Transgender radio host protests discrimination

by Lori Achman

News Reporter

By all outward appearances, Sarah DePalma looks like any average middle-age woman. Her red hair is permed and styled, and she wears a conservative black dress and black pumps.

But despite her appearance now, Sarah DePalma was born a boy.

DePalma, host of the KPFT-FM 90.1 transgender radio program "After Hours," talked to Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Alliance members Monday about discrimination within and outside the gay community that transgenders face.

"The term `transgendered' is used as an umbrella term that includes male and female cross-dressers, transvestites, female and male impersonators, preoperative and postoperative transsexuals, and transsexuals who choose not to have genital reconstruction -- and all persons whose perceived gender or anatomic sex may conflict with their gender expression, such as masculine-appearing women and feminine-appearing men," the San Francisco Human Rights Commission reported.

In some areas, including Houston, transgenders are not covered by enacted or proposed legislation that protects gays and lesbians from discrimination, DePalma said.

Such legislative action includes bills that make it illegal to discriminate in hiring based on sexual preference, or bills that classify crimes against gays and lesbians as hate crimes, which carry heavier punishments.

DePalma said some gay and lesbian groups have been unwilling to include transgenders because they think it will slow their own legislative process. "Our enemies don't know the difference. They think we're all the same, so why can't we work things out?" DePalma said.

DePalma, a founding member of the Houston chapters of Queer Nation and Act Up, now finds herself fighting gay and lesbian lobbying groups in Texas with her own bills because transgenders are not included in current gay and lesbian bills, she said.

"I hate to do it," she said, "but I'm not going to have another victim of a hate crime at my door asking me why they weren't included in hate crime legislation that is gay- and lesbian-inclusive."

DePalma is currently lobbying for the Change of Name and Vital Statistics Information bill in the Texas Legislature. The bill would order a court to change the gender or identification documents when a petition is accompanied by a sworn affidavit from a physician that the petitioner is a gender other than the gender indicated on his or her driver's license or birth certificate.

DePalma said it took her two-and-a-half years to find a job, despite having a master's degree, because her identification documents stated she was a man.

DePalma's visit was part of a week of activities sponsored by GLOBAL in conjunction with Gay Week at UH.

Aaron Masterson, president of GLOBAL, said that while Gay Week is not a national effort, like National Coming Out Day, most college and university organizations do choose a week to sponsor.

"Gay Week is a chance to increase awareness of gays, lesbians and bisexuals on campus. It's a chance for people to ask questions, break down stereotypes and get to know people," Masterson said.

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