May meets June: The intersection of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and queerness

by Maxwell Ng, MTPC Steering Committee Vice-Chair

In May I celebrate and honor the work that has been done by my Asian and Pacific Islander brothers, sisters and siblings in the fight against racism. The month of May was chosen to commemorate the completion by Chinese laborers on the transcontinental railroad as well as the first immigration of a Japanese person to the United States.

And in June I remember and honor the work that my LGBTQ brothers, sisters and siblings have done in the fight against homo/transphobia. June is the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the event that is credited for creating the modern LGBTQ Civil Rights movement.

While most of the time, it feels like this work is distinctive, isolated and separate, for me as a second generation Asian American and an out transman, these worlds have always been linked.

Have you looked at a map recently? Asia is big. Really big. There are 49 countries in Asia, a region that stretches from Saudi Arabia to the Kamchatka Peninsula and includes 60% of the world’s population. “Asia” as a concept was created when westerners were exploring the globe looking for exotic lands and rare spices. In fact, the earliest disputes about the border between Asia and the “western” world were centered on the Caucasus Mountains and so we interpret Asian to mean other.

Today “Asian Pacific-Islander” is a geopolitical term that refers to blobs of color on an atlas that are approximately close to each other. But in the “melting pot” of American race politics, to be API means you have yellow skin and slanty eyes. It possibly also means you’re good at mathhave demanding parents and slur your Rs. To be Asian American is to remove all the subtlety and nuance of a rich cultural heritage and to boil it down to a degrading stereotype that was created during the Wild West, institutionalized at Tule Lake, and given household recognition by Stanley Kubrick.

I remember as a child in the early 80s, my mother would caution me repeatedly, “Make sure you tell people you’re Chinese.” The fear was that if people thought I was Vietnamese, I would be construed as The Enemy because “we all look alike”. In 1982, Vincent Chin was bludgeoned to death by two Detroit autoworkers. Even though he was not an autoworker, or Japanese, they blamed him personally for the rise of Japanese automobile companies. He was brutally murdered for the way he looked and the perceptions of his race. In the months immediately following, Asians all over this country realized that it didn’t matter where we were born or who our parents were, we would still be labeled a Chink, a Jap, a Gook, and hated for simply because we are different. Vincent’s murder inspired a movement of togetherness that has lived to this day. In fact, immediately after the attacks on 9/11, Japanese Americans who survived Tule Lake were the first to come out in solidarity to make sure the same institutionalized racism didn’t happen again to Muslim Americans.

Power politics
I talk about these things incessantly because so many people don’t know the fundamental link between racism and homophobia the way I have experienced. Vincent Chin’s murder changed hate crime legislation in the United States. Something that happened again with the murder of Matthew Shepard. So much of the hatred in this country is based on perception of power. Most recently, a troubled misogynistic young man went on a killing spree in Isla Vista aimed at the women he perceived to reject him. It is difficult to rationalize any of his actions or his beliefs, but it is very obvious that his own internalized racism at his half Asian self was a contributing factor to his self loathing.

Intersection Junction, what’s your function?
The simple truth is that no one’s identity is simple. For me, my world and life are profoundly shaped by the color of my skin. I have long said that the two things people see about me are (1) my race and then (2) my gender. Before I say a single word, they assume that I don’t speak English, and that I will be submissive to them. 2011 statistics show 46.9% of hate crimes were motivated by race and 20.8% by sexual orientation. In my own life I have been subjected to decades of microaggressions that are in accordance with those statistics.
Continue reading

mdivider

Count Somerville in!

Somerville Becomes Sixth Jurisdiction in Massachusetts to Enact Public Accommodations Protections for Members of the Transgender Community

Amended language also addresses discrimination in housing, employment and other areas

SOMERVILLE ─ May 23, 2014 ─ By a unanimous vote, the Board of Aldermen in Somerville passed amended language to Ordinance 2-237, which will now add the term “gender identity and expression” to the city’s anti-discrimination policy. The amended language addresses the issue of discrimination against members of the transgender community in housing, employment, education, legally-binding agreements and financial transactions as well as public areas such as retail establishments, transit, and restaurants.

“We know that 58% of surveyed transgender people in Massachusetts report suffering harassment or mistreatment in places of public accommodation. With this ordinance, Somerville joins the growing movement to ensure that transgender people have equal access and protections in these places. We applaud the City of Somerville, the aldermen and women, and the residents who came together to make this important ordinance happen,” said Mason Dunn, the executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Equal Rights Coalition.
Somerville follows Boston, Northampton, Amherst, Cambridge, and Salem in implementing comprehensive non-discrimination protections for the transgender community.
Rebekah Gewirtz, Ward 6 alderwoman for the City of Somerville and sponsor of the resolution, said that implementing a policy like this is part of a progressive effort in Massachusetts to provide protections for all residents of the Commonwealth:
“I’m thrilled Somerville is joining a growing number of cities and towns that embrace the fundamental rights of the transgender community.  Here in Somerville, all people should be treated with dignity and respect.  Passage of this resolution provides additional confirmation of this value we all share.”
Kara Coredini, executive director of MassEquality, the leading grassroots advocacy organization for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community in Massachusetts, praised the City of Somerville for their historic work.

“Right on the heels of celebrating 10 years of marriage equality in the Commonwealth, Massachusetts is again taking steps to be a trailblazer on the issues of LGBTQ equality.  As the sixth municipality in the state to enact this vital policy, Somerville is taking part in what will hopefully be a domino effect across the Bay State, one will that will see more cities and towns coalescing around the necessity of acknowledging the rights of everyone.”
For more information on MATERC, visit http://www.masstpc.org/coalition.

 

***
The Massachusetts Equal Rights Coalition (MATERC) succeeded on November 16, 2011 in securing passage ofAn Act Relative to Transgender Equal Rights thanks to lead sponsors former Representative Carl Sciortino and Representative Byron Rushing, and Senators Ben Downing and Sonia Chang-Diaz. MATERC will continue to work towards passage of non-discrimination protections in public accommodations.

mdivider

Transgender Spotlight: We’wha

by Aaron, MTPC intern

Today’s transgender spotlight is about We’wha (pronounced WAY-wah), a Zuni Native American whose life was one of advocacy for her tribe and artistry in her craft. Some would refer to her as two spirit, a term that generally describes Native Americans who occupy non-normative or multiple gender roles. This is actually a very recent term, established by the Indigenous Lesbian and Gay International Gathering in 1990 in an effort to reclaim gender diversity and replace the derogatory term berdache, which was used by foreign intruders to shame gender variance. Not every tribe recognizes two spirit people, nor do communities all have the same traditions, terms, or roles for two spirit people. We’wha was a lhamana (LHA-mana), the term used by Zunis to refer to male-bodied people who are “like a woman.”

We'wha, a Zuni Lhamana (Two-Spirit), circa 1886

We’wha, a Zuni Lhamana (Two-Spirit), circa 1886. From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We%27wha

Born in 1849 into New Mexico’s Zuni tribe, where lhamanas were highly respected, We’wha was trained in the traditionally female crafts of weaving and pottery. Her talent in the arts was well known and valued in her community and beyond, as was her gift for spiritual leadership. Learning English at an early age allowed We’wha to make connections with visitors to the region and educate them about Zuni traditions, and she eventually became a Zuni ambassador. As a representative of her tribe, We’wha was the first Zuni to travel to Washington, DC, in the 1880s, where she met with diplomats, congressmen, and … drum roll, please … President Grover Cleveland.

It is clear from newspaper articles at the time and stories of We’wha’s travels that folks in DC were instantly smitten with her but apparently unaware of her lhamana identity. During the several months she spent in the city, We’wha gave a weaving presentation at the Smithsonian, participated in a show at the National Theater, and befriended Speaker of the House John G. Carlisle. While she seemed to enjoy and take advantage of her new celebrity status, her intention was to educate leaders about her tribe and debunk myths about Zunis and other Native Americans in a culture that encouraged (and continues to encourage) cultural assimilation.

Her art was celebrated from New Mexico to DC and played a central role in helping Native American art gain recognition in the fine arts world. Despite an unjust arrest and month-long imprisonment for defending the Pueblo’s governor against authorities during a conflict in 1892, We’wha continued to educate anthropologists and represent her tribe with pride. Matilda Stevenson, an anthropologist who was befriended by We’wha, described her as intelligent and kind with an “indomitable will and an insatiable thirst for knowledge.”*

We’wha died in 1896, but the legacy of her extraordinary life remains one of community advocacy, cultural exchange, and artistry.

mdivider

Marathon Monday

Today we run as one.

By Matt R. Tucker, http://instagram.com/p/nEKQBGDu14/

Hello, hello! My name is Bryn, and I am the Communications and Public Relations Intern here at MTPC. Sadly, my internship will be finishing up in just a few weeks, but before I go I want to share some thoughts about something that I have loved since I was a little kid: Marathon Monday.

Marathon Monday is awesome! Runners and tourists from around the world converge in Boston for the event. Almost the entire city of Boston gets out of work or school, or just takes a break from life in general, to celebrate those of us amazingly capable of completing 26.2 straight miles on a sunny New England day. It’s a wonderful induction into warmer months, whether you are sweating at mile 16 or just watching happily from the sidelines.

The marathon has always been an emblem of perseverance and building community among people from all walks of life. After last year’s race turned into a tragic event when two bombs went off, running or attending the marathon this year especially showed perseverance despite fear and obstacles.

As I stood on the sidelines cheering on the marathoners this year, the sense of community overwhelmed me. I was not only there watching an amazing athletic competition but also standing in solidarity with runners from all walks of life and from all around the world to support them as they moved toward their goals.

In celebrating inclusion and diversity, MTPC would also like to introduce you to the self-proclaimed first transgender woman to run the Boston Marathon, Jennifer McCreath!

Jennifer McCreath

From: http://thescope.ca/culture/running-for-change. Photo by Mark Bennett.

Jennifer McCreath became a dedicated marathon maniac after she ran her first marathon in Mississauga, Ontario, in 2007. Since then she has run 30 marathons, including the Boston Marathon twice.

Out of the many marathons McCreath has run, the Boston Marathon holds special significance because it is the first marathon she ran registered as a woman: “I called Boston again, I explained myself: ‘I’d really like to run as a female. I’m not going to win your race, and it would mean a lot to me from a dignity and respect standpoint to run as a female.’ And they said okay! So I was happy. At that point I had decided never to run as a male except for this Boston race, and in the end I didn’t even have to do that. So off I went. I ran Charlottesville, Virginia, and two days later I ran Boston, and then five days later I was in Ontario. Three marathons in nine days.”*

McCreath’s achievements speak to the effects of inclusion and acceptance in athletics. The Boston Marathon became something special for McCreath: “I had gotten the competitive bug. I didn’t want to run marathons just for fun any more, I wanted to see how well I could do. And you say the words ‘Boston Marathon’ and it means something to people who run. Even outside of the running community.”

McCreath further comments on the significance of the Boston Marathon on her Marathon Maniac profile: “This was my first marathon in the female category and it was my first Boston Marathon. I savored the experience all the way and crossed the finish line with an extreme sense of pride and accomplishment.”*

We’re glad to know that the Boston Marathon, the pinnacle of marathon running, is trans-inclusive. We hope that other events and sports will follow our example and end the exclusion of trans people in athletics.

mdivider

Transgender Ally Super Lawyer Catherine E. Reuben

by Landen, MTPC intern

MTPC is proud to highlight 2014 Commitment to Service Award recipient Catherine E. Reuben as a Transgender Ally Super Lawyer.

Catherine E. Reuben

Catherine E. Reuben

Reuben is a founding member of Hirsch, Roberts & Weinstein, where she provides counseling, training, and litigation defense as a Labor & Employment attorney. She is a tireless advocate and dedicates her time to numerous bar association task forces. Reuben is a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Budget and Finance committee, the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association, and the Committee on Transgender Inclusion Task Force. She has also served as Co-chair of the Employment Law Curriculum Advisory Committee for the Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education Association.

Reuben’s commitment to the transgender community is apparent in her work as a member of the American Bar Association Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and her membership on the Host Committee for the Lawyers for Transgender Rights event since its inception. She is also the flutist of the band Urban Myth, which has graciously played at LTR for several years.

In addition, Reuben has lent her expertise and voice to the advocacy for transgender clients and employees in her 2013 guideline entitled “Is Your Law Practice Welcoming to Transgender Employees and Clients?” in the GPSolo eReport for the American Bar Association. The guide outlines examples of conduct in employment settings that could be viewed as discrimination and details steps that law practices can take to create more welcoming and comfortable environments for transgender employees and clients. Although this guide is specifically directed at law practices, its concrete and straightforward suggestions are applicable to many other private and non-profit businesses as well.

We appreciate that Reuben’s guide rightfully places the responsibility on the employer and/or employees to correct their behavior, rather than on the transgender person to be more accommodating. She uses her extensive knowledge to push for more inclusive and diverse work environments by stressing the importance of being a legally compliant work environment, and by doing so she calls attention to transgender and gender non-conforming people’s constitutional rights.

We thank Cathy Reuben for her continued service to the transgender community. She is an inspiration and a valuable part of the movement. (And just you know, we think she plays a mean flute.)

mdivider

Lawyers for Trans Rights 2014

by Landen, MTPC intern

MTPC celebrated its fifth annual Lawyers for Transgender Rights (LTR) event at NAGA at Moksa Restaurant in Cambridge on April 3. Surrounded by vibrant lights and lively music provided by the ensemble Urban Myth, enthusiastic students and members of the law community gathered to network, partake in cocktails, and bid on silent auction items. Although the event was fun, it served a greater purpose: to support MTPC’s important work on behalf of the trans community.

Executive Director Mason Dunn welcomed the crowd to his first Lawyers for Transgender Rights event with an impassioned speech on the dire need for equal rights and protection under the proposed Equal Access Bill. He reminded the crowd that nearly 60% of transgender people have reported significant discrimination and harassment in public accommodations. And although popular media is hyperfocused on the “bathroom issue,” the grim reality for trans people is that the severe lack of protection against harassment is prevalent in many other public spaces such as hotels, restaurants, public parks, buses, malls, theaters, and hospitals.

The LTR event also celebrated two champions of the trans community. The 2014 Carl Sciortino Transgender Ally Award recipient was Attorney General hopeful Maura Healey, a trailblazer for women’s rights, civil rights, and human rights with a history of legal advocacy and activism for the LGBTQ community. Healey delivered a keynote speech highlighting her commitment to secure justice for the trans community of Massachusetts. She enthusiastically ensured the crowd that she would fight by the trans community’s side for the legal protections they deserve, and she shared her vision of a future in which there would no longer be a need for events like Lawyers for Transgender Rights because equality of all people would be the status quo.

MTPC was also proud to honor Catherine E. Reuben, a founding partner of Hirsch, Roberts & Weinsten, with the 2014 Commitment to Service Award. Reuben is highly revered by her colleagues and the law community for her devotion to the ethical practice of law. She has been named a Massachusetts Super Lawyer (top 5% of lawyers) in Employment & Labor Law by Boston Magazine for the past 8 years, is one of the Top 50 Women Massachusetts Super Lawyers, and was recently inducted as a Fellow into the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, which is a most prestigious honor. Check our blog later next week to learn more about her!

MTPC thanks Maura and Catherine for their contribution to the transgender rights movement and extends our gratitude to the gracious and welcoming host committee and to all those who came out to support the organization. Thanks for another great year.

mdivider