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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Nepal: ‘Sexual Cleansing’ Drive Continues

Human Rights Watch

New Arrests of Transgender People, HIV Workers

(New York, March 18, 2006) – New arrests of metis (an indigenous term for transgender people) and HIV/AIDS outreach workers in Kathmandu show that a persistent pattern of police violence and abuse has not abated, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch has learned that on the night of March 14, the eve of the Holi festival (festival of colors) – a major Hindu religious holiday – police in the Thamel and Durbar Marg areas of Kathmandu rounded up 26 metis.

According to the Blue Diamond Society, a Nepali non-governmental organization (NGO) working in the fields of sexual rights, sexual health and HIV prevention, they were taken to the Hanuman Dhoka central police station in Kathmandu. Five were later moved to Kalimati police station.

Human Rights Watch understands that as of March 16, they have still not been permitted to speak to a lawyer. All have reportedly been charged with committing a “public nuisance.” No further particulars of their alleged offence are known.

“This is the latest incident in a violent police campaign to ‘cleanse’ Kathmandu of those considered undesirable,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Police regularly assault and in some cases sexually abuse transgender people, all in the name of enforcing ‘moral values.’”

Those arrested included two staff, two outreach workers, and two peer educators working for the Blue Diamond Society. The Blue Diamond Society has repeatedly documented police abuse of transgender people, also known as hijras.

In other recent incidents, on January 3, three metis walking in the Thamel district were reportedly severely beaten by four uniformed policemen who shouted, “Metis! Kill them!” The police threatened that “these hijras pollute the society and must be cleaned out.”

On December 28, police arrested a meti, took her to the Shore Khutte police station, and forcibly stripped and mocked her while checking her genitals. They also allegedly threatened to cut her hair off as punishment for wearing women’s clothes. She was released the next day.

Previously in August 2004, police had also rounded up 39 metis from gathering places in Kathmandu. They were held for almost two weeks in the Hanuman Dhoka police station. Journalists were allegedly summoned to videotape the detainees in their cell, and when one meti complained, three policemen reportedly beat her. Another was beaten when she demanded to use a toilet.

The detainees said that police told them: “Acid should be put on the faces of the hijras: they don’t deserve to live.” The detainees were finally released amid mounting international pressure. The metis received no redress for their detention or abuses sustained.

“Arbitrary arrest, police abuse, and discrimination against any group send a message that all Nepalis’ basic rights are at the government’s mercy,” said Long. “By jailing outreach workers campaigning against the spread of HIV/AIDS, the police threaten public health as well as civil liberties.”

Not all education is on the curriculum

Bay Area Reporter

At a time when most are planning their retirement, a 71-year-old teacher, Lily McBeth, instead left her teaching position in order to manage her gender transition. When she returned, the board at Eagleswood Elementary School in Eagleswood Township, New Jersey welcomed her back.

After a contentious school board meeting, where members of the New Jersey Family Policy Council made arguments against subjecting seemingly-defenseless children to a transgender teacher, it was further reinforced that McBeth would be welcomed to the Eagleswood faculty.

The New Jersey Family Policy Council is, of course, unhappy, and is urging parents to file legal challenges against the board members. Again, the argument is that young, impressionable children should not have to be subject to the trauma of someone who used to be a man teaching classes.

The head of this group views this as just another part of the push to allow for same-sex marriage: I'm not sure exactly how he came to that conclusion – but I digress.

McBeth is hardly the first teacher to transition. The first I know of was a physical education teacher in the greater San Francisco Bay Area who transitioned from female to male a couple decades ago. Last I heard, he was still teaching. Many others have followed, from Debra Davis – a school librarian in Minnesota – to Diane Giles in California.

One of the better-known teachers to go through a gender transition is Dana Rivers, who was drummed out of a high school near Sacramento in the late 1990s. Like McBeth, Rivers faced the argument – this time from the school board itself – that the students would not be able to handle her transition.

It was her students who were some of her most vocal supporters.

I am of the firm belief that it is not the students who have the biggest issues with any of this: it is the parents who don't seem to understand what is going on. If anything, it's these same parents that make what would probably make the largely quiet transition of a member of the faculty into an issue that hits the national news. Indeed, if parents felt that they'd be uncomfortable explaining things to their children before, imagine how it must feel to do it once you have CNN news vans parked at the school.

This all seems to be part of this "think of the children" mentality that fails to address real-world issues – often, children really aren't as fragile as their overly-doting parents seem to think they are. These parents seem to forget that schools are there to prepare their tots for life in the real world – a real world where, yes, they are going to possibly come across transgender people.

That's the shame of it all. I'm not saying that kids should be exposed to all the ways of the world – I'd pass on exposing them to Fred Phelps, for example – but they should be given a full education. This includes learning about tolerance, and respect, and acceptance of all people.

In the 1970s – back when I was in the sixth grade or so – the battle was over gay and lesbian teachers. Thanks to the Briggs initiative in California, it became necessary for citizens of the Golden State to go to their polling place and decide if gay and lesbian teachers, as well as gay and lesbian sympathizing teachers, would be allowed in public schools. I fear that the voters of 2006 would not have handed John Briggs the defeat that he faced in 1978.

The Briggs initiative was an offshoot of Anita Bryant's infamous "Save The Children" campaign, which led to a number of antigay laws getting passed, including ones similar to the Briggs initiative. I should add that John Briggs, during the fight over the initiative, argued that the bill was imperative, in order to keep cross-dressed teachers out of the classroom. What old is new again.

This is not an issue that I can watch from a distance. As I write this, I am in the process of starting to work as a substitute teacher and aide at a local school. I will be dealing with developmentally disabled youth in a classroom setting. Students who, one could argue, might have an even harder time with having a transgender person in their midst.

Frankly, the ones I worked with for an all-too-brief period of observation seemed to like me just fine. I am not there to make an issue of my transgender status, nor is it anything that has come up with the students – or anyone else. Indeed, I rather hope to be just one of many wonderful, diverse folks working at the school.

Do I worry about what some parents might say? You bet I do. It is one of the issues, I suppose, with being transgender in this society. While I am not equating my entry level teaching experience with that of McBeth or any of the other fine instructors I listed above, it strikes me that some seem to prefer their kids be left without a competent teacher versus one who also happens to be transgender.

This doesn't strike me as saving any children: rather this seems like spreading ignorance – and isn't that, at heart, what teaching is supposed to combat?

Gwen Smith applauds all those who have made a commitment to teach. She's online at www.gwensmith.com.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Gender isn't a two way street

BayAreaReporter

Being transgender provides one the unintended consequence of becoming very aware of how society reinforces and polices gender among its members. We see it as we grow up, placed into gender roles that don't speak to us. We see it, too, as we begin to shift away from such, whether moving entirely from one gender to another, or simply choosing to move into spaces beyond the typical conventions.

The first question asked when a child is born is the one that tells the world – or at least everyone in the delivery room – if a child is a girl or a boy. From the moment a blue or pink blanket is doled out, the average child is placed in a lifelong series of rigidly gender specific situations.

Some households, and some locations, are better than others. Yet even in the most gender transcendent spots, one might still find a false dichotomy in action. Such is the nature of participation in a society that requires one to walk a path – and one path only – specific to a determination about your genitals by a delivering physician.

It has not always been so rigidly defined, though such a division among the sexes has likely played a role in human society since there were humans around to have a society. Even as late as the 1920s little boys and little girls were dressed and groomed largely identically – in dresses – until males reached their breeching age, typically before age 5. Such a quaint practice fell out of favor in the era of the depression and World War II, and never returned in the post-war era.

When I was a young child in the 1970s – yes, even in those days of so-called unisex clothing and other attempts to break down the barriers between the sexes – gender was very much policed. Young girls lived in the era of Holly Hobbie, hot pants, and Easy Bake ovens in fashionable avocado green. Boys had Big Jim dolls, "Toughskin" jeans, and Evil Knievel.

I pushed every line I could, trust me. Still, even then there were lines one simply could not cross. In an era that brought the fight for equality between the sexes, some things were still treated as immutable. Women remained – as a general rule – the homemakers; men the breadwinners.

Fast forward a couple decades, as I worked on coming out in the era of grunge. The roles had 20 or so years to shift. Kurt Cobain could perform "In Bloom" while wearing a dress, but he was a rare exception. This was the era of Spice Girls, after all, and women were being signaled to be, well, girlish. Into this world I had to learn to move from one gender to another.

As I worked toward my own transition, I became acutely aware of how rigidly gender was still being enforced. I would say that it might be even more so today.

Yes, one can argue yet again that there are both trends and people defying gender roles today. Yet, like Nirvana's frontman a decade ago – or David Bowie in my youth – these were not the standard, but were, perhaps, reactions to it.

Take a moment to consider how many things one encounters in a given week that are specific to one of two specific genders. Clothing stores focus toward two roles, but so do the toy aisles at your nearby Toys 'R' Us. Even seemingly generic toys like Lego building blocks are sold with a specifically feminized version cast in pastels and focusing on home and family sets: no castles or construction sets to be found. Barbie – Web site polls to the contrary – remains aimed as a toy for young girls, and the Bratz dolls follow right along in her wake.

Fashions for women have increasingly begun to focus on low-cut jeans and midriff-baring tops. Clunky heels have had their renaissance, as have large bangles and beads. Men's fashion remains a little more toward the center, but even then the styles remain focused toward a masculine ideal.

We live in a time when the ideals of masculinity or femininity can be seen embodied by the celebrities of our era. I feel we can do so much better, though, than a female ideal that is Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson, or the male role models of Ashton Kutcher or Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. There is little room for those who might otherwise take a place outside the space of a genitals equal gender dichotomy.

In my own life over the last several years, I have tried to be mindful of gender presentation. I have even sought to make it clear that I am not going to fit myself into a stereotype simply because I identify as a woman: I would rather chart my own course than fit into someone else's arbitrary designations.

This doesn't change who I am, or what I may identify as. I know who I am, and I need not worry about trying to act as something I'm not.

I'd like to offer a challenge to each of you, though. I'm not going to ask you to go out there and march against gender – at least not today. No, rather I want you to consider, just for a moment, how gender has defined your own life, and consider for a moment if some of that might have held you back from time to time. Maybe, just maybe, you could even consider a change in your own life against these constructs, and just briefly explore a road less taken. It might be worth the trip.

Gwen Smith has little reluctance in wrecking a perfectly good set of polished nails when it comes to working on her car. She's online at www.gwensmith.com.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Transsexuals in Croydon Take Significant Step Forward

UK Gay News

Police recognise, agree guidelines on a long-standing problem.

Which Loo?

Do you use the Ladies or the Gents?

It’s a problem if you’re changing gender – especially if you’re changing from male to female.

You wouldn’t use a Gents public lavatory, dressed as a woman. But if you’re taken short, and use the ladies, you may be verbally abused, assaulted and may even be breaking the law.

Well, Aurora, Croydon’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Police Focus Group has chalked up a significant success. After over two years consulting with transgender organisations and the police, they have got the police to agree to some guidelines.

Quite unexpectedly, Scotland Yard offered to endorse Croydon’s work, giving it authority across the whole of London. This is a very welcome development as the ‘Which Loo?’ issue that has never before been addressed by the police anywhere in the country.

“I'm delighted that the police have worked so closely with us on this issue” said Michelle, who received her certificate of gender recognition last year.

“It’s important that trans-people know that the police are aware of the problem and are trying to help the whole community stay safe”.

Ceri-Leigh Hawden from the self-help group Gemini said: “It’s great that it’s London-wide - but I’ll cheer louder when it’s national!”

Rachel, who has been attending Aurora since 2003, said: “I had a really bad experience when I had to use the ladies three years ago – it’s extremely humiliating. We’re really pleased the police have taken interest in this problem.”

Sandra, organiser of the local ‘trans’ group, Friends of the Firebird, said: “I came to Aurora to do something about this problem. Now Croydon is the first police division ever to do anything about it. The Met Police have formally endorsed Croydon’s work, and they’re the first in the UK.”

Chief Inspector Tom Morrell, from Croydon Division of the ‘Met’, added: “The ‘Which Loo?’ project has been developed as a result of close co-operation between police and community members within Aurora.

“We will continue to work with Aurora in order to identify and take positive action to address local issues of concern to the LGBT community”.

Aurora’s guidelines can be found at www.aurora-croydon.org.uk.

In a statement issued by Scotland Yard, the Diversity and Citizen Focus Directorate said that they were pleased to support the partnership initiative between Aurora and Croydon Borough Police.

“[It] supports the Metropolitan Police Service vision of making London safer for all our communities.

“The MPS recognises that this particular issue is of concern to the transgender community, and is certain that ‘Which loo?’ will provide practical suggestions that will give confidence and support based on the experiences and learning of other transpeople.

“By working closely with community groups such as Aurora and the LGBT Advisory Group to the MPS, we make clear our commitment to making places safer for everyone, and will investigate incidents or crimes motivated by transphobia when they are reported to us.

“We also recognise that there are many reasons why victims of such incidents do not have the confidence to report directly to the police, and we would therefore encourage victims to report, anonymously if necessary, using one of the third party reporting options outlined on the Aurora website,” the statement concluded.

Community divided over transgender teacher

abc13.com

(3/03/06) - A New Jersey town is divided after the school board voted to allow a teacher to return to school after undergoing a sex change.

For the last five years, William McBeth has been a substitute teacher at Eagleswood elementary school, but it will be Lily McBeth, 71, who will fill in for sick teachers. McBeth underwent a sex change last year.

During a heated school board meeting this week, the community stood divided on the 4-1 decision to allow McBeth to return to the classroom.

"I will not allow you to put my kids in a petri dish and hope it all comes out fine," said parent Mark Schneep, who had taken out an ad in a local newspaper urging parents to attend the meeting.

Others were as passionate about their support for McBeth.

"I don't see how this is an issue, honestly, because he's a totally competent teacher and I don't see how that could have changed," said student Leandra Bourdot, 17.

From William to Lily

To the outside world, it appeared like William McBeth had grown up as a man's man. In his younger years, he was an athlete, a soldier and a surfer. In 1962, he was featured in a Sports Illustrated centerfold on "Bold Americans," the modern-day equivalent of extreme athletes.

William McBeth was married for 33 years and is the father of three children, a son and two daughters.

"My path was a very common path," McBeth said. "They're growing up male, but they're fighting with themselves. They're trying to disguise it, trying to do something to get rid of it. I engaged in macho activities like surfing. The damned thing is that you can't tell anyone. I got married and had children, raised them. It was a perfect family."

While the rest of the world was blind to McBeth's internal struggle, McBeth said she knew from the time she was 3 years old that she was different. But it wasn't until she was "free of those bonds of marriage and fatherhood," that she felt free to pursue her own happiness.

"I realized I was a person of worth who didn't have to question myself anymore," McBeth said. "I'm proud of who I am."

Going Back to Work

McBeth can understand why some have a hard time dealing with her decision. Her own children struggle with it. "At times, it's difficult," McBeth said. "You have to remember they're going through the same process everyone else has to, and I respect their right to believe whatever they want to believe."

But McBeth said the concerns of the Eagleswood parents were misdirected.

"They are projecting their thoughts into their children, their own insecurity and fears," McBeth said. "Children don't have those concerns. Their little minds are very curious and open to new ideas. It's not the children up there screaming about this."

McBeth said she was prepared to deal with any curiosity of her students, who have previously known her as a man.

"You don't discuss those things with a child in the classroom, no matter what it is & nothing [to] do with anything in your personal life," McBeth said. "You put that aside until the appropriate time. You simply say, 'I can discuss that with you at another time outside of the classroom.'"

McBeth said she was prepared to deal with any curiosity of her students, who have previously known her as a man.

"You don't discuss those things with a child in the classroom, no matter what it is & nothing [to] do with anything in your personal life," McBeth said. "You put that aside until the appropriate time. You simply say, 'I can discuss that with you at another time outside of the classroom.'"

Right now, McBeth is just waiting for the early morning call asking her to substitute teach and enjoying her new life as Lily.

"I don't really have to defend myself to other people. Their problem is not a problem for me," McBeth said. "I'm proud of who I am."