Online Extra: Political Notes: Trans community rallies for Obama
by Matthew S. Bajko
Transgender leaders have united to get out the vote for President Barack Obama's re-election. The push is believed to be the largest national effort to rally the transgender community around a White House candidate.
Organized under the name of Trans United for Obama, the grassroots group is loosely affiliated with the official Obama re-election campaign. Its leaders have been talking for months and its website, http://www.transunitedforobama.org, went public in late July.
Last Monday, August 20, the group held its first national organizing phone call to officially launch its work. The call featured Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D), who has a top aide who came out as transgender, and activist Chaz Bono , a trans man whose transition captured international headlines due to his famous parents, Cher and the late Sonny Bono.
The group's executive committee includes Bay Area-based leaders Cecilia Chung, an HIV-positive woman and San Francisco health commissioner; Transgender Law Center Executive Director Masen Davis; and Justin Tanis, a Ph.D. student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.
Other local trans leaders who have signed on to the effort include labor activist and Democratic Party operative Gabriel Haaland ; former San Francisco Pride board chair Nikki Calma; JoAnne Keatley , director of the UCSF Center of Excellence for Transgender HIV Prevention; and Oakland resident Jamison Green , who chairs the board of Gender Education and Advocacy.
Theresa Sparks, head of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and Berkeley-based social worker Zander Keig have also joined the effort.
Four years ago the trans community was divided during the Democratic primary race between Obama and his main opponent, Hillary Clinton , at the time a U.S. senator from New York. Once Obama clinched his party's nomination, transgender leaders did rally behind him to support his campaign.
But this year's coalition is by far a larger coordinated effort to stand with Obama, said several of the local trans leaders volunteering on the campaign.
"We are hoping to mobilize the trans community at the national level," Chung told the Bay Area Reporter in a phone interview last week.
The main goal is to recruit trans people from across the country to volunteer at their local Obama campaign offices, assisting with phone banking and precinct walking.
In the trans community "there is definitely a lot of excitement," said Chung, for seeing Obama be re-elected.
"There are definitely more people excited about the re-election of the president than not," she added.
But there is also a lack of enthusiasm in some quarters, particularly since Obama has refused to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
And the decades-long goal of seeing a transgender inclusive federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act be passed by Congress and signed into law by the president failed to come to fruition during Obama's first term. Priority was given to passing a federal hate crimes law and then to repealing the military's ban against gays and lesbians serving openly in the armed forces.
Writing in her Transmissions column in last week's B.A.R. , transgender activist Gwen Smith wrote that when she looks at the Obama presidency, she sees "many missed opportunities."
Smith is involved in the Trans United for Obama effort and wants to see Obama be re-elected. She acknowledges that the president is by far a better advocate on trans issues than presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who would be president should he unseat Obama this November.
Nonetheless, she said in an emailed response to questions that her enthusiasm for Obama is tempered this election cycle.
"I'm not all that thrilled – well, not where I was in 2008 – but I'm happy with a lot that he has done and want to see that continue," wrote Smith.
To counteract perceptions among some in the trans community that the Obama administration has overlooked their concerns, trans leaders are making sure they are aware of what the president has been able to do over the last four years.
Tanis wrote a guest opinion for the B.A.R. last Thursday that listed some of the administrative policy changes that the Obama White House helped usher in, such as pro-trans rules in federal housing and health care programs.
"In a world where transgender people continue to face rampant discrimination in all areas of life, we now see these much needed protections added by the Obama administration," wrote Tanis.
The Trans United for Obama group is working on a fact sheet listing all of the pro-trans steps the Obama administration has taken. Chung said it should be posted to the group's website shortly and will be handed out during the Democratic National Convention next week.
"There is more we would like to still accomplishment. But without President Obama being in the office the next four years, those things would not be able to be accomplished," said Chung. "To us this is really our watershed moment. Imagine the last four years and what the Obama administration already has done, there is so much more of what he can really do in the next four years."
Due to the Labor Day holiday, the Political Notes column is taking a week off. It will return Monday, September 10.
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