Majority of Male Veterans and Active Duty Troops Oppose Trans Military Service, Women Strongly in Favor

A majority of veterans and active U.S. service members do not support allowing transgender people to serve in the armed forces, according to a new poll.

Released on Wednesday, a survey conducted by Smithsonian found that just 39 percent of respondents were in favor of allowing trans troops to openly enlist. The magazine polled 1,000 people in partnership with George Mason University and the military-focused publication Stars and Stripes.

Results differed starkly by gender. Whereas just 37 percent of men said they had no problem with transgender enlistment, nearly two-thirds of female veterans or women in active duty (62 percent) supported trans military service.

While these numbers may suggest the military remains conservative on trans issues, previous surveys have been less than conclusive on the subject.

In August 2017, Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University polled Americans on President Trump’s then-recent tweetstorm claiming trans enlistment would entail “tremendous medical costs and disruption” for the armed forces. The majority of military households disagreed with Trump’s conclusions: 55 percent said they should be allowed to serve.

Overall, Quinnipiac found that 68 percent of respondents—almost seven in 10—opposed the president’s attempted ban on trans military service.

As the Trump administration has continued to defend the policy in court over the past year and lost more than a half dozen times, the vast majority of surveys show the public has continued to oppose the ban.

While the conservative-leaning Rasmussen Reports showed a very slim majority of Americans are in favor of trans enlistment—45 to 44—others are more decisive. Morning Consult claimed 68 percent of registered voters are against banning transgender people from the military, while The Economist and YouGov found that respondents supported transgender troops by a 15-point margin.

The most damning result, however, originated from The Harris Poll in July 2017. Almost three out of five people told the respected analytics and market research firm that the ban is intended to “distract from other policies and issues currently being discussed.”

Following a series of court decisions blocking the policy, the Trump administration has appealed to the Supreme Court to take up the case.

After Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed in the face of three sexual misconduct claims, the hope is that a conservative-leaning court would be more favorable to the policy. Prior to his confirmation, LGBTQ groups warned Kavanaugh would fall to the right of every Supreme Court judge except Clarence Thomas.

SCOTUS has yet to respond to the White House’s petition. The court typically hears up to 150 cases within a calendar year, despite receiving thousands of requests.

Last week, advocacy organizations filed a series of legal briefs urging Supreme Court justices to reject the case. These groups include GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and OutServe-SLDN.

“There is no urgency warranting this court’s immediate intervention,” claimed Lambda and OutServ in the Dec. 28 plea.

Could Gay Man’s Florida Eviction Spur Statewide Protections?

Randal Coffman can’t go home. Two weeks ago, his landlord told him she doesn’t want “faggots” on her property, and that he had to vacate, he says.

In Middleburg, the suburb of Jacksonville, Fla. where Coffman lives, his landlord’s request is legal. Coffman left and went to a friend’s house, where he has been staying ever since.

“It has really changed my view on how people look at me,” Coffman told INTO. “It just sucks because there’s nothing protecting me so anyone can treat me however [they] want.”

In 2017, the city of Jacksonville passed anti-discrimination protections protecting LGBTQ people in what was widely hailed as a watershed victory, but Florida lacks the same statewide protections. Middleburg, just over 30 miles south of Jacksonville, doesn’t have anti-discrimination protections on the books.

Now, some advocates say Coffman’s case could be the catalyst for statewide protections.

According to Coffman, the trouble started three days after he moved into an apartment attached to Jackie Cooper’s home on Dec. 1. Coffman alleges that Cooper told she didn’t want him to have girls stay over. He says he told her that wouldn’t be a problem because he’s gay.

“I don’t care if you’re gay, but I don’t want any faggots coming back and forth on my property,” Cooper allegedly told Coffman.

In a later conversation, which Coffman says he recorded with consent and provided to First Coast News, Cooper tells Coffman he has to vacate the apartment.

“You think I want homosexuals coming back and forth in my place like that?” she says.

INTO was unable to reach Cooper by phone, but Cooper denied the accusations to First Coast News, stating that she told Coffman to leave because he wouldn’t provide a copy of his driver’s license and his friends kept cars on her property for several days. Coffman refutes both.

Florida has seen a slew of anti-gay incidents over the last year. A string of transgender homicides in Jacksonville has drawn national media attention and sparked fears that a serial killer may be targeting the community.

Five transgender women were murdered in Florida in 2018, and a femme-presenting gay man who did drag was also gunned down. Another gay man, Leon Frazier, was murdered in Southeast Florida, reportedly by a homophobic roommate. Miami Pride this year was marred when four men reportedly beat a gay couple while yelling homophobic slurs. A transgender woman in Newberry woke up to find the words “move or die” scrawled across her garage door in September. In November, a Port Richey school made headlines when a teacher refused to support a trans student using the locker room that matched his gender.

Coffman, who grew up in Florida, said he has always identified as gay and faced discrimination because of it.

“I’ve never been able to hold hands with my boyfriend or kiss in public,” he said. “Jacksonville is a very big anti-gay town.”

He says after he was forced to leave his apartment on Dec. 14, he lost more than $1,000 in rent.

American Civil Liberties Union Staff Attorney Jimmy Midyette was part of the coalition behind Jacksonville’s anti-discrimination protections. He, too, says Coffman’s eviction sounds par for the course in the Sunshine State, especially over the last two years as the Trump Administration fuels anti-gay animus.

“It feels normal to me, but that’s probably a statement in and of itself in terms of what we’re used to in Florida,” he said.

But, he added, Coffman’s eviction points to a larger issue. “I think it could show the need for a statewide bill,” said Midyette.

Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director of Equality Florida, agrees. His organization has been making the case for statewide protections in the Florida Competitive Workforce Act  for a decade.

“Randal’s case is one of the most well-documented and overtly discriminatory [cases], but we know that this type of discrimination continues to occur throughout the state and often in more subtle ways,” said Maurer. “I do think that stories like Randal’s are really compelling in illustrating the need for statewide protections.”

According to Equality Florida, advocates have successfully passed local measures that now cover 60 percent of Floridians. Maurer hopes to bring that 100 percent in 2019 with the passage of statewide protections, but that remains a hard sell. Last year, the bill had 69 bipartisan sponsors and cosponsors in the legislature but failed to even get a committee hearing. Both chambers remain Republican-controlled in the wake of the November midterms.

“I think I’m going to have to look up the law before I move,” Coffman notes. Coffman says LGBTQ advocates have reached out to him, stating that his eviction could demonstrate the need for a statewide measure.

In the meantime, he wonders if he needs to hide who he is.

“Do I need not tell anyone that I’m gay?” he asks. “Do I need to just act as straight as possible so I can live a normal life and people won’t judge me, or do I fight this and try to get laws passed?”

Illinois Transfers Trans Woman to Women’s Prison After Four Abuse Lawsuits

Content Warning: This article details extreme abuse against a transgender person.

It took four lawsuits and a judge’s order, but transgender inmate Strawberry Hampton has been moved to a women’s prison in Illinois.

Hampton’s case has drawn national attention in one of the most serious transgender prison abuse cases ever alleged. Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Rosenstengel excoriated the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) for ignoring  “substantiated” sexual abuse complaints while denying Hampton’s requests to be housed with women.

Rosenstengel ordered IDOC to train its staff on transgender issues and re-evaluate Hampton’s placement, noting that prison staff “never considered whether Hampton felt safe or secure in a men’s prison.”

Rosenstengel added that prison staff also never met with Hampton to interview her about her placement, a finding that raises questions about Illinois’ compliance with with federal prison law.

Federal law mandates that state prisons place transgender people on a case-by-case basis. The Prison Rape Elimination Act, passed in 2003, requires prisons to interview transgender inmates about where they think they should be placed in terms of gender and to house them where they will be safest.

Hampton, however, alleged abuse behind bars so extreme that some of it cannot be published in print. The 27-year-old filed four lawsuits in which she claimed that guards at Pinckneyville Correctional Center sexually assaulted her and then forced her and a cellmate to have sex.

When she reported the abuse, she was beaten and held in solitary confinement for a year, she says. Sexual, verbal, and physical torment continued at three other men’s prisons, she claims.

IDOC did not respond to a request to comment. But Lindsey Hess, a spokesperson for the department, previously told INTO that IDOC has a zero tolerance policy for sexual abuse.

“The Department maintains 100% compliance with the national standards of the Prison Rape Elimination Act as determined by certified independent privately contracted auditors,” Hess said in an email. “The Department carefully considers housing assignments and the unique needs of offenders who identify as transgender.”

Hampton’s case against IDOC remains pending. She is seeking damages from the department, and her attorneys are demanding that she have access to mental health services while in custody. She is due to be released in November 2019.

It is unknown how many other transgender women have been placed in women’s facilities in Illinois. Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center, which fought Hampton’s case, said he knows of at least one other trans woman who was previously housed at Logan Correctional Center, the women’s prison where Hampton now resides.

“It means that [Hampton] is no longer subject to the daily harassment and pressure that is inevitable when a woman is placed in a man’s prison,” Mills said. However, he added, “Our hope is that this will not be a one-off occasion.”

Vanessa del Valle of the MacArthur Justice Center, which also represented Hampton, echoed that sentiment in a statement.

“IDOC has done nothing to remedy the systemic failures that created the persistent harm Strawberry has endured since she entered IDOC custody,” del Valle said. “The fight for Strawberry and for all trans women in IDOC has only just begun.”

Malaysian Activists Call for Justice After Video Shows Two Gay Men Being Attacked by Vigilante Mob

LGBTQ rights advocates in Malaysia are calling for justice after video footage showed two gay men being attacked by a violent mob.

A nearly two-minute clip that went viral Thursday depicts a pair of shirtless men being pulled from their vehicle and assaulted by anti-LGBTQ vigilantes. According to a translation of the video conducted by the news site Free Malaysia Today, the attackers accuse them of “committing a sin” before demanding to see their identification cards.

“Did you forget God?” one assailant allegedly asks the couple during the incident. “It’s a shame!”

The identities of the victims—including their current whereabouts—are unknown at this time. Video posted online of the attack racked up hundreds thousands of views after the Pelangi Campaign, a local activist group, posted it to Facebook. The clip has since been removed.

President Numan Afifi claimed LGBTQ Malaysians are “appalled” by yet another act of violence against their community.

“We urge the police to investigate the assault without fear and favor and proactively provide security protection for the victims and LGBTQ community at large from being targeted in other jurisdictions,” he said in a statement shared with INTO.

In a series of messages, Numan confirmed that activists had filed a police report to authorities in Kuala Lumpur—even though the site of the attack is unknown.

Activists could not comment on the state of the investigation.

Supporters of LGBTQ equality urged police to be vigilant in following through on the reports. Human rights attorney Eric Paulsen, who serves as the legal director for Fortify Rights, called upon law enforcement agents to prosecute the case as a “hate crime.”

“Everyone deserves equal protection under the law,” he claimed on Twitter.

But as Numan pointed out, this case isn’t the first in which LGBTQ Malaysians have been harmed or even killed as a result of mob violence. Earlier this month, a transgender woman was murdered by a group of teenagers in the district of Klang. Reports say she sustained “multiple injuries” before her death.

A similar anti-trans assault occurred earlier this year after a 32-year-old woman was besieged by eight men in Negeri Sembilan. The victim was hospitalized in August after sustaining a punctured spleen and broken ribs.

The most recent reports claim she was in critical condition following the incident.

According to Numan, the recent surge in attacks on Malaysia’s LGBTQ community over the past few years is the result of “moral policing and homophobia.”

“Thus, in a country where peace and harmony prevail, we must acknowledge that this is a continuing extremist threat that targets not only the LGBTQ community but also other minority groups at risk, including women and religious minorities,” he told INTO.

Malaysia is the world’s second-largest Muslim-majority democracy after Indonesia.

Although the previous administration was known for its imperious treatment of LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups, human rights campaigners hoped the election of a new government in May would usher in a wave of religious moderation and tolerance toward queer and trans people.

Those promises have yet to come to fruition.

Just weeks after the election, two women in Terengganu were arrested and subsequently caned after they were discovered “trying to have sex” in a parked car. They were flogged eight times as a crowd of 100 watched.

Currently, same-sex intercourse is illegal in Malaysia, punishable by a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Anwar Ibrahim, the man who is widely believed to be the country’s next prime minister, has called for those laws (which stem from the colonial era) to be struck down. In a November appearance at the George Town Literary Festival, he referred to the criminal codes as “archaic” and “unjust.”

But while Malaysia’s LGBTQ community fights for its future, Pelangi urges anyone with more information about this week’s attack to come forward.

“Currently, we are still monitoring the alarming situation and call for eyewitnesses of the violent incident to immediately report it to human rights groups or bodies and the authority,” Numan claimed.

Image via Getty

Sad, Brown, And Gay: Let’s Talk About Queer and Trans Mental Health In The South Asian Diaspora

This fall, many South Asians rejoiced as India’s highest court struck down Section 377, a colonial hangover of a law that criminalized homosexuality as punishable with up to 10 years of prison time. Delhi’s high court first pronounced the law unconstitutional in 2009, but this verdict was overridden four years later by the Supreme Court, who took up the matter again this year after receiving complaints. State-sponsored homophobia persists in other parts of South Asia, except for Nepal, where same-sex marriages have been legal since 2007.

Decriminalization, of course, doesn’t mitigate oppression, though many celebrated it as a start. In the wake of this international jubilation, the conversation about queerness and transness continues to evolve. Nation states aside, public attitudes might considered largely intolerant: a 2014 Pew Study found that 85 percent of Pakistanis and 67 percent of Indians thought homosexuality was morally unacceptable. How might we forge paths for future generations, especially as we reconstruct notions of South Asianness in the diaspora?

The implications of the multiple axes of oppressions that South Asian-origin people who identify along the LGBTQ spectrum face has been historically understudied; until recently, there may not have been a critical mass to study in the United States. Today, there are more than 4.3 million South Asians in the fastest-growing ethnicity box (“Asian”). As all study of intersectional oppression goes, academia’s tools may seem limited—or not expedient enough. For many young queer and trans South Asians, finding hope today is a priority—one that is threatened routinely by stigma.

Stigma is doubly invoked: mental health is stigmatized in South Asian culture, leading South Asians to seek counseling less frequently. This stigma is further reified by the fear of social contamination of queerness and transness (a study shows the link between psychological distress and racist events was exacerbated by higher “outness”).

“Stigma against mental health is rampant in many of our communities because we’ve often internalized these assimilationist logics wherein we’re often supposed to be some kind of ‘model minority,’ which becomes especially hard to battle if you don’t come from class privilege,” says V Varun Chaudhry, a PhD candidate at Northwestern University, who says they have consistently turned to black feminism, especially canonical voices like Audre Lorde’s, to make sense of power and self-love.

Queerness in the United States, for non-Black or -Indigenous minorities, is heavily informed by ethnicity and race.

“There’s a dual struggle for queer South Asians to find community. First is at home with family and extended family, and second is within LGBTQ+ spaces which are often white-dominant,” says Dom Chatterjee, founder of QTPoC Mental Health, a grassroots organization to create both online and offline spaces for queer and trans people of color. “There’s little representation for queer South Asian people, which for me meant I felt like I was bad at being queer and bad at being South Asian. QTPoC Mental Health gave me opportunities to meet other queer and gender non-conforming people of color and gain validation around that dual struggle.”

Chaudhry points out the space that desi people occupy in a global racial context. “Especially in ‘colonized’ or ‘western’ contexts, the positioning of ‘desi’ is always in relationship to antiblackness and white supremacy,” says Chaudhry, remarking on the struggle of the South Asian to make sense of where they fit as a racialized ‘other,’ who still has capacity for assimilation and class mobility. “So mental health often looks like unlearning both white supremacy and anti-blackness in order to accept ourselves, our bodies, and our experiences as enough, as whole, and as beautiful.”

More than organizations, people turn to peers, if the recent survey I conducted online and distributed by affinity groups and networks was anything to go by. The survey received 17 responses with participants ranging from 19-33 in age, most under 25. (The survey, which had nearly 200 visits, had an 11 percent completion rate. )

Eight out of 10 respondents said they sought support from friends and mental health providers over family, queer networks, or support groups.

“Mostly it’s been through community and friends, a handpicked chosen family,” says Tiara, a gender non-conforming femme. “I’m pretty used to not being represented anywhere and there’s nothing in the diaspora that really speaks to me on everything, I have to cobble it together from disparate sources. Some of the most supportive people have been the most different (e.g. cis white guys)—you can’t predict this, really.”

Leila, another participant, said that “seeking out older South Asians” has been very important to her in living her queerness in the diaspora. Other participants noted social media personalities like Alok V-Menon and Tanwi Islam in their responses.

Several respondents pointed to media, both social and otherwise, as being restorative—and transformative. “I could never articulate my queerness until college. It just dawned on me about a year and a half ago. Processing was just putting together pieces and realizing how much I refused to allow myself to be queer,” said queer-identified S, who said that Twitter really helped them. “People had been asking me my entire life. It was exhausting.”

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AJ, a non-binary brown person, journals, pulls tarot, and prays, in addition to seeing a therapist through their school for diagnosed PTSD., but says they still find their queer identity difficult to navigate. “Gayatri Gopinath and Priyanka Meenakshi’s writing have been really helpful for me to conceptualize my queerness and gender,” says AJ. Gopinath is a professor at New York University whose book Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures is a staple in queer desi scholarship; Meenakshi is a writer-illustrator. “It’s something that grew out of so much sadness and confusion but has evolved into a source of liberation. People like to think that queer people are always happy and fun,” says AJ, for whom, being queer can feel lonely and difficult. “We forget that to be queer is to constantly be in survival mode and in resistance, but finding joy is incredibly important for me.”

Resilience is a word often invoked when speaking of sexual and gender minorities—it is a daily resistance to prejudice and discrimination. In a study of trans youths’ experience of resilience, researchers Anneliese A. Singh, Sarah E. Meng, and Anthony W. Hansen found that the ability to self‐define one’s gender, proactive agency, and access to supportive educational systems, connection to a trans-affirming community, reframing of mental health challenges, and navigation of relationships with family and friends were essential to building resilience. The researchers also identified six threats to resilience: experiences of adultism (the power adults have over children), health care access challenges, emotional and social isolation,  employment discrimination, limited access to financial resources, and gender policing. Participants described “a very individualized process of learning to affirm their gender identity outside of prescribed (or routine) navigation of identity formation,” and the researchers recommended mental health practitioners “develop trans-affirming environments for their clients.”

Kripa, a 20-year-old cis lesbian, has found therapy, transparency, and mindfulness helpful in managing her depression. “I’ve been in therapy sessions where even though I knew my therapist wasn’t homophobic, I don’t know how much they understood that identifying as a lesbian affects my life?” she tells INTO. “I think a lot of them saw it as just another aspect of my identity as opposed to the identity that’s had the most social and personal costs to me?”

Vikasini, a young bisexual woman, worries that seeking medication would impact her employment. “My PCP prescribed me medication for depression but I was too nervous that a diagnosis would affect my work,” she says. “I am in medical school and my ‘superiors’ can see my medical record.”

A 2009 study of 94 LGBT-identifying South Asians in Southern California found that even if they had access to health services, cultural norms and the related threat of community alienation highly impacted the likelihood South Asians would seek help.  “Many [LGBTQ] South Asians feel so alienated and isolated from the broader South Asian community, the broader [LGBTQ] community, and U.S. society in general, that any intervention targeting this population should address changing cultural norms in order to be effective and responsive,” wrote the researchers. Seventy-nine percent of respondents had access to mental health care, but only 30 percent availed of it.

South Asian queerness may be a particular one influenced by its own postcoloniality, with multiple respondents bringing up colonial pasts as a present-day issue. The criminalization of homosexuality in South Asia is, after all, a colonial relic.

To Shivani, being queer in the diaspora means “a return to pre-colonial lifestyle—not to romanticize Hindu-Brahmin dominated society—a return to my relationship with Hinduism and Indian culture before white people commodified it and made it feel inaccessible and exotic.”

The diaspora itself poses its own degree of friction, where many South Asians have raised families in more archetypically individualistic societies, where honor and fear of social contamination may be limited to friend circles rather than a looming, amorphous samaj.

Rashmi, a queer teenager, says that her queerness is a sort of reclamation. “It’s reclaiming an identity which is constantly erased and invalidated, and it’s a creation of a new existence which contains both American and South Asian influences of ethnicity and sexuality,” she tells INTO.

Colonial narratives have stripped South Asian culture of its queerness and inculcated homophobia, some contend, while others stress that the oppressions these societies also enact cannot be ignored. Within the umbrella term “South Asian”—a term used to build socio-political solidarity in the diaspora, when in the subcontinent inter-nation conflict abounds—there exists layered oppressions, especially caste-, class-, and religion-based, and being away from the homeland hasn’t solved it. According to a 2017 Equality Labs report, one in four Dalits reported experiencing physical violence because of their caste—and four in 10 reported being rejected romantically because of it.

A study of Black and South Asian gay men in Britain found that for South Asian men, a “major theme was regret at being unable to fulfill family expectations regarding marriage and children.” This family-specific anxiety is one that may be common across the board for those identifying as queer and trans in the South Asian diaspora.

“Sometimes, the behavior of one family member in South Asian communities might be considered representative of the family as a whole to the rest of society.  This can cause individuals to have higher levels of guilt for even having thoughts related to being LGBTQ,” says Dr. Neeral Sheth, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL. “Some individuals may feel that having someone with am LGBTQ identity in the family could even impact the marriage prospects of siblings, if the family is going down the route of an arranged or semi-arranged marriage.” When the prospect of even an inter-racial or -religious relationship may threaten the family’s concept of honor, queerness and transness pose an even larger issue.

In Dr. Sheth’s experience, South Asians, especially when parents are 1st generation immigrants, “tend to place an importance on respect and obedience to parental figures.” Some may fight their LGBTQ identities because they do not want to disrespect their parents, says Dr. Sheth.

“This ‘disrespect’ can not only change family dynamics, but also impact the financial stability of younger South Asians still dependent on their parents,” Dr. Sheth says. Researchers have studied younger South Asians’ resistance to cultural deviancy, especially in dating and sexuality, finding answers in a social bond theory, though this study did not explicitly cover queer and trans dating.

“Acculturation and enculturation are both processes of change an individual undergoes when they move to a new culture; this can cause tension within the family as well. Something I hear frequently is parents initially blaming ‘American culture’ for their child identifying as LGBTQ,” says Dr. Sheth, who adds that family members of queer and trans individuals may place blame on themselves and experience negative psychological symptoms because of it.

Youth from more conservative and anti-queer cultures may resort to more existential thinking such as “Why did God make me gay?” finds Dr. Sheth.

“This obviously has a huge impact on the child/adolescent’s identity formation. LGBTQ adolescents might delay life experiences/social development in order to feign being cisgender or heterosexual,” he says. “They might  have their ‘firsts’ at a later age and might be behind their peers in terms of these important life events.” Young Asian Americans tend to exhibit more sexually conservative attitudes and behavior, research finds.

Dr. Sheth points to stigma as being a major issue in this population, noting that in anticipating future prejudice or discrimination, individuals may have higher levels of baseline stress.

“There is not only the stigma of being brown and the stigma of being queer, but unfortunately a lot of people may feel stigmatized for accessing mental health care as well,” he says. “Many feel uncomfortable with the vulnerability of asking for mental health support. Although there are great efforts being made to reduce this stigma in the general population, I think South Asian communities often still consider mental health issues a weakness or moral failing.”

Queer and trans South Asians find themselves minoritized multiple times over. Racism and xenophobia are not limited to the mainstream, with the LGBTQ community also demonstrating similar forms of exclusion. Of course, as Dr. Sheth points out, people within the South Asian community may internalize racism, homophobia, and transphobia to cope with their own sets of isolation.

“This can be very isolating as it can sometimes be difficult for individuals to find an ‘ingroup,’” he says.

Dom Chatterjee, editor of Rest For Resistance, notes that community support is essential to identity production, a process that can be harmed by isolation and ostracization. “And more specifically, meeting other queer South Asians—who are all uniquely beautiful in how they embody their identities—helped me see that I’m not bad at being queer or South Asian, but that our identities and potential have been masked and can be uncovered and honored through collective effort,” Chatterjee says.

Indeed, there is a strong legacy in the United States of organizations and support networks built to foster these connections. The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance holds a conference around every other year since 2009. The South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association of New York City (SALGA-NYC) has been serving NYC as an all-volunteer organization for 25 years. Trikone, founded in 1986 in San Francisco, is the oldest organization of its kind. Satrang serves southern California, while KhushDC serves the Washington, DC area. Queer South Asian National Network (QSANN) is a cross-regional organization, and there’s a helpline specifically for LGBTQ-identifying desis. Other organizations who aim to ameliorate the stressors of mental health in the desi community also existing, including South Asian Mental Health Initiative & Network (SAMHIN), Mann Mukti, Mai Family Services, and South Asian Mental Health Awareness in Jersey (SAMHAJ).

In a YEAR study, Family Acceptance Project found that LGBTQ youth who are rejected by their families are at much higher risk for suicide, substance abuse and depression: in short, family acceptance or rejection is crucial to understanding minority stress. PFLAG-NYC — Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People — was founded in New York, and includes the support group API Rainbow Parents.

Participants in the survey described their family’s understanding of LGBTQ matters in a variety of ways: “problematic,” “tolerant, but not accepting,” “supportive, sometimes apathetic,” “it’s fine if nobody knows,” “accepting in the form of erasure, minimizing, and neglect,” and “only one gay cousin per family, right?” Kripa recalls how their family found out about their queerness through Twitter.

“This was followed by an awful couple of days of them questioning and berating me,” they said. “We haven’t talked about it since. I think someday we will have to be transparent about who I am and the harm that has transpired, but I don’t know when that will be.”  

Dr. Sheth also points out that some in the South Asian community think of queerness and transness themselves as representations of mental illness. “This belief can cause queer people to avoid accessing care because they feel they are perpetrating this belief by acknowledging they need mental health support,” he says. “There is evidence that LGBTQ people do have higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance use, suicidality, and other mental health concerns—this is due to the effects of stigma, though, and not something that is inherently part of being LGBTQ.  It is well theorized by the minority stress theory (Meyers, 2003).”

The dissimilarity of queerness to the model minority archetype possibly contributes to the fear of social contamination the South Asian community might have towards people who are LGBTQ.

“Deviancy from the prescribed norms of what it means to be a successful person in South Asian communities tend to be fodder to such treatment,” says Hima Sathian, who works with minoritized populations in New Jersey, of the conflation of queerness with mental health issues. “There’s a lot of fear there, of being unable to imagine what a life that does not include following one’s assigned gender script, marrying another of the ‘opposite’ gender, and then having biological children could entail. There are other factors that drive these mechanisms too like patriarchy and casteism…essentially, about how maintaining these power structures are a bigger priority than it is preserving people’s well-being, love, and joy.”

Hima, who is in a relationship with another queer South Asian, says they “try our best to face the reality of our histories, our family’s histories, but do so with as much compassion to ourselves and our families as we can.”

The burden of speaking up is also disproportionate. As Erving Goffman notes in his 1963 work Stigma: Notes On The Management Of A Spoiled Identity, “the more there is about the individual that deviates in an undesirable direction from what might have been expected to be true of [them], the more [they are] obliged to volunteer information about [themselves], even though the cost to [them] of candor may have increased proportionally.”

Vikasini recently came out to her parents. She believes they consider her homosexuality a “phase” and a reaction to early childhood sexual trauma she had. But to Vikasini, her queerness in the diaspora “means layers of hidden desire and longing which can’t permeate and become a part of my visible identity because my roles as a daughter, future doctor, and Indian community member outweigh my right to outwardly bear my inner truth as a queer woman.”

Images via Getty

This article was made possible by a grant from the American Society of Journalists and Authors

New Report By Group of European Nations Confirms Anti-LGBTQ Crusade in Chechnya

In a report released on Friday, the intergovernmental Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)—which counts 57 participating nations among its ranks—documents a horrifying, ongoing crusade against LGBTQ people in Chechnya.

While Chechen and Russian authorities have repeatedly denied the anti-LGBTQ ‘purge’ that was first revealed by human rights groups and news reports in the spring of 2017, the report compiled by the OSCE Rapporteur is damning.

Citing a campaign targeting primarily gay and bisexual men, the report finds Chechen law enforcement kidnapped, tortured, and murdered LGBTQ people in “purges” that would take place over the course of a couple months at a time. According to the report, the attacks have not ceased despite international outcry—with the most recent anti-LGBTQ Chechen purges taking place as recently as September and October 2018.

“They were taken to interrogation rooms and beaten with police sticks, plastic tubes and cables, which resulted in severe injuries like broken ribs, jaws, and bruises,” reads the OSCE report. “Some were also treated with electric shocks, usually at the fingers. The purpose was to make them confess that they were gay and to give names of other gays.”

The victims who were not killed, the report says, were often released to their families under the instruction that the family should kill them instead.

For the first time, the report also cites Chechen authorities’ attacks on lesbian and bisexual women, saying several had been “unlawfully detained and underwent beatings and pressures to produce confessions. In extreme cases, they were raped and killed.”

In a statement on Thursday, Human Rights Campaign global director Ty Cobb said the evidence of barbaric human rights violations in Chechnya was such that “the Russian government can no longer deny the existence.”

“World leaders, including the Trump-Pence administration, must take action to hold Russia and those responsible for the crimes accountable and to ensure these atrocious crimes have been stopped and never happen again,” said Cobb. “It’s crucial that Russia follow the report’s recommendations and launch a serious investigation, and that the world community—and especially the United States—welcome refugees escaping these gross human rights abuses.”

The OSCE report notes the Russian delegation refused to participate in the examination of Chechen abuses, despite being ordered to by a coalition of 16 member nations that called for it in November.

The 16 countries that requested the report on Chechnya’s anti-LGBTQ purges are Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The U.S. was among the first nations to speak out about Chechnya’s LGBTQ purges, after news reports at home and abroad revealed the horrific violence taking place. In an April 2017 statement shortly after the news began to break, then-ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley suggested that the U.S. should investigate.

“We continue to be disturbed by reports of kidnapping, torture, and murder of people in Chechnya based on their sexual orientation and those persecuted by association,” said Haley. “If true, this violation of human rights cannot be ignored–Chechen authorities must immediately investigate these allegations, hold anyone involved accountable, and take steps to prevent future abuses.”

And on Thursday, a State Department spokesperson addressed the new OSCE report, calling Russia’s continued denials of the Chechnya violence a “particularly serious threat” to its commitments and membership in the intergovernmental group.

“This expert report concluded that Chechen authorities committed torture and other appalling human rights violations and abuses, including extrajudicial killings of LGBTI persons and others, and describes a worsening ‘climate of intimidation’ against journalists and civil society activists,” said State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino in a press release. “The report observes that the Russian government ‘appears to support the perpetrators rather than the victims’ and has ‘not lived up to its responsibilities’ to address the ‘grave situation’ in Chechnya.”

Maryland School District Sued for Years of Abuse Against Transgender Teacher

A Maryland school district abused one of its transgender teachers until she checked into a psychiatric program and ultimately resigned, according to a federal lawsuit filed by her attorneys and Lambda Legal.

Jennifer Eller is suing Prince George’s County Public Schools for allowing students to call her pedophile, refusing to update her email address to reflect her name for three years, and deadnaming her in the school’s directory.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, describes seven years of alleged misgendering from students, teachers, administrators, and parents in the district across three different schools where Eller worked from 2008 to 2011, when she resigned.

“I woke up each day afraid to go to work because I didn’t know where the next attack would come from, but I already knew full well that the school administrators would do nothing to support me,” Eller said in a statement released by Lambda Legal. “My pleas for help, for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, fell on deaf ears. Finally, the harassment and the humiliation became unbearable and I had no other alternative than to resign.”

Prince George’s County Public Schools did not respond to a phone call from INTO seeking comment.

The complaint alleges that when Eller informed Kenmoor Middle School she would be transitioning in 2011, she became a target of repeated harassment.

“Students called her a pedophile, and the human resources representative, enlisted to help her through the transition, demanded that she present as male and told her that a note from her therapist regarding her transition was ‘garbage,’” her complaint states.

It goes on to say she was not allowed to wear a dress. When she transferred to Friendly High School, the abuse only escalated. Students threatened to rape her and Principal Raynah Adams repeatedly ignored her reports of abuse from students, staff, and parents, she alleges. Students refused to cooperate with her in class, referred to her as “a man,” and said an earthquake was God’s punishment on the school for hiring her, referring to her as an anti-transgender slur.

In 2015, the school allegedly cut its own training on transgender sensitivity and never rescheduled the lesson.

In 2016, Eller transferred to James Madison Middle School where she allegedly continued to face discrimination until she sought outpatient psychiatric services at a local hospital. She resigned in August 2017.

The lawsuit hinges on the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution, the Civil Rights Act, and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act.

Eller is seeking unspecified damages and back pay from the district. She currently works as a youth counselor for the United States Navy’s Child & Youth Programs.

In a statement, Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan said Eller was forced to leave her job because administrators refused to take abuse against her seriously.

“The school district’s actions contravene everything our schools should foster: an inclusive and welcoming educational environment for all students and teachers,” Gonzalez-Pagan said. “We look forward to vindicating Ms. Eller’s rights.”

Image via Lambda Legal

Transmasculinidad: Mexico

When Mr. Cosme bought himself a suitcase, his sister looked at him and said he was acting weird, like he was trying to say goodbye or something. She asked if he was going away. Mr. Cosme tried to brush it off and said something about everyone needing a good suitcase, but his sister kept pushing. He realized he had to tell her he was transgender and identified as a man; that he was not the sister she thought she had.

“I don’t feel good, I don’t like it when you call me by my name,” Mr. Cosme said in Spanish. “It makes me angry, that’s why I’m going to change it.”

He explained that he bought the suitcase because he was going to Mexico City to do the paperwork to change his legal name and gender on his birth certificate. Mr. Cosme lives in Oaxaca City with his mother, sister, and girlfriend, about a seven-hour bus trip south of Mexico City, in a state that denies transgender people’s rights. In Mexico, many transgender people must find a way to get to the city in order to change their documents and birth certificate to reflect their gender identity.

“And she asked ‘What do you want me to call you then?’ Mr. Cosme said. “And I realized, shoot! I’m going to do this legal process and I don’t know what I’m going to call myself! What should I call myself?!”

Buying a suitcase and a bus ticket in order to access basic human rights shouldn’t be necessary. But when Mexico City amended its civil code in 2014, it became cheap, accessible, and relatively easy for transgender people to change their gender and name on their birth certificates in the federal district. Several other states have followed suit, but the overwhelming majority of Mexico’s 31 states do not allow transgender people to change their gender on official documents, which has made this internal migration a feature of transgender life.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights affirmed the right to one’s gender identity in a Consultative Opinion it published in 2017. Jorge Errandonea, a lawyer at the Inter-American Court, explained why that matters.

“The right to self identify is a right that affects all the other rights guaranteed by the court,” Errandonea said in Spanish. “If my gender identity is not recognized then it is more difficult to exercise my political rights, it’s more difficult to use my right to travel and residency. It’s more difficult to guarantee my right to integrity because I’m vulnerable to physical attacks.”

Without an ID that recognizes one’s name and gender identity, Errandonea says transgender people are much more vulnerable to discrimination. It is harder to get a job, housing, healthcare, and education. Mexico is a member of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, it was created by the Organization of American States in 1979 and is charged with protecting human rights in the western hemisphere. Almost all Latin American countries and some Caribbean nations ratified the American Convention and are members of the court – but there are no enforcement measures or punishments for states that do not follow the court’s opinions.

The Inter-American Court went further, writing that the right to one’s gender identity should not just be guaranteed, but it should also be free and easily accessible. Why should transgender people be punished and forced to go through legal hoops, hire lawyers, and defend their integrity in front of a judge, the court asked. Mexico City simplified the process, but transgender people all over the country still have to find a way to get there.

Ismael Alejandro, a transgender man from Jalisco, made the trip in 2018. He said he went without his family’s knowledge, telling them it was a work trip.

“When I left my house to go to the airport I was really nervous,” Ismael Alejandro said in Spanish. “But when I was on my flight back from DF [Mexico City] I thought to myself ‘You did it!’ Ever since I started this process six and a half years ago, when I cut my hair for the first time, I’m so much more confident now. I even value myself more as a human being.”

***

Older transgender people in Mexico had to find workarounds in order to get identification that reflects who they are. Ferran, who asked us to withhold his last name for safety reasons, is 40 years old and lives in Quintana Roo, another state that denies the right to gender identity. His father has always been supportive, and Ferran says it was his dad who helped him get the right ID.

“It wasn’t possible to change one’s gender at the time,” Ferran said in Spanish. “My dad knew someone at the Registro Civil and he spoke to him and told him, ‘Listen, my son is going through this and I want to know how I can go about changing it.’ And the man told my dad that it wasn’t possible.”

In the end, the civil servant decided to help Ferran by creating a new identity for him.

“I have a double identity now,” Ferran said.

The process isn’t over when one returns from the trip to Mexico City. They have to start the process of getting their identity changed on school certificates and degrees, bank accounts, property deeds (which requires a lawyer). If they have kids, they have to go in front of a judge and get their name changed on their child’s birth certificate to avoid any future issues with inheritance. At the state level, there is little precedent and no agreement on how to deal with these issues, and many people are left pleading in front of judges who, at best, aren’t equipped to deal with these issues, and at worst are outright transphobic.

The constitution of Mexico guarantees a person’s right to human dignity and condemns any action that infringes on people’s rights and freedoms, including gender. However the National Council for Human Rights published a report in July 2018 outlining how the rights of transgender people are routinely denied.

Errandonea, the lawyer at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, says the court’s opinion is the most advanced in the world but he thinks it could be pushed even further.

“The Court hasn’t released itself from the gender binary, it still uses the logic of man or woman,” Errandonea said. “For example, it could be advanced by recognizing a third gender.”

The Court could go even further by doing away with the gender binary all together. It could follow Costa Rica’s lead by eliminating the box denoting female or male on official identification. Instead of categorizing people in a gender box, Errandonea says, governments could guarantee the right to gender identity by recognizing people as people.

***

After Mr. Cosme came out to his sister he tried on different names but they didn’t feel right. Then, one night as he was falling asleep, he remembered when he was young one of his uncles recognized his gender dysphoria.

“He said to me, ‘You’re different,’” Mr. Cosme said. “He always told me, ‘Come with me, help me work, help me plant seeds.’ He pulled me out of the circle of women and helped me avoid the girl’s roles. He was a lifesaver for me.”

Mr. Cosme decided to honor his now deceased uncle and put his name on the new birth certificate: Xavier.

“I had my name, my dates to go to Mexico, my ticket, and my bag packed.” Mr. Cosme said.

The only thing left was to tell his mom.

 

This is the sixth and final installment from our project Transmasculinidad for INTO. Go to www.transmasculinidad.com for the full gallery and updates from the more than sixty transgender and non-binary masculine-identifying people in the six Latin American countries we visited. You can also find us on Instagram or on Facebook.

The International Women’s Media Foundation supported Sarah Barrett and Carmen Graterol’s reporting from Mexico as part of the Adelante Latin America Reporting Initiative.

North Carolina Passes New Voter ID Law With Sweeping Consequences for Trans People

North Carolina has put voter ID requirements on the books expected to substantially disenfranchise the state’s estimated 44,750 transgender residents.

On Wednesday, the state’s legislature overrode Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of SB 824, which lays out voter ID requirements in the state. More than 55 percent of North Carolinians voted in November to put an ID law in place.

The legislature was tasked with passing a bill to figure out how to implement the law. But LGBTQ advocates say the bill passed Wednesday puts unnecessary hurdles between transgender people and the polls.

That’s the because the new law accepts a relatively short list of photo IDs–under SB 824, voters can use a driver’s license, state-issued ID, a tribal enrollment card, a school ID, a military ID or a government employment ID.

North Carolina is also exceptionally restrictive when it comes to changing gender markers.

In 2015, the National Transgender Survey found that 77 percent of the transgender North Carolinians hadn’t updated a single ID to correspond with the gender that fit for them.

That could be, in part, because the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles requires proof of gender affirmation surgery before allowing trans people to change the gender markers on their IDs.

Equality North Carolina Policy Director Ames Simmons said his organization lobbied for the new law to accept as broad a range as documents as possible for voting.

“We know that when trans people have identification that does not match their gender presentation, it places them at risk for harassment, for discrimination, even for violence sometimes,” Simmons told INTO. “There have been instances where trans people who were presenting photo ID, in some of the other states that require photographic voter ID, where poll workers harassed them or asked them to leave or denied them a ballot.”

The bill has also drawn strong criticism for disenfranchising voters of color and low-income residents. It marks the second attempt to pass voter restrictions in the state after a federal appeals court found a 2016 ID law was “passed with racially discriminatory intent.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, an organization that fights racial injustice in the state, has already filed a lawsuit against the measure.

“It intentionally discriminates against and disparately impacts African American and American-Indian qualified, registered voters, as intended by the General Assembly,” the suit alleges.

Among other things, the suit also claims that the bill violates the state’s constitution by placing a financial burden on voting, as many will have to pay for IDs.

“Any legislative scheme that requires voters to present ID when voting must have fail-safe measures to ensure that not one single eligible voter is disenfranchised,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, in a statement. “Our State Constitution demands it. This legislation does not do that.”

The LGBTQ think tank the Williams Institute expected over 78,000 transgender people to be disenfranchised by voter ID laws during November midterms. The National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund launched a campaign to combat disenfranchisement in response earlier this year.

Simmons said Equality North Carolina will be launching a similar statewide effort in response to the new law.

Image via Getty

Ohio Governor John Kasich’s Parting Gift: Replacing Transgender Protections He Once Took Away

Right before the holidays, Ohio’s Republican governor John Kasich gave trans people a surprise gift.

In an executive order, the former 2016 presidential candidate revised Ohio’s anti-discrimination policy for state employees by adding “gender identity or expression” to the list of protected classes like race, religion, and disability.

But Kasich’s kindness has a twist; he was the one who removed gender identity from the state policy in the first place. When Kasich took office in 2011, trans people were protected by the nondiscrimination policy that had been created by Ohio’s last Democratic governor, Ted Strickland. Removing those protections was one of Kasich’s first steps as governor, a signal to LGBTQ Ohioans that they didn’t exactly have a friend in the office.

In a tweet on Wednesday, the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Ohio said it had “been working on this for months” along with TransOhio, lobbying the governor’s office for the change. The group noted the impact the new executive order would have on “transgender and genderqueer employees.”

In a statement Wednesday, TransOhio chair James Knapp called it  “an important and historic day” for the community as well as the state.

“Today, our Governor stood up and said that workplace discrimination will not be tolerated in Ohio,” said Knapp. “We are proud to have been a part of this work, and we’re thrilled that state employees will be able to enter 2019 as their authentic selves without fear of unlawful termination.”

The policy does not change the fact, however, that the state of Ohio lags behind when it comes to trans-friendly laws and policies. Ohio is one of only two U.S. states (along with Tennessee) that do not allow transgender people to revise their birth certificates to reflect their current gender. Without an updated birth certificate, a person cannot update their driver’s license or ID; trans Ohioans risk being outed every time someone asks for their ID and sees a sex marker that doesn’t match their gender presentation.

In March, the ACLU and Lambda Legal sued the state over the birth certificate policy, citing a number of concerns ranging from not being able to get a passport, to harassment and violence.

“After I had to show my birth certificate to obtain a job, a colleague threatened to beat me up and I felt I needed to leave for my own safety,” said a plaintiff in the lawsuit, Stacie Ray, in a March statement issued by the ACLU of Ohio. “I deserve to have documents that reflect who I am and don’t put me in harm’s way – the same as anyone would want for themselves and their loved ones.”

As Kasich goes out the door, he will be replaced by governor-elect Mike Dewine, also a Republican.

Dewine is unlikely to be an advocate for LGBTQ rights, having fought against same-sex marriage in the past. Dewine was the state’s attorney general at the time Jim Obergefell filed a lawsuit against Ohio for the right to marry his dying husband John Arthur. And in 2015 Dewine argued in the Supreme Court that Ohio should be allowed to continue to ban marriage for same-sex couples — a fight he lost.