|(C) ICTLEP, Inc., August
from the PROCEEDINGS
International Conference on
INTRODUCTIONS TO CONFERENCE IN GENERAL
by Phyllis Frye
Welcome to this, the Second, yes, the second, International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy known as I.C.T.L.E.P., Inc. or "ICTLEP" for short. My name is Phyllis Randolph Frye. I am an attorney in private practice in Houston, Texas, and I am the Executive Director. I want to welcome you especially to Texas and my friend Willie Nelson also wishes to welcome you to Texas.
Thank you, Willie. I want you to give yourself a round of applause not only for this being a second conference, but we have doubled in size of number of registrants from the first conference. This is our first meal which is during a weekday and is almost double of what last year's was. So, give yourselves a round of applause.
We became incorporated this past January, and I wish to introduce to you the Board of Directors and some other influential people. Will the Board of Directors please stand? And will Terry, Karen, Cynthia, Linda and Sydney, will y'all [Texan for you all] please stand? As I introduce you, please raise your hands.
First, from Denver, Colorado, is the Employment Law Director, Laura Elizabeth Skaer, a successful attorney and businesswoman. Next from Silver Springs, Maryland, is our Health Law Director, Martine Aliana Rothblatt, who is also an attorney and a successful businesswoman. From New York State is our Gender Bill of Rights Director and our Military Law Project Director, Sharon Ann Stuart, who is an attorney but is active in business outside of the law at this time. Lastly, in the board is a layperson, so far as the law goes, and that's Jackie Thorne, a Certified Public Accountant from the Houston area who is in charge of volunteer efforts and will be primarily managing our video effort this week.
Not on the board but invaluable as well, I wish to present to you our computer and managerial wizard -- oops, that's a male term, how about sorceress -- who has a full-time responsibility for registration. Her name is Tere Frederickson, and she's from San Antonio, Texas. Also not on the board, but we couldn't be doing without her this year, is Karen Kerin who is our Newsletter Editor and is from Montpellier, Vermont. I also wish to introduce Cynthia and Linda Phillips from San Antonio. They are going to be heading up our publicity effort going into our third conference next year.
And last but not least, have you noticed this beautiful plaque on the podium? That wood cut was done by Sydney Clark. Okay. Y'all may be seated.
It is lunchtime, Hilton Southwest, Houston, Texas, United States of America, on Thursday the 26th of August, 1993. We begin our first mealtime presentation, but we have been very busy this morning in law project workshops -- what some people would call committee work. The format for this conference is set up with two high-input days and one output-only day.
Thursday and Friday are spent, with the exception of excellent mealtime speakers, in committee work where both lawyer and layperson meet to discuss and learn and hammer out issues in the areas of employment, health, gender bill of rights, insurance, imprisonment, family, personal identification, education in transgender issues, military and intervention law as they relate to the transgender communities. On Saturday are the reports from each project area of law and as "employment" is in our name, we make the Saturday luncheon the centerpiece for the Employment Law and Policy Project report.
This conference is sophisticated enough and professional enough to earn twelve continuing legal education hours, and it includes one for ethical considerations. Yet, we deliberately ensure that the level of discussion is very much within the grasp of the layperson.
Actually, we feel that this event
is the single most important event for lay transgender folks to attend.
It is an empowerment feature. When you leave, whether you understand it
all or not, you will know from the inside that you can fight and that
the legal building blocks and the legal machinery dealing with
transgender issues are now being assembled, maybe slowly but
nonetheless, they are being assembled.
IMPORTANCE OF CONFERENCE FOR LAY PEOPLE
Linda Phillips, will you start to make your way up here. I wish to introduce to you again, Ms. Linda Phillips, of Bulverde, Texas. I have asked her to tell you as a layperson why it is important for lay people to participate in this conference. Please give Linda a round of applause.
Phillips, Texas "T" Party
By Linda Phillips
For the first thing I want to say is that Cynthia and I are not hear because of a subpoena. We were not subpoenaed to come here. We came here of our own free will. The general police didn't come pick us up. I want everybody to know that.
The first time I came to this was last year. I just wanted to come and eat dinner. I just wanted a free meal. It wasn't free, but I found out that this is the Bible for all of us that are transgendered. It's not just for people who are lawyers.
I'm a non_lawyer myself, and I found out that most of the people here are not lawyers. Also, it's not true -- as the rumor has it -- that lawyers are not a fun bunch. All the lawyers that I know who are transgendered are party people. So, I think that you're really missing something if you're not coming to this. I know a lot of people out there who should be here. Lay people should be here and express themselves and express their opinions and also listen to the opinion of others.
In my opinion, this is probably
the only viable thing that's going on right now in the gender community.
So, all you people out there that are sitting there saying, "That's
not for me, I'm just a crossdresser," or, "That's not for me.
I've had my surgery and now I'm real. I'm going to go back into the
woodwork," This is where you should be right here at this law
conference. I hope to see you here next year.
JUST BRING YOUR MONEY AND COME ON!
By Phyllis Frye:
Many of you have heard some of my "war stories" -- that's what a lot of you call them. Several were written up in the first PROCEEDINGS. Many of you have taken courage from these stories and have acted to begin to free yourself. But others of you are still a bit timid, or have simply become "Phyllis-deaf". Now, you know what "Phyllis-deaf" is: that's like being "mom- deaf" or "dad-deaf".
Instead of listening to me tell a war story, I decide that I would bring a friend today, a person that I've met through the National Association of Women Business Owners, of which I was a founder of the Houston Chapter back in October, 1978. This friend is going to break through your "Phyllis-deafness" and tell you what she has observed herself. The point of all this is to make your closet smaller. The point of all of this is to make your closet much less comfortable.
I wish to introduce to you my friend, Ms. Melanie Jimerson who is the owner of V.J. Assemblies, Inc. Please welcome her.
Jimerson; Independent Business Owner and
Vice-President of Houston Chapter of
National Association of Women business Owners
By Melanie Jimerson:
The reason that I think Phyllis asked me to come and speak is because we got to know each other through the National Association of Women Business Owners. And if y'all are not familiar with that, it's another networking group. How many can you belong to? As many as you can afford. That's the answer to that question.
We have a wonderful chapter here in Houston which did not get off to a very good start, I understand. I've only been a member for seven years so I'm kind of a latecomer to it. But I understand in the early days that they were kind of closed in their attitudes and all that. Well, I'm going to change that. I have changed it actually.
I've been on the Board for three years and have insisted since I've been on the Board that we review and change our by-laws because I felt that there were exclusionary. They had some really questionable -- I think and I'm not a lawyer, but I thought so --problems. And so __ oh, I know Dee over there. Hi, Dee. And so, I did not know all about the history behind the by-laws.
I don't think anybody on the Board has been in NAWBO any longer than I have[page 13] because, as you know, networking groups are kind of transitioned groups. You go and get in a network group that you're comfortable with for a while and then you either narrow down to a special interest network group or you like networking so much you go get on every one in town. You don't have time for them all, so, we expect there to be some transition in our membership.
We got an interesting letter at the NAWBO Board. I believe it came to our membership chairperson who brought it to the Board meeting a couple of years ago. Actually it was a very smart thing for Phyllis to do because she warned us that she was coming. Now, we didn't understand that initially, but that was the gist of the letter.
We were sitting around this table and you've got to understand that we're so sophisticated that we're over at somebody's house in their kitchen. We're all sitting around their kitchen table. This is our Board meeting. There's a woman there who has a construction company. There's another woman there who has an environmental remediation company. There's a woman who was a CPA and of course, we always have to have a lawyer on the Board of Directors. My V.J. Assemblies is an electronic's manufacturing and sub_assembly contract business.
So, we get this letter and the membership person, who happens to be the construction company owner says, "Well, we got this letter from somebody who wants to join NAWBO. I'm going to read it to you." She gets to the word "transgender" and stumbles all over it and says, "What the hell does that mean?"
I'm sitting back and I go, "It must be a new microprocessor." The woman to the right of me who owns the environmental company says, "No. No. It's a new method for remediation." And the woman on the other side of her is a CPA and she goes, "No. It's tax software." Finally we get around to the lawyer who explains to us what transgender is saying.
Because, you know we don't work with words all day, we work with our hands all day or we work with whatever. I don't know what environmentalists do. So, we don't know about all those words. In fact, Phyllis has to take me to task every time we have a conversation, almost. So, that is how her letter was greeted with.
"Well, sounds good to me. Does she have the $200?" I mean that's what most of these organizations are interested in. Let's face facts. We all need members. Most of us, of our organizations, are in need of money. We're in need of memberships. We are in need of people who will work, who will promote the membership and hopefully we're all getting to the point where we can let that be the larger view. I don't know if __ did we call or write you back?
We just said, "Come on. Bring your money and come on." We're all going, "sounds good to me." She's coming and she's supported. I mean, we even have trouble getting people to our meetings. We have a 80/20 rule in NAWBO just like y'all do and as every other network group in town. Twenty percent of the people do eighty percent of the activities.
That's how she and I got acquainted, how we got going. Other transgendered people have come to our meetings. Cynthia and Dee, too. And Dee and I work together every time I need something from the League of Women Voters. I call her up, "Dee, this is Melanie Bradford and she goes, 'Who?'" But usually I remind her of where I met her.
I just want to encourage y'all, come on.
My sister and I were talking earlier today. She took a sales course or something, you know. The rule of sales is if you knock on a hundred doors, ten people are going to say yes to you. You can get over your fear of walking in a room full of people because if there's a hundred people there, you're going to have ten friends. So, I would just recommend, come on.
We need your money, and not just NAWBO. But first and foremost, you know what else? Next year, all of the organizations are going to be sucking for memberships because it's not going to be tax-deductible any more. So, make your move now while you can deduct it. I'm thinking about paying four years in advance on the 28th of December this year so I can deduct it. Thank you.
By Phyllis Frye:
That was wonderful. I had not
heard that story. And that, Melanie, was exactly why I wanted you to
come. You said things that I never thought about saying. You said them
in a way that they've not heard from me, or maybe they have heard from
me. Maybe they'll listen to it this time: who knows.
BECOME INTOLERANT OF ALL INTOLERENCE!
By Phyllis Frye:
We now come to the highlight of our luncheon. This is entitled the key-note luncheon. And the reason why is because we have a kick-off or key-note speaker. And today we are very blessed to have such a fine speaker.
Locally in Houston, we call him the People's Lawyer. He does a lot of television spots and some regular weekly spots on the radio and such trying to empower people to learn their legal rights. Most often its with respect to landlord-tenant and other consumer ripoff type law and he offers simple non-lawyer remedies. He's a person to person. He's very concerned about individuals. He's a caring person.
I first met him at the University of Houston Law Center back in 1978 when I enrolled there. During our lunch, he was telling me some of the stories about that time, and I hope that he includes some of those stories in his talk to show how much time is wasted by people who worry about us instead of just letting us be. He was then and he continues to be a fair person, a fine and decent person dedicated to helping others find their way around legal obstacles.
What better person to keynote this conference. Please welcome Richard Aldeman, Professor of Law, the People's Lawyer.
Professor of Law, University of Houston Law Center
By Richard Aldeman:
Thank you. I've never had an introduction accompanied by music. [Played during his walk to the podium was a fanfare. This was varied from speaker to speaker.]
Phyllis asked me to do this probably about four or five months ago. Actually it was at a talk that Ralph Nadar was giving and I was introducing him. She came up and asked me if I would give this talk today. I said, "to be honest this is not an area of law that I really know anything about." And she said, "Well, that doesn't matter, it's a luncheon speech and all we want is somebody that will tell some stories and be entertaining and it won't be very long." I give luncheon speeches to every organization imaginable and I can tell stories like anybody else. I said okay.
Then she sent me the schedule. Maybe, I thought, this is a little more serious. Maybe I'm not supposed to just tell jokes. And maybe I should think about saying something that was a little more serious. I still was hampered by the fact that still this was not an area of law that I would say I had any great deal of expertise in. So, I thought about what could I talk about that wouldn't involve talking about the specifics of the law. And I don't know if this is what Phyllis wanted or not but I have actually some semi-serious comments that I'm going to make after I finish telling some stories.
This probably won't impress you, but I give about 120 speeches a year. This is the first time I can recall that I've ever really written anything down. And I hope that will emphasize the seriousness of what I am going to say.
First off, as Phyllis mentioned, I met Phyllis when she began her law school career. And Phyllis has made me probably much more sensitive about things in general than I was as a faculty. As a law faculty you think you already have it. We don't get paid as much as lawyers. We don't have the respect of some lawyers that are out there making millions of dollars. But, what I always thought we had was that we supposedly are the more intelligent, sophisticated and tolerant individuals. And we can deal with issues at a higher level.
Phyllis made it clear that that's a crock.
We, about forty law professors, spent an inordinate amount of time, I guess at least five to six hours total, discussing whether Phyllis should come to law school. I never and still don't understand how that's even an issue. But, similar to what was said before my talk, Phyllis made it an issue. At first, I thought, "You're a jerk: just apply and come: you're in. You don't have to worry about it." But Phyllis sent us a letter. The good thing about that is it does make you consider things. It does make you look at things.
It doesn't tell you a lot about the people doing the looking. One thing that was clear was that most of my colleagues were not going to directly confront why it was that Phyllis shouldn't come to law school. So, we had to come up with reasons that she couldn't come. We didn't want to make her feel uncomfortable using a bathroom. So, for her sake, maybe we shouldn't let her into law school or let's figure out which bathroom she will use. And after five or six discussions of this -- we couldn't do this in one discussion -- we found a way to resolve it.
We discussed important, earth-shattering issues such as, "Who
will be more offended by Phyllis' presence, women or men?" Since our faculty was all men, we decided it was men. So, she shouldn't use the men's bathroom and then the few women on the faculty suggested well maybe it wasn't right to use the women's bathroom. And then a few people would say, "Who the heck cares which bathroom she uses?" But we came up with it: she had her own bathroom. That was how we resolved that. We built a Phyllis bathroom, which only recently is being eliminated. It was changed from sort of the Phyllis bathroom to the lock for privacy bathroom and now I think it's being turned into something.
We discussed other questions like, "Do we want to let a person like this be a lawyer?" Again, I'm not saying whether she's a lawyer or not, I'm just saying whether she goes to law school. It seemed to me that the other was somebody else's decision. I would tell you how I think it should be made but it still wasn't my decision. So we discussed it.
Then because Phyllis told us she was going to use the bathroom, we had to discuss the earth-shattering issue of whether somebody who has stated they are going to violate the law, since it was __ is it still the law? It still is the law that you can't go into a bathroom of the opposite sex. [By Phyllis Frye: Well, if you're going to cause a disturbance. It's not a good mens rea.] So, because Phyllis has told us that she's going to use a bathroom, she's stated she is going to break the law.
Should we let a person like that into law school. The "person like that" was never Phyllis. It was always some other little attribute. To our credit, we did finally decide to let Phyllis in.
After three years, it was interesting to see the changes or the progress that had been made. I don't know if I saw much progress in my colleagues but I did see quite a bit with the students. Phyllis went from a oddity to a person. And Phyllis probably doesn't remember this but what, to me, highlighted that transformation was in her last year.
We had a woman whose name I can't remember, who was in a wheelchair, who was a paraplegic. She, Phyllis, myself and a few other women were talking. This woman had been a very good athlete at high school, a cheerleader who was injured in, I think, a diving or a gymnastic accident. And we were talking and there was a pom_pom cheerleader there and there was somebody else that did this and somebody's turned to Phyllis in the course of five women talking and said, you know, "were you a cheerleader?" And she said, "No. I was a linebacker."
The progress was not the answer: it was the question. Nobody hesitated to ask Phyllis if she had done the same things that the rest of the women present had done. And nobody did anything except laugh at our own sort of foolishness for asking the question afterwards, and that was the end of it. But it was clear that Phyllis was accepted the same way anybody else was accepted. And for at least the students that was a big step forward.
Now, as far as my prepared remarks, as I said, it's very strange for me to have prepared remarks. I have obviously known that I was going to do this for quite a while. My wife, who comes to a lot of what I do and usually is the brunt of the most of my jokes at what I do, is always very concerned that I am not prepared. We will be driving somewhere and I will not even know what the topic they want me to talk on is. And she starts to perspire because she doesn't know how you can just talk unless you have really thought about it. And I said __ I say the same thing.
I remember we had just given a talk to the marathon. The Houston Marathon had a luncheon and I talked. And you can talk about buying running shoes. I can find some way to bring all this stuff in. We were going talk to a senior citizens group a couple of days later. And she said, "Well, they don't buy running shoes. What are you going to talk about?" And I said, "Don't worry about it." But she was very concerned about this talk and a couple of weeks ago she said, "have you thought about what you're going to say." And I said, "No, it's not till Thursday, I've got lots of time."
But I have to admit, I was a little concerned because you can put me in the front of any group of people that are consumers and I can talk. I can talk to a bunch of business people and talk to them. I just finished right before this an hour and a half a MCLE talk on a Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Before that, I gave the introductory speech to the University of Houston incoming class.
But this is different. I can't give any of these speeches. In part because I didn't and don't know much about[page 17] the law in this area. So, last night she again asked. I said, "You know, I've got to think about what I'm saying about. I've got three speeches." She said, "Well, have you written your speech?" And I said, "No." She said, "Have you thought about what you're going to say?" And I said, "Well, yeah. I'm not going to talk about law. I'm not going to talk about the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act." That's a first. I had to say that because I can't give a speech if I don't say the word Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
But I thought maybe there was something that wasn't legal that I could talk about. And thinking about it, it seemed to me that the problem I wanted to address was not legal. In fact, I pretty much came to the conclusion that laws don't have anything to do with the problem that I wanted to address. So, I said I want to talk about tolerance. She said, "What?" I said, "Well, tolerance, live and let live." She said, "Well, that's a short speech." But you know, that pretty much says it all. And I have to admit, I agree with her. I think that does say it all. But for any number of reasons I'm not going to end by just saying that people should be tolerant, live and let live.
Phyllis told me I have to talk for at least another ten minutes or so. And I probably couldn't stop talking much sooner than that. So, I sat down to think about what do I want to say about intolerance.
Well, the first thing is that I don't think the laws have anything to do with it. I think tolerance is something that you don't legislate. You can pass a law saying "don't discriminate." You can pass a law saying "treat people fairly." You can pass a law saying "you got to hire this person or that person based on qualifications." But it won't necessarily effectuate the results you want. And it's unlikely that it will have any effect on whether that person has or doesn't have the tolerance that's needed.
When I was growing up, I grew up until eighth grade in Fairwall, New Jersey. For those that don't know anything about
New York or New Jersey, I was, still am, Jewish. I assumed everybody else was. The schools closed on the Jewish holidays. Most of my friends, except Eric Florenzo, were Jewish. Eric fit in even though he wasn't Jewish, but that was as far as I was concerned what most people were.
My father would talk about when he went to college, and that he couldn't go to certain colleges. I said, "Where did you go to school? What did you do?" He said that he went to the University of Michigan. He would name some Ivy League Schools that he didn't go to because they had quotas on Jews and he couldn't get in. And we talked about work, and he'd say, "Well, here's what I did after law school" because New York firms didn't hire Jews.
And I'd listen to that and I knew we joined a Jewish country club. When he told me it was because the other country clubs wouldn't let us join, I thought, "Well, all our friends are Jewish and they all belonged there." And to me, my father's talking was history that I couldn't really relate to. It was good that all these things didn't exist any more.
Then I moved up Upstate New York to a town outside of Rochester, New York, that I heard was "restricted" until fairly recently before we moved. I'd never heard that word. For those of you who don't know, that's the phrase that's used and was used, I don't know if it is still used, when the town is segregated by religion generally instead of race.
This burg was segregated. There were no Jews. In fact, we were the first Jewish family to move into town. And it's a rural area, with a little center town and a fairly small high school. And like most people that were new to a school, I stayed in the background and stayed quiet and listened. It was pretty clear that people didn't think much about Jews. There was a town where all the Jews lived, that was another town. And most people had the general comments you would expect for the people that lived in that town.
I took what, not to justify it, was probably the approach any ninth-grade student who just moved into a new town would take. I didn't tell anybody I was Jewish. Fortunately, no matter what your name is, or what you[page 18] look like, if somebody is not Jewish and doesn't know any Jews, they don't have no idea that you could be Jewish and Aldeman is not a Jewish name. I played sports. I dated all the right girls. I was elected president of the school.
Now, I could tell people I was Jewish. It was interesting. For most people, I was still the same person: but for some, I went from being this great guy to a kike. And that hit home. Suddenly I saw that it didn't matter who you were or what you did. You were going to be typecast, stereotyped, based on something that, in this case, I guess I had no control over, but would have not chosen, and that's the kind of thing that stays with you.
I then went to school in New Orleans, in the south and this was in the sixties. And you start looking at what's going on. Now again, this is all more than thirty years ago. During that period, we had race riots and most cities, even Rochester where I was from, had them. George Wallace was barring the door of schools to blacks. Black and white civil rights workers were being shot. Mexican-Americans were wetbacks who would at best work for slave wages. Gays and other homos, I mean, they never reached the level of even being something that you would consider. I mean that was not even an issue.
Professor of Law, University of Houston Law Center
As the ad says, "We've come a long way baby." Well, maybe. Maybe some people have but a lot of people haven't. Today, we have skinheads forming groups and . . . .
NOTE TO READERS: unfortunately, there remains no more electronic recording of this speech. I will try to finish it from the typed text at a later date. Anyone who has a copy of the Proceedings that wishes to be so kind and complete this text, please send it to me via email@example.com .
WELCOME FROM THE BAHR
Sharon, come up here, please. Representing BAHR tonight is Sharon Kahn, who is also our Education-in-Transgender-Issues moderator. She is going to say a few formal BAHR words. BAHR is very near and dear to my heart because when they formed a little over two years ago, they were very willing, and they were very accepting, to inclusify their original by_laws and include the term "gender identification". So, please welcome Sharon Kahn.
Kahn, Director of BAHR
By Sharon Kahn:
I'm going to say very little this evening. I plan to bore you on Saturday, and I don't want to do that twice. This is a great pleasure for me personally. And it's a great pleasure to welcome all of you here. One of the things that we talked about briefly today is the way in which the gender community can educate especially the gay and lesbian community in terms of issues, and this is one of the ways of building a bridge. So, it's really a pleasure to see us all here together and I welcome you.
I'd like to invite anybody,
especially Houston. Of course, but anybody in Texas or if you live out
of Texas and get our newsletter, we would like for you to join BAHR even
if you join only to get the letter. We would like to have more members
from your community and we're very active and vital organization. I hope
you enjoy your meal, I think we have a nice program tonight, and I thank
you all for being here.
NEED TO SENSITIZE OUR LEGISLATORS
By Phyllis Frye:
Yolanda, you want to make your way up here? Also present tonight is a member of the Texas State Legislature. Yolanda and I went to law school together. This is the Honorable Yolanda Navarro Flores, and I've asked her to give us a few words of welcome. I've educated her over the many years on the need to ensure that whenever legislation is introduced to protect people with respect to "sexual orientation" that they also include the term "gender identification" in those proposed statutes. I know that she can give us a few thoughts from insight as to the last legislative session fight over gay rights and the penal code. Would you please welcome Yolanda Navarro Flores!
Yolanda Navarro Flores,
Texas State legislator
By Yolanda Flores:
Thank you, Phyllis. I do want to welcome all of you. I think this is a great conference, and we have to give a lot of credit to the folks who are putting it together. When I first got the information from Phyllis, I looked at it and I called her back immediately I said, "Hey Phyllis, this is great. You have a really good program." I was very impressed by all the topics that were going to be covered. At first glance you look at it, and you're not real sure what exactly it's going to cover. And then you look at real issues that are involved, and we're talking about a multitude of problems that society has to start working towards solving. And certainly in the legislature, we have to still do a lot of work.
There's a lot of sensitivity that needs to __ well, let's just say we have to sensitize a lot of our legislators. It's been very difficult, to say the least, to try to get laws passed that are strictly based on fairness and on justice and in recognition of people's human rights and a right to human dignity.
I was just, in some cases, appalled at some of the things that were done and said. And in other cases I was very pleased at some of the warm responses that we received from the other legislators. I guess what I'm telling you is that we still have a long way to go to teach people that we have to learn to live and work with each other. And above all, I think we need to learn to respect each other for whatever we are; whether you're an ethnic minority; when you're a person who's affected by the penal code in some detrimental way; or whether you're a person who has a lot of concerns about transgender issues. There's just a lot of work yet to be done.
I don't want to make a long speech, but I do want to welcome you. Like I said, I do want to recognize the people who put this conference together.
Certainly I know Phyllis has gone through a lot. I do have to say one thing. When we were in law school, I did not know about Phyllis. Then we heard. And then I saw some very ugly things on the bathroom walls. There were some petitions that were being passed around, some objections that were being made, and I couldn't believe it at that point that these people were doing that.
And Phyllis doesn't know that
there were some of us in the background who were fighting against these
people and telling them Phyllis has to be accepted for what Phyllis is.
And we have to respect her because she is a human being. And I wish that
everyone would accept that. That we respect each other for what we are.
And everybody deserves, at the very least, respect. Thank you very much.
DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP
By Phyllis Frye:
Thank you. I have the distinct honor to introduce another friend. She's a very good friend I've asked to come tonight, and I've asked her to help in the continuing effort of making your closets a little smaller and little less comfortable.
I first met Annise Parker at a committee meeting about twelve years ago in the old Gay Political Caucus building. Well it was an office on the second floor of a building near the Holiday Inn on South Main. You remember that office? Anyway, it's been twelve years, and she and I have gone far and very long time towards beating down various doors of oppression.
Last Saturday, the woman you are about to hear from was recognized with a Life Achievement Award for human rights work. And the local pundits in this area say that Annise Parker, this very fine person you're about to meet, has the best chance of being the first openly elected lesbian to any local or possibly state office. So, I want you to please welcome my friend, Annise Parker.
Activist and Past President,
Houston Gay and Lesbian * (and Transgender)
By Annise Parker:
Actually, I've known of Phyllis for a lot longer than twelve years. I know Phyllis doesn't remember me from back then, but I was a mere child when I first saw Phyllis. I was a Rice student and Phyllis came and spoke to a human sexuality class at Rice University. It was probably 1977, 1978. So, she's been out there propagandizing for the transgender community for a long, long time.
We did get to know each other after a few, quite a few years after that through the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. What I am here tonight to talk about is not politics or political activism or any of those things that Phyllis and I worked on together.
Phyllis is very modest. She talked about my award that I received last Saturday night. Phyllis also received an award from the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. It was the Bayard Rustin Civil Rights Award, and it was an honor for a lifetime commitment to civil rights for all people. I think we should all thank her for those years of effort and acknowledge that award as well.
But I want to talk to you about another[page 25] person, another side of Phyllis. And that is Jock. Many of you don't realize that Phyllis deep in her heart is a jock. Yes, it's true. Sometime in the mid 1980's, I'm not exactly sure when it was, we were traveling to Austin together for a conference. I don't even remember what conference it was, but Phyllis and I and another woman were riding to Austin together. And I don't know if any of you have spent a long time in a small confined area with Phyllis, but you get tired. Your ears kind of close up after a while.
But one of the things that she said to me on that trip kind of filtered through. That was that, as a transgendered individual, one of the things that she really, really missed, that had been a very big part of her life, was the opportunity to participate in sports. Growing up, she'd been athletic and very active and missed the camaraderie and the competition of sports.
She tried to participate in, I think, a woman's softball league out in the area where they lived and had been rejected. She really wanted an opportunity again in her life, before she got too old, to get back into it. Well, a lot of people look at Phyllis, and well a lot of people say a lot of things, and see a lot of things. But I looked at Phyllis and I saw the power hitter I've been looking for on my softball team.
At the time, I was coach of a women's softball team in what is known as the Montrose, the Houston Women Softball League. It is a lesbian softball league. We've been around for more than a decade. The league was formed so that we, as lesbian softball players, would have the chance to compete in our own teams against each other without worrying about being harassed by other people. We did not ask that people be lesbians to participate, but they had to know that this was an all gay league. And they had to be accepting of that if they were going to participate with us.
So, when we got back to Houston, I went to the next council meeting. I said that I wanted to recruit someone for my team and that that person was Phyllis Frye, that she was a transgendered person and that I expected the rest of the softball league to accept her and welcome her. As you might expect, there was some discussion about that and quite a bit of controversy. But you might not realize what the discussion centered around and what caused the controversy.
I know there were a few individuals who were upset at the idea of a transperson participating in the league, but that wasn't the thrust of the discussion. There were also a few people who were worried that I had gone out and found a ringer who would make my team so wonderful that they wouldn't be able to compete against us. But that also wasn't the real trend of the discussion. There were genuine concerns about whether Phyllis, who probably hasn't been petite since she was maybe 18 months old, and maybe not even then, I don't know, but she could physically hurt some of the other women she was playing with, or that she could hit the ball harder than she actually could. This is a concern that often comes up in coed softball league, where men and women play against each other and women worried about this.
It wasn't about Phyllis Frye, a transgender, or Phyllis Frye, who used to be a man. It was about, is it safe for us to play? And of course, I gave a very impassion speech about she has nowhere else to go. And we formed this league to fight against discrimination so that we wouldn't be discriminated against. And how dare we even consider turning around and discriminating against someone else. I don't know if the speech convinced them or not, but we accepted Phyllis in the league on a provisional basis. And I don't know if she knows it was on a provisional basis, but it was simply to see how it all worked out.
As she played with us, as things developed, it turned out that the fear that Phyllis' physical skills would be so much greater than the other women didn't materialize. There were, wonder of wonders, there were women out there who were a whole lot bigger than Phyllis and a whole stronger than Phyllis and a whole lot better athletes than Phyllis. They got used to her.
Now, there were some concerns that no one had thought of that did materialize. There were some things about the way I as a young girl was taught to play sports and the way Phyllis learned how to play sports growing up. There's some differences in socialization and they came out. We weren't taught quite the killer instincts that Phyllis has and as y'all know, Phyllis takes that killer instinct everywhere she goes. No, Phyllis needed to be taught how to turn it off in certain situations which is something that none of us had ever thought about. As we played together over the years, it became obvious that in some ways there were differences in upbringing and differences in attitude that had to be overcome. But, Phyllis became a normal part of the league. After a few months I don't know that anybody even noticed that Phyllis was there or that there would be any difference about Phyllis.
I know what finally decided for me that things were going to work out. We were playing in a game and Phyllis had __ she is a power hitter, by the way, except that she has a terrible tendency to want to swing for a home run every time -- on this occasion rounded third and she was running into home and the ball got thrown in and it was close. She had to jump in the air to miss the softball. She jumped up in the air and she squealed. I cannot even attempt to squeal that way, but she squealed as she jumped over the ball. The entire bench just broke into a hysterical laughter. And after that, she got back to the bench and the discussion centered around, "Phyllis, we're going to have to teach you. We don't do that sort of things: we're dikes."
I'm glad that you're amused and I hope you enjoy the story, but there is a more serious point to that. First of all, don't be afraid to try to do any of the things that you really want to do. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Phyllis happened to say something to me that got me interested in helping her achieve a goal that she wouldn't have achieved otherwise. But once she was in that position, once she was on the team, it was up to her to find her own level and to find her own accommodation with the rest of her team members.
Also, don't assume that because people hesitate or because they may have to stop and discuss or re-evaluate their opinions on the whole __ on all sorts of gender issues -- that they're automatically biased against you. Or that it is something that you should take personally. Remembering the discussions we had about Phyllis participating in our softball league and remembering the genuine concerns that were raised, it was perhaps better that Phyllis wasn't involved in those discussions. We could sit and talk and learn and grow before we all had to deal with each other. Remember that you all have to be patient with the rest of us as we reach the same level of acceptance and understanding that many of you already had to achieve. And that finally after __ I don't know __ Phyllis, how many years did you play softball? Five wonderful years she said. I guess we all got so used to Phyllis that she was like, you know, old furniture. It's the couch we see everyday and we don't think about. It becomes normal. It becomes usual, it becomes comfortable and you don't think about it any more.
But you have to have the courage to go for it. Thank you.
By Phyllis Frye:
That was my coach. We played on a team called Coffee Beans.
We were sponsored by a local
coffee house. They called us the "Special Blend". I remember
that conversation in the car because we were talking about softball. I
didn't know she was a coach and so she starts kind of pumping me,
"Well, could you hit the ball good?" "Yeah, I could hit
the ball real good." "Well, what position did you like to
play?" "Well, I can pitch good and I can do this, but I really
like to catch." And that's what really lit her up because that was
the position that she was missing, was the catcher. Those five years
filled a real void because I had a void. I had played for so long but
then I had not been able to complete it. I got to play those five years
and it was really great.
"LAURA, IT'S OKAY. WE KNOW WHY."
We have one more short speaker, then we've got our main speaker. I'm going to say a few words about our short speaker and then I'm going to have her come up to a round of applause. This is another person that is going to make you feel a little bit uncomfortable. There are three of us tonight at this law conference who are totally and completely out of the closet, practicing professional attorneys accepted in our professional arenas, and she has a little bit of her story to tell. I want you to welcome your Employment Law Director, Laura Elizabeth Skaer.
Elizabeth Skaer, Attorney,
Employment Law Director, ICTLEP
By Laura Skaer:
It was at the Texas T-Party, February, 1991. Phyllis was doing the little one-hour legal thing. I happened to be there, and she had asked me to help her with it. I hadn't done anything like that before so I did. When we got done, she looked at me, and she said, "You can do it." I said, "Do what?" She said, "You can do it." And I looked at her.
I just assumed that she was talking about transitioning on the job where I was, which happens to be in about as redneck an industry as you can have and you folks in Houston know it well. It's in the oil and natural gas exploration and production industry. And I said, "Phyllis Frye, there's no way in hell that I can transition in this industry." She said, "I'm not talking about that."
She said, "I'm talking about being yourself." She said, "You're not happy and you're not happy because you're not yourself." And she said, "Start being yourself." I left there and went back to Denver and, boy, those words really ate at me. And they ate at me a lot. And they ate at me because she was right. I wasn't happy, and I wasn't myself.
I started, just kind of not ever intending to transition but, to finding happiness, finding piece in my heart. As I started finding out what it was about my uniqueness as a human being that brought me happiness, I realized it was going to, you know, I was going to end up transitioning in this industry. I thought a lot about it. I thought well, gosh, I could go away somewhere and start over but I don't want to start over. I liked what I was doing. I liked the industry I was in, and I liked the people in the industry. And I was good at what I did, in what I do and so I started. I was just kind of on this little __ it was about a two and a half, three year -- process of kind of eliminating those things in my life that[page 28] did not bring me peace and happiness, while concentrating on those that did.
In August of 1991, I got elected president of a ten state, 750 member, independent oil and gas trade association called the Independent Petroleum Association Mountain States or IPAMS. It's a trade that we do a lot of lobbying. I've been back to Washington a lot and testify a lot in the state legislature. I was going along and all this time my appearance is becoming more and more feminine as I'm becoming more and more secure of myself. It was like one week I had all these guys telling me I was the best president that this industry, that this trade association, had ever had.
Two weeks later, when people figured out what was happening in my life, I got called to this breakfast. There were three people at this breakfast including one, who had just a week before, told me that without a doubt -- he's one of the founders of the organization -- I was the best president he ever had known. Telling me that I should resign because I did not have the right image. The oil and gas industry wasn't ready for this. I thought about that, and I knew from the by-laws they could not force me out. I wanted to work in this industry. I did not want to leave it. So, I kind of pulled in a little bit and didn't push the envelope any further and pulled back. Then I finished my term of office, and then, in August, I transitioned full time.
There's a whole lot of different side stories I can tell about this. This one I want to share is in April of ninety-two. I'd applied for a newly created state board called the Minerals Energy and Geology Policy Advisory Board designed to advise the Governor, the state legislature and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources on those kinds of issues. Four members had to be from oil and gas. I was one from about 30 people that applied and the appointments hadn't been made yet when I transitioned. I kept thinking, boy, have I blown this because I really want this. I'm really a public policy freak kind of person. All of a sudden I get a phone call one day from a woman with the Department of Natural Resources who called me Larry and said, "I'm calling to advise you that Governor Romer has appointed you to this board," and blah blah blah. I thought, "Wow, that's wonderful!" I hung up, but I go "Oh, my God," and I picked the phone back up. I said, "Susan, I've got to talk to you about something. If you're getting ready to send out a roster, would you please use my initials, please?" I said, " If we can make an appointment, I'll come down. I want to tell you something: why I'm making that request."
And her response was, "Laura, it's okay. We know why."
And I'd said, "You do?" And they go, "Well, yes. It was discussed when your name came up. And our selection committee said, it's irrelevant." I said, "Well, God, did you tell Governor Romer?" And they said, "Well, of course we did!" You know, I had remembered on the application there's a little box that says, "Check here, if there's anything in your background that may cause the Governor embarrassment." I did not check that because I had come to a point where I'm not ashamed or embarrassed about who I am as a person.
So, I said, "Well, what did Governor Romer say?" And she said, "Well, he paused for a minute and he looked and he said, 'Well, you know, in view of the directive to consider ethnic, racial, and gender diversity in making these appointments, I'd say we have gender diversity covered, don't we?'" And I tell you, to be honest, I appreciated that sense of humor far more than the acceptance.
But the point of all of this is that you're your own worst enemy if you choose to be. You can be yourself. You can do it in any walk of life. You can do it in any industry, and no one else is holding you back but yourself. And whatever fears you've concocted, they're within you. They're not real. Because I have found that even the person who told me I ought to resign -- who's a deacon in the Southern Baptist Church, and who freely admits both when I'm not there and to my face that he cannot reconcile this in his personal belief system -- turned around and told somebody, about to lead some ad hoc committee, that I should be appointed chair. I was the best person for the job. It almost brought tears to my eyes to find that out. God, here's somebody who's very fundamental, but he can recognize ability.
One of my supporting friends, through all of this, had written a note to me. He said, "You know, people[page 29] with strong hearts and strong soles will understand," and he said, "and accept. And even if they don't accept or understand, they will at least respect your right as a human being to live your life to the fullest." You know what, that is really the way ninety-nine percent of society is. All you got to do is believe in yourself and you can make it happen.
By Phyllis Frye:
Now you know why I played Star
Wars. She's terrific.
UNTIL YOU ARE HONEST WITH YOUR CLIENTS
By Phyllis Frye:
Before I introduce our main attraction, I want to introduce his guest, Roxanne Armstrong. Would you please raise your hand. Thank you for coming.
We are here as attorneys to learn about the ethical considerations of representing transgendered clients. But even more important, in my opinion, we are here as non-attorneys, as laypersons, to learn and understand how the attorney that we hire and we pay our money to in our own home towns or states or nations; we have come to learn how that attorney must act in order to represent us, transgendered people, in an ethical manner.
In short, if somebody is not going to treat you fully and completely with education and knowledge as a transgendered person, don't give that person your money. Or make that person buy one of our "Proceedings" and learn what-in-the-heck they're talking about.
A. Shelsey, Attorney,
Staff Counsel, Harris County Criminal Courts at Law
I have known Marshall Shelsy since 1980 when I did my legal internship with the District Attorney's Office. When I began to establish myself as a practicing attorney in the trial courts, he had moved to become the staff counsel for the 14 judges over the misdemeanor courts here in Harris County. He is extremely active in the Houston Bar Association. He presents many hours of continuing legal education, and does other public speaking.
Marshall has always been helpful. He has always treated me with the highest dignity. He[page 30] was an oasis back in my early trial practice days when there were not many oases around. I consider him a friend, and I ask you to welcome Marshall Shelsy.
By Marshall Shelsy:
Thank you Phyllis. It's really a pleasure to be here. I don't have to read from my notes to say that. I was sitting with my dear long-time friend, Ray Hill. And Ray was saying, "I came to hear you tonight because dinner speakers are always suppose to be funny." I said, "Oh, my God, I took this seriously, I looked things up in the books for this tonight. I didn't come here with jokes." Ray speaks often for a college class that I teach, and we always have a good time in presenting not only the law but the law in-person, up-front and close. Since I teach a course in Criminal Justice, it contains mostly police officers. It's always fun the evening that Ray comes. We have a good time.
My topic tonight is ethics, and as I said a moment ago, now somewhat less humorously, I really took it seriously. My job as Staff Attorney for the County Criminal Courts at Law here in Harris County is to try to advise and recommend to the judges what the law says and sometimes what they ought to do. And one of the first things that I realized was that on one level, we really shouldn't even be here tonight. That this shouldn't be necessary. That there's no reason for it. And it saddens me greatly that we had to focus on these issues.
And so what I've done is try to look at ethics. I will try to present it to you tonight as the legal purist that I am: just looking at the issues; being a lawyer; what do you owe to the clients; what do the clients owe you; what does the system owe both of you; and how can we make it work? I know the first way we could have made it work is if I had brought my bifocals because I can't read this twelve point type that they gave me. So, I guess I'm going to wind up having to wing this a little bit.
Let me say that I first met Phyllis, as she said, back in 1980. At that time, the big issue was which bathroom is Phyllis going to use? You've got all these guys running around the D.A.'s office with guns on their hips ultimately scared to death. You know, "I'm not going to go to the bathroom." It's foolishness. I'm standing there, I'm an ex_ cop, I've just got my law license, I'm trying to figure out. What's the big deal here?
At that point, Phyllis was, within our legal community, truly an oddity to everyone that was there. But what has happened over the last 13 years, and I give Phyllis every ounce of credit that I could give a human being on this earth or in Harris County, Texas; what has happened is Phyllis got out there, or got out here, and was "Phyllis." And she was "Phyllis" until we all accepted her. And she is today, "Phyllis." That's it!
The new lawyers come in and I see them all. I've made it a point as counsel to the court to find a reason to make every new lawyer in Harris County that practices criminal law come through my offices. I want to see them. I want to see what the competition is, I want to see who's going to try to do what to my judges. You don't hear a word. You don't see a word, there are no comments in the elevator when Phyllis gets out anymore. She is accepted in this community as Phyllis Frye, lawyer. And on a certain level, I'm very proud of our community, our legal community, for having done that. I think that now that Phyllis has done this, the community is going to continue to support her.
As she said, I do a lot of MCLE preparation. Selfishly. Because the more informed you are as a lawyer, the easier my job. I don't have to do your job and the judge's job and some other lawyer's job. But, and this is really getting to the back end of the speech, we planned this year, as we have the last two years, to have a certification course for new attorneys that practice essentially pro-bono representing the indigent defendants in criminal courts. And I think this year we are going to make it a point to invite Phyllis in to discuss transgender issues along with other issues of fundamental bias and prejudice that we try to deal with each year.
Because I think the time has come for this community. I think we have a large transgender community, in[page 31] Houston at least, watching the court system. I'm sensitive too, and I see perhaps more than most folks do. And so, we're going to try to raise the sensitivity level of the newer lawyers and force them to be sensitive to something that they need to be aware of.
The first question I'd like to address to you as lawyers professionally is, "Do you have a duty to disclose to your client your status?" And to that I think the answer is yes. I think you do. And I think so for two reasons: both for you, but primarily for your client, lawyer to lawyer. Until you are honest with your client, some part of you as a lawyer, is going to be sitting there trying to cover, trying to stay in the closet and not giving a hundred and fifty percent to your client, but holding back fifty percent for you.
And your client deserves a hundred and fifty percent. They deserve to get all of your professional resources. Now, that may create a basic conflict. And for those of you who are present, that may be a problem. You know, you may not want to do it, but I think you owe that to your client. I think you have an obligation to that client because, fundamentally, law is a very conservative area and you are not mainstream lawyers in the true sense. And people need to be aware of who they're hiring. You owe them that professionally.
On a human level, I would hope they would all accept that fact, because I have no doubt that you're just a good a lawyer as Phyllis is. Phyllis gets a lot of not guilties. Let me tell you, the D.A.'s office is afraid of Phyllis. Phyllis does good. She wins. But Phyllis does it because she's up front about it and she gives a hundred percent and I think you all, first and foremost, have to do that.
So, I've thrown the first obligation to you to disclose to your clients. I think you have to be prepared for a client to say, "Wait a minute. I got enough problems, you know, I'm not comfortable and I can't imagine how everybody else in that courthouse is going to be. So, I'm going to another lawyer. I'm sorry." I think you have to be prepared to accept that. That's reality here. It's a shame, it's unfortunate, but it's reality.
Now, purely speaking legally, do you have to tell your appointed client, your ad litem client? No. The law doesn't require it. Why? Well, no lawyer has to worry about the luxury of whether his indigent criminal defendant likes him or not. For purposes of the law, y'all are married. And there isn't a damn thing he can do about it or she can do about it. I still maintain that you've got the issue of a hundred and fifty percent, but purely as a lawyer do you have to say anything? No.
I think another issue you have to consider is branching out and attempting to represent regular folks in mainstream legal issues. Phyllis does a lot of work in a very narrow field, which is criminal law, and then often focuses on more narrow issses that she feels very, very strongly about. I respect that. Phyllis also does a lot of other types of law. She's a resource on transgender issues and on women's issues, but she is also a lawyer in the true general practice sense. And, I think, if the issue is to mainstream, then you must try to do so aggressively in mainstream law with real estate clients who pay money and with wills and probate clients who pay money. I think you owe that to yourselves as well to the community, again for the sake of good lawyering.
I also think again, you've got to consider the fact that you may be rejected. Now, I've never heard Phyllis come into my office and want a cup of coffee and say, "I had a bad day. I had a client pissed off at me and fire me because of who I am." I never heard anybody fire Phyllis at all. I don't know that you've had that happened? Well, you certainly never told me about it. I only hear about the victories. Typical lawyer. You only hear the good stuff. You never hear the bad stuff.
I think when you're advising clients professionally, you have an obligation to tell them that they have an obligation to tell the folks they're dealing with who they are. And in a few minutes, we'll get into why, but needless to say, for your personal self respect, for you as a lawyer and for them as individuals in a situation that's usually very stressful. I mean, today you've got more people going out and hiring lawyers to deal with the lawyers they just dealt with and had a bad situation or bad experience with than you do just going out and hiring lawyers. Legal malpractice has soared in this county.
I recognize that you are putting yourself, and often times your client, into the true traditional Hobson's choice. You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't. Do you risk rejection by disclosure? Or do you answer falsely, and -- as you all know, essentially on the issue of moral turpitude -- you're a liar: you're not worthy of belief in any form. So now where the hell are you? I mean you've got that Hobson's choice. My position is, you don't have a Hobson's choice, you just tell the truth. The Hobson's choice suddenly goes away because you're not a liar, you know? You're Laura. You're Phyllis. You're whoever you are, period. Up-front, close-in and personal, and that's just the way it is. There's only one instance, that I'll talk about in a minute again, when I think that doesn't really work. That's the only time I will eat my words and advocate that you leave one space on the form blank. I think there's a place for that.
But let me start to focus a little bit more on the courtroom, on the places that are outfront, in the public, and that I see everyday and the ways in which I think you can gain the turf and stake out your client's turf. It starts with treating your client with respect, sitting down with your client and determining what pronouns your client wants to use. I will tell you that I guess as Phyllis has said, it never dawned on me that there various stages in transgenderal development. To me, people are people. You come to me, and as long as you're nice to me, I'm nice to you. And that's kind of pie in the sky attitude, but I was just raised that way.
And so, in reading the first set of "Proceedings", I had a choice between spending two evenings out in San Antonio a few weeks ago or reading the proceedings. I sat and read the "Proceedings", and it was far more interesting than the Riverwalk, those of you from San Antonio, not withstanding. And it was fascinating to me. I truly believe if nothing else happens tonight, I am a more effective lawyer, and I think I probably have the best compendium of information on the subject from a legal perspective than anybody's got, short of y'all that have the "Proceedings" of last year. It was a tremendous work. And I know next year when I read the "2nd Proceedings", and I read these very words, I'll sit there and say, "God, was he boring. How did he keep them awake?" I apologize, but again I take this serious. I didn't bring the jokes.
So, the first question is, stake out your client's turf. Decide how your client wants to be referred to, in public and in private. Assuming for a moment that your client wants to stand her ground, then you better damn well stand her ground for her because you are her representative. And if you give just one inch in public, in the courtroom, in deposition, in phone calls, you're hurting your client. That's who you're hurting.
You took an oath, you damn well have to live up to it. Whatever you get out of this is your business on that warm and fuzzy level that we all deal with. I mean I love my job, and I'm very proud of it. But don't mess with my judges. Well, don't let anybody mess with your client. Don't you ever give an inch. Force that other lawyer to refer to your client by her name if that's what your client chooses to do. If your client is comfortable, do what your client wants you to do.
How many of you are from Texas or practice in Texas? Are there any of you? A few. One, two, three, four, five. We have an oddity in Texas law. And again just as a lawyer in preparing for the speech, I was looking for ways you can use the law. How can we get up-front, close-in and personal in this thing? And it dawned on me that in the Code of Criminal Procedure, there's a point in the criminal process, right at the beginning naturally, where the defendant can identify herself or himself by name. And that name that the defendant chooses, by God, is the name that the court has to use in all proceedings from that day forward.
My guess is that most every other state has the same rule or something very close to it at the arraignment stage. But at some point the defendant is entitled to correct the name or state her or his name for the record and can never assert it again. And I think that should be the initial stage, if no other, where you stake out your turf and you force them all to deal with it, period. There are a whole lot of folks at this courthouse here that are very sympathetic for some of the people that go through the system. There are a whole lot of folks that just don't give a damn. But in the end, they'll all respect the law. And if you can make the law work for you, I think that's the sweetest success that you can have. That gives it to you both personally and professionally. And the arraignment in criminal law is that position. That place.
On the civil side, your pleadings, if it's a divorce case and if there's a transgender issue, put it in the damn pleading. Don't sit there with one arm behind your back worrying about, "Oh, well, are they going to try to pop my guy or my girl on this issue." Don't weaken your legal position. Don't weaken your client's self-esteem. You know one of your jobs is as counselor to your client, and unless there's a real reason not to, as a general rule, I would again advocate that you advocate that that client stake out her turf in her pleadings in the courtroom.
I think that's real real important. Because there are attorneys, tactically or out of ignorance, that will think they got something that they're going to with. And if you just blow it out at the beginning then all of a sudden there are no issues except the real legal issues. If there's an issue of infidelity, if there's an issue of community property or child support or visitation, let's get it on on those issues, but let's not be cluttered with this other stuff. Don't think you're going to blackmail me through something and I'm going to give an inch when I don't need to. Because I don't need to. Correct them when they try to play those games with you. But most importantly, make the system work.
Be prepared to bring in a DSM-IIIR and raise issues the way they ought to be raised. And I think that's the next part of this that's important. You need to be prepared as lawyers to subtly, or not so subtly, educate everybody else in that lawsuit. You and your client know what's going on. It's an education issue in an insurance case where the insurance company says, "Oh, no, this is cosmetic surgery. This is purely elective. Whatever reason your client wants to do this, we ain't paying." You've got to be prepared with medical experts to say, "No! No! This is birth defect. And yes, it's cosmetic, but you know, hey Jack, how would you feel if you were born with no nuts? You know? I mean wouldn't you want something there?"
And I'll be curious to see what they have to say with a straight face. I mean I really would. That's what I sit and think about sometimes in court. I'm like, "Ask this question. Let's see what they'll say to this." I just have to sit there and bite my tongue. Again, I think you have to consider that. Get it out in the open. Deal with the issues. Force the issues to be dealt with in the light of day.
Step back to criminal cases for a minute, and I know I'm jumping around. I think everyone's and my biggest fear in the world is to ever spend the night in jail. I don't think anyone can make an informed decision about anything in a courtroom after spending the night in jail. And I especially think that persons who are at various stages of, I guess, the transition are really going to get a double whammy down there.
One of your obligations should be bail first. Get her the hell out of jail. That's no place for anybody, period. The first thing I'd be doing is arguing for bail.
I would be arguing based on the magic words, "42 USC 1983". Make it a civil rights issue. Make it a due process equal protection issue. "Sure, everybody is at some risk in a jail, but my client is at more risk." And if it's not negligence then, "it's going to be your 'custom and practice' if you leave her in and that gives you public official, personal liability." If you start focusing on that with the sheriff or with the mayor or with the city marshall or whoever runs the jail, you're going to get a little bit better response I think. And don't be afraid to throw those terms around.
But bail first. Get your client out, get her out of what is a traumatizing situation at best. I think you need to remember that quick pleas are not going to serve justice and virtually never will serve your client's long term best interest. Don't let them plead just to get out of jail. Fight for bail first, please, for them.
If bail doesn't work, or if your client committed a really bad crime and doesn't need to be out of jail for a variety of reasons, many transgenderals, as I understand it, may be using Premarin, Ogen, Estenyl or other medically prescribed drugs in aid of the transition. You don't want to get lumped together with __ because you will if you're not careful -- the diabetics, and the drug addicts. You need to get up there and say, "Whoa, this is not some personal choice. This is not something that is really unnecessary. This is not an experiment. This is a human being, and this person needs to have these drugs. This is not just a warm fuzzy issue for my client.[page 34] This is my client's life. No, she won't die if she doesn't get them, but there is a genuine medical need and therefore you have a genuine legal responsibility to provide for her."
And again be prepared to bring in a medical expert. The only way you're going to get acceptance is number one, to get up in everybody's face, and number two, do it convincingly and credibly. I don't know a judge really who faced with real evidence, credible evidence is going to rule against you. At least not down here. And we have some pretty horrendous judges on some issues. But on basic human rights issues, I think we have a pretty good judiciary.
But they're not going to go out on a limb and pick up your political band song just to be nice guys and girls. You've got to give a judge evidence on which to rule. Because with that evidence that judge also has a certain amount of political protection. "Hey, they met the burden, I had to rule that way." If they want to hide behind that, that's their business, but they can do it.
Bottom line is, you get what you want for your client. So, you've got to be prepared. Certainly I think confinement is the first real issue that you can sink your teeth into and it's a very prevalent one. Because not everybody gets out of jail, certainly in Harris County, that's true. But you've got to be prepared with credible evidence, credible testimony. I believe Phyllis has or you will get during this conference a list hontree to physicians who are credible, medical witnesses. And I urge you to get those lists or contact Phyllis for them. I think it's necessary that you do that.
Likewise, there are transgenderal addicts and transgenderal homeless folks. And we have no facilities for them. From a standpoint of purely ethics, I think you have an obligation to try and force the system to deal with those issues. Now, if you've got a transgendered client who gets bail, who gets out of jail, who needs to go to a halfway house, the system has to deal with that. Your client shouldn't be denied that process just because we don't happen to have something set up right now. That gets us back to 1980 and Phyllis with the D.A.'s office. I think sadly, we're going to have to go back there over and over on each of these issues. But I think you have to push. The system will respond, but I think you have to push and you have to push credibly.
Employment is one area that I think is probably pretty hotly litigated right now. There are several cases that even I've seen and I don't read a lot of civil law. Forbes Magazine picked up, I think the April 26 issue, a piece on a Boeing engineer who evidently went through transition over a three year period and Boeing finally fired her, I think. You're becoming a mainstream issue, which is great. When you make Forbes, you've really ticked off a bunch of Republicans. I understand there's at least one Republican here from Vermont. The only Republican from Vermont; is that true? She proudly sat back there.
In the area of employment, I have two things to say. One is in this set of proceedings or during this program this year, I understand there's going to be a companion "Co-worker's Manual" to go along with the "Why is he or she doing this to us, Employer's Manual." The Employer's Manual is a great book. Sometime during the year, or at least when we do the appointed attorney course next spring, I'm going to try to get Phyllis to either include it or plagiarize parts of it into that program.
It has some of the most concise explanations and questions most often asked or the questions that ought to be most often asked. And the answers that ought to be most often given. It's a wonderful piece of work. Whoever, if the author is here, my hat's off to you. You did a fine job. It was the first thing I stumbled on in looking through the "Proceedings" and it really set the tone and allowed me to read through and understand more fully what I was doing.
But on the issue of employment, I think that's where you've really got some liability and that's where you got to fully explain to your client the Hobson's Choice again. I've seen some of the case law. I think what you're going to wind up having to tell them is, if you lie, when you try to claim your benefits, you're out. If you lie on the application, you're going to get fired. Don't lie. And I think this is the one time that I'm not[page 35] advocating getting upfront in everybody's face. Sometimes there's a time to leave the box blank and sometimes there isn't. And I think this is one of those times. If your client has legally changed her identity, you'll leave it at that and go forward. I don't know, some of you may disagree with that and I think it's probably the most controversial thing I'll say tonight, other than the Republican business. But Yolanda would agree with me. Yes.
But I think there really is a point where if it's not an issue upfront and your client has established a working history or a relationship with her employer, that is a positive one, A) you may be able to get through it when the time finally comes or B) you're going to have a hell of a good lawsuit.
Now, on the issue of disclosures and contracts, I don't know. I think a transgendered person needs to tell anyone they're dealing contractually with, if it's germane, who they are and why they are, and let that person decide. I think you could have fraudulent misrepresentation. I truly do. And I think there's going to be at least one speaker on that. I don't know whether it's today or tomorrow. Tomorrow.
So, really I'm confining my neutral response only to employment applications in that one little box that says "M" or "F." I'm just afraid that mainstream society isn't ready at this point and as my predecessor said, "You've got to give them time for that." So, I advocate not checking that box. I'm not comfortable with that as a person, but I think it's the only response at this point ethically that you can give your client is let them make that choice. But fully inform them of the possibilities.
Lastly, MCLE. Those of you who are from out of state, I believe most states now have some kind of continuing legal education programs. I urge you to advocate. Again, I do it because I think it's necessary and it's right. There are a lot of folks that aren't going to do it unless you push it at them.
I think you need to do two things in this regard. I think you owe it to yourselves and to the profession to educate the profession. Get involved with the continuing legal education folks in your communities and say, "Well, did you know that there are X number of hundreds." Always put two zeroes after everything. As a bureaucrat in government, you always put two zeroes after everything. If there's a thousand, put two zeroes, you've got 10,000. Now, you've got an issue. Whatever it is, you've got an issue. Add zeroes.
When you sit down and talk to somebody, say, "Did you know that there are this many of us here, and we vote. And as you know, there are other political blocks in this community, and you see what they do, well we do that too. We're just so powerful, you don't even know we exist." And add two more zeroes to the number of dollars that you generate each year. It's amazing. Political potency is a significant issue.
I've watched Ray. I love to have Ray come into my office. It's fun. The lesbian and gay community here is a force to be reckoned with. And I think there's a lesson to be learned there. Political activity works and while it's a very tried and true method, hey, don't reinvent the wheel. I mean you've got enough to deal with it as it is with mainstreaming. Political activity works. Hook on to that train. You've got to get the word out. You've got to raise awareness in local officials.
My judges are very fine folks. I don't know one of them that just would turn his back on a transgender issue. May not be comfortable with it, but he's not going to turn his back on it. And again maybe that's just locally we're very, very lucky. But we have a good bench here. So, follow the rut that works, don't reinvent the wheel, get your experts out in the community. There are plenty of lawyers that are more than willing to fight for their clients if they know what they're fighting. Why and how to do it. It's the only way you're going to perpetuate in your community what Phyllis has done here.
Lastly, I would urge you all to either get a copy of the "Proceedings" from last year or this year's as they come out and put them in your local law library. Now, I think that's real, real important. I have a set of the first "Proceedings" in my office. It's there right along with all my other MCLE material. I'll put the second set there. If Phyllis doesn't send them to me for free, I'll buy them.
I think you've got significant legal issues from an ethical standpoint to deal with each day, both that you owe the community as well as the community owes you. I tried to find a whole lot of great answers to all these pithy questions and couldn't. I mean the books just don't have them. You are truly on the cutting edge, and it's kind of fun to be on the cutting edge because you can make it up as you go along and see if it works.
I mean that is kind of neat. We're all bound by stare decisis. It's the first thing you learn in Legal Research and Writing I. It means whatever came before is what we have to perpetuate. Nothing's come before for you. And to be able to write on a clean slate as a lawyer, I think, is a real real opportunity.
I read an article that has nothing to do with transgender law, but it has to do with applying Admiralty Law to future commercial trips in space. Just a bizarre set of analogies, but I guess it could work. The point is you can start to establish a corpus juris in transgender law just any old way you want. I mean you get to make the facts. There's nothing that says it can't go your way. Nothing at this point. To me that's the most encouraging thing. There's nothing that says it can't go your way. I think you owe it to yourself and to the legal community to make it go that way. Thank you.
By Phyllis Frye:
That was terrific. And don't worry about the jokes and the humor. Jokes and humor are a lot of fun, but they're kind of like candy. And I really think we got treated to meat and potatoes tonight. And I want another round of applause for Marshall. That was Raymond Hill's voice calling out some more glowing words for our friend Marshall Shelsy.
I would like to __ for all us to acknowledge and thank Cathryn Nash and Mary Sherman and our Chef Eugene Nickolson for the wonderful time we've had tonight.
Okay. We're going to adjourn. I'll
see you tomorrow morning. We start at 9:00 sharp with Employment Law and
with Legal Intervention Law. I'll see you tomorrow at 9:00 o'clock.
TRANSGENDERED AND PROUD AND WE VOTE!
By Phyllis Frye:
Laura Skaer, would you please come up. Laura has a few comments she wants to make in introduction.
By Laura Skaer:
What I want to talk about here is what you see above our heads. [NOTE: She was referring to the banner which is in the History Section of this website.] This was __ it's really a neat thing because it was -- her words. One of the positions that I'm fortunate to occupy is that I am Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Winslow Street Endowment Fund which is our community's permanent endowment fund. And we have a balance of about $45,000 or $50,000. Two years ago when the IFGE convention was here, we made our first grant. And the purpose of this endowment fund is to help fund projects that advance our issues, help the community.
Elizabeth Skaer, Attorney,
Employment Law Director, ICTLEP
The very first grant we gave was $500 to the First International Conference for Transgender Law and Employment Policy. And what came out of that last year when it came time to consider the grant the second time, the one slam dunk was a $650 grant to the law conference, for this law conference. It's very, very gratifying to see that that money which is income earned on donations to the fund is being put to such good use. All of you are to be congratulated because you are helping making that money do the work it was intended to do.
We're fortunate to have two other trustees here, and I'd like to introduce them, Laura Caldwell and Abby Sapien. Our fourth trustee, Michelle Miles, lives in New York and could not be here. Laura and Abby are here because Laura directs the Strategic Planning Committee for IFGE, and Abby's on that.
Abby, at the trustees meeting when we considered our grant, this was her idea to do a banner. This banner would make a statement for our community to be primarily used initially at the March on Washington and then to be something that was not so specific to the March, but was something that could be used around the country at gatherings of events such as this and our community events. And so, when it came time to figure out what the banner should say, there was only one person to ask in my mind, and that was Phyllis Frye. So, these are her words and the Winslow Street money, and I'm really proud to have it hanging here because I think it makes a great statement for our community. Thank you.
By Phyllis Frye:
For those people reading the "Proceedings" and listening to the audio, it says, "Transgendered and Proud and We Vote." It's thirty feet wide and three feet high. It's beautiful blue with white letters. We carried that through the streets of Washington. It was exciting.
We are here today for the Friday Appellate Luncheon of the Second Annual International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy. My name remains Phyllis Frye. I haven't had it changed yet. I'm still an attorney in private practice and still the Executive Director of this conference.
As we meet for this luncheon, we are three quarters of the way through all of the working committee session work wherein the lay transgender community has the opportunity to meet with attorney moderators in the areas of employment, health, insurance, gender bill of rights, imprisonment, family, intervention, education in[page 39] transgender issues, personal identification and military law. During these working committee sessions, the lay community can learn and ask questions. During these working committee sessions, those attorneys attending for continuing legal education credits have the opportunity to delve into the legal details of how these legal subjects relate to the transgendered clients. This afternoon we will have our final working sessions.
MY JOB ALSO IS CONSCIOUSNESS RAISING
By Phyllis Frye:
Our first speaker is another member of the state legislature and is one of my law school classmates. She is the Honorable Debra Danburg and I've asked her to give a few words of welcome. Debra has been in the legislature long enough to have quite a bit of seniority. And she is definitely a policy maker. It's nice to have friends like that. But you know there's really only one way you can have friends like that, and that is if you are out of the closet to those people.
I'm going to ask her to talk a little bit about the last session concerning the name change statutes and the gender identification additions to the proposed human rights amendment, and I know that she can also maybe give us a few minutes of insight as to the legal fights that were going on. I want you to welcome Debra Danburg.
To give her an award is Jackie Thorne. Unfortunately, Jackie could not be here at noon today. She'll be here this evening. So she asked her evil twin brother to present this award.
Debra Danburg, Texas State Legislator
receiving award from Jackie Thorne, ICTLEP Director
and past President, Gulf Coast TRANSGENDER Community
By Jackie Thorne:
This is a certificate of appreciation. "May it be known, this certificate has been presented to Representative Debra Danburg, District 137, State of Texas, for outstanding acts of participation in the Gulf Coast Transgender Community and its gender support outreach program." Signed Jackie Thorn, President, Gulf Coast Transgender Community.
By Debra Danburg:
Thanks. It's good to be with you. Actually, Phyllis didn't tell me what she wanted me to speak about, so I didn't come terribly prepared and I apologize for that. But one thing I can very definitely do is welcome you to what is the, almost the most, southwest part of my legislative district. This organization has made me feel so welcomed. I met with individuals here a number of times, plus been to some of your previous workshops. And you always make me feel extremely welcome. I hope I can make you feel extremely welcomed.
You know much of Phyllis' job is probably consciousness raising. And yes, I've been in the legislature for a dozen years and have quite a track record of good successes in that regard. But as regard to transgender issue, much of my job also is consciousness raising. As Phyllis says, "All you have to do" __ I'm a very active gay rights advocate __ "all you have to do is, every time you say gay rights, say gay and transgender people's rights. That, in and of itself, is a consciousness raising activity."
We don't yet have majority support in the majority of the districts in the State of Texas. I know that comes as a surprise to you. Nevertheless, on basic issues of fairness, we do have successes that we can hang our hats on -- issues in which basic fairness ends up prevailing. One of the things that I unfortunately had to be very active involved being involved in AIDS legislation. And I'm always quick to say that, though once the tragedy of AIDS becomes a non-issue for our extended communities because we've found cures, we want to find ways of prevention as well as ways of cures. That still doesn't leave a whole job done.
There's still so much more that
needs to be done in the way of gay rights and transgendered person's
rights and general civil rights being available equally to all people in
this country. I got my start being active in the gay rights movement. I
think that it's important that we remember that civil rights, as a basis
that we come from, is something that needs to transcend any particular
issues of the day. Be it AIDS or whatever other kind of immediate crises
come up. Basically, we're all involved in a civil rights movement. And
we need to keep our eye on that common goal and that togetherness. Y'all
have been terribly supportive to me and I really appreciate it. Thank
you so much for being here and welcome.
NEAT IDEA: LAYPEOPLE AT A LAW CONFERENCE
By Phyllis Frye:
I don't see him, but I was going to recognize Jose Vasquez who was the banquet captain. We forget to give him a round of applause. So, those of you serving the room tell Jose we clapped for him.
I want to introduce another person that I hold in very high esteem. His name is David Mendoza. He's a judge for one of our misdemeanor courts. Court No. 11. David is very dear to me because he was the very first judge to give me an appointment for indigent clients. He was the very first one who signed the first voucher for my first county paycheck for representing indigent clients on an ad hoc basis.
I met David when he was screening, running for office. And I wasn't even finished with law school yet, but I remember holding his feet to the fire during that screening. He's a very dear man. He's a fair judge and I really enjoy working in his court. I want you to give a round of applause for a very fine person with a good heart, the Honorable David Mendoza.
David Mendoza, Judge,
Harris County Criminal Court at Law #11
By David Mendoza:
Thank you Ms. Frye. Good afternoon everyone. I'm proud to be here today, to spend some time with my friends and some old friends and acquaintances. And when Phyllis Frye asked me to come by and spend a few moments with you all today and share a meal and talk a little bit about the law and about issues in the transgendered community, I remembered back to 1985. It was maybe 1986, I forget. It's been so long ago when I first screened with GLPC. Phyllis asked me a question. And it had to do with how I would handle cases in terms of people coming before me, as to whether or not I would accord people their day in court regardless of their sexual orientation, their political views, their race, their ethnicity, whatever.
I told her I would do my utmost because I've had, on the occasion in my lifetime, to come across people who don't have an open mind, who don't treat everyone fairly, don't treat everyone as they would like to be treated. The point she made was, when I responded, that she's interested in liberty. She's interested, not in special extra rights. But she was interested in seeing to it that everyone, that the GLPC would endorse for support, would be people, who would not give anyone any extra rights, but who would accord everyone who came before them their equal rights, equal access to the courts, equal day in court, equal time to be heard.
Every time I see Phyllis, she comes across as a very competent, very professional, very caring. She does an excellent job. She has excellent results in trial and working on cases. And I often think about "Justice" -- looks like the Statue of Liberty. Have you ever seen those scales with "Justice", the blind goddess with the scales? It reminds me a little bit of Phyllis because she's statuesque, and she's very intelligent, and she has great presence in the court. I notice and everyone notices that the statue is blindfolded.
It's blindfolded for a reason. The reason is so that justice is meted out without regard to physical attribute or political persuasion or any other attributes other than the basic dignity and human rights with which a person should be dealt with. I often think that Phyllis serves the purpose. I think, at least to me in my court and my association with her, of sometimes taking that blindfold off. You should have a blindfold when you mete out justice, but you should not be blind to the injustices out there. That's why I, on a daily basis, have that outlook, have myself on the bench without blindfold and do the best I can to keep an open mind and treat everyone as they deserve to be; As the Constitution says that all persons are entitled to due process.
This conference is interesting to me in one sense. It's very unique, other than in perhaps the obvious sense,[page 42] but it's unique in that lay people and lawyers are at a conference together to discuss issues that affect them. These lay people, I suspect, are in the business community and so on. Just people who are interested in these legal issues and transgender law. And it's unique in bar association types of conferences and legal seminars. I've never been to one where you have the lawyers and the lay people, business people, professional people, whatever, discuss the legal issues that affect them. I think it's a neat idea. I thank you for this opportunity to address you all. Thank you.
ASSERTIVE INTEGRITY: COCKROACHES SCURRY
By Phyllis Frye:
When I spoke to our next guest, I mentioned that I was having problems getting some of you to gather up the courage to come out of your closets. And as you know, I've been doing my best to make your closets more uncomfortable the whole time you've been here. I told her that you had heard me so often that you were becoming "Phyllis-deaf" and she said, "Is that the same thing as being Mom-deaf?" I said, "yeep."
Our next guest is Nan Duhon. She's a good friend and when I say good friend I mean someone that I can trust. One of the best things about being out of a closet is that you learn who you can trust and who will shy away. You know, at our house, we never have to worry with, whenever people come over for a party or anything else, if they're going to get along with each other. Because they pass the litmus test when they cross our threshold. And so, when you're out, you know who to trust because they'll let you know right up-front whether you can trust them or not.
About friendship, I recently read a column. It went like this. Quote, "I have some wonderful friends who love me but who would cheerfully ruin my life if they knew I was a cross dresser." I read this in an article. Listen to it again. Quote, "I have some wonderful friends who love me but who would cheerfully ruin my life if they knew I was a cross dresser." Unquote. Who wants friends like that? Why do we surround ourselves with friends with that? I was told to watch my language so, who gives a blank about friends like that?
Assistant Dean for Alumni Affairs,
University of Houston Law Center
Well, I have a friend. Her name is Nan Duhan. I met her in law school. She was the Assistant Director[page 43] of Admissions there. She is now the Assistant Dean of Alumni Affairs. Please welcome a very true friend, Ms. Nan Duhon.
By Nan Duhon:
I'm a bit humbled. Phyllis called and asked me to come speak and here I sit with members of judiciary, Representative Danburg. I'm a bit humbled to be speaking before this group. But Phyllis, in her usual way, convinced me that I had a perspective to share with you all that was valuable. So she conned me into coming up here to speak today. When she asked me to speak, she wanted me to share with you my perspective of going through her law school experience with her. I've been at the University of Houston twenty-three years, and at the law school sixteen years. And there are a handful of students that really make being on a campus a special experience, and Phyllis is truly one of those people. I'm still choked up by my introduction.
When Phyllis began law school in 1978, I have to confess, no one knew what to do. Phyllis may not remember this, but we actually met before her application to law school. We both took a management class, Betty Stead's management class, if you remember Phyllis. I was over in Law Admissions at the time and knew that Phyllis was applying. So we began our friendship then began discussions about how this law school was going to be able to meet her needs and she would meet our needs and work together to form a new friendship. We were not a sensitive group, I might add. Most of our buildings were not even handicapped accessible.
Phyllis and I began this friendship that began with this conversation. This was an institutional problem because everyone wanted to do what was right, but no one really knew what right was. Remember this was 1978. But we had a sensitive administration, and I believe everybody tried their darndest. Phyllis constantly, I remember the days we met in my office, in "our" office, and talked about how to deal with problems.
There were a number of students who were very bothered and Phyllis always dealt with them: I would use the words "attacked" lightly, because many of them were very vicious attacks. They were people who were not sensitive, and were not comfortable and ignorant of what was occurring. And Phyllis always dealt with that. I tried to think of the word to capsulize Phyllis, and I thought "assertive integrity." She never let us off the hook. She pushed, but she always pushed with integrity unlike the people the opponents who fought you, I might add.
And I think the administration there did a very good job of being sensitive in trying to work with you and to become friends and to understand because there was a great degree of ignorance about again what was the right thing to do and to try to support. And she did a wonderful job of educating us. In fact, I think that probably the law school learned more from Phyllis during her law school years than Phyllis learned from the law school. It was a time of growth, and I think that we've become a better institution. We continue to be a better institution by events like this, of understanding people better. Isn't that what education is all about? The role that we probably should play to the public of being more sensitive to needs and to try to meet those needs to the best of our ability.
We spent a lot of teary times together but again always worked forward and pushed forward. I thought when Judge Mendoza said "holding your feet to the fire," and you do that so beautifully. You do. So that was 1978. Phyllis has never swayed from that vision and I commend her. I commend everyone in this room on that. You know that there's a mission, there's a vision and sometimes things take longer than you would like, but you have to keep persevering. And I applaud her integrity and her ability, her stick-to-it-tiveness never swaying from that vision.
One point, that Phyllis and I discussed today when she asked me to speak today, was remember that she began this phase of her journey in 1978 at the law center. This was when we first were introduced to each other and that was 15 years ago. And there's been a lot of headway made. I think of the thing, "you've come a long[page 44] way baby," but there's still a long way to go.
And that's why you all are here together for this conference to keep that torch moving forward. She's done a tremendous job of carrying that torch. I think the message, and one of the reasons everyone has been brought together today, is to make sure that everyone in this room and people beyond this room that we all know, make sure that we bear the responsibility of picking up that torch and helping her carry it forward as we move forward into the 21st Century to make those that come and those that are not comfortable to become comfortable, out of the closet. I commend you all and Phyllis on your efforts. Thank you for having me here today.
By Phyllis Frye:
Nan Duhon is so cute. She's talking about my being aggressive. I always looked at it like turning on the lights and watching the cockroaches scurry. Because when they come after you, they don't want everybody else to know how vicious and mean they are. When you take some of their ugliness that they've put in your study carrel, or whatever, and you put it up on the bulletin board for everybody to see, they don't like that.
When you ask the professor,
"Would you mind if I address the class for two minutes at the end
of the class?" "Sure that's fine." At the end of the
class you stand up and say, "I just wanted you to know that some
wonderful people at the law school did this and this and this and
this." That, my friends, is turning on lights and watching the
cockroaches scurry. They love to do mean things as long as everybody
thinks they are nice. They don't like for people to find out just how
rotten to the core they are. You can call it assertive, that's fine.
EVERY FAILURE GETS YOU CLOSER TO SUCCESS
By Phyllis Frye:
Now it's time for the main attraction. We are here to meet someone with a view from the Appellate Bench. The Honorable Alice Oliver-Parrot, no other friend that I can, as a transgendered person, trust openly, is the first woman to ever sit as a Chief Justice over any Appeals Court in Texas. She was recently nominated to the federal bench.
I first met Alice in 1980. I was interviewing for a summer job with a law firm. Now, in 1980 I knew no one would hire little-ole-cross-dressed-me, but I knew that they needed to be educated. So, I interviewed. I'm not going to say anymore because I asked her to re-tell the story. She tires of telling it, but please do it again. Welcome Judge Oliver-Parrot.
By Alice Oliver-Parrot:
Thank you. And I deserve no less, I might say. My name is Alice Oliver-Parrot, and I am Chief Justice of the 1st Court of Appeals in the State of Texas which means virtually nothing to most of you since you're not from Texas, and you're not lawyers. You certainly know that to appeal something means you have already lost, and you're not interested in losing. But I'm here for a lot of reasons. Phyllis is a friend of mine, but I'm not going to waste my whole time talking about Phyllis like everybody else does. That gets me no where. Obviously, she's my friend and that's why I'm here. I came last year. I recognize a lot of you from last year. I'm glad to see you again. If I repeat myself, forgive me. That's a problem of old age.
Alice Oliver-Parrot, chief Justice,
1st Court of appeals, Texas
But the joke as to why I'm selected for the Friday lunch as opposed to heading something like a seminar that I actually may know something about is Phyllis constantly makes jokes about the way I dress. I sort of find that mightily amusing coming from Phyllis, that I dress in sort of a bizarre manner. But, hey, she jokes with me, and I can joke with her. And so she invites me to her Friday lunch because she says there's no dress code and that's good. For somebody like me, that's great.
I am coming up now on my 20th year in the law, and I figured out, about the first six months, I was going to do it just my way. I wasn't going to grow my hair or cut my hair or whatever it is they wanted me to do, I was going to do precisely the opposite. And actually it didn't work out at first, but it has certainly evolved, has it not, that people now appreciate difference? They're not afraid to laugh and have a little, poke a little, fun at themselves or at our revered institutions. We take pleasure in being alive and participating and having one another with whom to participate.
It has changed. It has changed. Perhaps not fast enough for some of us and too fast for a majority of us, but the change is coming. It is evolving and we are all part of it.
And before I go on to what I want to talk to you about, Phyllis __ she always makes me tell this story because actually it shows what an absolute uneducated person I was. But the first time I met Phyllis, she indeed did come to interview for a job. I was with a large law firm, Fullbright and Jawarski. It's an excellent firm here in Houston. When I joined it in 1975, there were 306 lawyers. I was "the" woman. Tip you off to a problem? But it started going all right and actually by 1980 I thought we were a fairly liberal bunch. They sent a team of us to interview at the University of Houston. And actually, I think you were interviewing for a clerkship, seems like you were a second year. That's what we were interviewing for.
And the fellow I was interviewing with was a graduate of Texas A & M. He was a Fightin' Texas Aggie. He'd been in the Corps and those of you from Texas will appreciate __ that sort of says it all. But it was a conservative university at that time when he went and Phyllis went. It's very military in it's orientation and I'll just say there's never been a Democrat that's ever graduated from there -- so, not necessarily conducive to broad thoughts.
Well, this guy's a great guy, and he lets me tell this story: he doesn't mind. His name is Ottway Denny which is weird too, isn't it. He's sitting there, and I'm the "girl" interviewer, and he's the conservative. And we're flipping through these resumes. You always look at the name and then you check the grade. You're just sort of like trying to figuring out whose these people are. So I have this resume and I go, "Oh, hey, here's a girl that graduated with you from Texas A & M." He goes, "Oh, really?" Because there were a few women then, but very, very few. I said, "Yeah." He says, "Well, I'm bound to know her." It's a big university but there were like a hundred women at that time there. He goes, "Well, what's her name?" I said, "Phyllis Frye." He said, "No, I don't think so."
I said, "Well, yeah, she was in the Corps and everything." He goes, "excuse me." I said, "Well, it says right here." And it had all these little awards, not little, but all these military this, military that __ I can't even remember. It looked pretty impressive. He said, "This is a con, this is a scam. There were no women in the Corps. This is a phony resume. This can't be true."
So, I'm so excited when the doors open, and in walks Phyllis. She looks as she does now. She sits down in front of us. She folds her hands, and I'm fixated on this great big old huge Texas A & M ring. And I mean to the point, I'm trying to be polite, but
I cannot bring my eyes up off her hand. I, however, am handling it oh, so much, better than he is. Because you see he has seen the ring, too.
I sort of fake it for a while. And then I just can't take it anymore. I go, "Okay, okay I give up. What's the deal?" Because I had no idea. And she lays me out and tells me exactly what the deal is, and I think perhaps I had never even heard the word before because I remember I didn't let it go easily. In other words she says this is this. I don't go, "Okay." I go "Well, what's that? Why is that?" And we get in this thirty minute intense conversation where she has to go on. I'm so insensitive. "Well, how do you do that?" She's like, "Well I guess I'll tell you. I didn't really want to do that in my law interview, but okay."
But it was such a awakening for me, not so much for him. I don't know. Maybe he was sort of stunned. But it was such a time that I just opened my heart and saw something I didn't even know possible. I grew up in Waco, Texas. You heard about it on the news: he isn't the worse guy that ever lived in Waco, Texas, nor the biggest religious fanatic.
And I had never ever been exposed to such difference. And I now have, since that time, educated myself a little further and learned to celebrate everybody's differences. And too, like you, like all of you, to take pleasure in them, to be interested, to listen when you say to somebody, "how are you?" to actually listen what they say back. When you say to someone, "Would you like to come over sometime?" to mean it. Really mean it. Follow up, give them a date, invite them by. When they need you to come to something, get on over there. Take that little bit of effort.
I will say though Phyllis, today as I was leaving downtown and it is LBJ's birthday and my holiday, that's okay. We will have to talk about the scheduling next year. But I was downtown working anyway, and I started to come out and hit the Southwest Freeway. You've all educated yourselves on this horrible freeway. And it's just shut down. It's raining, flooding on me. It's hard to know about the flooding and I though, "Oh, my Lord, the right-wingers could be right. Maybe God is irritated by this meeting." And then, you know, I arrived safely, early with plenty of time. I discovered "SHE" doesn't really mind at all. We're all here. We are celebrating our differences.
We are educating ourselves on those issues that are important, not just to a particular community, although this particular community certainly does have issues which are important to every human being functioning in our society, period. We are educating ourselves because we're basically uneducated. Because unless we get together, unless we talk about it, unless we relax, and sort of visit and get to know one another, we will never come to those answers that we have to seek because this, what you are doing, is part of an evolution.
You know I listened to the Honorable Debra Danburg who is a fine public servant and a great legislature. I listened to the Honorable David Mendoza who is a prince of a fellow and a fabulous judge. I listened to an educator, and I never really liked people in administration of any university, but you seem like a lovely person. And I thought to myself with these personal testimonies of Phyllis did this and Phyllis did that. What we, you and I, what we were seeing in their speaking to us was an evolution of thought.
Every single one of these people were no better probably than I was at one point on understanding issues. But because we have exposed ourselves, because we opened our minds and our hearts, because we listened after we said, "How are you?" we had evolved in our thinking to such a point. We're not totally evolved to such a point that we have actually something to contribute back, not just to your community but to the larger community in which we live. And we can hopefully, together with you, have some identity of interest to educate all of us on being sensitive to one another.
Now, this little talk was headlined as an Appellate Luncheon. Nobody, nobody, wants to hear about appeals. It is so boring and so dull. In fact, the reason I wanted to get on the federal bench was basically so I can get off the Appeal's Court. Because, you know, I don't look that good in black, but at least on the trial bench someone can talk to me. In Appellate Court, it's all paper.
The beauty of the Appellate Court, however, is we do make law. All those books, all those cases, some of which you think are so wrong, have come from Appeal's Courts. We write opinions, we give them to the publishers, they put them in the books and that becomes the law that governs your life. It's in black and white and it's hard to change it once it's down. And so what I'm going to talk to you about is how you, layman and lawyer, can impact that law; how you can make your complaints known; and how, maybe, hopefully, you can take part of the evolution of thought and legal precedent and educate those of us that actually get to write the words. You don't get to write them so, your only hope of course is to educate us.
First, I want to say to you what you already know. Speak out. Speak in measured tones, however. There are times that you may need to shout and those times come, definitely. Sometimes it's in Washington, D.C. on a roadway. Sometimes it's in smaller surroundings. To deal with an evolution in law, you have to be very measured sometimes. And you have to make a series of steps in an evolution to bring about a real change.
Sort of, think of yourselves as pioneers. You know, like pioneers that went west. Remember that. Those pioneers were seeking change. They wanted something new, something different, and justice. A place where they could live without judgment, without dictates, primarily in their situations of class, economic class. And what they did was they pioneered and went west and most of the time, they went right in the face of adversity.
They failed many more times than they succeeded. You understand that. That is a requirement of change. You must accept the reality of failure. And you must understand that if you fail, for instance in impacting a law, or passing a piece of legislation, that by that failure, you have educated someone. You have made some step. You have sensitized if it's no one more than, and not to demean your job, but the guy or gal that's taking the words down. Someone has heard you.
And so in each and every failure, we get that much closer to the success we seek. Now, there are some issues that we must accept reality. We may never succeed in our own lifetimes. May never. A lot of pioneers died in the past, you know, the winters were hard. They were buried by the trail. But that is not necessarily an end of which we should have any fear. You know what they did was success in their doing it. They educated: they moved forward. They instigated change in others, and they set examples that allowed those other pioneers or advocates of change to go forward.
Their failures become successes. And all of a sudden, the west got pushed further and further and further until the only thing that stopped them was the sea. Because had there been another foot of land they would have gone on to it. There is no body of water to stop the evolution of change in the law. There is no physical[page 48] block. It can evolve to its complete and just conclusion. Make your complaint known. Speak up. Take measured steps if necessary. Do not be troubled by what you may perceive, or society labels, as failure. That's required to get success.
Also understand how we work. We can't do __ we, these courts, these amorphous groups that you fight and complain about -- we can't do anything for you until you go through several steps to get to us. You have to do something. You have to impact the law in some way. You have to, a lot of times, get yourself in trouble. You have to stay in trouble even in the good courts down below. Then you have to come on up to us and articulate what your position is and articulate it based on the one thing that is our "bible". And that is the United States Constitution.
And in the State of Texas, I'll encourage you also to quote the Texas Constitution because it's even better than the United States Constitution. Those of you not familiar with the Texas Constitution, we had some real independent thinkers writing our Constitution. And we wrote it big and broad and wide, and we didn't want anybody messing with an individual in this state. And we gave them a document so that can happen. The United States Constitution has it, but it's sort of been __ a few decisions have sort of -- narrowed, but the Texas Constitution is great. So, in you're in our state, use our bible.
Speak the language that we can speak back to you. Try not to communicate with us just based on emotion. Believe me, I understand emotion. I can remember not getting jobs. I can remember a lot of things. I don't want to forget, I want to remember what I perceived to be little injustices along the way. But the thing you got to do is speak to us in our language, and our language is the Constitution. We understand, as Judge Mendoza says, due process. We understand open access to the courts. We understand a public trial and a trial by your peers. We understand equal protection. We understand those terms.
We may not understand your particular issue. Normally we don't. But you don't have to be able to manufacture widgits to make a case matter of widgits. We don't have to. We just have to understand the principles that you communicate with us.
I just went to a meeting out in San Francisco, and it was the American Trial Lawyers Association which is a real __ Debra is real familiar with that group -- great group, and they're sort of perceived as the bomb throwing plaintiff's lawyer liberal types of the community. Actually, they're not that liberal but they think they are. And I want to a judge's conference there, and it was the strangest __ first of all, I've never been in a room with like 300 judges from around the country -- sort of strange to me. I thought, for people who say they're dedicated to protecting and guarding the constitution and serving the constitution, it was sort of a dry dusty looking bunch. But what I was doing to them is what they were doing to me. I was judging them on their appearance. I wasn't giving them a chance.
We broke out in these little groups. We talked about certain issues. You will be happy to know that across the country, virtually everyone of them, male, female, minority member or not, were all dedicated to just "doing right" by the Constitution. It was a very simple goal, really.
I'm not going to say that there weren't a few that you or I would want to seek employment elsewhere. Sure. There may be a couple of these here in this room. People sometimes used good causes for their own ends. But for the most part, you can take great heart that they were not there to further agendas. And they had all gotten there in different ways. Some of them were appointments by the governors, some of them were elected like I was. Some of them were elected by very conservative constituencies. I mean it was a very interesting group. And they all seemed to be dedicated to just what they ought to be dedicated to and that's protecting the United States Constitution against any onslaught.
The reason you must help us in that is because we are threatened right now. I don't know if you see it. I feel it and sometimes I know Representative Danburg feels it. I feel so frightened -- I'm not really; I'm not[page 49] really scared of anything; I'm just using the term so loosely -- that they want to legislate away our Constitution. They want to put into statutes limits on things when the Constitution places no limits.
Men, using that as a generic term meaning all of us, want to dictate that life should be the way they perceive it. And they want to put it into law and type it up and pass it and stick it in the book somewhere so we all, all of us, must conform to that.
And it's not that all the laws are bad: some of them are great. It's just that, I don't know about you, but kind of like I told the guy about prayer in school. He was all over me for being opposed to prayer in school. And I mean he was __ believe me down here that's a hot issue -- this guy was in my face. I mean he was on me. Like I was an anti-Christ, which I thought was interesting since I'm like the biggest church goer in America. If the door opens then I'm in there burning incense or lighting candles. But I let him talk and he talked and talked and talked and talked, and I said all right. I agree with you.
Alice Oliver-Parrot, Chief Justice,
1st Court of Appeals, Texas
In fact, I'm now the mother of six, four of my own and two beautiful stepdaughters. I'm going to tell my kids tomorrow to go to their middle schools and high school and say they want to say a prayer over the public address system. And in fact, I'm going to let my middle son do it because he's my kind of wacky kid and he's got a great prayer because he reads a lot of the Buddhism and he understands it. And I think I'll let him offer up for those two or three thousand students some philosophy that he believes they all should share with him.
This guy's looking at me. He's talking about Jesus Christ when he's talking about prayer in school. What does he know from Tibet, Nepal, or anywhere else. I said, "Sir, don't you understand? Just because we're in power, just because it gets to be our prayer this week, there's no guarantee it's our prayer next week. Nor should it be." We should not have a Constitution that has to change with society's whims. We should have a document just as we have for two hundred years that works no matter who's in power, no matter who's the majority or who's the minority, no matter what is the accepted religion and what is not or what is the accepted lifestyle and what is not. And we have to have that because there is no guarantee on the future as to what society is going to demand or accept. And because of that, we cannot let them legislate away the one document that secures that for all of us.
Now, what you can do is don't become disillusioned. See, some of you already have that. Last year when I was talking to some people here, they seemed a little jaded and a little disillusioned. I mean they went on and on and on. "Then we do this, and they won't even change our name." As Debra says, "I've changed my name many times, why can't you change your name?" She reminds me. She's known me under two or three of my names for different reasons. Life is also an evolution.
I said to them, don't be disillusioned because you see when you lose heart, we lose heart. And you must maintain your belief in the Constitution so we, the people that are there guarding it, do too. You must work within the system of laws to maintain the system of laws. And believe me, that is the only thing that will save all of us, not just you. If we allow this to become a system of men or women, and what certain men or women want or think, then we have lost the only security of freedom that we have.
You got to stop telling lawyer jokes. Don't tell those lawyer jokes. They're not that funny. They're not. I'm sorry. I know a lot of good dirty jokes that are tremendously funnier than any lawyer joke I've ever heard. They're not funny because, the reason they're not funny is, sure they're a couple of bad lawyers like a couple of bad doctors or a couple of bad professors or a couple of bad legislators or a couple of bad business people.
Lawyers, and their role in our society, are the people you should be honoring. It is the lawyer that gives you access to the court. It is the lawyer that speaks for you to make your complaint known, to argue and secure the due process and equal protection that you desire and you deserve. And if we tell a bunch of lawyer jokes, perhaps people will start taking it all as a joke. And they don't realize the seriousness of a role of a legal professional.
It's interesting, you know, we lawyers are sort of testy about these jokes now. I mean, legal principles have been going back to Magna Carta. I mean, this isn't some new thing we just dreamed up. I mean, we've been doing this for quite sometime. And it's been evolving since the roman republic of what the lawyer is. Now, that's second century B.C. So, that's been quite sometime. We fancy ourselves, and we are correct, that we are the voices for the voiceless. Sometimes the voiceless is the widow lady Jones and sometimes the voiceless is business. But without the lawyer, they have no voice in the court which serves them.
So, don't be so disillusioned. Remember a quote by Adolph Hitler. You should remember this every time you start getting mad at lawyers or police or anybody sort of in the system. Remember Adolph Hitler. It was a real big speech. I can say it in German but my Waco accent is so bad, I'm afraid somebody here really speaks German, so I won't. I'll sort of translate it. He said, "I will not rest until every German knows that it is a shameful thing to be a lawyer."
And you know why he said that. When he first started his work in Germany some little old lawyer kind of stood up and said, "Well, that really doesn't seem fair." They had a constitution, you see. Deutschland was not always a dirty word. And Deutschland had a constitution, and in that constitution it guaranteed certain freedoms and freedoms from oppression. Some poor little old Lutheran stood up and said, "you know, I don't we ought to do that. This fellow owns his business. The State can't cease his business and send him off." So, Adolph Hitler right away figured out that we just won't have a constitution. He tore that up. And then all the lawyers, of course, got outraged. And so he said, "And next, we just won't have any lawyers." Okay. And that's what he did. It's fairly simple.
You know the little quote the Shakespearian quote that people always say to you, "Let's kill the lawyers." That little quote, it's Henry the VI, I think. They think that little quote is against lawyers. Obviously, those guys never read any Shakespeare because the play is about an anarchy and the character that speaks those words is an anarchist. And actually his name is Jack Kaid and he works for this fellow named somebody, the butcher. His name is escaping me but what the butcher wanted to do was overthrow the government. And they said, "Okay, here's what we're going to do. We're going to bomb all the buildings and kill the king. We're going to do this and this. But first, let's kill all the lawyers." Because you see, even Shakespeare knew that the way to bring about rule by men rather than rule by law is first kill all those irritating lawyers who read our Constitution or our Magna Carta, our document that lives longer than any of us.
So, I know most of you aren't lawyers. And I am always hesitant to talk about how great we are in front of our consuming public. But understand and appreciate our role. Assist us in our work because ultimately that[page 51] work is to the best benefit of all of us.
It is a real pleasure to be here with everybody. Some of you I know real well. In fact, I __ I'm still evolving in my thought. Every time I come here or talk with Phyllis or I meet new people, my thought evolves some more. You know, two or three or four or five more decades I may understand all this. Okay.
In fact, that's not important: it's not important that I understand everything. It's important that you and I, together, understand what is good for all of us. And I feel that you would not be such active participants in this conference if you didn't feel that way. I'm grateful to be a part of it. I appreciate you Phyllis for allowing me to speak. Thank you very much.
By Phyllis Frye:
That speech deserved a standing ovation. I'm glad you got it. I heard today some very warm and complimentary words from Debra Danburg, and I thank you. I heard some warm words from David Mendoza, and I thank you. I heard some warm and loving words from Nan Duhon, and I thank you. And from Alice, I thank you also. But that's not the point.
The point is that you need to go home and you need to educate your state legislature, your Debra Danburg's, and you need to come out of the closet to your judges, your David Mendoza's and you need to interview with your Alice Oliver-Parrot's -- because that's when she was interviewing for a job -- and out of the closet you need to meet and educate your Nan Duhon's who are policy makers. That is where the change comes from, not from the "Phyllis Frye how", but from you, individually, going home in your community and coming out of the closet and educating the non-transgendered people.
Director, Sister Mary Elizabeth,
and court reporter Leticia Salas
I want to introduce one other
person. I'm not going to ask her to speak. But the most important part
about this law conference is what Alice referred to and that is the
published books. The first law conference lives and will continue to
live, and it will be used because we put together a transcripted
"Proceedings". And as much as I love video and a lot of people
are going to learn about this law conference by watching the video, and
as much as I love audio and a lot of people are going to be listening to
this law conference in their cars on audio, it is the written word, it
is our written "Proceedings" that is going to really and truly
go on after this conference. I want you to meet, and I want her to come
up here, our certified court reporter, Leticia Salas.
All material on this website
copyright to Phyllis Randolph Frye. Esq.
(unless otherwise annotated)
© January 2001, Houston, Texas
Page last updated: Sunday, January 28, 2001 10:22 AM