Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

TEP's commitment to inclusion

The Board of TEP often adopts policy positions for local and state level  legislation. Whenever we adopt such positions, we advance inclusive policies that protect people based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. 

All non-discrimination legislation supported and advanced by TEP seeks to protect lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual and transgender people. TEP Board members and I are often asked why we choose to be inclusive of the L, G, B and the T. The question is often accompanied by a criticism that advancing legislation that protects people based on sexual orientation is made harder by including gender identity and expression. Why don't we try to advance legal protections based on sexual orientation and then return  later to advance protections based on gender identity or expression?

There are many reasons for choosing LGBT-inclusive legislation. 

Anti-discrimination legislation that includes protections for sexual orientation but excludes gender identity or expression actually provides little protection for lesbian, gay, straight or bisexual people. Non-inclusive legislation creates loopholes that make it easier to get away with unfair discrimination. An employer can fire an employee based on how they express their gender and make no reference to his or her sexual orientation. 

We all express gender. While he is from South Carolina, you have probably observed US Senator Lindsey Graham on television talk shows and other news programs. Graham is a socially conservative, heterosexual Republican who has never married. Graham also speaks with one of those grand Southern accents that comes across as gentile, even effeminate. Tea Party activists in his home state recently accused Graham of being gay. Because the challenge was so public, Graham felt compelled to set the record straight (pun intended) that he was not gay in a newspaper interview.   If the conservative and heterosexual Senator Graham is susceptible to attacks about perceptions about his sexual orientation because of his gender identity or expression, we all are. 

While including gender identity and expression provides protections for straight, gay, lesbian and bisexual persons, it covers transgender persons too. Hate crimes and unemployment rates are terrifically and disproportionately high for the number of transgender individuals in our society. It's not hard to argue that they are in even greater need of protections in hate crime and anti-discrimination legislation for employment, housing, services and public accommodations.

Many local governments have advanced anti-discrimination legislation over the last several decades. In some instances, legislators abandoned gender identity and expression in favor of protections for sexual orientation only. Many of these jurisdictions still do not provide protections based on gender identity or expression. Some have closed the gap in their anti-discrimination law, but it took decades to correct the omission of gender identity or expression. Here in Tennessee, TEP is fighting to add gender identity and expression to our state's hate crime law years after sexual orientation was added. We all know that hate crimes against trans women of color in the Memphis area are disproportionately high.

These arguments are all good ones, but the most powerful arguments for me are deeply personal. My commitment to my transgender friends is deep and abiding. I have watched many dear friends bravely face an unfair, unjust and callous society. They are worthy allies in our common struggle for equality, and I choose to move forward with them. I am fortunate to Chair the Board of an organization like TEP that shares this conviction. 

No comments: