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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

You're related?

My mom-in-law and Beloved's sister were here for a few days and it was a wonderful visit. They are upbeat people, not easily intimidated by bullies, sure of their rights and secure in granting those same rights -- nothing more -- to others. How refreshing!

:::

I needed to gas up and so pulled into the station we both use. In Oregon the attendant pumps your gas (petrol to some of you) and so I handed my card out the window to the grizzled old geezer on the afternoon shift. He glanced at it, puzzled over it for a bit, and said, to himself, as if his brain were hurting him, "Bear ... Bear ... "

I told him Beloved's name. He brightened up. "That's right. She comes here all the time."

He peered in the window, clearly not meaning to pry -- some piece of the equation just wasn't working out for him.

"You're related?"

"Yes."

I left it at that.

:::

Tonight I went to a public hearing of the city Human Rights Commission on proposed legislation adding transgendered people to the list of protected classes in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

This time all but one of those who spoke were in favor of at least most* of the code change. There was only one of the nay-sayers present, instead of the large numbers that appeared at hearings in 2002, or the five or so vocal opponents we had been hearing from so far this year.

He seemed like he might be a nice enough man if one could get to talk with him, but he was gone immediately after the last speaker and people began to rise. I mean, gone! Someone followed him down the hall, but I had the impression he was running, from what imagined demons I wouldn't know. So much for asking him to coffee, which was what I was there for.

His testimony was the usual.

1. We choose to be like this, unlike black people or women, who are born different from white males.
2. So granting us protections is granting "special rights," trampling on the rights of the majority.
3. The right of the majority is to go to the bathroom safely, and women and children will not be safe in public restrooms if transgender protections are added.
4. It's criminal of the City to contemplate doing this without a vote of the people.

Hmmm...

I'd like to note that protected classes currently include "race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation."

So, he was born Protestant? And why, if we're not to be added because we choose to be trans, does the current code have "sexual orientation?" Gay people have rights protected, but trans people shouldn't? I think he probably didn't mean to argue that gays are born gay and Protestants are born Protestant, but this is, in effect, what he argued.

In nature there are privileges. In society, too. But civil society establishes rights. It's for giving the less privileged more of an even break. By guaranteeing participation to all, we maximize our collective potential -- read create wealth if you like.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:

Section. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. (emphasis added).

The Amendment does not grant "special rights" to the freed slaves; it tells the states not to infringe the rights of human beings. The rights are held to be a priori; the people in question had rights all along; therefore laws making them property were henceforth to be regarded as invalid.

I would agree with the gentleman (while buying him a cup of coffee, had he stayed) that I should not have "special rights." But that's because, according to the Constitution, there aren't any. There are only rights.

Protections don't invent rights, they protect those (already in force) of people whom the majority habitually regard as not having them.

Race, because one race, or several, may regard another or others as not fully human -- and therefore not deserving of full human rights.

Religion, because one religious group, or several, may regard another or others as not fully human -- and therefore not deserving of full human rights.

Gender, because one gender (read "male") may regard the other (read "women") as not fully human -- and therefore not deserving of full human rights.

Sexual orientation, because some may regard those who are attracted to the same sex as not fully human -- and therefore not deserving of full human rights.

So the Constitution is given the task, not of creating rights, only protecting those that are already there from a tyrannizing and uncomprehending majority.

And jurisdictions within the United States are tasked with seeing to it that their laws do not deny to any person ... the equal protection of the laws.

Which is the task the City of Eugene is carrying out, having identified a population that is regarded by some as not fully human and therefore not deserving of full human rights: transpeople.

Item to support this assertion: I can be fired in Eugene for being trans.

Item to support this assertion: I can be evicted in Eugene for being trans.

Item to support this assertion: I can be denied access to a homeless shelter in Eugene for being trans.

All of these are infringements of my rights. But if I go to the housing authorities and allege that I was evicted for transitioning, they can say they are forced to shrug me off, because in Oregon's laws and in Eugene's laws there is nothing about transpeople.

I have to be able to show that the thing for which I was evicted is a thing for which it is forbidden to evict me, y'see.

Since the available information shows that most restroom danger is danger to transpeople from others rather than the other way round, I won't dwell on that argument. People who are prone to regard me as a pedophile or rapist because I believe myself to be a woman just aren't thinking clearly. Or have been lied to so often by people with an agenda that there's little hope of reaching them with common sense.

But the fourth point: what about that vote?

Ummm ... did we get to vote directly for our presidential candidate? Did we get to vote on the Patriot Act? Did we get to vote on our tax rate? Did we get to vote on whether to invade a practically unarmed country? Did we get to vote on whether to study stem cells? Did we get to vote on whether to keep the roadless areas? Do we get to vote on North Slope oil? Do we ... well, I could go on for thousands of "pages."

This is representative government. Legislative, executive, judicial, with checks and balances. We have voted for our City Councilors so that they can do what seems best to them in their wisdom, such as it is, to comply with the directives, as a jurisdiction within Oregon and within the United States, of the Constitutions thereof.

In other words, they have to protect the rights of all the citizens, not those of some. Because even if, to you, I'm less than human, the Constitution, rightly or wrongly, disagrees with you there.

But there's a process. You may gather signatures on a petition and force an expensive referendum.

And if you vote to exclude us from our rights as citizens, and win, that vote will be subject to judicial review.

There are those who are calling that likelihood proof that there are "activist judges," This is a code phrase for "judges who don't go to our church."

I have another name for it. I call it the American Way.

-- risa b

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