HRC: What the Fuck?

In the USA, the Human Rights Campaign, or HRC, is the leading gay rights group, at least in terms of how much airtime and money they manage to get. They currently claim to be trans-inclusive, and to support transgender rights, although they have a history of fucking up in many ways. But their mission statement includes, “The Human Rights Campaign is organized and will be operated for the promotion of the social welfare of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.”

Every few years, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, that they aren’t just a self-serving part of the charity-industrial complex focused more on donations than actual work. And they always, consistently demonstrate they are unworthy of it.

Their flagship “product” is the Corporate Equality Index. This index is intended to encourage companies to treat LGBT people as, oh, human beings.  Companies are rated based on a bunch of criteria, such as having non-discrimination policies, and, importantly in 2015, whether or not they provided health care benefits that included benefits transsexual employees require. It gets a lot of attention and does generate real change. But it has some problems.

Some companies got a perfect score, like United Health Care. These companies are supposed to be the models of LGBT inclusion – they have good policies and practices, and are good corporate citizens when it comes to LGBT issues. In fact, they are perfect!

Other companies, such as Exxon, do much worse.  Exxon received -25 – yes, negative 25 (the link to their database indicates “0” points, but their actual score is listed, along with reasoning, in the HRC full report).  You can read more about why here.

When looking at my own employer (which I will not name here out of concerns for my privacy), I note that my company did not achieve a perfect score in part because they lack trans-inclusive health care benefits. Fair enough, they should rightfully get dinged for that, and it’s great that HRC is looking for trans-inclusion – hopefully it pushes my employer and other companies towards finding better options for health care.

But here is my gripe…

My employer is not perfect, certainly. They rightfully get dinged for not providing trans-inclusive benefits. But the reason they don’t provide those benefits is that they use a health insurance company that HRC ranked as a ‘perfect’ company.

In this case, my employer uses United Health Care (UHC), who achieved a perfect score because they provide their own employees with health insurance that includes trans-inclusive benefits. But many, if not most, of UHC’s health care plans have an explicit anti-trans statement in them.

Transsexual health care is an a life and death issue. It’s not about cosmetic surgery. It’s not experimental or unproven. For many people, appropriate medical care, which might include sex reassignment surgery (SRS) or other procedures, is an appropriate medical treatment. After surgery, people who sought SRS report significantly higher happiness and significantly lower suicide attempts. The American Medical Association, in 2008, passed a resolution that appropriate medical care should be provided to those who need it. The cost of such care is, roughly, 11 cents per year per insured person for a corporate health plan (from the link in the prior sentence; note that this does not include cost savings that are related to reducing prescription drug costs post-surgery or reduced mental health costs post-surgery – in balance, SRS actually saves money).

From some health care provider information UHC provides on Gender Dysphoria:

SURGICAL TREATMENT FOR GENDER DYSPHORIA

Most plans exclude coverage for surgical treatment for gender dysphoria.

This is evidenced by examining certificates of coverage and evidence of insurance.  For instance, one of Tulane University’s 2015 plans, provided by UHC, contains the following, starting on page 25:

Benefit Limitations

M. Procedures and Treatments

7. Sex transformation operations.

That’s pretty clear.  And that’s not unusual (by UHC’s own admissions).

So, basically, UHC, a company with a “perfect” HRC record for LGBT rights, can offer a plan that rejects the medical judgement of the American Medical Association (and others) for some transgender people, simply because that is a medical treatment that some transgender people require. In fact, Medicare covers SRS (thanks to this decision in 2014, which, rightly, pointed out that you can’t deny a treatment that is proven to be medically necessary, effective, and safe simply because it’s socially controversial).

To put this in simpler form, a company can get a perfect score on the HRC equality index even when they:

  • Actively discriminate against some transgender people (If your medical condition is directly related to being transsexual, we choose not to cover some medical treatment, despite clear and convincing evidence as to medical necessity)
  • Provide products that exclude some trans people (this would be similar to a company providing a “Man and Woman Health Plan” that provided coverage for married straight couples but not for married gay couples)
  • Engage in actions that increase depression, poor quality of life, and suicide attempts among transgender people
  • Is making decisions that greatly harm some transsexual people based on inaccurate and non-scientific rationale (similar to how gays were considered to need reparative therapy, UHC often will pay for counseling – presumably to “learn to live with” the wrong genitals – but not surgery).

In other words, a company that is contributing to the death of transsexual people by their choice to not cover the surgery (despite the extremely low cost, and even cost savings when lifetime mental health costs are considered).

Now UHC is not the only insurer to do this, nor are they the only company with a perfect score on the HRC Equality Index that do this. It’s a major problem throughout the insurance industry. Sometimes, when you ask if things are covered by a company, you’ll hear terms like “experimental” and “cosmetic” to describe surgery (this is inaccurate and not based on the modern science, according to respected groups like the American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, and WPATH). Other times they won’t give a reason. And, often, you’ll hear the most disingenuous response: “We offer many plans that provide coverage for these procedures.”  UHC and other insurance companies do have good plans that do not have this exclusion – but in general, most plans have it, and the only times that plans won’t have this exclusion is when there is outside pressure (“Our Fortune 500 company is unwilling to purchase insurance that doesn’t cover this” or “The State requires us to offer this”) – and then it only applies to the specific cases where this pressure was applied, not to other plans. And, since most people get insurance through an employer (either their own or a relative’s), there is a significant financial cost of seeking a different plan if the employer-provided plan doesn’t provide coverage.

As an example, Aetna actually tries to say that they don’t cover trans-related surgeries because of insurance regulations – it would involve changing plans that have been approved by state insurance commissions. Apparently, they want people to think that insurance companies frequently face regulatory sanction because they cover something extra – this is obviously not a particularly credible argument, although I welcome the insurance industry to respond by comment giving case information for when a state went after an insurance company for providing a little more than they said they would.

Moving to include gender reassignment procedures in our plans is consistent with other changes we have made to better serve the needs of the LGBT community,” Aetna said in a written response to The Denver Post. “In 2015, Aetna started covering gender reassignment surgeries for our 33 Aetna plans offered to federal employees. … Aetna also is expanding coverage of gender reassignment surgery in many of our fully insured commercial plans … and will continue to roll (such plans) out over the next couple of years as we refile our plans with the states. We will be introducing the product in West Virginia, Utah, Idaho, Missouri, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Louisiana, South Carolina (for our fully insured plans) this year.

The above is from a Denver Post article that is quoting a statement from the insurance company. They also told the post they support the LGBT community, which is interesting considering they are actively refusing to provide some treatments when people need them because they are T.  Perhaps Aetna should refine their statement to say they support the LGB community. Aetna is meanwhile merging with Cigna – Cigna has some of the strongest anti-trans exclusions in the industry, with plans even prohibiting hormones for trans people.

Who can you support, if not HRC?

I encourage people who might want to support the LGBT community to support organizations that do not reward companies that are actively discriminating.

In particular, you may look into the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. Another worthy cause is the True Colors Fund (they fight LGBT youth homelessness). You also should look both locally (your local transgender support organization almost certainly can benefit from any help you can provide) and in places in the country where trans people face particular prejudice and where your time or money may make a huge difference (for instance, the midwest or deep south). Trust me, there are plenty of pro-T groups that you can support without needing to send money to HRC. The need is far greater than any of our pocketbooks or volunteer schedules.

A Footnote

As an aside, I would implore others concerned about the coverage of SRS and any other treatments to be very careful in how they approach de-medicalization of transsexualism (which is one specific category of trans people). There are many trans people who do not need medical treatment, and it is important to recognize that many trans people do not have a medical condition, nor do they need or benefit from medical treatment. But it is also important to recognize that other trans people do have a medical condition that is treatable medically – and this is not mere personal choice or desire. In this way, some transsexual people differ from gay people – there is no medical treatment that is appropriate or needed for homosexuality, and homosexuality is not a medical condition, but there are various medical treatments that are medically appropriate and necessary for some transsexuals.

Not all trans people want or need certain surgeries. There is tremendous variation among trans people. Some may identify as neither gender, both genders, or third gender. Others may strongly identify as one gender, but are comfortable having sex organs that typically are associated with another gender. As always, this should be respected, and when I talk about medical necessity, I am not referring to the people who do not need or desire a particular procedure.

On the Nature of Hate

I’ll warn people.  This is a hard post, particularly if you know or are trans.  If you’re feeling bad right now, this post can wait.

Cassidy Lynn Campbell, a 16 year old high school girl, won her homecoming court vote and was crowned Homecoming Queen.  The problem in the eyes of the narrow-minded is that she’s trans.  Watch her explain what it was like to win (hint: pretty awful) in this article.

I know exactly what is bothering her.  It’s not any one particular comment.  It’s all of them.  It’s not the needle on the camel’s back, it’s the 200 tones of iron on the camel’s back.

Now, go to Youtube and read the comments.

Seriously, go read the comments.  Just some of them.  I’d recommend leaving a nice one and using your effort to support Cassidy, not to get into a fight, even though if you have a shred of humanity, you’ll want to.  I’m about as non-violent as a person can be, and I’m pretty sure I’d be willing to hit someone for some of the stuff people are saying in respond to someone who is obviously very deeply wounded.

Did you read the comments?

If not, here’s just a random sampling.  Here’s one:

The only one who thinks he’s ‘beautiful’ are the exact same cabal of misfits he doesn’t care about impressing.

No, he wants Average Joe to accept his monstrosity, and we never will, not even with the last breath of life.

This is another gem:

I think he’s a little old to be playing pretend.

Or this:

This ‘girl’ has a penis and needs to die.

Or how about this one:

No, HE is attention whoring

These were the less vile of the negative comments.

There’s a theme here.  When many people see or hear about a trans person, the immediate thought that goes through many people’s heads, particularly if they lack any understanding of gender or sexuality, is, “I need to state my opinion.” I don’t know why the less you know, the more you speak up, but that seems to be human nature.

Linked to this is an idea that somehow something bad will happen to you or the world if you don’t “express the truth” – that is, it’s a moral duty to say, “NO, this person isn’t a woman, he’s a man!” (I’m assuming the trans person is a transwoman – that is someone who’s identity is that of a woman). So the hateful people can’t seem to resist saying something. They can’t resist doing something, whether it is a microagression such as “accidentally” calling the woman “sir” or a full-fledged attack like is happening on this girl’s YouTube comment section. There’s something very human about not wanting to see a “falsehood” portrayed.

And, in many people’s eyes, trans people are living a lie.

I’m not going to debate this now, except very quickly. Trans people often do live a lie. They live as the gender that people want them to be. You see, you get less shit from people if you you live as a man if you were originally thought to be a boy at birth. Heck, one of the worst insults you can tell a non-trans teenage boy is that he’s a girl! So many transwomen do the hyper-masculine thing – they join the army, they work in a manly job, they have sex with plenty of women, they get drunk and party, and otherwise act as the stereotypical man. And, for many, this path leads to destruction, even death, due to the conflict it has. If you’re a non-trans guy, think for a minute about living as a woman the rest of your life – heck, do it for one evening. Go put on a dress and go to a bar. I’ll bet you don’t have the nerve. I certainly wouldn’t have it. It takes a pretty powerful biological (yes, it is biological) force to go against this type of pressure in society. Trans people know they aren’t supposed to be trans in the eyes of society. In fact, there are few things worse in many people’s eyes than someone saying, “I’m not a man. I’m a woman.” And transmen have similar problems too.

So, when a trans person gets the incredible courage to live as who they are, that’s a wonderful thing. It’s the only way to be at peace – to be who you are. No amount of anti-trans conversion therapy will do it (trust me, many have tried). You have to be who you are. And we need to encourage that.

Except we don’t. We (I use this in the general, society sense) make life hell for people who transition. We keep reminding them that we disapprove. Whenever a trans person is misgendered (called “sir” if they are a transwoman, for instance), that’s not merely expressing a view or moral belief. No, it’s heard as it usually is intended (even when not intended) as: “You disgust me. You shouldn’t exist. You are so horrible you need to hide from society.”

I know trans people that literally can’t go out of their house for a shopping trip without this happening to them multiple times. Now I can hear the objections now – and I’ll tell you something: the objections are just as hurtful. The first objection I hear some thinking is, “Maybe it was an honest mistake.” Maybe it was. But it’s still hurtful. Incredibly hurtful. I’ll give you a hint: if you accidentally injured someone, maybe in a car accident in which you were at fault, what would your response be? Would it be, “Well, I didn’t mean to injure you, so you aren’t allowed to be mad at me?” I would hope not. I would hope it would be to try to help this person that was hurt as a result of your unintentional mistake. Likewise, if you misgender someone, realize that this causes pain. Yes, it’s a different kind of pain than a car accident injury, but it’s still pain. It’s horrible because you weren’t the only one to do it. It’s happened to almost every trans person tens of thousands of times. And many of those times weren’t accidental denials of the person’s identity, but full-fledged attacks on that identity. Own up to your mistake, don’t justify it.

Now imagine that having someone use your previous name or the wrong pronouns is hurting you in this profound, cut-the-soul sort of way. Imagine that you do something like purchase a nice set of clothing that flatters your body and makes you feel great about yourself. You’re really happy with how elegant or nice it looks. And someone then comes up and, despite the obvious cues of the clothes, calls you by the wrong name or pronouns. Imagine how crushed you were. You thought these clothes made you look even more like yourself. And someone just took that away. They took the joy and confidence right from you. When this type of thing happens at a place you enjoy, or during an activity that you enjoy doing, it taints that place and activity. This place now is a place of pain. Something that brought joy now reminds the person of pain. Even if it was “accidental.”

But of course much of the time, it isn’t accidental. It’s the desire for “truth” and the desire to express an “opinion.” Some people can’t leave well enough alone. No, they need to make sure that the person knows they don’t approve. Oh, if they get called out, it’ll be an accident. Or they’ll pull the next excuse: “I don’t have to agree with that lifestyle” or “we have different opinions” or some other appeal to diversity and the right of free thought.

Sure, people have the right to their opinions.  But I also have the right to call them an asshole when they are being one. And they don’t have the right to not be treated as the asshole you are if you do this. They also don’t have the right to abuse someone, opinion or not. And, yes, taking the joy and confidence from someone is abuse.

I’ve also seen people say the most inappropriate things to allies, friends, and family of trans people. I’ve seen people explain that, “I would have a problem going out with a woman who didn’t have woman parts.” That’s wonderful to tell me, but I can’t say I really wanted to know what genitals turn you on or don’t turn you on. And, as an ally to transwomen, what I hear you saying is, “The women I want closest to me need to turn me on sexually. And without this type of turn on, I don’t want them close.” That’s misogynistic and bigotted. Really. Even if you can’t help it. Imagine you’re dating someone from a different race and someone of your race comes up to you and says, “I couldn’t see being attracted to <insert race here> women. They just don’t turn me on.” That would be offensive, even if you couldn’t help being a bigot. Now, I’m not telling anyone who to date or not to date, and I think sometimes people flatter themselves if they think they would be the one that would do the rejection. But I am saying this type of thing is just plain not appropriate. But strangely it seems to be yet one more tolerated expression of bigotry. Ironically, it seems to typically be prefaced with, “I’m fine with trans people…but…”

I’ve seen others tell trans people things like, “Oh, you’re going to get a security clearance? I hear they let gays do that now.” Another news flash: not all trans people are gay! Most are probably straight. That is a trans person identifying as a woman would probably want to date guys. That’s straight. Woman + Man = straight (just in case you have problems with this type of thing). Of course she might instead want to date women. Then she’s lesbian. Or she might be interested in some men and some women. Then she’s bi. It’s really pretty simple. But people make two assumptions: first, they assume that most people are straight. Second, they assume the only reason someone would want to live as a gender other than what they were assigned at birth is because they really want to have sex with people of the same sex. So they are gay (these people are baffled when the trans person is gay – that is attracted to someone of the same gender they identify as themself, because “you already have the parts you need” – again assuming straight sex is the only kind of sex people would want).  Except it doesn’t work that way!

When that isn’t happening, we get well-meaning missionary-types (not usually missionaries, but people who think that somehow God can’t possibly reach people without their help). That’s the kind of people who have to “speak the truth in love.” I’ll give a hint to Christians here (I say this as a Christian, albeit one that some who base their faith on the tenant of hating gays and trans people probably think is going to hell): figure out love. Not the “truth in love”. Just plain love. Start with love.

This kind of stuff isn’t cool. People don’t need to tell a trans person that they don’t think the trans person is really are who the trans person says they are. Really, it isn’t needed. And people can be sincerely sorry and try to repair the situation when they cause hurt. Even accidental hurt. Allies and trans people don’t really want to know that someone “sees trans people as they identify, except in bed.” Really, that’s sort of like saying, “I’m not attracted to <insert race here>.” Most people know to keep their mouth shut. For good reason. Nor do people need to deny that trans people are who they are by claiming (without knowing) that they are actually gay. And, really, Jesus didn’t talk about trans people. At all.

Oh, there’s plenty of other hate too.

What is happening to Cassidy is horrifying. I hope if she reads this post, she can know that people do support her right to be who she is (and we wouldn’t want her to be anyone else), and are in awe of her courage. And that people she doesn’t even know feel a connection and concern for her. I’ve been depressed and suicidal – not because of gender, but because of other bullying and abuse. I know how incredibly horrible that world is. And I know how horrible people are to trans people in general. Sure, 99 people at the grocery store are fine. But it only takes one person misgendering you to ruin that day. And there always seems to be one. I personally can’t imagine how hard that is to face every day. I know Cassidy can do it, and I hope if she reads this that she finds something – anything – to look forward to for one more day. For me, when I was being sexually and emotionally and physically abused, it was wanting to see the next Star Trek episode. Seriously. I’d kill myself after the next episode. But I delayed it – I found something to delay it. And after the next episode, I tried to find something else. And there is something else. There needs to be. When we get into that situation, we need to find anything, no matter how stupid or trivial, to make it to another moment. And I hope and pray that Cassidy can do that.

FDR Dressed Like A Girl. Probably in Pink.

Yes, FDR wore a dress.  So did other famous people.

FDR - the President - as a little boy.

FDR – the President – as a little boy.

No, they weren’t trans.  Nor was it considered “gay”.

It was how you dressed little boys for pictures.

The boy to the left is the man who grew up to oversee the United States as we recovered from the Great Depression and into war with Germany and Japan.  And if this picture was shown to people voting for him, he still would have been elected – he probably would have been told he was a cute boy.

Wikipedia tells us that clothes were once more expensive – and a dress could fit for more years than pants could.  So that was important when kids are growing.  And, equally important, pants were hard for little boys to undo – so toilet training was difficult with them, but much easier with a dress.  I imagine diapers – particularly of the time – worked better under the dress too.

Now I have no idea what color FDR’s dress was, but pink on a boy was not only acceptable but preferred.  You can read about that and the pink on boys in Smithsonian Magazine.

From that article:

For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

Later, pink and blue became the symbols of girls and boys that we know today.  But they clearly weren’t always.  It’s part of a trend we’ve seen with children, continuing even today, to ironically replace gender-neutral children’s items with gendered items, even as we claim that we’re wanting women in man-dominated fields like computers and Engineering.

Don’t believe me?  Look at this:

Argos catalog items.  Left was a selection of 1976 toys, right was modern-day toys from the same company.

Argos catalog items. Left was a selection of 1976 toys, right was modern-day toys from the same company.

As you can see above, toys for girls have become much more, well, girly.  At least what we – if not FDR’s parents – would call girly.  Some might say it’s even sickeningly girly, a parody of femininity.

The clear statement by things like the pictures above is that there are clearly girl toys and boy toys.  Girls need girl toys, according to the marketers.  And we must agree, because they sell them.

Of course, socially, we know a lot is wrong with this.  We know intellectually that fathers can push a baby stroller.  We know that men can cook and clean.  We know that running a cash register isn’t a “girl’s” job or a boy’s job.

Yet we vote with our pocketbooks.  We buy girls pink stuff.

We know that doing stuff like making a stove pink will cause boys, who have (today) been socially conditioned that being a girl is bad, and pink is “girly”, to favor other toys.  We’re shaping the careers boys and girls go into as adults.  We claim to not want to do that, but then again, we buy these things.  And kids generally want them – kids generally want to assert their gender, as they’re taught to do through advertising and social pressure.  Since most kids have clear ideas of their gender, this makes it pretty simple for them to select the toys.

As more evidence of this, remember the Easy Bake Oven controversy last year?  The girl who started this, on behalf of her brother, felt we should be past that as a society.  I agree.  But what she may not have realized is not only are we not past it, but it’s actually getting worse.  Look at this Easy Bake oven from years ago:

25th Anniversary EZ Bake Oven being Sold on Ebay

25th Anniversary Easy Bake Oven being Sold on Ebay

Ignore the pinkish blanket it’s on in the picture.  And, yes, there’s a girl on the box, and “EASY BAKE” is in pink on the box.  But other than that, it looked pretty high-tech for the early 80s, clearly in the style of a microwave oven.  It was made to resemble a real cooking appliance, not some ultra-feminized version of one!

The oven the girl was talking about were far from the relatively gender neutral oven of the early 80s.  Fortunately, she had the support of many, and Hasbro has introduced a 50th anniversary edition (almost in stores) that is a much cooler design than the obsessively pink predecessor.  Unfortunately, much of Hasbro’s marketing is still focused on girls and gender stereotypes – check out their Easy Bake site, entitled “Easy Bake | Cooking & Baking Games for Girls”.  Because, after all, how would a girl know that she could use an oven?

It’s pretty amazing that in a 100 years or so, we’ve moved from dressing boys in dresses and pink to a time when every toy, every baby item, every piece of clothing on a young child must speak about their gender.  It’s not enough for a boy to be a boy, he needs to be dressed as a boy and playing with boy-toys (no, not that kind of boy toy!).

I think some of it is insecurity of adults.  Too many adults are insecure about gender and sexuality, and intentionally or not act on those insecurities.  This action instills the “appropriate” behavior from an early age.  Ironically, this is at the same time the right wing is criticizing a camp for gender non-conforming children for “forcing” transsexuality on kids.  You can see some decent reporting on the camp here.

The head of Family Research Council (ironically a lobbyist group that does no research) in a Christian Post article stated,

“There is a risk of locking children into a life course, which, if they had been left to develop naturally, they would have outgrown,” warned Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington D.C., in an interview with the Christian Post Tuesday.

Sprigg argued that teaching kids they have to identify with their “sexual orientation” or “sexual identity” could “lock” them in a phase. “You’ll have children who are going through natural periods of confusion and experimentation with their sexuality and all of a sudden you have adults telling them, this means you’re gay, you were born gay, you will never change,” he said.

Of course this mischaracterizes the camp (they are not telling them they are gay or trans – only telling them them that they can be who they want to be.  But “not punishing gay and trans behavior” is the same as “making them gay or trans” in the eyes of the right wing.

And we all know that there is no pressure to conform to gender stereotypes.  Okay, maybe there is.  But apparently that’s okay and not damaging…except for the 30% of LGBTQ and 50% of trans youth that attempt to commit suicide before they are 20.  Or many of the rest who haven’t quite progressed that far, but hate themselves for who they are nonetheless.  But, to some, gender stereotypes are more important than life (ironically these groups almost universally claim to be pro-life when they are lobbying for policies of death).  Me?  I think all children have a beauty that should be cherished whether or not they follow stereotypes.