Charlotte Fails to Protect People by Rejecting Non-Discrimination Policies

April 7, 2015

By: Carla Vestal

On March 2, 2015, Charlotte City Council (“the Council”) voted on an ordinance that would allow all people to be treated equally and fairly under the law. Unfortunately, the Council failed to adopt these much needed policies that would prohibit private businesses and certain public positions, such as for-hire transportation and city contractors, from freely discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.

The final vote came down to 1 single vote, as it ended up 6-5. This single vote came after hours of debate from both sides of the aisle, and at that point the controversial bathroom portion of the ordinance was already stricken. The bathroom portion of the ordinance would have allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom of the gender in which they identify themselves. This was the most controversial piece of the policy, and even though it was removed it seems that certain members of the Council still used it to vote against what was being presented. “All over the world, there are restrooms for men and restrooms for women,” said Ed Driggs, a Republican Council member. “It does not place an unreasonable burden on them and it does not stigmatize them.”   Another Republican Council member, Kenny Smith, asserted that the bill was not a measure to stop discrimination, but to “impose the progressive left’s new morality on our citizens.”

Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.

Opponents to the policy at the Council hearing. Photo courtesy of The Charlotte Observer.

When discrimination is discussed in the government, it should not become an issue of alleged morality. Discrimination in and of itself is immoral. Discrimination is prohibited by the United States Constitution by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applied to the states through the Incorporation Doctrine of the Fifth Amendment. It is simple–and yet disturbingly difficult–for people who oppose equality under the veil of a religious responsibility to do so.

Jason Arter, a current Clinic student, attended the meeting and shares his first-hand account of the spectacle at the Government Center that day. Mr. Arter informs us that, “[The scene] was about religion, and the damnation that is going to occur. . . not just for those in favor of the ordinance, but also for those that have selected to be comfortable with who they are, in whatever gender they feel most comfortable expressing themselves.” Mr. Arter also reveals that the Council members opposing the ordinance insisted on continuing to make links between bathroom usage, homosexuality, and pedophilia even after the bathroom portion was stricken from the vote. When asked about how he felt after the vote, Mr. Arter has a very strong opinion to share, “Community members should be outraged, not just that the ordinance failed, not that those who are elected failed to fairly represent all members of a community, but that religion has yet again dictated the course of the future for all members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community instead of the government.”

The question remains: “Why would Charlotte not want to join to rest of the country in passing these protections?”

Out of the country’s twenty largest cities by population, Charlotte is one of three that does not have in place non-discrimination policies. The other cities that join Charlotte are Memphis, TN and Jacksonville, FL. Throughout the country seventeen states and over 200 municipalities have non-discrimination policies in place to protect people who identify as LGBTQ. While visiting Charlotte, Vice President Joe Biden addressed the Human Rights Campaign Spring Equality Convention on March 7, 2015. During his speech he urged that the entire country needs to pass non-discrimination policies that protect the LGBQT community and stressed that those policies need to be passed now.  Biden also affirmed his support for a “federal non-discrimination . . . bill that is expected to include protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, education, jury service and federal funding.” The bill is expected to be introduced to Congress this spring.

If you feel that Charlotte should join the rest of the country in protecting all people from discrimination, continue to reach out my emailing and calling your city leaders:

Mayor Dan Clodfelter
704-336-2241
mayor@charlottenc.gov

Mayor Pro Tem Michael D. Barnes
704-509-6141
barnesforcharlotte@gmail.com

Claire Green Fallon
704-336-6105
cfallon@charlottenc.gov

David Howard
704-336-4099
info@davidhowardclt.com

Vi Lyles
704-336-3431
vlyles@charlottenc.gov

Patsy B. Kinsey
704-336-3432
pkinsey@charlottenc.gov

Al Austin
704-336-3185
aaustin@charlottenc.gov

LaWana Mayfield
704-336-3435
lmayfield@charlottenc.gov

Gregory A. Phipps
704-336-3436
gaphipps@charlottenc.gov

John N. Autry
704-336-2777
jautry@charlottenc.gov

Kenny Smith
704-574-7241
krsmith@charlottenc.gov

Edmund H. Driggs
704-432-7077
ed@eddriggs.com

When fair-minded people join together anything is possible!


Religious Freedoms of Public Employees: Why the Magistrate Recusal Bill is Unconstitutional

February 26, 2015

By: Adam Melrose

The North Carolina General Assembly is attempting to limit individual rights once again. Senator Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham, NC, filed a bill on January 28, 2015, entitled “Magistrates Recusal of Civil Ceremonies.”[1] This bill would allow any magistrate the right to recuse him or herself from performing a lawful marriage on the basis of a “sincerely held religious objection.” In addition, any magistrate recusing him or herself under this bill would be immune from any disciplinary action resulting from his or her refusal to marry a couple that, under the law, may be lawfully married in North Carolina.

What does this bill mean?

The bill has been featured prominently in the news since it was first introduced in the North Carolina legislature. However, the media has generally provided an erroneous description of this bill, labeling it an “anti-gay marriage bill.” There is some truth to the news reports’ descriptions. This bill appeared in the General Assembly just months after the Federal Fourth Circuit of Appeals ruled that banning same-sex couples the right to marry was unconstitutional. However, this description does not convey the full weight and magnitude that the bill could bring to bear. This bill allows for a magistrate to recuse him or herself for “any sincerely held religious objection.” It does not include language that limits recusals to religious objections based solely upon same-sex marriage.

Under the exact language of the bill, a Catholic magistrate could refuse to perform a marriage of a couple who had been previously divorced by stating that his deeply held religious beliefs object to all divorces. The media, by focusing the general public’s attention on the divisive issue of same-sex marriage, has inadvertently kept the public eye off the true insidious nature of this bill. While there are still plenty of people in North Carolina who are opposed to same-sex marriage, there are few people who would affirmatively state that a public official can refuse to perform a marriage of a previously divorced couple. However, even if the bill was only directed at same-sex marriages, it is unlikely that Berger’s bill would survive constitutional challenge upon being passed into law.

First Amendment Justifications

Berger’s rationale for this magistrate recusal bill is simple: Berger believes that this bill “offers a reasonable solution to protect the First Amendment rights of magistrates and register of deeds employees while complying with the marriage law ordered by the court – so they are not forced to abandon their religious beliefs to save their jobs.” This rationale does not withstand constitutional scrutiny because magistrates are public employees and therefore must abide by the law.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

A public employee has no right to object to restrictions placed upon his or her conditions of employment, including those restricting constitutional rights.[2] As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Holmes once said, “A policeman may have the constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be a policeman.” State actors, as the literal “hand” of the government, are required to follow the laws of the government, even if following those same laws may conflict with personal views held by the government employee that would otherwise be constitutionally protected if the individual worked in the private sector. If the government employee has an issue with a law, it is that employee’s prerogative to quit his or her job and seek employment elsewhere.

Furthermore, the state may not selectively apply laws as it sees fit based upon the whims of each individual state employee. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits this practice explicitly. The Fourteenth Amendment states that no State “shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” [3]  The law, as it now stands, affirmatively states that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. As a result, magistrates, acting on behalf of the government, may not deny a marriage license to a lawfully eligible couple without running afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment. The privately held beliefs of the magistrate are of no consequence, no matter Berger’s attempts to use the language of the First Amendment as a smokescreen for an unconstitutional action.

Berger’s magistrate recusal bill is also not reconcilable with some of the other language in the First Amendment itself. While Berger goes to great lengths to argue that the bill is to protect the magistrate’s “religious beliefs to save their jobs,” this only addresses the “freedom of speech” portion of the First Amendment. [4] The First Amendment also requires the separation of church and state: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black famously stated that the government may not “pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion to another . . . in the words of Jefferson, the First Amendment clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and State.’”[5]

A Step in the Wrong Direction

This bill, without a doubt, creates a situation where the state government, through its employees, would be able to act based upon their “sincerely held religious objections.” It is irrelevant that there may be magistrates of every religious creed affected by this legislation; the Establishment Clause does not allow the government to pass laws to aid any religion even if the bill does not discriminate in favor of any religion in particular. Berger’s bill discriminates against those magistrates who hold strong moral beliefs that are not centered in religious ideology. This quandary is at the very heart of what the Establishment Clause was created to prevent.

The Magistrates Recusal of Civil Ceremonies bill is a poorly constructed attempt to attack constitutional freedoms central to our country’s creed. The fact that this attack is shrouded by homophobic zealotry adds insult to injury. The members of the General Assembly should look beyond the trappings of Berger’s bill and realize that if this bill were to be passed into law it would only hurt North Carolina’s public image. Besides, Berger’s bill would not make it a month in the court system before being ruled unconstitutional. This is not the attention North Carolina wants, or needs.

 

UPDATE: On February 25, 2015, the NC Senate passed the bill 32-16, exempting magistrates from performing weddings. For more information, see the News Observer and the NC Legislature Bill History.

 

[1] The filed bill can be accessed online here: http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2015/Bills/Senate/PDF/S2v0.pdf.

[2] Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 142-43 (1983).

[3] U.S. Const. Amend. XIV.

[4] U.S. Const. Amend. I.

[5] Everson v. Board of Ed., 330 U.S. 1, 16 (1947).


An Old Problem, New Face

November 6, 2014

By Johnny Hollis

One of the oldest issues in our society is homelessness.  It affects every state, county, and city in our nation.  Studies show that nationally 19 out of every 10,000 people are homeless, while in individual states that number ranges from 8-106 out of every 10,000 people.  Causes of homelessness range from loss of employment, mental and physical changes in health, loss of loved ones, and other traumatic life events.[1]  While homelessness is decreasing in our country, in general, there is a rise in one particular area: within the transgender population of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community.[2]

What does “transgender” mean?

Transgender is an umbrella term that is used to describe a wide range of identities and experiences, and the term is used to refer to persons whose gender differs from what they were born as.[3]  Transgender persons often express themselves through their clothing, change of names, or medical procedures, all which help further their desire to live their identity.

What are the causes of homelessness among the transgender population?

Among experiencing discrimination from family members, in educational environments, and in the workplace, transgender individuals also experience discrimination in homeless shelters—the very place designed to assist them in times of crisis.  To start with, they are often isolated and alienated by family members at young ages, thus leaving them with no place to go.

Next, obtaining an education becomes hard because of the ridicule, immaturity, and bullying transgender individuals face from peers as well as faculty and staff.  According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 15% of those who identify as transgender drop out of school because of the pressures that derive from bullying.[4]

Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects individuals against employment discrimination on the basis of race and color, as well as national origin, sex, and religion, the law fails to protect certain classes, including sexual orientation and gender identity.[5]   This leaves room for discrimination in the work place in the form of harassment by coworkers through taunting and/or isolation, as well as discrimination by employers through job application barriers, promotion denial, and by being fired.[6]

With the lack of familial support, education, and work, some transgender individuals are forced to either conform to the societal definition of gender and sexual orientation, or live in distressed conditions such as homelessness.

The Challenges of Being Transgender and Homeless

The difficulties and challenges that arise for transgender individuals are greater when they experience the effects of being homeless.  For example, even the task of finding a homeless shelter becomes quite tiresome.  Because transgender individuals identify opposite of their “born” gender, many shelters will not recognize identity over outward physical appearance.  This causes many to have to either live on the street, or participate in “survival sex” work in order to have a shelter for the night.[7]  Survival sex is defined as “involving individuals over the age of 18 who have traded sex acts (including prostitution, stripping, pornography, etc.) to meet the basic needs of survival (i.e., food, shelter, etc.) without the overt force, fraud or coercion of a trafficker, but who felt that their circumstances left little or no other option.”[8]

Homeless_-_American_Flag

What Can We Do to Advocate for Equality?

Interested advocates can begin helping this population by reaching out to local LGBTQ organizations in order to gain a better understanding of the LGBTQ community and the challenges that are faced within.  Local organizations such as Equality NC: North Carolina LGBT Organizations and the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund are good places to start.

Advocates can also engage locally by contacting their local homeless shelters and demanding that they create a safe, open, and inclusive environment for all people.  An inclusive environment would include safe zones, which are areas that are designated to prevent harassment and discrimination.  The shelters should also provide adequate information and resources that help facilitate individuals’ transition from homelessness to full independence again.

Furthermore, we can petition our state to prohibit any further discrimination within our K-12 and post-secondary schools.  We can not only petition against discrimination, but also petition for education relating to transgender and the LGBTQ community in totality.  We can also continue to reach out and lobby our local, state, and federal government requesting amendments to the language of our employment protection laws to include protections for sexual orientation as well as gender identity.

The Civil Rights Clinic began contributing to the cause by reaching out to the local community, and as a result, was able to persuade the City of Charlotte to include gender discrimination in their discrimination policy, and is assisting Cabarrus County in updating their policy as well.

Conclusion

Although homelessness currently affects many transgender individuals, it does not have to continue its climb to prevalence.  Through advocacy, education, and awareness we can eliminate the factors that contribute to homelessness within the LGBTQ community.

[1] http://www.homeaid.org/homeaid-stories/69/top-causes-of-homelessness

[2] http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/lgbtq-youth

[3] Lisa Mottet & John M. Ohle, Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People 3, 7 (2003).

[4] http://transequality.org/Issues/education.html

[5] http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm

[6] http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/discrimination-against-transgender-workers

[7] Lisa Mottet & John M. Ohle, Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People 4 (2003).

[8] http://www.covenanthouse.org/sites/default/files/attachments/Covenant-House-trafficking-study.pdf


#DayOneNC: History at your Doorstep

October 14, 2014

By Celia Olson

It was a rainy day in Matthews, N.C.  The kind of weather that marks the beginning—and the end—of scary movies.  I was sitting in a Chili’s restaurant, eating a juicy bacon cheeseburger when I got the news: Judge strikes down North Carolina gay marriage ban.  Several advocacy groups had been live-tweeting updates on the status of North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban throughout the week, so I had been following the Civil Rights Clinic Twitter feed all day, refreshing at 20-30 second intervals, waiting for the precise moment when history would be made.  I had the search keyed up so that every time someone tweeted on the topic I would find out instantaneously: #DayOneNC.  And so, at just after 5 PM on Friday night, I found out that same-sex marriage is now legal in North Carolina.

As far as I know, there haven’t been any reports of catastrophic world-ending events or activity since Friday night.

But let me back up and set the stage for you.

As recently as two weeks ago, same-sex marriage was only legal in nineteen states and the District of Columbia.  Of those nineteen states, three states legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote, eight by state legislature, and eight by court decision.[1]

This seems crazy considering that as of right now, 8:15 AM on October 14, 2014, same-sex marriage is legal in 30 states.

The tides turned last Monday, October 6, 2014, when the United States Supreme Court—in unexpected fashion—declined to decide whether states can ban same-sex marriage by rejecting appeals in cases involving five states.  All five states (Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin, and Indiana) had lower court rulings that struck down same-sex marriage bans.  Immediately, those five states reverted back to the lower courts’ binding precedent, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage.  In the span of one week, six other states followed, all of which were bound by the regional federal appeals court rulings that had struck down other bans.[2]

So what does this mean for North Carolina?

North Carolina, along with Alaska, West Virginia, Nevada, Idaho, and Colorado, have since legalized same-sex marriage through subsequent court rulings, bringing the total states with legal same-sex marriage to thirty.  Even more are expected to follow in the upcoming weeks.[3]

Amendment One, North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage, went into effect during a Republican primary in May of 2012 when it was approved by a majority of voters.[4]  On Friday, October 10, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn struck down Amendment One, citing the controlling Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal’s case, Bostic v. Schaefer, as precedent.[5]  Bostic v. Schaefer involved two same-sex couples: one couple was denied a marriage license in Virginia, and the other couple’s valid California marriage license was not being recognized in Virginia.[6]  They were successful in their fourteenth amendment claim at the trial court level with strong wording by the presiding judge, whose decision was later affirmed by the 4th Circuit:

“A spirited and controversial debate is underway regarding who may enjoy the right to marry in the United States of America. America has pursued a journey to make and keep our citizens free. This journey has never been easy, and at times has been painful and poignant. The ultimate exercise of our freedom is choice. Our Declaration of Independence recognizes that “all men” are created equal. Surely this means all of us.” – Virginia Eastern District Court Judge Arenda L. Wright[7]

In North Carolina, with Judge Cogburn’s ruling, same-sex marriage could begin immediately—and it did.  In Buncombe County, the Register of Deeds stayed open an extra two hours Friday night to ensure that every couple who had been waiting in line could get their marriage license.

Amy and Lauren first in line in Buncombe County!  Photo courtesy of the Campaign for Southern Equality Twitter Feed.

Amy and Lauren first in line in Buncombe County!  Photo courtesy of the Campaign for Southern Equality Twitter Feed.

In Mecklenburg County, the first same-sex marriage license was granted at 8:10 AM on October 13, 2014, to Terrence Hall and Christopher DeCaria.[8]  Unfortunately though, the morning was not all peace, love, and rainbows.  Protesters gathered at the courthouse by 9 AM, yelling at the waiting couples that they were “going to hell.”[9]  Some protestors were asked to leave, while some remained, silently holding signs.  Despite the negativity, 62 couples were able to successfully receive marriage licenses in Charlotte—and others were even married right there at the courthouse!

The scene outside the Mecklenburg Courthouse in uptown Charlotte.  The Mecklenburg Register of Deeds said that yesterday was the most marriage licenses ever issued in his county in a single day.

The scene outside the Mecklenburg Courthouse in uptown Charlotte.  The Mecklenburg Register of Deeds said that yesterday was the most marriage licenses ever issued in his county in a single day.

Whether you are straight or gay, if you think this does not affect you—you are wrong.  A recent study conducted by The Williams Institute estimated that with the legalization of same-sex marriage, North Carolina stands to add $64 million to the state and local economy over the next three years due to the increase in weddings being performed in-state.  What same-sex marriage does not affect are the pre-existing and future marriages of heterosexual couples.  Believe it or not, they still will hold valid marriage licenses.

Allowing everyone, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., to receive equal rights under the law is the hallmark of the civil rights movement in the United States.  Thank you, North Carolina, for stepping up and standing on the right side of history.

[1] http://gaymarriage.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004857.

[2] In 30 states – AK, CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, ID, IA, IL, IN, ME, MD, MA, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OK, OR, PA, RI, UT, VA, VT, WA, WV and WI, plus Washington, D.C. – same-sex couples have the freedom to marry. http://www.freedomtomarry.org/states/.

[3] In an additional five states (Arizona, Kansas, Montana, South Carolina, and Wyoming), federal appellate rulings have set binding precedent in favor of the freedom to marry, meaning the path is cleared for the legalization of same-sex marriage there as well.  Id.

[4] http://ballotpedia.org/North_Carolina_Same-Sex_Marriage,_Amendment_1_(May_2012)

[5] http://www.southernequality.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Cogburns-order.pdf

[6] Bostic v. Schaefer, 760 F.3d 352,  (4th Cir. 2014).

[7] Bostic v. Rainey, 970 F. Supp. 2d 456 (E.D. Va. 2014) (language comes from the lower court’s order granting summary judgment to plaintiffs).

[8] http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/10/13/4230114_first-same-sex-marriages-performed.html?rh=1

[9] http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/10/13/5238996/gay-couples-line-up-early-monday.html#.VDwVl_ldXkU


Rights for Transgender Students

March 5, 2014

by Tierra M. Ragland

In the past couple of months, the rights and issues of Trans* students have made it to the forefront of mainstream news and social media. Facing an issue common to many transgender youth, the highest court in Maine ruled that a transgender student would be allowed to use the bathroom in accordance with her gender identity, an issue faced by many transgender youth.  Right here in Charlotte, East Mecklenburg High School crowned the first ever transgender homecoming King. These stories address gender identity, cis-gender privilege, and the struggle of Trans* youth for equal rights, visibility, and legitimacy in mainstream society. Although these issues have made national news, many people are unaware of the inequality in treatment of Trans* students.  This issue prompted two student organizations at the Charlotte School of Law to organize a panel on Trans* student rights to promote awareness of these social justice issues and provide students with the tools to get involved.

On Tuesday, February 4th, the LGBT Legal Society and the ACLU at Charlotte Law hosted a panel on Trans* student rights.   Presenters for the event included Attorneys Kelly Durden and Sarah Demarest from the Freedom Center for Social Justice LGBTQ Law Center and Josh Burford, Assistant Director of Sexual and Gender Diversity at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.Transgender Symbol

The purpose of the event was to educate the Charlotte School of Law community on the issues faced by the Transgender[i] community, specifically in a school setting; there were nineteen students in attendance. The event started with an interesting icebreaker wherein the students broke into smaller groups and answered a series of questions about one person in the group based on their car keys. The icebreaker addressed the problem with stereotypes and the importance of self-identity. Josh Burford’s presentation educated the audience on queer history and language. The beginning of the presentation addressed the importance of language to illustrate how, during different points in history for the purpose of identity and visibility, the LGBTQ community has adopted different words to define or redefine their sexual orientation and gender identity. Burford also addressed the tension within the community with the use of the word “queer” as a term of agency or term of negativity. He also addressed how marriage equality being the “main” issue in the LGBTQ community does not address the issue of Trans* people in an effective way.  Mr. Burford’s presentation was a great lead-in to the attorneys’ presentation on Trans* student rights within the academic setting.

Durden and Demarest educated students on the issues facing Trans* students in schools.  The following issues were addressed during the presentation: access to restrooms congruent with gender identity, legal name change, housing stability, exclusion from nondiscrimination policies, a dropout rate twice that of cis-gender students, sexual assault, and the criminalization of Trans* women. Almost all of the problems faced by the transgender community are centered on transphobia.[1]

Bathrooms are an issue for the Trans* community only when they are denied access to facilities that are not consistent with their gender identity. For example, if a student is assigned the sex of male at birth but identifies as female, she then should be allowed to use the bathrooms designated female. Denying Trans* students access to facilities can lead to fear, threats, self-harm, and violence. This problem can also be solved with gender-neutral bathrooms.

Legal Name changes are available to everyone but are exceedingly important to the Trans* community for two main reasons: safety from being outed in a classroom setting and allowing Trans* individuals to choose a name aligned with their gender identity. If a student has not taken the steps to legally change their name, many schools do not have policies to protect students from being outed or allow students to use of preferred names or pronouns. Trans* students are often not protected in schools’ non-discrimination policies because such policies lack protection for sexual orientation or gender identity.

Attorneys Kelly Durden and Sarah Demarest not only educated on Trans* student rights but also provided the audience with ways to effectively advocate for Trans* student rights.  The first step is continuing to educate ourselves by attending events similar to the Trans* student rights panel. Charlotte School of Law students as future attorneys or advocates can advocate in formal ways by working to change polices in the community to make them more Trans* inclusive.  Students can get involved by joining local social justice organizations in the school and throughout North Carolina. Last but not least, students can volunteer at Freedom Center of Social Justice LGBTQ Law Center and other professional organizations working to improve the lives of the Transgender community.

The lesson from both presentations is that the laws and policies within the education system and many other parts of societies provide no protection, inclusion, or safe space for Trans* youth.  In a world of people struggling to find themselves, to tell their own story, to be seen as legitimate, the existence of Trans* people are legitimate not because we as a society make it so, but because they say so and that is really all that matters.


[1] I hesitate to use the words “transphobia” and “homophobia” because I do not believe that “phobia” or fear of a group of people properly addresses the everyday reality of the violence, discrimination, and hatred experienced by members of the LGBTQ community.


[i] Within this blog there may have been be words unfamiliar to the reader.  The following definitions are provided for clarity:

LGBTQ: An abbreviation for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer” A term often used to be more inclusive of the diversity within the community.

Transgender: An umbrella term that encompasses people who experience and/or express their gender differently from conventional or cultural expectations. Transgender people can be any race, age or sexual orientation. Often written as “Trans*” to be inclusive of the diversity within the transgender community.

Sex: Gender marker assigned at birth.

Gender Identity & Expression: How one self-identifies and chooses to express their gender often through dress, grooming, or social interaction. This may or may not be connected to the sex assigned at birth.

Cis-Gender: When one’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth are congruent.

Gender Binary: The classification of sex and gender into two distinct, opposite and disconnected, forms of masculine and feminine.


LGBTQ: What Does It All Mean?

October 27, 2013

By: Joshua Lipack

Many people find discomfort in discussing the acronym LGBT or LGBTQ … or LGBTQIA for that matter.  And herein lies the point.  The discomfort often encountered when discussing these issues isn’t coming from a place of animus or moral disapproval as it more commonly would have been less than a decade ago.  Many people find it uncomfortable discussing these terms, primarily in mixed-company, because the terms, and the acronyms that house them, are strange to many people.  People don’t want to say something that comes across as ignorant or offensive.  I know this because, as someone included among these letters, I too find many areas within my apparent “community” that remain foreign to me.

As a subject that changes regularly with generational preferences on self-identification it is difficult, even with modest effort, to feel entirely well-versed on everything falling under the newly reclaimed “Queer” umbrella.  What is offensive to some may be a badge of honor and self-identification for others.  In this kind of environment, attorneys Sarah Demarest and Kelly Durden of the LGBTQ Law Center in Charlotte have sound advice to offer.  Refer to people by name, be respectful, and only use terms they have already used to identify themselves.

Attorneys Sarah Demarest and Kelly Durden of the LGBTQ Law Center training Charlotte School of Law Civil Rights Clinic Students on the LGBTQ community

Last week Demarest and Durden gave a special training to the Civil Rights Clinic to better understand how to serve the specific needs of LGBTQ clients.  A portion of the training was dedicated to terminology and terms to avoid.  One of those terms was “homosexual.”  As a gay male, I had always thought it was the more appropriate term in place of ‘gay’ during academic conversation or in writing.  Since coming out four years ago, I have seldom thought about the myriad of terms available to the Queer community.  I wasn’t even aware that “queer” was no longer offensive.

When I came out, I was the only person, at least to my knowledge, who was openly gay on my campus at Queens University in Charlotte.  I had the support of my fraternity and of my family and therefore never ventured much into the LGBTQ community around me, the existence of which was largely unknown to me.  For the sake of terminology, I never wanted my sexuality to define me as a person.  I am gay and therefore my boyfriend, like me, happens to be male.  Beyond that, this revelation was of no importance to any other aspect of my life.  I was “gay” and, for me at least, it was as simple as that.

While it is my personal opinion that the terms available and those continually being added or removed add too much confusion, this is only true through my personal experience.  A key factor in our training was that each person, based on vastly different life experiences, will feel differently towards each term and how they most comfortably identify themselves.  Just as there is more to the color spectrum than blue and green or red and yellow, sexuality, as well as gender identity and expression, fall within a spectrum with many people finding themselves somewhere in-between the more familiar gay or straight.  I cannot blame, and people should not feel uncomfortable, for a want of understanding this spectrum when, as a member of the LGBTQ community, I myself learned new things during this training.

One letter I had generally been unfamiliar with, other than the umbrella ‘Q’ of course, was the ‘T.’  People, whether they are aware of it or not, identify in three categories: gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality.  In my case, my gender identity is male, my gender expression is male, and my sexuality is gay – or, until last week, ‘homosexual’ in my mind since I am writing.  What many are unaware of, particularly in dealing with the Transgender community, is that people can find themselves within any number of possible combinations of these three categories.  Cross-dressers for example, a term which should only be used in reference to people who self-identify that way, are not necessarily transgender, meaning that while someone who is biologically male may dress as a female (gender expression) they do not necessarily consider themselves to be female (gender identity) as would be the case with someone who is transgender.

The key takeaway from all of this is to respect people’s freedom to identify themselves.  If someone who is biologically female, and perhaps even appears to be female, identifies themselves as male, that distinction is one that should be respected.  It requires no further knowledge to interact with the LGBTQ community without being offensive.  There is no need to ask whether this person is ‘post-op’ or ‘pre-op,’ in fact this should be avoided entirely, because all that matters is how they feel and choose to present themselves.  The process for transgender individuals is one that is deeply emotional and personal.  Questions regarding the process or where they are in the transition are inappropriate unless they offer to speak on the subject.

For many of my fraternity brothers, I was the first ‘gay’ person in their life and so of course, many had questions.  While some were naturally inappropriate or offensive, such as asking whom between my boyfriend and I “wears the pants,” they all generally came from a place of seeking understanding or general curiosity and even fascination.  Revisiting my fraternity today as an alumni chapter advisor, the number of openly gay and lesbian students on campus has grown exponentially in part of a general trend of coming out at a younger age, a change occurring only in recent years.  I notice now that the questions are less frequent and the understanding seems to come more naturally with younger generations.  The LGBTQ community has unique and complex issues that take time and experience to understand.  I feel that understanding is coming more easily to younger generations not from education but simply from living in a world where members of this community are seen daily as our friends, neighbors, and family.  What’s to understand?  Perhaps the need for so many terms and spin off definitions will fade as we move towards a world where the fact that I plan on proposing to a man is of no concern to anyone.  In the meantime, the information provided by the LGBTQ Law Center is a valuable tool for any future lawyer hoping to feel confident and comfortable working with LGBTQ clients.


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