Monday, November 9, 2015

We Have to Give Them Hope – and Real Change

LGBTQ youth who began high school in the San Diego Unified School District back in 2010 were hopeful.

The school board and superintendent had just agreed to a policy prohibiting bullying, harassment and intimidation, a policy that – due to a great deal of work
included LGBTQ students. SDUSD is the second largest school district in the state, so the victory was an important one.

The district formed a Safe Schools Task Force that included educators, community members and other school personnel – all focused on implementation of real changes in the reporting and addressing of bullying/harassment incidents. These changes would ensure that district educators, staff and administrators would have the training they needed to create welcome and safe environments for LGBTQ students. It would also help to ensure that the curriculum was changed to include representation of LGBTQ lives and histories.

But all that was five years ago. Those youth who began high school back then have already graduated or left school without ever seeing the real changes they hoped for.
While the world seemed to change greatly for LGBTQ adults, for our youth, precious little has changed in the environment in which they spend seven to nine hours a day.

Five years. During that time, there have been many meetings, many discussions of plans, many expressions of good will and intentions. There have been changes in superintendents, changes in school board members, changes in school personnel. Despite the passage of the 2011 FAIR Act in California, students still have few, if any, opportunities to learn about the lives and histories of LGBT figures or heroes. Their culture and their lives remain invisible.

Five years. After four years, an actual anti-harassment policy was finalized. But real-world enforcement and application of that policy is hardly evident. Too little has actually changed in the experiences of our youth in schools – experiences we know are too often painful and damaging.

After five years, youth – and their parents – remain unable to easily file complaints. Educators continue to be untrained and without access to information that can make them a part of the solution (with the exception of those who have actively sought it out, which is not nearly enough). Too many of our youth continue to miss days of school because they can’t face the environment. Continue to drop out prematurely. Continue to underachieve because they are forced to endure an environment that feels hostile and unsafe.

Five years. That is, quite simply, too long to wait for basic dignity and compliance. The conditions in our schools for LGBTQ youth were unacceptable before the policy changes were agreed to. We can’t wait anymore. The planning, talking and meeting was important, but it’s not enough. It’s time for action.

In May of this year, the San Diego LGBT Community Leadership Council sent the superintendent a letter on behalf of the more than 40 LGBTQ and allied organizations indicating that it was critical that we see progress on the seven enumerated priority items (see below). To date, some have been or are in the process of implementation – the three most important have not yet even begun.

Reporting. Training. Inclusive curriculum. Our youth can’t wait five more years.

May 14, 2015

1. Begin and continue comprehensive training for all staff, educators and administrators on LGBTQ issues, including the disparities created in educational environments (drop-out, achievement gaps) and challenges to student safety posed by harassment, bullying and intimidation.   

2. Immediately design and implement real-time electronic reporting of discrimination, harassment, bullying and safety concerns that is easily accessible and promoted widely throughout the schools/classrooms. This reporting should include options for text/e-mail/phone responses and be available to both students and parents. 

3. Begin to implement LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in all grades, consistent with the FAIR Act requirements. 

4. Establish and fund at least one dedicated senior staff position to assist in training and implementation of LGBTQ initiatives. This staff member would be at a senior level, would be LGBTQ competent and experienced in training educators/administrators regarding LGBTQ issues.
5. Create and disseminate a simple procedure protocol for all staff and educators to use when a harassment/bullying incident occurs or has been reported. 

6. Establish and implement a standardized school climate survey administered to students annually to determine baseline experiences and safety. 

7. Using the survey described above, establish annual progress goals for safety and improvement over baseline for each school.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Right to Pee in Peace

See the press release from EQCA posted below this note for information regarding the proposed anti-LGBT ballot measure that many fear will, after Houston, gather enough signatures to put it on the California ballot. If that is indeed true, it will take all of us working together to educate our communities to fight it.

Over and over, the LGBTQ battle against discrimination has faced the same groups using similar fear-based hate tactics. Groups who use family and children as the centerpiece of their campaigns, pretending to be protecting them even as they cause real children to suffer - our children. Part of their tactic is an attempt to split off voters of color, whom they hope will be unaware of the devastating and ongoing violence directed against so many transwomen of color.

The problem is simple. Given the American tradition of gender-separating group restrooms for adults, where should transgender and gender-non-conforming folks pee?

Should Caitlyn Jenner use the men’s room? Should the man with a beard use the ladies room even if that is not how they identify? Letting people use the restrooms they wish based on their own gender identity makes the most sense. But in Houston anti-LGBT groups flooded the airwaves with TV ads designed to frighten people with fabricated “dangers,” insisting that an individual’s genitalia match the sign on the door or else… “Very Bad Things Will Happen.” In California they are seeking to install gender-policing in restrooms and to criminalize peeing.

The facts and issues are simple, but only for those who know them. Transgender and gender non-conforming children and adults have the right to pee in peace; without fear, without harassment, without discrimination - without hate and fear-based political campaigns. Sounds simple? Sure, but we know that the issues are only simple for those who have been educated about them.

To educate all Californians well, we have to be working in coalition. We have to be on the ground, talking to our families, our friends, our neighbors and our partners in the fight for justice. We hope that as all of our partners become educated about this fight, they can join us in helping to educate all Californians about this issue. And we can all start today with friends and family members so that they can, in turn, reach out to and educate others.

I never believed I’d have to call for basic bathroom justice but transgender and gender non-conforming folks are our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends. They are our family members. They are our children! We must let them #peeinpeace with #basichumandignity.

November 3, 2015

CONTACT: Jason Howe, Equality California
PHONE: 323-848-9801 MOBILE: 415-595-9245
CONTACT: Jill Marcellus, Transgender Law Center
PHONE: 415-865-0176 x310 MOBILE: 516-313-9659

California Civil Rights Coalition Prepared for Battle Following Houston LGBT Vote

Los Angeles — Following the loss of a ballot referendum that would have upheld the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a coalition of California civil rights and LGBT organizations is cautioning supporters to prepare for a similar fight against a potential anti-LGBT ballot initiative in California

HERO protected Houstonians from discrimination in housing, employment and public spaces across 15 classes, including race, gender, military status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy. Houston is the largest city in America that does not have these protections already in place. Much of the campaign to overturn HERO centered on targeting transgender people and denying them the right to use public restrooms.  

"As visibility and understanding of transgender people and issues increase, a small group of extremists are using lies and scare tactics to try to turn back the tide of acceptance. They won by mounting an ugly and deceptive campaign in Houston, and no doubt they will try it again in California and other parts of the country," said Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center. "Despite these efforts and today's vote, more and more people are recognizing transgender people for who we truly are – neighbors, co-workers, family members, and friends."

Right-wing activists in California and elsewhere have increasingly targeted the transgender community, proposing a spate of bills that would prohibit them from using public bathrooms and public facilities.  The same group that previously unsuccessfully attempted to overturn AB 1266, allowing transgender students to participate in school programs and use facilities corresponding to their gender, is collecting signatures to place another measure on California's November, 2016 ballot.  The group is backed by the right-wing, Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute and other supporters of Proposition 8.

"We fully expect our opponents to use the same misinformation and scare tactics in California that they used in Houston," said Rick Zbur, executive director of coalition member Equality California.  "Since they can no longer stop same-sex couples from getting married, this is the next page in their attempts to discriminate against the LGBT community. That's why this is an attack on both transgender people and the LGBT community as a whole."

California's transgender discrimination initiative goes even farther than efforts in other states, prohibiting transgender people from using facilities in government buildings and requiring the government to monitor bathroom use. It would also allow anyone offended by the presence of an individual in a restroom to sue that person for a $4,000 in damages, as well as attorney's fees.  Government analysts say the measure could cost California millions of dollars every year in legal expenses and lost federal funding. 

The coalition consists of the American Civil Liberties Union of California, Equality California, the Human Rights Campaign, Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and Transgender Law Center, as well as a steering committee of organizations representing diverse communities throughout California.

Backers of the initiative have until December 21 to collect the 365,880 signatures needed to place the proposal on the 2016 ballot.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

We Remember, We Honor, We Continue the Fight

We remember the thousands upon thousands of lives lost to HIV. We Honor the trailblazers who have struggled and fought so bravely for so long to bring us to where we are now. We Celebrate the progress that has brought longer, healthier lives with new medicines, new freedom and new hope in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Today, much has changed in the fight against HIV. As with many other diseases and infections, early detection can mean a person living with HIV can lead a long and healthy life, no longer condemned to early death, disability or sickness.  Beginning treatment early means medicines can reduce HIV viral loads quickly and almost entirely prevent transmission. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can prevent a person without HIV from becoming infected. Post-exposure propylaxis (PEP), when begun within 72 hours of exposure or accidents can prevent HIV infection. We now have more treatment and prevention tools than at any other time in history. This is a huge leap forward for a community devastated by HIV for more than 30 years!

Sadly, much remains the same. Most Americans and many San Diegans do not have access to accurate information about HIV disease today. Too many are left with the mental images and information of the late 1990s – information almost two decades out-of-date. Many non-specialist medical and mental health professionals continue to be unfamiliar with the detection and treatment of HIV, leading to dangerous delays in detection, testing and treatment.  Too many still continue to believe this is a disease of “moral character” instead of a battle against a virus. The resulting stigma attached to HIV keeps many silent, shamed or afraid. Too many in our communities – particularly communities of color, Trans and gender-fluid communities, youth communities, communities with fewer resources and those less privileged – have no reliable access to information, qualified medical care, medicines or prevention tools. Even in the face of groundbreaking new possibilities, these things have not changed. 


We can change what remains the same. We know this fight well. Science moves forward and so can we. We don’t have to be silenced. We don’t have to accept unfair, unequal treatment. We don’t have to accept continued stigma, ignorance, nor an America that continues to look the other way, leaving so many behind. Join us at AWSD 2015 and #bethegeneration that ends new cases of HIV.
#NoStigma #Undectable #PrEP #PEP


Our LGBTQ youth live in an increasingly intersectional world.  Intersectionality - post the SCOTUS marriage equality decision, this is the word on everyone’s lips. But what does it really mean?

In part, intersectionality refers to the reality that in San Diego (like other urban coastal areas) 55% of the LGBT community are of color. Friends, family members, colleagues, coworkers, potential partners and spouses – all of different races, gender identities and social classes – that is the world of our youth. That means the majority of our community has had to endure all of the impacts of systemic racism, a broken immigration system, and the propagation of gender stereotypes that work for few - in addition to homophobia. For the transgender community in particular, these intersectional realities are too often deadly.

When youth are asked “What’s next for the LGBTQ movement?” – many are acutely aware that issues of race, gender policing and immigration lie at the heart of their lived experience and those of their friends. They often reply: these are the issues of LGBTQ people; these are the important LGBTQ issues. And our youth want to know what the LGBTQ movement is doing to help address them.

When Marriage Equality Became Law

What an incredible weekend! In the words of President Obama, "…and then there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt." We are still absorbing the thunderbolt! 

It is in community that we are most hopeful, smarter, stronger, braver and more able to see the full justice vision. From the cradles of our newest members to the last farewells to those who are now behind the sun – from beginning to end – in community we are our best selves.

As we are grateful to so many for this victory and we remember all who led us, helped us, sustained us on the journey. We remember.

• We remember and are grateful for the tremendous bravery of hundreds of early trailblazers who dared to live their lives openly and to love bravely. 
• We remember Stonewall and Trans community friends who stood and fought... and launched a movement. 
• We remember the dark days of the Defense of Marriage Act. 
• We remember the hope born first in Massachusetts and then with the California Supreme Court. 
• We remember the bravery of those who fought the Prop 8 ballot initiative... and the pain and devastation when it passed. 
• We remember the lifting of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. 
• We remember the defeat of DOMA and the reversal of Prop 8.

We remember the hundreds of thousands of people, allied and LGBT, who have given their time, energy, creativity and dollars, and had all of the hard conversations that have fueled and sustained this movement. 

And we remember that there are many vital battles ahead. History and all other justice movements teach us that victories like this are the starting points of the long walk toward justice, not the end. We cannot and will not leave any of our community members behind.

From trans and non-binary gender rights and acceptance, ending new HIV cases, youth protections and school safety & inclusion, Federal Civil Rights protections for LGB and absolutely T, to comprehensive immigration reform and racial justice…  #JusticeistheDream.

Transgender Day of Empowerment

On Friday, April 10, we celebrated Transgender Day of Empowerment. Established as a way to celebrate the growing empowerment of the trans community and the courage, dedication and changes the trans movement has been able to achieve, it is an inspiring evening and a great way to show support for our trans brothers and sisters.

In 2005, The San Diego LGBT Community Center changed its name to specifically acknowledge and include the bisexual and transgender members of our community. Since that time and across the last decade we have begun to see changes that are encouraging – changes in the hearts, minds and attitudes of many within our community and in the larger society. As we all allow ourselves to be educated and grow, our understanding and policies change, often too slowly but change nonetheless.

However, there is much left to address. Our transgender community is still subject to horrifying levels of violence and discrimination. The number of transgender women – particularly women of color – beaten and murdered each year is appalling. There are far too few protections against blatant discrimination in employment, housing and more, and as ludicrous as it is, there are still places trying to pass laws about which bathrooms trans folks are allowed to use.

Yet in spite of all the obstacles, there are trans people accomplishing great things every day nationwide. Transgender Day of Empowerment is a way for us to celebrate their courage and honor the accomplishments of those who do so much locally to educate all and move us forward. As a community we still have much to learn about being helpful allies to our trans brothers and sisters, but joining us at The Center each year to celebrate Transgender Day of Empowerment is a great place to start.

It's Not Over

The LGBT social justice movement has made great progress very quickly, schooled by the courage and hard-won lessons of the civil rights movement, the reproductive rights movement and all others who have worked toward the vision of fairness and justice. We have learned the lessons of mobilizing, the importance of seeking allies and help, of electing the right minded and continuing to build and stand loyal to coalitions. We've seen powerful results and we are optimistic and hopeful as we wait for a Supreme Court judgement on marriage equality.

But we are also beginning to learn the painful next lesson, the one our justice partners know all too well. While thousands have worked hard for this moment in the sun, the vestiges of hate and ignorance are still alive in far too many. Because of them, change comes only unevenly and is not guaranteed. Ignorance survived the battle.

Today the so-called "religious freedom" laws being considered in more than 25 states seek to undermine LGBT equality and non-discrimination laws and policies. Whether these laws can be legally successful is a matter for the lawyers to argue, but the political motivations and animus of those lobbying for them are clear. They represent the stubborn and tantrum-like refusals of those who cannot share a vision of a free and just society. "We don't want to evolve or change," they say. "We want special exemptions to continue to discriminate, especially against gays and trans people." ('s-rifra-the-law-is-complicated-but-the-anti-gay-politics-are-not). Like a virus, this type of ignorance seeks any mutation of itself to survive.

Our right to be served in the public marketplace without discrimination is one of our most cherished freedoms and one of the highest obligations of our American government. It does not infringe one's right to believe and worship as one chooses.

The lesson is painfully clear - some battles may be won, but the mission is NOT accomplished.

No matter how tired we are, we can't stop fighting. We owe it to all those who came before us. We owe it to our seniors. We owe it to those who will have to fight after us. We owe it to our youth. We are Californians - we owe it to all the LGBT people and their families in all the states to keep leading forward.

We have to fight. And we will have to fight exactly as we began - state by state, city by city, issue by issue, in schools, in the military, in healthcare, in housing, in employment, in benefits like social security and mediCare, in the battle for HIV treatment and care. In the words of Michelangelo Signorile, #itsnotover.