Ok. As promised, a more complete explanation.
The Orange County school board has an anti-discrimination policy. Like ya do. Recently, they decided to follow the lead of a few other counties in Florida and update said policy to bring it more in line with federal law. This meant extending the protections to LGBT students and school employees.
Now, yes, the federal law existed already, and theoretically extended those protections. However, it’s not uncommon in the least for local laws to copy and reflect the broader laws (hence having a county-specific discrimination policy in the first place), in part to strengthen, reinforce, and show commitment to upholding said laws. Which was apparently sorely needed. As State Representative Joe Saunders (more on him later) pointed out, the impetus for this change was LGBT teachers lamenting that students in their schools were being bullied, and they were afraid to show sufficient support for them for fear that they may lose their jobs if they became the role models these kids needed.
Anyway. Seems pretty straightforward: federal law says X, local law does not yet reflect X, to the detriment of local people – amend local law to, therefore, reflect X. Simple, right?
And then along came a spider.
The Liberty Council, headed locally by John Stemburger, got wind of this. And they (to use the technical term) flipped their goddamn shit.
This was terrible! This was a menace! Something has to be done to save the children! WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN.
Anyway, they organized the silliest faction of local parents, pastors, etc. to come to the board meeting and oppose this. Wearing blue, to identify themselves.
At which point, those who supported this move (and who’d pretty much assumed it was a done deal, because really, it should have been) reacted by organizing in response, to come out and wear red.
I learned about it from Kaoru Negisa, roughly 30 hours before it all went down. So naturally I rearranged my work schedule, ignored silly human needs like eating, and even (gasp!) did laundry so that I and the Ricebaby could be there with (red) bells on.
It was, uh, instructive.
Over 70 people signed up to speak, and speak they did. For hours. And hours. Kaoru gave a stirring speech, the transcription of which can be found on his blog. I also got to speak, eventually (and by “eventually” I mean “waaay past Susannah’s bedtime, and very nearly past mine”). I’m not cool enough to have a transcription – I had notes, but Babygirl ate them, and the parts that survived are too soggy to be legible. But here’s a rough approximation:
My name is Kristy — —, and this is Susannah. We live at —- —- Orlando, FL, —–, and I’m speaking in support of these changes. (…ok, look. It’s not exactly difficult to find my full name – the one I use socially as well as the legal one – or even my address, if you really work at it. I’m not exactly protecting myself here, I know. But dammit, I can at least make people work for it!)
There are a lot of stickers here tonight that say ‘Protect Children.’ (There were.) But from a lot of the arguments I’ve heard, the real desire seems to be to protect some rights of some children, at the expense of others.
Why should this conversation be in our schools? Why should our children be exposed to this? (I asked, referencing an argument that had been repeated ad nauseum all night.) Well, because some of those children are LGBT. We have gay, lesbian, and bisexual students in our schools. Heck, we have transgender students in our elementary schools! You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to agree with it, but they are there. Students are taking part in this conversation whether you approve of it or not. And what we say or don’t say sends a message.
When LGBT students are bullied and don’t have anyone they feel safe turning to, that harms children. When straight teachers can talk freely about their wives or husbands, but gay teachers are afraid to do so and thus cannot provide positive, visible role models, that harms children. That marginalization and feeling of isolation, as we’ve seen, can lead to self-harm and even suicide.
A lot of people have spoken about the Bathroom Issue. (Because you can’t discuss transgender rights without discussing the Bathroom Issue. It’s like a law.) So, ok, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about the fact that the major fear being raised, that men or boys will pretend to be transgender to gain access to girls’ bathrooms – this is, quite simply, not a thing that happens. It’s not a thing that has happened. And there’s no evidence to suggest that it will happen.
But here is what does happen.
When transgender children are forced to use the bathroom of their assigned sex rather than their gender, they are at a much greater, ACTUAL risk of physical assault and of sexual assault. Let me reiterate this: in seeking to protect children from a bogeyman that does not exist, what you’re actually doing is putting real children in the path of real harm.
I’m sorry that the idea of a transgender child sharing a bathroom with your child makes you feel squeamish. But your squeamishness does not outweigh that child’s need to be safe. I’m sorry that you don’t want to have these uncomfortable conversations with your children – I don’t either! But how much more uncomfortable must the conversation be, to tell a parent that their child took their own life because they were bullied and could find no one to support them?
This issue matters to me, because my daughter is going to be in these schools in a few short years. I want them to be a safe place, for her and for everyone. These changes need to be passed, to strengthen and reinforce the existing laws – because they aren’t effective yet. LGBT teachers and students still feel afraid and marginalized.
I’m asking you to approve the changes, and to protect ALL the children.
Not as good as Kaoru’s, perhaps, but I liked it.
You’ll notice that it was very restrained, and that I did not once call people out on their appalling bigotry and ignorance. I didn’t yell. I didn’t curse. I didn’t point out that in MY religion, motherfuckers, LGBT folk are actually the special favorites of the goddess Inanna, so unless you really want to have a Christians vs. Pagans bitchfight, probably best to leave your invisible best friend out of it, mmmkay?
I was pretty proud of myself for that. It took some doing.
Because, see, while there is definitely a place for snark and sarcasm and undiluted rage (see: the rest of this blog), it’s a pretty basic principle of public speaking that you need to balance passion and rationality. A little bit of emotion is very persuasive. Too much, and you come off like the woman on the verge of tears at the thought that her precious darlings might be forced to learn that transgender people exist. (Gasp!)
Anyway. Some thoughts:
* Susannah-banana was good as gold. I swear, she was born to be an activist baby. She only got fussy late in the night, and I took her out and walked her until she fell asleep in my arms – until then, she was calm and cheerful and took in the new surroundings with the same solemn curiosity with which she approaches everything else in life. About a million and a half people, in both red and blue, stopped me to tell me how gorgeous and how well-behaved she was. (As if I didn’t know!)
* There was a weird code of conduct in place, where during breaks, nobody was allowed to get into the issues in the hallway. To a certain extent, it was frustrating – vocal blue-folk would come over to praise Suse, and I had to bite my tongue to keep from replying “Thaaanks! But that’d mean more if you weren’t openly supporting discrimination against her great-uncles!” However, it was also kind of a relief. Tensions were so high in the room, during the breaks I don’t think anyone had any desire to get into it any further. We all needed a breather. It was an interesting display of self-imposed civility.
* Joe Saunders. State Representative Joe Saunders is… well, he’s just a peach. He’s a mensch. He’s… he’s Good Guy Greg! Seriously, this guy was just awesome incarnate. I loved his speech, loved how he came across as a balm of rationality after the vitriolic bigotry of Mr. Stemburger. In my bias, however, I loved even more the goofy happy-dance he did for Susannah, and the giant dorky grin he gave when she rewarded said dance with a smile and a giggle. Seriously, that is EXACTLY what I expect from my elected officials – dancing to amuse my daughter.
(All joking aside, it was deeply cool to meet Joe. I knew OF him from my parents, who’d met him through various ACLU activities, but I hadn’t actually met him. Having done so, I now have political-crush on the guy. He’s sweet, he’s smart, he’s funny, and he has a refreshing sincerity that you don’t always find in politicians.)
* Speaking of my parents, I had to call home and say the words I never, ever expected to say to my father: “Dad, turn on Fox News!” Because I was interviewed by Fox 35 on my way out the door – to provide “balance,” the guy said.
Sure enough, the clip was poorly edited and some context was missing (and, seriously, do I really sound like that? Yikes,) and at the very beginning it almost sounds like I’m on the opposing side – but I think the main message comes through. That being, there is a huge difference between “discussing one’s sex life” with students, and just being open about who you are. Most of my teachers, I knew them. I knew their hobbies and where they went on vacation. I heard about their spouses. In some cases, I babysat their kids. We chatted. We shot the shit. Mr. [name redacted] never told us intimate secrets of the bedroom, but when he shared a funny story of the silly thing his wife did over the summer, we knew he was heterosexual. The ability to just share that sort of thing is a freedom straight people take for granted. If it had been his husband who had made that faux pas, he would have had to think twice before sharing it, wondering if anyone would or could use it to get him fired or ostracized. And that is, just so we’re clear, Not Cool.
Anyway – the earlier video from Fox had Stemburger being refuted by the aforementioned Awesome Joe Saunders. This one had him refuted by… well, me, basically. While I don’t think those are shoes I can fill, I’m still choosing to view this as a compliment 🙂
* The sheer amount of privilege on display was staggering. I heard people complain that people being openly gay or trans around their children made them uncomfortable. That being forced to have these conversations with their children was unfair. That restricting anti-gay hate speech might infringe on their freedom of religion. That starting the board meeting with a moment of silence instead of a prayer was offensive.
OMFG cry me a fucking river.
Oh waah, you have a momentary twinge of discomfort. Oh waah, you can’t shelter your children from other people’s reality as long as you might have liked. Oh waah, you’re no longer allowed to push your religion on others who don’t share it. Go cry, emo kid.
Meanwhile families mourn. We went to a Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony a couple weeks back. We heard the names being read. Every name represents a family that is facing this upcoming holiday season as their first Christmas without their beloved son or daughter. People are killed, here, in America, because of their gender identity, and because their murderers feel safe knowing how very unlikely it is that these murders will be investigated or prosecuted. Because of attitudes like the ones on display last night.
Tell me. Imagine what it must feel like to be in those families’ shoes. Put yourself, for one minute, in the position of a mother who’s just learned that her precious child has been murdered. Or committed suicide. Or has been beaten and bullied so much that they’ve run away from home, so that you can’t even know if they’re safe, if they’re even alive. Imagine lying awake all night, terrified from uncertainty or sobbing when you finally know the awful truth. Be in those shoes. And then tell me, look me in the eye and tell me, how fucking, goddamned oppressed you are.
Or better yet, shut the fuck up, you ignorant, naive piece of shit.
(As for the “freedom of religion” bit – look, if you don’t want your religion called bigotry, don’t hide behind religion to be a bigot. It’s really pretty simple.)
* …Whew. I was apparently angrier than I’d realized in that last bit. Ummm… kittens are cute! Yay kittens!
* I do believe that prejudice against a privileged class is possible, and that it’s no less assholish than prejudice against a less-privileged class. I am, therefore, trying very hard not to develop a knee-jerk dislike of Christianity. After all, I used to be one. I know and love a lot of Christians – including Susannah’s godfather, my Otter-In-Crime – and they’re all awesome people. I read Fred Clark and am consistently reminded that the best of Christianity is really, really darn good.
But then I listen to people like the speakers at this meeting, and am reminded anew that the worst of Christianity is pretty amazingly bad.
Is there ever a threshold? Is there a point where you encounter enough virulent hatred dripping from self-proclaimed Christian mouths, where you can just go “Enough; I’m distrusting everyone who identifies as Christian on principle, until you demonstrate to me why I shouldn’t”?
The part of me that believes in principles and treating people the way I want to be treated – my higher self – says no. But damned if my lower, less-enlightened self hasn’t started flinching proactively as soon as someone starts throwing “Jesus” or “God’s will” into their everyday conversations.
* On a lighter note, I still find it funny as fuck that you really could tell which side was speaking by listening for just how histrionic the voice sounded. (I’m not even counting the “New World Order” woman. I’ll let the other side take a mulligan for that one.)
* Ok. On the transgender bathroom issue. Am I aware that it’s More Complicated Than That? Yes. Of course. I expect the public conversation on transgender issues to continue for years, and honestly I’m not convinced there will ever be a completely satisfactory solution. I don’t agree with those who oppose transgender rights, but I can understand SOME of their arguments, and on some issues, I’m willing to admit it’s something rational people can honestly disagree on.
Basic human needs and safety have to have to have to come before more esoteric conversations of “what is gender” and “how do we define safe spaces?” Emotional needs are important, but physical needs come first. The need to use the bathroom, and to not be in physical danger while doing so, is a basic, physical need. I am more than willing to engage in a deep philosophical conversation on the larger, more general issues, but dear gods, let people pee in peace.
* Two individuals, a black man and a disabled man, stood to speak, arguing that comparing LGBT rights to other civil rights issues was insulting to them.
My first thought was “Good lord, I wonder what Monica Roberts, with her emphasis on the intersection of race and transgender issues, would have to say about that.”
Past that… honestly, I do hesitate to respond, for fear of being insensitive. But my cautious response is this: I don’t think anyone is arguing that being gay, etc. is the same as being black or disabled. I DO think that the argument that being gay is a “choice” is disingenuous. Choice or not, though, I’m still not trying to say that the various forms of discrimination are the same.
What I am saying, however, is this. As an outsider – a white, cisgender, able-bodied woman who is neither L, nor G, nor T, and only marginally B – the moral guideline that tells me that discriminating against black or disabled people is wrong is the same guideline that tells me that discriminating against LGBT people is wrong. The circumstances may not be analogous, but the reasoning is similar. These are characteristics that people possess, but they do not define those people. Treating people as though a) they are limited to one trait, b) all people who share that trait are assumed to be the same, and c) that trait is assumed to be “bad” in some way, is a Bad Thing. Regardless of what the trait in question is or how said treatment is expressed. Savvy?
* …on a completely unrelated, and much lighter note, is it wrong that I find transmen disproportionately attractive? Because I so do.
That’s about all I got for now; Kaoru’s covered the rest. Again, the short version is that we won. (We won, I might point out, at 1:30. For a meeting that began at 5:30. Su and I got to cut out “early”, due to the pity of the board chair who bumped us up in the order, but still – it wasn’t resolved until Oh-Fuck-Thirty in the goddamn morning.
Still. Yay winning!