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‘Fortification time’

Local LGBTQ organization reacts to elections

Green Mountain Crossroads hosts a document change skill-share and support gathering from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 23, at The Root Social Justice Center at 28 Williams St. in Brattleboro. Attendees who can are asked to bring laptops, snacks to share, or a financial donation. Allies are welcome, say event organizers, especially those with experience navigating these kinds of documents.

BRATTLEBORO—“We don’t know what trans rights will be taken away under the new Republican-dominated government. Now is a critical time for trans people to legally change names and gender markers on their documents, if you can,” says the invitation to the Nov. 23 event, “Brattleboro Trans Document Change Skillshare & Support Gathering,” organized by Green Mountain Crossroads at The Root Social Justice Center at 28 Williams St. in Brattleboro.

According to its website, Green Mountain is a Brattleboro-based organization with a mission to connect “rural LGBTQ people to build community, visibility, knowledge, and power through social events, support groups, political education workshops, and multi-media outreach projects.”

Since the election of a president who, as a candidate, promised to reverse rights gained by members of the LGBTQ community, Green Mountain Crossroads Executive Director HB Lozito has been “learning what [rights] will go away on January 21, and what may stay or take longer to unravel."

As one of the only area organizations serving and advocating for the LGBTQ communities, Green Mountain is poised to help.

“Trans folk needing to change documents and second-parent adoptions are the two biggest needs I’m hearing from people to do in the next 70 days,” Lozito said.

Gender marker changes

For individuals whose gender is different from the one they were assigned at birth, having legal documents reflect their correct gender is crucial for a sense of legitimacy and agency and to avoid harassment and oppression.

The Nov. 23 event will feature “local helpers — lawyers, therapists, physicians (M.D. or D.O.) — to sign documents,” and allies with experience navigating legal documents, Lozito said. The event’s Facebook page has links to documents and sites offering directions and assistance, and Lozito mentioned the Twitter hashtags #translawhelp and #transmedicalhelp.

Lozito said that, prior to 2010, those seeking a gender marker change on their passport had to undergo gender reassignment surgery to be considered “complete” by the U.S. Department of State. Since then, the requirement changed: Now the applicant must have a physician sign a form stating the applicant is undergoing or has completed gender transition, but surgery isn’t required.

“That can go away immediately if the new State Department head says so,” Lozito said.

“It’s not just about passports, though,” Lozito said, explaining that a person needs supporting documents — a driver’s license, a Social Security card, a birth certificate — with a consistent gender listed on all of them to get a passport. “It’s a longer process if you need to get those updated, too,” Lozito said.

These documents cost money, and transgender people are especially vulnerable to poverty.

According to a February 2015 report, “Paying An Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for Being Transgender in America,” by the Center for American Progress and the Movement Advancement Project, transgender Americans “are nearly four times more likely to have a household income under $10,000 per year than the population as a whole,” despite levels of education “much higher than those for the general population. Transgender people of color report even higher rates of extreme poverty."

“We’ve already received donations that Green Mountain Crossroads will redistribute to people needing money to change their documents, but more money is needed,” Lozito said. Lozito directs those interested in donating to www.greenmountaincrossroads.org.

On behalf of Green Mountain, Chelsea Wiehl created a Go Fund Me page where she is raffling off a rainbow quilt she made, with all proceeds going to the organization. The fund drive, which Wiehl calls “70 Days: A Quilt for our Neighbors,” seeks to “help stabilize our neighbors and friends in the LGBTQ community” by supporting Green Mountain’s efforts. (www.gofundme.com/70-days-a-quilt-for-our-neighbors)

Second-parent adoptions

“In queer families, for whom at least one person is the gestational birth parent, right now, the child’s birth certificate can have two parents regardless of gender,” Lozito said.

“The fear is that, soon, it won’t hold up federally,” Lozito added, because currently, different states have their own laws regarding legal rights related to parenting children.

Thus, queer parents are encouraged to secure second-parent adoptions for the parent who isn’t connected by DNA to the child. But even that’s complicated, Lozito said, explaining that with lesbian couples, if one woman provides the egg and the other woman has it implanted in her body, the birth mother may be the only one listed on the birth certificate.

“In hetero couples, both birth parents have automatic rights,” Lozito noted.

“Second-parent adoption regulations and processes are still not quite clear,” Lozito said, noting Green Mountain Crossroads officials are “talking with local lawyers about it.” But questions about challenges from exes or homophobic relatives are still of concern for queer co-parenting couples, and any protections may soon disappear.

Advice for others

Following the election of Donald J. Trump and Mike Pence, who ran on a platform that included decreased access to reproductive health, decreased access to healthcare for all, and mass deportation of nonwhites and non-Christians, LGBTQ communities and their allies have gathered resources for support and information and shared ideas for practical action.

Lozito mentioned a few: encouraging people of childbearing age to get intrauterine devices (IUDs) while they still can and while insurance still covers it; suggesting those of child-birth age and transgender individuals hoard birth control and hormone-replacement medications; and having gender reassignment surgeries done while insurance still covers them.

Other protective measures include queer people, either married or not, assigning someone power of attorney, and unmarried people naming beneficiaries in wills and insurance.

The Rev. Emily C. Heath announced on her Facebook page on Nov. 11, “If you are LGBTQ, and you need to get married before the inauguration, I will officiate your wedding free of charge.” Rev. Heath, who is the senior pastor at the Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire, has longstanding ties to Windham County.

Activists and legal professionals have disseminated Google documents accessible by all for the general population, including, The “Oh Shit! What Should I Do Before January?” Guide (bit.ly/2frRkzB), and “Concrete Suggestions in Preparation for January 2017’s Change in American Government” (bit.ly/2fALDQc).

For people who can’t attend the Nov. 23 event, Lozito said Green Mountain is working on a list of the “local helpers,” and invites interested parties to contact the organization.

“I’m seeing these next 70 days as fortification time, when we work to protect ourselves as much as we can,” Lozito said.

“It’s a scary time,” Lozito said. “I’ve also been inspired by the very creative ways people are coming together, saying, ‘Here’s the information and resources we have.’ So, how can we get them to people in the next 70 days and beyond? This has been keeping me from utter despair. We have many beautiful and amazing people, and we’re holding each other up.”

As Wiehl wrote on her Go Fund Me quilt raffle page, “The election is over and there is work to be done."

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Originally published in The Commons issue #383 (Wednesday, November 16, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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