Gender Lobbying Day
I was looking at TGForum archives when I ran across these two reports of the first Transgender Lobby Day which took place in October of 1995. I thought it might be educational to review what happened that day and compare that to where we are today 17 years later. — JoAnn Roberts
By Lisa Maxwell
The first ever National Transgender Lobbying Days brought together ninety-five energetic, committed volunteers from around the country to assist in the lobbying of Members of Congress, both on the House and the Senate side.
Organized by Phyllis Randolph Frye of ICTLEP, Riki Ann Wilchins of TS Menace, and Karin Kerin, of It’s Time America, this event was an unqualified success, and has been elevated to annual event status. We volunteer rabble were idealistic and optimistic, and very excited! We wanted to do a very complete job of lobbying, all 535 members. (And were we ever complete, like most of us were completely aware that we actually made history, completely proud that we were finally standing up for ourselves in the land of Foggy Bottom and were completely exhausted at the end, and were totally glad that we did it!
We also held a new conference on the steps of the Capitol, and were covered on CNN and will be covered in a 20/20 television episode reportedly sometime in November ’95. Wow!
Who was Reached?
All 535 Members of Congress were reached in some form, usually via personal contact through the person of the legislative aide (L.A). The legislative aides are usually wonderful young, idealistic, aspiring politicos who brief the M.C. of important issues, and they all have specialties in various issues, such as Health, employment, gay/lesbian issues, and so on. So, with happiness and purpose in our hearts, we met them all and pressed the flesh. Some of them had never met a Transgendered person before, and it was really great outreach. Many said that they had heard of people like us on talk shows; I was consistently told that they had “never knowingly met one of us”. Cool
When we met with the M.C. L.A.s (got that?) we had some really good information to hand out, covering the following major areas:
- the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) bill
- Health Care Policy inclusion for transsexuals,
- changes in the Hate Crimes Reporting Statistic Act to include trans people, and
- changes in the Federal Bureau of Prisons Standards.
We were primarily urging modification of wording in the ENDA bill (H.R. 1863 and S. 932) to include, in addition to sexual orientation protection, gender identity protection to cover both pre and post-op transsexuals who live and work full-time, also crossdressers who may live in fear of being discovered at work and fired. In addition, we urged inclusion of transsexual care in all health insurance policies (currently transsexual health care is specifically excluded). The last major issue covered was changes in the Federal Bureau of Prisons Standards to allow separate facilities for TS and Gay inmates. You can probably imagine what could happen to a pre-operative TS who might end up in prison. There is currently no protection for such an event, and we also urged that that be included.
Where We Are
We need to remember that we are now, in 1995, where the Gay/Lesbian political movement was some twenty years ago. All we want are equal rights, not special rights or quotas; we just want to be treated like any other tax-paying, voting, loyal consumer of goods and ideas, American.
Most of the legislative aides in the California congresspeople’s area were accepting, sensitive, and listened to what I had to say. To a person, they all said that they would forward the information to the representative or senator. I personally saw two senators and 28 representatives ( Yes, I have lived all over California and the world, and in the past have lived in most of the districts that I visited for at least 6 months). Without exception, the reception was positive, and I was met with interest, even with members of the Republican Party (we must not invoke stereotypes here). I even met with the legislative aide for Rep. Bob Dornan, arch-conservative. So anyway, this will be a long, slow process, and we need your help next year, same weekend, same place, more people!
Successful Lobbying Days Unite Community, Accomplish Goals
By Phyllis Frye
Executive Director, International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy
We came from everywhere. Some came directly from Southern Comfort (an event in Atlanta) which graciously served as a springboard: others simply came. Many flew, some drove and a few came by Amtrak. One brave soul road a bus for 2-1/2 days from Wyoming. Four flew in from Hawaii. One observer flew in from Belgium. People kept coming.
The hotel was glad to have us and gave us very good service and treatment. The prices were also great as ICTLEP (International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy) negotiated a price in the mid 50 to mid60 dollar range per night with no limit on occupancy. Riki Wilchins, International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE)and others had several rooms available for those who simply could not afford to come otherwise. In all we had several folks who were willing to share rooms and cost, and we had others who were willing to take someone in without reimbursement. We were a generous group. People kept coming.
Listings are always a problem because someone gets left out. Even so,besides the Transexual Menace and the ICTLEP, the following organizations were represented– It’s Time America (ITA), IFGE , FTM International, AEGIS, Renaissance, ETVC, TheAmerican Boyz, the Outreach Institute and Tri–Ess. (Please do not hit me if I left you out.)
Riki and I met for an extended time on Sunday afternoon to iron out the last minute details and scheduling and agenda for the evening meeting. We arranged for a larger meeting room. We went to the neighboring Kinko’s several times trying to rush our printing orders so we could collate. A generous soul paid for all of the printing as a donation. People kept coming. Menace t-shirts were everywhere along with two new special editions — one that read “Capitol City” and another that sold out at Southern Comfort which read “Texas — Lone Star State.”
Getting to Know You
It was fun to put faces on e-mail addresses. People kept coming. It was nice to see that the men of our community and the people of color in our community were appearing in substantial numbers. People kept coming. The printing finally arrived and twelve volunteers helped to collate. People kept coming. Another volunteer made signs to help us organize by state. Name tags were placed upon folks as they entered the meeting room which read first name and state. Ninety-three handouts were taken that evening, even though not all arrived for that meeting.
Riki began the meeting with the usual necessary remarks and then retraced how we were at peace with HRCF (Human Rights Campaign Fund). She had invited representatives from the NGLTF (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) and HRCF. These people gave interesting insights as to what was going to happen on Monday and Tuesday and wished us well. Riki made other relevant remarks and passed the meeting to me.
I presented the handouts and went through them. (Some of these are attached below for your use in future situations.) There was a general map with theHouse and Senate buildings and the nearest Metro stations. There were general comments about setting up and following through with meetings in congressional offices. There were comments about professional attire ONLY at/and around the Capitol, about acting out and about handling the press.
(I had asked and continued to ask that folks not wear Menace t-shirts around the hotel. This was an open motel and we had to go eat elsewhere within blocks of the University of Maryland. I was simply afraid that by Tuesday night the college toughs would figure us out and mug some of us who remained on Tuesday night. My cautions were never materialized. We had ABSOLUTELY NO trouble with the college kids, even after many of us wore Menace t-shirts in their midst for three days. I was incorrect in my assessment, and I will wear my Menace t-shirt next year for sure at and about the motel.)
Next came the handout to be taken to each member of congress — all 435 Representatives and 100 Senators. This handout contained a scorecard which will in the coming months be processed by another volunteer to give us information for the future. Also was information about who we were (by Feinberg, Minnesota statute and San Francisco ordinance); about violence against tg (including the early Boyz survey); about ENDA; about health care for tg; about military service and tg stereotypes in general; about imprisonment with the ICTLEP “Policy for the Imprisoned, Transgendered”; theICTLEP International Bill of Gender Rights; a handout produced by JoAnnRoberts for distribution at the upcoming National Association of Social Workers Convention; and about the various tg community contacts with phone numbers and e-mails.
Comes the Magic
Then came the magic. We began to divide up the stacks of packets by states and to cover those fifteen (yes, only fifteen) states that were not represented. I explained that we would be in groups of four or two or singles depending upon each person’s comfort or experience level and that each person was only responsible for six members of congress. The magic was that this was something they EACH BELIEVED they could do (with the packet asa guide and the scorecard for follow-up) and a number that was within each of their abilities. The magic was that they each believed that THEY COULD DO IT. With that individual realization by each in the room, the mood became electrifying. In a short while I had no handouts left — each of the 535 had been assigned.
We had representatives from 35 states. The surprise was that Pennsylvania had the highest number of folks with sixteen (split 1/2 and 1/2 by the west and the east). Many states had only one or two, but that was sufficient. The Iowa person told me that she was sent by a group fundraiser, and that when she discovered that neighboring Nebraska was without someone, another fundraiser was held to send a corn husker.
Monday morning at 7:15 AM was a sight. A steady stream of tg‘s began the long three block walk to the Metro. It looked like a Sunday School group with all the business suits and conservative dresses and slacks with sportcoats and ties streaming down the road. (Some had not gotten the word about comfortable walking shoes, but they changed into same shortly thereafter.) For many the METRO was new and they had a bit of a snarl going through the fare system for the first time. Riki had forseen that problem and we added 15 minutes for it. We all arrived near the south steps of the Capitol. This was when it became apparent that that our numbers exceeded 100: there were some who were not staying at the hotel and several spouses and teen-aged children also showed.
Riki had prearranged for media, but I was worried about the Capitol Police. So I approached them and said we had a church group in town and asked could we gather on the stairs for a group shot. Okay, so we gathered and got all arranged with cameras poised. Then, but not before then to tip our hand, I began to unfurl the large banner that read TRANSGENDERED AND PROUD — AND WE VOTE! Needless to say, great pictures which you can get through IFGE.
We then moved over to the press conference that Riki had skillfully negotiated and created. I was pleased that 90% of those tg‘s there stood for the press conference. Riki then me then Jamison Green then Dawn Wilson then Nancy Nangeroni talked to the general press conference. Mostly we pointed out to them that we fit no one’s stereotype and that we were worthy of our time at the Capitol meeting with our Representatives and Senators. We reiterated our needs as were in our packets. The Capitol Police finally had enough and made us move, but no one was hassled or arrested. Everyone then went about the business of completing their group or individual assignments.
Riki had wisely suggested that we have a command post. I took on that duty and set up in the cafeteria of the Longworth House Office Building. What a wonderful experience it was! This was my sixth time to do this sort of grassroots, meeting with elected officials on the HILL. This was the best, because I was allowed to make mental snapshots of people as they came in for a question, a break or lunch. We sat at the tables near the beginning of the food line. Every regular cafeteria patron got an eyeful but no one gawked because none of us fit the stereotype. One person came by on Tuesday and wished us well. It seems that her nephew was tg and had committed suicide several years ago. She was glad that we were there. For certain, we were the dinner table talk both nights and certainly this weekend. (No doubt we were upstaged in the media by the OJ jury announcement on that Monday afternoon and the actual verdict on Tuesday.)
Republican Senator Enjoys Meeting
Over those two days, the less than five bad receptions were not all that bad. There were well over fifty pleasant surprises, mostly from Republicans who have been broad brushed as agents of the religious right. While some R’s are, we discovered that privately most R’s are not. One story in particular sticks in my mind of a tg who met with a known conservative Republican Senator (not a staffer) from a rural state and the Senator was so intrigued by the failure of the stereotype that a ten minute appointment was stretched into thirty-five minutes, all the while some delegates from the Russian embassy were kept waiting for twenty minutes. While some staffers and offices stuck true to the conservative stereotype of their congressman, far and away most did not.
On Monday evening we regrouped. Several folks had taken on too large an assignment and others were doing better than expected. So I presided over the swapping of packets, and again all 535 were covered. Riki then began to organize the Menace event for Tuesday Morning. She stressed over and over how this was not a violent event or even an angry event. But we all felt that an action was needed (one that would not interfere with the primary task of meeting congress persons) at 8 a.m. next morning with respect to the death of Tyra Hunter.
I heard the Menace event at DC City Hall over The Tyra Hunter death went well. No arrests, no violence, no meanness. I even heard that Riki gave a leaflet to Mayor Barry. I wanted to be there, but a blind tg Utah resident had gotten an appointment with Orin Hatch for 8 a.m. Tuesday morning and needed me there. JoAnn Roberts, Sharon Stuart and Allison Lang joined us. Although Hatch had left town on something else, we five met with Hatch’s senior legislative counsel for 35 minutes. It was productive. I went back to the command post and the other four went on with other appointments. Some left to go home on Tuesday afternoon. Others stayed until 4:30 p.m. to finish their Tuesday assignments. Some did a little sightseeing. Many stayed over Tuesday night to leave on Wednesday morning. Only 15 packets remained undone, but these were all in a major LGBT friendly city and the person orgainizing that state promised that he would visit each personally in the home district.
What did we accomplish?
1. We put two to three times as many tg people on the HILL as was predicted. Over 100 from 35 states!
2. We destroyed the stereotypes in a very big way.
3. We met face to face with congresspersons and staffers and soberly asked for our rights. 520 of the 535 offices were visited!
4. We trained over 80 (some already knew) on the how to of this type of work.
5. We handled the press without incident.
6. We destroyed the fears of arrest and police harassment.
7. Not one single bathroom incident has been reported. Folks went in, did their business and went right back out.
7. We demonstrated to HRCF and NGLTF that we are indeed a force to be respected. I think we may have put more on the HILL than HRCF did last February.
8. We demonstrated to them that we knew what we were doing and we could do it. HRCF praised the organization.
9. We distributed by hand good tg literature that spoke to our needs. HRCF praised the scorecards and the packets.
10. We now know who our friends are and can deliver floor votes in the future. Much will be done with future contacts by tg constituents.
11. We worked in a non-partisan fashion.
12. We organized many new chapters of It’s Time (state) (America).
13. We alerted many about the federal prison problem. Many congresspersons or staffers were shocked and will send letters.
13. Fill in the blank: (we did so much).I know that tg‘s will begin to visit their congress persons at their home offices in the future and will begin with a new spirit to meet their state reps and local elected officials.