What have you done for me lately?

May 5, 2008

The Bilerico Project have posted an “open Letter from Barack Obama to the LGBT community” on their site – link here.

Even though it’s about current affairs in the US, it’s worth mentioning because it seems to me that what happens in the US today will happen here almost before you can sneeze…

So anyway, I’ve read the letter – and I’m confused.

Tell me, Mr Obama, just out of curiosity, what have you actually done for trans people like me? You say that “In Illinois, I co-sponsored a fully inclusive bill that prohibited discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity, extending protection to the workplace, housing, and places of public accommodation.” – yes, but has that bill become law?

You also say “And as president, I will place the weight of my administration behind the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act to outlaw hate crimes and a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act to outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” Yes but, that’s for the future, if you’re elected.

I will never compromise on my commitment to equal rights for all LGBT Americans.” Fine words, but the effect is rather spoiled by following it with this: “But neither will I close my ears to the voices of those who still need to be convinced.” In other words, you’re open to persuasion either way?

You see, Mr Obama, it seems to me that you haven’t achieved a single thing in support of the civil liberties and human rights of trans people, and aren’t exactly bursting with enthusiasm and Big Ideas to help us, either.

And the moral is? Why, never believe a politician, of course.

Plus ca change…

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Don’t get me wrong… It’s not just the rhetoric of Obama that I’m sceptical about. Hillary Clinton can match him every step of the way with her own style of hot air fine words – see this page of her website, for example. Then look at this and this.

The painfully simple truth is that, until or unless the trans* communities understand that it is business interests that drive election campaigns, and organise ourselves into a cohesive ‘block’ – whether as part of the wider LGBT movement or not – there will never be any meaningful representation of our interests in the so-called corridors of power. And I believe this applies as much to the UK as it does to the US.

Trans people are an easy target because we are so vulnerable on so many levels, which is why so many of my sisters and brothers opt to live in stealth and are therefore unlikely to stand up and be counted. An understandable response to the stress and trauma of transitioning, yes – but as a consequence, trans political activism is firmly off the menu for many of us. Therefore, initially at least, I believe we need a preemptive degree of support from politicians – ‘positive discrimination’, if you like – until attitudes towards us generally begin to improve.

And no, I’m not a big fan of positive discrimination either – before you know it you end up with quotas. Not great. But what else are we to do? It’s been said before but, like many truisms, bears repeating: women are second-class citizens and trans women are second-class women. And there lies the rub.

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Posted at The F Word on 01 March 2008.

©2008 Helen G

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