Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Illinois Lawmakers Make Fun Of Transgender Bill

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown takes members of the Illinois House to task for their poor attempt at humor when debating an important piece of legislation for transgender persons. Persons who undergo gender-altering surgery under the guidance of a licensed medical professional are presented with problems in a variety of situations if they must still maintain a birth certificate identifying them with the sex with which they were assigned at birth. Such individuals can petition a court to change the assigned sex on their birth certificate, but Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) thought the process could be made a little easier. Feigenholtz good intentions, however, took an ugly turn when the bill was brought up for debate. As Brown explains and relates the pain it brought to a friend of his:

Illinois legislators really yukked it up last week over a proposed law that would have made it easier for individuals who have switched genders to get a new birth certificate.

Before the House swatted down the legislation on a 32-78 vote, the Republican floor leader joked that he'd thought about getting a sex-change operation, too, so that he'd smell better and wouldn't have to shave. Not to be outdone, the Democrat presiding over the debate called for the vote in a falsetto voice. Funny guys.

I totally missed the story, but it didn't escape the attention of my friend, Diane Schroer, an Oak Lawn native who some of you will recall from past columns was still known as Dave when we roomed together in college and later when she spent 25 years in the Army, much of it in Special Forces.

Diane, it turns out, just had her sexual reassignment surgery a month ago .
. .

It's one thing to make fun of somebody in the abstract, but quite another to make fun of somebody like Diane, who is living in the Washington, D.C., area and supporting herself as a consultant on high-risk homeland security programs.

When a "regular guy" like Diane steps forward to say that she spent her life as a woman trapped inside a man's body, it causes other people to at least consider the possibility that such things are possible . . .

When she was still known as Dave, Diane was an Airborne Ranger with more than 450 jumps to her credit.

If our state legislators have the balls, they should invite her down to Springfield and she can tell them all about it.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that one of the lawmakers who made offensive comments about transgender persons was Rep. Bill Black (R-Danville). Bill Black is a man with whom I worked very closely while I was on the House Republican Staff in Illinois. I spent several months living in the home of Bill's father in Danville back in 1986 when I coordinated Bill's first elective bid for the Illinois House. It was a very close but successful campaign. I always had a great deal of respect for Bill and his wife, Sharon, who both had careers as public educators. He was more moderate in his views than many Republicans. He was a pro-choice candidate in a heavily-Catholic area, which made his election all the more difficult against a pro-life opponent.

A press release from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was particularly critical of Black's comments. “Maybe you went somewhere and a voodoo doctor said you were now a man, where you had been a woman,” Black is quoted as saying. Another legislator suggested the state issue sex-change documents to deer as well according to the press release. The release reads, in part:

Rose and Black have sunk to new lows with their repugnant and boorish comments. Comparisons of transgender people to animals have no place in civil discourse about public policies intended to make the lives of transgender people easier and less onerous. Black’s mocking and diminution of transgender people and their hard work to change their gender identity is nothing but a transparent attempt to question the humanity, the dignity and the bodily integrity of transgender people.

“The Associated Press story reports that Black’s remarks were greeted with ‘hoots from his colleagues.’ They will all do themselves and their constituents a great service by learning more about the transgender people in their districts and in their state. We urge that the educational discussions with Illinois legislators proceed in due haste before these buffoons are presented with another serious policy proposal that concerns transgender people.

“As public debate over how we treat each other goes forward, let Don Imus be a lesson for us all. There will be no more profit or pleasure to be gained by describing the lives of others in contemptuous and derisive terms. We’ve had enough of trash talk from public figures and elected leaders.”

I don't know what could possibly have been going through Bill's head to make him use this form of degrading humor on a subject that is so important to those affected by it. I hope Bill takes Mark Brown's criticism to heart, though, and publicly apologizes to his friend, Diane, and every other transgender person he offended with his insensitive comments.

No comments: