When It Is What It Is

Meghan Buell founder of T.R.E.E.S. and columnist for OUT in Michigan City Photo: Facebook

Hello All. Recently, I was out of town to present at a conference. I had to use a parking garage. When I was leaving it, I had to get my parking pass validated. As I thought about this process, I chuckled. Why, you might ask? It was because of how I thought for a second that my identity was not much different from this parking voucher.

Identifying as transgender has taught me that no matter how confident I am in my identity I spend much of my time validating it for others. Now, mind you, I travel around the country conducting transgender awareness workshops and events so, yes, it kinda is my job. But, you’d be amazed at how often I am “required” to validate my identity outside of the parameters of my work. Just about every time I make a phone call to check on a reservation, appointment, or any other conversation not with family or friends puts me in a position which requires validation. I get the full list of verification questions and when all my answers match I get the “oh, so you’re Meghan?” Um, yes.

Sometimes this validating is more subtle and without words. I was finishing up in a restroom at a public restaurant. As I was washing my hands someone entered, stopped, backed out to look at the gender indicator on the door, then reentered. At this point they looked me over from head to toe then to head again. This was followed by a unrecognizable facial expression, probably somewhere between “you’ve got to be kidding me” and approaching violent illness. I kept it together and just smiled, dried my hands and left. Funny things is, my only real concern was whether or not they would also wash their hands when they were done.

Trans persons are subjected to moments of validation constantly. It gets to be tiring to always have to do this. Hopefully the work I am doing for my organization, TREES, Inc. www.webetrees.org, is having an impact on this problem. No, not the alleged problem of being trans, but the problem of always having to validate my identity, my existence. Sometimes it just Is What It Is.

Peace.

Let “Religious” Freedom Ring

Meghan Buell founder of T.R.E.E.S. and columnist for OUT in Michigan City Photo: Facebook

Happy Pride !!!

Wow, it is June already. It seems like winter just ended and now we are almost half way through Pride Month. A lot has happened since I last wrote. The first half of the year has kept me busy either teaching or traveling for TREES, Inc. (www.webetrees.org). Some thing that happened recently has caused an itch to get under my skin, so, I would like to share some thoughts on it. It is the recent SCOTUS ruling about “the baker”.

For those not in the know, in short, SCOTUS ruled that a baker in Colorado was unjustly “sanctioned” by the local human right commission/ordinance there. However, the ruling has been used as a tool to inspire some folks to think they can openly discriminate with “religious freedom” as the tool for this discrimination. My first, and most significant reaction is “Oy.” In fact, that may be as far as I should go with any reaction, but I won’t.

In my view, if someone wants to discriminate they will. It is only when there is a definitive or blatant record of it can much be done to debate which side is right. We are not at this point yet. See, someone’s “firmly held religious belief” has not been define and in many cases defining it is being avoided. By defining it, those who declare this defense for discrimination would actually be held to some level of accountability. Being held accountable would then mean they would have to show a true conviction to their religious faith. Right now, it is a wide open can of “pick and choose” religious doctrine adherence. Spew a bible verse when it is convenient and works for you. When challenged on other verses, side step them by declaring them obsolete. Wow, what a nice easy tool to be just plain old bigoted. And, as lower courts begin to rule in favor of “religious freedom” there starts to be legal precedent for upholding carte blanche discrimination. This should scare us all.

I mention to folks sometimes that I would love the opportunity to used these rulings to prove a point. I would like to open a restaurant and have the chance to ask people, or just make a blind assumption, about their sexual orientation of gender identity in the hopes that when they answer as straight or cisgender (not really thinking they would know that term but you get it) so I can channel Seinfeld’s The Soup Nazi by saying, “No Soup for You!”. Of course, this would probably land me in the news. In the end, this would be a terrible business model and I’d probably go out of business in short order, unless, I incorporate as an IRS 501c3 Religious Organization. Hmmm? Anyone want to join a board of directors? LOL

In conclusion, talking about religious freedom and discrimination is not going to go far. Actions will speak louder than words on this one. Go out and prove a point in whatever manner you wish, because, until this can is closed, it’s a free(dom) for all. Walk proudly as your authentic self and when someone challenges you to prove your authenticity just say “no proof required due to my religious freedom” and see how they react. Good Day.

Happy Pride !!!

The Teacher in Me

Transgender Rights activist, teacher and founder of T.R.E.E.S. Meghan Buell

I grew up, quite a many years ago, in an educator’s household. My dad was in public education for 40 years. When I was young I was pretty much indifferent to my dad being an educator. I did try my best to take advantage of visiting “his” school when he was the Principal because it usually meant a visit to the office supply room. That was my super store of pencils, folders and notebooks. Just to clarify, my dad would pay for the items. So, my dad being an educator was kind of cool. I never envisioned that one day I, too, would be an educator.

I teach all the time. My “classroom” differs often. Much of the time it isn’t even in a school building. In reality, I consider the world as my classroom. This is so because every day I step out of my house I have an opportunity to teach someone something about me. Most times, it is transgender related because I live as an out and proud transgender woman. I am, for the most part, okay with this. I mean, I run a nonprofit organization that specializes in transgender education, so I am kind of destined to teach when I am engaging folks. My educator’s DNA comes in handy. But this is far from the only teaching I do.

In my spare time I work as a Substitute Teacher in a public school system. Yes, school systems do hire trans teachers, well, at least my hometown’s school system does. Being a Sub is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of patience, empathy, quick thinking, and perseverance. As a trans person in education I have found that I fare well for having thick skin, selective hearing and a sense of humor. You might ask why these would be necessary. Here are some examples of my experiences where this has been required.

Thick Skin: Kindergarten.
Boy: Are you a girl?
Me: Yes
Boy: I don’t see it.
Me: Well, I am.
Boy: What about your voice?
Me: I have a deep voice.
Boy: I’m not buying it.
Me: Back to work

Selective Hearing: An Indiana “liberty” organization
Them: This “man” (me) should be spending more time teaching math, English and science instead of spreading their sexual identity to second graders.
My employer: We’re good. Thanks
Me from afar: Did someone say something? Lol

Sense of Humor: 2nd Grade
Student: Miss Meghan, can I ask you a question
Me: Sure
Student: Are you a boy or a girl?
Me: A girl
Student: Oh, but why do you have a boy voice?
Me: I don’t have a boy voice. I have a deep voice.
Student: Have you tried a cough drop?
Me: I’ll have to give that a try. Thanks.

Life as an educator. Thanks, dad.

They Can Turn Off the Lights but They Can’t Turn Off Our PRIDE

It’s June and it’s Gay PRIDE month and more then ever we need our PRIDE. For the first time in eight years there will be no PRIDE celebrations in the White House, don’t expect the people’s house to be lit up in rainbow colors or Vice President Mike Pence to be running the halls carrying a PRIDE Flag the way former Vice President Joe Biden did. The only things that are running in The White House this year are the PRIDE Colors, running like they were hit with bleach spray and all we are left with is bland and angry white. Transgender protections have been rolled back. HIV/AIDS funding is being cut. Violence and harassment of all marginalized communities is on the rise. Even on a local level I experienced a disrespect from my employer in regards to my sexuality and my marriage. That disrespect from someone I trusted led me to leave my job, a final straw that not just broke the camels back but left him paralyzed and angry.

This blog was originally going to be the story of what happened to me and what led up to me leaving the employ of a well known local attorney. After two weeks of writer’s bloc and apathy, after two weeks of not knowing what to do with my newly unemployed self and not knowing where to start I’m continuing with the work I’m most proud of, this web-site and our own LGBT Community right here in Michigan City and Northwest Indiana.   “The Beacon” and our sister page OUT in Michigan City & NWIN on Facebook have been a little lite on content these last few weeks, for that I am sorry, I was licking my wounds so to speak. I had put my all into a job and a boss that who was so disorganized, so socially awkward that I thought I could “fix” him. I just thought that maybe he didn’t have the right kind of help in the past, maybe wasn’t the right kind of help. Who knows? I do know this, there are just some things that can’t be fixed. The end came when he not only insulted me, a proud gay man but worse he insulted the integrity of my marriage and made light of my husband.

So I’m done moping, I’m done morning for a job I liked but the baggage that came with it made it not even worth it, especially at the end. It’s PRIDE month and it’s time for us to shout, fight, and let Northwest Indiana, the Statehouse, the Governor’s Mansion and the nation, especially the Trump administration know that we are still here.

President Trump can keep the colored lights turned off, he can refuse to acknowledge PRIDE month. He can refuse to issue the LGBT PRIDE proclamations that have been issued in the month of June for the last eight years, and he can cow tow to Mike Pence and the religious right all we wants but WE ARE STILL HERE. OUR VOICES WILL BE HEARD and WE WILL BE RESPECTED and WE WILL NOT BE IGNORED and WE WILL RISE again and again so long as our lives, our marriages, and our families are being disrespected by an administration that lives in darkness and lies. I encourage you all to go to PRIDE events. Little ones, big ones. Hold them in your back yard or your living room. Invite friends over. Go to the PRIDE events in the park or in the streets of Chicago or Indianapolis. BE PROUD and BE LOUD because the fight is not over and it’s not going to be over until we say it is.

That my friends is my view from the other side of the lake on this June 1, 2017 Gay PRIDE month. Be Proud.

 

 

Is a Nationwide ‘R. F. R. A.’ Coming on May 4, 2017?

Then Candidate Donald Trump at a rally in Denver

The ‘religious liberty’ executive order that has been championed by Vice-President Mike Pence and and other religious conservatives will allegedly be signed by President Donald Trump on Thursday May 4, 2017. According to “Politico,”  http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/02/donald-trump-religious-liberty-executive-order-237888 two senior administration officials confirmed the plan that is set to coincide with the “National Day of Prayer.” Conservative leaders have been pressuring the President to fulfill the campaign promise that he made to protect so called religious freedom. Some experts claim that the order is to broad and will let any business, employer, landlord, or health care provider discriminate against the LGBT community for any reason as long as they claim it goes against their religious liberty.

In March of 2015 then governor Mike Pence signed Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” into law which caused outrage in Indiana’s LGBT community. The law also caused outrage among Indiana based companies like Salesforce and Angie’s List, as well as the NCAA, also based in Indiana. Opponents of the law claimed that it cast the Hoosier state as unwelcoming and discriminatory towards the LGBT community. Religious leaders such as Eric Miller from Advance America, a right wing lobbying group, said at the time, “It is vitally important to protect religious freedom in Indiana, it was therefore important to pass Senate Bill 101 in 2015 in order to help protect churches, Christian businesses and individuals from those who want to punish them because of their Biblical beliefs!” The bill was signed by Governor Pence behind closed doors and ended up costing the State of Indiana over 60 million dollars in revenue.

During his campaign, then candidate Trump touted himself to be a friend and champion to the LGBT community by Tweeting on June 14, 2016, “Thank you to the LGBT community!  I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.” Yet during his short time in office President Trump has continuously rolled back former President Obama’s executive orders protecting LGBT rights.

 

Seventh Circuit Court Rule Against Discrimination

Kim Hively

The full Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an 8-3 decision in favor of Kim Hively, who sued IVY Tech Community College on the basis of sex discrimination. Ms. Hively who had taught at the school had been discriminated against for being a lesbian and was not offered full time employment by the college. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals is the same court that upheld Judge Richard Young’s decision to strike down Indiana’s gay marriage ban in June of 2014.

In the complaint against IVY Tech, Ms. Hively’s lawyer, Gregory Nevins of Lambda Legal claimed that not allowing Ms. Hively full time employment at the college violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. In the ruling, Chef Judge Diane Wood wrote for the majority, “It is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discrimination on the basis of sex. It would require considerable calisthenics to remove the ‘sex’ from sexual orientation.” The ruling that the 1964 Civil Rights act also protects LGBT employees from workplace discrimination has the potential to reshape Title VII nationwide.

Attorney Nevin’s cited a case that appeared before the Supreme Court in the 1980s in which workers were discriminated against based on their mannerisms and who did not behave in the stereotypical social norms of male and female. The High Court found in favor for the plaintiff’s that their civil rights were violated. Mr. Nevin’s found the same argument applied to Ms. Hively’s case against IVY Tech Community College. “You can’t discriminate against a woman because she rides a Harley, had Bears tickets or has tattoos, but you can if she’s a lesbian.”

Eight out of the 11 judges that heard the case were all appointed by Republican presidents including Judge Richard Posner who asked the attorney representing IVY Tech, John Maley, “Who will be hurt if gays and lesbians have a little more job protection.” When Mr. Maley could not think of an answer, Judge Posner then asked Mr. Maley what the “big deal” was.

In the unlikely event the Republican controlled Congress chooses to amend Title VII to include sexual orientation, this case could still appear before the United States Supreme Court.

President Trump Rolls Back Protections for Transgender Students

Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, Attorney General Jeff Sessions

WASHINGTON-In a move that surprises almost no one the Trump adminastration rolled back former President Obama’s executive orders allowing transgender students to use the restroom or locker room that coincides with their gender identity. A statement from the White House released today reaffirms the administrations policy on the issue, “As President Trump has clearly stated, he believes policy regarding transgender bathrooms should be decided at the state level. The joint decision made today by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education returning power to the states paves the way for an open and inclusive process to take place at the local level with input from parents, students, teachers and administrators.” Last April when on the campaign trail President Trump made his feelings clear on the issue of transgender rights by supporting an individuals right to “use the bathroom they feel is appropriate.” 

To resend former President Obama’s executive orders both the Justice Department and the Department of Education had to agree and work together, which pitted Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions ideologies against each other. Secretary DeVos has been a quiet supporter of LGBT rights issues for years. Ms. DeVos went ‘against the grain’ of her conservative rich and influential family in support of LGBT rights. The families of Ms. DeVos and her husband have donated millions of dollars to anti-LGBT groups such as Focus on the Family. Attorney General Sessions has strong record of opposing not only LGBT rights but voters rights and immigration rights. When secretary DeVos would not endorse the rolling back of the executive orders President Trump was brought in as a ‘tie breaker’ of sorts ordering DeVos to comply. Ms. DeVos released a statement saying it’s a “moral obligation for every school in America to protect all students from discrimination, bullying and harassment.”

The move outraged and saddened LGBT rights advocates both on a national and local levels. Meghan Buell, from South Bend, IN and the founder of the Transgender Resource, Education & Enrichment Services, (TREES Inc.) said in a statement to The Beacon, “Schools can only be effective agents of learning when all students feel safe and included. Rescinding this order leaves schools without clear direction thus leaving open the opportunity for disparities. This could lead to an increase in alienation, bullying and harassment of the trans and gender non-binary students. I fear we may see an uptick in lives lost due to this reversal. This scares and saddens me.” Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council applauds the President’s decision, “President Trump is keeping the shredders busy with his predecessor’s radical policies and orders.”

President Trump is the only Republican President to give at the very least a minicam of support to the LGBT Community by waving the Gay Pride Flag on the campaign trail but has gone on record saying that he believes in traditional marriage, yet feels the issue is settled law. More and more counties, cities and towns not only in Indiana but over the nation are enacting local ordinances to protect their LGBT citizens. With the rollback of Mr. Obama’s executive orders protecting transgendered students gay rights activists are hoping that those local ordinances will be enough.