trans kids it’s especially hard being in a biological body that simply doesn’t match my gender identity: how I feel in my heart and mind.”

Language in the bill that would have allowed students to sue their school for not enforcing the law, has been removed.

What is Cisgender Privilege?

First, it’s helpful to know what the term “cisgender” means. This means that a person’s gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth and then a person’s gender matches the gender by which others perceive them. The term has been around for over 20 years and is used a lot in educational settings, particularly when discussing gender identity and expression in trans and queer communities.

Cisgender privilege shows how gender/sex alignment means being free from having to think about or address things that those who are not cisgender do quite frequently.

What is Cisgender Privilege?

The following are some examples of privileges you might have if you are cisgender:

  • You are not misgendered. People refer to you by the correct pronouns every day.
  • People do not ask you nosy questions about you are genitalia, what type of medical procedures you’ve had, and your real gender is not in question, or connected with the genitalia another assumes you have.
  • You are able to get into sex segregated facilities such as bathrooms and events that are in alignment with your gender identity without being questioned, refused, or at risk of harassment or even physical violence.
  • When you search for employment, housing, banks, go to vote or receive medical treatment, you don’t have to worry about your gender or what others perceive your gender to be.
  • In the unfortunate event that you are a victim of physical and/or sexual assault, you don’t have to fear being blamed because of your gender expression or identity and you don’t have to fear that the attacker will be allowed a reduced sentence due to what is called “trans panic defense.” Some in the law profession still believe this argument is viable and that it partially excuses violent assault or even homicide.

Cisgender privilege is incredibly wide-ranging. It’s a lot for the non-privileged person to have to deal with on a daily basis and leaves little else for them to think about. This includes those who were incorrectly sex-assigned at birth and those who make a choice to present as a different gender, as they are distinct from each other.

Don’t be mistaken, many gay, bisexual, and lesbian folks have cisgender privilege. For example, it’s very possible for a gay man to be gender-conforming. The fact he presents physically as a man means that he won’t be challenged when attempting to use male designated facilities or attend events for men. On the other hand, if a heterosexual man was sex-assigned female at birth, he may face his life being challenged or harassed for not being “man enough.”

If you recognize yourself as cisgender, perhaps you’ll understand privileges you’ve previously taken for granted and try to help those you know who are gender non-conforming or transgender.

Pediatrician Refuses to Treat Newborn of Lesbian Couple

Dr. Vesna Roi of Eastlake Pediatrics in Roseville, Michigan refused to treat the newborn child of Krista and Jami Contreras after “much prayer”, even after initially agreeing to do so. The lesbian couple in Michigan says Roi refused to care for their child due to their sexual orientation.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Krista and Jami brought their 6-day-old in to see the doctor for a check-up when another doctor informed them that Roi would not see them.  This doctor offered to care for their child.  According to the couple, the second doctor also informed them that Roi did not pay a visit to the clinic that day because she didn’t want to see them.

The baby’s biological mother, Krista, said, “I was completely dumbfounded.”  She told the paper, “We just looked at each other and said, ‘Did we hear that correctly?’”

Pediatrician Refuses to Treat Newborn of Lesbian Couple

Roi wrote a letter to the couple, which is posted online by the Free Press.  She apologized for not letting them know in person and said the child, Bay, would have to be seen by another doctor in the clinic.  She also wrote: “After much prayer following your prenatal, I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient doctor relationship that I normally do with my patients”.

This may seem way out there, but what Roi said and did is not illegal.  Michigan is not one of the 22 states that have laws that prohibit doctors from discrimination based on sexual orientation. But, the American Medical Association’s code of ethics does say that doctors should not refuse care based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.  Doctors are allowed to refuse specific treatments if they somehow are not in alignment with the doctor’s personal, moral or religious beliefs.

According to Roi’s website, she hasn’t been part of the AMA since 2001, but she does belong to the American Academy of Pediatrics which also encourages non-discrimination.

Potentially Awkward Situations Some Lesbians Face

It’s not always easy to just be yourself. Some lesbians get much more comfortable and confident about awkward situations, but there are many to deal with. Here are some potentially uncomfortable situations lesbians tend to experience:

Questions about pregnancy at the doctor’s office

It’s very common to go to a doctor for any type of ailment and get asked the question, “Is there a possibility that you are pregnant?” Sometimes, even if you’ve seen this doctor numerous times…they never seem to remember. After a while the nurse has asked you so many questions when you feel the need to just tell them you’re a lesbian because they haven’t been able to connect the dots.

Potentially Awkward Situations Some Lesbians Face

Asking other women to hang out as friends

We live in a heteronormative society and, for the most part, people tend to assume everyone is heterosexual, unless it’s otherwise confirmed. However, being a lesbian can change this view. It’s possible you want to ask a heterosexual woman to go grab a bite to eat or go to a movie (just as friends), and you worry about her perception of you, whether she feels uncomfortable that you might be asking her out romantically, or if she even knows you’re a lesbian. It can feel really awkward… and never feels less so for some lesbians, no matter how many times they’ve been through it.

Everyday interactions in a heteronormative world

Living in a heteronormative society, lesbians experience prejudices in situations that others take for granted.  For example, you might want to check in to a hotel room with your girlfriend when the front desk clerk seems to insist that you want two beds in the room. Why would you possibly want to share one? It can feel awkward for some lesbians to have to assert themselves in this type of situation, to a complete stranger who seems to have no clue.

Planet Fitness Upholds Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Policy, Cancels Woman’s Membership

After a woman in Michigan complained about a transgender person in the women’s locker room, Planet Fitness revoked her membership.

Forty-eight year old Yvette Cormier, said she saw someone “dressed like a man” when she she walked into the locker room at Midland Planet Fitness. She remarked that the person was wearing a wig and “a little bit of blush”, but was “huge” and looked “very manly”.  She reported to ABC News, “I just stopped right there in my tracks,” she said. “It was a man for sure.”

Cormier went to the front desk of the gym to inquire why there was a man in the women’s locker room; the employee at the desk told her that the man identified as a woman. Cormier decided to take it to the corporate office and was told that Planet Fitness Policy is  “whatever gender you feel you are, that’s the locker room you’re allowed to go in… We’ve had lots of complaints about him but we told him to go change in a stall… if you’re uncomfortable with that you can wait until he’s done in there.”

Planet Fitness Upholds Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Policy, Cancels Woman's Membership

Cormier had asked if he (the transgender person) could wait until she was done in the women’s locker room or get a unisex bathroom. The employee then asked if she wanted to speak with the manager and Cormier said, “I’m calling corporate.”

Since Cormier reportedly went back to the gym every day through Thursday and told other women about what she saw, Planet Fitness’ corporate office called and told her that she was violating their policy of “no judgement”. After they asked her to stop speaking to women in the gym about the issue, she refused. Planet Fitness then suspended her membership.

PR director for Planet Fitness, McCall Gosselin, said that whatever gender identity a person decides to use will allow them into that gender’s locker room. Gosselin’s statement read:

Planet Fitness is committed to creating a non-intimidating, welcoming environment for our members. Our gender identity non-discrimination policy states that members and guests may use all gym facilities based on their sincere self-reported gender identity. The manner in which this member expressed her concerns about the policy exhibited behavior that management at the Midland club deemed inappropriate and disruptive to other members, which is a violation of the membership agreement and as a result her membership was cancelled.

Cormier does not feel that the policy is safe for women and feels as if she’s the one being punished. Her solution would be to add a third locker room for transgender people, even though there are private changing stalls and bathroom stalls with doors in the women’s locker room.

LGBT Medical Students Fear Revealing Sexual Identity

New research shows that approximately one-third of LGBT medical students do not come out of the closet due to fear of discrimination, according to a study by Stanford University School of Medicine researchers. This online survey,  published Feb. 18 in the journal Academic Medicine, included nearly 1,000 LGBT respondents and was sent to every medical student in the US and Canada during the academic period of 2009-2010. Out of those who identified as being in the LGBT group, 30 percent said they did not reveal their sexual identity while in medical school.

The primary reason for keeping this aspect of themselves private was because they feared discrimination (which was reported by 40 percent of this group). Additional reasons included social pressure, lack of support from family or peers, and a belief that it wasn’t anyone else’s business.  Research from the study also showed that two-thirds of students did not identify as either male or female, but as something other than those two genders, and they concealed their gender at medical school.

LGBT Medical Students Fear Revealing Sexual Identity

Matthew Mansh, author of the study and fourth-year medical student who says he’s been openly gay since age 17 remarked that he often didn’t go out of his way to mention that he was gay for reasons similar to what the study’s respondents reported, particularly during his clinical years. He said, “A lot of grading in medical school is very subjective. I have met physicians who make sexist or homophobic remarks, and it makes you not want to come out. You don’t want your personal identity to affect your grade”.

Dr. Mitchell Lunn, co-founder of the Stanford Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Medical Education Research Group,  and study co-author said: “There is still this huge percentage of medical students who are afraid of discrimination in medical school and how it could affect the rest of their careers.” He remarked that they’re supposed to be part of a field that accepts and takes care of people regardless of their differences, yet that is not happening for those who are part of their own community. The study authors suggest that there is a need for doctors to be leaders in encouraging more inclusion and diversity in medicine.

The Need for Senior LGBTQ Housing Communities

Where are all the Baby Boomers? Everywhere, of course! In the U.S., approximately one-fifth of the population will be 65 or older by 2030. This will affect elder care profoundly in decades to come. This, of course, includes LGBTQ boomers–who will have unique support and housing needs.

Fortunately,  many more are coming out as LGBTQ allies, in support of gay rights, particularly regarding equal rights to marriage. Though, many LGBTQ Boomers are grateful, they remember a more bleak time, when they could be arrested, rejected, and violated (physically and emotionally) for being themselves. This hasn’t all disappeared, of course.  Discrimination is still rampant. This is why it’s of particular importance to focus on the housing and/or employment discrimination that LGBTQ elders will only become more susceptible to in the decades ahead.

The Need for Senior LGBTQ Housing Communities

Recently, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) announced a gathering of notable affordable-housing advocates, developers and organizations in the LGBTQ community to form a “national, comprehensive LGBT elder housing strategy.”  Their objective is to ensure LGBTQ seniors will be able to live affordably, with their rights protected and with a sense of community. These groups represent affordable-housing strategists, developers and federal-level commitment through HUD (Housing and Urban Development) and include, HELP USA, the Los Angeles LGBT CenterEnterprise Community Partners , and Equal Rights Center out of DC.

This strategy will, in part, be guiding cities to plan LGBTQ housing that is affordable. There are some communities (some also in progress) in the U.S. already, such as Spirit on Lake in Minneapolis, Openhouse in San Francisco, Center on Halsted in Chicago, and Triangle Square in West Hollywood. The latter was one of the first affordable housing communities planned to meet the needs of LGBTQ elders. One-third of the 104 units in Triangle Square are set aside for those at risk for becoming homeless or are living with HIV/AIDS.

Kathleen Sullivan, director of senior services at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which provides services to Triangle Square, says, “Not having the burden of keeping a secret about who you are is transformative.” Many in the LGBTQ community are not able to truly be themselves until they’re in these communities, in their 70’s and 80’s. 

In addition, a minority of health care providers have training or experience that focuses on treating LGBTQ seniors. Older transgender people need their specific health care requirements considered and older LGBTQ people may shy away from seeking proper cancer screening and gynecological care. Of critical importance is the consideration that HIV infections are on the rise in the senior population, in general, and this will be one of the first generations growing into old age with HIV/AIDS. These communities will be a giant, needed step forward, for the overall health and well being of LGBTQ seniors.