A friend who edits a major gay newspaper asked me last week for my thoughts about the dearth of news reports and analysis regarding the landmark revision of the DSM, the “mental health bible,” on Dec. 1. That revision, the DSM-5, redefines Gender Identity Disorder as Gender Dysphoria, affirming that being trans is not a mental illness.
I had noticed the general silence, with the exception of good stories by Mike Lavers in the Blade and Zack Ford in ThinkProgress. The trans blogosphere was active, as expected, but when I researched the gay blogosphere, I noticed nothing from the major gay blogs, websites and listserves, and no more than brief blog and Facebook mentions from our major LGBT organizations. No banner headlines anywhere. This was before the Supreme Court accepted the Prop 8 and DOMA cases last Friday, a story that understandably grabbed all the attention, and ended up on the front page above the fold at The New York Times.
What is most striking is that this decision from the American Psychiatric Association mirrors the one 40 years earlier that sparked the gay rights movement by de-pathologizing homosexuality. So why the silence?
There’s a basic fact of business life – provide value to your consumers, or change your business model. The gay media respond to consumers just as any other business. The publishers, be they papers, magazines or blogs, fill a need. Taking that into account, I’ve come to believe that there are two reasons, somewhat intertwined, for the silence. The first is that while we call ourselves the LGBT community, the T has a small place when it comes to attention and resources (though far greater than the B). We make up only 8 percent of the community according to Professor Gary Gates, and only 11 percent of Americans know a trans person, while 60 percent know a gay person. When there is little contact, there is little commitment. That’s human nature, nothing about which we should complain. Human communities are driven by self-interest, as is our economy. Just as coming out has propelled the gay rights movement, so must more trans persons come out to be noticed by the media, and that includes the gay media.
One story my friend related was about a lesbian friend who had cared nothing about trans rights, until she was shifted at work to a department where her boss was a trans woman. It was now in her self-interest to really get to know a trans person, and because her boss, whom I happen to know, is a lovely woman and great role model, she’s become an activist. That is one example of what it takes.
Another example, recently in the LGBT press, was the story by that same Mike Lavers headlined, “Chile’s First Openly Gay Elected Official Takes Office.” I had the pleasure getting to know Jaime Parada Hoyl during a State Department visit of LGBT activists from Latin America in early September. Jaime is clearly worthy of a news story, but buried near the bottom was the notice that he was joined by a trans woman who was elected to a municipal council, as well as another trans woman re-elected as a Council woman that same day. Yet that day the trans story wasn’t the story. It had never been the story, though one might think that a country that has elected a trans person before a gay person would be worthy of note.
I also think there is a deeper issue. Yes, more gay folks should care about trans people because we’re all sexual minorities and suffer similar discrimination. What’s been missing, however, is recognition by the gay leadership, including the media, that the historic trans victories of the past 12 months have hugely positive implications for the greater gay community.
The trans community has been liberated because of a recognition that trans discrimination, and, more broadly, discrimination against gender-non-conforming individuals, is wrong, and as a result is now illegal under federal law with respect to employment, and increasingly recognized as unconstitutional. The Macy and Glenn decisions this past year have expanded the courts’ recognition that gender expression discrimination is sex discrimination, and hence, illegal and unconstitutional.
As homophobia is rooted in gender expression, publicly discussed by Suzanne Pharr back in 1988, and therefore, is, by definition, sex discrimination, it is the logical path to full gay liberation. Marriage equality is wonderful, increasing our sense of dignity and the recognition of that dignity by our fellow citizens, but gender-conforming gay men and lesbians are still subject to workplace, housing and public accommodations discrimination in many regions in America. There is much yet to be done.
Will the LGBT media recognize this, and help move us all forward? I sure hope so, as it is in their best interest, and self-interest is the best and most potent interest there is.
Dana Beyer is executive director of Gender Rights Maryland. Reach her via genderrightsmaryland.org.