The legal argument: We write to protest Lauren Smiley's offensive and inaccurate article, "Border Crossings" [Feature, 11/26]. We all spoke with Smiley at length, and are outraged at the misrepresentation of what we said. Rather than present a balanced picture of the incredible hurdles transgender asylum seekers face in proving their cases, Smiley unfairly painted them as criminals and prostitutes who are essentially given a free pass to immigration in the United States. This could not be farther from the truth.
The implication that most transgender asylum seekers are prostitutes is untrue and offensive, and grossly distorts the information we gave Smiley. If the attorneys with whom she spoke appeared to have a high success rates on their cases, this is because she spoke with the handful of attorneys in the U.S. who are actually experienced enough in transgender matters to present well-prepared, well-argued cases. We all routinely turn down representation for individuals who don't meet the legal standard, and unrepresented asylum seekers rarely win.
The most important aspect of asylum law is that each application is decided on a case-by-case basis. If transgender applicants have a relatively high grant rate, it is because there continues to be such extraordinary violence perpetrated against transgender people around the world that they can often demonstrate a likelihood of future persecution.
To make light of the courage transgender asylum seekers have shown in getting out of their countries and risking everything to seek lawful status in the United States does a grave injustice to these women and to the U.S. system that is required under international law to protect them.
Victoria Neilson, Immigration Equality
Noemi Calonje and Shannon Minter, Immigration & Asylum Project, National Center for Lesbian Rights
Dusty Araujo and Eric Berndt, National Immigrant Justice Center
The medical argument: We are a group of healthcare professionals in the Department of Public Health who have worked with transgender individuals for more than 10 years in our Transgender Tuesday clinic. Transgender services in general have a history of being controversial, and few surgeries or procedures are covered by any health insurance plans. Many patients have experienced rejection by medical providers, or have been taken advantage of prior to coming to our clinic. Our patients tend to be homeless, low-income, and have a variety of other issues including mental health, substance abuse, and trauma histories.
Our patients have a wide range of work experience, from the service industry to college-educated professionals. We have found that obtaining quality, stable employment is exceedingly challenging for many of our patients. Many of our transgender women face the choice of being 100 percent dependent on a "protector," or having independence through sex work.
We have also worked with patients who have come to us as undocumented refugees fleeing torture in their countries of origin. Some have been awarded asylum, and live and work as productive members of society while continuing to struggle with their traumatic memories. In our experience, by no means have all patients been granted asylum. Some lost their cases and have been deported. Those who have been granted asylum not only have horrible trauma histories, but also continue to struggle with the violence and discrimination transgender people face in our city.
Lauren Smiley perpetuated the very stereotypes of sexism, racism, bigotry, and transphobia that typify less enlightened geographies. San Francisco and transgender people everywhere deserve better consideration.
Transgender Team, Tom Waddell Health Center
S.F. Department of Public Health
UnFAIR: As medical and mental healthcare providers, and as civil rights and medical policy advocates, we were quite disturbed to read Lauren Smiley's recent article. The overtly racist and transphobic sentiments expressed in this article have no place in civilized discourse.
Because of the severe employment and educational discrimination Smiley only briefly acknowledges, transgender women are often forced to enter street economies such as prostitution and the drug trade in order to simply survive. Demonizing women who turn to survival sex as "hookers" who convert themselves "into an altar to silicone" because they are "vanity-stricken" trivializes the desperation that drives them to risk their health and safety. Any blame for this situation should be placed squarely on a society that allows its members to go without basic needed services like education, legal assistance, employment, or health care because of bigotry and ignorance. For many marginalized people, and especially for transgender women, entering the healthcare system is a first step toward finding the resources to enter "civil society." And yet such healthcare is often the subject of the derision exemplified by Smiley. Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association passed resolutions this year recognizing that medical interventions to assist transgender people in social and medical transition are both necessary and the standard of care. (1) (2)
In addition, we were deeply disturbed by the racist sentiments implied through the repeated quoting of Dan Stein, the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its deep ties to the white supremacist movement in the United States. (3) Additionally, FAIR promotes the idea that Mexico is secretly involved in a plot to conquer the southwestern United States. Having Mr. Stein prominently and repeatedly comment on Latina transwomen is like having the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan comment on African-American transwomen. It is our hope this was simply the result of poor fact-checking on Smiley's part rather than a reflection of not only transphobic attitudes, but also an inexcusable racist sentiment unworthy of SF Weekly.
(1) AMA House of Delegates Resolution 122 (A-08) "Removing Financial Barriers to Care for Transgender Patients." Available at: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/16/a08_hod_resolutions.pdf
(2) American Psychological Association. (2008, August). Resolution on transgender, gender identity, and gender expression nondiscrimination. Available at: http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/policy/transgender.html.
(3) Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report. Retrieved November 26, 2008 from: http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?sid=175
Rebecca Allison, MD
Gender Spectrum Education and Training
Laura S. Brown, Ph.D. ABPP, Seattle
Past President, Divisions 35 and 44 of APA, President-Elect, 2009, Division of Trauma Psychology of APA