Brynn Tannehill

What Now? A Reaction to Chad Griffin's Apology

Filed By Brynn Tannehill | September 12, 2014 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Chad Griffin, HRC, HRC's apology, Human Rights Campaign, inclusiveness, TPOC, trans inclusion, trans vs. HRC

As the parent of three children under the age of 12, I have seen every Pixar movie at least a dozen times. Thus, when watching Chad Griffin apologize to the transgender community for HRC's past transgressions at the Southern Comfort Conference, I was reminded of a moment from Finding Nemo:


Most observers, even those normally hostile to the organization, have said things that amount to, "That's great, but tell us what you're going to actually do." This is a valid question: what can LGBT organizations do to more effectively represent the transgender community?

I have my own (completely unsolicited) thoughts, after the break.

1.) Reduce Anti-Transgender Violence

Violence against transgender women, and particularly transgender women of color, is an epidemic. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program's (NCAVP) 2014 report shows that in 2013, 72% of all LGBT Americans murdered in hate crimes were transgender women, and 67% were transgender women of color. Transgender women of color are over 52 times more likely to be murdered in a hate crime than a gay man.

This has to be a top priority -- nothing else matters if you are in constant, grave danger of being murdered. Clearly, hate crimes legislation isn't enough, nor are current efforts. Which brings me to my next point...

2.) Engagement with Transgender People of Color (TPOC)

Transgender people of color are often underrepresented at major LGBT organizations, even at the state and local level. This is devastating, given that TPOC very disproportionately suffer from unemployment, poverty, HIV, stigmatization, and violence.

Ideally, organizations would combat this with a combination of initiatives. They need to build more truly inclusive organizations that recruit and build TPOC leadership. Simultaneously, they need to meet the community where they are, rather than simply having an open-door type policy. These strategies are a great part of why groups like Casa Ruby in Washington, D.C. have been so successful, and they offer a lot of lessons to the greater LGBT movement.

Groups like Casa Ruby are also the sort of organizations that need financial support.

3.) Health Care

This covers a lot of ground, but much of it is very winnable because it is policy work, and our opponents don't do policy anymore. From removing exclusions in the Affordable Care Act, to state-level Medicaid, to working with state-level insurance providers to only offer policies with trans-inclusive coverage, to working with individual companies, and getting state insurance commissioners to block exemptions as a form of sex discrimination -- there are dozens of ways to improve access to transgender-specific health care. It does not require legislation or even impact litigation to make progress.

The reason this effort is so critical is that access to transgender-specific health care is the single most effective way to bring down the appalling suicide rate within the community. This is supported by numerous studies (Murad M., 2010; DeCuypere, 2006; Kuiper, M., 1988; Gorton 2011; Clements-Nolle K., 2006), which also consistently show that access to gender confirmation surgery (GCS) reduces suicidality by a factor of three to six (between 67 percent and 84 percent). It also reduces the impetus to resort to sex work to obtain access to even basic transition related items such as hormones.

4.) Identification

The ability to change gender markers on state-level identification is vital to the well-being of transgender people. Lack of accurate ID can endanger our right to vote, our employment opportunities, and even our lives. Yet 22 states require proof of GCS just to get a driver's license, and 46 states require it for a new birth certificate.

This ignores not only the difficulty of acquiring GCS, but the fact that many transgender individuals do not even want it. This standard is unethical, and has been recognized as such by the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association.

Again, in many cases this is a matter of changing policy in a way that doesn't require getting legislation passed.

5.) Pick Your Battles

In one respect, LGBT organizations may not have learned the right lessons from the 2007 ENDA debacle. While most people remember that transgender inclusion was dropped from the bill, far fewer remember that so much time, energy, and money was being devoted to a bill that was doomed in the first place. There was no conceivable way ENDA would get past either the inevitable Senate filibuster or President Bush's equally inevitable veto.

Yet right now, in 2014, we still have many state-level groups in states where Republicans control two-thirds of both houses of the legislature pouring time and money into lobbying for bills that are even more doomed. Yes, employment protections are very important to the transgender community. However, we're tired of moral victories and fighting the good fight for the sake of fighting the good fight. Transgender activists in red states consistently tell me they wish state-level organizations would focus on winnable issues that affect the community.

The take-away is this: going down in hail of cannon fire doesn't impress the transgender community when we can see that we could actually be winning on issues that matter to us.

The National Center for Transgender Equality has been remarkably successful using quiet, behind-the-scenes work to get many crucial policies changed at a national level. It is a model other organizations would be wise to follow, if they truly intend to...

6.) Hold Supposedly LGBT-Inclusive Groups Accountable

We need to hold national-level LGBT organizations accountable, and national-level organizations in turn need to do the same with their state-level affiliates. To really serve the transgender community, LGBT organizations must:

  • Fully include TPOC and meet the TPOC community where they are
  • Be a truly transgender-inclusive organization
  • Have a transgender-inclusive staff
  • Have staff working full-time on transgender-specific issues, and not just as a collateral duty
  • Have transgender staff members oversee transgender issues
  • Seriously work on transgender-specific issues, and not just inclusive but doomed non-discrimination ordinances
  • Only provide funding to state and local organizations that meet the criteria above.

If many of these are answered with "no," then we as a community need to ask: what, if anything, has really changed since 2007?

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