Op-Ed: Trans Americans Have Always and Will Always Serve Our Country

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http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/opinion-transgender-americans-have-always-will-always-serve-our-country-n787431

It was after watching the twin towers fall down while in high school that I solidified my plans to join the military. I left home at 17 years old under the delayed entry program. I was an Army Junior ROTC veteran and already knew how to march and about the rank structure. Excited to leave home, I packed up the items that my recruiter told me to bring and was on my way.

I was in an economy hotel the night before my enlistment ceremony. I stared in the mirror thinking about how my face could possibly be read as female. I considered if I should stop shaving my legs. My true self was something I had to keep to myself. The beauty and liberation that I would find later would not be discovered for another 10 years.

Lara Americo Jasper Blue

My Air Force career was a blur of me dealing with depression, body dysphoria and attempts at becoming a successful MMA fighter. At the height of my career, I was 215 pounds, muscular and dedicated to military life. I did everything I could to be the best airman I could be. In the morning, I went into work and conversed with the other men, pretending to be more masculine than anyone in the room.

As time went on, depression took hold of me and made it nearly impossible for me to perform on the job. I would leave work, and as soon as I walked in the house, I was me again. I could wear what I wanted and express my femininity. I would stay up late, because I didn’t want to wake up to a world where I had to pretend to be a masculine person. I would role-play online as feminine characters that I would create. My true feminine self and my created masculine persona were at war, and the battle was inside me.

I was living two different lives. One was my hypermasculine persona that was created for survival. The other was my true feminine self. There was not enough room for both. I had to choose between survival and being myself, and it was devastating.

I spent the remainder of my career trying to maintain my male persona. Living inside a prison that was my own body. Taking note of the gains in muscle mass and cutting my hair as short as I could with store-bought clippers. Looking in the mirror and wondering if I should cry or celebrate my hypermasculinity.

I waited for every moment that I could be alone — even bathroom breaks where I could sit on a stall and escape into my thoughts. Even for just a few seconds. Just a moment of authenticity. Then back to work. Back to the real world.

Toward the end of my enlistment, my Master Sergeant invited me on a short trip to another military base with her. She was curious about why my career had taken such a plunge. I was on track for Officer Training School until body dysphoria and depression crippled me.

“You were awarded with an early promotion two times and were on the Honor Guard. You were a star airman. What happened?” she asked.

I looked at her and wished I could tell her the truth. I wished that I could let her know that I was a feminine person, and it was something I was proud of. I wished that I could wear the female version of the Air Force uniform, just like she did. Instead, I answered, “I don’t know. I guess I’m just not cut out for the military.”

I wanted to let her know that the military’s policies were stopping me from being the airman that I could and wanted to be. I had the potential, but it was all wasted. I never told her about my identity and often wonder if she would have been accepting, even though the policy at the time would have forced her to have me discharged.

Transgender people are not a disruption. We have never been a disruption. We have always been a part of the military and always will be. The difference is whether we’ll be hiding or living authentically while we serve.

Having a government and president that refuse to acknowledge the active duty military members that are currently serving is dangerous. Our military will never be as strong as it could when thousands of people have to hide who they are. We will always be less safe as long as discrimination against transgender people exists in the military. This is the real disruption.

I’m a Trans Woman of Color, and I’ve Never Been More Scared to Live in North Carolina

Lara Americo has lived in North Carolina most of her life. The 32-year-old activist, artist, and musician was in Charlotte last year when state lawmakers passed one of the country’s most sweeping anti-LGBT laws, House Bill 2, which banned her from the women’s bathroom because she’s transgender. She was still there late last month, when they replaced that law with another one to appease critics who called it discriminatory. The new law was framed by the governor as a repeal, or a compromise, since it does not explicitly require trans women like Americo to use the men’s room. But LGBT activists have called itHB2.0 because it prevents cities like Charlotte from passing nondiscrimination ordinances that would guarantee her access to the women’s room. This week, Americo reached out to say that while the NCAA and others seem to believe the situation has improved for transgender people, she’s never been more scared to live in the Tar Heel State.

I used to tell everyone I wasn’t going to make it past 30 because I was convinced that I wasn’t. I was suicidal and pretty much a hermit—everything was wrong but I didn’t know why. Then I realized it was because I wasn’t living as a woman, so at 29 I decided to transition. I started to go out and meet people, and I learned that North Carolina isn’t really friendly toward transgender people. People just get quiet around you, they whisper. And my family was in shock. They tried to be supportive, but I don’t think they could cope with missing the son they had loved and raised—we haven’t really talked much since.

I was still sort of in the closet until last year, when Charlotte’s City Council started talking about a nondiscrimination ordinance that would allow trans people to use their preferred bathrooms. I testified in support of it—that was when I began to be public about being trans. When it passed, it felt like we were finally going in the right direction. But then North Carolina lawmakers started considering HB2 [which blocked Charlotte’s ordinance]. I testified at the Senate, begging them not to, but they did. I kept using the women’s bathroom anyway—it was a protest against the law every time. Also, if I were to go into the men’s bathroom, there was the potential of outing myself as a transgender woman. While I don’t really keep it a secret anymore, I don’t make it so obvious in public because it can be dangerous for me, especially in the climate we’re in now.

“All we have is a spotlight on us, so that people who don’t like us can target us.”

After HB2 passed, it got scarier. Anytime I have to drive in North Carolina, there are 50-mile stretches without a city, just back roads and small towns, and I can’t stop the car because if I do, I’ll have to worry about someone noticing me. Transgender people, especially people of color, face high rates of violence, so I’ve had to be mindful of my presentation, making sure my clothes are right and my mannerisms are perfect and my voice doesn’t drop too low. And I have to worry about the police pulling me over, discriminating against me. Because while there was always a risk, now they’re emboldened.

A majority of people who don’t really follow the issues that closely, they think there’s been a repeal. But I don’t think it was a repeal—I think transgender people are in even more danger now. When you don’t allow cities to give people protections, you put people in danger. Our state government made it clear that they put profit and sports ahead of our safety, and that mentality trickles down. We still don’t have the protections we need—all we have is a spotlight on us, so that people who don’t like us can target us. I feel less safe now than I did a few weeks ago, and so do a lot of people. I work with the Trans Lifeline, a suicide hotline, and after the new replacement law passed, there was a spike in callers.

“I love North Carolina and I don’t want to leave. And I would hate it if I gave in to fear tactics and discrimination.”

I don’t like to show that these laws have affected me, but they do: I don’t want to stop at a gas station when I’m running out of gas. I don’t want to join the YMCA or the swim team because I worry about someone seeing my body. My partner worries—when I leave the house, I can usually count on her texting me within an hour, and if I don’t respond she gets really upset. I’ve had instances where I’m in a bar and I try to use the bathroom, and someone will look at me funny, and I’ll have to leave the bar to avoid a confrontation. Recently they proposed a bill that would increase trespassing punishments for people in the bathroom, and that bill could be used to target transgender people. I try to be optimistic, but our state has a Republican super-majority with extreme beliefs, so I do worry it’s going to pass and that transgender people will be criminalized.

Every few weeks I hear about a person who is making plans to leave the state, and I’ve considered it myself, but I have to wrestle with the thought of being forced out of my home, because I love North Carolina and I don’t want to leave. It’s a beautiful state. And I would hate it if I gave in to fear tactics and discrimination. There are many people here who don’t care that I’m transgender and they don’t care who uses the bathroom with them. It’s those people who make me want to stay here and be a part of this and fight for the transgender kids who live here and are going to public schools and worry about all these things, and make sure they don’t have to deal with this when they’re 30.

Bullied by the Government: North Carolina Sued After Enacting Sweeping Anti-Transgender Law

https://www.democracynow.org/2016/3/29/bullied_by_the_government_north_carolina

In North Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging a sweeping new law banning local governments from passing laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in public accommodations. The law, House Bill 2, commonly known as the “bathroom bill,” is widely considered to be the most wide-ranging anti-trans law to take effect this year. It was introduced after the city of Charlotte passed its own ordinance seeking to protect the right of transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. In response, the North Carolina Legislature convened an emergency one-day session, at the cost of $42,000, to push through the statewide law HB 2. Within hours of its introduction, the bill was pushed through both the House and the Senate, despite the fact that Senate Democrats walked out in protest. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed the legislation late Wednesday night. On Monday, the ACLUannounced it was challenging the law’s constitutionality.

We speak with ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio about the law’s impact in North Carolina. “It means, first and foremost, that trans people have to live in a state in which they know that their government is willing to actively participate in the harassment and bullying of them,” Strangio says. “But it also means that trans people are now completely unable to participate in public life, because trans people have no idea where they’re supposed to go to the bathroom.” We also speak with Payton McGarry, a student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a plaintiff on the ACLU lawsuit against HB 2.

Watch Part 2 of our interview with McGarry and Strangio here.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In North Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging a sweeping new law banning local governments from passing laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in public accommodations. The law, House Bill 2, commonly known as the “bathroom bill,” is widely considered to be the most wide-ranging anti-trans law to take effect this year. It was introduced after the city of Charlotte passed its own ordinance seeking to protect the right of transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. In response, the North Carolina Legislature convened an emergency one-day session, at the cost of $42,000, to push through the statewide law HB 2. Within hours of its introduction, the bill was pushed through both the House and the Senate, despite the fact that Senate Democrats walked out in protest. Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue issued a statement saying, “This is a direct affront to equality, civil rights and local autonomy.” North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory then signed the legislation late Wednesday night.

On Monday, ACLU North Carolina Legal Director Chris Brook announced the organization was challenging the law’s constitutionality.

CHRIS BROOK: We are asking the court to overturn House Bill 2 because it is unconstitutional, because it violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment, because it discriminates on the basis of sex and sexual orientation, and because it is an invasion of privacy for transgender men and transgender women. The law also violates Title IX by discriminating against students on the basis of sex.

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, the NBA released the following statement. They said, quote, “The NBA is dedicated to creating an inclusive environment for all who attend our games and events. We are deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect, and do not yet know what impact it will have on our ability to successfully host the 2017 all-star game in Charlotte,” they said.

The passage of HB 2 in North Carolina comes amidst a spate of similar bills being introduced in state legislatures around the country. South Dakota, Tennessee, Kentucky, Minnesota, Washington state, Wisconsin and other states are all considering similar bills aimed at prohibiting transgender students from using the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identities.

For more, we’re joined here in New York by Chase Strangio, staff attorney for the ACLU.

Let’s start in North Carolina. The significance of this bill being put into effect and the ACLU now suing?

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, thank you, Amy, for having me. I think, first and foremost, I just want to say what an honor it is to continue to have these conversations and to be in a position to tell a legislature and a government, like North Carolina, “You pass an unconstitutional law Wednesday night, we’re going to sue you on Monday morning.” And that’s what’s happening here. And it’s important that we have this tool.

But the larger context in which these laws are playing out is deeply disturbing, and the North Carolina law is almost, you know, a greatest hits of all of the terrible things we’ve seen in the almost 200 bills that have been introduced targeting LGBT people this year. And the law, as you note, strips away legal protections for LGBT people in jurisdictions across the state and mandates discrimination against transgender people. So we filed this lawsuit to basically say this law is unconstitutional and this law violates federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal funding, so that’s a Title IX claim, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: So, last Wednesday as the North Carolina Legislature convened the emergency session to push through HB 2, transgender rights activist Lara Americo spoke out.

LARA AMERICO: The true emergencies in North Carolina are subpar public schools, gerrymandered elections and the need for clean drinking water. This special session is hindering my rights as a transgender woman and the rights of the LGBT community. It’s also hindering Charlotte’s ability to govern itself. This is not how taxpayers’ money should be spent.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was Lara Americo. Chase Strangio, talk about how this law was pushed through—I mean, the emergency session spending $42,000?

CHASE STRANGIO: Yes, so this is—it was incredibly anomalous with a just unbelievable amount of procedural irregularities. Many of the Democrats in the General Assembly in North Carolina didn’t have a chance to see the bill until it was right before them and they were charged with voting on it. And I think, in addition to all these procedural irregularities, the discourse around the Charlotte ordinance and this law really are incredibly harmful for transgender people, because they rely on a myth and a lie about who trans people are and what it means to actually prohibit discrimination against trans people.

Trans Bathroom Debate: 11 States Sue US Government

OP-ED – Why I’m Fighting North Carolina’s HB2 With Music and Megaphones

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lara-americo/why-im-fighting-north-car_b_9880024.html

On a late Monday afternoon in Raleigh, North Carolina, most people are driving home from work, thinking about what they’re going to watch on Hulu or Netflix that evening.

Not me, at least not a couple of Mondays ago.

Wearing a reflective vest with “NAACP Marshal” printed on the back — and having just left a crowd of more than 800 people gathered for a Moral Monday at the state’s Capitol Building — I’d just watched Rev. Dr. William Barber lead the crowd in protest against NC’s House Bill 2, which sanctions discrimination against transgender people in the state, in addition to making it impossible for residents to sue their employers for discrimination at the state level.

Usually the one on stage, being the musician that I am, that day I was a legal observer, there to jot down the information of those who were arrested for civil disobedience. It’s a far cry from being under the lights and using my voice and guitar to sing about the things I can’t talk about in normal conversations: love, heartbreak, loss.

Since the passage of the HB2, however, my microphone is now a megaphone, and instead of serenading bar regulars, my tune is now the rallying up of trans and queer protesters around me who also oppose what NC is doing to its vulnerable citizens.

I didn’t plan on being an activist, though, but when Charlotte did the right thing and passed a non-discrimination ordinance that allowed transgender people to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender expression — only to have HB2 take that away — I knew that translating my life of performance to one of protest was something I had to do.

I needed to do it to protect my own life, as well as the lives of people in my community.

But in many ways, being a musician has prepared me for a life of activism. Like musicians, activists ride the flow of energy that only crowds can create. They spend countless unseen hours working on their cause, often late into the night. And if they’re lucky, they’re able to elevate conversation and disrupt the status quo with their voices and lives.

2016-05-10-1462853009-8210272-12628511_947607225287074_2937071326750205384_o.jpg

I remember one night playing with my band, JoRa, at a local dive bar in Charlotte. As my girlfriend, Joanne, screamed into the microphone whilst playing the drums, and as I bent hard chords on my guitar, it was clear that our music wasn’t anything but typical.

We didn’t sound like other bands, nor did we want to. We were abrasive, we were angry. And as two queer women on stage — a radical move in itself — we were a disruption to the status quo, there to express in song and lyric how outraged we were at society.

In a sense, we were already protesting.

Fast forward to the Capitol building in Raleigh last week, and there the world of music and protests met again.

After Rev. Barber’s speech, the crowds followed him into the General Assembly for a symbolic sit-in in front of the Speaker of the House’s office. Led by NAACP members, freedom songs like “We Shall Not Be Moved” filled the tops of the legislature’s ceilings like a flowing, winding river. People clapped and chanted while the music united them, helping us all forget the potential of being arrested for civil disobedience.

But between lyrics that proclaim one’s determination to stand with one’s brothers and sisters, uniformed officers swarmed Barber, handing him a noise complaint. Like any punk rocker worth their salt, though, Barber encouraged the loudness and disruption, saying in a booming voice, “If the bill doesn’t change, they will not have enough buses to arrest everyone!”

And like a concert go-er caught up in the rhapsody of the musical moment, I too was prepared to have my hands cuffed. My girlfriend, afraid for my safety, saw the moment differently – and rightfully so.

Being a transgender woman with an ‘M’ for male on her license meant I’d likely be put in jail with men. I could be hurt or much worse, and that wasn’t a mosh pit I wanted or needed to be a part of. And so with the fear of being arrested, we rushed to our car where we’d feel safe again, reminded again that being transgender in NC means I’m no less safe for protesting injustice than I am for having to live with it.

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Since last week’s events, and over the the last couple of months, I’ve come to fully embrace my role as an activist. I’ve spoken at rallies, given speeches to several mayors and city councils, and been the face of a Change.org petition, all with one message: transgender people are just people; we only want to be treated fairly and equally.

My protest-through-music hasn’t stopped; in fact, the lines between musician and activist continue to blur. But with softening calluses and without a guitar in my hand, I’ve made a different impact on the Old North State, all with the earnest hope of reaching new listeners and making a positive change in the world.

I guess the tone of my guitar was never important as I thought it was. Let’s just hope North Carolina listens.

Rallying against North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law

A transgender woman gathers likeminded North Carolinians in Charlotte to protest the state’s controversial new law that restricts transgender people from using the bathroom that corresponds with their chosen gender.

 

What It’s Like to Use a Public Bathroom While Trans

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/what-its-like-to-use-a-public-bathroom-while-trans-20160331

 

For most people, going to a public restroom is no big deal. Aside from long lines at the women’s restroom or a dirty stall in the men’s, they never have to think about it.

For trans people, however, using a public bathroom is complicated, and often dangerous. A 2013 survey from UCLA’s Williams Institute found that nearly 70 percent of trans people had experienced negative interactions in public facilities — from dirty looks to snide comments to physical violence.

A bill recently passed by the North Carolina state legislature put the issue of trans restroom access back in the national spotlight. On March 23rd, Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law HB 2, which effectively made it illegal for trans people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. The legislation also overturns existing nondiscrimination ordinances in the state. The passage of HB 2 follows the failure of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) last November, which was voted down after conservative critics argued it would give “sexual predators” a free pass to prey on children. To date, there’s never been a single reported case of a trans person attacking someone else in a public facility.

Rolling Stone talked to trans people across the country about the North Carolina law, as well as their experiences with using public restrooms. Here’s what they had to say.

Lara Americo
31
Raleigh, North Carolina
She/her

On running into the bathroom to avoid harassment:
“Early in my transition, it was hard because I didn’t blend in well as a female, but I really didn’t look like a male either. So I didn’t get to use any bathrooms. When I did, I had to sprint into it and wait in a stall until everyone was gone, and then run out as fast as I could.

“You stand outside the bathroom for maybe a minute or two to make sure no one is coming out or no one is coming in. Then you go inside and if you hear someone, you just look down and hope they don’t look at your face…. You run into the stall and you lock the door as fast as you can, and then you do what you have to do. If you hear someone walk in, or you hear someone else in there, you have to wait until they leave. Once you hear that they are gone, you can run out. Washing your hands is a difficult situation because it takes time, so hopefully you brought disinfectant.”

On the idea that trans people pose a threat to others in public bathrooms:
“It’s funny because I’m afraid of [non-trans people], and I think I’m more afraid of them than they are of me. It’s a strange feeling to have someone who can hurt you so severely — emotionally, physically and even economically — and they’re afraid of you. It’s like the lion being afraid of the mouse.”

Lawmakers in North Carolina Just Passed a MONSTROUS Anti-LGBTQ Bill

http://www.teenvogue.com/story/north-carolina-anti-lgbt-bill-bathrooms

On Wednesday, North Carolina lawmakers passed a horrifying bill that prevents transgender people from using bathrooms and locker rooms that reflect their identity. Instead, the law forces them to use the facility that corresponds to the gender they were assigned at birth. As opposed the states like South Dakota, where a similar bill was shot down earlier this month, North Carolina is taking a step backwards in the national movement toward LGBTQ equality, and it’s especially concerning that the move received a unanimous vote by Republicans in the state legislature.

“This is a direct affront to equality, civil rights, and local autonomy,” Dan Blue, the state senate Democratic leader, said in a statement, according to The New York Times. The Democrats walked out of the senate in protest of the bill, which comes as a direct response to an anti-discrimination ordinance passed by Charlotte (the state’s largest city) last month, which provided protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, and included allowing transgender persons to use a bathroom of their choice. This new bill supersedes any previous ones and also strips protection against discriminatory practices for all LGBTQ people.

“North Carolina has gone against the trend,” Sarah Preston, executive director of the North Carolina office of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Times. “And they crafted a bill that was more extreme than others. They specifically left gays, lesbians, and the transgender community out of the anti-discrimination policy. They want to make it plain that they think that kind of discrimination is OK.”

Yesterday’s bill passed under the guise of protecting women and children, because Republican lawmakers in North Carolina think sharing a bathroom with a transgender woman can be dangerous. What lawmakers forgot (or ignored) is that those same transgender women face actual danger when forced to use men’s bathrooms. And to make sure that no other city in the state would try to pull a Charlotte, the new law also prohibited cities from coming up with their own anti-discrimination ordinances, which was what this whole thing was really about. Representative Dan Bishop, a Republican who sponsored the bill, called Charlotte’s actions an “egregious overreach.” As a result, the state’s transgender population is being discriminated against.

“I can’t use the men’s room. I won’t go back. It is unsafe for me,” Madeleine Gause, a transgender woman from North Carolina said.

Transgender activist Lara Americo also spoke out against the bill, saying that North Carolina has more pressing issues it should be working to fix, instead of restricting her civil liberties: “The true emergencies in North Carolina are subpar public schools, gerrymandered elections, and the need for clean drinking water. This special session is hindering my rights as a transgender woman and the rights of the LGBT[Q] community. It’s also hindering Charlotte’s ability to govern itself. This is not how taxpayers’ money should be spent.”