Friday, June 14, 2019

My Lincoln-inspired keynote speech kicking off World Pride in White Plains

Remarks of Joann Prinzivalli at the
2019 Westchester Pride Flag Raising
White Plains, New York, June 2, 2019
A half century ago, transgender, gay and lesbian people at the Stonewall Inn defiantly rose up in resistance against police oppression. From the resulting riot, gay liberation organizations conceived the movement for LGBTQ human rights, dedicated to the proposition that we, too, are created equal.
As we stand here today, we still engage in that struggle for civil rights so long denied to us.  It is a test of our resolve to achieve justice and bring life to the aspirational founding principles of our nation that all are entitled to certain inalienable rights, We have come far in gaining our rights here in Westchester County, in our State, and in several other states. We have marriage equality in the state and the nation, but the struggle continues, nationally and in many other states, as the opponents of equality and justice are emboldened by the current federal administration in its work against human rights and dignity – they deny transgender people the right to serve in the military, they allow doctors, hospitals and medical professionals to refuse to provide treatment to LGBTQ people on so-called “religious” grounds, they allow homeless shelters to refuse accommodation to transgender people, they deny U.S. citizenship to newborn children of gay American citizen parents just because they were delivered outside the country through surrogacy. The current federal administration chisels away at our civil rights with a “death of a thousand cuts.” And our community is not the only target of their wrath.
We gather here today to raise the Rainbow Flag as a symbol of that promise of equality that is a bedrock American principle, and to celebrate our victories – including this year’s enactment of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. We resolve to continue the work toward justice and equality in the face of oppression, so that our civil rights movement, so conceived and so dedicated, may prevail against the forces of darkness.
In a larger sense, we are not alone in our dedication to the struggle – we stand on the shoulders of the giants who took those first steps fifty years ago, and on the shoulders of those who have continued to incubate that journey toward justice.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, paraphrasing 19th century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  To this I can add a firm belief that this arc does not bend on its own – it requires the hard work of people, like the people gathered here today, to continue to bend that arc toward justice, and toward universal respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.
The words that are said here today may soon be forgotten, but as we celebrate the achievements we have won and the work that has been done, we dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work, and we remember those who have gone before us and are not forgotten – we pledge that that their work and our work shall not have been in vain, and that we will prevail.  We must be the midwives to enact the promises of the Declaration of Independence to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness so that they are not merely hollow, empty, myths without substance – making America a true beacon of hope shining our light to the world.

"The Image and Likeness of God is He/She!" 

An answer to the "Male and Female He Created Them" Document for Catholic Education

I have finally had a chance to review the document published by the Roman Catholic Congregation  For  Catholic  Education (for Educational Institutions), entitled

“Male  And  Female He  Created Them ” Towards A Path Of Dialogue On The Question Of Gender Theory In Education, first published on February 2, 2019, but not released until June 2019 as a part of th Vatican’s “commemoration” of Pride Month in this semi-centennial year since the Stonewall Riots in new York City.

In reading this document, I am quite aware of the unique way that Roman Catholic theologians build their castles on foundations of sand, and I have to burst their bubble

First, they create the “straw man” so that it can be properly whacked at

“an ideology that is  given the general name ‘gender theory’, which “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the  biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time” (cited to Francis, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia,19 March 2016, 56)

Then they set up, based on a “Christian view of anthropology” that has no relation whatsoever to the study of humanity as we actually exist in nature, that is grounded in the idea that there are two sexes, and only two sexes.  In their view, everyone must be fitted, arbitrarily or willy-nilly, into one of two boxes – male or female.

But then we see a methodology expressed:

“to listen, to reason and to propose. In fact, listening carefully  to  the  needs  of  the  other combined  with  an  understanding of the true diversity of conditions, can lead to a shared set of rational elements in an argument, and can prepare one for a Christian education rooted in faith that “throws a new light on everything, manifests God’s design for man’s total vocation, and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human”

This is followed by a very confused discussion:

The following is an example:

“11. In this cultural context, it is clear that sex and gender are no longer synonyms or interchangeable concepts, since they are used to describe two different  realities.  Sex  is  seen  as  defining  which  of  the  two  biological categories (deriving from the original feminine-masculine dyad) one belonged to. Gender, on the other hand, would be the way in which the differences between the sexes are lived in each culture. The problem here does not lie in the distinction between the two terms, which can be interpreted correctly, but in the separation of sex from gender. This separation is at the root of the distinctions proposed between various “sexual orientations” which are no longer defined by the sexual difference between male and female, and can then assume other forms, determined solely by the individual, who is seen as radically autonomous. Further, the concept of gender is seen as dependent upon the subjective mindset of each person, who can choose a gender not corresponding to his or her biological sex, and therefore with the way others see that person (transgenderism).”

Let’s examine the above and propose something for the Magisterium to consider - the following are my thoughts:

When one differentiates between sex and gender, one is separating things that, together, make up “sex” but which may not be in congruence.  For cissexual/cisgender people, there are no issues of a lack of congruity, so it becomes difficult to understand the distinction as being useful.

However, if we look at the genital tract, the “standard” expectation is that during gestation, an embryo, which as it develops, starts with both a mullerian (female) and wolffian (male) tract development, but which during the course of an ordinary gestation, the fetus develops one, while the other withers. 

On the other hand, the brain develops a physiological sex of its own, at a different time during gestation, and while in the large majority of cases this development is congruent with the development of the wolffian or mullerian tract, that is not always the case.  It is in the physiology of the brain that modern medical science has found differences – for example, in the hypothalamus, the range of neuronal density of the basal stria terminalis for most people who emerge with a wolffian tract is starkly different from the neuronal density of those with a mullerian tract.  But in some people who are what one would call “classic” transgender, brain studies have emerged that show that people who identify as transgender have neuronal densities in this region of the brain that correspond with that expected of persons who would ordinarily have the other genital tract. (See Zhou J.-N, Hofman M.A, Gooren L.J, Swaab D.F (1997) A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality. IJT 1,1, , reprinted from NATURE, 378: 68-70 (1995)).

There are genetic and other factors that play a part in this – and these factors also play a part in the diversity of gender identities other than the “classic” transgender.

Further complicating things, when it comes to genital tract development itself, there are more genetic, chromosomal, and developmental outcomes other than the classic wolffian or mullerian tracts, and in some cases, someone who would have been genetically expected to develop a wolffian tract, and whose gonads develop as testes, by virtue of a single genetic difference resulting in “complete androgen insensitivity syndrome” develop bodies that are otherwise female in appearance, and their brains also develop along female lines – and this is just one example of an entire host of diverse outcomes in gestational development that result in human beings in actual nature, who are created by the mechanisms of human biology (that one may attribute to God or Evolution, or some other factor based on one’s beliefs), that does not conform to the overly simplistic notions of “nature” as seen through an Aristotelian lens and cisgender-heterosexual blinders, using a simplified concept derived from Genesis 1:27.

Turning to the theology of Genesis 1:27, there are aspects to this found in Jewish scholarship that is absent from the writings of the Church Fathers.

In the Vulgate, we have
et creavit Deus hominem ad imaginem suam ad imaginem Dei creavit illum masculum et feminam creavit eos

The emphasis is that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God.

This is so important that it is repeated twice - we are created “male and female” in this image of God – that is, that each one of us is both “male and female” – it’s clear, at least from what I understand, that it is “male and female” and not “male or female.”  This is a creation that is not something we find in nature, but is more allegorical than not.

Despite the images we see of God portrayed as an elderly gentleman with a long white beard (perhaps the most famous image being the Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican), we actually have a God who is all-male and all-female, as well as being (at least for Trinitarians) a Triune Being, one God in Three Persons: Father, Son and Spirit. (Some scholars posit the idea that it is possible that even more Persons than the official three being supported by the Hebrew term Elohim, and include Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) and Holy Light (Santa Lucia) as “Persons” – even “female aspects” of God – but these are usually seen as being part of the Holy Spirit, and of course, then one gets close to the Roman idea of a corporate God, a Jupiter Optimus Maximus, into which all the various “gods” of myth, legend, and religion were being seen as aspects or persons.). (I won't even get into the strange notions of the late Cardinal Navarrete as to the purely masculine terminology that the Church insists is necessary to make baptisms valid.)

One resolution of the first Creation story with the second (the “Adam and Eve” story) is that Adam, as originally created in God’s image, was “male and female.” In the second story, this “male and female” Adam was put into a deep sleep while God separated him out into two people, Adam and Eve. The Hebrew story here is surprisingly similar in ideation to a creation story mentioned in Plato’s Symposium, attributed to Aristophanes, which also postulates a sort of combined “male-and-female” being as the initial creation, and posits that they were divided in two, though the Greek version shows a greater allegorical understanding of both the nature of Eros and the idea that there are different sexual orientations. Not only are there “male and female” people being split in Aristophanes’ story, there are “male-and-male” and “female-and-female” people as well. On the splitting, though, each half is busy seeking its other half, whether that other half is same-sex or opposite sex. One might posit that the bible story covers the majority, but doesn’t necessarily cover everyone, if one is meditating on sexual orientation.

But we’re thinking about sex assignment and gender identity, and how most people see gender identity (or more specifically sex identity, as my intention is to refer to the feeling of “rightness” in being a man or a woman – something that is a given for those who are cissexual/cisgender).

In a very interesting article Rabbi Mark Sameth, formerly of Pleasantville, New York, wrote something in 2009 on a surprising disclosure of an aspect of the nature of God found by studying the Tetragrammaton, which dovetails nicely with Gen.1:27 - read YHWH backward and one gets HWHY, which reads (in English) as ''he/she'' - an epithet usually hurled at persons who are visibly different, but who are special to God (Is.56:5).God’s Hidden Name Revealed
By Rabbi Mark Sameth (Reform Judaism Magazine,  Spring 2009)

And this flies in the face of the pat answers proposed by “Christian Anthropology” as the Congregation’s document rattles off at it Paragrah 31.

So, now the Congregation for Catholic Education has an opportunity to read my thoughts and listen carefully, to deconstruct that straw man, to re-evaluate a lot of its fundamentally flawed theological underpinnings, and perhaps to one day come up with something a little bit more rooted in actual nature, and a little less rooted in imaginary straw men and flawed theology.

If we have the example of Galileo to consider as a guide, I suspect we’ll have to wait around 400 years for things to improve.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The full text of my remarks (the actual speech was truncated a bit):

Remarks of Joann Prinzivalli
on being presented with a special activism award
by the White Plains Democratic City Committee – April 28, 2019
Thank you, Ted, for that lovely introduction. I’d also like to thank Vickie Presser, Alex Roithmayr and the entire dinner committee for all their hard work in making this day possible, and Tim James and everyone involved with the White Plains Democratic City Committee for your hard work and dedication.  I am deeply honored to share honors this evening with my friend and former council member Beth Smayda, and with the truly tireless Don Buchwald. I am especially honored to share this special salute with my state senator, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, who was instrumental in setting up the State Senate Floor vote for GENDA to take place on the historically significant occasion of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s actual birthday, January 15th, and by coincidence, in the 50th year since the Stonewall Riots at Sheridan Square in Manhattan, where trans, gay, lesbian and bisexual people in New York City rose up against oppression by the police.
As Dr. King once said, in a February 1965 sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood, in California, paraphrasing 19th century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  To this I can add, that it is my firm belief that this arc does not bend on its own – it requires the hard work of people, like the people in this room, whether we are elected officials, district leaders, or members of the public.  And there are other people out there who seem to be doing their level best, to bend that arc in the other direction. Those of us in this room might call those other people “Republicans” but that is an overbroad generalization, as much as the current administration in Washington DC is doing its own best to make that reverse bending true.
One of the reasons that I have been chosen for the honor of standing before you today to say these words, has to do with GENDA, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, since I did write the first draft of the bill in December 2002 after the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act was passed while leaving the transgender community behind, despite our best efforts over a number of years to be included.  And while GENDA itself took just over 16 years from the time I wrote the first bill draft until its passage in both houses of the legislature and enactment as Chapter 8 of the Laws of 2019, the struggle for LGBTQ civil rights goes back to the Stonewall Riots and earlier.
Let’s start with the Stonewall Riots.  I wasn’t there myself – I was 15 years old, and at the time I lived in Staten Island. But an 18 year old Sylvia Rivera and a 23 year old Marsha P. Johnson were there – and they were among the first to throw coins and liquor bottles as the riot took place. They went on to be among the founders of the Gay Liberation Front.
At the time, the word transgender was not even coined, and transsexual was a term used for people who could afford to have surgery – not the face queens, drag queens and transvestites who, with their lesbian, gay and bisexual friends, were at the Stonewall that evening in 1969.  Sylvia and Marsha founded a radical organization, STAR, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1970. But by 1973, mainstream lesbian and gay activists worked to remove trans activists from the nascent gay rights movement. Trans and gender non-conforming people were not the image the gay rights movement wanted to have.
Around that time, in 1970, in Staten Island, after reading Christine Jorgensen’s autobiography, I sought the psychiatric assistance that was at the time necessary to be approved for hormone therapy and surgery, but after six months, I was told that, because I “like girls” that they would not “cure me of one mental disorder to give me another one.” You see, this was 1970 and it was not until 1973 that homosexuality was removed from the list of mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by the psychiatric community.
So while Marsha and Sylvia were living on the streets and fighting the fight, I learned how to assimilate in society as the man that I never really was – and it was almost 30 years before the internet cued me in that the psychiatrist was wrong.  It was only at that point that I met Sylvia, who I knew for the last three years of her life.  Marsha had already died under suspicious circumstances in 1992. 
When I met Sylvia, she had been taken in by Rusty Moore and Chelsea Goodwin, who lived in Brooklyn, and was working at the Metropolitan Community Church’s food pantry.  She had reconstituted STAR as “Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries” and with that organization, she was leading public protests and working toward getting the New York City Council to add gender identity and expression to the City’s human rights ordinance, which it did in April 2002 as Local Law 3 of 2002, just a couple of months after Sylvia passed away.
I remember a strategy meeting with Sylvia in 2001, and we agreed how much we needed both her “outside the walls” kind of protest activism, and the activism of those who, like me, mostly work “inside the halls” to educate and advocate on behalf of the community, and sometimes to litigate.  Neither Sylvia nor Marsha lived long enough to see GENDA written, much less passed, but they are among the people I would refer to and revere as giants.
In his 12th century work on logic, The Metalogicon, John of Salisbury wrote that "we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size."
To a great extent, it was their pioneering work that led to the New York City ordinance – and it was also the work of many others.  And yes, Sylvia and Marsha are among the giants on whose shoulders I have stood these past 20 years.
While Sylvia and Marsha were working the streets, I went to college and law school, worked in law firms, spent some time as General Counsel at Westchester Federal Savings Bank, and worked at title companies and title agencies.  But I did all that while trying to assimilate in accordance with the cultural expectations for men.  I had and still do have all kinds of privilege that they could not have, and I recognize that.
I brought a different skill set to the table – my experience as the chair of the law committee of the NYS Land Title Association gave me some experience in legislative drafting.  Before GENDA, I was personally responsible for writing one section of a now-sunsetted non-judicial foreclosure statute, as well as working with the rest of the committee on other parts of that law – it had to do with a way to subordinate federal tax liens to the foreclosure..
In November 1999, while I was still “pre-transition” I testified at the 3rd public hearing for the Westchester County Human Rights law – I was moved to do so because the language that would have more explicitly protected the trans community had been removed as part of a compromise with Catholic leaders at the Archdiocesan Office of the Family.
My testimony was televised on the local Fox News at 10 that evening, on Good Day New York the next day, and every half hour for the whole day on local cable News 12. This directly resulted in me losing my corner office job at a major title insurance company, which was the last bit of collateral damage that allowed me to start transition.
My Co—honoree, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins was at the time a member of the County Board of Legislators, and the sponsor of the Human Rights law – and after my testimony, she promised that she would come back for me.
She ended up getting elected to the State Senate, while the late Lois Bronz, another of the giants on whose shoulders I stand, took up the challenge in 2005, and after being thwarted on a standalone amendment, masterfully engineered the passage of a trans-inclusive Fair Housing Law in 2008, and then moved to harmonize that law with the previously enacted human rights law.  In 2009, the amendment to the County Human Rights Law passed unanimously in the County Board of Legislators, with only one member absent.
Some memories of the struggle –
In late 2001, while I was serving on the LOFT Board, Bob Knight, one of the board members, mentioned that we were all invited to attend The Empire Pride Agenda’s January 2002 legislative reception in the marble-walled well of the Legislative Office Building in Albany – a nice event that is no longer possible under current lobbying rules. At the time, the Pride Agenda, the main gay right advocacy group in New York, did not support trans inclusion in SONDA, though that organization did support local laws including trans folks. I saw this as an opportunity to organize an invasion of this event by trans activists – and so I showed up with 12 trans folks, and we actually outnumbered the ESPA folks in attendance as we lobbied legislators while drinking ESPA’s drinks and eating ESPA’s canapes. It was a great success, but failed to get us enough votes in December.  My then state senator, one of 23 Democrats in the senate at the time, was not one of the 18 senators who voted in favor of the floor amendment to add gender identity and expression to SONDA – she had promised me in January that she would, but had been told by leaders of Pride Agenda that taking this purely symbolic vote would somehow kill the bill.” She later co-sponsored GENDA. At the time, though, there was still so much eed for education, even among our friends and colleagues.
I served on the committee that negotiated with New York City's Division of Homeless Services to change their policies on housing homeless trans people, and worked very hard for over a decade to try to overturn the Pataki-era Medicaid regulations that denied hormone and surgical treatment to indigent transgender New Yorkers.
Just to show how much education was needed, even among Democrats, one particularly frustrating meeting took place on March 10, 2008, just as the news of the Spitzer scandal was breaking. The meeting was with the New York State Commissioner of Health to discuss medicaid regulations, health care and health insurance issues, and birth certificate correction - and the Commissioner at one point dismissively referred to transgender as a "lifestyle choice" something I would expect to hear from a conservative Republican. The one *non*-LGBT person on "our side" of the meeting, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, immediately corrected and explained that being transgender or transsexual is not a matter of a lifestyle choice.
The meeting developed from the initial contact made in 2007 with Sean Patrick Maloney and It was a GENDA Coalition follow-up, with the help of Pride Agenda  (which by that point was fully supportive of transgender rights, and the courtesy of Senator Tom Duane's office making the arrangements for the meeting.
While the meeting was going on Commissioner Daines was defending the regulation in the Southern District in New York, and had already made sure that the regulation was renewed “without modification” after its 10 year review. Because changing it would mean that resources would have to be allocated to providing desperately needed and critical medical treatment for poor trans people.
In August of that year, U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel ruled in Casillas v. Daines, [580 F. Supp. 2d 235 (S.D. N.Y. 2008),] 2008 Westlaw 3157825 (S.D.N.Y.), that New York State’s adoption, continuation, and enforcement of that regulation adopted by the Pataki Administration prohibiting the use of Medicaid funds to pay for sex reassignment treatment did not violate the constitutional right to Equal Protection of the law. Which meant we had to work all the harder for GENDA to pass.
In 2006, I testified in favor of the changes proposed for New York City Department of Health birth certificate regulations, and managed to get libeled in the New York Times coverage, and in National Review, as part of the process. And then, when the New York City Bureau of Vital Records refused to provide me with a copy of my birth certificate in 2009 because my ID documentation did not match the information on the record, I had to bring an Article 78 proceeding just to get the court to order the production of the record, and at the same time I challenged the regulations as arbitrary and capricious. I succeeded in surpassing that high bar in defeating the City’s motion to dismiss, despite some bad precedents in the 1970’s.  This litigation, then taken on by Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, directly led to both the State and City amending their birth certificate regulations.
When I first started the lawsuit, none of the advocacy organizations wanted to devote resources to it, because of those three bad cases from the 1970s – but I knew that the scientific understanding of transgender people had changed.  While in 1965 we were considered to be “delusional members of the birth-assigned sex, for whom any treatment was merely palliative,” by the turn of the millennium science was aware of brain structures, and by 2008, genetic and developmental indicator that show we do not belong to the birth-assigned sex.
Moving back to GENDA – and this is important, because it underscores why having Democrats in control of the state legislature is necessary.
While Republicans seemed to have a stranglehold on control of the State Senate, and Democrats were split, I worked out what I thought would be a surefire way to get Republicans to support GENDA.
Sometimes, you really have to listen to what the people on the other side of the aisle are saying.
When it comes to transgender rights, the thing that Republicans appear to fear the most, is the idea of male voyeurs or rapists, pretending to be transgender, would invade women’s bathrooms and locker rooms to leer at, or worse, sexually assault, women.
This fear is exemplified by a speech made by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, when he said, if he was in high school, he’d say, “Gee, Coach, I feel like a girl today, can I use the girls’ locker room?”
The compromise language was not necessary, but after it was first used in Connecticut in 2011, 8 years after GENDA was written, it was used in every statewide human rights law passed between 2011 and the passage of GENDA this year. Even extremely conservative Utah enacted a trans-inclusive human rights law in 2015. That language garnered Republican support in states like Connecticut, Utah, and New Hampshire.
It should have been a slam-dunk in the pre-2019 New York Senate.  But it was not.  For several years I tried to move then majority leader Dean Skelos, and then his successor John Flanagan, but they would not budge.  A small team of us worked on former Senator Terence Murphy who was the then chair of the Senate Gov Ops committee, and he would not budge.
Even though the compromise language was good enough to get Republicans in places like Connecticut, Utah and New Hampshire to protect trans people in their human rights laws.
Because of a strong position taken by Michael Long, the longtime state Conservative Party chair, hell would have to have frozen over before any of those men would lift a finger to pass GENDA, with or without the compromise language.
Which is why the 2018 New York Blue wave election was so important that made Senator Stewart-Cousins the new majority leader, and allowed her to keep her 19 year old promise to me. I am thankful to Democrats throughout the state who worked hard to make that possible
Without that, we would still be waiting for GENDA.
Elections have consequences.  And we have to remember, we can’t bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice when the people who are desperately trying to bend it away are in control.
Democrats must remember that we have to work together to continue to help bend that arc toward justice
One final thought – When I wrote GENDA, it was intended to just bring the trans community within the ambit of the human rights laws as they existed in 2002.  In anticipation of it being an easy lift, I did not include a number of trans-specific provisions that could have slowed down its enactment – little did I know it would take 16 years. 
And for some of the needed next steps, I would like to give a special thanks to both Assemblymembers who represent parts of the White Plains area, Amy Paulin for the Child Parent Security Act (A1071), and  David Buchwald  for A7197, that would allow for court order recognizing gender correction, particularly needed for those born in states like Ohio and Tennessee that don’t correct birth certificates, and A54, the Restoration of Honor Act that deals with veteran benefits in New York), for being principal sponsors of some of the several pending bills that will have a positive impact on the trans and LGB communities
So once we are done celebrating, there is still more work to do, and I look forward to the continuation of the struggle to keep bending that arc of the moral universe toward justice.