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Trans benefits of decriminalizing marijuana

marijuana, U.S. Capitol building, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

By HARPER JEAN TOBIN

Across the country, decriminalizing marijuana is on the agenda of lawmakers. Colorado and Washington State made history by legalizing marijuana, and this month the D.C. Council gave an initial nod to turn marijuana possession from a crime to something more like a parking ticket.

Other states are also considering legislation. Much of the conversation has focused on the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol, and on the fact black people are far more likely to be arrested and charged for marijuana despite using pot at similar rates to white people.

What does this have to do with transgender and transgender people of color? A lot. While we don’t have specific figures on marijuana, we know that trans people—especially trans people of color—are disproportionately affected by our country’s continuing problems of mass incarceration, police profiling and harassment, barriers to jobs and housing that are exacerbated by a criminal record, and other critical problems that are being neglected in favor of spending on drug enforcement and prisons.

While changing marijuana laws will not cure these problems, we believe it is a step in the right direction.

Here’s why NCTE supports decriminalizing marijuana:

• Decriminalization would help reduce disproportionate incarceration of transgender people. The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) found that fully 1 in 8 transgender people, more than 1 in 5 transgender women, and nearly half (47 percent) of black transgender people have been incarcerated. Trans people, like their non-trans counterparts, are overwhelmingly arrested and incarcerated for minor, nonviolent offenses—a reality confirmed by the NTDS finding that most formerly incarcerated transgender people have served misdemeanor sentences of less than one year, with a majority serving less than six months. Decriminalization would mean fewer trans people needlessly incarcerated.

• Decriminalization would reduce barriers to employment, housing, education and public services. Having a criminal record for a minor offense like marijuana possession can mean being barred from many jobs, public housing, student loans and other key supports that individuals need to get back on their feet after exiting prison. Even if a person avoids incarceration, a conviction can mean immediate eviction from their home or losing your legal immigration status. And many employers will not even consider hiring someone with any criminal record. For trans people, this means more barriers on top of widespread anti-trans discrimination.

• Decriminalization would send fewer transgender people to dangerous jails and prisons. Prisons and jails are inhumane and traumatizing places for anyone, and they are especially dangerous for transgender people. Transgender women are still routinely housed with men, where they are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other inmates.

• Decriminalization would reduce some of the harms of “stop and frisk.” More than one-third (35 percent) of trans people have been harassed or face discriminatory treatment by police officers—often simply for the crime of “walking while trans.” When stopped and frisked, marijuana is the most common thing people are arrested for. And, suspicion of marijuana is one of the main justifications for stops of youth of color. While much of the police harassment of trans people is based on targeting trans women as suspected or actual sex workers, decriminalizing marijuana would mean one less reason for trans people, especially trans youth of color, to fear harassment or arrest when they walk down the street.

• Decriminalization could free up scarce resources to address the real issues of homelessness, poverty, healthcare and education. Trans people face stark health disparities, are twice as likely to be unemployed, four times more likely to live in extreme poverty, and face violence from their schools to the streets to their own homes. We spend untold billions arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating people for marijuana possession. Though it won’t happen without advocacy, every dollar saved could be redirected by policymakers into addressing real community needs that should benefit trans and other marginalized people.

• Decriminalization would move us closer to addressing drug use as a public health issue. Substance abuse presents real issues for the trans community. More than one quarter (26 percent) of trans people report having used drugs or alcohol to cope with the stress of discrimination, and many studies have found LGBT disparities in substance use and abuse. But voluntary treatment and support for those with problematic drug use is the right response, not criminalization.

NCTE has added its voice to the civil rights, faith, harm reduction, and public health voices supporting decriminalization before the D.C. Council. While NCTE continues to focus on issues where our trans-specific expertise is critical, we will also support common-sense marijuana reform that will benefit our community and other marginalized communities.

Harper Jean Tobin is director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality.

25
Feb
2014

DNC to form Lesbian Leadership Council

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC, Democratic National Committee, Lesbian Leadership Council, gay news, Washington Blade

‘We’re going to make sure we have a vehicle here at the DNC for lesbian leadership,’ said DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told members of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus at a March 1 meeting in Washington that the DNC is in the process of creating a Lesbian Leadership Council to boost the leadership role of lesbians in the party.

Wasserman Schultz was among a number of high-profile Democratic Party officials that addressed the LGBT Caucus meeting on the final day of the DNC’s annual winter meetings at the Capital Hilton Hotel.

“No offense to gay men in the room, but just like in the straight community, where women sometimes have been left behind and men have vaulted ahead on the leadership track, my message was it’s time for lesbians to step up,” she said in referring to a speech she gave to a lesbian gathering last month.

“And we’re going to make sure we have a vehicle here at the DNC for lesbian leadership…so we can have lesbians catch up and get them the tools they need and make sure they can be a strong part of our leadership team,” she said.

Wasserman Schultz said more details about the Lesbian Leadership Council would be announced later.

The DNC created an LGBT Leadership Council in 2000 as a party entity charged mostly with raising money for Democratic candidates.

She told LGBT Caucus members at the March 1 meeting that she is proud of the role the Democratic Party has played in pushing for advances in LGBT rights during the years of the Obama administration, including advances in marriage equality

“And we have a lot more to do,” she said. “We need to pass a transgender-inclusive ENDA. That’s absolutely critical. We need to make sure that marriage equality” continues to move forward.

Others speaking at the LGBT Caucus meeting were Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Speaker of the California Assembly John Perez, who’s gay; and New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley, who’s also gay.

At the request of LGBT Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes of D.C., the caucus voted unanimously to approve a resolution in support of D.C. statehood.

One issue that wasn’t discussed at the caucus meeting was the status of the position of director of the DNC’s LGBT Outreach Desk. The position became vacant when D.C. gay Democratic activist Jeff Marootian, who held the post since 2011, resigned recently to become White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

DNC spokesperson Miryam Lipper said on Monday that she would inquire about the status of the vacant position with DNC officials this week and provide an update on the matter later in the week.

Fowlkes couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether DNC officials have discussed the matter with him.

“We’re all kind of pushing that we want this now,” said LGBT Caucus member Barbra Casbar Siperstein of New Jersey. “But we want to make sure that we have truly qualified people because they will be filling big shoes. We were very happy with Jeff Marootian,” she said.

Siperstein said with the 2014 midterm congressional elections approaching, having an LGBT outreach desk at the DNC is important, especially following the shutdown just over a year ago of the National Stonewall Democrats, which closed due to financial difficulties.

Buckley told the Blade that he and other LGBT Caucus members were taking steps to re-launch National Stonewall Democrats but it was unclear when that might happen.

04
Mar
2014

2 memoirs show power of parenthood

parenthood, Pregnant Butch, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy of Soft Skull Press)

Two new, very different memoirs continue to expand our sense of what an LGBT family looks like. One is the story of a lesbian mom struggling against her son’s anti-gay Catholic school while grappling with her relationship to the church and to her own mother. The other is about a butch lesbian and her experience being pregnant—the print version of a graphic novel first serialized online.

Michelle Theall’s “Teaching the Cat to Sit” (Gallery Books) is a beautifully crafted tale about the power—and pitfalls—of faith, family and love. Theall, the editor-in-chief of Alaska Magazine and an award-winning adventure and fitness writer, weaves the story of attempting to raise her son Catholic with the story of her own childhood and coming out. She deftly intertwines anecdotes that take us back to her childhood in Bible Belt Texas and forward to her life as a parent in Colorado, moving us through her Catholic upbringing, sexual abuse by a neighbor, coming out during college in the 1980s, meeting her now-partner Jill, and adopting their son.

The narrative begins in Colorado in 2009, when she and Jill are first sensing a reluctance from their priest to baptize their son. The boy also attends the Catholic school run by the same church, and the family has been welcomed by the school community. The priest, however, eventually warns them that he is reconsidering whether they can stay, since being gay goes against Catholic teaching.

Despite the insult, Theall hesitates to withdraw their son, knowing that it would hurt her strongly Catholic mother, who also suffers from depression. Theall has struggled her whole life for her mother’s acceptance, and their relationship nearly ended when Theall came out to her.

Through her story, she shows us the harm—to individuals as well as entire families—of a view of the world in which lesbian and gay people exist only as sinners and deviants. While she pulls no punches about the church’s hypocrisy and failings, her book is far from a condemnation of religion.

A. K. Summers’ “Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag” (Soft Skull Press) has an entirely different style and tone—irreverent and often caustic, with bold images that both capture the details of everyday life and exaggerate its incongruities. This is not a children’s comic. The tale, first serialized starting in 2011 at the Web comic collective site Act-i-vate, is semi-autobiographical, with the protagonist Teek standing in for Summers.

Summers grew up in California and Georgia, went to college in Ohio and Illinois, and now lives in Rhode Island. Trained as a printmaker, she is the creator of the comic zine Negativa: Chicago’s Astute Lezbo Fantasy Mag, as well as several short animated films.

She was adopted herself, which gave her “an emotional longing to experience a biological relationship to somebody,” she told me in an interview in 2011. Getting pregnant—often seen as the ultimate womanly act—took on different overtones when she did so as a butch woman, however. “Pregnant Butch,” she said, “is about my attempts to hold on to my butch self and also to allow myself to be transformed by the process [of pregnancy], and where that could occur and be positive.”

Summers explores what it means to be butch, the lack of positive role models, and how she and her partner negotiated their relationship and roles as they headed toward parenthood. She charts her changing interactions with friends and neighbors as they encountered the dissonance of her masculine gender expression and her pregnant belly.

Summers writes in her introduction that she thinks there has been a shift in the 10 years since she was pregnant. Young queers are now less likely to use the term “butch.” Nevertheless, Summers felt it was important to capture her experience, both to ”make the unseen visible” and to document a point in time before the enormous positive shift in public attitudes toward gay people in the last few years.

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian, an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.

21
Mar
2014

Recommitting to the Victory Fund mission

Chuck Wolfe, Victory Fund Champagne Brunch, gay news, Washington Blade

Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe told Sunday’s crowd about his recent heart attack and thanked supporters for their work during his absence. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Last Sunday was the annual Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch and by all accounts it was a success. There were fewer people than last year but that could be attributed to the steep price increase for tickets.

Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, began the program and spoke of his recent heart attack and thanked the staff and board for all their hard work during his illness. It was good to see him back. He is often seen as the heart and soul of the Victory Fund and deserves much of the credit for its success in recent years. He introduced Steve Elmendorf, board chair, along with Kim Hoover, board treasurer and event co-chair.

The brunch is often a moving event in which LGBT leaders from across the nation gather to celebrate how far we have come and remind each other how far we still have to go for full equality. Each year there is a featured speaker and this year it was Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) who is running for governor and recently came out as gay. If elected, he would be the first openly gay person to be elected as a governor. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced him and remarked that it is becoming increasingly difficult to be the first of anything in the LGBT community because of the successes we have had in recent years.

We had a New Jersey governor who came out in office and a gay governor who never came out in another state, but this would still be a first. Polis talked about how hard it must have been for Barney Frank when he was the only out person in Congress while today when Michaud came out there were others there to throw him a coming out party. They served pink cupcakes and the musical selections included “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

When Michaud spoke he said, “never before, and most likely never again will I eat pink cupcakes.” He also commented on the beautiful people in the room and reminded everyone that he is still single and was going to be in Washington all weekend. The line formed to the right.

Among the other candidates who spoke to the welcoming crowd were Maura Healey, who’s running for attorney general in Massachusetts, and Mary Gonzalez, a candidate for the House of Representatives in Texas. David Catania, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate, also spoke and talked about his record in D.C. and how the Victory Fund has been instrumental in his past races. He commented on how far behind he is in the polls at this point but said he could make that up. The applause for him was definitely on the lighter side as many in the room are from D.C. and supporting the Democratic nominee.

It is my understanding that the Victory Fund will be going through a strategic planning process in the coming months. All good organizations do this and it is time for the Victory Fund to reaffirm its mission and to look at what they are doing well and what they need to work on. There were people I spoke to who didn’t come to this year’s brunch for reasons other than the cost. Some stayed home because of the Victory Fund’s endorsement of Republican Richard Tisei in his bid for Congress from Massachusetts. Others didn’t come because of the early endorsement of Catania, which occurred before he even announced. These and other issues surely will be part of the discussion during the strategic planning process.

The Victory Fund should find a way to let their huge mailing list and those visiting their website know about LGBT candidates they aren’t endorsing. There are many such candidates around the nation running for posts from county commission to school board to town council. They are running for the first time and may not meet the criteria for an endorsement. But these candidates deserve to have people know they are stepping up to the plate. Others, like longtime activist Dana Beyer, who is running for State Senate in Maryland against an LGBT incumbent endorsed by Victory Fund, at least deserves recognition on the website to let people know she is running even if she isn’t endorsed.

These candidates are part of the future and they make up, as they say in baseball, our bench.

09
Apr
2014

Make it stop! (Or, even more gay marriage victories in IN, UT, CO and Mexico)

The love that dare not speak its name has become the Energizer Bunny of court victories. It keeps going and going.

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26
Jun
2014

Court strikes down Colorado ban on same-sex marriage

gavel, gay news, Washington Blade, justice

A state court has struck down Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage (Photo by Bigstock).

A state court in Colorado struck down on Wednesday the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, making for the latest in a string of rulings in favor of marriage equality.

In the 49-page ruling, District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree determines Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage cannot stand based on judicial precedent, finding that the state’s civil unions law is insufficient for gay couples within the state.

“The Court holds that the Marriage Bans violate plantiffs’ due process and equal protection guarantees under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Crabtree writes. “The existence of civil unions is further evidence of discrimination against same-sex couples and does not ameliorate the discriminatory effect of the Marriage Bans.”

Appointed by former Gov. Bill Owens in 2001, Crabtree becomes the latest in a series of Republican judges to overturn a state ban on same-sex marriage. Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, more than 20 courts have ruled in favor of marriage equality.

The decision is stayed pending appeal of the lawsuit, so no same-sex weddings will take place in Colorado as a result of the ruling.

The lawsuit, known as Brinkman v. Long, was filed in October 2013 by attorneys from Wilcox & Ogden, P.C. and Thomas Russell, who sued the state on behalf of a same-sex couple. Oral arguments in the case were heard on June 16, 2013.

The litigation is different from the lawsuit that Colorado Attorney General John Suthers filed against Boulder Colorado County Clerk Hillary Hall for distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She claims authority to do so because of the 10th Circuit ruling against Utah’s same-sex marriage ban. Another court heard this case on Wednesday and is expected to deliver a ruling soon.

Among those celebrating the victory was gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who praised the win following objection to the version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that he sponsors in the House because of its religious exemption.

“I am thrilled that Judge Crabtree has recognized that the Colorado ban on same sex marriage is a violation of due process and equal protection guarantees under the Fourteenth Amendment,” Polis said. “More than that, he has recognized, as many of his peers across the country have, that marriage should be an institution of love and commitment, not prohibition and discrimination. I look forward to his ruling being upheld by the higher courts, and am confident marriage equality in Colorado is within sight.”

09
Jul
2014

Colorado insurer offers trans coverage

Denver, transgender, Colorado, gay news, Washington Blade

Currently most plans sold in Colorado and around the country specifically bar medical care for transgender people. (Photo of Denver skyline by Stilfehler via Wikimedia Commons modified)

DENVER — A new health insurance company that is offering some of the lowest prices for health coverage in Colorado said last week it will also cover transgender care, Solutions, a project of the Buechner Institute for Governance at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado, Denver, reported.

Colorado HealthOP, a new non-profit member-owned health cooperative formed with federal grants money under Obamacare, has vowed that it will not discriminate, the project reported.

Currently most plans sold in Colorado and around the country specifically bar medical care for transgender people. That means most health carriers won’t pay for hormone treatments or gender reassignment surgeries, the article said.

18
Sep
2013

D.C. decriminalization must preserve medical pot

marijuana, U.S. Capitol building, gay news, Washington Blade, decriminalization

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Referenced as the “new gay marriage” issue, momentum for expanding the national embrace of marijuana is as ubiquitous as that of same-sex marriage. This “evolution” — even if initially limited to decriminalization and not full legalization in many states — is likely to see greater success on a quicker schedule.

Due to a looming “wall” of state-level legal obstacles confronting same-sex marriage proponents, pot normalization may soon outpace the advance of marriage equality. Although same-sex marriage efforts have scored additional state victories in the wake of Supreme Court rulings last summer, further expansion is approaching a political plateau and perhaps decade-or-more slog toward nationwide acceptance. Pot smokers probably won’t have to wait that long.

Both reforms enjoy majority nationwide support for the first time. In fact, nearly 60 percent now endorse fully legalizing pot — a larger percentage than favoring gay nuptials. While both undertakings currently enjoy parity in public approval and in the number of states adopting policies that reflect accelerating shifts in opinion, consumer pot faces an easier path.

In D.C., October suddenly became “marijuana month” as public attention focused on two local developments.

First was the revelation that the city’s long-delayed medical marijuana program had become an unexpected bust due to startlingly low participation, endangering the viability of the few product cultivation and patient dispensary businesses already approved and in operation. With less than 100 current or in-the-pipeline patient applications, and no more than 2.5 percent of practicing local physicians expressing interest in recommending treatment for the handful of allowed ailments, it is not clear that any of the businesses are financially viable. At present, the program is not a sustainable enterprise.

Legislation introduced by D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot simultaneously hit the headlines and garnered national attention. With the support of at least 10 of 13 legislators and the announcement by Mayor Vincent Gray that he approves of the effort, passage by year-end seems assured.

The bill eliminates criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. A token civil fee of $25 would replace the current maximum punishment of six months in jail and $1,000 fine. It would also shield an infraction from public record, eliminating the effect on employment or other liabilities.

D.C. will join 15 states that have decriminalized pot possession. Two states, Colorado and Washington, will soon finalize regulations and initiate rules for legalized marijuana use approved by voters last November. Efforts to either decriminalize or legalize marijuana in additional states are gaining steam and legalization-by-ballot in California may be decided by voters in 2016.

With a recent poll indicating 62 percent of District voters favor full legalization, an effort to qualify a ballot initiative — also legalizing home cultivation of marijuana — may soon be launched. Backers are waiting to see what effect passage of the “legal-lite” law may have on support for their effort.

Once marijuana is decriminalized in D.C., whether the city’s medical marijuana program is further imperiled is unclear. It certainly won’t help.

Many posit that patient need is largely fulfilled on the underground marketplace. Requiring registration with the government and acknowledgement that the activity is illegal under federal law are also known to be barriers for both patients and doctors. It is unlikely that proposals to expand the ailments eligible for treatment will generate sufficient engagement necessary to sustain a robust number of commercial providers.

The market for medical marijuana may only support one, perhaps two, dispensaries. Only time will tell. It is unreasonable, however, to relegate patients to required illicit acquisition.

District officials must continue to maintain a medicinal marijuana program, no matter how small, offering economic underwriting if required until no longer needed or federal marijuana prohibition finally ends.

Medical pot programs may soon become a quaint relic of a transitional era. But until then, marijuana as medicine must be preserved.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

30
Oct
2013

Colo. panel rules for trans student

Denver, Colo., Colorado, Gay News, Transgender, Washington Blade

The Denver City and County Building. (Photo by Billy Hathorn via Wikimedia Commons)

DENVER—The Colorado Civil Rights Division on June 17 announced a local school district had discriminated against a transgender student when it refused to allow her to use the girls’ bathroom.

The Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 last December told Coy Mathis’ parents that she would have to use the boys’ restroom or a staff or nurse’s bathroom after winter break. The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund urged the district to reconsider its decision, but it filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division in February on behalf of Coy Mathis and her parents.

The Colorado Civil Rights Division described the school district’s request as “hostile, intimidating” and “offensive.”

TLDEF said the ruling is the first-of-its-kind in the country that states trans students must be allowed to use the bathroom that is consistent with their gender identity and expression.

26
Jun
2013

Colorado activists focus next on health care

Denver, Health Care, Gay News, Washington Blade

Denver Colorado skyline. (Photo via Wikimedia by Matt Wright)

DENVER — LGBT activists in Colorado have health care, workplace and gay youth issues on their list next according to an article this week in the Denver Post.

A study from the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved said LGBT residents account for about 2.6 percent of the state’s population (about 135,000 people) and are twice as likely as straights to earn less than $35,000 per year and are twice as likely to be unemployed. Gay activist group One Colorado surveyed 1,300 LGBT state residents and found that 15.8 percent were uninsured compared with 14 percent of the overall population while 27 percent of trans residents were uninsured, the Post reported.

One Colorado is working with the Colorado Medical Society and the Denver Medical Society to survey doctors on their attitudes toward treating LGBT patients, the Post reported. Later this year, the three groups will develop better training for medical professionals, which they hope will be duplicated nationwide. The national Gay and Lesbian Medical Association will hear about the plan during its annual conference in Denver in September.

A Civil Unions law extending to same-sex couples many of the same rights and obligations of opposite-se married couples went into effect in May of this year.

03
Jul
2013