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June 18, 2009

The Words The President (& Others) Won't Speak: "Transgender" & "Gender Identity And Expression"

Posted in: Uncategorized

The Fact Sheet: Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination ended with a paragraph that left me believing that the Obama Administration was addressing the civil rights NCTE: Are Transgender Federal Employees Protected?of the transgender subcommunity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community (emphasis added), but not doing it directly. The paragraph in question:

The Memorandum will also direct OPM to issue guidance within 90 days to all executive departments and agencies regarding compliance with, and implementation of, the civil service laws, which make it unlawful to discriminate against federal employees or applicants for federal employment on the basis of factors not related to job performance.

So, I was on the call this afternoon where the Office of Personal Management’s director, John Berry, talked about the memorandum President Obama was going to sign prior to its signing at 5:45 PM EDT. Alex Blaze, from Bilerico, asked a question about whether transgender people — the term gender identity and expression — would be included in the proposed regulations. Berry’s answer wasn’t clear to me in his original answer, but in answering a question from John Aravosis on exactly what was changing with this memorandum, Director Berry stated:

Gender identity is a non-work-related factor, and in the guidelines [to federal agencies] we will be making that clear. [...] I made it very clear [in my answer to Alex Blaze] that gender identity will be added and made very clear in our guidelines.

So why didn’t the President say “gender identity” in the fact sheet?

Below the fold is the entire fact sheet on the memorandum. Note that the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender are not in the fact sheet. Note also in signing ceremony, the President used the abbreviation LGBT, but didn’t use the words “transgender,” “gender identity,” or “gender identity and expression” therein either.  (In fact if you’re bisexual, you no doubt notice the President’s reticence to you that term as well.)

Since the President has only used the term “transgendered” once previously I can document (here), and the term “gender identity” once previously I can document (here) — and both of these times were in response to direct questions.

The President and his staff seem to me to be intentionally avoiding use of the terms “transgender” or “gender identity and expression” on camera. If you were transgender and noticed this lack of using community related terminology for your identity, what conclusion would you draw?

And hey, thinking about it, Did you see Joe Solmonese on Keith Oberman….

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

…or Rep. Tammy Baldwin on Rachel Maddow…

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

…speak the words in question? What words did you not hear spoken by our LGBT “leaders”? (Added note from Autumn: I missed it in the first couple of listenings, but Joe Solomese mentions “gender identity” at about the 4:28 minute point in the Keith Oberman video. It wasn’t mentioned in the HRC press release of the memorandum; however, but in my mind I believe saying the words on television were probably more important then getting it in the press release. I would have preferred to have seen the phrase used in both the TV appearance and the press release though.)

I would say — and even John Aravosis of Americablog would agree — that the biggest change for LGBT civil rights the memorandum heralds is federal workplace protections for transgender employees; the addition of federal employment protections based on gender identity and expression.

Which of our LGBT civil rights groups’ “leaders,” or our lesbian, gay, or ally political representatives said the word “transgender,” or the phrase “gender identity and expression”? Which ones spoke of the “gender identity and expression” changes to federal employment regulations that the memorandum heralds?

From the media releases from the organizations below, take a look and see 1.) who says the words “transgender” and/or “gender identity and expression” and 2.) who mentions the transgender employment protections that this memorandum is to add. I’ll give you a hint — the only time the word “transgender” is used is in the phrase “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender,” and that is only used by three of the organizations’ in the statements listed below. Press Release: Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin Statement on President Obama's Signing of a Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-DiscriminationAnd, no one but the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) — who’s media release is linked to in the graphic near the top of this piece — and The Task Force mention employment protections for transgender federal employees.

Frankly at this point, I don’t doubt at all Director Berry’s commitment to adding federal regulations regarding transgender people — I think we’re going to see specific language on “gender identity” is going come to pass. That’s the good news for federal employees who may are transgender…transsexual. And, as many would guess, not mentioning gender identity and expression by our politicians (links to two politicians statements as examples — the statements of Representatives Baldwin and Leiberman — are found by selecting two press release graphics included within this blog article) and LGBT civil rights organizations means conservative “Christian” organizations — such as Focus On The Family, also don’t mention transgender people when discussing the impact of this memorandum. I would say this is small consolation as they will be discussing this when the new federal regulations are submitted within 90-days.

However, on the 30th of June we’ll really know how serious the President is about transgender civil rights; the 30th of June is the last day that the Department of Justice can file an appeal to the Diane Schroer case. If the Department Of Justice appeals this case, then we will know that just like the Obama Administration on DOMA, what the Obama Administration says in speeches and signing ceremonies won’t be followed through with “fierce advocacy” by our President and his administration.

The message I get from the words “transgender” or “gender identity and expression” not being spoken is that transgender people and issues are very secondary to lesbian and gay issues, and that it’s considered dangerous politically to say the words. In my opinion, this failure to use transgender related terminology doesn’t bode well for transgender people and civil rights. Who doesn’t remember ENDA 2007/2008?

As for our politicians and LGBT civil rights organizations: Speak the word transgender, or the phrase gender identity and expression, when you speak of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s civil rights. And, speak these transgender subcommunity words on television. Transgender people deserve better than the silence on our subcommunity’s terminology — on our subcommunity’s issues — that we’re receiving from the Obama administration, progressive politicians, and LGBT non-profits/civil rights organizations.

Don’t message transgender people out of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights movement — it’s just not acceptable.

~~~~~

Further reading:

* Fact Sheet: Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination

* Memorandum For The Heads Of Executive Departments And Agencies


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