From K.C to D.C. - What I Learned in My Few Days as a Lobbyist in Washington
April 30, 2008
by Jamie Tyroler
When I flew to Washington, D.C., on Saturday, April 13, to participate in the National Center for Transgender Equality?s annual lobbying day, it was the first time I had participated in a lobbying effort ? well, at least in person. I have frequently contacted various officials via e-mail. This was also my first time in Washington, which alone was a great experience.
Monday was spent learning about the issues and about lobbying. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the importance of making it inclusive, the REAL ID Act, and hate crimes legislation were some of the issues that were discussed. The REAL ID Act is a post-9/11 unfunded federal mandate that already has several states? legislatures voting not to participate. One reason that many transgender people are against this is that it ties various identity documents together: state ID, birth certificate and Social Security records. A problem that some people have is that the requirements to change information vary from state to state and document to document. States? requirements will still apply, and the fact that they vary could jeopardize people?s federal ID.
The National Center Transgender Equality held an event that evening to honor several members of the House of Representatives for refusing to vote for the non-inclusive version of ENDA. U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.) and Rush Holt (D., N.J.) were among the honorees, and they were both present at the event. Also honored were Nydia Velasquez (D., N.Y.), Michael Michaud (D-Maine), Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.), Edolphus Towns (D., N.Y.), and Yvette Clarke (D., N.Y.).
Tuesday was our day to visit with members of Congress or their staff after a rally in Taft Park. One of the problems that I occasionally have with my health issues is that I do not wake up when I would like (for those trying to read between the lines, I overslept and missed the rally and my morning appointment with a staff member of U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D., Mo.). Also, the alarm clock in my hotel room seemed to lose about an hour every 12 hours ? keep that in mind if you ever stay at the Howard Johnson Express on New York Avenue.)
I did manage to make my 11:30 a.m. meeting with Peg Gustafson of Sen. Claire McCaskill?s office. I was joined by a former resident of Kansas City and another transgender woman from Washington. I managed to reschedule my appointment with Cleaver?s office on Thursday, meeting with his new legislative assistant/counsel Jennifer Shapiro. I?m glad that I had planned on staying several extra days, which made this meeting possible.
But you don?t have to go to Washington to speak with your elected representatives or their staff. Most, if not all, of them have local offices. And Cleaver, for one, often has events in the area at a coffee shop.
E-mail is another method of being an activist. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International USA, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have e-mail campaigns that usually require very little effort to contact elected officials and other government officials. Amnesty International, for example, has specific campaigns addressing LGBT issues. There are many nations where people can be, and are, arrested for being anything other than heterosexual.
LGBT issues may once again be used as wedge issues during this campaign. The Kansas City Star, for example, recently listed former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes? potential weakness as appearing on the cover of Camp. She is competing for the Sixth District in Missouri against incumbent Republican Sam Graves. In the next Congress, ENDA will come up again for a vote ? hopefully without the worry of a presidential veto.
I know everyone doesn?t have a great state senator or state House member like I am fortunate enough to have (Sen. Jolie Justus and Rep. Beth Low), but regardless of who your elected officials are, you should contact them. In many parts of the greater Kansas City area, it is still possible to be fired from a job or denied housing because of one?s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Members of the House of Representatives run for election every two years. In Kansas, the current House members for the area are Democrats Nancy Boyda and Dennis Moore. In Missouri, in addition to Cleaver, the representatives are Democrat Ike Skelton and Republican Sam Graves. The United States senators from Kansas are two Republicans ? former presidential candidate Sam Brownback, who does not believe in evolution, and Pat Roberts. The U.S. senators from Missouri are Republican Christopher ?Kit? Bond and Democrat Claire McCaskill.
Because this is an election year, some candidates for office will probably show up at area Pride events. This year?s election can change the face of history (or herstory). Some candidates are discussing issues important to our community, such as universal health care, legal recognition of civil unions (with all the legal benefits of marriage, just not the word ?marriage?) and others.
If you want to improve things for you and your loved ones, please be involved in the electoral process. It?s very important to all of us.