While campaigning in Florida this week Vice President Joe Biden made the bold and uncompromising statement that discrimination against transgender people is one of “the civil rights issue of our time.” He isn’t wrong.
Leaving an Obama campaign office in Sarasota, Biden began talking to one woman whose daughter is currently Miss Trans New England. The woman asked Biden if he would help the millions of trans people who face discrimination.
An unnamed press pool reporter, as quoted by Politico, described the incident:
She said something …at first inaudible to pool, to which VP responded was the “civil rights issue of our time”
Pool later asked the woman, Linda Carragher Bourne of Sarasota about the exchange. She said her daughter was Miss Trans New England and asked if he would help them.
“A lot of my friends are being killed, and they don’t have the civil rights yet. These guys are gonna make it happen,” she told the pool.
A couple of eye witnesses have since clarified to the Huffington Post that Biden’s comments would be more accurately represented by saying trans discrimination is “one of the great issues of today.”
Whatever the exact words, the aforementioned Linda Carragher Bourne has since enthused about the meeting as a chance to speak up about trans rights, saying on her Facebook:
THEN! As I was waving my arms like Kermit the Frog (WITH the Peace Sign, of course…smile…), he SAW ME! He said, TO ME(!!!) “Wow! Look at those EYES!!!” He immediately came over and gave me a HUGE BEAR HUG (pics to come, on the Late News…haha!). THEN! I got to TELL him what I had to SAY! Yup. Y’all guessed it! I spoke (babbled? I pray not…) about Civil Rights for Trans People, about the hatred, the murders, the UTTER NECESSITY to protect Our Trans Citizens! He actually had a conversation with me about “it all.” He declared his Support, his DEVOTION to Civil Rights for ALL Peoples, and specifically Transgender Folks! It was a miraculous (to me) and Magical Moment In Time. I felt ZERO Bullshite coming from him. ZERO!!! He’s in our Corner, Friends!!! And. He has Obama’s “ear!” YAYYYYYYY!!!!
You will of course remember that it was Vice President Biden who put himself on the leading edge of the drive for marriage equality by saying he supported gay marriage, seeming to encourage President Obama to, just a few days later, make clear his own support in what was a groundbreaking moment for American politics.
This, perhaps less grandiose than the last, may also go down as a quiet milestone.
To have a Vice President specifically acknowledge transgender rights as a civil rights issue sounds like it should be a given, but this administration is the first to have really given notice to trans people as a cognizable class, and even then that recognition has often been fleeting.
When it comes to trans rights there is still so much work to do.
Joblessness and homelessness among trans people is pervasive because it remains legal to fire someone for being trans despite their skills and talents, and despite the fact that being trans is a medically recognized reality; that anti-trans hatred and violence continues to escalate across America and, indeed, the world; and that trans kids are still often subjected to ignorance, bullying and institutionalized prejudice — all this speaks to why trans rights are such a pressing civil rights issue.
And then there is the new bane of voter disenfranchisement that stands to particularly affect trans rights.
Recently, I spoke with Charles Meins, of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, who at 21 changed his gender markers to reflect his gender identity as male rather than his birth assigned female status.
Charles, having taken his father’s name, would subsequently find that his change of gender markers would cause him problems when it came time to vote. Charles told me how when he reached the front of the line on voting day the problem began.
“They told me I had already voted,” he said. He told them he hadn’t, that he would have remembered.
And then he described the “plunging feeling” in his gut as he realized that the list of names for who was eligible to vote had not been updated and that the poll workers were right, Charles Meins–his father–had already cast his vote.
In the resulting confusion and attempts to sort this problem out, Charles was forced to clarify that he had recently officially changed his gender markers from female to male, therein disclosing his trans identity. The poll workers, who had previously referred to him in male terms, then began to misgender him as “Miss,” and even, loudly, corrected other poll workers who did not.
And, again, this was in Massachusetts, a state that is considered by most to be a liberal bastion, and one that does not have voter ID laws like Tennessee or Arizona where medically unnecessary gender reassignment surgery is used as a barrier to new ID documents and therein to being able to vote.
Massachusetts is of course the state Mitt Romney presided over as governor between 2003–2007, where he fought gay marriage with every trick at his disposal and set his lawyers to scrutinizing same-sex couple adoptions in unprecedented detail.
Charles, who is one of several people featured in the National Center for Transgender Equality’s Voting While Trans series, told me this piece of advice for trans people voting next week:
“Take a friend.”
He says that, should you encounter problems as he did, a friend’s place at your side might be invaluable.
While I did not inquire as to which candidate Charles would be voting for, I might also add that you should consider voting for a friend, the candidate who understands the quest for LGBT rights is not some kind of special or extra privilege but only the recognition of basic human dignity and a right to live a life unfettered by bigoted government intrusion.
Mitt Romney has made his feelings about LGBT people quite clear.
Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama have likewise left us in no doubt as to where they proudly stand.
The NCTE has prepared a handy one-page checklist for trans people who are concerned about their voting rights that is designed to make sure you are prepared come voting day. Click here for that and other resources.