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January 22, 2013

President Obama Didn’t Fold Trans People Into The American Family

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Image: Autumn Sandeen

If we are honest with ourselves we’ll admit that there are too many who do not yet know in their lives or feel in their hearts the urgency of this struggle. That’s why I continue to speak about the importance of equality for LGBT families — and not just in front of gay audiences. That’s why Michelle and I have invited LGBT families to the White House to participate in events like the Easter Egg Roll — because we want to send a message. And that’s why it’s so important that you continue to speak out, that you continue to set an example, that you continue to pressure leaders — including me — and to make the case all across America.

~President Barak Obama, Remarks by the President at Human Rights Campaign Dinner, October 11, 2009 (emphasis added)

President Obama doesn’t speak about equality for transgender people in front of LGBT audiences; it follows then that he doesn’t speak about equality for transgender in front of audiences that are not primarily LGBT. President Obama certainly didn’t mention trans people in his second inaugural speech in the way he mentioned gay people and Stonewall in that speech:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

These statements in the President’s second inaugural speech comes months after Vice President Biden (who famously was three days ahead of President Obama in coming out in support of marriage equality) stated during the campaign that transgender discrimination is the “civil rights issue of our time.”

It’s not that the Obama Administration hasn’t been trans supportive. As Trans United For Obama documented during the 2012 campaign, the administration has accomplished a great deal, including:

  • President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, making it a federal crime to assault another individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. This is the first time gender identity has been protected by federal law.
  • Obama Administration Officials have collaborated with transgender advocates to discuss strategies to prevent bullying and end gender-based violence.
  • The State Department now includes an evaluation of the state of LGBT citizens in its annual country reports, in order to better identify abuses, state-sanctioned homophobia and transphobia overseas
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission clarified that Title VII sex discrimination law covers transgender work
  • The Obama Administration ended the Social Security Administration’s gender “no-match” letters, helping to protect the privacy of transgender workers
  • President Obama banned employment discrimination based on gender identity in the federal government.
  • The Department Of Health and Human Services confirmed that federal health care programs and those receiving federal funds are barred from discriminating against transgender people.
  • Under President Obama’s leadership, the Veterans Health Administration established policy to ensure comprehensive and respectful health care to the transgender and intersex Veterans enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system or who are otherwise eligible for VA care.
  • The Veterans Health Administration now allows transgender veterans to update their medical records according to their gender identity.
  • The Affordable Care Act bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity in operating insurance exchanges.
  • The State Department now allows transgender Americans to update their passport gender markers without requiring invasive medical procedures.
  • President Obama appointed three openly transgender people to serve in his administration, making him the first president ever to do so.

But words matter. By using the term “gay rights” instead of “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights,” he did not take the opportunity to talk about LGBT civil rights to a national audience. President Obama — unlike with gay civil rights issues — only speaks the terms “bisexual” and “transgender” to LGBT audiences, and doesn’t even mention his administration’s trans specific accomplishments to LGBT audiences.

Adele M. Stan wrote in his AlterNet article 12 Ways Obama Smacked Down the Tea Party and the Right in Inauguration Speech about the importance of President Obama’s inclusion of “Stonewall” and “gay” in his speech (emphasis added):

Asserting the moral imperative of gay rights. Although the right has succeeded in suppressing the rights of women and people of color, it’s widely acknowledged that in this regard, the right is on the wrong side of history. So when, in a line of great rhetorical flourish, Obama equated a famous gay rebellion against New York City police at a Greenwich Village bar with an iconic civil rights march and a catalyzing moment in the quest for women’s suffrage, he essentially said to his opponents: Your campaign against LGBT people is immoral. Here’s the line from the second inaugural address that’s destined for immortality:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall… Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Alas, transgender people, it seems, will continue to wait for their day.

The lack of rhetorical inclusion of trans people in the second inaugural speech means that President Obama isn’t including the vision of equality for trans people in the national civil rights dialogue in the same way he’s included the vision of equality for gay people in that dialogue.

At this point, I’m not sure what the full significance of that reality is, but I’m certain that there is significance that trans community will come to better understand in years to come.

~~~~~
Related:
* President Obama Folds Gay People Into The American Family


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