Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My talk to county legislators at their June 16, 2008 meeting

The New York Transgender Rights Organization

AT THE JUNE 16, 2008, 10:00 AM MEETING OF

Good morning to the honorable legislators and all who are present.

My name is Joann Prinzivalli. I live in White Plains and I am the state Director of the New York Transgender Rights Organization, or NYTRO.

I am speaking to you this morning to impress upon you the serious nature of the issue involving the need for an amendment to the county human rights law to correct the definition of gender to explicitly include protection for my people.

The bill was introduced by Legislator Lois Bronz in 2005 but has died in committee. I am appending a copy of the bill to my prepared remarks. Given several recent turns of events, I strongly urge you to pass this legislation immediately.

Needless to say, everything is not “coming up roses” for transgender people.

Transgender people are subjected to severe discrimination every day. I lost my job in 2000 because of being transgender, and ironically, because I testified at the 3rd public hearing on the original human rights bill in November 1999, begging you to reinstate the language that was removed by then Chair George Latimer at the request of the Catholic Archdiocese Office of the Family.

In Westchester County, homeless transgender women have been placed in men’s facilities. It has only been through efforts of people like Laura Newman, the former LGBT liaison to the County Executive, that in some cases that came to her attention, some accommodations were made.

Transgender people are sometimes refused service in eating and drinking establishments in this county. We live in fear of being arrested for using a public bathroom no matter which bathroom we use.

In the Bronx, just to the south, young Sanesha Stewart was brutally murdered. Because she was transgender, the New York Daily News portrayed her as a prostitute who was killed by a john when he found out she had the wrong genitals. This was not true at all.

On the floor of the State Assembly during the debate on the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which ultimately passed in that chamber by a 108-33 vote, Assemblymember Peter Lopez, while acknowledging that transgender people need protection under the law, raised his opposition to the bill based on the argument that it would protect sexual predators who would lurk in public restrooms to prey on women and children. Another Assemblymember thought that young children in schools should not be exposed to a transgender teacher.

And now, we have had the experience of watching on television three heterosexual cissexual members of this august body of legislators cavorting on stage in mockery of transgender people - intentionally or unintentionally, and I am sure it was unintentionally, portraying crossdressed people as simple-minded and buffoonish, to get a laugh.

There is a very direct and insidious connection between the portrayal of transgender people as prostitutes, sexual predators and a threat to children, or parodied as buffoonish clowns, and the way a segregationist white America chose to portray African Americans not so long ago.

If I refer to motion pictures, we have the examples of the controversial 1915 DW Griffith film The Birth of A Nation, which portrayed black men as always ready to be raping white women, and the first “talkie” in 1928, The Jazz Singer, featuring white actor Al Jolson in blackface. It wasn’t just in the movies – news accounts of lurid black-on-white crime made whites fearful, while at the same time popular minstrel shows featured white people in makeup, acting in a parody of African-Americans.

Discrimination against African Americans was often seen as justified in the minds of whites, in part, because of the routine portrayal of black people as sex-crazed rapists, or as a simple-minded, shuffling, lazy lesser breed of human.

Let me put it this way. You may understand the idea of “white privilege” and how that impacts “institutionalized racism.” It’s the same thing with what I would call “cissexual privilege” and “institutionalized transphobia.”

Straight cissexuals mocking people like me in a drag show is just as much “just in good clean fun” as white people performing a minstrel show in blackface.

I hope I have illustrated the need for this technical amendment to the law. I can speak to any or all of you to amplify on this is you wish.

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