December 10, 2012 at 8:57 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
DOJ official: Fight against anti-trans bias is top priority
Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A high level official with the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division told transgender advocates on Dec. 5 that the department has and will continue to use its law enforcement powers to fight anti-transgender discrimination.

In a speech before the National Center for Transgender Equality’s 9th Anniversary Awards Reception in Washington, Roy L. Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, said the DOJ has investigated and taken action against hate crimes, school bullying, and biased policing that target the transgender community.

“Now under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, the Civil Rights Division has never been stronger and the fight for transgender equality has never been fought more forcefully,” Austin said.

In a development not widely known, Austin said the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has intervened in cases where local police departments have engaged in what he called “biased policing” against transgender people.

He said one such intervention took place in New Orleans in recent years, where the division obtained a consent decree requiring police officials to put in place special training on transgender related issues. The action followed a DOJ investigation into reports of improper police behavior toward transgender women in the enforcement of a controversial anti-prostitution law that has since been changed.

The Civil Rights Division is currently working on a similar effort to curtail incidents of anti-transgender bias in police departments in Puerto Rico, Austin said.

“Law enforcement is sworn to serve and protect everyone,” he told the NCTE gathering, which took place at the National Press Club. “And we will continue to teach them how to do this and hold them accountable when they don’t.”

According to Austin, the Civil Rights Division also intervened in cases of anti-transgender bullying in school districts in Minnesota and California.

“Every school year bullying touches the lives of countless kids, their families and their communities,” he said. He noted that studies show bullying can have a devastating and potentially long-term impact on young people.

“For gender non-conforming and transgender students it can be much worse,” he said.

“Often what happens in schools reflect what is happening in society as a whole,” Austin said. “Together with our federal partners at the Department of Education we’re exploring ways to hold schools accountable and to stop harassment and bullying before it starts.”

He added, “The problem goes beyond the schools. But what we do there is incredibly important because today’s bullies may well grow up to be tomorrow’s hate crime defendants.”

On the hate crimes front, Austin said President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are committed to aggressively enforcing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which Obama signed into law in 2009.

The act, among other things, gives the Justice Department authority to prosecute hate crimes targeting people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Austin said five of the 40 people who have been prosecuted under the act so far have been convicted for physically attacking others because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

While prosecuting perpetrators of hate crimes is important, he said he believes the most significant benefit of the Shepard-Byrd Act so far has been the impact of its education and training provisions.

“We’ve provided hate crimes training to thousands of law enforcement officers and to community activists throughout the country,” he said. “Among other things, this education spreads the message that our transgender community is a vital part of the American community and must be treated with respect.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the gathering that Austin’s comments exemplify the Obama administration’s strong support for transgender rights.

She called on the LGBT community to stand with the president on the difficult economic issues he faces, including the “fiscal cliff” negotiations with his adversaries in Congress, “just as he has stood with us.”

The NCTE presented its Julie Johnson Founders’ Award to Gunner Scott, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and one of NCTE’s founders; its Distinguished Ally Award to Andrew Barnett, Executive Director of D.C.’s Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL); and its Community Partner Award to Lauree Hayden, Deputy National Political Director of the Service Employees International Union.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Section 1/2
    I used to beat around the bush but for the reasons I shall explain below, no longer. I personally know someone who at the age of 18, with a twinkle in her eye, grateful for being a 1st-generation American, and having ingested the cool-aid that poured out of the textbooks she read voraciously as a gifted student, made the conscious and voluntary decision to thank her new country for the gift of having been born an American. Fully bilingual and gifted academically, she went on to serve honorably with the United States Air Force as a Cold War combat-trained warrior and served so much with distinction that she was promoted to Staff Sgt at 23 yrs of age, or what the civilian world would refer to as a middle manager; meaning a supervisor who supervises other supervisors!

    She (then a he) was not conflicted, not disordered, not confused but since her early childhood had wondered what had gone wrong with her gender “assignment”. Lacking medical knowledge behind what causes a child to be born male or female, the only perspective she had was that metaphorically speaking she had lost the gender coin toss prior to her birth—lost because she knew she had boy parts and yet as she looked around and saw other boys and girls, her deep personality instinct was that of the two genders, female would have seemed to be more appropriate to her. At age 6 however, years prior to the ubiquitous internet, she knew that a boy would become a man and a girl a woman and that would be that so she kept this buried deep in her conscious under the file “stuff happens” so live with it.

    Fast forward years later. As the internet brought the library into her home, (still living as a he) had decided that being out of a bad marriage was better than being in one, and as she researched her spouse’s allegations that she was “gay” stumbled upon the medical reality behind the state of being “transgender”…and most importantly was shocked to discover that short of producing ovaries and a womb, hormones had the potential to effect outward (and inward) physical changes relative to gender!
    Suddenly, she understood why, despite the power of teen hormones and young adulthood, she had remained a virgin for the entire 6-year military enlistment! Quite a feat indeed!
    End Section 1/2

  • Section 2/2

    Now divorced, armed with knowledge and her doctor’s blessings and approval, she had grown her hair and blessed with no Adam’s apple, high cheekbones and soft facial features, she had been so successful that she achieved practically a 100% passing rate not once has she ever been challenged for using the female restroom. Her preference is females so she had to brush off the many men who asked for her number. She made the honorable choice to move back with her ex to help raise her child and so made the painful choice of cutting the hair, growing out the eyebrows and just like that she was a he again, expect that she emphatically refused to forego the hormones. She said that losing the testosterone felt like losing a 100 lb backpack….a burden removed as for her entire lifetime the powerful testosterone was not a fit for her inner personality….the mind/body conflict was over.

    In 2010, she applied for and was hired from a competitive field of candidates as a security officer for a community hospital in Victorville, CA. in the area called Victor Valley for which the hospital was named. As she presented her ID to the HR Dept, she pointed out that her sex is F on her state-issued driver’s license/ID and asked if that was a problem. They responded respectfully, “no, that is your business”. Little did she know that within a matter of days, how little their blessings would come to mean as her supervisor J.W., would maliciously and blatantly disregard all California civil legal protections relative toward sex discrimination…yes the ID states her sex is F….for female…not for freak.

    The opening salvo that would ultimately lead to her first-ever job termination began with the cleverly articulated yet deviously maligned phrase from her obviously unqualified-to-be supervisor: “I am concerned with your safety”….safety…safety….safety—-these words would echo through her mind as she received the call form the HR manager “YOU’re FIRED”…although using the “softer”’re terminated. All it took was one man to drive a metaphorical dagger through her heart. “Thank you for your service….not find the door”, although words not literally said were made ever so real as the reality of receiving the termination letter in the mail. Three short quick steps and she, who had been hired for her skills was not fired for her gender (change). A transphobic stand by a supervisor, followed by an HR ambush “meeting”, followed by night training assignment with a female coworker who had filed a false complaint, an assignment she had refused because of the obvious “pickle” setup and it was over.

    As she vomited the cool-aid and faced with the cold hard truth that hit her high-cheeked boned cheeks like un-gloved fingers on a sub-freezing day….the “T” that had represented (t)estosterone…(t)ransgender, not found company with a third “T”: (t)erminated. At the tender nubile age of 18, she had sworn to uphold our most sacred document….the U.S. Constitution against all enemies….foreign and domestic, and yet her domestic “enemies” of transgender otherwise-qualified employees had obviously not made the same oath. She obtained work for a short six months after her termination and has remained unemployed since—the excruciating pain of the “dagger”, non-commensurate compensation for an honorable U.S. veteran has given way to utter and complete hopelessness of her future. The steps toward the door to seek gainful employment come to a sudden stop as she retreats toward the comfort of her abode.

    Two years and counting—-she know longer believes in the America she read about in the school textbooks…who could blame her? She know longer trusts laws in place to protect against discrimination. Who cared when she sought legal help? When childhood glimmer fades to despondency at the discovery that Santa Clause isn’t real….when service to country holds no meaning….when experience offers no value….who can blame her? She seeks no financial recompense….no retribution….all she wants is her job at V V Community hospital—-the job she had earned through service to country….through experience…and from being truthful to her supervisor about her transgender status. I know this to be true, because I am that female. In a nation that idolizes sports while “not seeing” child abuse….that rewards millions to play for pay…that gives credence to celebrities while “not seeing” drug abuse….that worships at the altar of technology….no one should be castigated with job loss for the medical reality of gender dysphoria…not now…not ever. If not, then let’s stop dispensing the cool-aid….let’s use the history books as door props…let’s stop exporting Democracy….and let’s get our own house in order…today.

  • ***sorry….many “not’s” above should be “now”…

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