Below is the recent speech on LGBT Equal Rights I gave at the Unitarian Church of Barnstable on Cape Cod. You can also watch the youtube videos which were filmed and edited in four parts.
GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH
I have personally witnessed the destruction of human lives from the vicious and cruel attacks of the haters of this world against the Transgender community. When I spent time in San Francisco—one of the most liberal cities in America—as a Peer Leader and Life Coach to the Transgender community at Trans-Thrive, and as a mentor through California’s Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative, I heard individual stories of attacks on the transgenders in my group. I witnessed their bruises, and I saw their scars. I was incensed at the destruction of these fragile human lives. I felt their pain as they shared their personal stories and I held them as they shed the years of pent up tears. These are people who cannot even begin to understand the concept of liberty because, as things stand now, they are not afforded even the basic protections from discrimination, which most Americans have under the law. Transgenders are denied employment, a proper education, housing, medical care, and the necessary food to stay alive. They have been forced into shelters and soup kitchens for their basic survival. Numerous young Transgenders were forced to live on the streets after being thrown away by their own families. Many entered the sex trade to survive or were forced to file for disability. Transgender birth is not a disability in and of itself. It is, however, a birth condition which can be treated with the proper medical care and a strong support group to let these children know they are valuable and integral humans worthy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
An old belief is that the Transgender condition developed because of a negative environment and was diagnosed as a mental condition known as Gender Dysphoria. It is now understood by medical science that this was not and is not correct. Today, we have young Transgender children of four, five, six, and seven years old who, through the loving support of their families and with proper medical care, are being allowed to choose their own genders. It is through these young children that we are learning, and we can clearly see that these children are born with this genetic condition. Some young Transgender children—the ones who are lucky enough to have enlightened, loving and caring parents—are being given the chance to live a normal life and to have the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Yet, this is not true for the majority of Transgender children who live in homes where they are not encouraged to speak their truth, and in most cases if they did, they would be beaten, bullied, humiliated, sent into reparative therapy, or cast aside to fend for themselves on the streets, without the love of a family or the guidance of a strong support group.
Every one of these attacks—whether it’s a cruel word or a brutal physical attack—regardless of the severity, chips away at the self-esteem and the very soul of the person under attack. Today, the people in the Transgender community are at highest risk to contract HIV and AIDS because they have been forced to survive by whatever means are available and to put their very lives at risk every day in the fight for survival. This is not liberty—it is surely death.
Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have achieved success are still at risk. We are at risk of our marriages being invalidated in States that have not legalized same-sex marriage. In several States the courts have invalidated marriages using same-sex as the grounds, by using the argument that we were born one sex and we are still that sex regardless of our current gender status or what our new or amended birth certificate reflects. So far this has happened in only a few instances and it is almost always in the case of female transgenders. The intention of the States has been to strip away the right of transgenders to sue on behalf of a spouse, the right to inherit property, the right to community property, and the right to child custody. In Texas a bill has already been introduced to ban all transgender marriage, and Republican Governor Rick Perry has already said he will sign it into law if it passes through the Texas State Legislature. Our jobs are also at risk if and when it’s discovered that we are transgenders, and there are countless other legal protections denied to us. This is not freedom, liberty or the pursuit of happiness—it is oppression and surely destroys human life.
My own personal story speaks to the chipping away of self-esteem when I was told that I was an abomination to God and that I was surely condemned to hell for changing what God created. I stand here today to say that I am exactly who God created; an intelligent, loving, vital person in society who chooses not to judge another’s path to liberty or the pursuit of happiness.
Even though “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was repealed, it had no effect on the transgender citizens in this country. We cannot serve openly in the military even though countless war veterans are transgenders who served their country—risking life and limb as closeted transgenders. Yet when the Employment Non Discrimination Act was introduced in Congress in 1994, gender identity was not included. Gender Identity was added for the first time in 2007 but was later dropped due to the belief that a bill wouldn’t pass with Gender Identity included. It wasn’t until Rep. Barney Frank re-introduced the bill in 2011 that Gender Identity was once again included and Sen. Jeff Merkley introduced ENDA in the Senate. President Obama supports the legislation but it still sits in the House and Senate because it is being blocked by those right wing elected officials who are supported by the religious right. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) must be repealed, yet it is still being blocked by the right wing in the House and Senate while President Obama and Vice President Biden have taken a public position in support of marriage equality.
In our country today there are two movements in progress. It seems to be a battle between the light and darkness, between good and evil. We have those who are experiencing suppression of equal rights and those who would continue the denial of equal rights. As spoken so eloquently by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” Speech, he shared his vision of the world where all people would live together in total equality. I also share that vision for all the people of the world. It is the same dream that has been shared by countless others throughout history. I have the dream of freedom, the right to marry the person I love without the fear of my legal rights afforded through marriage being stripped away, and I have a dream of the right to live my life in the pursuit of happiness and liberty without the fear of death for standing on the side of equal rights for all citizens in the United States of America. This same dream has been shared by the Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln, by Lucy Burns and Alice Paul who founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, and by the almost 1,000 women who were imprisoned under torturous conditions at the Occoquan workhouse in Virginia as they fought for their right to vote. Let’s not forget Mahatma Gandhi as he led his people to freedom, Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for 27 years for advocating for the freedom of his people, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy who sacrificed their very lives for freedom, and of course Ted Kennedy who lived and fought for freedom as a United States Senator until his death. Today I honor the sacrificed lives of the leaders of the LGBT Equal Rights movement around the world and especially those who have already given their lives in this fight.
Today, I applaud President Obama, Vice President Biden, and the determined Congresspersons and Senators who openly voice their belief in equality for the LGBT citizens in this country, and who are working against the odds to ensure that equality for all Americans becomes law. As long as there is discrimination in any form against any citizen we cannot remain silent. Silence and inaction in and of themselves are equivalent to approving the lack of legal protections and the absence of equal rights.
From the Eastern Seaboard to the Pacific Ocean, from the Canadian Borders to the Southernmost boundaries of our country, discrimination still rules the land. We have families who suffer in the fear of homelessness and hunger because they are denied Non Discrimination Laws to protect them from unemployment, simply because they are gay, lesbian, or transgender. We have families who cannot enjoy the sanctity of marriage and all the legal protections given to other families. We have a large portion of our population who still live in fear every day because they could be attacked while walking down the street as their authentic selves. I ask you—does this sound like the kind of liberty that Patrick Henry spoke of? Does this sound like freedom?
How many deprivations must be experienced before we say enough is enough? How many lives must be taken before we finally stand in unity?
Through our beloved Foundation For International Justice, David and I are prepared to go the distance as we continue to lobby in Washington, DC, organize rallies, and encourage and support a major march on Washington. We are even prepared to chain ourselves to the fence in front of the White House if that’s what it takes to get Congress to pay attention to what we are asking for and what President Obama and Vice President Biden are already supporting. Personally, we are not asking for equal rights, we are asking for our God given and constitutionally guaranteed human rights which are being denied through a subtle form of religious persecution.
Although we do support the work of all organizations that are fighting for equal rights, we do not believe that taking on one State at a time is the ultimate answer. We believe that the time has come for our duly elected Senators and Representatives to take the necessary actions required by the United States Constitution—by protecting all American citizens from any form of oppression and protecting them from the denial of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are lobbying for a Civil Rights Act to be drafted, passed in both the House and Senate, and signed into law by our president. Ultimately, we believe that absolute protection of Equal Rights for all American Citizens can only be fully guaranteed by an Amendment to the United States Constitution, and that is our ultimate goal. With such an Amendment there would never be the need for any citizen to have to fight this same fight for Equal Rights as countless people have done repeatedly throughout our history for each class of citizens, including blacks and women. This is our vision for the future and we ask that you join with us and the millions of other Americans who truly believe in Equality for All and use your voice at every opportunity through the election process, with letters to your Congresspersons and Senators, and with the full and willing support of a community that needs your help in order to gain full equality.
Give me Liberty or Give me Death! What did Patrick Henry mean by
this statement? I believe his concept of liberty is best described in
Webster’s Dictionary as: “The state of being free from oppression,
tyranny, confinement, or slavery.” Patrick Henry felt that if he could not attain liberty, he would have preferred death.
What we have today in our country is not the liberty Patrick Henry spoke of. Instead what we have is the denial of equal rights for a segregated class of citizens based on the religious beliefs of those who believe that they have the right to dictate what all other people must believe. Those self-righteous religious beliefs are the driving force in the fight against our liberty and they deny us our own religious freedoms. What we do see is legalized discrimination and the condoning of oppression, tyranny, and murder due to the refusal on the part of lawmakers to enact the very laws which could and would begin to bring an end to so much needless death and suffering.
Every year around the world Transgenders are still being brutally murdered because they have been born outside the boundaries of what some people consider normal. At the same time, we have a Congress that refuses to pass legislation to guarantee Equal Rights for All Americans. And even worse, we have State Legislatures that pass laws which intentionally discriminate against some of their own citizens. Many countries condone these transgender murders and some actually celebrate them. These murders have not lessened as the years have passed; instead they continue to grow every year. Once we have attained true freedom in the United States, the Foundation For International Justice will take this fight around the world in honor of our fallen heroes by lobbying for legislation and equality in every country on Earth. Our fallen heroes yearned for freedom and they cherished life. Instead, their attackers chose to give them a horrible and unspeakable death.
I would now like to ask the Reverend Kristen Harper to come forward and read the names of our dead fallen Transgender and LGBT Civil Rights heroes, including how they were murdered, so that in honoring their deaths, we may also honor their lives.
Joining the ranks of Women, Race, Religion, and Sexual Orientation, the transgender community was recently added as a protected class of citizens by the EEOC to prevent workplace discrimination. This is a major step forward in the fight for Human Rights and victory is now in sight.
DOMA has now been found unconstitutional by five Federal Courts and is now progressing to the United States Supreme Court. These are both positive steps but not the end result we seek. It will take a Human Rights Act passed in both the House and Senate and signed into law by our President to fully enforce full equal rights protections and to provide safeguards to ensure that no humans can ever again be denied their human rights. To ensure that equal rights for all humans remain forever the law of our land it will ultimately require an Amendment to our United States Constitution.
In conclusion, I would like to draw to a close by quoting Nelson Mandela in his final statement in Long Walk To Freedom, with which I strongly identify after my own false imprisonment lasting four long years, and ensuing legal battles of almost fifteen years, simply because I was born differently, because my rights were denied and stripped away as a transgender woman.
I now quote Nelson Mandela:
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”