Something has changed. Maybe things have always been changing – and it takes an event like Rosedale – the beating, and the expression of solidarity that followed – to bring that change into focus.
Some things are not the same. I keep a finger on the pulse. Language shifts, glides. The same things are said, but differently, in a stronger more assertive voice.
History and High Politics
Let me start with the US, aided and abetted by input from one prominent trans activist over there. According to them, the story starts back in 2007. On an almost yearly basis, since 1994, Congress had attempted to introduce an Employment non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
In 2007, provisions regarding Gender Identity and Expression (GI&E) were dropped from ENDA: the Bill passed the House, and died in the Senate. Trans activists who had been successfully passing state bills, from 2001-07, continued the state level activity. Around a dozen states – including California – now have GI&E provisions in law.
At the same time, the religious right began the fightback, focusing on the flip side to ENDA – rights in “public accommodations” – as being a “bathroom bill”. Dishonest, of course: “public accommodation” goes way beyond toileting issues and is really about what we in the UK would recognize as rights in respect of provision of goods and services.
Still, it appears to play to a peculiarly US obsession with the gender binary in toilets that goes way beyond anything that most Europeans would endorse: no doubt there are explanations to be found in the American culture and psyche.
The fracturing of the LGBT alliance around ENDA continued apace: marriage has been one issue, with much of the organizational muscle being placed behind what is, for the average trans person, mere window-dressing. Then, since 2010, there’s been a focus on over-turning the US military policy of “Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell” (DADT).
It has been a time of major frustrations. Trans, in one form or another, makes up around 15% of the LGBT community. There is a perception that trans activism cannot (yet) stand alone: that it needs the resource and clout that goes with existing LGBT organizations.
But patience is wearing thin.
In Maryland, where the Rosedale incident took place, the main LGBT rights organization, Equality Maryland (EQMD) never had a trans group, other than transequalitymaryland, which was created as a subgroup. The three trans boards members in EqMD’s history had all resigned over the past seven months.
Activists will now be working to putting together a coalition of trans groups to work with whatever is left of EqMD when their crisis is resolved.
So much for high politics. The message coming through loud and clear is that the bigots will do all in their power to block trans rights. Their hate ad, repeated below in case you didn’t get it first time round, is evidence of the sheer nastiness they bring to their cause.
Gay rights activists are not reliable allies in trans causes. Why should they be? They have their own causes to fight and if there is a perception abroad that Trans and Gay issues are interchangeable, then it is inevitable that politicians will force the two communities to face off against one another, “prioritizing”, where the very idea of priority is offensive.
Tactically, that argues for greater separation.
The Rosedale effect
Meanwhile, the joker in the pack is Rosedale. For two reasons. First, because it places, finally, into the public sphere the dire consequences of religious hate. If people insist on denying trans people basic human rights – caricaturing us as paedos and pervs when we just want to take a pee – a repetition of Rosedale is sooner or later inevitable, with possibly worse consequences.
It provides momentum, which we shouldn’t be afraid to use.
Second, which takes me back to the beginning, it feels like there is a new tougher mood in the air, even here, in the UK. We’re growing in number: we’re more organized; we’re beyond asking, timidly, for the mere right to exist. We’ve arrived – and we don’t see why we should be at the back of the queue when rights get handed out.
There is no more reason for politicians to be deciding whether trans rights or gay rights take priority than to be questioning whether race or gender are more important issues to be taken into consideration.
I don’t expect any sudden break-up of the LGBT alliance: we have too much in common. Still, where that closeness works against the trans community, expect, from hereon in, a much harder, much more independent and yes, militant trans voice to be heard.
Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game
Lyrics from Defying Gravity