You may have heard that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed into law a bill that will create a Harvey Milk Day, honoring the slain gay politician and icon. It’s the first time that any LGBT person has been honored in such a way, so obviously people are excited about the symbolism.
What has been receiving some blog coverage but little mainstream media attention, however, is the fact that at the same time Schwarzenegger signed this bill, he vetoed a couple of others — one which would have made it easier for transgender people born in California to correct their birth certificates to the proper gender and name, and another which would have helped to combat sexual violence against LGBT prisoners.
With regards to the former, a birth certificate is probably the most important piece of identification that any of us have. While it’s not used on a daily basis, it’s often the document on which our other pieces of identification are based, though most of us who are cis have the privilege and luxury of not thinking about it. When a trans person’s identification does not match their identity, it sets them up for being outed against their will — and subsequently creates a large risk of them being accused of fraud, harassed, denied basic services and care, and/or violently attacked. The bill would have made the difficult process of correcting the document just a tiny bit easier — and by the way, wouldn’t have cost taxpayers anything.
The latter piece of vetoed legislation, Schwarzenegger called “unnecessary.” But unnecessary to whom? It’s really rather well known that LGBT prisoners face hugely disproportionate sexual violence in prisons, a place where rape already runs rampant. This is especially so for cis gay and bisexual men, who are regularly targeted for prison rape, and for trans women, who are often placed wrongly in men’s prisons and thus put at extreme risk for sexual violence from cis inmates. The only way the governor does not know this is if he’s willfully ignorant on matters over which he’s supposed to be governing. And so to say that it’s unnecessary for sexual orientation and gender identity to be taken into account when deciding how to safely house prisoners is outrageously callous, and a massive slap across the face to those LGBT inmates who have been or will be sexually assaulted by assailants targeting them for their identities.
I’d also say that it’s an additional slap that he chose to veto these two pieces of legislation on the same day that he signed the bill creating Harvey Milk Day. Yes, it’s true that he also signed two important pieces of legislation — one recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages in California, and one increasing resources for LGBT victims of domestic violence. And I also fully support a Harvey Milk Day. But signing that bill while rejecting these others, and especially at the same time, seems a pretty clear message that Schwarzenegger values symbolism over substantial change. One bill might possibly change the curriculum in certain classrooms for a single day each year, and the others would have helped to remove some of the most marginalized people that day is supposed to honor from particularly dangerous situations. There has been a clear designation of priorities, here — and it has apparently been decided, horrifically if not surprisingly, that the particularly vulnerable groups of LGBT prisoners and transgender people in general don’t really count.
I honestly don’t know enough about Harvey Milk to say with certainty, but from what I do know, I’d at least like to think that he’d be deeply offended. And regardless of what he would have thought, disgust and outrage are clearly in order from the rest of us.
For more, see Monica at Transgriot.
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