Friday, January 29, 2010

New York Times: Trans Name Changes

For Transgender People, Name Is a Message

Published: January 24, 2010

Katherine used to be Miguel. Olin had a girl’s name. And in October, Robert Ira Schnur, 70, became Roberta Iris Schnur, a Manhattan retiree with magenta lipstick and, she noted the other day, chipped silver nail polish.
Skip to next paragraph
Enlarge This Image
Todd Heisler/The New York Times

ROBERTA IRIS SCHNUR Formerly Robert Ira Schnur, she is one of hundreds of transgender people whose legal names were changed in Manhattan.
Enlarge This Image
Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Ms. Schnur’s former identification photos.

“I wasn’t like other men,” she said.

Theirs are among hundreds of names a Manhattan court has changed over the last few years for transgender New Yorkers. That tally, specialists in the relatively new field of transgender law say, may make the borough’s workaday Civil Court one of the country’s biggest official name swappers — male names for female, vice versa and ambiguous.

Changing a name might seem like a minor matter for those who are changing their gender identities and, for some, facing challenges like finding knowledgeable doctors, trying hormones and experimenting with painful hair-removal procedures. But many who have gone through the switch say a name change sends an important message to the world, a message solidified and made official with a court’s approval.

In many courts around the country, what were once risky or shocking name-change requests are becoming more routine as the sting of gender taboo has lost a little of its edge. But in few places has this shift been more dramatic than in New York, where two recent and little-noticed rulings helped clarify the murky area not only of the law but also of modern gender identification. They have contributed to Manhattan’s becoming a capital of Joe-to-Jane proceedings. A rare network of some 200 lawyers now works on such cases filed in the Centre Street courthouse, and nearly 400 of their transgender clients so far have, more or less, become someone else.

“There is a long emotional, physical process that a lot of us have to go through,” said Katherine Cross, 22, of the Bronx, who got her new name in July. She said her transition included learning how to force her voice into a higher register and the basics of shopping for women’s clothing.

“For me,” she said, “the centerpiece was the name change.”

Efforts to extend legal rights to transgender people have increasingly been in the news, including the December announcement by Gov. David A. Paterson of New York to extend antidiscrimination protections to transgender state employees.

Over the last two years, volunteer lawyers from 19 big corporate law firms in New York City have worked on nearly 400 transgender name change cases, according to the advocacy group that is running the project, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. “In a way, it’s a big coming-out process — with a judge,” said the group’s executive director, Michael D. Silverman.

The lawyers have represented clients from every borough in the Manhattan court, with applicants ranging from occasional cross-dressers to people who have completed gender reassignment surgery. No one knows how many others have gone to the court on their own or with other lawyers. Indeed, the very number of transgender people in the country and the state is hard to pin down. One survey suggests there are 300,000 in New York State, but others dispute that.

The process of changing a name can be intimidating, said Kit Yan, a 25-year-old poetry slam artist and performer with a hint of facial hair who was born Laura. He failed twice when he tried on his own to get the law to recognize the name a friend suggested after seeing a cartoon character named Kit that looked like him, a little boy in a suit.

With a lawyer in May, Mr. Yan said, he felt relief when he heard “Laura” to summon him for the last time when his case was called. “It felt like giving away, say, an ugly Christmas sweater your mom made you,” Mr. Yan said.

The two recent rulings in New York courts helped clear the way for more such moments on Centre Street.

In one case, an appeals panel overruled a Manhattan civil court judge who had insisted on doctors’ notes giving reasons for name changes in transgender cases. The panel said there was “no sound basis in law or policy” for the requirement and noted that the law generally permits people to change their names unless there is some fraudulent intent involved.

In the other decision, a Westchester judge made an exception to a general requirement that name changes and home addresses be advertised in newspapers, saying the safety issues for people in gender transition were obvious in a world that can be hostile. The publication requirement insisted upon by some of the Manhattan judges has fed an eerie subculture of readers, many of them prisoners, who follow the newspaper notices. One man forced to advertise that he was becoming a woman received several seductive letters with prison return addresses. “Hello Angel!” said one of the letters. “I am not afraid to take new roads,” said another.
Skip to next paragraph
Enlarge This Image
Todd Heisler/The New York Times

KATHERINE CROSS said that in her case, “the centerpiece was the name change.”
Enlarge This Image
Todd Heisler/The New York Times

EM WHITNEY said his name change was part of a long gender journey from a girl's name.
Enlarge This Image
Todd Heisler/The New York Times

KIT YAN Shedding “Laura” “felt like giving away, say, an ugly Christmas sweater.”

At the gray Manhattan courthouse, where matters like debt collection are the bulk of the work, officials said they were aware of numerous transgender name-change cases.

But those petitions are mixed in with more traditional name-change filings, like applications from immigrants Anglicizing their names. Name-change cases over all increased at the court to 3,109 in 2009 from 202 in 1995, but officials said they did not keep count of the reasons for the requests.

Gender switches would not necessarily draw much attention at the courthouse, said the court’s supervising judge, Jeffrey K. Oing. New York being New York, he said, the threshold for surprise can be high. There was a “buzz in the courthouse,” he conceded, after one man renamed himself Jesus Christ.

But the judge said he was not surprised to hear that transgender people had found a receptive audience in many of the 10 Civil Court judges in Manhattan. “I like to think that we live in a very open society here in New York County,” he said.

Still, routine changing of gender identification can be startling to some. The Rev. Jason J. McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, which helped defeat the gay-marriage proposal in Albany, said the courts might be ahead of the public on gender issues.

“Oftentimes, the courts are used to advance an agenda,” he said, adding that the name changes created loopholes people could use to hide for any number of reasons.

Some of the Centre Street petitioners said they did in fact want to obliterate their old identities. The newly named Em Whitney, a 23-year-old with a toothy smile and a button nose, said the change was part of a long gender journey that began when he was a Texas child with a girl’s name and a fascination with androgynous characters like Peter Pan and Shakespeare’s Puck.

Mr. Whitney, who has written for The New York Observer newspaper and sometimes introduces himself as Emerson, said daily experiences like presenting a driver’s license could be a minefield. “Showing someone a picture and a name of someone who doesn’t exist drove me crazy,” he said.

Ms. Schnur, the retiree who changed her name in October, took out some old identification cards to make a similar point. The pictures of the man with thinning hair never seemed right, she said.

“I always knew that I wasn’t what other people thought I was,” she said.
In his State of the Union address just moments ago, President Obama pledged to work with the Congress and military this year to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT).

With the President's leadership, now it is up to Congress to act. We're rolling out a new strategic campaign to do exactly that - put an end to the discriminatory law that's forced thousands of lesbian and gay members of the military to lie about who they are or face losing their jobs.

We've spent months designing a plan to pass legislation which repeals DADT. The plan will include organizing veterans across the country, generating media coverage in key markets and building focused campaigns in targeted states that will be critical to securing the final votes in the House and Senate.

First step: pushing legislation through the House by building a well-spring of support from representatives, while laying the groundwork for a critical fight in the Senate.

Help us capitalize on the President's pledge tonight by asking your representative and senators to move quickly to repeal DADT.

Tomorrow morning when Congress returns to work, we want to make sure their inboxes are flooded with emails echoing the President's call to repeal DADT.

It's just the first step in a bold campaign to finally wipe DADT from the books this year.

The "Voices of Honor Campaign" will build on the successes of our 2009 Voices of Honor tour, where veterans toured the country speaking out against the law, garnering attention from Congress and the media, and helping us get to this moment.

Over the coming days, weeks and months, we will:

* Put an on-the-ground campaign manager in key states to build diverse local coalitions, drive earned media and organize voices from within these target communities;
* Organize a broad-based grassroots campaign to support our lobbying efforts;
* Expand on existing efforts to organize veterans in these target states and Congressional districts to generate media attention in the local area and put additional pressure on lawmakers;
* Bring veterans and other key voices to Washington, D.C. for a full day of lobbying on Capitol Hill;
* And more!

It's an ambitious effort – working with our allies, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Servicemembers United – and we'll need you to play a key role if we expect to win. Today, I'm counting on you to take the first step and send an email to your representative and senators right away.

Tell Congress to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

News: LGBT homeless youth to get new shelter in Vancouver

Fundraising underway for new queer shelter in Vancouver BC

Chantell Joseph says she was ostracized for being a lesbian when she stayed at a downtown Vancouver shelter Photo CTV News

A few months ago, Chantell Joseph was evicted from her apartment after she says her roommate skipped out on rent.

She wound up at a downtown Vancouver shelter. But instead of getting help, she says she was ostracized for being a lesbian.

She shared a room with four other women who wouldn’t speak to her. And, she says, some of the staff wouldn’t talk to her either.

”I couldn’t be 100 percent myself,” she said.

Paul Donovan, chair of the board of the Metro Vancouver Dream Centre Society, which provides counseling and other services to homeless people, says Joseph’s story is not unique.

That’s why the society is trying to raise money to build a gay-friendly shelter.

”Homeless people already have a hard time as it is, and then to further have to stay in the closet and keep their sexuality in check makes it awkward for them,” he said.

A 2000 study found that between 25 and 40 percent of homeless youth in Canada identified as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. Experts say it’s because their families can’t accept their sexuality, so they run away.

”Sadly with youth they don’t have the financial resources or support so they can’t find a roof over their head, so they end up on the street,” said Richard Kramer, distress services director at the Vancouver Crisis Centre.

So far the Dream Centre has raised $40,000. They are hoping to raise $15 million.

The centre would likely be built in the eastside of Vancouver or near the West End, Donovan said.


With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Norma Reid

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gaga to Match Donations for Homeless Youths
By Christopher Mangum

Offering free concert tickets and vowing to match donations, Lady Gaga has partnered with Virgin Mobile USA to aid homeless youths.

In December, Virgin Mobile, the title sponsor of Gaga's Monster Ball tour, announced that the company would be extending its FREE I.P. volunteer program in conjunction with the North American trek.

Created in August, the program provides participants free concert tickets for collecting toiletries to be handed out at homeless-youth shelters.

On top of providing fans with tickets, Gaga also promises to match up to $25,000 for every dollar donated to the cause.

In a video for the partnership (featured below), the extravagant performer and gay rights advocate discusses the particular relevance the issue has to LGBT people.

"One of every five homeless in the community identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered youth, making homophobia a top cause of domestic violence," she says. "And you all know that makes me very angry."

The volunteer program began with Lady Gaga's San Francisco concert December 13 and will include all U.S. cities on the tour.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have passed separate health reform bills and the job of combining these measures into a final version now lies in the hands of a few key lawmakers. Contact Senator Schumer today!

For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families, a critical difference between the two bills is the tax treatment of employer-sponsored health benefits. Today, when a worker adopts employer health coverage for his or her partner, that individual pays taxes on the value of those benefits. Those same benefits are tax-free to workers who cover opposite-sex spouses and dependents. This is fundamentally unfair and violates the principle of equal pay for equal work.

HIV Travel Ban Officially Lifted After 22 Years

January 4, 2010 9:41AM
Michael Cole

Today the Department of Health and Human Services announced the ban has been lifted on HIV positive visitors and immigrants entering the country first established in 1987. A regulation promulgated by the Obama administration last summer and finalized in November goes into effect today, removing HIV from the list of communicable diseases that bar foreign nationals from entering the United States.

Said HRC President Joe Solmonese:

“This sad chapter in our nation’s treatment of people with HIV and AIDS has finally come to a close and we are all better for it. This policy, in place for more than two decades, was unnecessary, ineffective and lacked any public health justification. Today, the United States of America moves one step closer to helping combat the stigma and ignorance that still too often guides public policy debates around HIV/AIDS.”

In July 2008, President Bush signed into law, as part of the reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a provision that removed the ban from statute and returned regulatory authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to determine whether HIV should remain on a list of communicable diseases that bar foreign nationals from entering the United States.

HRC has been a lead organization lobbying on Capitol Hill for the statutory repeal and working to ensure that Department of Health and Human Services’ regulations were changed. After the passage of the PEPFAR bill, HRC lobbied both the Bush and Obama administrations to remove the remaining regulatory ban. In July 2009, when the proposed regulation lifting the ban was open for public comment, more than 19,000 HRC members and supporters submitted statements in favor of ending the discriminatory policy.

The travel and immigration ban prohibited HIV-positive foreign nationals from entering the U.S. unless they obtained a special waiver, which was difficult to secure and then only allowed for short-term travel. The policy also prevented the vast majority of foreign nationals with HIV from obtaining legal permanent residency in the United States. The ban originated in 1987, and was explicitly codified by Congress in 1993, despite efforts in the public health community to remove the ban when Congress reformed U.S. immigration law in the early 1990s. While immigration law currently excludes foreigners with any “communicable disease of public health significance” from entering the U.S., only HIV had been explicitly named in the statute.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

RI lawmakers back funeral rights for gays

(Providence, RI) Rhode Island lawmakers voted Tuesday to allow same-sex and unmarried couples the right to plan the funerals of their late partners, overriding a veto by the governor, who warned it eroded traditional marriage.

The bill passed 67-3 in the House and 31-3 in the Senate, and enjoyed support from several Republican lawmakers in the same party as Gov. Don Carcieri, an adamant opponent of same-sex marriage in a state that does not recognize gay unions.

The new funeral planning rights also apply to unmarried heterosexual couples.

Mark Goldberg, 49, pushed for the legislation after struggling for five weeks to claim the body of his partner of 17 years, Ron Hanby, who committed suicide in October 2008. The state medical examiner would not release Hanby’s body to Goldberg because they were not married or relatives, even though the couple had wills and other legal documents attesting to their relationship.

“Not being able to claim his body was certainly something that was beyond belief, was beyond human compassion from anyone,” Goldberg said. “There was just no compassion whatsoever from anyone in the state.”

Rhode Island and Maine are the only New England states that do not recognize gay marriage. The movement has stalled in Rhode Island partly because of opposition from Roman Catholic church leaders in the most heavily Catholic state in the country. Bills legalizing gay unions have died in Rhode Island’s Democratic-dominated Legislature every year since they were first introduced in 1997.

House Speaker William Murphy, D-West Warwick, and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed, D-Newport, oppose gay marriage, while Carcieri would almost certainly veto it if it passed.

House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, a Democrat who is gay, said the bill was about helping the bereaved, not changing the definition of marriage.

“You’re dealing with tragedy, one of the worst events in human life as we know it,” Fox said, asking his fellow lawmakers to empathize with Goldberg’s ordeal. “You’re dealing with that tragedy – to be turned away, that you don’t count, to be victimized again, who amongst us would want to feel that way?”

To qualify for funeral planning rights, a couple must be at least 18, have lived together for one year and prove they were financially dependent, for example, by owning property together or sharing a bank account.

Carcieri argued that state law already allows residents to designate people to plan their funerals. He said the requirements in the bill meant to prove a relationship were too vague.

“Finally, this bill represents a disturbing trend over the past few years of the incremental erosion of the principles surrounding traditional marriage, which is not the preferred way to approach this issue,” Carcieri wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

If lawmakers want to grant domestic partnership rights, they should put the issue on a ballot and let the voters decide, Carcieri said.

A handful of lawmakers opposed the move, including Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, D-Woonsocket, who supports civil unions for gay couples but opposes gay marriage. She objected to allowing people as young as 18 to qualify as domestic partners for the purpose of claiming a loved one’s body.

Baldelli-Hunt said she could theoretically be stopped from planning a funeral for one of her children if they died while in a relationship that qualified under the new law.

“Do I have to lose my rights as a parent because my son is in an intimate relationship with an 18-year-old girl for one year?” she said.

Portugal Prepares to Legalize Marriage

Portugal Prepares to Legalize Marriage
By Editors

Portugal, one of Europe’s most Catholic and socially conservative countries, is expected to approve a marriage equality bill on Friday, Agence France-Presse reports. The proposal, which is benefiting from the fact that the governing Socialists share a strong majority in parliament with other left-wing parties, is expected to sail through the first reading and gain final approval before Pope Benedict XVI visits the country in May. A parliamentary commission must also consider it before it comes back to parliament for a final vote.

“I think the Portuguese people have learned one of the fundamental tenets of democracy: respect for the rights of the individual,” Miguel Vale de Almeida, Portugal’s first openly gay lawmaker, told AFP.

LISBON — Catholic Portugal, traditionally one of Europe's most socially conservative countries, is expected to approve the legalisation of gay marriage on Friday with a minimum of fuss.

With the governing Socialists and other left-wing parties enjoying a strong majority, the new law is likely to sail through the first reading debate and gain final approval before a visit by Pope Benedict XVI, due in Portugal in May.

In contrast to Spain, where the lead-up to the legalisation of gay marriage in 2005 brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators onto the streets, the bill in Portugal has provoked only muted opposition even from the right.

While normally vocal on the role of marriage and the family in society, the Catholic Church has refused to mobilise on a subject which, according to Lisbon's Cardinal Patriarch Jose Policarpo, is "parliament's responsibility".

"I think the Portuguese people have learnt one of the fundamental tenets of democracy: respect for the rights of the individual," Miguel Vale de Almeida, Portugal's first openly-gay lawmaker who was elected in September, told AFP.

Vale de Almeida, who is the Socialists' pointman on the legislation, said there is now a political majority in favour of gay marriage and that it is "too simplistic to link Catholicism and conservatism."

According to poll conducted late last year by the Eurosondagem institute, while a strong majority (68.4 percent) of Portuguese are opposed to adoptions by same-sex couples, they are more evenly divided when it comes to gay marriage with 49.5 percent against, with 45.5 percent in favour.

On Tuesday, campaigners handed a petition with more than 90,000 signatures to demand a referendum on the subject into parliament.

But having had its fingers burnt by two referendums which preceded the legalisation of abortion in 2007, the government has ruled out consulting with the public as the measure was part of its manifesto in last year's election.

Prime Minister Jose Socrates' Socialists may have lost their majority in the September 27 election, but still command the support of other left-wing parties in parliament who should guarantee that the gay marriage bill is passed.

While opposed to the concept of same-sex "marriages", the centre-right opposition Social Democrat party says it is favour of a civil partnership that would give gays and lesbians the same rights as heterosexual couples minus adoptions.

Deputies are also expected on Friday to vote two other bills submitted by the Green party, the Left Bloc and others which would grant gay and lesbian couples the right to adopt children.

If the gay marriage proposals do pass through parliament, they will the have to go through a parliamentary commission before coming back for the final approval.

According to media reports, both the government and the Catholic Church wants the gay marriage issue to be resolved before the visit of the pope, scheduled for May 11-14.

Salt Lake County Passes Pro-LGBT Ordinances

January 7, 2010 2:05PM
Tony Wagner
photo via flickr user Ken Lund

photo via flickr user Ken Lund

On Tuesday, the Salt Lake County government passed two non-discrimination ordinances that would cover lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the workplace and in housing. This achievement comes on the heels of similar non-discrimination ordinances passed by Salt Lake City in late 2009.

Due to the way the county government is structured, these ordinances only apply to the unincorporated portions of the county, including Copperton, Magna, Millcreek, and Emigration Canyon. Our friends at Equality Utah inform us that the fight for equal rights in the county is not over and that they plan on tackling the incorporated portions of the county on a municipal basis.

As you may recall, HRC worked closely with Equality Utah in 2009 on the Common Ground Initiative to pass a series of bills through the Utah legislature following the LDS Church’s statement that they are not opposed to such protections – only same-sex marriage. Each of those bills failed in committee on party-line votes, so equality advocates chose to tackle this issue at the local level – and it’s paying off.

The Human Rights Campaign congratulates Equality Utah for all their hard work and their continued success!

Honduras: Investigate Murders of LGBT People

Authorities Should Act to Stop the Violence
December 16, 2009

The mounting violence against people who look or love differently in Honduras reflects a crisis of intolerance.
Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch

(New York) - The killing of an HIV/AIDS outreach worker on December 14, 2009, is part of a pattern of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Honduras that seems to have accelerated in the turbulent months since the June 28 coup, Human Rights Watch said today.

The organization called on Honduran judicial authorities to open full investigations of all the reported killings, and to provide human rights training for the police and the judiciary about sexual orientation and gender identity.

"The mounting violence against people who look or love differently in Honduras reflects a crisis of intolerance," said Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

The latest attack was on Walter Orlando Trochez, 27, who had been active both in the LGBT movement and in political activity opposing the coup. He was shot in the chest by an unidentified person late on the night of December 14 in downtown Tegucigalpa, near the Central Church.

Indyra Mendoza of Cattrachas, a local lesbian organization, told Human Rights Watch that he managed to call his friends on his mobile phone after the shooting. When they arrived at the scene, an ambulance was taking Trochez to Hospital Escuela, where he died. An autopsy revealed that he died from one shot to the chest.

On December 5, Trochez reported to the Attorney General's Office that four armed men in civilian clothes attempted to kidnap him on the previous day. He said there had been a series of threats against his life on the grounds of his participation in the resistance movement.

"Walter used to go with me to recognize the bodies of our transgender friends when they were killed," Mendoza said. "Now I had to go on my own to identify his body."

Since June 28, the National Criminal Investigation Department in Tegucigalpa has documented at least seven killings of transgender and gay people in Honduras, including Trochez. Local LGBT advocates have asked the prosecutor's office for information about approximately nine more reported killings in the second largest city - San Pedro Sula and neighboring cities.

In "Not Worth a Penny: Human Rights Abuses against Transgender People in Honduras", a report released in May, Human Rights Watch documented the killing of 17 transgender women between 2005 and 2008.

In the report, Human Rights Watch called on Honduran authorities to:

* Repeal provisions of the Law on Police and Social Affairs that penalize public conduct on arbitrary and vaguely defined grounds. Authorities should send a clear message to all law enforcement institutions that violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, will not be tolerated, the report said;

* Conduct independent, impartial, and effective investigations into the general phenomenon of homophobic and transphobic violence and into specific allegations of police brutality, extortion, and ill-treatment against LGBT people, leading to the identification and prosecution of the perpetrators;

* Enact legislation that provides specific protections on the grounds of sexual orientation, and gender identity and gender expression.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Amanda Simpson appointed by Obama to Dept. of Commerce

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) has issued the following press release:

Amanda Simpson, who has served on NCTE's Board of Directors for the past three years, has been appointed by the Obama Administration as a Senior Technical Advisor to the Department of Commerce. She'll be working in the Bureau of Industry and Security.

“I'm truly honored to have received this appointment and am eager and excited about this opportunity that is before me,” said Simpson. “And at the same time, as one of the first transgender presidential appointees to the federal government, I hope that I will soon be one of hundreds, and that this appointment opens future opportunities for many others.”

Simpson brings considerable professional credentials to her new job. For 30 years, she has worked in the aerospace and defense industry, most recently serving as Deputy Director in Advanced Technology Development at Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Ariz. She holds degrees in physics, engineering and business administration, along with an extensive flight background. She is a certified flight instructor and test pilot with 20 years of experience.

She has also been very active in political and community groups. She has served on the Board of Directors of two national organizations: Out & Equal and NCTE. In Arizona, she has been on the board of Wingspan, the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, the Southern Arizona ACLU and the Arizona Human Rights Fund (now Equality Arizona).

In 2004, the YWCA recognized her as one of their “Women on the Move,” and in the same year, she won the Democratic nomination to the Arizona House of Representatives. In 2005, she was given the Arizona Human Rights Foundation Individual Award.

We are delighted to welcome Amanda to Washington, D.C., and share her hope that she will be joined by many other transgender people and our allies in serving our government.

What's the Big Deal About Gender?

The changing navigation of female identity.
A U.N. report on counter-terrorism by Martin Scheinin says, “gender is not synonymous with women, and, instead, encompasses the social constructions that underlie how women’s and men’s roles, functions and responsibilities, including in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, are understood.”
The report stresses “gender is not static; it is changeable over time and across contexts.”

Also See: An excerpt from the documentary "The Gender Puzzle"

Caster Semenya, an 18 year old South African athlete came into prominence last summer when she won a world championship at Berlin. She beat her own personal record and came to the notice of the world track and field federation who requested a biologic sex-verification test August 7. On public allegations that Semenya is a hermaphrodite, what is termed more correctly today as an “intersex person,” she has faced the possibility of losing her medal.
The completed tests, which were not publically released to enable Caster the dignity of privacy, probably prove a much more common than realized outcome. Semenya may indeed be intersex with internal organs that are causing her features to become more masculinised. But this doesn’t mean she is not a woman. It certainly doesn’t matter to her fans back home or to South Africa’s governing African National Congress, which called for an annulment of the results if Semenya’s recognition and medal was placed in danger due to the test.

In November the IAAF – International Association of Athletics Federations decision announced that Caster Semenya would keep her medal and her prize money, but failed to say whether she would be allowed to continue.

“God made me the way I am and I accept myself. I am who I am and I’m proud of myself,” said Caster in an interview with Cape Town’s You Magazine last September.

Sexual identity in society based on gender recognition has caused much suffering for those who are intersex. Discrimination, harassment, and ongoing misunderstanding of the condition is part of the problem. Semenya clearly identifies herself as female as the public outside of South Africa continues to unfairly question her reality.

“Sporting activities can be an important forum for providing information to women and girls on sexuality and health, including reproductive health. Girls’ participation in sport can generate a greater awareness and understanding of their bodies and its functions, as well as a greater sense of self-ownership and respect,” says a December 2007 report by the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women.

“Self-ownership and respect” are important issues for those who have naturally and innocently been born with an intersex body that might not easily fit the “normal” range of male or female identity. The issues often cause the public to falsely accuse intersex people of “deceiving the public” in order to gain some kind of gender advantage.

Not all intersex women know they are biologically different. Some function without notice in society. Others hide the condition of their human biology in silence feeling something inside them is indeed different.

The attitudes on gender within society, especially for women, is one that places many restrictions on women to conform.

While South Africa rallied behind Semenya, as she received a heroine’s welcome back from Berlin, India athlete Shanthi Soundarajan, who had undergone the same fate, still struggles to cope with her fall from grace in 2006. Semenya’s story has brought the spotlight back on this reclusive India athlete, who was once hailed as a prodigy.

Bursting onto the international athletic scene with a silver medal at the Asian Championships in South Korea in 2005, Soundarajan followed her win with a silver medal in the 800 meter race during the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar in 2006. But shortly after winning the medal in Doha, she was asked to undergo a sex-determination test, which she failed.
Following a failed test, Soundarajan was completely stripped of her medal. Biologically she was considered “a man,” but she was, and is, a woman. Soundarajan was later diagnosed with AIS or Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. AIS is a genetic condition where XY (male) chromosomes are present in the fetus as it forms in the womb, but masculinising characteristics and organs are often non existent, malformed or replaced with female organs. It is still a mystery how Shanthi had passed the original gender tests for the AFI – The Athletes Federation of India in South Korea. When contacted the AFI declined to comment.

A year following, after the gruelling and humiliating public process that exposed Soundarajan as an intersex person, Shanthi was admitted, in 2007, to the Intensive Care Unit of the Government Hospital in Thanjavur with an alleged suicide attempt.

Shanthi, is tall, lanky and dark. Some of her physical features are considered, in India, not to be feminine, but masculine. She has a high forehead with slightly jutting eye brows and striking high cheekbones. Undergoing a lengthy invasive and “too harsh” critical eye in the public, Shanthi has now come back from her life of public scrutiny. She heads a private sports academy helping children and is a contract coach for the SDAT – Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu.

Despite her comeback and positions, Shanthi’s current life is still a challenge. “I do not earn much from the academy as I do not take money from the children I train,” she said. “I subsist on my salary from the SDAT. I get Rs5000 (only around $100 USD) a month.” Her academy started in 2007 from a Tamil Nadu government grant that enabled her to train talented children in sports who come from homes in the region that are racked with poverty.

Like Caster Semenya, Shanthi Soundarajan grew up extremely poor. As the daughter of Indian brick kiln laborers from the Tamil Nadu village of Kathakurichi, she rose to fame with incredible discipline and talent as a runner. Because her family had little resources, Shanthi grew up in a household suffering from so much poverty that quality food was scarce. It was only as late as 2004 when, according to her coach P. Nagarajan, “Shanthi finally began to get an adequate diet.”

“There was a lot of jealousy against me,” said Soundarajan explaining how she felt targeted because she was such a good runner. “I heard that a teammate of mine had actually complained about my sexuality to the authorities.”

Unfortunately for Shanthi Soundarajan there is very little public awareness about AIS or intersex conditions. The prejudice in India against females who have sex-ambiguity is ongoing and immense.

Soundarajan, who is closely following Semenya’s case said about her own life, “I had no support… but I didn’t give up. I couldn’t live my dream, but I am sprouting dreams in many young hearts now.” Like many other intersex women Shanthi says proudly, “I know I am a woman. I have lived my entire life as a woman. I do not need a gender test to tell me who I am.”

Women competed for the first time in the international olympics in 1900 in Paris at the Games of the II Olympiad. The first competition was in croquet. The first female champion was Charlotte Cooper, of Great Brition, who won for her outstanding performance in tennis.

In 1966, sex-determination tests conducted by IAFF – International Amateur Athletics Association caused some women to undergo numerous humiliating nude examinations. Some exams included requiring women athletes under testing to parade nude before a panel of doctors and to be submitted to numerous humiliating invasive gynaecological exams. At the time, the IOC – International Olympic Committee followed this policy.

In recent days, some opportunities for the IOC to conduct sex-determination tests have been placed on hold. In January 2010, the IOC will hold a conference, “to look at gender issues and advise sports bodies how to respond” to intersex and other sex-determination issues among female and male athletes.

In South Africa, meanwhile after returning home from her ordeal, 18 year old, Caster Semenya was too upset and “mentally tired” to sit for her University examinations. She also failed to show for a scheduled race releasing a statement that she, “wasn’t feeling well.”
“She is mentally tired,” Semenya’s coach, Michael Seme, told AFP news in August.

In contrast to Soundarajan, Semenya was accepted at her village in Masehlong, South Africa. Local crowds thronged to see the athlete, smiling and praising her talent. During the celebration, one of her uncles told the Telegraph, “God knows who she is and how she has been brought up… Whatever people are saying we are not going to listen to it, we will trust in God, we have got Caster and she is a heroine.”

“We are disgusted that these things are being said and everybody has questioned her gender. We don’t know what informed their thinking, but we are not overly concerned because we know her as a girl,” added Marles Photo, a citizen from Masehlong.

“People want to stare at me now. They want to touch me. I’m supposed to be famous but I don’t think I like it so much,” Semenya told The Guardian News after she returned home.

Intersex conditions are now considered a common phenomenon in South Africa. A report in The Star, says that medical specialists who deal with the condition have been attending to patients with symptoms of intersex every 4-6 weeks. Dr. David Segal, a pediatric endocrinologist at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, points out that South Africa has a greater incidence of intersex conditions than anywhere else in the world.

“There are a whole bunch of cases with boys where they are referred to surgeons and neurologists instead of to endocrinologists. This is not the most appropriate decision as the endocrinologist should do the initial diagnosis, planning and counseling,” said Dr. Segal. In the past six years, the doctor has attended more than 100 cases involving intersex conditions.

The term “hermaphrodite” is a misnomer. Full male and female anatomy together in one human body does not exist anywhere today in the human spectrum. Instead, endless variations of anatomy, hormonal and chromosomal signatures along with partial or differently formed organs, that may or may not be external, is the reality. According to the Intersex Society of North America, the percentage of intersex people is approx one out of every 1,000 to 2,000 persons.

Surprisingly, many newborn babies, as high as one in 100, can show some slight intersex body characteristic at birth.

“Given the choice of “male”, “female”, “intersex”, says intersex woman, Mairi McDonald, “I would unhesitatingly select “intersex.”

“But society does not give me that option,” Mairi continues, “so I select “female”… with deep reservations, gritting my teeth at a society which will not accept my right to simply be who I am.”

Letting girls be “who they are” can be a challenge to many modern doctors. Gender “normalizing” surgery for girls, and their counterpart boys, has been offered as a quick answer to a complex condition. The procedure is controversial though and not always successful. It has been known to create more harm than good, resulting in post-op cases that have been known to later produce chronic nerve pain, physical scaring, psychological suffering and/or body dysfunction.

It is clear the answers to sex-identification are not easy.

“To encounter the stories of the individuals who make up the intersex rights movement is a touching and humbling experience,” says Anne Tamar-Mattis, intersex advocate, Founder and Executive director for AIC – Advocates for Informed Choice. “Many intersex people have experienced enormous personal tragedies at the hands of their doctors and with the consent of their parents,” continued Tamar-Mattis.

“Because tests and historical data are not 100 percent accurate in determining one’s gender it is important to note that the intersexed person may choose another gender as she/he ages. This is why it is important to avoid un-necessary, non-consensual, usually un-reversible genital surgery,” advises the Intersex Society of South Africa.

The Intersex Society of North America, who are also fighting for the rights of intersex women and men worldwide, agree. The major problem is not that of male versus female sex-identity, but one of stigma and trauma. The organization’s mission is to change the shame, secrecy and unwanted genital surgeries “for people born with an anatomy that someone decided is not standard for male or female.”

“Intersexed people are a natural variant and an important part of human diversity,” says the Intersex Society of South Africa.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Golden Pen Media Award

Author Justin Reed Early to Receive
National Network for Youth’s
Pen Media Award
at their
Annual Awards Dinner in Washington, DC January 26, 2010

Celebrates STREET
CHILD, Early’s Inspiring Memoir
that documents the lives and deaths of many street children

Los Angeles, CA –
Justin Reed Early, will be honored
at the National Network for Youth’s Annual Awards Dinner on January 26, 2010
with the prestigious organization’s annual Golden Pen Award.
Early is a successful
businessman and activist for homeless and disenfranchised youth, whose
childhood was marred by physical abuse, alcoholism, drug use and even child
trafficking when, beginning at age 10, he became homeless in Seattle and lived
on the streets for more than half of his life before moving to San Francisco and
entering his first recovery home at age 21, chronicled in his memoir
“Streetchild: An Unpaved Passage.”

Presented by the NN4Y
for his “tireless work on behalf of homeless youth,” the honor comes as a
response to Early’s literary articulation of a life on the deadly streets of
Seattle and San Francisco – STREETCHILD: AN UNPAVED PASSAGE was released in
2009. Early will appear as part of Symposium 2010 along with keynote speaker
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and HUD Deputy Secretary
Ron Sims. This year the National Network for Youth celebrates 35 years of
championing the needs of runaway, homeless, and other disconnected youth.

“We cannot think of a
better way to celebrate 35 years than by honoring Justin Reed Early and the
incredible contributions he has made to this country and our youngest
citizens,” said Kayla Jackson, Vice President of Programs for NN4Y. “Mr.Early has been where 1.5 million
American children are right now. He offers a message of hope, resurrection and
redemption, which is one of our most powerful tools for advocacy and
change. Anyone who reads his book
will be enlightened and moved by his commitment to pay it forward.” Kayla also
noted that Victoria Wagner, President & CEO of NN4Y, was an outreach worker
in Seattle in 1980 and witnessed much of Justin’s street life and now his

“I am flattered to be
honored by the nation’s most formidable advocacy group for disenfranchised
children,” said Early. “Working
with NN4Y and it’s national youth agencies to help move homeless children from
the streets into success and mainstream society is rewarding on its own; but to
be honored by people who are actually responsible for saving my life is very
emotional. Many of my peers did not live to tell their stories,” concluded

He continues his
grassroots campaign by sharing his story and providing free books at various
youth programs throughout the United States encouraging others affected by
abuse and homelessness into better lives.

Renowned photographer
Mary Ellen Mark captured Early’s life on the streets in a Lifemagazine photo essay,
and a teenaged Early can also been seen in the Oscar-nominated documentary
STREETWISE (1984). This true-life
journal was directed by Ms. Mark’s husband, Martin Bell, and produced by Lifewriter Cheryl

The San Francisco
Bay Guardian boldly states: “Hard luck memoirs have grown extra cheap in
recent years, partly due to the celebration of bogus ones. Justin Reed Early's
StreetChild: An Unpaved Passage is no such thing.”

Now a public speaker
and advocate, Early left his executive position in Beverly Hills to complete
and promote his memoir. He was a founding Board member of the popular youth
agency BAY Positives in San Francisco and served on
several youth committees. He currently resides in Los Angeles.

A portion
of the proceeds from StreetChild will benefit life enhancing non-profit
organizations, including many of those that helped Justin while on the streets.