Real Candidates and Party Reps on What’s at Stake for Trans Rights in the 2020 Election

Journalists these days have diluted the last vestiges of Walter Cronkite neutrality for rabid tribalism and the co-opted neologism of fake news. It’s not that partisan cheerleading is necessarily a bad thing in an age of politics-as-bloodsport. In fact, it goes against the old-school muckraker manifesto propagated in Ethics in Journalism classes at mid-level state schools across America.

Back in my J-School day, I was taught by bespectacled septuagenarian on a clattering typewriter as he relived his byline glory days and a spec script he submitted for NBC’s Law & Order. In this quaint scene, he almost crushed up Marlboros in an amber-glassed ashtray for full-on cliché.

It’s not inherently biased to say that President Donald Trump is a master media manipulator. In the 1980s, he lowered his voice a few octaves and moonlit as his own publicist to curry favor with New York Post journalists. In Trump’s America, impartial journalists have officially died.

Criticisms could be made, but I figure it’s best to shoot straight. The average Pete Buttigieg voter repeatedly told me to get a job at Starbucks Corporation for the transgender health insurance. After my thwarted attempts at obtaining trans health care with the rainbow capitalists at Starbucks for two years, I became further disillusioned with the mainstream Democratic party. “Why don’t you light your ballot on fire as you leave your polling site if you despise the Democratic party that much?’ a liberal on Facebook recently snarked. And trust me, I’ve considered it.

Now I’m not a complete dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary, but I’ve certainly sniffed around the hard-left socialist ramparts over my lifetime. I spent a good part of 2008 attending the Party for Socialism and Liberation meetings in East Harlem and then I ended up voting for a communist who lived out of his station wagon for alderman.

Full disclosure: I currently live in one of the wealthiest counties in America with two conservative bioparents who literally watch ten hours of Fox News every damn day. I’ve witnessed Judge Jeanine’s bleary face blown up on a plasma TV screen probably 900 times this pandemic alone.

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I also briefly volunteered for the Democrat candidate rebuttal in this piece for Autostraddle on the current political trans landscape. Courtenay D. Rogers ran for District 63 of the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2016. “I come from a conservative military background and was pretty Republican until 2008. I was like, “Who is this Obama guy? He looks cool,” she told me. Since Rogers is the current treasurer of the Williamson County Democratic Party, I figured her perspective was vital at understanding the political calculus behind trans issues in a deeply red state.

On the subject of LGBTQ+ marriage equality, inter-party squabbling has subsided despite concerns about Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s religious background and a last-minute Supreme Court nomination. To hear Rogers tell it, most moderate Democrats in her staunchly conservative district are supportive of transgender rights. Given this quiet storm before a potential dust-up over the SCOTUS’s Obergefell v Hodges gay marriage ruling, Joe Biden has made concessions to the queer community with a recent National Coming Out Day acknowledgement on Twitter.

Biden’s transgender surrogates, meanwhile, are quick to bring up Biden’s leading evolution on marriage equality as his sole trans community bona fide. In a recent New York Times re-telling, trans activist Sarah McBride’s friendship with the Biden family was trotted out to drive this talking point home further. Despite the political goodwill and a general Trump animus, I witnessed grumblings on social media from my far-left trans peers over Biden’s refusal to enshrine medical gender transition coverage beyond mere basics and the Democratic party’s open hostility toward the decriminalization of sex work.

As a former New York City resident, I followed Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins for over a decade and was particularly moved by his Facebook treatise on transgender health care, which seemed more impassioned than anything within the Human Rights Campaign wing of the Democratic party. Of course, Green Party veep candidate Angela Walker is the second queer woman of color to run for vice president of the United States after Angela Davis.

In 2014, Walker ran for Milwaukee County Sheriff against Fox News pundit David Clarke and gained 20 percent of the vote. Earlier in the decade, she formed the Black counter-response to the city’s Occupy Wall Street movement in Decolonize the Hood. I felt it was important to gain clarity around this subject of trans health care with other party representatives. Walker was interviewed by phone at a laundromat and was joined by an earlier interview with the party’s leading trans activist, Margaret Elisabeth.

Finally, I became aware of Joe Kishore’s writings on World Socialist Web Site. (At the time, I was actively stockpiling copies of Monthly Review in my Harlem apartment.) He’s been an active presence in the Socialist Equality Party’s national stage since 2008 and has spearheaded a worker-led inquiry into the bankruptcy of Detroit. As of 2020, Kishore is his party’s nominee for president on the Colorado ballots with write-in options elsewhere.

In the issue of fairness, Autostraddle reached out to candidates from the centrist Unity Party, Alliance Party, and the Bread and Roses Party. Kanye was unavailable. I was also marginally intrigued by libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen’s free-market approach to solving the trans health care crisis. “What we need to do is start with Medicare, Medicaid, and start off by putting dollars into people’s accounts,” Jorgensen said at a recent rally. According to a libertarian press release, Jorgensen’s plan would reduce paperwork and slash the cost of health care by 75 percent. (Admittedly, my socialistic Twitter blusterings probably scared off the libertarian press contact.)

The following phone interviews were conducted separately and edited for brevity.

Green Party US

Angela Walker, Vice-Presidential candidate

Margaret Elisabeth, Co-Chair of the Green Party and National Lavender Green Caucus

Autostraddle: I know that a lot of progressive people have reservations about this election. I’m going to use my friend as an example. In 2016, he voted for Jill Stein. This year, he feels motivated to vote for Joe Biden. What is your pitch to those young millennial voters who might be considering Biden-Harris this election cycle?

Walker: I say the same thing to that as Howie does. If you are a leftist who votes for Joe Biden, nobody is going to know that you’re a leftist. You’re voting for a candidate with policies that don’t reflect what you want. I understand that people are afraid right now. They should be. This is a very hard timeline to live in. The current administration is awful. However, a lot of the conditions we’re seeing predates the individual in the White House. I think we need to be honest about that. For people who are leftist, don’t waste your vote on a candidate who’s not going to give you what you want. Joe Biden is not offering policies that people are asking for. Medicare for All is off the table. The watered-down Green New Deal the Democrats offered? They pulled that off the table. If you’re doing a vote for harm reduction, I’m not going to criticize or vote-shame anyone. If I still lived in Wisconsin, which is classified as a battleground state, my vote would be Green. I believe in a certain way. This duopoly takes our vote for granted. The Democrats take marginalized communities for granted, too. They feel like they don’t need to make any concessions to what we’re actually asking. We’re not asking for things they can’t give us. They choose not to. The corporate donors don’t allow it. When that’s the case, you’re not serving the people. For me, I’m voting my conscience. I want a full-strength Medicare for All and a socialist Green New Deal. I’m not willing to kick the can down the road and hope Democrats will care about climate change.

Elisabeth: I certainly understand the pressure to (vote for Biden-Harris). If you live in a swing state, that kind of pressure is going to be significant on you. If you live in a safe state that’s going to go red or blue significantly, voting for a Green Party candidate is the right way to go. It doesn’t compromise your efforts on the POTUS candidate. Even in a swing state, I would suggest that the downballot candidates have more of an impact on your day-to-day life and there are Greens who are running in these states. You can vote Green safely without worrying about compromising your chances on getting Trump out of office.

Autostraddle: The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated issues in the trans community in obtaining health care. According to Texas Monthly, 77 percent of transgender Texans do not have proper legal documentation, which proved problematic in terms of COVID-19 drive-up testing centers. Post flattening the curve, how is the Green Party planning to bridge this trans health care disparity?

Elisabeth: If I could speak broadly from the Green Party perspective, trans people face a pretty significant issue when we go to access health care in that we don’t often have insurance. When we access health care without proper documentation, we are refused it in a pretty startling manner. My opinion is that a national ID legalizes trans people in a way that addresses this issue and bypasses the states. My home state is Tennessee and I noticed that you’re calling from Nashville. And Tennessee will never permit my birth certificate to be altered. There are a few other states that have these same restrictions. That can be a very challenging issue for a trans person and it can lead to having documentation that isn’t correct. The Green Party articulates ways to change this from a national perspective. Of course, we’re mindful that people experience their identities and genders in their own unique way. We make the position that self-identity is something we respect and we encourage others to do as well.

Autostraddle: With the Democrats, what would you say are the biggest mistakes that they haven’t quite grasped in terms of transgender health care?

Elisabeth: From my perspective as a political person, the most significant issues are being brought up before the Supreme Court right now. The decision about firing people from their jobs for being trans was a massively big deal. Under the Obama-Biden administration, there was an opportunity for Obama to sign an executive order to protect trans people and other minorities from discrimination under federal contracts. When that was on the desk to be signed, they actually removed the trans protections. When they had a chance to protect trans people, Biden and Obama did not. I would say that is probably one of the most telling events for trans people within the last ten years of political development. The biggest myth that Democrats have in regards to trans health care is the interconnectedness between health care, trans housing rights and trans job protections. These issues are very much intertwined. The Democrats approach these issues in a very piecemeal way. We need a holistic approach that addresses these issues collectively.

Autostraddle: In my talks with trans women of color for this piece, another issue of concern revolves around sex work. I’m not a trans woman of color. However, over the years, I’ve seen how difficult it has been for me to earn a living while not passing in heteronormative society. I was wondering if you could speak to Howie’s stance on this particular issue in regards to the underground economy.

Walker: We support the decriminalization of sex work along the lines of the way it is done in New Zealand. We like that model over the Nordic model because police have no business in a lawful transaction between two consenting adults. And when you criminalize something, you’re forcing it underground and opening up people to the possibility of trafficking. One thing we want to make sure is that crimes against transgender people are prosecuted as hate crimes. You cannot violate the rights of people being who they are in terms of transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary. We differ from Joe Biden in so many different places. The most glaring difference is our policy of community policing. In a lot of police oversight committees, you have ex-cops. These people know each other. Why would you have cops look out for cops? They’re not going to prosecute their own. We need to make police agencies accountable to the public by having people in the community elected to serve as the oversight committee. In terms of defunding the police, you need a force that’s the size it needs to be. Only five percent of what police actually do in this country is going after violent crimes. So we need a police force where people are screened for implicit biases and making sure folks are not coming in from specific backgrounds to cause harm. We want to start allocating funds toward social services and counseling. We want to also end qualified immunity, where police officers accused of wrongdoing are shielded by police unions. Instead of defund the police and the message coming from the streets, Mr. Biden is offering to give police pay raises and throw more money at police agencies. That’s not what we’re asking for and not we need.

Autostraddle: A Democratic voter brought up this argument on my Facebook feed. If the Green Party wants to get these issues out there before the public, nobody is stopping them. How would you respond to that?

Walker: This is not an accident that third-party candidates do not get the same attention. Media-wise, they do not have access to the debates. If you watched the news this week, our party has been pushed off the ballot in my home state of Wisconsin through Democrat chicanery. It’s also happening in Pennsylvania. We kept our ballot access in Texas because those activists ended up having to pay a poll tax. That’s illegal to have that forced on them. It’s really been an uphill battle. People feel like we’re just not trying hard enough. We’re been beating on the door to talk to CNN. They have didn’t have any interest in talking to us until these debacles in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And then, they naturally put a negative spin on it. There’s a concerted effort to keep us out of the public eye.

Autostraddle: There’s been a fracture in the Green Party among the old guard and trans-exclusionary radical feminists. And some trans folks have been hesitant about joining amid the current TERF wars. As Angela Walker is a queer person of color, could you speak to that and help alleviate those concerns?

Walker: We’re going to have resistance. This party is changing. There are people who have been part of the party for many years, who have not had their worldview challenged. They have held certain views about people and they’ve been allowed to express those views with little pushback. And now that they’re getting pushback, they’re upset. They’re going to stay upset. We’re not going to stop. For people interested in joining the Green Party, we’re no different from any other party. There are a lot of people here who are dedicated into making this party a welcoming place for all of us under the LGBTQQAI rainbow, people with disabilities, people of color and all those places where we intersect. They might not have traditionally seen themselves as part of this party. That is a goal of this campaign and that is a goal we’re going to continue going forward. Don’t let the old guard stop you. They’re being phased out.

Elisabeth: This is a tricky thing to articulate. Many people in the Green Party don’t consider themselves as transphobic. If you ask them, they support trans rights. For half of our existence, we’ve had explicit trans rights articulated in our platform. This gets into a pretty delicate space of what I can say and what I’d like to say. As much as I disagree with the slowness of how this issue has played out, I respect the process. Within the broader Green Party, this isn’t much of an issue. Volunteer-based organizations like the Green Party will tend to have strong personalities. After 2016, the Green Party grew quickly with a lot of younger progressive voters. There has been a clash between the young progressives who joined the party recently and the Green Party old guard. If you’re someone like me who’s a visible queer trans person, your experience in the Green Party would vary by region. The Green Party is a federalized group, which means that each state party is decentralized. Hopefully, in the near future, this (TERF) issue will be long gone and done.

Socialist Equality Party

Joe Kishore, Presidential candidate

Autostraddle: Let’s jump right into it. What would you say is the main concern for trans working-class people and how would your party seek to address these concerns over the two corporate parties?

Kishore: First of all, the challenges confronting working-class trans people are fundamentally the same as those that confront the working-class as a whole. I think that there are specific issues related to democratic rights. The Socialist Equality Party seeks to unite the interest of all workers. The Trump administration as a whole is willing to incite violence. Under this horrific pandemic, they are terrified of the opposition within the working-class to the policies of the corporate-financial structure and the backing of the two major parties. The Trump administration is turning toward extreme measures. On the other hand, the Democratic party speaks for the financial oligarchy. It doesn’t represent a genuine alternative to the Trump administration. The basic issue confronting all workers is the intervention of an independent political program, which represents the interests of all workers. And that’s a socialist program and revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist system. And that’s a system that’s based on the economic interests of a tiny oligarchy.

Autostraddle: There’s a sizable segment of socialist representation within the LGBTQ+ community. To help readers understand the nuances, could you elaborate on the differences between your party and the Party for Socialist and Liberation’s Gloria La Riva? You also have Alyson Kennedy in the Socialist Workers Party.

Kishore: There is a number of socialist organizations beyond the ones you mentioned. You have the Democratic Socialists of America, which is very much part of the Democratic party. There are complex historical issues involved when addressing the differences. The PSL has its origins in Stalinism. The best way to answer that question is to explain the history of our movement. The Socialist Equality Party has an international perspective in uniting the interests of the working-class against capitalism. Our movement has its origins in the fight of Leon Trotsky against Stalinism and the perversions, repudiation and counter-revolution against the internationalist perspective that animated the Russian Revolution. The Trotsky movement fought through the 20th century against Stalinism and bourgeois nationalism. Maoism was opposed to the development of the international movement for the working-class. One common feature of those movements was their nationalism. The Trotsky movement is always from the perspective of internationalism and workers of the world uniting. All workers of the world have the same basic class interests and socialism can only be realized on a world scale.

Autostraddle: America is gradually on a march toward fascism and Trump has hinted at refusing a peaceful transfer of power. If Trump doesn’t relinquish his office, how will your party offer a counter-response?

Kishore: First of all, it’s important to stress that Trump didn’t come out of nowhere. He’s not some interloper in the Garden of Eden of American democracy. He is the product of capitalism, decades of growing social inequality and the extreme concentration of wealth in a handful of billionaires. He is also the product of endless war. The development of a movement against Trump needs to be based on that understanding. The Democratic party keeps social opposition constrained within a framework that doesn’t challenge the interests of the corporate elite. That’s their role and they represent another faction of the financial oligarchy. A fight against fascism and far-right violence needs to be based on a movement of the working-class and the development of a class struggle. The working-class cannot be constrained around what the Democrats will not accept.

Autostraddle: As we touched upon, socialism has appeal for the younger and LGBTQ+ voters. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has sway among this demographic. How does your party counter the appeal of AOC?

Kishore: It’s the Democratic party. A lot of young people were supportive of Bernie Sanders, AOC and others because they spoke about issues of social inequality. Their basic role has been to channel that opposition around the Democratic party. Sanders is now a cheerleader for Biden. His argument is that in order to stop Trump, you have to support Biden. That’s the only way to restore democracy. In fact, it’s a political dead end. As long as the opposition is constrained in that framework, there’s no basis in which to fight Trump. The Democratic party created the conditions for Trump to emerge. In fact, they collaborated with Trump for the past four years. In 2016, Trump’s greatest strength was that he presented himself as opposition to the status-quo and Hillary Clinton. Figures like Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders provide something of a leftward gloss to this reactionary political party. Their aim is to maintain the political domination of the Democratic party.

Autostraddle: The Green Party put us in touch with Margaret Elisabeth. She’s the co-chair of the Lavender Green Caucus and a representative of the transgender movement within the Greens. Do you have any similar public -facing transgender representatives within the Socialist Equality Party?

Kishore: Well, we have supporters who are trans. Are you familiar with Andreja Pejić? She’s an Australian model and actress. She’s a trans woman and a supporter of our movement. I did an interview with her a couple of months ago. It was actually a very interesting interview. She sent me something this morning that I thought was interesting. She said, “Poor working-class cis white men are also a massively underrepresented group. We always say that the white cis man is the oppressor. The majority of them are heavily exploited. Stop trying to mask class.” There’s all types of politics that are very much associated with the Democratic party, which elevates issues of race, gender and sexual orientation. There was an essay published in the 1970s that’s gaining popularity in circles that we would call the pseudo-left. It was published by a group called the Combahee River Collective, a Black lesbian feminist organization. They concluded with the statement that white men are inherently reactionary. They are embodiment of vested power. We reject that view. We insist that the working-class is a revolutionary social force. All races, genders and ethnicities have a common class interest. We oppose the type of politics that elevates the issues of identity into the fundamental social categories. White workers are exploited by capitalism. With the question of race, the Democratic party has been pushing that for decades beginning with affirmative action in the late-1960s.

Autostraddle: In my research, I found essays where socialist writers constantly attack your organization as inherently racist. What do you say to voters concerned about issues of police brutality being disregarded or minimized?

Kishore: The socialist movement has a long history of opposition to all forms of racism and discrimination, and the SEP proudly upholds this tradition. What we reject is the notion that the fundamental division in capitalist society is race, and that the United States is divided into “white America” and “Black America.” Racial minorities, including African American in the United States, are divided along class lines, and the politics of race serves the interests of privileged layers of the upper middle class and the ruling elite. We insist that the fight against racism is a fight to unify all workers on the basis of their common class interests in opposition to capitalism. The recognition that police violence is fundamentally a class issue–an elementary principle of Marxism–does not deny the reality of racism in the police. The police are drawn from the most reactionary layers of society. But interpreting police violence as a form of racial oppression cannot explain the fact that workers and youth of all races are victims of police violence, that police violence is a plague in countries throughout the world, and that it continues in the United States under the leadership of Black mayors, governors and police chiefs as well as white ones. The effort to racialize the fight against police violence, promoted by the Democratic Party and its political affiliates, aims at cordoning off the courageous struggle of workers and youth against police murder from the broader struggle of the working class against capitalism, thereby subordinating it to bourgeois politics.

Democratic Party

Courtenay D. Rogers, Former Tennessee House Democratic Party candidate

Autostraddle: We are mostly talking to political figures around the subject of trans health care. In Tennessee, we still have legal roadblocks even under Obamacare.

Rogers: We have to fight to expand Medicare across the country. Right now, we’re fighting to hold onto what’s left of the ACA. It was absolutely not perfect. There were a lot of problems with the rollout. It’s the only option for anybody with a pre-existing condition. If Trump wins, that’s gone and we’re completely screwed. When we’re having these conversations, we need to include very specific trans rights. In Tennessee, I’ve seen a senator and a commissioner bring those issues to the table. It’s so sad, though. We can’t have get Medicare.

Autostraddle: Something that I found striking is that there seems to be a window of opportunity around having these conversations. After the first debate and the president’s COVID diagnosis, Trump’s core base has splintered further and a great deal of people are having issues around health care and the pandemic. What do you say to progressive LGBTQ+ voters who have reservations with the way the Democrats are handling health care and might be considering the third-party candidates mentioned in this article?

Rogers: I wish we had more than a two-party system. I think independent voters are super important. At this moment in time, we have to choose between two old white guys. One of those candidates is completely unfit to be president and should not hold any power whatsoever in this country. And then, you have Biden with 40 years of experience. I’ve said this to many people. Biden was not my first, second, third, fourth or fifth choice. In the primary, we had an incredible candidate in Elizabeth Warren and I still can’t believe we ended up with the two old white guys. However, Donald Trump is the worst president we have ever seen. He’s completely ruining our democracy. If he wins, we will lose even more rights than we’ve already lost. At this point in time, third-party votes are dangerous. Once again, America is looking to its most vulnerable populations to save it.

Autostraddle: This hits upon a point that Joe Kishore brought up. The modern Democratic party is entrenched in identity politics and pitting us against each other. As a socialist, he proposes meeting these needs under the umbrella of the class struggle. If Biden gets elected, how do you propose that Democrats address highly individualized concerns?

Rogers: When I first started volunteering with the Williamson County Democratic Party, it was very white. We still have a lot of work to do there. It’s definitely gotten a lot younger, though. That’s important. Younger people are naturally progressive. They are more empathetic with Black Lives Matter and trans rights. If we can get those people running for office, we will see a huge difference. Not to be morbid or rude, but there’s a generation of people that will literally die out before things drastically change.

Autostraddle: I wanted to get your thoughts on an issue I touched upon with Angela Walker. I’ve noticed that a sizable chunk of trans women of color on my Facebook feed are upset with Kamala Harris and her negative views on sex workers and denying transgender prisoners proper access to gender reassignment surgery. Why do you think Kamala Harris has yet to adequately address their concerns? She’s from a state with a large demographic of LGBTQ+ voters.

Rogers: I have no idea why Kamala Harris decided not to get involved in this conversation. She’s a Black woman running in the United States of America. It’s a country founded on racism. I can see why she’s very careful in the conversations she’s having. As someone part of a marginalized community, she may be empathetic to other marginalized communities. I can’t speak as a Black woman. I’m a pretty privileged white lady here. She’s probably playing it safe to get moderate voters or else our country is going to implode. Black Lives Matter and trans rights are unfortunately hot-button issues. At this point, we have to save our democracy.

Autostraddle: To bring the point home, we’ve reached an age of cynicism under President Trump. This carries over into tried-and-true demographics of LGBTQ+ younger voters. Going forward, how do you repair the damage with this core progressive group?

Rogers: If you were born in 1984 or later, you’ve never known America with a functioning government. If you’re raised in a place where government has failed you often, you feel hopeless and helpless. To be honest with you, that’s the point where a lot of people look to oppress and maintain power. If you make people feel desperate long enough, they give up hope. They’re like, “Screw it. My vote doesn’t matter.” We have to set the example by voting in local elections and explaining to people that everything won’t be fixed with one new representative. From a big picture perspective, AOC is a great example. She’s not taking any bullshit, but she has to straddle that moderate line to help the betterment of the party.

Autostraddle: Once again, we’re circling back to what SEP candidate Kishore touched upon. He mentioned that AOC has to acquiesce to the corporate establishment within the Democratic party and this hinders effective change. Do you care to respond to that?

Rogers: In no way am I comparing myself to AOC, but I know what it’s like to be a progressive running for office in a very conservative place. If you want to get your foot in the door as a woman, you might have to acquiesce a little bit. It’s called life. I’m not saying you take dirty PAC money and do the exact opposite of what you campaigned on. The United States of America is not extremely liberal or extremely conservative. It’s right in the middle-of-the-road. If you truly want to serve everybody, you sometimes meet in the middle.

Winter Breedlove is the first transgender Diversity Scholar for the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. In addition to writing freelance articles, Breedlove has worked as a ghostwriter since 2006, collaborating on Jenny Eliscu's "Rolling Stone: Schools that Rock College Guide" and former Mayor Karl Dean's "Nashville: The South's New Metropolis." As a freelance journalist, she has written for Rolling Stone Online, NPR.org, American Songwriter, The Advocate, the Nashville Scene and Y'all Magazine.

Winter has written 3 articles for us.

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