by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Alfie flies Trans flag at rally
“Support Trans youth”
James (center) & Cathy Mendonça (right)
Cathy with the “Black & Pink” banner
“Binary thinking is obsolete”
“Trans children deserve love”
Ezekiel Reis Burgin
The “spiral hug” that ended the event
Braving darkness, cold, the threat and — briefly — the reality of rain, 60 Transgender people and their supporters turned out in front of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Flag at University Avenue and Normal Street in Hillcrest Friday, November 22 for a rally in support of AB 1266. Also known as the California Success and Opportunity Act, this is a bill the California legislature passed this summer, and Governor Jerry Brown signed into law August 17, which would add to state law protecting public school students from discrimination the following: “A pupil shall be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”
Though the bill nowhere uses the term “Transgender,” nor does it specify that the “facilities” it mentions include school restrooms, most of the opposition has focused on the alleged “danger” of allowing students to use restrooms based on their sense of their own gender rather than their biological organs. “No 13-year-old girls should have to have the continued apprehension of a boy seeing them naked in the locker room,” said Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), one of the groups currently organizing a referendum campaign to give the state’s voters a chance to decide whether or not to allow AB 1266 to take effect.
James, an activist with Canvass for a Cause (CFAC) and Black and Pink San Diego — two of the groups, along with SAME Alliance, that sponsored the November 22 event — MC’d the rally and explained the importance of beating back the referendum. “Already one of the most vulnerable communities as far as bullying and houselessness,” James explained, “Trans youth are now literally being driven to suicide and harassment by Transphobic organizations like the Pacific Justice Institute and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). … Over the past few months, they have been running a media smear campaign against Trans youth and lying to get this issue on the ballot.”
The AB 1266 support rally was held November 22 because that was supposed to be the deadline by which the California Secretary of State’s office would be certifying whether the referendum made it to the ballot or not. But that was still up in the air when the rally took place. James announced that the referendum sponsors had turned in 547,984 signatures — short of the 620,000 they claimed in their press releases — and need 504,000 valid signatures to put the issue before voters.
Signatures can be invalidated for several reasons — the signer is either not eligible to vote or not registered at their current address, or the signature was illegible or didn’t contain enough information to verify whether the person was registered or not — and what the Secretary of State usually does it select some of the petitions at random, check them against voter registration records, calculate what percent of the signatures on the petitions they did check were valid, and apply that to the total. If there’s a near-miss, sponsors can ask for the time-consuming process of validating all the petitions, not just a sample. Given the tightness of the margin, 92 percent of the signatures on the anti-AB 1266 petitions would have to be valid to put the referendum on the ballot. That’s higher than usual, but not unachievable.
James said one purpose of the rally was to get people to sign pledge cards promising to be part of the campaign against the referendum if it makes it to the ballot, and to continue to defend AB 1266 if the referendum fails but the opponents keep trying to sink it. “There is a Plan B to Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) not being successful in getting AB 1266 to qualify for a referendum: it’s file a federal lawsuit,” states a post on the Transadvocate Web site, http://www.transadvocate.com. “And it appears that they’re ‘ambulance chasing’ for another Jane Doe to bully: they’re asking for potential plaintiffs to contact them.”
“We are up against organizations with ridiculous amounts of money,” James said. “I like to say they have a whole lot of dollars but not a lot of sense. But what we have is spirit and people power, which is a whole hell of a lot more than what any dollar can do. We need you to volunteer so we can counteract the negative media storm … the anti-Trans are pushing onto the public. We need to have face-to-face conversations and voter outreach to make sure everyone understands that this bill supports our youth.”
Rally organizers invited a few speakers and then opened the mikes for everyone who wanted to address the crowd — but they stipulated that only Transgender people would be allowed to speak at the event. The idea was to bring forward people who aren’t usually heard in public venues and allow Transgender people to speak for themselves instead of having Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or straight supporters speak on their behalf. “I’ve never done anything like this in my life,” said Daniela, one of the first speakers. “I’ve given talks at schools, but I’ve never actually talked at a rally, so this is pretty exciting.”
After thanking the crowd for coming out despite the bad weather, Daniela said, “I’m really excited about AB 1266. It’s really awesome, because we are one step towards being more equal. But I would like to say that I really feel that none of us are equal unless all of us are equal. … Sometimes I personally don’t feel like I’m a strong, independent woman. Sometimes I feel like I’m being discriminated against. Sometimes I feel like I’m being harassed, especially when I’m kicked out of restrooms or I’m denied health care. A lot of people deny my gender identity. It’s tough. But right now at this moment, I definitely feel like a strong, independent woman. Because I am very strong, I am very independent, and I am very woman.”
Another speaker, Trey, recalled his own traumas coming out as Transgender in high school. “I sent my teacher an e-mail, actually,” Trey said. “I was under the naïve impression that being Transgender is no big deal. … I asked her to use the right pronoun and the right name, and she was more or less supportive. But it’s not just your teacher you have to worry about. It’s also the rest of the staff and the students. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one here who, when faced with public restrooms, feels panicked.”
Trey said his ability to function at school dropped when the supportive teacher “was removed from her job” and “replaced with another teacher who did not respect my pronouns and did not use my proper name. So while I was at school, I had either to avoid using the restroom or to use the women’s room, which made me feel like I was taking a massive step backwards.… If I had had the support then that I do now, I really would have had a lot smoother transition, and I would be a lot more at peace with my mental health now.”
Alfie Padilla, who unlike Daniela is an old hand at speaking at political events, used her turn to rally the crowd and call on them to get as “fired up” as the opponents of AB 1266. “See how many crazy people signed that petition?” she said. “That’s not good, not good. The opposition, they’ve not only got millions of dollars, they’ve also got a lot of churches in their pocket, which is not good. … One crazy church got 46,000 signatures alone. These people drove hours and hours to get these petitions in. Some people drove up to five hours just to go drop off these petitions to take Transgender kids’ rights away. I can think of much better things to do with five hours than taking Transgender kids’ rights away! Let me tell you, these people are active. And we need to be just as active. Actually, we need to be a little more active.”
According to Alfie, AB 1266 is important not just to middle school and high school students but “all the way down from kindergarten to 12th grade. There are elementary school kids who need a place to pee! People need a place to pee! Jesus. Not only that, be all know how bad the bullying can get in the restrooms. You want to know what I did? I skipped! Because it’s awful. You know what I wanted? An education. And I didn’t really get it, because I skipped. And that’s what we really need to avoid. I read something today that one in six Transgender students drop out, and that’s three times more than the average dropout rate.”
Alfie also said that it wasn’t just “straight conservative people” who signed the referendum against AB 1266. “Part of the LGBT [Queer] community signed that petition!” she said. “We can all try to act like that didn’t happen, but it totally did. As I always like to say, there’s ‘G’ really big over here, and then ‘L,’ and ‘B’ over here, and then the ‘T’ is like somewhere really small, like over on another page. It’s like a different font. It’s a little like a comic strip, and this is serious. It’s like real life! So keep these conversations going. Keep it up. Keep it on Facebook, if you do that. Blog it. Keep it people’s mouths, because this fight has just begun.”
“I’m one of the older people in the community,” said an unidentified speaker in the nun’s-habit drag of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. “Back in the early 1990’s there was a TV show called Ally McBeal, and they only had one fricking bathroom! Anybody could use it. I don’t understand why people are worried over where people poop. … If you’ve felt uncomfortable for years, and now you accept who you are and need to poop in the ‘other’ bathroom, then you should poop there, because everybody poops, and should feel comfortable doing it. It’s a normal biological function.”
“We are in the heart of the Queerest area of San Diego, right? And I see a problem,” said Ezekiel Reis Burgin, a counselor who works with Transgender and Queer people and can be reached through the Web site www.socialjusticehealing.com. “There is Gossip Grill right there, and how many people are in there right now drinking their homoerotic drinks and eating their homoerotic food — I don’t know if any of you guys have read their menu, but they’re pretty homoerotic — but they don’t give a shit! They don’t give a shit about what’s going on in the Trans community! And that’s what we need to be doing. We need to be going to the Gossip Grills, to the Mo’s Café or whatever it’s called. We need to be reaching out to the community that supposedly includes us — but doesn’t — every day of the year.”
“Out of the bars, and into the streets!,” the crowd chanted in response — consciously or unconsciously echoing one of the earliest Queer liberation slogans from the 1970’s, when middle- and upper-class Gay men who frequented fancy bars thought themselves as distant from the Queer-rights struggles of the political radicals and gender outlaws that started the Queer liberation movement.
“No matter what happens with [AB 1266], our struggles are not over,” said James to wrap up the event. “Tonight is a call to action for us to talk to everyone we know and organize however we can to ensure and tackle issues for the Trans community: safe schools, housing and job discrimination, harassment and assault, and access to health care. Right now, we see that our youth need our support.”