Michigan struggle demands transgender civil rights

Detroit — The victories for marriage equality represent a huge advance for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer movement in the United States. Two-thirds of the U.S. population now live in states that permit or recognize same-sex unions. It is wholly possible that the U.S. Supreme Court will compel states that still discriminate against same-sex couples to allow them to marry there. Polls show that a majority of people in many states support the progress that has been made.

It would be easy, but wrong, to conclude that LGBTQ oppression has been eradicated. Only 18 states have laws making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in jobs, housing and public accommodation. Some of those 18 states do not protect the transgender community; the laws do not cover gender identity or gender expression.

Most states, including those where same-sex marriage is legal, do not give recognition to men and women whose gender identity differs from the gender assigned to them at birth. Even after having surgery, most transgender people cannot get their gender listed on a birth certificate, driver’s license or state identification. The negative ramifications are many; state voter ID laws, for example, leave transgender voters disenfranchised.

Bigotry disproportionately impacts trans women of color, who are attacked and murdered on the street.

This disparity of justice under the wide umbrella of the LGBTQ community is potentially divisive. For many years gay-identified moderates failed to stand with the trans community, citing bogus concerns that potential straight allies would be “alienated.”

Discriminatory ‘non-discrimination’ bill

In Michigan, “moderate” Republicans introduced a phony “non-discrimination” bill that would widen the gap between who is legally protected and who isn’t. The bill amends the state civil rights statute known as the Elliott-Larsen Act, passed in 1976, to include “sexual orientation” but not “gender identity/gender expression.”

State House Speaker Jase Bolger and Rep. Frank Foster introduced the bill just months after an all-inclusive bill was proposed by State House Democrats. Why not just get behind the original bill?

The divide-and-conquer tactic is how the ruling class keeps the working class — or in this case, an oppressed grouping within the working class — from uniting against the capitalist system of exploitation.

Fortunately, Michigan’s LGBTQ advocacy organizations united to reject this sleazy maneuver to divide our community.

“We have no intention of leaving the transgender community behind,” said Emily Dievendorf, Equality Michigan’s executive director. “We also are faced with the reality [that this] glaring omission impacts the entire community. As LGBTQ victim and legal advocates can tell you, many lesbian, gay and bisexual people are also fired because of their gender expression. Any bill which is not fully inclusive is inadequate.”

The House Commerce Committee, under pressure from Bolger, adjourned without moving the fully inclusive bill out of committee.

The LGBTQ movement is being attacked for its principled stand. Ingrid Jacques, a Detroit News editor, in a front page article stated that “this time you can’t blame the Republicans,” who were supposedly lined up to vote to add “sexual orientation” to Elliott-Larsen. She blamed “the ACLU of Michigan, Equality Michigan and others [that] wouldn’t even consider legislation that didn’t specifically name transgender individuals, along with gays and lesbians.”

At an update meeting Dec. 7, Dievendorf explained that the inclusive bill is not a dead letter. The committee could hold another hearing or the House could vote to move it out of committee. The hearing that was held Dec. 3 did not allow victims of anti-LGBTQ discrimination to testify. “We will kill the bill that has sexual orientation only,” Dievendorf stated.