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As most of us are probably aware, the conservative movement’s attacks on trans people and trans rights have gotten particularly ugly in recent months. Most prominent in the spotlight has been North Carolina, where Republican governor Pat McCrory recently signed HB2 into law, which, among other things, requires everyone in North Carolina to use gender-segregated bathrooms in public institutions according to the gender appearing on their birth certificate.
The radical law is part of a wider political wave aimed at creating obstacles in the lives of ordinary trans people (among other communities) that has taken hold across parts of the U.S., including the underhanded campaign that last November resulted in the overturning of Houston’s anti-discrimination ordinance HERO as well as the recent passing of a “Religious Freedom” bill in Mississippi that, like HB2, unambiguously codifies discrimination into law.
As a native North Carolinian, it’s difficult to express my disappointment; while the conservative movement has often had influence, I’ve always thought of my home state as having a more complex balance of political forces and ideas. Unfortunately, supposedly moderate Governor McCrory has played into the reactionary forces within his party, likely as part of a cynical re-election ploy.
While it is not yet entirely clear exactly how these kinds of laws will ultimately impact people’s lives in day-to-day circumstances, there are already indications what may be on the horizon. It’s rather obvious that the bathroom aspect of HB2 cannot possibly be enforced in any consistent manner; however there have already been signs that it may enable targeted harassment of trans people by law enforcement and civilians alike.
It should also be kept in mind that trans people, especially trans women, can face harassment and discrimination with regard to bathroom usage even in the absence of such laws. A recent story from neighboring South Carolina illustrates the point in an unfortunate way: at White Knoll High School in Lexington, a young trans girl named Anna is facing expulsion simply for using the ladies washroom.
Anna had been told she could not use the gendered bathrooms of either sex, but instead must use a single bathroom in the nurse’s room. Obviously this places a special burden on her since she must travel further throughout the grounds to use the bathroom than anyone else at the school, which places her at risk of being tardy for classes, for example. Teachers have also asked Anna inappropriate questions about her gender, even in front of other students.
Finally the bathroom issue has come to a head, as Anna is now facing expulsion from her high school for nothing more than harmlessly using the women’s bathroom between classes. What’s more, this comes a mere four weeks before her planned graduation.
It’s very difficult to understand why school officials would ever escalate this issue to the point of kicking a young girl out of high school, and I can’t help but think this is a sad result of the hyper-sensationalizing of trans bodies and trans lives that has been pushed in recent years by so-called ‘radical feminists’ and conservative extremists alike. In any case, Anna’s supporters have raised a petition to push back against her expulsion; please sign the petition in Anna’s defense here.
Meanwhile, it will probably take years before the full fallout of HB2 and similar hate bills is clear. Much of it will likely depend on how it is enforced on the ground; if the history of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” provides any example, it’s very possible that some agencies will choose to implement these laws in the most anti-LGBT manner possible. And although the date of the incident is not clear, a recently widely shared video of a butch cis woman being kicked out of a public bathroom by police illustrates the point that these laws will likely also impact on gender non-conforming cis women, among others.
Note: The following contains my proposed strategy that the trans community might follow in demanding that the formal Trans Pride Toronto March route next year incorporate Yonge Street.
Also, it may be worth mentioning that I wanted to post this as I was leaving Toronto in mid-August… however, due to preparations for an academic conference and some other things just as I was moving, I didn’t get a chance to finalize it until today.
It has been nearly three years since I arrived in Toronto in early October 2009, and I have to say that I’m much more sad to be leaving than I had expected.
During this time I’ve gotten close to so many amazing people, including many wonderful members of Toronto’s queer and trans community, and I’ve further had the opportunity to work with some great people in my field at the University of Toronto. I also feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to be a part of this city and to be involved in activism and community organizing here (in particular, I think it was an interesting time to be in Toronto!). I feel like I’ve learned a lot and grown through those interactions and the organizing I have been involved here.
Indeed, looking back it almost seems a bit odd that I showed up in Toronto when I did: back in October 2009, just a few months before what turned out to be a pretty massive confrontation around the Pride festival and the participation of the activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) (or as I like to think of that confrontation: the Israel lobby’s perpetual storm of self-defeat). I joined up with QuAIA shortly after I arrived, and in my part in the ensuing debates I ended up having to learn my way around Toronto’s queer community pretty quickly.
And I have to say I’m pretty proud of how all that turned out. Somehow, a handful of grassroots queer activists managed to push back against the massive, well-funded Israel lobby, and beat them over and over again. (And after all, what business does the not-particularly-queer Israel lobby have telling queer activists what they can and cannot say at the Pride Parade?)
Not only that, but in coalition with the wider queer community (primarily through the Pride Community Contract group and the Pride Coalition for Free Speech) we compelled Tracey Sandilands, the corrupt executive director of Pride Toronto, to resign.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is that following the debacle(s) around the 2010 iteration of Pride, the Pride board was compelled to institute some form of accountability to the queer community, which took form in the Community Advisory Panel (CAP). As the CAP consultation process developed, it became clear that one of its constituent communities that Pride could no longer afford to ignore was the trans community. In fact, it became clear that previous to 2010, Pride Toronto had done little to empower or explicitly include the trans community as a whole, and that this would no longer be acceptable.
In a recent post on Lexie Cannes’ blog, Lexie draws attention to a disturbing case in Sweden involving a cis man who attacked and sexually assaulted a non-op or pre-op trans woman, possibly under the assumption that she was cis (however, I think we should be careful when dealing with that assumption… it’s always possible that the man knew she was trans all along and just created a different story after the fact).
According to Lexie’s English reconstruction from the original Swedish, what happened is that “The attacker brutally beat the victim and ripped off her pants in an attempt to rape her. A witness rushed to the scene and intervened. The police came and arrested the attacker.” Nevertheless, in court the judge “acquitted the rapist because the transwoman had no vagina [and hence] the planned rape would have been impossible to carry out.” The man was apparently convicted of a lessor charge (battery or similar).
I think most any trans woman would be horrified by this result, which seems to suggest that rape doesn’t count when it is committed (or at least intended) against a trans woman (then again I think most people who are simply compassionate would be horrified by this outcome). For one thing, the idea that the woman doesn’t have a vagina means that it is not possible for the man to rape her is completely absurd. It projects a very simplistic picture of what sex even is onto what may well be a much more complex situation (believe it or not, penis-in-vagina is not the end-all, be-all of sexual intercourse).
However, I think in the larger picture of things this is about more than protecting trans women from sexual assault. In fact, I think this case sets an absurdly high standard for what is required to obtain a sexual assault (or intended rape or sexual assault) conviction almost regardless of who the victim is.
As many of us aware, last June CeCe McDonald and several of her trans friends were walking in Minneapolis when confronted by a group of angry white supremacists, who proceeded to verbally assault CeCe and her friends with racism and transphobia. When CeCe stood her ground against this verbal tirade, they proceeded to physically assault her and her friends. In the aftermath of the resulting melee, Dean Schmitz (who was later discovered to have a swastika tattoo on his chest) wound up dead.
CeCe survived, and the system punished her for that by throwing her in prison, and further, forcing her into solitary confinement, an exceptionally cruel punishment for an exceptionally vulnerable member of society.
Meanwhile in Palestine, hunger strikes have broken out amongst Palestinian political detainees who are held in cruel conditions in Israeli prisons without charge or trial, often for entirely arbitrary reasons. This includes Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak, who Israel recently promised to free after his epic three month fast.
Just as the media remains largely silent about CeCe McDonald and other trans people (particularly trans women of color, sex workers and those living in poverty) who are unjustly forced into abusive conditions in prisons here in North America, the media also remains silent about Palestine’s hunger strike heroes like Mahmoud Sarsak who are standing against arbitrary arrest and torture at the hands of Israeli occupation forces.
At this year’s Pride Toronto Trans March, we commit ourselves to reminding the world of their voices and their stories.
As members of Dykes and Trans People for Palestine, we invite all trans people and allies to join us at the trans rally Friday June 29 at 6 pm at Norman Jewison Park, followed by the trans march at 7:30 pm. Our group will be meeting in the space around 7:15 pm to form a contingent committed to promoting justice and solidarity with those targeted by the prison-industrial complex, and in solidarity in the wider struggle against patriarchy and imperialism, including Israel’s apartheid against the Palestinian people.
As feminists and trans-feminists we stand opposed to all forms of gender violence. As feminists and trans-feminists we stand opposed to all forms of racism and colonialism, and all other oppressions and social injustices.