Gender and the Search for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Part I – Common Hour
“Transgender Issues” – Facilitator, Prof. Christine Talbot
12:00 p.m. – Weiss Center, Rubendall Recital Hall
Part II – “Gender and the Search for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”
7:00 p.m. – Stern Center, Great Room
Julie Nemecek, consultant, former associate professor and minister and S. Bear Bergman, writer, activist, performer, will use their own compelling stories and current research to discuss the barriers gender causes for the realization of the “unalienable rights” enumerated in our country’s Declaration of Independence. They will also identify key tools and actions needed to overcome those barriers. The Clarke Forum Student Board has created this program. Co-sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Students.
Issue in Context
In an article published in the September issue of the Human Relations journal, professors Stephen Linstead and Alison Pullen define “transgender” as a gender identity that goes beyond the normative binary system of male and female social representation. By this definition, transgender does not refer to sexual orientation and transgendered people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual. The American Psychological Association specifies that “sexual orientation refers to one’s attraction to men, women, both, or neither, whereas gender identity refers to one’s sense of oneself as male, female, or transgender.” Transgendered people are usually individuals who feel incomplete or disjointed from the gender identity they were ascribed at birth.
People who transition from one gender to another often face serious social and political challenges. Antidiscrimination laws in most U.S. states do not protect transgendered people from discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression. Transgendered people are often denied employment and medical care, rejected by their family and friends, and refused public services and housing. Transgendered people frequently lose custody of their children if they divorce, and fail to achieve legal recognition of their marriages.
According to several transgender rights organizations, protection against discrimination based on gender expression and sexual orientation should be guaranteed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It is unlawful to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of gender in regard to hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, job training, or any other term, condition, or privilege of employment. Bills addressing discrimination based on gender identity and expression have been introduced in the legislation of 13 states, and several municipalities explicitly prohibit gender prejudice. The American Civil Liberties Union asserts that “civil rights laws are important not only because they provide remedies when discrimination occurs, but also because they discourage such discrimination from occurring at all.” However, the transgendered community has encountered severe criticism, condemnation, and opposition in its quest for equal rights. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that the law protects transgendered Americans and that discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression is punished.
About the Speakers
S. Bear Bergman is a writer, theater artist, and gender-jammer, who does not identify with any gender group. Bergman is also the author of the award-winning book Butch Is a Noun and three prized solo performances. Butch Is a Noun has quickly been adopted in book groups and high school and university courses. The speaker is a frequent lecturer at colleges and universities about issues relating to gender and sexuality, and has advised the staff of numerous American institutions on their policies towards transgendered and transsexual students. Bergman is also one of the five original founders of the first Gay/Straight Alliance, a frequent lecturer at high schools and colleges on the topic of making schools safe for GLBT students, and a founding commission member of what is now called the Massachusetts Safe Schools Project. Bergman was educated at the Concord Academy of Hampshire College and majored in solo performance.
Dr. Julie Nemecek is a former university professor who lost her job for following the prescribed treatment procedures for her diagnosed condition as a transsexual. Spring Arbor University, a Michigan-based Christian institution where she worked, stated that Dr. Nemecek’s decision to follow these procedures to reach some measure of harmony between mind and body was proof of “un-Christian behavior.” During this transition process, Dr. Nemecek shared her story with the local newspaper. The story was quickly picked up by the Associated Press and ultimately appeared in various media outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. News and World Report. Before moving into higher education in 1990, Dr. Nemecek served for 20 years in a pastoral ministry in an inner-city Chicago church. She earned a B.A. in English from Roberts Wesleyan College and also holds a master of divinity degree with an emphasis in biblical studies from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Nemecek earned her Ph.D. in adult education from LaSalle University.
S. Bear Bergman’s website
Julie Nemecek’s website
The American Psychological Association answers your questions about transgender individuals and gender identity
The Transgender Law and Policy Institute website
“Gender and multiplicity: Desire, displacement, difference and dispersion.” Human Relations. Sep. 2006; 59, 9.