Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Legislation is no laughing matter - House leaders yuk it up over bill on changing gender on birth certificates

Legislation is no laughing matter - House leaders yuk it up over bill on changing gender on birth certificates
April 25, 2007
Copyreight by The Chicago Sun-Times

Illinois legislators really yukked it up last week over a proposed law that would have made it easier for individuals who have switched genders to get a new birth certificate.

Before the House swatted down the legislation on a 32-78 vote, the Republican floor leader joked that he'd thought about getting a sex-change operation, too, so that he'd smell better and wouldn't have to shave. Not to be outdone, the Democrat presiding over the debate called for the vote in a falsetto voice. Funny guys.

I totally missed the story, but it didn't escape the attention of my friend, Diane Schroer, an Oak Lawn native who some of you will recall from past columns was still known as Dave when we roomed together in college and later when she spent 25 years in the Army, much of it in Special Forces.

Diane, it turns out, just had her sexual reassignment surgery a month ago.

There is a certain amount of pain associated with such an operation, as any man can well imagine.

'I'm just amazed'
And Diane admits to still being a little sore.

"I would be remiss if I didn't mention there was some physical discomfort," Diane says in the understated way that old friends will recognize.

But what really hit a sore spot with her was to read about the insensitivity of our lawmakers.

"I'm just amazed," she says.

Diane hadn't expected to be talking about her operation so soon, if ever. She's not the type to recount her surgeries.

But since going public with the story of her gender change almost two years ago, she has found that her willingness to put a human face on transgender issues has had positive results.

It's one thing to make fun of somebody in the abstract, but quite another to make fun of somebody like Diane, who is living in the Washington, D.C., area and supporting herself as a consultant on high-risk homeland security programs.

When a "regular guy" like Diane steps forward to say that she spent her life as a woman trapped inside a man's body, it causes other people to at least consider the possibility that such things are possible.

Diane says she never thought it was necessary to have her male genitalia removed to be regarded as a woman. She's been dressing and otherwise presenting herself full time as a woman for two years now.

But she says she always intended to do it as soon as she could afford it, looking upon the operation, known as a vaginalplasty, simply as "taking care of a detail that needed to be cleaned up."

"To me it wasn't the focal point of my transition. But it was something that was important to me. I just wanted to finish the job," she says.

Opponents say measure is too vague
The operation was performed March 21 in Scottsdale, Ariz., by Dr. Toby Meltzer, who Diane regards as the nation's foremost practitioner of sexual reassignment surgery, having performed about 3,000 procedures. It cost her about $25,000, which includes breast augmentation. She returned home eight days later.

The following day she sent off a packet to the Illinois Department of Public Health requesting her new birth certificate.

She's entitled to it. Illinois law currently allows individuals to change the gender on their birth certificate if a doctor certifies that he or she has undergone a sex-change operation.

Proponents of the defeated legislation say it would have opened up the birth certificate changes to those who had the surgery outside the country, where a large number of the procedures are performed and at much lower cost. There is no insurance coverage for this sort of thing.

But opponents say the measure also would have opened up legal recognition of gender changes to individuals who had undergone alternative procedures short of surgery, such as hormone therapy. They think that is too vague.

"If you're living in the gender, that should be enough," says Diane, who recognizes legitimate concerns over knowing where to draw the legal line, but thinks they're being overblown. "It's not like I'm waltzing back and forth across the gender continuum, if you will."

It's a homeland security issue
The issue is more than psychological, Diane says.

In the era of the Real I.D. Act, there are practical concerns of having legal documents that match the gender one presents to the world. Diane found that out for herself a few months ago when she was pulled out of line while trying to get through airport security in Montreal.

"This really affects such a small number of people proportionally, but it's such large effect on their lives," Diane says.

When she was still known as Dave, Diane was an Airborne Ranger with more than 450 jumps to her credit.

If our state legislators have the balls, they should invite her down to Springfield and she can tell them all about it.

Illinois lawmakers ridicule transgenders during debate
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press
April 25, 2007

A bill to make it possible for many transgenders to have their Illinois birth certificate changed to reflect their current gender was voted down in the Illinois House April 17 after a debate that its sponsor called “a race to the bottom.”

The bill had sailed through a House committee, winning unanimous Democratic and Republican support. But its sponsor, Ill. state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), said anti-GLBT crusaders decided to make it an issue when it went to the House floor and apparently convinced a few right-wing lawmakers to ridicule transgenders in the process.

“Maybe you went somewhere and a voodoo doctor said you were now a man, where you had been a woman,” Rep. Bill Black (R-Danville) said as the bill was debated.

As some legislators laughed, Black continued, “I’ve often thought that perhaps I was a female trapped in a male body. I know—it scares me, too. I wish I didn’t have to shave everyday. …I’d like to smell better. I’d like to have softer skin.”

Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) followed Black’s lead, asking whether the state might start issuing sex-change documents to neutered deer. Even Rep. Art Turner (D-Chicago), who voted for the bill, switched to a mocking falsetto voice as he called out from the podium, “Have all voted who wish?”
The bill failed 32-78.

“I never expected it and I never in my 12 years in the House heard such awful things,” Feigenholtz said. “It was so premeditated and vicious.”
Equality Illinois political director Rick Garcia compared it to boys trying to prove their masculinity.

“It was a ‘Quién es más macho?’ moment,” Garcia said, referring to a Spanish phrase that means, “Who is more macho?”

“From this discussion we saw the crude, the crass and the vile side of the Illinois General Assembly,” Garcia said. “That our legislators would be so cold-hearted and crude to joke about and disparage our community’s most vulnerable members is shameless.”

The head of Illinois Gender Advocates, the state’s largest transgender advocacy group, said the remarks could potentially be harmful.

“It’s infuriating for members of the transgender community to hear government officials make jokes like that,” Stevie Conlon said. “When you make fun of people, you’re really setting up a situation that leads to violence against people.”

Conlon said the discussion illustrates how much ignorance there is in the Legislature about transgender issues.

“IGA and our community has our work cut out for us in terms of education,” Conlon said.

Illinois law currently allows people to have their gender changed on their Illinois birth certificates if they present an affidavit from a doctor who performed a sex change procedure on them. But many transgenders have such procedures done overseas and Illinois law doesn’t recognize affidavits from foreign doctors. The law would have allowed an Illinois doctor to simply certify that a person has undergone a sex change, including transgenders who do so through hormone therapy and don’t have sex change surgery.

Conlon said that would be a life-changing advance for some transgenders.
“People might not realize that because of the way records are checked by potential employers, there is a risk of being outed for transgender people,” Conlon said. “You can have someone who otherwise fits in with society and is then outed that way.”

The current law especially discriminates against transgender men, Conlon said, who can face prohibitive charges of more than $100,000 for sex change surgery in the U.S.

Feigenholtz said she would bring the bill back.

“I have not decided when, but I’m not done,” Feigenholtz said. “This bill will come back and it will pass. It’s a matter of when, not if. …I’m not going to walk away from the transgender community.”

State Reps Mock Trans Bill
by Amy Wooten
Copyright by The Windy City Times

Last week, during a short debate on the House floor regarding a bill that would make it easier for transgender individuals to obtain a new birth certificate, three Illinois representatives decided to make a mockery of the issue.

Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville; Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mohamet; and Rep. Art Turner, D-Chicago, joked and made comments, such as Black comparing non-surgical sex changes to voodoo and comparing transgender people to animals ( the debate following an item about neutering deer for population control ) . The Associated Press reported that Black’s remarks were greeted by hoots from colleagues.

In an e-mail to Windy City Times, John Peller of AIDS Foundation of Chicago said, “The debate on this bill yesterday was one of the most offensive I have ever seen in the state Capitol.”

The bill, HB 1732, failed by a vote of 78-32 on April 17. The bill’s sponsor was Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, who expressed to the media afterwards that she was ashamed of her colleagues.

The legislation would have amended the Vital Records Act so a new birth certificate could be obtained by an individual after receiving an affidavit by a physician that states he or she has undergone medical treatment ( surgery or hormonal ) . This would make it easier for those who have received treatment outside the U.S. Current Illinois law requires an affidavit by a U.S. doctor who performed the treatment.

Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Unions ( ACLU ) of Illinois, described the legislators’ response as disappointing, distressing and “shameful.”

There really is no other vulnerable group in the state of Illinois whom these legislators would take up an issue on behalf of and mock,” he continued.

Yohnka added that is this behavior had occurred in Chicago’s city council, it would be a completely different story. “Frankly, I don’t think that it can be ignored, as we sometimes do, simply because Chicago is three and a half hours from Springfield,” he said.

“Illinois citizens look to our legislators to help resolve problems, not make a mockery of them. It’s this kind of hurtful language that dehumanizes groups of people and perpetuates and legitimizes a culture of hate. We deserve better from our public officials,” Illinois National Organization for Women president Bonnie Grabenhofer said in a statement released by the organization.

The issue of the mockery has even affected organizations outside of Illinois. In a statement released by the national organization, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman said, “Let Don Imus be a lesson for us all. There will be no more profit or pleasure to be gained by describing the lives of others in contemptuous and derisive terms. We’ve had enough of trash talk from public figures and elected leaders.”

The Task Force urged legislators to learn more about transgender people in their districts and state, and stressed that educational discussions with Illinois legislators need to take place.

On Illinois legislators and transgenders
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press
April 25, 2007

Illinois state Reps. Chapin Rose and Bill Black have sunk to new lows with their repugnant and boorish comments. Comparisons of transgender people to animals have no place in civil discourse about public policies intended to make the lives of transgender people easier and less onerous. Black’s mocking and diminution of transgender people and their hard work to change their gender identity is nothing but a transparent attempt to question the humanity, the dignity and the bodily integrity of transgender people.

Such remarks are an insult to the extraordinary work of Equality Illinois, which championed the passage of transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination legislation in the state.

The Associated Press story reports that Black’s remarks were greeted with “hoots from his colleagues.” They will all do themselves and their constituents a great service by learning more about the transgender people in their districts and in their state. We urge that the educational discussions with Illinois legislators proceed in due haste before these buffoons are presented with another serious policy proposal that concerns transgender people.

As public debate over how we treat each other goes forward, let Don Imus be a lesson for us all. There will be no more profit or pleasure to be gained by describing the lives of others in contemptuous and derisive terms. We’ve had enough of trash talk from public figures and elected leaders.

Matt Foreman, executive director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Washington, D.C.


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