Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Legislating the Obvious

New York Governor David Paterson signed Executive Order No. 33 on Wednesday December 16, 2009. Executive Order Number 33 expressly prohibits New York State agencies from discriminating against any person on the basis of their gender identity and its expression in any and all matters pertaining to employment by the State.

I am shutting my eyes and imagining a deafening applause in New York City. I have to use my imagination because so many of the people who needed this protection are long gone. Taken from the city by the AIDS epidemic and others lucky enough to die of old age will never get to know the supreme satisfaction of having their rights guaranteed by the state they paid taxes to, within the country many of them served.

In the 1980s I marched with grass roots activist groups like ACT UP in Washington DC. Those groups and the people who lead them changed the world. The plethora of changes in law, and just as importantly, changes in the support by medical research companies, Pharmaceutical companies and government funding for the development of drugs has meant that AIDS is no longer an immediate death sentence today. It’s a different world. It all happened at the urging of all of the people who marched alongside their fellow Americans in response to the Reagan and Bush administrations’ institutional disregard for all of the dead and dying in the 1980s. During that time I weathered no small amount of animosity from Gays and Lesbians in the activist community who questioned my motives and sincerity because I wasn’t a Gay man. It gave me an inkling of what White college students must have felt in the 1960s when community organizers mistook their lack of common experience for a lack of dedication or commitment.

But I marched.

I painted banners. I silk-screened shirts. I drew artwork for flyers… and I marched. I marched miles in DC and again back home in New York. This was back when I was younger and I really did think the people had the power. I’ve often wondered why, if it worked, does it happen so rarely today. In particular there has always been a strange disconnect between the G, L, B and the “T” in GLBT in New York. Intuitively, it’s almost a predictable schism. The Transgendered are by far the most marginal people in any community. When you look at the “Rock-Paper-Scissors” game of Class-Race-Gender-Sexual Orientation-Identity in America, the Transgendered will often find themselves on the outside -even amongst Gays, who I sadly found out can possess their own backward Conservative reflex just like everyone else. When it came to civil rights, the Transgendered had to wait some years before being brought into conversations about protection and equality under the law. Gays and Lesbians as a whole are still waiting for the larger civil rights communities (themselves now an established institution some fifty or more years down the road) to call Gay Rights: Civil Rights. I don’t see the NAACP coming around anytime soon to take up the cause of Gays and Lesbians among their own broader goals.

Among religious groups in America, there is disagreement about a great many things, but they almost all agree on the exclusion of Homosexuals and the Transgendered. The Religious Right and the Social Conservative movement is largely defined by their refusal of America’s Gays and Lesbians. The Transgendered are generally not on the Moral Majority’s radar and with their at best diminished presence on the Gay Rights agenda, the Transgendered are the only group in America that anyone might be able to argue face more obstacles than our Native Americans.

The Transgendered have been “on the outside of the outside” for most all of recorded history. Their ongoing plight speaks to injustices that are more related to infantile reflex than any superficial claims about our social fabric’s fragility or insistences on religious orthodoxy. Much is said and worse is done in the name of righteousness and intolerance.

Tolerance is not weakness.

Tolerance is a moral and ethical strength. The Moral Majority and the Far Right would have us all believe that recognizing the humanity and asserting the normalcy of ALL Americans is a weakness of character, as if guaranteeing or simply letting someone undesirable exist is a character flaw, a sign of society’s decline. Nonsense.

I’d argue that today’s signing of Executive Order Number 33 is in fact another step towards our eventual ascension: America’s rise to meet the promise of the principles behind our Constitution,

“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Oral Roberts is dead and Transgendered Americans don’t have to worry about government treating them like non-persons –in New York State
It's no small thing. It's a good day.

Governor Paterson remarked glibly today that if you want to get anything done in government, you have to do it yourself. I suppose I’d say in response that sometimes, if you want to accomplish the obvious, you have to act just as boldly Mr. Paterson.

My tired feet in 1988 thank you Governor, as do future generations.


MadMike said...

My hat goes off to him for this SJ, although I don't have much use for him otherwise.

SJ said...

I've been pretty hard on him this year on this blog, but I have to admit, for this and the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws earlier this year, he's got my vote next election.
He hasn't backed off on the principles he built his career on... maybe he just doesn't think he has anything to lose anymore.

TRUTH 101 said...

It's too bad a guy has to have his back or career against the wall to act on principle.

With one stroke of the pen President Obama could end both occupations and the despicable "Don't ask, don't tell."
I hope he doesn't wait until his poll numbers drop in the thirties.

SJ said...

You are absolutely right. It's amazing how many amendments, laws and executive orders it takes to make the Constitution function for everybody.

Vigilante said...

Oral Roberts has finally passed on. Now if only the Hypnotoad from Connecticut ....

SJ said...

yeah man, (Mycue23 just posted on Roberts's legacy) Joe Lieberman is doing his job as a saboteur all too well. I won't be forgotten come election time. I'm sure many people thought they were voting for a Democrat.

SJ said...

"It won't be"

Beach Bum said...

Tolerance is a moral and ethical strength.

Absolutely, but the nebulous mass of the American people have little strengths these days.

SJ said...

@Beach Bum,
I'm hoping it's the silence of the fair-minded and the just who respect their fellow human beings that make the noisy fundamentalists stand out as much as they do.