It Cannot Pass Without Notice: Intersex Awareness Takes New Significance

Painfully, too few took notice of an important event that took place on October 26.  Intersex Awareness Day was observed across the globe but with much less of the fanfare offered to LGBT people during Pride season.  While November may be Transgender Awareness Month, only a single day has been set aside to remember the issues of intersex people.

This year Australia led in recognition of intersex issues with the First Federal Parliamentary Forum hearing from intersex activists in Canberra.1 This hearing might be compared to the first Congressional hearing on transgender rights in Washington D.C. which took place in 2008.But this isn’t enough for intersex people.  It’s shouldn’t be enough for the rest of us either, transgender or not, who have not been diagnosed with an intersex variation.

Intersex experience, despite differences from transgender issues per sé, overlap transgender issues and we must not ignore them in recognition of that overlap if for no other.  But even apart from this, intersex experience deserves the attention and respect from all people, and the international, multi-generational cruelty inflicted upon intersex individuals should be regarded as inflicted upon all humanity.

 

HISTORY OF INTERSEX AWARENESS DAY

Intersex Awareness Day became an annual event sparked by a protest against the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on that day in 1996.  Tony Briffa calls it the “Intersex Stonewall.”3 Tony Briffa was the first openly intersex elected official, becoming Deputy Mayor of Hobson Bay, Melbourne, in 2011.4

The American Academy of Pediatrics was conducting its session in Boston in 1996.5  Boston also gave us Rita Hester and Chanelle Pickett, whose deaths  in the years following sparked the annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance to be held later this month.6  Two intersex activists tried to address the conference.  They challenged the persistent treatment of intersex children, which still feature infant surgeries and other permanent interventions to ‘normalize’ genitalia.  The AAP responded with pure intolerance, removing the activists from the conference.7

Why would the American Academy of Pediatrics so readily reject this message?  Was it just because the academy only offered speaking positions to academy members?  If that was the case, then members of the AAP should have acted as spokespeople, with the activists as visible examples, because the message is a valid and long suppressed issue.  But that didn’t happen.  The conference officials literally quashed their message, opting instead to favor enforcement of a binary of sex and gender that runs roughshod over self-determination, advancing a cause favorable to the propagation of patriarchal dominance.

But the actions of the AAP in 1996 unwittingly laid a political foundation for a human rights observance that deserves to rise above obscurity.  It gave impetus to the movement for intersex rights, and transpeople as allies need to pay attention.  Movements for transgender rights and intersex rights have long paralleled one another and at times intertwined.  Intersex people have supported transgender rights and we would be amiss not to recognize their contributions over the years and to embrace their cause as they have supported ours.

 

SOME INTERSEX STATISTICS

We can’t realize any true discussion of intersex rights without understanding the physical phenomena intersex people face.  Intersex variations happen far more often than people admit according to the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) whose website still exists for educational purposes after Accord Alliance replaced it in 2007.  Chances are, you’ve met an intersex individual.  You might unwittingly be intersex yourself.  Some intersex variations may be that subtle.8

Intersex variations present as anatomical and chromosomal anomalies pertaining to physical sex and may require specific attention in medical treatment.  Some of statistics include:

 

  • Total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or female: 1 in 100 births

  • Not XX and not XY: 1 in 1,666 births

  • Klinefelter (47 Karotype XXY in males and females): 1 in 1,000 births

  • Vaginal Agenesis: 1 in 6,000 births

  • Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome: 1 in 13,000 births

  • Classical Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia: 1 in 13,000 births

  • Ovotestes: 1in 83,000 births

  • Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome: 1 in 130,000 births

  • Total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearance: 1 or 2 in 1,000 births9

 

We might note some others not mentioned in the ISNA list: Swyer Syndrome (46 Karotype XY), noted in “females”, De La Chapelle Syndrome (46 Karotype XX), noted in “males”, 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency (46 Karotype XY), noted in “females” external phenotypes but with internal male gonads, Chimerism, and Turner Syndrome (46 Karotype XO).  Other variations occur besides these and can be found at http://oii-usa.org/1124/intersex-variations-list/.

But ambiguities in external genitalia have garnered the most attention for Pediatrics.  A clitoris might resemble a penis or vice versa.  For that matter, one might not be able to determine the sex of an infant at all because the ambiguity may leave a medical practitioner guessing.  Determination of sex has overwhelming legal implications and few jurisdictions allow recognition of anything outside the gender binary.  It follows the classic belief that anything other than male or female cannot exist apart from “birth defects,” maliciously branding intersex people “abominations” or “monsters” and many pretend they don’t happen even so.

What has been the overwhelming treatment of choice among pediatric surgeons?  They’ve typically chosen surgery to assign a sex out of their own medical and legal convenience.  In most cases these surgeries have rendered infants as “female” because it’s easier for a surgeon to surgically fashion female genitalia than male genitalia and upon this convenience perpetrating doctors have declared the legal sex of 1 or 2 in 1,000 births without any consideration for the patient’s actual gender identity.

That’s a problem for those intersex individuals who realize they aren’t who they had been assigned by the surgeon to be.  It compels such patients to seek corrective surgery, called Genital Reconstruction Surgery (GRS) as opposed to Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) or Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS) offered to transsexuals.  For intersex individuals this isn’t so much about gender dysphoria driving one to cross over from one sex to another as an issue of the quality of life and righting a crime perpetrated by societies and their institutions.

  

A COMMUNITY SEPARATE AND DISTINCT

In the past, intersex people have worked with transgender organizations to advance the cause of human rights.  But our part as transpeople has been insufficient for intersex needs.  Intersex people are now determining their own path independent from ours.  Tony Briffa told Gay Star News that events like Intersex Awareness Day give intersex people the opportunity to speak with legislators about changes they seek to protect intersex children and support the work of “intersex organizations run by and for intersex people.”10

This level of activism kicked into gear in Darlington, Australia in March 2017 when members of Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand intersex community organizations issued a joint statement directed primarily toward those nations, but also to allies worldwide.  The Darlington Statement consists of 59 points in 9 pages, addressing issues of human rights and legal reform, health and well being, peer support, allies, education, awareness, employment.11

The Darlington Statement acknowledges the historical ties of intersex people with LGBT and other peoples:

 

“We also acknowledge intersectionalities with other populations, including same-sex attracted people, trans and gender diverse people, people with disabilities, women, men, and Indigenous – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Tangata Whenua – and racialised [sic], migrant and refugee populations.”12

 

However, the statement makes this assertion of distinction from LGBT communities:

 

“That the word ‘intersex’, and the intersex human rights movement, belong equally to all people born with variations of sex characteristics, irrespective of our gender identities, genders, legal sex  classifications and sexual orientations.”13

 

The Darlington Statement made this declaration as an independent community and calls upon us all to recognize it as such:

 

Allies

“47. Intersex is distinct from other issues. We call on allies to actively acknowledge our distinctiveness and the diversity within our community, to support our human rights claims and respect the intersex human rights movement, without tokenism, or instrumentalising [sic], or co-opting intersex issues as a means for other ends. “Nothing about us without us.”

“48. We encourage all organizations [sic] and bodies that support the intersex movement to recognize [sic] this Darlington statement.

“49. We call for intersex people, and the intersex human rights movement, to be allies to the LGBTQ, disability, Indigenous, anti-racist, and women’s movements.

“50. We call on intersex people to recognize [sic] our own diversity, and call for intra-community dialogue and mutual support.”14

 

Click here for the full text of The Darlington Statement.

 It’s clear that the intersex community has made itself a distinct community and the rest of us must recognize the fact.  We must now support them as allies, and no longer as a branch of our own community.  To recognize the latter would be a form of “instrumentalizing.”

 

IMPLICATIONS OF THE DARLINGTON STATEMENT

This development also raises a historical specter of difficulty transpeople have had with the mainstream gay and lesbian community.  On the bases of our own intersection of issues with the issues of gays and lesbians we have typically asserted that we as transpeople must remain linked as LGBT people.  The Darlington Statement has now weakened that argument.  Trans and intersex people no longer stand as a united community.  We only stand together as allies.  Consequently, we will most likely find ourselves standing with mainstream gays and lesbians as allies as well, no longer as a united community.

It’s sad that the unity many of us have sought has become unattainable, though the position taken in The Darlington Statement is understandable.  With this, other forms of fragmentation of the trans community may become inevitable.

The trans community has long been noted as a schismatic community.  Transsexual and transvestite have long been at odds.  In the 1990’s, “transgender” has been an umbrella term to include both as well as intersex individuals as in this statement from San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission:

 

“‘Transgender’ is used as an umbrella term that includes female and male cross dressers, transvestites, drag queens or kings, female and male impersonators, intersexed [sic] individuals, pro-operative, post-operative, and non-operative transsexuals, masculine females, feminine males, all persons whose perceived gender or anatomic sex may be incongruent with their gender expression and all persons exhibiting gender characteristics and identities which are perceived to be androgynous.”15

 

This definition of “transgender” set a legal standard throughout California.  It got civil rights efforts done.  But since that time, the definition of “transgender” has shifted to apply to transsexuals exclusively with the word “transsexual” being regarded as a pejorative.  Not a few cross dressers have decried this redefinition, excluded as a people not being “trans enough.”  Has this shift likewise alienated intersex people to the point where they have now decided to go their own way?  Possibly.

The “nothing about us without us” argument has implications for arguments attacking the trans community as well.  Trans activists have long challenged religionist claims that transwomen are not women and transmen are not men with genetic facts including the understanding that the Y Chromosome does not alone determine maleness and that intersex variations abound among transpeople and others.  We can no longer offer this argument without “co-opting intersex issues as a means for other ends,” specifically our own.

The Darlington Statement demands something else, lest civil rights interests fall like dominoes.  Transpeople now need to renegotiate with its own factions, recognizing each as a separate ally community as we now must with the intersex community, each ally community deserving the same level of respect.  It means recognizing a separate and distinct cross dressing community, a separate and distinct drag community, and so forth.  Only by doing so can we now continue to make civil rights assertions to the world.

We would be amiss if we didn’t offer that level of respect to others.  After all, with massive imposition of divisiveness and rhetoric from the far Right designed to set emotion over fact in order to further divide humanity, unity is key.  Separate communities cannot overcome without that level of respect.  We must take more than a day to give intersex people the attention they deserve.  Survival really does depend upon it.

_________________________________

REFERENCES:

Featured Image: the Intersex Pride flag, its circle rising like the sun above the words declaring its desire as a community of its own.

  1. Tony Briffa. “Intersex Awareness Day: Commemorating the intersex version of Stonewall” Gay Star News (October 26, 2017, accessed October 26, 2017) https://www.gaystarnews.com/article/intersex-awareness-day-commemorating-the-intersex-version-of-stonewall/#gs.WOqpLcQ.
  2. House Hearing, 110 Congress. An Examination of Discrimination Against Transgender Americans in the Workplace:Hearing before the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. House of Representatives, One Hundred Tenth Congress, Second Session (U.S. Government Printing Office, June 26, 2008, accessed online December 31, 2013) http://www.gpoaccess.gov/congress/house/education/index.html. A video series of these proceedings available through NCTEquality. “Congressional Hearing on Transgender Discrimination” YouTube (June 28, 2008, accessed October 23, 2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYglCClCsYM.
  3. Op. cit.
  4. Daniel Villarreal. “The Amazing, Heartbreaking Story of Tony Briffa, The World’s First Openly Intersex Mayor” Queerty (December 12, 2011, accessed November 1, 2017) https://www.queerty.com/the-amazing-heartbreaking-story-of-tony-briffa-the-worlds-first-openly-intersex-mayor-20111210 .
  5. Op. cit.
  6. Leveque, Sophia Cecelia. TRANS/ACTIVE: A Biography of Gwendolyn Ann Smith (Winston-Salem NC, Library Partners Press, ZSR Library, Wake Forest University August 1, 2017) ISBN-13: 978-1618460448 , p. 42.
  7. Op. cit.
  8. (n.a.) “Frequency” Intersex Society of North America (accessed November 1, 2017) http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency
  9. Ibid.
  10. https://www.gaystarnews.com/article/intersex-awareness-day-commemorating-the-intersex-version-of-stonewall/#gs.WOqpLcQ.
  11. Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand intersex community organizations and independent advocates, including the Androgen Insensitivity Support Syndrome Support Group Australia (AISSGA),1 Intersex Trust Aotearoa New Zealand (ITANZ),2 Organisation Intersex International Australia (OIIAU),3 Eve Black, Kylie Bond (AISSGA), Tony Briffa (OIIAU/AISSGA), Morgan Carpenter (OIIAU/Intersex Day Project4), Candice Cody (OIIAU), Alex David (OIIAU), Betsy Driver (Bodies Like Ours), Carolyn Hannaford (AISSGA), Eileen Harlow, Bonnie Hart (AISSGA), Phoebe Hart (AISSGA), Delia Leckey (ITANZ), Steph Lum (OIIAU), Mani Bruce Mitchell (ITANZ), Elise Nyhuis (AISSGA), Bronwyn O’Callaghan, Sandra Perrin (AISSGA), Cody Smith (Tranz Australia), Trace Williams (AISSGA), Imogen Yang (Bladder Exstrophy Epispadias Cloacal Exstrophy Hypospadias Australian Community – BEECHAC5), Georgie Yovanovic. “The Darlington Statement” (issued March 2017, accessed November 2, 2017) https://oii.org.au/darlington-statement/
  12. Ibid, p. 3, point 3, bold per the document.
  13. Ibid, point 4, bold per the document.
  14. Ibid, p. 8, points 47-50, bold per the document.
  15. Human Rights Commission. “Guidelines to Prohibit Gender Identity Discrimination; respecting San Francisco Administrative Code Chapter 12A, 12B, 12C; and San Francisco Municipal Police Code Article 33” City and County of San Francisco, 1998, p. 2.
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One School Kicks Him Out The Other Crowns Him Homecoming King

By Sabrina Samone

I’m sure the readers of TMP are ready by now for some good news, after what has been one sad blow after the next for our community. Recently, The Family Research Center, has launched a petition and campaign titled, ‘Free to Believe’, inserting their belief in a Freedom of Religious right to discriminant. TMPlanet’s senior writer Lynnea  Stuart, recently wrote about the consequences of such actions, and the UN vote titled.  The UN Vote: Is the United States Headed Toward an LGBT Holocaust?  Haven’t we as a human race witnessed this type of state sanctioned hate, and the consequences of legislated hate, against another group of people? Are we doomed to repeat the horrors of World War 2?

Recently a school that dares calls itself a Christian School, expelled a 17 year old Transgender teen. Stiles Zuschlag, was on track to be valedictorian at Tri-City Christian Academy in Somersworth, New Hampshire.

When the 17-year-old met with a school administrator in August about being identified as male, he was shocked when he was asked to “confess his sins, stop taking testosterone treatments, and receive Christian counseling.” If he refused, he’d be forced to leave the school.

Stiles, chose to leave the school, and start over at nearby Noble High School in North Berwick, Maine, just seven miles away.

As he began to make friends at his new school, he joked about being nominated for homecoming king. “I asked on Snapchat as a joke to put me in,” he told HuffPost. His peers took his request a bit more seriously than he did. “People actually did it. I didn’t really expect them to. I still can’t believe they did that for me.”

He’d be even more shocked when he showed up to the game and won the homecoming king crown. “After I won at the homecoming game, I almost started crying. My friends all put me in, people I didn’t even know put me in, everyone voted for me on the final ballot,” he said. “This experience feels like a dream. It’s something I never thought could have happened to me.”

The outpouring of love and acceptance astonished Zuschlag.

“I’ve been degraded so much in the past, I’ve conformed to other people’s beliefs and standards just to make them happy and comfortable. I’ve put myself in situations really hurtful to my mental health just to keep peace,” he explained. “God forced me out of that situation, that school, knowing that my mental health was far more important than my education. The only reason I stayed at the school for so long was for my education, for my GPA, and to just learn about God. But I was also dying there mentally and I suffered a lot.”

“God took me away from that to help me be a better person, to breathe again, to be happy again. I’m so grateful He did that for me.”

Despite hate, blindly and blasphemously disguised as Christianity, love does win and it’s true nature of brotherly love, compassion, acceptance and love for thy neighbor does prevail in the end.


IF YOU LIKE THESE STORIES AND WHAT YOU SEE ON THETMPLANET.COM PLEASE CONSIDER A SMALL ONE DOLLAR DONATION SO WE MAY CONTINUE OUR WORK OF UNITING OUR COMMUNITY.

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The UN Vote: Is the United States Headed Toward an LGBT Holocaust?

By Lynnea Urania Stuart

 

Perhaps the most shocking thing about what’s come out of Washington is how little so many are shocked when it takes an unconscionable course.  On September 29, 2017 the United States voted against Agenda Item #3 from the United Nations Human Rights Council and LGBT rights organizations have decried that vote on an international scale. 

But that’s not all.  Criticism has also erupted over official statements concerning why the United States voted against a measure addressing death penalty cases including those applied to prisoners incarcerated for “same sex relations.”  Not a few countries consider transpeople as nothing different from homosexuals regardless of whom they may love so this decision really runs the gamut of LGBT.

This isn’t the first time the United States has rejected measures at the United Nations addressing the death penalty.  Administrations of both parties have done so.  The previous occurred in December 2016 when the U.S. delegation under President Barack Obama rejected a resolution that called upon states not to execute minors, pregnant women, and those with intellectual disabilities.1

The United States doesn’t oppose lawful use of the death penalty, of course.  In fact it still can be enforced during wartime against those convicted of treason on the battlefield.  Many states practice the death penalty and the constitutionality thereof remains unsettled.  But given the current trends aimed at shedding the civil rights of LGBT peoples at state, federal judiciary, and federal department levels, some may wonder if a holocaust targeting us may be in our future.  The issue falls directly upon matters of ethics concerning various demographics and most especially what they can rightly do against other demographics, and issues of secrecy play a key role.

 

THE UN RESOLUTION

The resolution was an “Oral Revision” labeled GE.17-16638(E), and titled, “36/… The question of the death penalty.”  A total of 61 nations including France and the United Kingdom sponsored this as a draft resolution.2 For the full text, click here.

Much of the text consists of acknowledgements concerning past resolutions by the UN and member states who abolished or established moratoriums upon the death penalty.  These acknowledgements are significant because this resolution addresses a broader scope of demographics than just LGBT peoples:

 

Deploring the fact that, frequently, poor and economically vulnerable persons and foreign nationals are disproportionately subjected to the death penalty, that laws carrying the death penalty are used against persons exercising their rights to freedom of expression, thought, conscience, religion, and peaceful assembly and association, and that persons belonging to religious or ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented among those sentenced to the death penalty,

“Condemning in particular the use of the death penalty against persons with mental or intellectual disabilities, persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime, and pregnant women,

“Condemning the imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations, and expressing serious concern that the application of the death penalty for adultery is disproportionately imposed on women,”3

 

The actions set forth in this resolution consist of 14 points.  Here are some of them as written that most apply to controversy in the United States:

 

 2. Calls upon States that have not yet acceded to or ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty to consider doing so;4

Nick Duffy of the Pink News quoted Heather Nauert, spokesperson for the State Department, to say that the United States had “broader concerns” and that the measure called for total abolition of the death penalty.5 Item 2 is the closest this document comes to total abolition.  But it only asks states who have not yet ratified abolition to consider doing so.  That isn’t the same thing as ordering abolition of the death penalty.  What the United States did was refuse to consider even addressing the matter with Congress.

 

5. Urges States that have not yet abolished the death penalty to ensure that the death penalty is not applied against persons with mental or intellectual disabilities and persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime, as well as pregnant women;6

Item 5 reiterates the same resolution rejected by the Obama Administration in December 2016.  This might also apply to people with autism who have yet to overcome their disability.  We have already observed a higher incidence of transgenderism among people with autism.7 We cannot consider transgender issues without also considering the rights of those with mental or intellectual disabilities.

 

6. Also urges States that have not yet abolished the death penalty to ensure that it is not imposed as a sanction for specific forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations;8

We would be amiss to treat this item as applicable to gays and lesbians but not to transpeople.  Too many states refuse to recognize those who transition as anything other than assigned birth sex.  Too many states refuse to permit changing of birth records to reflect one’s sex post-transition.  What does that mean for those of us who marry or otherwise love another?  If a transwoman marries a man, is her heterosexual supposed to be a same sex marriage such as was asserted in Littleton v. Prange (1999)?9  If the same entered a relationship with a woman would that also be considered “same sex” if such are to marry?  Division remains in this respect because too many people have failed to think through the tyrannical nature of many societal traditions.  Worse yet, many clergy have dismissed the relationships of transpeople as “adulterous” whether within the marriage circle or not.  Do we go back to stoning people for adultery, or at least just stoning “women” while protecting “men” from prosecution?  Do we stone for transpeople for “apostasy” who had become personae non grata in their churches because of their gender identity?

 

8.  Also calls upon States to undertake further studies to identify the underlying factors that contribute to the substantial racial and ethnic bias in the application of the death penalty, where they exist, with a view to developing effective strategies aimed at eliminating such discriminatory practices;10

 The rights of ethnic transpeople have recently become an active area of study in the United States precisely because non-white transpeople have suffered the most.  On October 1, 2017, the National Center for Transgender Equality in conjunction with Black Transmen, Black Transwomen, Inc., and the National Black Justice Coalition released a special report titled, U.S. Transgender Survey, 2015: Report on the Experiences of Black Respondents.  Statistics regarding police interactions are telltale:  twice the level of arrests and incarceration than the USTS sample and more than 4 times that of the U.S. population as a whole.11 We cannot ignore the issues of race when dealing with trans issues and that would apply also to transpeople facing the death penalty.  Nor can we afford to dismiss with disinterest cases of transpeople convicted of capital crimes.  We may find a time not far in the future in which even existing as a transperson may be treated as a capital offence as it is in certain other countries, whether or not it has been legislated and such may be covered up with practices of state-sponsored or locally sanctioned assassination.

 

9.  Calls upon States that have not yet abolished the death penalty to make available relevant information, disaggregated by gender, age, nationality and other applicable criteria, with regard to their use of the death penalty, inter alia, the charges, number of persons sentenced to death, the number of persons on death row, the number of executions carried out and the number of death sentences reversed, commuted on appeal or in which amnesty or pardon has been granted, as well as information on any scheduled execution, which can contribute to possible informed and transparent national and international debates, including on the obligations of States with regard to the use of the death penalty; 12

No secret execution should ever be permitted.  Even if a heinous crime may have been committed and proven, no execution should be celebrated or ignored whether it’s legal or covert. Should America’s violations be an international issue?  Definitely.

When Soviets threw religious people into gulags we considered their actions an international issue.13   When the Islamic Republic of Iran incarcerated and murdered dissidents we considered their actions an international issue.14  When the military government of Argentina committed mass murder and torture upon its people in the Dirty War including the rapes, torture, and murder of dissident youth in the La Noche de lost Lapices (The Night of the Pencils) before democracy returned to that nation we also regarded atrocities the same way.15  Should the United States be so arrogant to presume upon its own “goodness” that such cannot happen here?  We cannot and dare not be so naïve.

Worse yet, with regard to the treatment of LGBT peoples, too often arrests, incarcerations, torture, and state-sponsored murder with erasure have gone without notice.  We saw these things happen in Chechnya16 and Azerbaijan17 against “gays” this year while those governments denied anything improper existed.  Transpeople have likewise been targeted.  Could it never happen here?  It certainly could without due vigilance and action, and forces against transpeople have been amassing on state and federal levels.

 

ADMINISTRATIVE DISCLAIMER

Jason Mack delivered this statement on behalf of the United States:

 

“Thank you Mr. President.

The United States is disappointed that it must vote against this resolution.  As in previous years, we had hoped for a balanced and inclusive resolution that would better reflect the position of states that continue to apply the death penalty lawfully.  We reaffirm our longstanding position on the legality of the death penalty, when imposed and carried out in a manner consistent with a state’s international obligations.

We are deeply troubled whenever an individual subject to the death penalty is denied the procedural and substantive protections to which he or she is entitled.  We, likewise condemn any instance in which a method of execution or treatment during confinement is applied in such a manner as to amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of a state’s international obligations.  We cannot accept the implication, however, that all methods of execution have such a result.

The United States is committed to complying with its constitution, laws, and international obligations, and we encourage other countries that employ the death penalty to do so as well.

Thank you”18

 

This statement raises some serious concerns.  Mack’s statement asserts that the resolution isn’t “balanced and inclusive.”  How is it not inclusive when it calls upon all states to report to the international community in such detail?  Exactly who does this exclude?  How is it not “balanced” when it did not order elimination of the death penalty but only asked those who have not signed on to simply consider doing so?

Worse yet, condemnation of torture, cruelty, inhuman, or degrading treatment is a hollow gesture when we consider the broader treatment of transpeople in prisons.  Too many of us don’t go into protective custody.  Instead, too many are placed in positions in which rape and other forms of violence are facilitated and participation of abuses by prison personnel hasn’t been unheard of.19 What about the practice of water-boarding, obviously a practice of torture, sanctioned by the Bush administration in the wars following the 9-11 AttacksDonald Trump declared in the 2016 Presidential Debates that he would support worse acts than water boarding.20

Such has the potential for wholesale violations of human rights.  We rarely hear of abuses precisely because we learn of them second-hand through visitors or a prisoner recently released who has witnessed it or has been a victim.   Too often, various authorities want to quash reports of incidents.  Some may dismiss reports of ill treatment as “exaggerations” or “inaccuracies” because authorities don’t regard cruelty as “cruel”.

We must recognize that “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” are relative terms, too easily subjected to widely disparate opinion and easily manipulated in an authoritarian milieu.  We must also recognize that if any demographic becomes subject to legalized prosecution there’s nothing to stop a nation from claiming it has used the death penalty “legally”.  Such can even call acts of cruelty “balanced” and even “compassionate” because it has taken upon itself the right to determine accepted definitions.

 We must also recognize that public governmental statements do not necessarily reflect what’s said privately.  Officials can make public condemnations of torture, cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment but what’s executed behind the scenes may differ widely from what’s claimed.  The vagueness of Mr. Mack’s statement opens the door for us to consider the U.S. may have something of its own to hide.

 

AFTERMATH AND FOREMATH

Despite the U.S. vote against the resolution, it did pass 27 to 13 with 7 abstaining.  Nations joining the United States were Bangladesh, Botswana, Burundi, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.  Nations abstaining included Cuba, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Philippines, South Korea, and Tunisia.21 Many of these nations actively prosecute LGBT peoples.  Others simply followed the lead of the Americans or, like India, merely don’t want to interfere with other governments on this while entertaining its own favor toward the death penalty.  Huffington Post quoted Amnesty International to reveal they awarded 136 death sentences in 2016, up from 75 in 2015.22

Though the U.N. resolution did pass, we cannot count upon Congress to ratify it.  Too easily, what has been accepted at the level of the United Nations becomes effectively nullified at the national level if a nation doesn’t happen to agree with it.  Worse yet, citizens may not know that the whole world may be watching incidents of atrocities or mistreatment of prisoners.  Prisoners typically face restrictions concerning communications they may exchange during incarceration.  Transparency isn’t one of prison staffs’ greater virtues. This has been the case in virtually every nation.  The message of the United States and others at the U.N. really amounted to saying, “Back off, nosey.”

After all, the United States really wants a death penalty and proponents will defend it as vigorously as the National Rifle Association vigorously defends access to guns. What’s particularly disturbing about this zeal for the death penalty is the overall agenda of the Republican Party led by a theocratic Evangelical Alliance.

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump not one month has passed without some action of the current administration in opposition to transpeople.  The National Center for Transgender Equality has posted a list of these actions on its website along with a list of other administrative actions that, while not directed against transpeople specifically, harm transpeople.23

Lest we dismiss these actions as “preserving religious liberty,” we should consider what’s happening right now in the United States, most specifically in Mississippi whose passage of HB 1523 has just taken effect.  This act is called the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” and it’s expressly directed against LGBT peoples.  This law permits the following based solely upon one’s own stated religious beliefs:

  1. Denial of services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges related any marriage being celebrated or solemnized.
  2. Refusal to hire and permission to terminate and discipline anyone whose conduct or religious beliefs don’t square with an employer’s.
  3. Denial of lodging.
  4. Denial of adoption or foster care service.
  5. Refusal to participate in sex reassignment treatments or assessment for such treatments.
  6. Setting of sex-specific standards in dress and grooming for schools and businesses including use of “intimate facilities of settings.”24

What this means is that if you’re transgender and your community is staunchly Baptist and Church of Christ (as most are in Mississippi), then you’ll very likely have to move away, conform through enforced detransition and possible “conversion therapy”, or you will end up homeless and unemployed.  If you do become a homeless transperson, vagrancy laws will probably kick in, resulting in incarceration in which “sex-specific” grooming standards would be enforced.  Meanwhile you may be subjected to prison rape, and possibly even torture or murder by prisoners or even by prison staff.  Your death wouldn’t be noticed as an execution because you were never formally sentenced to death in the first place.  But in spirit it really is an unofficial application of the death penalty determined upon a self-appointed kangaroo court of religionists.  The truth would be swept under the rug just like so many killings of minorities have been swept under the rug during the vicious history of atrocities against unwelcome minorities in the Deep South and official disregard for civil rights over many years.25

While the U.S. vote at the United Nations wasn’t directly about such cases, consider that part of the resolution that calls for states to make available information about executions, dis-aggregated by several factors including gender and other applicable criteria.  The United Nations isn’t the only entity involved in death penalty issues and human rights violations.  Others like Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Southern Poverty Law Center are very interested in civil rights abuses and atrocities directed against minorities including transpeople.  However, their cases represent anecdotal incidents so we can’t say they have meaningful statistics for comparison with those the U.N. may have.

But facts deserve to be made known.  If that doesn’t happen, then there’s nothing to stop those inclined to harm minorities they don’t happen to like, and the more secrecy abounds, the more arrogance is licensed and greater space is given for potential atrocities.  By then, the potential for prisons and detention centers to become de facto death camps becomes very real.

 

THE SUBJECTION OF ETHICS TO POWERS

Great danger lurks whenever a nation, state, municipality, or even an individual determines ethics upon the dictates of a power other than compassion and logical principle.  We’re never safe to say that something’s right or wrong because a leader says so, whether that leader is determined by election, appointment, and especially by his own self-delusion.  The dream and promise of international human rights can only be reached by nations whose hearts put compassion before dominance.  Not only must a nation do this, but its people must not pretend that committing an atrocity is a compassionate act, especially if done in the name of religion.  It isn’t.

Herein we have been repeatedly tested throughout history.  There’s a right and wrong to right and wrong.  But too often, we’ve been led either though schooling, the pulpit, or military training to subject all sense of ethics and judgment to an immediate authority and to blindly accept consequences when that authority betrays its followers.  People commit and even enforce atrocities in such a milieu and secrecy is its sustenance.

The United States will go on regardless of what the outcome of the vote of the United Nations happened to be.  An LGBT holocaust hasn’t fully arrived in America, at least not yet.  But in our continuing business we must address again and again whether our hearts collectively put compassion before dominance.  Compassion demands daring to expose atrocities.  If our hearts do not put compassion before dominance, then we risk the danger that a cancer of tyranny may choke out human rights such as we have not witnessed in generations.  If ours do not, then holocaust may lurk beneath our own horizon. 

_______________________

REFERENCES:

Featured Image:  A burst of light in the clouds over the horizon, photo by the author, with the emblem of the United Nations superimposed thereon.  (Wikimedia)

 

  1. Alex Emmons. “The U.S. Voted Against a U.N. Resolution Condemning Death Penalty for LGBTQ People” The Intercept (October 3, 2017, accessed October 4, 2017) https://theintercept.com/2017/10/03/the-u-s-voted-against-a-u-n-resolution-condemning-death-penalty-for-lgbtq-people/.
  2. United Nations General Assembly, 17-16638(E), (September 28, 2017, accessed October 4, 2017) p. 1. http://ilga.org/downloads/HRC36_resolution_question_death_penalty.pdf.
  3. Ibid, p. 3. (Italics if not bold are those of the document itself)
  4. Ibid.
  5. Nick Duffy. “US government defends voting against UN resolution on gay death penalty” Pink News (October 4, 2017, 12:11 pm, accessed October 4, 2017) http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/10/04/us-government-defends-voting-against-un-resolution-on-gay-death-penalty/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=PNFB&utm_content=ND.
  6. Op cit.
  7. Byrony White. “The Link Between Autism and Trans Identity” The Atlantic (November 15, 2016, accessed October 5, 2017) https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/11/the-link-between-autism-and-trans-identity/507509/.
  8. Op. cit.
  9. “Littleton v. Prange” FindLaw (October 27, 1999, report accessed October 5, 2017) http://caselaw.findlaw.com/tx-court-of-appeals/1079164.html.
  10. Op. cit.
  11. James, S. E., Brown, C., & Wilson, I. “2015 U.S. Transgender Survey: Report on the Experiences of Black Respondents” (2017, accessed October 1, 2017) Washington, DC and Dallas, TX: National Center for Transgender Equality, Black Trans Advocacy, & National Black Justice Coalition, p. 16. http://www.transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/usts/USTS-Black-Respondents-Report.pdf .
  12. Op. cit.
  13. (n.a.)” Introduction: Stalin’s Gulag” Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom (accessed October 5, 2017) http://gulaghistory.org/nps/onlineexhibit/stalin/.
  1. Robert F. Worth. “Iran Arrests Dissidents, Sites Report” New York Times (December 28, 2009, accessed October 5, 2017) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/29/world/middleeast/29iran.html.
  2. Vladimir Hernandez “Argentina marks ‘Night of the Pencils” BBC News (September 16, 2011, accessed October 5, 2017) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-14910859.
  3. Adam Taylor. “How a transgender Chechen escaped Russia and found asylum in the United States” Washington Post (September 1, 2017, accessed October 5, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/a-transgender-chechen-woman-and-her-plea-for-asylum-in-america/2017/09/01/0edc5bd6-8916-11e7-96a7-d178cf3524eb_story.html?utm_term=.76604fabcc44.
  4. Teo Armus. “Dozens of LGBTQ People Reportedly Arrested in Azerbaijan” NBC News (September 26, 2017, accessed October 5, 2017) https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/dozens-lgbtq-people-reportedly-arrested-azerbaijan-n804801.
  5. “U.S. Statement as delivered by Jason Mack, Human Rights Council, 36th Session, Geneva, September 29, 2017” (accessed October 4, 2017) https://geneva.usmission.gov/2017/10/03/u-s-explanation-of-vote-resolution-on-the-question-of-the-death-penalty/.
  6. Multiple resources at (n.a.) “Issues/ Police, Jails & Prisons” National Center for Transgende4er Equality (NCTE, accessed October 5, 2017) http://www.transequality.org/issues/police-jails-prisons.
  7. Jenna Johnson. “Trump says ‘torture works,’ backs waterboarding and ‘much worse’” Washington Post (February 17, 2016, accessed October 5, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-says-torture-works-backs-waterboarding-and-much-worse/2016/02/17/4c9277be-d59c-11e5-b195-2e29a4e13425_story.html?utm_term=.fb01aaccf05a.
  8. Nick Duffy. “US government defends voting against UN resolution on gay death penalty” Pink News (October 4, 2017, 12:11 pm, accessed October 4, 2017) http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/10/04/us-government-defends-voting-against-un-resolution-on-gay-death-penalty/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=PNFB&utm_content=ND.
  9. Somak Ghoshal. “It’s Hardly Surprising That India Has No Problem With Death Penalty For LGBTQ People” Huffington Post (April 10, 2017, accessed October 5, 2017) http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2017/10/04/its-hardly-surprising-that-india-has-no-problem-with-death-penalty-for-lgbtq-people_a_23231962/?utm_hp_ref=in-homepage.
  10. “Trump’s record of action against transgender people” National Center for Transgender Equality (accessed October 4, 2017) http://www.transequality.org/the-discrimination-administration?utm_content=buffer0637f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer.
  11. Dan Avery. “Mississippi’s HB 1523 Is the Most Sweeping Anti-LGBT Law In America. And It Takes Effect Friday” NewNowNext (October 2, 2017, accessed October 5, 2017) http://www.newnownext.com/hb-1523-law-lgbt-discrimination/10/2017/?fb_ref=fbshare_web.
  12. Robert A. Gibson. “The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, 1880-1950” Yale Teacher’s Insitute (accessed October 5, 2017) http://teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/1979/2/79.02.04.x.html.
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Three Charged with Gruesome Murder of Houston Transgender Teen Ally Steinfeld

By Sabrina Samone

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TMP iReporter Grace Ann Ashcraft

Three people are accused of murdering a Houston, Mo teenager who was recently reported missing.


Online court records indicate 18-year-old Andrew Vrba and 18-year-old Isis Schauer of Houston, and 24-year-old Briana Calderas of Cabool, were charged Thursday with first degree murder and abandonment of a corpse. Vrba also faces charges of armed criminal action.

The three suspects are accused of killing 17-year-old Ally Steinfeld of Houston, who has been dead named as Joseph Steinfeld in recent local news reports.

The Houston Herald reports that burned remains were later identified as Steinfeld’s, who had been reported missing the week prior. The remains were discovered by the Texas County Sheriff’s Office at Calderas’ mobile home near Cabool. Vrba reportedly told authorities that he stabbed Steinfield in the living room of the mobile home, and that all three, Schauer, Calderas, and Vrba wrapped up the victim’s body, took it outside, and destroyed the body by burning it. According to a probable cause statement, the women traveled to Walmart in Houston and Mountain Grove to buy items to aid in the burning of the body.


Steinfeld’s cell phone and a knife were recovered at the property, and stains believed to be blood were located inside the home.

Online court records did not indicate any future hearing dates for the three suspects, and no attorneys were listed.

The investigation is ongoing. Officers remained on the scene Friday.

It was quoted as being, “a grisly terrible series of heinous acts by the accused“, said Texas County Prosecutor Parke Stevens Jr.

Vrba told law enforcement officers that some of the bones were placed in a garbage bag, which was transferred to a chicken coop on the property. Officers executed a search warrant and also found human bones in a burn pile next to the residence. Apparent blood stains were discovered on the living room carpet. Caldereas admitted that the death occurred there, but denied that she wanted the teen, whose preferred name was Ally Steinfeld, according to a social media posting, to die. A cellular telephone belonging to Steinfeld and a knife were recovered at the property.

Facebook messages between the women gave officers a break in the teen’s death, which apparently occurred Sept. 3, six days before Steinfeld’s Birthday.

The women told officers that Vrba bragged about the murder and it’s brutality, according to court documents.

Condolences are pouring onto Ally Steinfeld’s Facebook page, where her last post before being reported missing was on August the 27th, where she wrote, “I feeling little bit beautiful how likes my hair i got it red.”

 

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A Judge in Brazil Approves ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

By Sabrina Samone

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TMP Brazil iReporter Sammy Sarvaris

Yearly, on November 20th, trans people across the globe gather to read the names of fallen sisters and brothers. We honor their lives by speaking their names, and refusing to let the world forget the transphobic hate that took their lives. The names are from all walks of life, and nearly every country, but trans women of color and particularly those in Brazil leaves our community gasping at the number and degree of violence trans people face in Brazil.

According to Gay Group Bahia¹, over 275 lgbt persons have been murdered in one year in Brazil. The stats shows that over 200 gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people have been murdered between January 1 and September this year. The group’s study, which estimated the number using police records and news reports in the region, found that 43 percent of the times took place in the North East. 35% of victims were trans people, while 59% of those were gay, and 4% were lesbians. Though homosexuality is not a crime in Brazil, it is notorious for having one of the highest murder rates for LGBT people – and transgender people in particular – in the world

Each year, and in particularly on Transgender Day of Remembrance², we listen to the growing names of transgender people being murdered in Brazil. It is this very reason, with the growing murder rate, the latest action of a judge in Brazil has become exceptionally troubling. In a country already beyond an epidemic of homophobia and transphobia, a judge has approved conversion therapy of gay people.

Actions like these give a license for even swifter, uglier forms of hate, and considering this is Brazil, that is beyond alarming.

Waldemar de Carvalho, a federal judge in the capital of Brasília, overruled a 1999 decision by the Federal Council of Psychology that forbade psychologists from offering widely discredited treatments which claims to “cure” gay people.

Coming a week after a bank cancelled an exhibition of gay art after protests from rightwing and evangelical Christian groups, the ruling has raised fears that progressive policies could be overturned.

Brazil has a growing population of evangelical Christians who have protested vociferously at plotlines in television soap operas featuring gay or transgender characters, and increasingly ally themselves with burgeoning rightwing groups.

This decision is a big regression to the progressive conquests that the LBGT community had in recent decades,” David Miranda, a leftist councillor in Rio de Janeiro and one of the country’s few openly gay politicians, told the Guardian. “Like various countries in the world, Brazil is suffering a conservative wave.”

Ivete Sangolo, one of Brazil’s most celebrated singers, wrote:

“The sick ones are those who believe in this grand absurdity,”in an Instagram post commenting on the ruling.

Judge de Carvalho ruled in favor of an action brought by Rozangela Justino, an evangelical Christian and psychologist whose license was revoked in 2016 after she offered “conversion therapy”.

In a 2009 interview with the Folha de S Paulo newspaper, Justino said she saw homosexuality as a “disease”, advised patients to seek religious guidance and said: “I feel directed by God to help people who are homosexual.”

The Federal Council of Psychology said in a statement that the decision “opens the dangerous possibility of the use of sexual reversion therapies” and promised to contest it legally.

Council president Rogério Giannini, a psychologist based in São Paulo, said its 1999 decision prohibiting “sexual conversion” therapy had already faced off other legal actions and even a proposed bill in Congress.

“We have no power over research,” Giannini said in a Guardian interview. “The way it was put by the judge gave the impression that we prohibited research which is not true.”

As hashtags like #curagay (“gay cure”)³ trended in Brazil, Twitter users used memes and GIFs to ridicule the decision.

“They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no,” tweeted one Brazilian using the name Ubiratan.

Blasphemy is using the word of God to justify one’s hate or own personal sins. Those actions have consequences, and unfortunately our trans sisters and brothers who are often the easiest known targets of LGBT hate may face a heavier toll than we could ever imagine if such legislation continues to go unnoticed and rivaled by the world’s LGBT communities.


  1. Groupo Gay Da Bahia, LGBT rights organization in Brazil similar to the HRC in America.
  2. TDOR (Transgender Day of Remembrance) was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved.
  3. Trending hashtag on twitter in response to Brazilian Judges decision

 

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