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BECOMING, PART 3

Transgender Discrimination

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Tony Barreto-Neto Tony Barreto-Neto
Nancy Judd Nancy Judd

Barton, Vermont - November 14, 2008

"I try to be cautious so not to put myself in a situation that is going to be dangerous or draw attention to myself," Michele Todd explains.

Michele wants to blend in with the crowd-- go unnoticed-- to avoid violence. She's transgender and always on alert.

"I'm not an evil person. But a lot of people would look at it that way," she explains.

So many trans people live in the shadows, hiding from a world that sees them as freaks.

"I have not met one trans person who didn't have that fear in the back of their minds at all times," psychologist Nancy Judd says.

Last year, 11 trans people in Vermont reported cases of hate or violence to Safe Space in Burlington, an organization providing services to victims. Officials say that number is highly underreported due to fear of retaliation and coming out.

"The resistance from the community is so great," Judd says. "That can be a safety issue for trans people. Many are transphobic."

It can also be a lonely life.

Many trans people are rejected by their families; grow up hating their bodies; suffer from depression, drug abuse, and suicide.

"Every day a little piece of me was dying," Tony Barreto-Neto says.

And some, like Tony, deal with discrimination.

"My experience at Hardwick was eye opening to say the least," Tony says.

Tony was born a baby girl-- Maycelle Barreto-Neto on October 3, 1946. But like other trans people, he felt trapped in the wrong body until he fully transitioned from female to male in the mid-90s-- undergoing sexual reassignment surgery.

"I felt liberated then. I thought, Oh my God I can get out of this. I don't have to live this part of my life that's a lie," he explains.

Tony went on to do great things in law enforcement, earning numerous awards over his career. He is a highly decorated cop.

Tony, his wife, and adopted daughter moved to the Northeast Kingdom in 2003. He joined the Hardwick Police Department.

"They started out loving me. They thought I was the greatest thing since Grandma's apple pie," he recalls.

But Tony says things changed once town officials learned he was transgender.

"It was like day and night. I went to work one day and no one talked to me," he says.

Tony says he was ostracized, harassed, and officers didn't respond to calls for backup. On some occasions, he felt his life was put in danger. He was being forced out.

"I was a victim," Tony says. "I know I will never forget it and I will do everything in my power to prevent anyone else from going through it."

He sued. And the Attorney General's office found the complaints credible. The town settled, paying Tony $90,000 in damages.

"It's a horrible thing to go through," he says.

Transgender advocate Kara DeLeonardis says, "We needed the protection in our law to make sure that didn't happen."

Advocates for Vermont's transgender community lobbied the Legislature to pass an anti-discrimination law. And in July of last year, Vermont joined 10 other states in making it illegal to discriminate against a trans person. They cannot be denied housing, a job, or public accommodations because they are transgender.

"A lot of discrimination and hate is based on peoples' assumptions of what they are seeing," DeLeonardis says. "With passing this law we have continued Vermont's tradition of being a leader in equal rights."

Since the law was enacted, the Attorney General's office has received a handful of workplace discrimination inquiries. Currently, the state has started a preliminary investigation into one of those allegations.

"A clarification was needed in the law," Tony says. "People can say, 'OK, I know I can get help.'"

Tony says he relied on his wife and God to get him through that time in his life. He's a Eucharistic minister in the Catholic Church.

Tony is grateful for the new law but says fear may still keep many trans people from coming forward with discrimination complaints.

"I know people now who live here who are scared to death that someone might know anything," he says.

Christa is in a relationship with another trans woman. But we should point out that being transgender has nothing to do with a person's sexual orientation. Some trans people are gay. Some are not. The two are completely unrelated, according to experts.

On November 22, the Transgender Day of Remembrance will be held in cities all over the world, including Burlington. It's a day set aside to mourn people who have been killed through transphobic violence.

For more information on transgender issues:
Human Rights Commission -- www.hrc.state.vt.us
TransAction -- www.ru12.org/vermont-transaction
Outright Vermont -- www.outrightvt.org
RU12? -- www.ru12.org

Darren Perron - WCAX News

Related Stories:

Becoming, Part 1: Understanding Transgender

Becoming, Part 2: The Mental and Medical Sides of Transgender

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