The LGBT film series on gender identity
By Julie Pergolini
“I have been living stealth for more than three years now, and there are no outward signs of my past. I have taken everything on the Internet that disclosed my trans status down and have changed nearly all of my documentation in an attempt to obliterate the trail.”
And why does this IC alum, whom I will call Tyler, have to do so? He goes on to tell me, “Most states and the federal government have no laws against discriminating because of gender identity. Even in places like California, where it is a protected category, it would basically be impossible for me to ever prove that I had not been hired because of my past, so the employers are free to do whatever they want.”
Transgender equality is one of the most heated topics of debate amongst LGBT groups right now, as the first federal gay rights legislation makes its way through Congress. Contrary to popular belief, it is perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay under federal law.
The proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act currently working its way through Congress would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation. The original bill, which was introduced in April, included gender identity — and thus transgender individuals — within its protections. The second version, introduced by openly homosexual Rep. Barney Frank on Sept. 27 and passed by the Education and Labor Committee on Oct. 18, does not include gender identity within its scope. Bill authors say that they will eventually attempt to introduce an amendment to the bill that would return gender identity protections to the document, but there is nothing set in stone as of yet.
On the day this second version of the ENDA was released to the public, I happened to be interviewing Lis Maurer, Director of LGBT Services. She was excited to fill me in on what was going on that day.
“More than 90 LGBT organizations around the country have said, ‘No, we would rather you not pass this bill, than pass it and have it not be inclusive of our trans brothers and sisters.’ It is groundbreaking. It is happening right this second.”
Historically, bisexual and transgender people have often been alienated within LGBT communities. As Lis explained, “What I can say is that, literally today, what is going on in the nation is something very different from that. This is completely different than anything that has ever happened before. I have never seen so many organizations come together and say no, we don’t want equality unless it is equality for everyone.”
With transgender awareness making its way more into the mainstream, students on Ithaca’s campus have been urging Lis for a few years to make the transgender experience the theme of the LGBT office’s year- long film series.
This was the first year where Lis felt there were enough well-made, relevant documentaries to choose from. It was also almost exactly a year ago that IC added gender identity to its non-discrimination policy, making these films an important reminder of the rich diversity of experiences people have on this campus.
Today, in the 21st century, there may be transgender people in our lives who we don’t even know about. Take Tyler, for example. He was fully transitioned when he left Ithaca, except for chest surgery, which he had two years after graduation. “Right from the minute I arrived (in California for Law School) it was ‘sir’ and ‘he.’ I actually had not intended to live stealth, but when nobody was challenging me or questioning my identity, I saw no need to disclose my past. I am living as a man, I want to be treated as a man, and I am easily recognized as a man, so there was no incentive to disclose.”
That being said, in 37 states it is still perfectly legal to refuse someone a seat in a restaurant, acceptance to a college, or the rights to a student loan, simply because they may believe or have reason to believe that you are gay or transgender. Being visible is about being safe as well. Once more people feel safer about opening up about their identity, the more visible they will allow themselves to be. In this nation there is still at least one transgender person murdered every month.
Lis hopes the film series will help non-transgender individuals to sympathize with and better understand the transgender experience.
“Everyone has a sense of gender identity. Its assumed nature just makes it less of a topic of discussion. It’s not like people sit around and talk about their conventional gender identity,” she laughs. ‘So I encourage everyone to assume that people are multi-dimensional.’
The VisibiliT Film Series is free and open to the public. Screenings are held the first Monday of every month in Textor Hall.
Julia Pergolini is a junior English major whom I will call “Julia.” Email her at jpergol1[at]ithaca.edu.