New TSA Security Procedures Violate Privacy of Transgender Travelers

November 23, 2010

(San Francisco, CA, November 23, 2010)—The federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has implemented new security procedures that pose serious privacy concerns for all travelers, but pose particular risks for the transgender community.

Pursuant to TSA heightened security measures, numerous airports throughout the country have been outfitted with advanced imaging technology (AIT) machines—full body scanners, which reveal an intimate image of a passenger’s unclothed body. Passengers who are directed to these new machines but decline the scan, who set off a metal detector, or who are randomly selected for additional screening, will be subjected to an “enhanced pat-down,” which involves TSA officers using their fingers and palms to touch passengers’ inner thighs, groin area, and breast area.

In addition to being a gross and unnecessary invasion of privacy, these heightened security measures raise significant concerns for transgender travelers and any others who have bodies that may be perceived as deviating from the expectations of screeners. The AIT machine and the enhanced pat-down leave transgender passengers subject to subsequent screening measures and being “outed” as transgender to TSA staff and other passengers.

The National Center for Transgender Equality  has created a comprehensive guide   about the new policies, including travel tips for transgender travelers, what to do if problems are encountered in security lines, and information about AIT machines .

The National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center are working together to collect stories  from transgender people who were harassed and discriminated against in airport security lines under the new security procedures. The information—which can be submitted through an online form —will be reported to the TSA and individual airports to push for changes in policies, training, and attitudes.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“The new TSA security measures are unnecessarily intrusive and will seriously compromise the privacy and the safety of transgender and gender nonconforming passengers. Security screening is supposed to keep people safe, but such invasive and humiliating measures pose significant safety risks to transgender travelers by making them a target for verbal and sexual harassment, and worse. We urge TSA to work with NCLR, the Transgender Law Center, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and other organizations that are working to educate the TSA about the need for effective safety screening measures that do not subject transgender travelers to harassment and inappropriate scrutiny. We need security procedures that respect privacy needs and protect the safety of all passengers.”


Making Meaning of Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 18, 2010

By NCLR Policy Assistant Jaan Williams

It was 2004, and I had volunteered for my school’s Queer Straight Alliance to type the individual names of transgender women and men who had been murdered on cards for Transgender Day of Remembrance.

I sat in the computer lab at school, silently typing the name of each person, where they died, details of their murders, and learning with each key stroke about the violence that claimed their lives and how unsafe it is for trans people to simply exist.

The following summer, I realized, I too was transgender, setting off a stream of emotions that were far from the joy and relief I should have experienced in finally understanding who I was. Instead, at that moment, I flashed back to the names of the women and men I had silently typed the year before, recalling the ways they had been killed. In that moment, all I understood was fear. I shook with sobs, tears rolling down my face, as I thought about what my life could be as a trans man.

It’s been five years since I began to transition. I pass now, and look male enough that most people don’t notice me on the street. But I still fear for myself, my friends, and countless others. And I can’t ever shake the feelings that I had when I first realized I was trans, or stop thinking about the countless women and men who lost their lives simply for being who they were.

According to a 2009 study conducted by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), 40 percent of hate murders committed against members of the LGBT community were against trans women of color. I cannot be content with the relative safety that I am afforded while knowing that trans women of color in my community are at such high risk of being targeted for violence.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, set for Saturday, November 20, is a day of remembering, of bearing witness, of not forgetting the names of the women and men who died, of demanding an end to the violence. This Saturday, I’ll remember Tyli’a “NaNa Boo” Mack, a trans person murdered in Washington D.C. after I moved here in 2009, and the first for whom I attended a memorial service.

If hate violence stems from a belief that some lives don’t matter, remembering those lives proves unequivocally that they do. We remember them because they were—and are—a part of us and our community, and because their lives run parallel to our own.

Someday, I hope that there will no more names to add to the list of women and men who we’ll remember on Saturday. But until that day, I’ll work to end the violence against our community.


Court of Appeals Rules Against Christian Legal Society, Denies Request to Reopen Challenge to University’s Non-Discrimination Policy

November 17, 2010

Today the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied the Christian Legal Society’s request to present additional evidence in Christian Legal Society v. Wu, a case challenging a California law school’s policy that student groups may not discriminate based on sexual orientation, religion, or other bases. Today’s ruling brings an end to six years of litigation in this case, which began in 2004 when the Christian Legal Society (CLS) sued the University of California Hastings College of the Law because CLS wished to exclude gay and non-Christian students. In June, the Supreme Court of the United States rejected CLS’ challenge and held that public universities are free to require funded student groups to comply with non-discrimination policies. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Ninth Circuit to determine whether any additional issues remained to be resolved in the case. The Ninth Circuit ruled today that the case is over and that the Supreme Court’s opinion upholding Hastings’ policy stands as the final judgment in the case.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, along with cooperating counsel Paul Smith of Jenner & Block LLP, represents Hastings Outlaw, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender student organization at Hastings, which intervened in the case to defend the constitutionality of the non-discrimination policy. Hastings College of the Law is represented by Gregory Garre of Latham & Watkins LLP and Ethan Schulman of Crowell & Moring LLP.

Statement by Shannon Minter, Esq., NCLR Legal Director:

“Today’s ruling brings a welcome close to six years of intense litigation, including a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that colleges and universities may adopt non-discrimination policies that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. Hastings Law School did not adopt its non-discrimination policy to suppress any group’s freedom of speech, but only to ensure that all campus organizations are open to all students. Now that the Supreme Court’s decision is final, colleges and universities have a green light to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to participate in student activities, without fear of being threatened with litigation by anti-gay groups.”


Part Seven: The Truth Will Set You Free

November 12, 2010

By Huong Nguyen

Year: 1995

After an hour and a half of grilling me about my relationship with a male cadet, the major allows me to leave.

“Aaarrrggghhh!” I let out a roar from the depths of my soul. I’m crazy mad and full of adrenaline. I want to bite the major’s head off, chew it up, and spit it on the ground. The bastard! How could he do that to me? I have worked so hard for this place.

When I get back to my dorm room, the girl is there. One look at me, and she keeps a safe distance. I tell her what happened. Blow-by-blow. My feelings of rage. Indignation. Violation.

After my tirade, I sit down on the bed. She cautiously approaches, and puts her hand on my back. Her comforting touch sends me over the top, and I start crying uncontrollably.

~~~

When I was young, I had a recurring dream. It’s nighttime in the dream. The moon is bright, and shining on the black ocean water. The waves are calm. I’m lying on my back, almost on top of the water. Beneath me are letters of the alphabet—big ones, pushing me up, keeping me from sinking into the ocean. I can’t make out the letters, but I’m certain they spell “America.”

In moments of darkness, when I think about the unfairness of life, I go back to the dream. I tell myself, “Quit feeling sorry for yourself. Suck it up. You are lucky to be alive, to live in this country.” And I also remind myself that I’m here for a reason. Thousands died trying to get here, but they didn’t die for nothing. They died so that I and others could live, and experience what they couldn’t—a life free from government oppression. The freedom to think what you want, say what’s on your mind, and be around whomever you choose.
Essentially, the freedom to be yourself. That’s what America represented to them. And that’s why they were willing to risk their lives to be free. I never fully understood it, until now.

The irony. Why can’t I, or any gay soldier, share in those freedoms? We’re willing to die to protect this great country. And to those who would deny us full citizenship—we’re also willing to die to defend your asses, your freedoms, and even your right to go to the ballot box or court to hoard those freedoms for yourselves, and not share them with us. And here’s the kicker. It’s a doozy. You also made the law so that we can never defend ourselves. Can never call you out on your selfishness. Can never lead full lives. Because if we dare to do so, you will take everything—years of blood, sweat, and tears—away from us. You’re freaking brilliant. Give yourselves a pat on the back for being such greedy bastards. And, for being so incredibly un-American.

I can’t live like this. No honor, integrity, or dignity. But whatever I do, this I know: I wasn’t saved from the ocean only to be swallowed by fear.

~~~

The girl holds me in her arms until I stop crying. Unprompted, she tells me, “I’ll do whatever you want me to do. If you want me to go back in the closet, I will do that.”
I don’t respond. I’m emotionally exhausted. Seeing this, she begins to sing a song from the musical, West Side Story:

There’s a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us
Somewhere.

. . .

There’s a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we’re halfway there.
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there
Somehow,
Some day,
Somewhere.

Read Part One: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way, Part Two: Light Bulb, Part Three: A New Identity, Part Four: The Education of Private Nguyen, Part Five: The Girl, and Park Six: No Air of Huong Nguyen’s diary blog series.


LGBT Elders Need Public Housing

November 5, 2010

by Daniel Redman, Esq. | NCLR Elder Law Project Fellow

A New York Times editorial reports that there is nowhere near enough public housing across the country.  Only a quarter of folks who qualify get a lease.  The folks who win that lottery – sometimes languishing ten years on a waiting list – are likely to find apartment buildings falling apart for lack of funding.  Who does this affect?  According to the NYT, “a majority” of applicants “are elderly or disabled.”  That includes many LGBT elders.  LGBT elders are far more likely to live in poverty than straight elders.  Nearly ten percent of older lesbian couples live below the poverty line, compared to 4.5% of straight elders.  Studies bear this out in New York, Chicago, and San Diego.  For LGBT elders of color and those who live alone, the rate of poverty is likely even higher.

Call your member of Congress to tell them to support Rep. Keith Ellison’s bill to restore funding for public housing!


Part Six: No Air

November 4, 2010

By Huong Nguyen

Year: 1995

My American dream is turning into a nightmare.

I’m sitting in a major’s office, being grilled about an alleged “interpersonal problem” with a male cadet. A few days ago, that cadet and I had a knock-down, drag-out argument in front of the entire battalion. It was over his refusal to follow orders to prepare for a field training exercise. I couldn’t let his challenge of my authority go unchecked in front of everyone. But that’s insubordination, I thought, not an “interpersonal problem.”

You see, the cadet and I went on a few dates last year, until I called it off. He was simply—what’s the right word? Uninteresting? Bingo. I didn’t know exactly why, until now. Lately, he’s been acting strangely. Like, last weekend. The girl and I woke up to the sound of rocks thrown outside my dorm room. When I peeked out my window, it was him.

~~~

For the past several months, I tried to break it off numerous times with the girl. “You can’t be here. We can’t do this. OK, you can stay the night, but it has to stop tomorrow.” Each time, though, I inexplicably didn’t lock the proverbial closet door, and she marched in and hauled me back out. Persistent, that girl. Or maybe she sensed I didn’t really want her to leave.

We had no choice but to hide, and lie to everyone—friends, family, co-workers, strangers. While my dorm room was generally safe, the world outside was a minefield. Since I was constantly in uniform, and she was a known gay activist on campus, we had to devise ways to see each other, but not be seen with each other. Before going to classes in the morning, I would leave my room key for her in my mailbox. If she used the key to return to my dorm room before me, she wouldn’t open the door for anyone—except me, of course. We had a code—I would kick the bottom of the door three times so she would know it was me, and she would open it.

We also had other rules. Like no coming to or leaving my room at the same time, or using the same route. No public interactions, unless we were with our dormitory co-workers. And, in case someone inquired about the time we spent together, we made up stock stories about being somewhere else.

The deceit was thorough and necessary. But it also exacted a heavy price on both of us. Our grades suffered. Our emotional and spiritual well-being took a hit. And, most unfortunate, our relationships with others—especially close friends and loved ones—withered. How could we stay close to them, when we couldn’t share the most fundamental parts of our lives with them?

We were constantly looking behind us, literally and figuratively. One time, a cadet and I were studying in my room when he left with my key to fetch something from his room. Meanwhile, the girl came by for something else. I ushered her in, and completely forgot about the cadet and that he had the key. When the key hit the lock, she and I both looked at each other in utter terror. She quickly made some excuse about work, and left like the wind.

Another time, we snuck out for some dinner and were pretty proud of ourselves for doing so undetected. While in a dark parking lot, one of our co-workers came out of nowhere and surprised the heck out of us. We must’ve jumped a few feet in the air, and away from each other. We again told more stories to cover our tracks.

And, just a few days ago, I overslept my alarm clock, and was late for a field training exercise. A cadet was sent to my room, and the girl nearly opened the door for him. Her half-awake self, thankfully, remembered that she didn’t hear three kicks on the bottom of the door.

~~~

The major barks at me, “When did you first meet him? Have you spent time together outside the unit? Are you friends? Have you had sexual relations with each other?”

Sexual relations? Wait, I thought I was here because of the cadet’s insubordination. Why exactly are you interrogating me when he’s the one eff’ing stalking me? In your reptilian brain, this could only be a relationship gone sour.

“I’m not into dudes!” I want to yell at the major. To defend myself. To tell the truth. To stop hiding. To stop lying. To just … stop. But all I can do is sit, keeping my thoughts to myself.

Read Part One: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way, Part Two: Light Bulb, Part Three: A New Identity, Part Four: The Education of Private Nguyen and Part Five: The Girl of Huong Nguyen’s diary blog series.


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