Softball questions for a presidential candidate on trans issuesTrans Progressive Thursday, November 10th, 2016
Commentary: Trans Progressive
When an LGBT news publication has the opportunity to interview a presidential candidate on transgender issues, should the publication ask at least one question where the candidate doesn’t have an answer on the record, or should the publication stick to asking only a question or questions where the answer or answers are already knowable?
When the Washington Blade recently had an opportunity to ask a question of then Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton in an interview in the last week before the 2016 election, the interviewer chose to ask a question where the answer was already knowable. The one trans specific question asked: “The rates of violence and murder for transgender women of color remain stubbornly high. What would you do to address this problem?”
Clinton’s answer began, “This is a serious and urgent problem. In 2015, 21 transgender people – most of them women of color – were murdered. And that doesn’t even begin to account for the violence that goes unreported or ignored.
“We need to stand up for the lives and safety of transgender people, and take on bigotry and discrimination wherever they occur.
“That means fighting for strong anti-discrimination laws. It means doing a better job of collecting data on gender identity and sexual orientation, because we can’t solve the problem of discrimination until we understand its full scope. It also means investing in law enforcement training to ensure fair and impartial policing in interactions with the LGBT community.”
Clinton then mentioned the Pulse shooting and the need for gun control legislation, followed by a statement that transgender people should be told by a nebulous “we” that they are valued and loved, and should be treated as such.
The answer mirrored thoughts the then candidate pretty much articulated in the one statistic and the promised action of data collection she’d posted to her campaign Web site. It was a rehearsed, pretty much already knowable answer that the Blade appeared to throw pretty much as a softball question.
The Blade had the opportunity to ask any number of questions to obtain more information from the then candidate on transgender issues.
For example, there is the issue of transgender women’s prison incarceration and the tendency to house them 1) in men’s prisons, 2) without medically necessary medical treatment, 3) subject to high risk for harassment and sexual assault, and 4) often in solitary confinement for “involuntary protective custody” or “disciplinary segregation” that was ripe for a question.
Elaborating, there’s the example of Chelsea Manning. Regardless of what she was convicted of, or whether one considers her a hero or not, she was given “disciplinary segregation” in October as a punishment for a July suicide attempt. That’s not humane treatment.
And, the Army knows better. The Department of Defense (DoD) is having what they consider an epidemic of suicides in their active duty ranks, as well as with veterans, and they know in general what the risk factors are for suicide. A Defense Center of Excellence (DCoE) webpage – DCoE being a DoD Web site – has a weblink to a military.com page that identifies mood disorders, a lack of connectedness, a lack of availability of physical and mental health care, feelings of hopelessness and prior attempts of suicide as risk factors for suicide. Solitary confinement is dangerous “treatment” for a suicidal prisoner.
There were other questions ripe for asking, such as about ICE detention conditions for transgender immigrants, and blanket policies by federal insurance policies by Tricare (military dependent and retiree insurance), the Veterans Health Administration and Medicaid against gender affirmation surgeries that could’ve been asked, but these weren’t asked.
As LGBT journalists, when given the opportunity we can do better than lobbing softball questions at our presidential candidates. Gay and lesbian journalists given the opportunity need to do better for the transgender community than they’ve been doing so far.
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