The Obama Administration told the Washington Blade — in their Wednesday, April 27, 2011 article White House To Host First Ever Trans Meeting — that there is going to be a “White House meeting” where “transgender activists intend to discuss federal policy issues” on Friday, April 29, 2011. The meeting is being described as “the first [meeting] ever held by the Office of Public Engagement to focus solely on trans issues.” From Chris Johnson’s Washington Blade article (emphasis added):
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said the meeting, which is set to take place Friday at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, will include transgender leaders who work on federal policy.
“OPE routinely holds meetings with various stakeholders to discuss various policy issues,” Inouye said. “Friday’s meeting, like most OPE meetings, will be closed press and off the record.“
This meeting, which Pam’s House Blend reported on in the piece The Secret White House Trans Meeting That Should Come Out Of The Closet, is now somewhat out of the closet. The meeting been publicly acknowledged by the White House and a presumed major participant — Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).
“This is the first president who has allowed trans people — really allowed LGBT people — to bring forward problems and then advocate for them,” Keisling said. “In the Bush administration, we couldn’t even do that. They wouldn’t even listen to us. They didn’t care what our problems were. In fact, they were making most of our problems.”
I found this comment by Michael Silverman, the executive director for the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), within the Washington Blade piece interesting:
There was concern at the start that this was a quote-unquote secret meeting and [the fact] that the White House is speaking about it publicly demonstrates there is a commitment to meeting with transgender people and to addressing their needs.
Well, yes and no.
It is significant that the White House is having a meeting on trans issues at this point — it’s significant if they have that kind of meeting at any point.
However, 1.) we’re about two-and-a-half years into the Obama Presidency, and a first meeting on transgender equality issues at this point seems late in the term from the administration of the President who in his campaign stated he was going to be a “fierce advocate” for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. 2.) Any attempt to keep the gist of the progress addressed in the meeting secret at this point is going to be poor political practice. Again, to quote President Obama from the President’s Welcoming Senior Staff And Cabinet Secretaries address of January 9, 2009:
[More below the fold.]
The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they’re being made, and whether their interests are being well served.
…Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.
3.) A meeting for a meeting’s sake shows trans community it now has access to the White House halls of power, but access alone can never be a goal in and of itself. We in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and especially transgender community need to see that access results in the causes of freedom, equality, and justice being forwarded for our community members.
Let me be clear about something: Every item discussed in the scheduled trans meeting does not have to be divulged — negotiation can and should happen behind closed doors.
And, I know that at least for Mara Keisling and NCTE, their public agenda is known — I know in broad terms what NCTE is going to bring as an agenda to the table. I’m on the same page as NCTE when it comes to the trans equality agenda, so I’m not very worried about what issues NCTE, though its executive director, are going to bring to the table behind closed doors and out of public earshot.
But that said, after seeing the White House not exactly be the “fierce advocate” White House pushing DADT repeal during the last congress, and see the White House not push the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the last Congress at all, access to the White House halls of power by LGBT civil rights non-profits doesn’t necessarily result in the White House being the “fierce advocate” White House many of us hoped for when President Obama took office.
We don’t need the White House staffers to hold a listening meeting instead of an action meeting at this point; I also don’t accept White House spokesperson Shin Inouye’s comment that this meeting needs to be completely off the record.
The LGBT community now definitively knows that a meeting on transgender issues between LGBT non-profits and the Obama Administration is occurring on Friday, April 28, 2011. I know I’m not alone in wanting to hear what the Obama Administration plans to do to forward the freedom, equality, and justice of transgender community members in the LGBT community.
Mara Keisling has a lever now that she didn’t have before the existence of this Obama Administration transgender issues meeting was made public. She can say words to this effect to the White House staffers at the meeting:
I didn’t publicize this meeting, but the transgender community found out about this meeting, and now the community has real expectations. What are you in the Obama Administration going to do between now and Pride Month with regards to public policy based on gender identity and expression? What about between now and the end of President Obama’s first term?
The whole LGBT community is watching what comes out of this meeting, and your administration is going to be held to public account if nothing but ‘listening’ is what comes out of this meeting — I won’t publicly do it after this meeting, but others who are aware of this meeting no doubt will.
I don’t know if Mara Keisling will use that lever, but I’m quite sure she knows she has that lever — she didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. I’m putting my trust and faith in Mara to use what power she has in this meeting to forward ordinary equality for the members of our subcommunity of the LGBT community.
I wasn’t invited to this White House meeting, and if I had been invited I would have declined attending. I have no desire to be recognized by the White House or others as a member of some sort of organized and/or recognized “transgender power structure.” I also have no desire to be an LGBT community DC insider. And even minus those things, I would have no desire to attend an off-the-record meeting with the Obama Administration on transgender issues — I wouldn’t be able to personally abide with the off-the-record nature of these kinds of meetings.
But that said, I do have opinions about the meeting — especially about the how transparent this meeting is going to be, and what are actions that will come out of the meeting. I believe the White House actually needs to be transparent about what it’s going to do for transgender community members during the remainder of the first term of President Obama.
And, a media release after this meeting seems to me to be an appropriate tool for messaging to the transgender subcommunity of LGBT community, as well as to the LGBT community as a whole.
The stakeholders in LGBT community are LGBT community members like you and me and the rest of us in LGBT community; the stakeholders in the transgender subcommunity of the LGBT community are Mara Keisling, me, and the rest of us transgender community members. I say that because the Obama Administration needs to talk not just to non-profit leaders in LGBT community, but it needs to start directly messaging the stakeholders in LGBT community about its plans regarding the rest of President Obama’s first term — in accordance with the President’s own words regarding “fierce advocacy” and transparency.
And as for what most of us in transgender community want with regards to ordinary equality, there is that Martin Luther King take on the three little words “all,” “here,” and “now.”
We want all of our rights, we want them here, and we want them now.