Picking Fights Over Human Rights!

What does identity mean to you? Do we have to conform to a certain identity?

San Francisco gay rights, community, and spiritual leaders all reacted this week to the news of Bruce Jenner’s transgender transformation into Caitlyn Jenner, saying that a person’s identity goes further than simply his or her gender.

Caitlyn Jenner made her first public appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair’s July issue, bringing mainstream attention to the previously blanked transgender community. Sparks believes that Jenner’s physical transition was not her identity but rather her perception of femininity.

While America is focused on gender in the Jenner case, identity is really at the core of what took place, said Theresa Sparks, executive director of the Human Rights Commission.

“(Jenner’s) identity is something that she probably perceived when she was very, very young,” Sparks said. “For as long as she can remember… and to realize that identity takes a long, long time.”

Gender identity begins at birth with a decision by a physician or someone else who doesn’t really know a person, Sparks said.

“Our identity and our gender, internal gender, is determined the minute we’re born by a total stranger,” Sparks said. “When a doctor delivers us, he or she takes a look at the body they’ve just delivered, the child, and they … set your identity, your gender identity, for the rest of your life by looking at one thing.”

Scott Shulkin, director of the San Francisco Counseling Center, thinks that identity changes over time.

“We are constantly changing… identity has to change,” he said.

“Our place and our culture impact our identity,” Shulkin added. “It’s the way we think of ourselves based on multiple factors,” such as religion.

Identity can be something bigger than just one person.

“God is a part of my identity,” said Jeff Dodge, associate rector of St Luke’s Episcopal Church.

“A sense of belonging is absolutely important to identity,” Dodge said. “And I think that wherever one finds a sense of belonging and love… you can find a sense of love in a place of hate. But a sense of belonging and love… is what I find important to that.”

Zach Allen, a gay rights lawyer with Arnold & Porter LLP, said that the question of identity is “very open ended.”

Yet, “People don’t just view themselves as one thing,” Allen said. “Your identity is sometimes imposed on you by people in the majority.”

While the Caitlyn Jenner case may be the latest battle in the transgender war, it does not mean that it is over.

“Every day, there is a new fight to pick,” she said.
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