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Jan 10, 2012
I am involved with a political action committee which is focused on LGBTIQ rights in Philadelphia, as well as on the state and national levels, and I was tapped to be on a committee within that PAC which deals with issues and advocacy. We had our first meeting on Thursday night, it was only sparsely attended, due to the head of that committee being in Washington DC for most of the week, focusing on an LGBTIQ senior housing issue. However, it was a great opportunity for myself, the head of the committee, and a young lawyer who was curious in our work to share ideas and brainstorm on policy issues, some of which were outside the box in terms of what are queer issues. We will be having a platform convention in a month to discuss our priorities, but I, as an individual, would like to present a ranked list of what any LGBT group’s priorities should be on the federal level.
1 – SINGLE PAYER HEALTHCARE
I know it sounds like I have my priorities screwed up, but then against, some people think marriage is more important than anti-discrimination. The reality is, however, that "Obamacare" does not go far enough to address the healthcare disparities in the LGBTIQ community, whether it be a transperson not being able to afford appropriate care, a person with HIV/AIDS not able to procure meds, or even a middle-class same-gender couple who can’t pass on their health benefits as they would a "straight couple". Given that health is a human need in which it is imperative that it is addressed in order to be able to participate in society, it needs to be number one on any LGBT group’s list.
Now, we have single payer legislation on the federal level in the form of HR 676, however, it has been stalled. Much of the obstacles that single payer faces, besides opposition from the industry and the usual lies, is that not enough groups which focus on issues other than single payer have made it their issue. It’s one thing if doctors and physicians are calling for it, but if everyone who has a stake in this issue joins forces, it could be a reality instead of simply a concept.
Then, there is the issue of categorical exclusion of transition related procedures. While it may not be necessary to specifically enumerate trans related procedures, given the courts have been ruling in our favour more often, there may be an attempt to categorically exclude transition related procedures, and the LGBTIQ (and especially the T) community needs a seat at the table, for even though the American Medical Association supports coverage for transition related procedures, it is easier for those who have not had to experience being trans to throw us under the bus. But, even if this doomsday scenario does not come to pass and we have a single payer act passed without said categorical exclusions, it will still be a fight, but we need to get there before we cross that bridge.
Therefore, LGBTIQ groups should support single payer, as long as none of the medical issues that are important to the community are categorically excluded.
2 - ANTI-DISCRIMINATION
th the simple addition of gender identity and sexual orientation to federal anti-discrimination laws covering employment, housing, public accomodations, federal programs, or education, rather than piecemeal legislation such an ENDA, there can be accountability for those who discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The American Equality Bill is a piece of concept legislation whose time has come; not only is it comprehensive, addressing the aforementioned forms of discrimination, but removes transsexualism as a category excluded under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also addresses duties to accomodate, specifically enumerating what an employer should do surrounding dress codes and what all stakeholders should do surrounding gender segregated spaces. Then, if this bill ever passes, our work will still be cut out for us, when specific facets of society which systematically discriminate against the queer community, it will be a process to make sure these laws are actually ENFORCED.
The LGBTIQ community needs to press the federal government to pass full protections instead of piecemeal legislation. This has been successful on the local and state level, let’s bring it national.
That being said, if something like what was pulled in Massachusetts and Maryland is tried on the federal level, LGBTIQ groups should pull their support.
3 – SAFE SCHOOLS
We have come some way for LGBTIQ youth and their rights within schools; Title IX was found to protect all students who go to schools with federal funding from discrimination based on gender identity, and all schools must allow LGBTIQ groups to form and to be subject to the same rules as any other group. However, in terms of anti-bullying, many states, including Pennsylvania, have a way to go.
However, Senator Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) has introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would do the following:
The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require schools and districts receiving designated federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including conduct based on a student’s actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion. The Act would ensure that schools and school districts implement effective prevention programs in order to better prevent and respond to incidences of bullying and harassment and would require that states report data on incidences of bullying and harassment to the Department of Education.
I applaud this move from Senator Casey, however, might it be time for a National Anti-Bullying Bill Of Rights. The pulse of the nation is, understandably, heading towards support of stricter anti-bullying rules and to be both prevention and accountability based, and I have no reason not to believe that this couldn’t go national.
4 – TRANS RECOGNITION
On the federal level, the trans community recently had a victory in which the gender marker on passports may be changed with a physician’s note that the person is transitioning, rather than having a surgical threshold, which means that surgery must be performed in order to be recognized as the new gender. Furthermore, just this year, the Social Security Administration stopped sending gender no-match letters. However, in terms of its internal database, Social Security still operates under the surgical threshold, which could be harmful if another agency does not have a clear policy for changing gender (ie: the Pennsylvania Department Of Welfare). Even though social security cards do not denote the gender of the person, there still could be unintending consequences.
This is why not only should Social Security relax its protocol to require only that a doctor sign off that a person is living as their true gender in order to change the marker. Then, in addition to that, and only in addition to that, all other agencies that collect such biometric information should be subject to the aforementioned standard.
Or perhaps, like the federal government did with the drinking age, they should tie federal highway funding to allowing gender changes based on self-identification (backed up by a clinician), rather than anatomy.
5 – PUSH BACK AGAINST SCHOOL VOUCHERS
Just recently, a lesbian student, Ceara Sturgis, won a battle against her Mississippi school district; even though Mississippi’s anti-discrimination laws are woefully behind the times, she was able to get a positive result due to federal precedent.
However, if this school voucher craze gets its way, people like Ceara will not be able to have legal recourse:
Sen. Daylin Leach (D- Upper Merion) told the Delaware County Daily Times that under the voucher scheme, private schools can accept or reject any child they want.
The Senate voted down Leach’s amendment to ban discrimination by private schools on the basis of sexual orientation.
“Schools can cherry-pick the best or perhaps the most athletic kids and reject the rest,” he told the newspaper. “They are also free to discriminate against kids based on things like sexual orientation and willingness to participate in specific religious services.”
Added Leach, “Every dime of each voucher comes from the [public] school a child leaves. That means that after a number of children migrate to better schools with their vouchers, all the children remaining at the old, under-funded school will have to struggle along with even less money than they had before.”
Look, we all know that our public schools are struggling, hell, I’ve had to deal with a lot of crap from my old school district. However, the public school system can still do good, and there can be solutions that won’t force people to choose between a good education and being able to be oneself.
While much of the advocacy is happening on the state level, it is happening on the national level as well. While Obama has been somewhat wobbly on this issue, House Speaker John Boehner has been an adamant proponent, not only supporting vouchers on the federal level, but actively pushing to force Washington, DC’s school district to have a voucher program (this also begs the question of why some dude from Ohio wants to stick his nose in DC’s business).
This is something we must push back against.
These are just five suggestions. Notice how I did not include gender neutral marriage here, supposedly, the sacred cow of the movement, due to the fact that marriage does not help empower a broad base of the population, and that some of these planks (especially healthcare) would render certain issues surrounding marriage inequality moot.
So, if you are part of a PAC which works on LGBTIQ issues, it is imperative that you take this list into consideration.
-Jordan Gwendolyn Davis