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November 20, 2015 0

Today We Remember Transgender Lives Lost and Recommit to Justice

For the past six­teen years on Novem­ber 20th, trans­gen­der peo­ple and allies around the world have come together to mark Trans­gen­der Day of Remem­brance (TDOR). It is a day to honor trans­gen­der peo­ple whose lives trag­i­cally ended in the last year as a result of anti-transgender vio­lence and dis­crim­i­na­tion and cel­e­brate the resilience of those who are liv­ing. At memo­r­ial ser­vices around the coun­try, the names of trans­gen­der peo­ple who have been killed in the last year are read.


Much like observ­ing a yahrtzeit (the anniver­sary of a death), it is a time for reflec­tion and intro­spec­tion. This year was an espe­cially vio­lent year, with at least 22 reported mur­ders in the United States since Jan­u­ary, almost dou­ble the num­ber of trans mur­ders in all of 2014. This year has also wit­nessed a sig­nif­i­cant increase in reported non-lethal anti-trans vio­lence. And the major­ity of this year’s vic­tims were trans­gen­der women of color.

Just this past week, the Con­gres­sional LGBT Equal­ity Cau­cus hosted a forum that brought together advo­cates and com­mu­nity lead­ers to dis­cuss how to address soar­ing lev­els of vio­lence against trans­gen­der peo­ple. Unsur­pris­ingly, issues of racism, poverty, the sys­tem­atic mar­gin­al­iza­tion of trans peo­ple, includ­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion in schools, jobs and hous­ing were high­lighted. Advo­cates pri­or­i­tized com­pre­hen­sive nondis­crim­i­na­tion pro­tec­tions and immi­gra­tion and crim­i­nal jus­tice reform as a way to reduce vio­lence against trans people.

Also ear­lier this week, the FBI released the 2014 Hate Crime Sta­tis­tics Act (HCSA) report. While the report doc­u­mented a decrease in the num­ber of reported hate crimes in the United States, crimes tar­get­ing vic­tims on the basis of their gen­der iden­tity tripled. Tripled. And the vio­lence against trans­gen­der peo­ple is not lim­ited to the United States.  Trans Mur­der Mon­i­tor­ing (TMM) project, a pro­gram of Trans­gen­der Europe, sys­tem­at­i­cally mon­i­tors, col­lects and ana­lyzes reports of homi­cides of trans peo­ple world­wide. This year TMM iden­ti­fied 271 trans per­sons to be added to the list to be remembered.

It is impor­tant to take this day to mourn and to honor the lives of those trag­i­cally cut short by hatred and vio­lence. And it is also a day to re-commit to nam­ing the prob­lems work­ing on solutions.

A com­pre­hen­sive fed­eral anti-discrimination law that explic­itly includes gen­der iden­tity is essen­tial. We must ensure that trans­gen­der peo­ple are explic­itly pro­tected from dis­crim­i­na­tion in hous­ing, employ­ment, pub­lic accom­mo­da­tions, edu­ca­tion, fed­eral fund­ing, credit, and jury ser­vice. These legal pro­tec­tions will go far in reduc­ing the num­ber of trans­gen­der peo­ple put in vul­ner­a­ble posi­tions as a result of discrimination.

State hate crime laws must cover hate crimes com­mit­ted on the basis of gen­der iden­tity and expres­sion. An inclu­sive fed­eral hate crime law is not enough. We must redou­ble our efforts to ful­fill the goals of ADL’s 50 States Against Hate cam­paign, par­tic­u­larly enhanced train­ing for law enforce­ment offi­cers on how to iden­tify and respond to hate crimes com­mit­ted against trans peo­ple, bet­ter data col­lec­tion and report­ing by law enforce­ment agen­cies, and increased pub­lic education.

And we must edu­cate young peo­ple and edu­ca­tors about trans­gen­der lives. Our schools must be places where trans­gen­der and gen­der non-conforming youth are able to thrive in an envi­ron­ment that is safe and free from bul­ly­ing and harassment.

So today, we remem­ber and mourn. Tomor­row we con­tinue to fight fiercely for secur­ing jus­tice and fair treat­ment to all.


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November 5, 2015 2

Prioritizing Trans Rights in the Face of Hate and Lies

On Elec­tion Day, 60% of just one quar­ter of eli­gi­ble Hous­ton vot­ers dis­ap­point­ingly rejected the Hous­ton Equal Rights Ordi­nance (HERO) when they voted No on Prop #1. HERO cre­ated a broad swath of nondis­crim­i­na­tion pro­tec­tions for the city of Hous­ton, includ­ing pro­tec­tions based on race, reli­gion, sex, mil­i­tary sta­tus, preg­nancy, genetic infor­ma­tion, dis­abil­ity, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, and gen­der iden­tity. The cam­paign to repeal HERO was grounded in fear and decep­tion, rely­ing on the lie that the anti-discrimination ordi­nance would per­mit men to use women’s bathrooms.

Credit to Flicker user: torbakhopper

Credit to Flicker user: torbakhopper

There is a sad irony here. Oppo­nents of the ordi­nance can­not cite a sin­gle instance of a trans­gen­der per­son harass­ing a non-transgender per­son in a pub­lic restroom. Why? Because it doesn’t hap­pen. Not in Hous­ton nor in the 17 states and 200 cities that already have explicit pro­tec­tions for trans peo­ple. To the con­trary, it is trans­gen­der peo­ple them­selves who are most vul­ner­a­ble, with 70 per­cent of trans­gen­der or gen­der non-conforming respon­dents in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. report­ing that they have been, “denied access, ver­bally harassed, or phys­i­cally assaulted in pub­lic restrooms.” And it is pre­cisely this vio­lence that high­lights the need for com­pre­hen­sive hate crime laws in all 50 states.

But while the loss in Hous­ton still stings, the news for LGBT peo­ple around the coun­try is not all bad. Just last week, in the 4th Cir­cuit Court of Appeals in a case out of Vir­ginia, the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice and Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion filed a friend-of-the-court brief sup­port­ing a trans­gen­der stu­dent barred by his school from using the restroom that cor­re­sponds with his gen­der iden­tity.  And in Illi­nois, the Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion found Mon­day that an Illi­nois school dis­trict vio­lated anti-discrimination laws when it did not allow a trans­gen­der girl who par­tic­i­pates on a girls’ sports team to change and shower in the girls’ locker room with­out restrictions.

In other good news, a dis­trict court in Alabama recently issued a deci­sion in Isaacs v. Felder Ser­vices LLC that agreed with the EEOC that dis­crim­i­na­tion based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion is always a form of sex discrimination.

But make no mis­take, the ugli­ness and hate we saw in the cam­paign lead­ing up to the vote in Hous­ton was real and has a real impact on the lives of trans­gen­der peo­ple — not just in Hous­ton, but across the coun­try. Rather than retreat, this is an oppor­tu­nity for LGBT com­mu­ni­ties and allies to rally. We must pri­or­i­tize trans­gen­der rights, hold elected offi­cials account­able for their words and actions, and find ways to edu­cate com­mu­ni­ties, and par­tic­u­larly to reach young peo­ple.

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September 11, 2015 1

Marching for Fairness – the NAACP Journey for Justice

After par­tic­i­pat­ing in the his­toric vot­ing rights march from Selma to Mont­gomery on March 21, 1965, Rabbi Abram­son Joshua Hes­chel famously said:

“For many of us the march from Selma to Mont­gomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walk­ing is not kneel­ing. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even with­out words, our march was wor­ship. I felt my legs were praying.”


ADL Direc­tor of Inter­faith Affairs Rabbi David Sand­mel and NAACP Pres­i­dent and CEO Cor­nell Brooks on the road to Wash­ing­ton DC as part of the Jour­ney for Justice.


That march played a sig­nif­i­cant role in prompt­ing Con­gress to enact the land­mark Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) – per­haps the most impor­tant and effec­tive civil rights leg­is­la­tion ever passed.   In the half cen­tury since then, the VRA has secured and safe­guarded the right to vote for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. Its suc­cess in elim­i­nat­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory bar­ri­ers to full civic par­tic­i­pa­tion and in advanc­ing equal polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment is undeniable.

Some­times legs pray.

And some­times legs carry you to Wash­ing­ton DC to demand progress toward jus­tice and fair treat­ment for all.

Today, fifty years after the pas­sage of the VRA, and two years after a deeply trou­bling Supreme Court deci­sion that essen­tially gut­ted the heart of the leg­is­la­tion — marchers are on their way to Wash­ing­ton to demand vot­ing rights pro­tec­tions again.  The NAACP has orga­nized America’s Jour­ney for Jus­tice, which started in Selma on August 1.  The Anti-Defamation League is one of the sup­port­ing orga­ni­za­tions for the 1000-mile march, as we had sup­ported the orig­i­nal Selma to Mont­gomery march.  Then-ADL National Direc­tor Ben Epstein wrote,

“We walked together—more than 3,000 Amer­i­cans: Negroes and whites, min­is­ters, rab­bis, Catholic nuns, stu­dents, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of orga­ni­za­tions, those who belonged to no group other than the human race—all in peace­ful demon­stra­tion against blind vio­lence, in ‘gigan­tic wit­ness’ to the con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­teed right of all cit­i­zens to reg­is­ter and vote.”

Jour­ney to Jus­tice cul­mi­nates in an Advo­cacy Day on the Cap­i­tal Hill on Sep­tem­ber 16.  Marchers and their sup­port­ers will have dozens of meet­ings with Mem­bers of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the Sen­ate.  The prin­ci­pal focal point for the lob­by­ing will be the need to address the dev­as­tat­ing impact of Shelby County v. Holder, a 2013 Supreme Court deci­sion which gut­ted a key pro­vi­sion of the VRA, dra­mat­i­cally lim­it­ing its effec­tive­ness and reach.

Last Novem­ber – the first major elec­tion since Shelby County – there were new restric­tions on vot­ing in 15 states, endan­ger­ing vot­ing rights for hun­dreds of thou­sands of Amer­i­cans. From voter ID laws that threaten to dis­en­fran­chise African Amer­i­cans, Lati­nos, stu­dents and elderly vot­ers, to cuts to early vot­ing and oner­ous require­ments for voter reg­is­tra­tion, the right to vote is in peril.

The proper response to the Shelby County deci­sion is the bipar­ti­san Vot­ing Rights Advance­ment Act of 2015 (S. 1659/H.R. 2867).  The VRAA reasserts appro­pri­ate fed­eral over­sight over efforts to change state and local vot­ing laws and pro­vides addi­tional safe­guards for voting.

Since, 1965 reaf­firm­ing the nation’s com­mit­ment to full vot­ing rights for all has never been con­tro­ver­sial.  Each time the VRA came up for reau­tho­riza­tion it has received over­whelm­ing, bipar­ti­san Con­gres­sional sup­port.  The last time Con­gress extended the VRA, in 2006, it did so after an exhaus­tive hear­ings on vot­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and the impact of the VRA – result­ing in thou­sands of pages of doc­u­men­ta­tion.  The leg­is­la­tion passed over­whelm­ingly: 390 to 33 in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and 98–0 in the Senate.

As we have com­mem­o­rated the 50th anniver­sary of the Vot­ing Rights Act (VRA) this sum­mer, we have been reminded just how far we have come – how impact­ful the VRA has been in ensur­ing the rights of all Amer­i­cans to have their say in our democ­racy.   Jour­ney for Jus­tice marchers and their sup­port­ers are demon­strat­ing that Con­gress must do more than merely com­mem­o­rate anniver­saries of his­toric civil rights vic­to­ries.  They must act.  Now is the time for Con­gress to act to restore the pro­tec­tions of the VRA and secure the right to vote for all Americans.


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