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March 22, 2016

Intended or Not, SJP’s Actions Have Consequences for LGBTQ People

By Seth M. Marnin, Vice President for Civil Rights

Recent homophobic and anti-Semitic incidents at Brown University came on the heels of the announcement that Janet Mock, transgender author and founder of #GirlsLikeUs, a social media project that empowers trans women, had cancelled her scheduled speaking engagement there. Mock’s talk, Redefining Realness, was sponsored by Moral Voices, the Brown Center for Students of Color, Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, LGBTQ Center, Sexual Assault Peer Educators, Swearer Center for Public Service, Office of the Chaplains, the Rhode Island School of Design’s Office of Intercultural Student Engagement, and Brown/RISD Hillel.

Reacting to the fact that Hillel was one of the co-sponsors of program, the Brown University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) launched a petition urging Ms. Mock to reject Hillel’s invitation to speak, saying that she should accept “Brown students’ sponsorship instead of Hillel’s.”  Although they were only able to gain 159 supporters (of the nearly 9,000 students who attend Brown), SJP’s divisive efforts led to Ms. Mock cancelling her talk.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

While some may be quick to criticize Ms. Mock’s decision, condemnation should instead be leveled against SJP and their efforts to splinter a community and use Ms. Mock as a pawn. In their effort to link Hillel’s Moral Voices’ campaign – a largely domestic initiative highlighting violence against LGBT+ individuals and communities – to violence in the Middle East, SJP forced a transgender woman of color to choose between silencing herself or allowing herself to be exploited for their unrelated crusade.  She should never have been put in that position.

The homophobic and anti-Semitic graffiti that appeared on Brown’s campus just days later occurred in an environment that SJP helped create. Their claim to be surprised is unpersuasive.   Moreover, the graffiti is only one visible sign of the consequences of SJP’s actions. While SJP’s efforts to alienate Jewish students are well documented, there are other implications too.

There are far too few visible transgender role models and leaders. Efforts that have the effect of quashing those scarce voices have far-reaching repercussions.  For example, studies have shown that the suicide attempt rate among transgender men and women exceeds 41%, greatly surpassing the 4.6% of the overall U.S. population who report a suicide attempt at some point in their lives. The elevated rates of suicide attempts are connected with survivors’ experiences of family rejection and discrimination and violence at school and work. The absence of transgender voices in mainstream discourse also plays a role. There few role models for young transgender people, and families, co-workers, and friends of transgender people have limited opportunities to hear from transgender leaders.  Such an experience would better equip them to be allies in the future. Unfortunately, SJP’s actions foreclosed that possibility for the Brown University campus.

The importance of providing platform for transgender voices is underscored by the fact that, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ most recent report, violence against transgender women and particularly transgender women of color remains at an alarmingly high rate. At present, only 17 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws that explicitly cover gender identity. Critical efforts to address violence against LGBTQ people, including advocacy for inclusive hate crime laws like the 50 States Against Hate campaign, are undermined by organizations that engage in activism that results in silencing transgender voices. That too is what SJP did.

SJP encouraged a speaker – wholly unrelated to Israel – to reject an invitation from a broad coalition of student organizations solely because one of those organizations is Jewish. Intended or not, SJP harmed the LGBTQ community at Brown and beyond.  It’s well beyond time to reject these divisive tactics.

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November 20, 2015

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

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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