Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Benjamin's Worth of Difference

The news is fairly dominated by terrible news for the transgender community lately. We are enduring a horrifying spate of murders (which has overwhelmingly targeted trans women of color). The youngest members of our community are committing suicide at an alarming rate, spurred by what they see as hopeless futures. It's very hard to avoid looking at reality through that lens, particularly when facing life in hostile and often abusive households. Even if trans teens are lucky enough to have family and perhaps even friends who are supportive and accepting, they still face a larger world that to a great degree treats them as pariahs. Beyond the banal but brutal threat of bullying by peers, or casual misgendering and discrimination by strangers, is this bracing knowledge: There is a political party who is committed to making their lives more difficult and more dangerous.

As the Republican Party's final, total defeat on same-sex marriage draws closer with each passing day, and as it becomes less and less socially acceptable to be openly homophobic in polite company, the Party of Fox and Fear has found a new target: The transgender community.

Sadly, we are the perfect boogeyman for conservative white America. We are the definition of "otherness" to them. We threaten conventional gender roles and traditional norms of sexual behavior. We've become more visible in recent years, and our demands for legal and social equality have become louder and harder to ignore. We are, in short, evidence that America is going Hell in a handcart for the wide swath of the population more apt to enjoy American Sniper than American Idiot.

For Republican politicians, this creates an opportunity to score easy, cheap points with their base. For Fox News, it creates an opportunity to boost ratings and profits. Thus, a perfect storm is created in which Fox News Channel regularly, viciously attacks the trans community, and opportunistic GOP leaders push an agenda that criminalizes our existence.

In Florida, a bill has been proposed that would send us to jail for using the bathroom. A similar bill is under consideration in Kentucky, and across the nation both the rhetoric and the legislative efforts against transgender equality are ratcheting up. Republicans aren't just opposed to trans Americans pissing and shitting in peace- They also loudly oppose efforts to protect transgender people from discrimination in employment and housing practices. under the banner of defending "religious freedom." It's become blatantly obvious that the platform of the Republican party is to deny the basic humanity of transgender people within the United States.

That's pretty bleak portrait, but there are rays of hope. While the Republicans actively fuck with us, the Democratic Party has quietly stacked up a surprisingly large number of substantive accomplishments that help trans folks in their day-to-day lives. While President Obama's performance has been less than ideal (more on that later), he's done more good for the trans population than all previous Chief Executives combined... and it's not just lip-servicey stuff like mentioning us in the State of the Union Address. Let's stack 'em up!

-Obama directed the Social Security Administration to no longer require proof of surgery in order to change gender markers. This is why I'm legally female in the eyes of the Federal Government. Under previous Administrations, I couldn't have done this.

-Obama also was the first President to appoint transgender people to high-profile government positions, and issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity within the Federal bureaucracy.

-Obama signed hate crime legislation that became the first federal civil rights protections for transgender people in U.S. history.

-Obama has issued executive orders to make it easier for trans folks to update their passports, obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and get treatment at VA facilities.

-Under Obama's directives, government-contracted health insurers (as well as Medicare) can cover gender reassignment surgeries for federal employees, retirees and their survivors.

-The Department of Education now interprets Title IX as a prohibition upon discrimination based on gender identity/expression in US public schools.

-Just this week, Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter signaled their support for allowing transgender Americans to serve openly in the military.

At the state and local level, there's also been measurable progress in the fight for trans rights. California, as usual, leads the way. But even in midwestern cities like my home of Columbus, Ohio, there are local ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

Add all this up, and a conclusion becomes obvious: If you are trans, or if you consider yourself a trans ally, or even if you simply respect the basic personhood and humanity of trans people, there is a moral imperative to vote Democratic.

Americans tend to labor under a delusion that party control of the different branches of organs of government "doesn't matter." Some even believe, as George Wallace once famously opined, that there "wasn't a dime's worth of difference" between the two major parties. For the trans population, whether Democrats or Republicans control legislatures, appeals courts, or bureaucracies directly impacts their quality of life, and in extreme cases, the length of their lifespans. Much of the progress at the Federal level has been made through executive orders, which are much more likely to be upheld by Hillary Clinton than Jeb Bush. Judges appointed by Clinton are FAR more likely to be trans-friendly than those appointed by Bush, too.

I know it's fashionable to be disillusioned with Obama and the Democratic Party. I don't support NSA surveillance or Obama's drone program, either. I also wish the President had dealt more forcefully with Wall Street from day one, and that he had pursued a more progressive economic agenda overall. In my perfect world, our next President would be Elizabeth Warren. It's highly likely I'll have to set aside my concerns about Hillary Clinton and back her campaign, though- Because if it's a choice between her and ANY Republican, I have a VAST personal stake in her victory.

The two-party system sucks, but the response to that problem isn't to vote 3rd party (like I did in 2000) or to stay home on election day. As long as we elect representative using Single-Member Districts, we're stuck with a two-party dominant system (thanks for nothing, Duverger's Law!). Want more and better choices at the ballot box? Fight for reforms such as Instant Runoff Voting, Proportional Representation, or a Mixed-Member Proportional system like they utilize in Germany. While you do that, get out there on EVERY election day and vote Democratic.

Our lives kinda/maybe/sorta depend on you doing so.