Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Austin Reflections

Guest column by Fredrikka Maxwell

There’s a bridge across busy Congress Avenue in Austin, Texas. It crosses the Colorado River and is the home for the largest bat colony in the world and is a tourist attraction in the Texas capital.

And there’s a plaque on that bridge, still shiny and new, naming it for Ann Richards (1933-2006) the lady governor of Texas from 1991-1995 who was in essence a bridge builder advocating for equality of the races, women’s rights and rights of GLBT people

I was in Texas on the July 4th weekend giving a seminar at the Dignity USA convention in Austin. And as I explored the bustling downtown area and watched the variety of people young and old, black and white and brown going to and fro, I discovered the plaque on the bridge and realized that this is what it was really all about.

Building bridges.

And that was what I was doing in Austin that weekend. Building a bridge from the transgender community in the largest Roman Catholic GLBT group in the country to the group at large--a group that called itself a trans-inclusive group since the mid 1990s but had had nothing trans in its convention line up --which horrified me. It turned out that the transperson they had on the committee putting on the convention had to leave the committee for personal reasons. And, since conventions can take on a life of their own, it basically snowballed and I really believe that the trans aspect went out of sight and out of mind.

So I suggested that perhaps we could squeeze a trans workshop into the convention and I even prepared an outline. The convention chair and the Dignity list moderator both realized I knew my subject. And having been reared Catholic and so had a background for understanding the church didn’t hurt at all. In fact, that probably sealed the deal. So they invited me to give the workshop that we hoped would educate the general run of dignity convention-goers and help them grasp the issues inherent in being trans-inclusive.

It turned out that it was not a large gathering. Maybe 225 to 250 individuals all told gathered at the Hyatt Regency downtown. About a dozen showed up. But they were prominent people in the Dignity community and they were interested and I could see people taking notes and folks asked good questions. It felt very affirming.

I’ve read some figures from NCTE that there are maybe between 750,000 and 3,000,000 trans people in the US. That’s a liberal estimate and may not be exact. So many of us are in the closet, so many of us are stealth, living a life with a secret we pray never gets out. It is hard to know exactly how many of us are out there and that’s especially true for the minority population. It's hard to rally the numbers that will translate to the votes that we desperately need to get Congress to pass the laws that we need.

And so we need all the allies we can find. That was also true in the Dignity community. And some of them were in the gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities.

But many of them don’t always understand us and our issues. And we may not always understand theirs. It was--and is-- therefore important to strive to find common ground. And to find common ground you have to educate folks in your issues and you have to let them know that some of their issues overlap and are right there with ours.

For instance, anti-hate crime legislation is a trans issue. It is also a gay and lesbian issue as well. I personally don’t know if Barry Winchell was REALLY gay or not and frankly it doesn’t matter if he was or not. The thing is it has to be OK to be who you are, whether you’re gay or straight, bi or trans, whatever. But somebody thought it did matter and killed him as a result. He’d probably still be walking around today if that hadn’t happened. So would Nokia Baker. Trust me, anti-hate crime legislation is a must.

Health care is also a gay and lesbian issue. Since it’s also tied to marriage equality getting it for oneself and one’s partner is a challenge. Especially if the person’s employer doesn’t offer domestic partnership benefits.

And sometimes hospitals will not allow a gay person at the bedside of the beloved because of policies that dictate only “family” may visit and only “family” may make healthcare decisions for the patient--and if you’re gay and you can’t get married, then you could be out of luck because only married people are respected as “family”

Although it’s possible to draft legal paper such as durable powers of attorney for health care, and legal paper to declare yourself next of kin so that you can visit the patient that might get around that. But it’s not automatic as it is for straight married couples That makes it a real burdensome issue for gays and lesbians.

And also a trans issue. We know, for instance, that many insurance companies do not cover what we need in the way of health care. many do not cover Gender Reassignment Surgery, and some don’t cover hormones, and some don’t cover facial feminization surgery, the procedures that make the face more feminine for male to female trans people for instance. Health care is for sure both a trans issues and a gay and lesbian issue.

And it’s understanding issues like that that will go a long way towards strengthening the GLBT alliance, allowing us to find common ground and understanding of our sometimes joint issues.

So I was glad to be a bridge builder. Thank you, Ann Richards, for reminding me.


Jackie said...

Excellant! It's all about connections and understanding. Building bridges, yes. My hat's off to Dignity for fighting the fight and staying strong all these years in te face of the churches attitude and now with this conservative Pope. My friend Jim Bussen was president of Dignity at one time and it was quite a challenge. My hat's off to you Monica for seeing what was needed and doing it with such authority and knowledge. You are sumthin else girl!

Monica Roberts said...

Can't take credit for this one. This was a Fredrikka production.

Jackie said...

Yep, just noticed that it was a guest. You are both amazing. So there.