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The Case for Transgender Rights (With Jamison Green) (1996)

The Case for Transgender Rights (With Jamison Green) (1996)

©1996, 2011 by Jamison Green and Dallas Denny

Source: James Green & Dallas Denny. (1996). The case for transgender rights. Cross-Talk, 81, pp. 11-13.

Photo: Jamison and Dallas Finally Get Their IFGE Trinity Awards.




Cross-Talk Pages (PDF)

The Case for Transgender Rights

James Green and Dallas Denny


Nearly a year has elapsed since Linda Buten’s “Human Rights? Equal Rights? Special Rights” opinion piece appeared in Cross-Talk #66 (April, 1995). So stunned and dismayed were we that the Chair of the Board of the International Foundation for Gender Education (for which Mr. Green is Vice‑Chair) would write a column arguing against passing legislation to protect the civil rights of transgendered and transexual persons (when Mr. Green received last year’s Transgender Pioneer Award from ICTLEP for his part in achieving the passage of San Francisco’s protective ordinance) that we found ourselves unable to respond at the time. We decided to collaborate on this rebuttal to bring ourselves out of our malaise.

First of all, it is apparent that Ms. Buten’s life as a financially secure crossdresser has somewhat insulated her from the bigotry, hatred, discrimination, and danger faced by other transgendered and transexual persons. She writes that many in the transgender community “feel” that we need legal protections, and she questions the necessity of such protections, painting a picture of “special rights,” implying that if we really want to be mainstreamed into society we should not be calling attention to ourselves and asking for special treatment.

It must be noted that even in those few areas like San Francisco, Seattle, and Minnesota where we do have legal protection, we are still fair game not only for those who, like Ms. Buten, willfully refuse to hire us, but for those who would fire, harass, persecute, rape, and even kill us. It doesn’t sound like “special rights” to us that we should expect to live free from this kind of abusive treatment.

The files of the National Transgender Library & Archive are filled with newspaper accounts of our brothers and sisters who have been convicted of crimes simply for being themselves, hounded by the press, fired from jobs they held for decades, denied custody of their children, refused medical care, and beaten on the streets and in their homes. Despite the insulation Ms. Buten has garnered from spending her days as a “good old boy” businessman who will not be told who to hire, she is not immune from discrimination. Those of us who work for TS/TG human rights do not “feel” it is necessary to recognize the discrimination we face‑‑ we know that only by naming it, describing it, and facing it head‑on can we hope to eradicate it.

It is important to understand what legal protection for transgendered people really means. Ms. Buten’s knee‑jerk reaction against human/civil rights legislation reveals a bias that the conservative right wing has long manipulated to gain grassroots acceptance: hit the voters where it hurts‑‑ in the wallet. That is why they use the “special rights” rhetoric, and why Ms. Buten refers to legal recourse and monetary damages as “special rights.” What most people do not understand about the majority of protective ordinances is that they do not provide for complaint resolution through the courts. Complaint resolution is usually through Human Rights Commissions, and generally results in educational programs and consciousness raising, plus assistance for employers (for example) to help other workers gain compassion for the transgendered employee, client, or customer. Social service organizations, police and fire departments, and public hospitals are more directly affected by these ordinances than are small business owners and landlords. The transgendered and transexual activists who worked (and are still working) to put this type of legislation into place know that its greatest value lies in its ability to raise awareness and help end the cycles of abuse and shame that have long plagued our community.

Yes, this type of redress does have a cost, and the money comes out of city (or state) budgets that are funded by tax dollars. So the rhetoric goes: “Do you want your tax dollars to pay for dresses, wigs, and make‑up for deranged men? Do you want our businesses to be forced to hire a man in a dress? Or would you rather see that annoying pot‑hole on Main Street filled at last so your elderly grandmother won’t break her ankle trying to walk to the grocery market?” And the voters are supposed to respond, “Let those bastards buy their own dresses; we want that annoying pot‑hole filled. We want our tax dollars paying for the greater good of society, not individual freeloaders. We got our jobs because we were qualified, not because we wore dresses. We worked for our dresses (and suits), let them work for theirs.”

In fact, it is for the greater good that we fight for transgender rights, because the free access of all citizens to the rights and privileges of citizenship is what guarantees our freedom and our democracy. When we talk about transgender rights we are not talking about campaign promises of two wigs in every closet or forced hiring regulations; we are talking about the right of individuals not to be judged as deficient, incapacitated, unworthy, or unfit to hold jobs, to receive public services, to be parents, to make legitimate purchases, simply because we are transgendered or transexual.

As a transgendered person, Ms. Buten knows full well that our talents, experience, and willingness to work match and probably exceed that of the general population. And yet, not only doesn’t she hire other transgendered persons‑‑ she doesn’t hire those she terms “minority golddiggers” who want “free money.” She seems to think that if she did hire a transgendered worker, that person would be taking the job not to contribute an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages, but only to be waiting for an opportunity to claim discrimination, file a lawsuit, and reap the rewards. Never mind that there are no rewards to be reaped. It seems more important to businesspeople like Ms. Buten to prove to these “minority golddiggers” that their dream of instant riches won’t come true: not only will they not get rich, they won’t get work at all. That’ll show ’em.

Arguments like these really serve only one purpose: to keep the people who are somehow judged undesirable from having an equal status in this society. And members of the transgendered world who argue on behalf of the economic elite are victims, too. They are victims of a type of hate rhetoric that insidiously divides our own community into camps of “haves” and “have‑nots.” Divided and economically oppressed, we cannot hope to win legislative battles that give us equal rights in employment, housing, and public accommodation. Equal rights, not special rights. Divided and hounded by shame because no one listens or takes us seriously, how can we be expected to raise our individual (or collective) voices in protest against inhumane treatment, public ridicule, physical violence, arbitrary firings, and denial of services? Or are we just supposed to roll over and take it again and again?

Is it “special rights” to ask that the people who kill transgendered people be brought to justice? Well, in San Francisco not too long ago a sister was murdered and her body dumped in an alley, and when the police came they laughed and told her friends “She wasn’t murdered, she just fell off her high heels.” Is it “special rights” to expect decent treatment in a hospital during a life‑threatening illness? Well, in Mountain View, California, a pre‑op brother was asked why he was binding his chest, and when he confessed to being a pre‑op transexual (because he felt he should be honest) his lifesaving medication was withheld long enough for his condition to appreciably worsen while every janitor in the hospital mopped the floor around his bed <<in order to get a good look>>. We are asking that this type of treatment stop. We are asking to be treated as human beings. These are not special rights, they are equal rights, and if you don’t believe we need to fight for them you must be living in the land of Oz.

Furthermore, Ms. Buten’s assumption (in her article) that all transgendered persons are “girls” is offensive to transexual men. Rendering transgendered and transexual men invisible reveals another level of bias, one that hampers understanding and education, one that holds some people back and gives advantages to others. In fact, whether Ms. Buten ignores the existence of FTMs due to a belief that (for example) transsexual men are not employment risks, or whether she simply never thinks about the lives of FTMs, it is appalling to us that someone in her position does not hold a more global and encompassing view of our community. <<This is all the more important because Ms. Buten is Chair of the Board of IFGE, an organization which is supposedly dedicated to bettering the lives of transgendered and transexual persons. How ever can IFGE be effective in advancing our rights when its Board Chair does not believe we deserve any? It’s rather like electing David Dukes head of the NAACP, or Goebbels Chair of the Board of B’nai Brith.>>

None of us can deny the need for education about transgendered/transexual people among those who serve the general public. When we talk about gender education, this kind of human rights work is critical to our community’s survival, strength, and dignity. We hope Ms. Buten will reconsider her position with respect to human rights.