Op-ed: President Obama, Make Me Cry Again
Dear Mr. President,
First, let me start off by saying thank you. I’m someone who’s not only a transsexual woman, but also someone who’s had a lot of problems in the past getting hired and keeping jobs for reasons that can be directly attributed to my transgender status. I know how critical to the lives of many transgender American workers the antidiscrimination protections in those executive orders you just announced you’re preparing to sign will be.
We’ve made a lot of progress during your time in office, Mr. President. Transgender-inclusive antidiscrimination protections in housing, lifting the ban on transgender health care in Medicare, clarifying Veterans Affairs regulations regarding transition-related care for our transgender veterans, putting an end to the Social Security Administration’s practice of notifying employers when the listed gender of an employee doesn’t match their records, and making the process of obtaining a passport easier for transgender people, just to name a few.
Some would say you’ve done enough for LGBT Americans, more than any president ever has before, and it’s unfair to be critical or expect more from you and your administration. I would respectfully disagree.
Once those new executive orders are put into effect, you’ll have done about as much for LGBT Americans without the support of Congress as we could have reasonably hoped for, perhaps even more.
There’s another issue, though, Mr. President, and it’s the one that makes some transgender folks like me want to rip our hair out every time we’ve seen you make a speech, issue a statement, or otherwise acknowledge same-sex marriage and gay married couples but not our jobs, workplace rights, or transgender people.
The issue is time.
Mr. President, as a trans woman who was unemployed for six years after losing my job when I came out in 1997, and then later on suffered another six-year stint of unemployment that just ended recently, I can tell you that for me and others like me, it’s the waiting that’s the real killer. When you’re unemployed and no one wants to hire you, five and a half years is a really, really long time to wait for help.
We know you’d have preferred to see the Employment Non-Discrimination Act become law rather than take executive action. So would we, but we also know that since Democrats lost control of the House, that just isn’t possible. The most frustrating part is that if we knew this to be true, then surely you and your administration knew it as well.
We watched your press secretaries dodge questions about ENDA and workplace protections over and over, up to and including offering provably untrue assertions that an executive order protecting us would be “redundant” if ENDA were to become law. Yet at no time did you or anyone in your administration publicly offer any sort of real strategy for accomplishing that goal.
With all due respect, Mr. President, I don’t think you can blame us for being disappointed, even angry, not only because those lofty promises we were thrilled to hear you make when you ran for office didn’t materialize, but also because it seemed to many of us that you’d simply given up on LGBT workplace rights and decided to focus on marriage and military service for gays and lesbians.
How many unemployed or underemployed LGBT Americans felt as sad as I did as I watched you and all of the major speakers at the 2012 Democratic National Committee Convention talk about same-sex marriage but not even one of you mentioned our jobs?
Sure, it sucks not to at least get a shout-out, but it really stings when you’re unemployed, perhaps facing homelessness and poverty, when no one will hire you because you’re just too different, when you’re seeing the leaders in Washington who you must depend on to fight for your equality under the law completely ignore the political issue that most directly determines what kind of life you and your family can have in this country.
It makes you question why you define yourself as a Democrat. It makes you unsure if things will ever get better for you and your family, no matter who’s in charge in Washington. It makes you ask yourself just how much longer you and your family can hang on. It forces you to wonder if your president and congressional leaders really understand anything about the realities of your family’s life and those of your working-class LGBT sisters and brothers.
It makes you doubt that anyone in Washington really understands or cares about what’s actually going on outside the Beltway for so many of us.
Mr. President, I know there are times when the best strategy to get a job done politically is to do it under the radar, to effect change quietly, away from the glaring spotlight of the news media. At the same time, there’s also something to be said for giving people hope, for letting those dancing on the edge of tragedy know they haven’t been forgotten, that help is on the way, even if it may still take a while to get there.
When you announced that you’d be signing not one but two executive orders to institute full gender identity as well as sexual orientation protections for those employed by the federal government and its contractors, I cried. I couldn’t help it.
We’ve waited so long, and even though these executive orders won’t affect me personally, I know that for many LGBT working families those new regulations can make a real difference.
Impatience, yes, but it’s more than just that. It’s about having to make the kind of choices no family, no American, should ever be forced to make, like having to decide between filling your prescriptions, gassing up the car, or buying groceries that week.
Most of all, though, Mr. President, it’s about knowing that your government and your president can and should be doing more to help you and your family but they aren’t. That’s where the disappointment, the sadness, and the anger come from, from knowing that you and your family are hurting and those who can help make it better just aren’t.
There’s still more help we need from you, Mr. President. The heroic transgender men and women in our nation’s military who are still forced to serve in silence deserve nothing less than the simple respect of being judged by their performance of their duties, not their gender identities. They deserve to see their commander in chief stand up for them and guarantee them the right to be themselves, the right to enjoy the same American freedoms they risk their lives to defend.
In the end, Mr. President, that’s all any of us really want. Just the same rights and freedoms and the same fair shot at the American dream every other citizen in our country enjoys. As I did when I first voted for you in 2008, I believe that we can come still closer to that ideal over the next two and a half years.
I hope you agree. I look forward to having you make me cry again.
Thanks for listening.
REBECCA JURO is a journalist and radio host who writes about media for Advocate.com. Her work has been published by The Bilerico Project, The Huffington Post, Washington Blade, and Gay City News. The Rebecca Juro Show streams live Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m. Eastern.