Advocacy Day Draws Trans Folks, Allies to Capitol
By Dan Aiello
More than 50 transgender Californians and non-U.S. residents gathered at the West Steps of the Capitol in Sacramento Monday, May 21 as they prepared to lobby legislators on behalf of two bills aimed at addressing discrimination against transgender youth in California's foster care system and non-US residents victims of crime who risk deportation under federal law.
Both Assembly bills are authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).
Assembly Bill 1081 would reform California's participation in the federal government's controversial Secure Communities, or S-Comm program. The federal program was intended to target serious offenders who were non-residents of the U.S., but according Transgender Advocacy Day sponsors, has led to the unintended consequences of non-U.S. resident victims of crime being victimized twice – the crime itself and then deportation – and a general undermining of the relationship between local law enforcement and the Latino and Pacific Rim communities.
That has the potential of increasing crime within these communities as victims become less willing to report incidents.
According to Macceo Persson, a program manager for the day's sponsor, San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, lobbying "on behalf of those who cannot lobby for themselves is part of who my family is, of how my parents raised me."
Persson's family was forced to leave Chile after his mother became the target of the military coup of General Augusto Pinochet, a 17-year regime responsible for many human rights atrocities. Persson fled with his family to Sweden, his father's native homeland, before applying for U.S. visas in 1980.
But Persson explained one of the main reasons he believes his family was so unaccepting of his identity as a transgender person was because of another human rights violation, this one perpetrated by the U.S. government.
"At the time we applied for U.S. visas, the application required that we answer whether or not we were communist or homosexual," said Persson. "A big part of why my parents weren't accepting of me was because they worried that I would jeopardize by citizenship."
The 1990 immigration act removed homosexuality as a ground for exclusion from immigrating to the United States.
Persson said that around 2009 both of his parents started to come around and are today very proud of him. Persson sees his own activism today as a way of "paying back" those who fought for human and civil and transgender rights before him.
Assembly bill 1856 would require that existing training programs for foster youth caregivers include information related to cultural competency and best practices for serving LGBT youth.
Anna Rivera, a Tenderloin resident and office coordinator for El/La Para TransLatinas, a drop-in center for transgender San Franciscans in the Mission district, told a remarkable story of survival that began when, as an 8-year-old boy from Tijuana, Mexico, Rivera (whose name at the time, she said, was Jose Alberto Rojas) made an illegal border crossing with her mother into San Ysidro. Over the border, Rivera's mother, Ana, told her child to sit down in a San Ysidro park where she then abandoned her child and returned to Mexico.
After two weeks alone and starving, Rivera was picked up and placed in California's foster care program, which, according to Rivera, began her childhood torment rather than end it.
"Unfortunately, my experience in California's foster care program, like so many transgender children and children of color, was not a positive one," Rivera told the Bay Area Reporter . "More white kids go to actual single family foster homes. Children of color go to group homes," she said, adding that they are more likely to suffer the physical and sexual abuse that she experienced.
Rivera became emancipated at age 17, and at 19 came to San Francisco where she found acceptance, assistance, and a college education.
But Rivera said that discrimination against LGBT youth in California's foster care system continues to haunt her after a social worker prevented her from contacting her brothers and sisters, also abandoned by their mother, because she is transgender. The social worker with access to her family contacts, told her that she "was detrimental to my siblings' well-being," Rivera told the B.A.R.
Rivera said that she still cries whenever she attempts to search the Internet for one sister in particular, Susanna Rojas. Rivera said she was in Sacramento to help change laws to improve conditions in the foster youth program for LGBT kids and their siblings, "who aren't necessarily able to speak for themselves."
How many transgender youth end up in California's foster care program because their parents abandon them because they don't understand them? There is "probably no way of knowing that," said Kristina Wertz, TLC policy and programming director.
Employment is another issue that impacts the trans community. A report from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found transgender people are under-salaried 22 percent to 64 percent.
Still another area where change is needed involves relations with law enforcement.
"A Williams Institute study also found that as many as 70 percent of transgender Californians report harassment by police," said Wertz, citing cultural differences that make police assume prostitution is occurring where it is not.
"People fear what they don't understand," said Rivera. "We are here to promote laws that will help to educate people and the police" to help reduce, if not end, harassment of transgender people, people of color, and transgender youth in California.
Dan Aiello reports for the Bay Area Reporter and the California Progress Report.