28 January 2015

Workers' Rights=LGBT Rights

Some would argue--and I would be inclined to agree--that the most important speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave was "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam".  Delivered one year, to the day, before he was murdered, it expresses something that had become more apparent to him throughout his life:  All struggles for justice are related. As he said, you can't oppose racial prejudice in the United States (or anywhere else) and support killing people of a different race in another country.  Likewise, if you believe people deserve to be treated fairly and equally, whatever their race or gender or religion or sexual orientation, you also must believe  that people deserve to be paid a fair living wage for doing a day's work.

That is why something I came across would have made perfect sense to him:  Workers' rights are tied to LGBT rights, and vice-versa.  I am not simply repeating a nice ideal:  There are statistics to prove it.  Those numbers indicate that union workers are three times as likely as non-union workers to have domestic partner health care coverage and twice as likely to have survivor benefits for their domestic partners.

From National LGBT Taskforce blog

27 January 2015

Ontario Inmates To Be Housed According To Gender Identity

I'm no expert on criminal justice, so take what I'm about to say for what it's worth.

Here goes:  I think that any society that imprisons people has to decide what the purpose of incarceration is.

In the US, as in many other countries, we call our system "corrections".  From what I understand of psychology, such a term implies that the system is behavioristic in its approach:  The behavior of the person arrested is to be corrected.  Or, more ideally, some underlying condition or issue that led to the behavior will be corrected.

Those familiar with the system--inmates as well as wardens and guards--say that it almost never happens.  Somehow that doesn't surprise me, but that's a discussion for another blog (or book or class!) led by someone more knowledgeable than I am.  

Anyway, in other places and times, imprisonment was more frankly a means of vengeance.  In the 18th and 19th Centuries, prisons were called "penitentiaries", or places of penance--in other words, a kind of purgatory where the inmate worked off his or her sins.

So why am I talking about these things on this blog?  Well, it matters greatly to transgender inmates, most of whom are arrested for doing sex work or other relatively minor crimes.  If the purpose of prison is to rehabilitate or reform someone, the inmate's humanity must be respected.  Just as a doctors who don't respect their patients have no hope of helping them heal, any system that dehumanizes the people who enter it cannot make those people better than they were when they were brought into it.

Yasir Naqvi understands this.  He is the Correction Services Minister in the Canadian province of Ontario.  Yesterday, he announced that inmates will be placed in Ontario prisons according to the gender by which they identify themselves rather than their physical sex characteristics.  So, for example, someone identified as male on her birth certificate will be incarcerated in a women's prison if she identifies herself as such.

I know that some believe that prisoners are not human beings and will howl that such treatment is "coddling".  But they should think about how their tax money is being spent.  If something might help prevent recidivism, why not try it--especially if it doesn't cost any more money than doing something that doesn't work.

26 January 2015

A Harder And More Necessary Lesson Than I Imagined

For a long time, I simply didn't think about whether there was anything beyond or after this life.  That spell was interrupted, at times, with my denial that anything of the sort existed.  It was easier, really, than trying to reconcile the possibility there could be a deity with the fate I had been dealt in my life--which, of course, includes my gender identity--let alone the fates of other people who suffered all sorts of cruelties and injustices.

For years, when people asked about my beliefs and I couldn't find a way out of answering, I replied that I was an atheist.  It was easier to argue non-belief to a believer--actually, it still is, for me--than it is to reconcile the interpretations I usually read and heard about the divine or the supernatural with anything I had seen in my life.

For much of my life, I didn't want to believe, even if a way to reconcile belief with reality (as I understood) had been explained or revealed to me.  People tried to convince me that their way was right or that they accepted people (i.e., me) but not the things they did.  Or they spewed what I thought was the most awful and absurd line:  "God loves you.  God loves everyone."  That, to me, was a sure sign that the person uttering it hadn't the first idea about what love is.  Hey, there were times when I thought that love itself is a delusion.  Sometimes I still wonder...

For the past year and a half, I have been attending a church.  I'm still uneasy about it.  It's not because, as one parishoner suggested, I'm worried about what other people think.  (I stopped worrying about that when I realized that too many people simply don't think!)  Actually, there is still a part of me that doesn't want to be convinced that there is a God (or whatever name you want to give) and that s/he (or whatever identity) loves me, or anybody.  And, in spite of what I have experienced over these most recent months, it's still hard for me to believe, sometimes, that I've met people who are actually Christians or adherents to any other faith, let alone clergy, who don't think I need to be changed or "cured".  Actually, one of the priests in my church has asked me a lot about my identity and story because this priest admits, "There's still a lot I don't know."  This same priest has listened to me talk about all sorts of other things and has helped me in other ways.

Yes, there are all those verses--mainly in the Old, but sometimes in the New--Testament that warn against "a man lying with a man as with a woman" or whatever.  But, as a student of literature, I know that all sayings, all words, come from specific places and times.  Some of our greatest writings contain notions that are outdated or simply quaint, and portrayals of people that we today consider to be bigoted.  Some things were forbidden because of conditions that prevailed at the time (for example, in the time Exodus was written, it probably was important to produce as many children as possible) and the tenets of Judaism and Christianity developed in a context of notions about gender and other cultural mores that most of us (well, at least most people I know) would find abhorrent or simply incompatible with life as we know it.  

But, whatever prohibitions there are in the Bible, the harshest utterances of Jesus himself--at least, the harshest ones recorded in the Bible--were not directed at gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgenders.  In fact, the Bible, as far as I can tell, says nothing at all about trans people. (Some interpret "a man shall not appear as a woman" as an injunction against us.  But those of us who are trans women would argue that we are not men.) Nor were they directed at those who suffered any sort of prejudice or oppression.  Rather, he reserved his most scathing indictments for the Pharisees, those religious teachers so focused on rules that they forgot what mattered, namely mercy and compassion.

Mercy and compassion.  Learning that people actually try to practice such things, as best as they know how, to people like me--and not only because we're trans or whatever--is a harder lesson to learn and accept than I could have imagined--almost as hard as the struggle with my gender identity. But it seems that I have no other choice but to learn it.