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Contact:
Jen Richards
Co-Director, The Trans 100
jen@thetrans100.com

 ABIGAIL JENSEN FROM TUSCON, ARIZONA ANNOUNCED TO THE FIRST EVER ‘TRANS 100’ LIST

We Happy Trans, This is H.O.W., Chicago House and GLAAD Announce Inaugural List Focused on Positive Work Being Accomplished by Trans People Nationwide

 April 9, 2013 – Today, Abigail (Abby) Jensen of Tucson, Arizona was announced as an honoree of the Trans 100, an inaugural overview of the breadth and diversity of work being done in, by, and for the transgender community across the United States. The 2013 Trans 100 list, created by We Happy Trans, a website that celebrates the positive experiences of transgender people, and This is H.O.W., a Phoenix based nonprofit organization dedicated to the betterment of the lives of trans people, was presented at an event sponsored by Chicago House, GLAAD, the Pierce Family Foundation, Orbitz.com, and KOKUMOMEDIA. The first effort of its kind, the list intends to shift the coverage of trans issues by focusing on the positive work being accomplished, and providing visibility to those typically underrepresented.

For a full list of the 2013 Trans 100 visit www.WeHappyTrans.com, or www.facebook.com/Trans100.

Abby is a transgender woman, experienced attorney and activist. Currently, she is closely involved in fighting bills introduced in Arizona this year that would not just override some of the limited protections for trans people available in Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff, but go beyond that to actively encourage discrimination and harassment of trans and other gender nonconforming people in Arizona. You can often find her posting about current social justice issues on Facebook and on Twitter @Arizona_Abby.

Asked about her selection, Abby said, “I am honored to appear on the Trans 100 list with so many amazing and creative people, all of whom are working to better the lives of our community. I look forward to renewing my friendships and working relationships with those I already know and getting to know those I have yet to meet.”

The list began as an idea by This Is H.O.W. Executive Director Toni D’Orsay, and was then developed in partnership with Jen Richards of We Happy Trans. The project received over 500 nominations in December 2012, with over 360 individuals recommended for inclusion.

A launch event for the Trans 100 list took place at Mayne Stage in Chicago on International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day which aims to bring attention to the accomplishments of transgender people around the world.

“The only sustainable self-interest is that which extends the sense of self to include the whole,” said Jen Richards at the Trans 100 launch event. “Look around: women, men, people of color, genderqueer kids, crossdressers, showgirls, sex workers, academics, activists, artists, and allies. We are all one community.”

“The value of the work that is represented by the 100 people on this list is immeasurable,” said Executive Director of This Is H.O.W., Antonia D’orsay, about the Trans 100. “These people demonstrate the diversity, the determination, and the incredible triumph of spirit that informs all trans people, no matter where they are. This is just a glimpse of what trans people can accomplish.”

“The Trans 100 will bring much-needed visibility to the critical, grassroots work that trans people have been doing in communities across the country for years,” said GLAAD’s Wilson Cruz. “While media coverage so often misses the mark on accurate portrayals of trans people, the Trans 100 is changing the game by sharing the inspiring and diverse stories behind trans advocacy.”

KOKUMO, an artist, activist, and African American transgender woman, hosted the event. Two accomplished transgender musicians – folk-rock songwriter Namoli Brennet, and singer Joe Stevens of the West Coast-based Folk/Roots group Coyote Grace – gave live performances.

Jen Richards partnered with Chicago House and KOKUMOMEDIA to produce Chicago’s Trans 100 launch event. GLAAD served as Inaugural Sponsor, with additional support from the Pierce Family Foundation, Orbitz.com, Progress Printing, and Dr. Graphx. Both Chicago House’s TransLife Project and This is H.O.W. provide direct services to transgender people experiencing homelessness, unemployment, violence, health disparities, and HIV infection. KOKUMOMEDIA uses film, music, and literature to provide to create and generate realistic depictions of transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGI) people of color.

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About We Happy Trans: WeHappyTrans.com was launched in early in 2012 in response to the lack of positive depictions of trans people in the media, and the absence of an online space that focused on the positive aspects of the trans experience. For more information, please visit www.wehappytrans.com or connect with We Happy Trans on Facebook.

About This is H.O.W.: This Is H.O.W. Inc. is a 501c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the betterment of the lives of Trans (transsexual, transgender, and gender variant) persons experiencing crisis situations such as homelessness, substance abuse, familial abuse, and transition related difficulties. For more information, please visit www.thisishow.org or connect with This is H.O.W. on Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s my report on today’s Arizona State Bar Board of Governor’s meeting:

It’s a long story, but there has been controversy surrounding the ethical rule governing Arizona attorneys that prohibits bias or prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sex, etc. in the practice of law for several years now. (ER 8.4(d) and Comment 3.) As a member of the State Bar’s Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), we have been pushing to, among other things, expand the rule to add “gender expression” to the already existing categories of  “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as a prohibited basis for discrimination. As anyone familiar with Arizona politics will understand, the more conservative elements of the Bar have opposed this move. In fact, their most recent move was to file a petition to completely gut the rule by, among other things, removing all listed grounds of discrimination.

To counter that proposal and, hopefully, put this controversy to rest once and for all, Ameilia Cramer, the current President of the State Bar (and an out lesbian), appointed a task force representing all sides of the controversy to develop a recommendation to the Board on what should be done with this rule. The Task Force, by consensus, determined that the rule should be strengthened by clarifying what practices are prohibited, expanding the rule so it applies to attorneys’ work outside the courtroom, and by adding “gender expression.” That proposal was unanimously approved by the Bar’s Rules Committee, which reviews all proposals for changes to Arizona court rules, and recommended for adoption by the Board of Governors. (Adoption by the Board would result in the Bar filing a petition to the State Supreme Court to adopt the proposed rule; that court has the final say.)

Today was the Board’s first opportunity to review the proposed rule amendment. I, another trans woman attorney who was a member of the Task Force and a member of SOGI, and the chair of the SOGI committee (a gay man) appeared on behalf of the committee in support of the proposal. My role was to explain the concept of gender expression, since virtually no one on the Board has had any experience with trans people, let alone that unfamiliar phrase. In the short time I had, I provided a couple of examples from my own life of gender expression and how it has affected my perception and treatment by others. In addition, in response to a question from a member of the Board, I explained the differences between gender identity and gender expression and why including both is important.

Unfortunately, given the strong opposition by right-wing groups, including the Alliance Defending Freedom (fka the Alliance Defense Fund), which is based in Arizona, it appears likely that the Board will adopt the Task Force’s proposal but without “gender expression.” The Board won’t actually vote on the Task Force’s proposal until the next meeting on December 14. Amelia Cramer asked that I return for that meeting, so I will be definitely be there.

Although the inclusion of “gender expression” in the rule would serve an important educational function by informing attorneys that that type of discrimination is prohibited, omitting that phrase should not have any substantive effect on the scope of the rule, since discrimination based on gender expression, or failure to conform to gender stereotypes, is already prohibited as a type of sex discrimination under the line of cases culminating last April in the EEOC’s decision that Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination includes discrimination because someone is transgender (Macey v. Holder). In addition, I was assured by State Bar Counsel, who is responsible for filing disciplinary proceedings against attorneys who violate the rules of ethics, that the current rule is already interpreted to prohibit gender expression discrimination. Consequently, I, personally, do not oppose omission of the phrase “gender expression” from the amended rule. At the same time, I will strongly support efforts to insert that phrase into the rule in the next 1 or 2 years, after further education of Arizona attorneys on this issue, as discussed by Board during today’s meeting.

So, stay tuned and I’ll let you know what happens on December 14.

By the way, if the Task Force’s proposal was adopted in its original form, Arizona would become the first state to specifically include that phrase in the ethical rules governing attorneys, a remarkable feat if it comes to pass, given that, in recent years, the “firsts” Arizona has been known for have been on the extreme opposite end of the political spectrum.

The teachings of A Course in Miracles play a central role in my life. In fact, it’s not in any way an exaggeration to say that I would not be who I am today without the Course. Although I had read small bits of the Course before, my first real introduction to how it could work in my life to transform fear into love, and turmoil and pain into peace and joy, came from Marianne Williamson’s book, A Return to Love.

Last weekend, Oprah had Marianne on her Super Soul Sunday program to talk about A Return to Love and how it helped change her life. You can watch the full episode here. I can’t think of a better way to spend 45 minutes of my life.

Blessings,
Abby

Recently, there has been much coverage online of a recent case from Sweden in which a cisgender man was acquitted of the rape or attempted rape (since the act, apparently, was never completed) of a transgender woman. (See here, here and here.) Much of this coverage has implied that the acquittal of the defendant resulted from the judge’s bias against trans women. While that could well have been a factor here, I suspect that the situation is much more complicated than that.

When I’m not online, I work as a criminal defense attorney doing appeals for defendants who have been convicted but cannot afford an attorney. I have doing this work since 1997. I say this not to brag, but to lend some credence to what I’m going to say here.

Part of my job is to parse the language of the statutes under which my client was convicted to see if they do, in fact, apply to my client’s conduct. Because of the long sentences at stake, many of my cases involve sex offenses, like the case in Sweden. One thing I’ve learned through that work, is that legislators are often very bad at drafting clear and comprehensive statutes. Another thing I’ve noticed is that, unless the state or country has undertaken a comprehensive program of updating their statutes, the statutes are likely to reflect many outmoded ideas, such as the belief that women cannot be raped by their husbands, something that was only corrected here in Arizona in the last few years.

My point is that, regardless of the judge’s personal feelings, it could well be that the applicable statute in this case was written in such a way that a conviction was simply impossible. For example, the statute here may have defined rape as only the nonconsensual penetration of a vagina. Without reading the exact statute the attacker was charged under, as well as the indictment stating his alleged crime, it is impossible to know whether the failure of Sweden’s criminal justice system in this case was the fault of the judge, the prosecutor or the legislature, or some combination of the three.

I too decry the result in this case, but I think we do our fight for equality a disservice when we automatically attribute outcomes we disagree with to the prejudice of the people involved without acknowledging the broader systemic failures at work. For better or for worse, the world is not always as black and white as we make it out to be, and not everyone we disagree with is our enemy.

One final comment: I’ve seen many posts, on Twitter and elsewhere, claiming that the attacker was set free based on the court’s ruling. In fact, despite the acquittal on the rape charge, the attacker was convicted of assault and is facing 4 years in prison. Presumably, the sentence for rape would have been much longer.

UPDATE: I finally found the Swedish rape statute in English, which makes clear that, contrary to my example, the defendant in this not case was not acquitted because the applicable statute only applies to forced intercourse with a woman by a man. Instead, a closer reading of The Local article above indicates that the defendant’s acquittal of rape was based on the concept of mistaken intent.

Under U.S., and, it appears, Swedish, law, to commit an attempted crime, e.g., an attempted rape, the defendant must have the specific intent to engage in conduct, which, if completed, would constitute that crime. Consequently, if the defendant is mistaken about the factual circumstances of the situation, it may be factually impossible for the defendant to have committed the crime with which s/he was charged, even though the defendant did intended to commit a crime. An example may help.

Imagine a defendant who wants to buy marijuana, but goes to the dealer who is trying to pass off oregano as pot. If the defendant is arrested before any transfer of money or the fake pot takes place, there has been no crime committed, not even the attempted possession of pot, because, even if the sale had been completed, the defendant would never have been in possession of pot. (Under Arizona law, where I practice, if the sale had been completed, the defendant would be guilty of attempted possession of pot, which is a lesser offense subject lesser penalties.)

So, how does that apply to the case of the Swedish cis man accused of trying to rape a trans woman? What may have happened is that the indictment specifically charged the defendant with attempting to rape a woman, but, for whatever reason, Swedish law does not recognize the victim as a woman. That would make it impossible to commit the type of rape the defendant was charged with, resulting in his acquittal on that charge. If that is, in fact, what happened, then the fault in this case lies with the prosecutor for charging the defendant with a crime he could never have committed, and with Swedish law for failing to recognize the victim as a woman. I still, however, see no basis for laying all the blame on the judge, as many have done.

Of course, without seeing an English translation of the indictment, it’s impossible to know whether this is, in fact, what happened. This update is merely my best guess, based on the articles I’ve read and my knowledge of U.S. law. Regardless of what actually happened, however, my point is to illustrate that life, especially when it comes to the law, is always much more complicated than it appears on the surface, and the dangers, and unfairness, of picking out the the most obvious target, accusing them of bigotry, and blaming them for problems that have much broader, systemic causes.

(My thanks to this article at Hypervocal for the link to the English version of Sweden’s rape law.)

UPDATED: see below.

Recently, the Center for American Progress published an FAQ on ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act). Although generally accurate and informative, this article provides a misleading impression of the scope of ENDA’s provisions concerning access to restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities.

In the hopes of correcting this error, I have emailed CAP. I will update this post when I receive a response.  Here’s what I told them:

As I’m sure you know, the most contentious issue surrounding anti-discrimination protections for trans people is access to restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities. Therefore, I was disturbed to see that CAP’s FAQ misinterprets ENDA’s provisions on that issue. In response to the question, “What does ENDA require of employers in terms of restroom facilities and access?,” the article states:

“Under ENDA, employees would only be required to provide employees with ‘reasonable access’ to adequate restroom, shower, and dressing facilities consistent with an employee’s gender identity. Employers who deny employees access to a shared facility would not be in violation of ENDA as long as they provide a viable alternative. Nothing in the proposed bill requires employers to construct new or additional facilities.”

There are two primary problems with this response. First, ENDA never mention restrooms. Consequently, ENDA’s gender identity non-discrimination requirements apply to access to restroom facilities in the same way they do to all other “terms and conditions” of employment. Thus, there is no exemption for employers who, for whatever reason, decide to bar a trans woman from the same restrooms that other women use, or vice versa for trans men.

Second, section 8(a)(3) of ENDA, from which the “reasonable access” language in the above quote is taken, applies only to “shared shower or dressing facilities in which being seen unclothed is unavoidable.” (Emphasis added.) That section allows employers to bar trans employees from such facilities (but not facilities where being seen unclothed is avoidable), provided that the employer provides separate shower or dressing facilities that are consistent with the employee’s gender identity at the time of being hired or as specified in a later notice to the employer.

By implying that ENDA provides some sort of exemption regarding access to restrooms, and failing to note the very limited nature of the exemption for shower and dressing  facilities, the response in the FAQ misleads employers, trans people and the public in ways that I believe can unnecessarily complicate the debate on non-discrimination protections for trans people. Accuracy in describing what ENDA does and doesn’t do is essential in informing the public debate on these issues. Therefore, I hope you agree that a revision of the portion of FAQ dealing with these issues is necessary.

For my interpretation of how ENDA would apply to sex-segregated facilities, see Why the “Transsexual” vs. “Transgender” Debate Is Irrelevant to the Fight for Equal Rights.

UPDATE: Apparently, in response to my email, CAP has edited the section on facility access.  It now reads:

Q. What does ENDA require of employers in terms of facilities and access?

Under ENDA, employees would only be required to provide employees with “reasonable access” to adequate shower and dressing facilities consistent with an employee’s gender identity. Employers who deny employees access to a shared facility would not be in violation of ENDA as long as they provide a viable alternative. Nothing in the proposed bill requires employers to construct new or additional facilities.

As you can see, all they’ve done is delete the word “restroom.” The second error, and the resulting misimpression that employers can exclude trans people from all shared showers & dressing rooms with impunity, remains. Nice try, CAP, but you still didn’t get it right.

To me, the answer is quite clearly “Yes!” However, since some people apparently disagree, I’ll go ahead and explain how I reach that conclusion.

In thinking about laws legalizing same-sex marriage, it’s always been my understanding that the goal is to make the sex or gender of the partners irrelevant, in other words, to allow anyone to marry anyone else without regard to what sex or gender they are. The text of the New York Marriage Equality Act passed and signed into law yesterday reflects this principle.

The Act states that its purpose is to “formally recognize[] otherwise-valid marriages without regard to whether the parties are of the same or different sex.” In addition, the legislature’s intent in passing the act is to ensure “that all provisions of law which utilize gender-specific terms in reference to the parties to a marriage … be construed in a gender-neutral manner….” (Sec. 2.)  To carry out these purposes, the operative provisions of the Act (Sec. 3) state:

A marriage that is otherwise valid shall be valid regardless of whether the parties to the marriage are of the same or different sex.

No government treatment or legal status, effect, right, benefit, privilege, protection or responsibility relating to marriage … shall differ based on the parties to the marriage being or having been of the same sex[,] rather than a different sex. When necessary to implement the rights and responsibilities of spouses under the law, all gender-specific language or terms shall be construed in a gender-neutral manner in all sources of law.

It’s true that the phrase “the same or different sex” could be interpreted as referring only to the two binary sexes, i.e., only to male and female. Any such interpretation, however, is contradicted by the statement that “all gender-specific language or terms shall be construed in a gender-neutral manner.” “Gender-neutral” means “without gender,” not just male or female, or masculine or feminine.  The reference to parties who are “of the same sex[,] rather than a different sex,” rather than the different, or opposite, sex, also contradicts any claim that the Act was only intended to allow people who are either male or female to marry and deny that right to intersex people who may be neither or both sexes.

Finally, as the Supreme Court declared in Loving v. Virginia, the right to marry is a fundamental right. Therefore, any statute barring intersex people from marrying would likely be unconstitutional. In keeping with the separation of powers between the three branches of government, courts always attempt to carry out the legislature’s will by avoiding any interpretation of a statute that would render it unconstitutional. Under this principle, even if the language of the New York Marriage Equality Act could be interpreted as excluding intersex people, any court addressing that issue will strive to avoid finding the Act to be unconstitutional by adopting the equally reasonable interpretation that the legislature intended that everyone should have the right to marry anyone, regardless of their sex or gender (or any combination or lack thereof).

Thus, given both the language of the Act, and the potential unconstitutionality of any other interpretation, intersex people can be confident that, like those who fall within the sex/gender binary, they can marry whoever they want in the State of New York without regard to sex or gender.

NOTES

  1. In most cases, when one section of a statute is found to be unconstitutional, the courts will “sever” that provision and allow the remainder of the statute to go into effect.  However, the religious exemptions added to the Act on Friday, which won over the three Republican votes needed to pass the Act in the Senate, also included a “poison pill” provision to discourage anyone from challenging those exemptions. Section 3 of those amendments states that, if any part of the Act is held to be unconstitutional, the entire statute is invalid. Given this additional incentive, courts are sure to do everything possible to ensure that the entire Act is interpreted to be constitutional, including interpreting it to give intersex people the same right to marry as everyone else.
  2. I find it interesting that whoever drafted the Act was evidently aware of questions regarding the validity of an otherwise valid opposite-sex marriage when one of the partners transitions from male to female, or female to male.  It appears that the statement that no marriage shall be treated differently “based on the parties to the marriage … having been of the same sex[,] rather than a different sex” is designed specifically to remove any lingering doubts about that question.

I hesitate to jump into these shark-infested waters, but here goes.

I certainly have my own opinion on the “transsexual” vs. “transgender” debate that has ignited many a flame war on the internet over the last few months between those who want to separate our community based on those who have had or, at least, want to have, SRS, from everyone else, but I’m not going to express that here. Instead, I’m going to take a position that I’ve never seen expressed by anyone else, although some have come close. My position comes from my background as an attorney and my understanding of how anti-discrimination laws are written and are intended to operate.

Here’s what I know to be true: the dispute about who is transsexual and who isn’t is irrelevant to the fight for protections for transsexual, transgender, genderqueer and every other gender variant or gender nonconforming person in this country. Why? Because of how anti-discrimination laws are written for both practical and constitutional reasons.

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