Sunday, August 06, 2017

We are called to stand with transgender people

NOTE: This is the longer version of a commentary I gave on the Flashpoint segment of Inside Texas Politics on WFAA Channel 8 that aired July 30, 2017. My conservative counterpart, Mark Davis, could not be there, so it was just me, giving a minute-and-45-second version of this. Writers know it always takes longer to write something short than something long. We tape Flashpoint at 2 pm on Thursdays. I was told I could do this commentary at 12:22 that Thursday. I live in Fort Worth and we tape in Dallas, so I have to leave my home by at least 1:20. Yikes! I was able to do this only because Gwen Fry and Cameron Partridge, friends who are transgender activists, leapt into action at my call for help and provided me with data. This is the first draft I wrote -- it was way too long. We had to cut it in the studio. But I wanted to put it all out here, because it's a matter of life and death. And I wanted to hold up the generous tireless efforts of Gwen and Cam. Thank you for all you do for so many.
You can see the segment that aired here.

I’m going to talk about something of deep concern to me as an American citizen, as a mom and grandmom, and as a Christian. I want to talk about the outbreak of attacks – both real and political – on some of our most vulnerable citizens – transgender women and men.

I’m talking about the president’s recent banning of transgender people from serving in the military – a policy reversal created by tweet apparently on a complete whim –and the bathroom bill in our own Texas Legislature’s special session.

Now, I’m a cis woman – I’m a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with my birth sex. Apparently most of us are cis gendered. But a significant portion of human beings are born into bodies that do not correspond to their sense of personal identity and gender.

Yes, the same God who created Leviathan for the sport of it, who created our wild and varied and unbelievably beautiful planet, also created a wild and complex and unbelievably beautiful variety of human beings.

Like a lot of people, when I began to hear about and actually meet some transgender people, I was puzzled and admittedly uneasy – an unease born of my lack of information. Some amazingly kind, patient, and courageous transgender people helped me in my journey to better understanding. Just like you and me, they want to live authentic live as who they really are.

But way too many of our leaders are approaching this whole subject with a fear of what they don’t understand – what they refuse to even try to understand. They are using THE most common weapon of the bigoted -- the fear of the unknown, the fear of the “other” – to justify attacks on fellow human beings who experience themselves differently from cis gender people.

Which brings us back to the president’s ban on military service and the Texas bathroom bill. Both of these actions are completely unnecessary and very dangerous.

Let’s set aside the president’s continuing desire to distract us all from the investigation into Russian influence on his campaign and the 2016 election and his willingness to cruelly and cynically risk the lives of our fellow Americans to do so. Let’s look at his purported reasons for the ban.

The American Medical Association has said, “There is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from military service. Transgender individuals are serving their country with honor, and they should be allowed to continue doing so.

A Rand study on the impact of transgender individuals in the military reveals the financial cost might – might- incur an approximate 0.13-percent increase in the defense budget. This should not be used as an excuse to deny patriotic Americans an opportunity to serve their country. As the AMA said, "We should be honoring their service - not trying to end it."

As for the bathroom bill, it’s already illegal to enter a restroom or locker room for the purpose of harming someone or invading someone’s privacy. The bill is unnecessary and targets transgender people for discrimination.

In 17 states, more than 200 cities across the country, and in school districts covering over 500,000 students, transgender people are explicitly protected from discrimination, including when using restrooms and locker rooms. None of these laws have resulted in an increase in violence or other public safety incidents. Bathroom bills are impossible to enforce and bad for business.

But worse, these laws and the rhetoric surrounding them portraying transgender people as somehow dangerous to the rest of us create a climate in which the very lives of transgender people are at risk. Witness the attack on Stephanie Martinez, a transgender activist, in Austin last week. Martinez was attacked after testifying against the bathroom bill by two men who admitted they attacked her because she was transgender. Luckily, she survived the brutal attack. But many do not. In 2016, there were at least 22 deaths of transgender people in the US, and so far in 2017, at least 15 have been murdered. Transgender women of color are especially vulnerable to violence. It is not too strong a statement to say that the blood of these people are on the hands of leaders seeking to score political points on the lives of transgender people. What’s more, they claim their Christian faith impels them to this action.

I think that borders on heresy. In my church, our baptismal covenant includes the promise to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We promise to strive for justice and peace among all people respecting the dignity of every human being. These laws are the antithesis of the Christian message.

We need to defeat the bathroom and push back against the president’s military service ban. Our common humanity calls us to this action.

From the left, I’m Katie Sherrod.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Juneteenth - A Reflection

Happy Juneteenth, everyone!

While this holiday has holy historic meaning for my African American friends in ways I cannot begin to imagine, this is a day white people must mark as well, for it is the anniversary of the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas.

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Maj. Gen.Gordon Granger landed at Galveston with news that the war had ended and the enslaved were now free -- two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official January 1, 1863.

The news freed the enslaved people of Texas. Let me say that again -- the news freed the enslaved people in Texas. People held in bondage for generations were set free. Wives and husbands who had been sold away from one another began searching for each other. Parents began looking for children who had been ripped out of their arms and sold to other masters. Separated families began searching for lost members.

Contemplate that. Sit with that for awhile. In a state as big as Texas, imagine how much love, hope, and determination it took to not just sit down and weep as your search began. And that search had to happen in hostile territory, for plantation owners, clustered mainly in East and South Texas, weren't happy to lose free labor. For the most part, they weren't interested in helping former enslaved people in any way.

So know this -- while all family reunions are important, family reunions for African Americans are holy events in ways that are rooted in our shared history.

We Americans are bound together by that history, and it's time we owned that. The whip that left scars on the backs of enslaved people also left scars -- less visible and far less painful but no less real -- on the person who wielded the whip. One human being cannot hold another human being as property without them both being affected. Bondage is not a natural state. The human spirit yearns for freedom. In order to keep humans in bondage, systems had to set in place to enforce that bondage. And those systems drew their power from violence and terrorism. The penalties for running away to freedom were always horribly violent -- whippings that shredded flesh to the bone, often followed by maiming of the feet or legs. And that is if the runaway wasn't killed -- usually a long agonizing death by hanging. 

White people benefited from those systems rooted in violence then, and now. The systemic racism that enfolded and enabled slavery is alive and well, and we are kidding ourselves if we don't acknowledge it. Your ancestors didn't have to actually own people as slaves to benefit from slavery -- all they had to do was be white and free. You don't have to hate people of color to be racist, You don't have to be a member of the Klan to be racist. All you have to do is fail to question and test assumptions, fail to look beyond the surface of your reactions to some people and events, fail to listen to people different from you. That's what white privilege is. It's not economic privilege, although that's part of it. No, it's privilege that lets us white people not have to ask those questions or face those issues. We can, if we choose, isolate ourselves from the realities of racism. 

But when we do, our world becomes much smaller, much more fear-filled, much more restricted. This cozy bondage of privilege can be so comfortable. But that comfort comes at a price -- it can take your integrity, and eventually, your soul. 

So this Juneteenth, let us white people resolve  to set aside our unexamined lives. Let's open our eyes and ears to the realities of the lives of our neighbors of color.

Sit with them and listen.




If we can do this, we may begin to heal this country. 

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Goodbye Molly Molly Good Dog

For the first time in at least 18 years, Molly is not at my side. From the time she arrived at least 18 years ago until last night, Molly never left me.

This video is how I will remember her -- happy and fun loving.

Molly was the essence of Good Dog. She was loyal and sweet and gentle and very protective of her people. Not aggressive, just protective.  She embodied unconditional love.

Molly arrived in our driveway and our lives one very hot August afternoon. I say at least 18 years ago, because the vet estimated she was a year and half to two years old when she found us.

When I saw this very thin dog in the driveway, I went out to check on her. She ran to the then vacant house north of us and hid on the porch. I got a leash and walked over. I sat on the porch steps with my back to her so I wouldn't be threatening and started crooning to her -- "It's OK, sweet baby. You're OK. Come on, Sweetheart, it's OK" again and again for about 15 minutes. Then a head appeared over my shoulder. I slowly turned around, gently put the leash around her neck. and started stroking her face. She uttered a great big sign and pushed her head into my chest, as if to say, "At last. I am safe."

A trip to the vet revealed a healthy but very starved and dehydrated dog. So I took her home and introduced her to the rest of the pack, and she settled in - eventually 45 pounds of hair and love. That scrawny dog in the driveway turned into a beautiful dog.

Beautiful Molly
Last night she went to join all the dogs of my life - Ikey, Heidi, Beau, Colleen, Nikki, Maggie, Rusty, Esau, Mike, Jake, Angel, Ms. Wiggles, and Toby - in the care of St. Francis.

Molly was my constant companion. If I was in the garden, Molly was in the garden. If I was working, Molly was under my desk. If I was gone, Molly waited by the door until I returned. And she always quietly placed herself between me and any other person on the property except Gayland, Daniella, and the Best Boys.

First Best Boy with Nanny Molly 
When the first of the Best Boys was born, he became her charge. When his mommy brought him here on her way to work, Molly greeted her and the baby. For the rest of the day, Molly was with the baby, even sleeping under his crib as he napped. Again, she was always between him and any person other than family who came into the house.

Molly guarding sleeping Best Boy
When he began to pull up, Molly was always there to be a steady furry rock against which to lean. As he began walking, he would hold onto her and she would pace beside him as he toddled around. If he cried,  Molly would come get me if I didn't respond fast enough to suit her.

Best Boy and Nanny Molly with her Summer hair cut
When the second Best Boy was born, Molly assumed care of him as well. She would check on one boy, then go check on the baby. As the second Best Boy began to toddle around, Molly would do her best to keep an eye on both boys as well as on me. She got very worried if we were out of her sight for too long.

As the boys grew older and more independent, Molly still supervised them as best she could. And she played with her doggy friends, Mike the border collie, Esau, the dachshund mix, and Angel, the white lab.

Molly, Angel, and Mike

Angel, Esau, and Mike with Molly's tail in right corner

Until one black day when the dogs got out of a gate left open, and ran into Ederville Road. Esau was hit by a car and killed instantly. Molly was badly injured. Angel wasn't badly hurt, but died soon of a broken heart, grieving for her Esau. We arrived home from a trip to find Mike alone and grieving, Molly still in the hospital, and a distraught Daniella and Tino who had to tell us what had happened while we were away.

We wept and grieved. We comforted Mike. We visited Molly at the vet, where she was recovering from a broken shoulder and a broken hind leg. Every day, I crawled into her large cage and held her as we both grieved. I told her she had to get better and come home, that we needed her.

And she did. Mike was overjoyed to see her and the two dogs comforted one another over the loss of their pack. Daisy the Corgi arrived and she and Molly became playmates. Mike ignored Daisy until the day he died of old age.

When two soft coated wire haired dachshund puppies arrived, Molly took one look and adopted Ms. Wiggles and Toby as her puppies. They were ostensibly Gayland's dogs, but in Molly's mind, they were her babies.

And they remained her babies until first Ms. Wiggles died, much too young, of a tumor in her heart, and three years later, Toby. We never knew why Toby died. It baffled the vets and left us bereft once more. And Molly grieved again.

By this time, the Best Boys were turning into teenagers and Molly was slowing down a bit. When one Best Boy turned 14 last year, we realized that Molly had to be at least 17 years old. We were astonished. She was still in good shape, a bit stiff when she first woke up, but still playful and funny and always loving.

Then Samantha, a dachshund mix, arrived, and later Ms. Buttons, another rescue, and Mr. Carson, an elderly teeny dachshund, joined us.

And Molly began to sleep more. As her eyesight faded, she wanted to be touching me whenever we walked in the garden. We walked slowly, because her healed leg was beginning to stiffen.

And often, when she slept, she'd wag her tail. I hope she was dreaming of running pain free with her pack.

And finally, it was clear she was in pain, It was time to let her go to a place where she could be young and pain free, happy with her pack until I can get there.

So we all said goodbye. The Best Boys and their mama brought a bouquet of happy flowers, Gayland helped wrap her in a soft towel. Next week we will have her ashes.

But it's very lonely today, with this Molly-sized hole in my life.

Molly with her "babies,"  Wiggles and Toby

Molly with me in the Gazebo

Molly hanging out with me in the Chapel Garden

Molly stealing birdseed

Molly and Mike playing in the snow
Molly with her last pack

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why the Sherrod Women are marching

After we elected a man who has promised to wipe out decades of legal and civil rights gains for racial minorities, women, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, for the disabled - justice issues I have fought for my entire adult life, I turned for solace to some of the people for whom I have done this work, my daughter and my nieces. I was reminded that Sherrod women don’t give up. We resist, speak out, fight back. 

Fierce Sherrod women - Julianne, Emily, Gina, Daniella, and Margaret

My daughter, Daniella Judge, and I had taken part in the Mobilization for Women’s Lives March in Washington in November of 1989. It was a powerful transformative event. This time, for various reasons, we can’t go to Washington. But Daniella and I and her cousins – Julianne Sherrod, Gina Sherrod Hlavaty, Margaret Sherrod LaBarba, and Emily Sherrod Aronoff -- can go to Austin and take my three-and-a-half year old grandniece with us. We are fortunate enough to have the flexibility and the resources to go. And Emily is happily putting us up.

Why we going? I believe our democracy is in real danger. We have elected a demagogue made doubly dangerous by his narcissistic inability to recognize what he doesn’t know, hence his facile dismissal of “experts.” His coziness with Vladimir Putin is proof of that. On January 21, 2017, millions of women across this nation will say as one – not here, not now.

Daniella is going “because I can't imagine where else I would be on a day when this many women find it this imperative to make our voices and our opinions known.”

Emily said, “This is my first march. I live in Austin, and thought it made sense to invite the fiercest women I know, my aunt and my cousins, and march together in support of one another and for every other woman out there. I felt it was important to join in this effort to show solidarity with everyone else who is angry, worried, and scared about where our country is headed.

Julianne, said, “I am bringing my 3.5 year old daughter so she can see that we are fighting for her future. As far as why - I saw the hate and anger generated by Trump during his rallies, I saw the mob mentality and the willful blindness to his character flaws. I saw his denigration of the most vulnerable in our society. I saw hate groups embrace and celebrate him. I saw the debates where he could barely form a sentence, much less a cohesive policy argument, and I was sure that the American people would want to stand for Truth, Justice and Equality. We did not as a country stand up for those values, but we as individuals must.”

Her sister, Margaret, said, “This is my first march. I am going to stand with my family and everyone else who supports women's rights, social justice, kindness, equality of opportunity and love.

Margaret’s twin, Gina, said, “I will stand at the march as a small person among a great force and be so proud. The shocking results of this presidential election made me realize that if I want change then I will have to be a part of the voice for that change.”

What do the Sherrod women hope the March will accomplish? I hope it will put Republicans on notice that they do NOT have a mandate, that they did not win the popular vote, and that we, the people, stand ready to resist their efforts to dismantle the gains of the last century and a half. We will hold them accountable.

Daniella said, “I hope this show of solidarity and resolve will display to our local, state and national legislators that women will not stand still while our rights and freedoms are dismantled. That we refuse to cede the ground our mothers, grandmothers, and other heroes fought for. We cannot and will not go back.”

Julianne said, “I know it will empower and motivate thousands, maybe millions of Americans who did not vote for him or who are now seeing through his lies, and get them involved in the political process. If [our elected officials] don't hear from us, they're certainly hearing from their echo chamber supporters or from special interest groups that can put millions towards persuading them to ignore their constituents' best interest. It's harder to do that if the constituents are communicating, staring them in the face, standing up and walking on their front lawn! I also hope this march will allow Trump to see that there are millions watching his every move who will not stand for intolerance, hatred, and the destruction of civil rights.”

Margaret said, “I hope this march helps to show the strength we have as individuals, the power we have together, and the courage we have when we show unity in a peaceful march.”

Gina said, “I hope the march will show that people are serious about making a change, that Americans do care about making a country work for what’s best for everyone, not just what’s best for business or personal gain.”

Emily said, “I hope to show the incoming administration that we do not support their views and policies, and that we will not tolerate injustice or discrimination. We stand for truth, justice, and equality for all.”

Note: A shorter version of this was published in the Dallas Morning News on January 12, 2016.