Monday, April 18, 2016

Heartbreak Hill

Boston Sky
I’m in Boston this weekend, but not for the marathon. Earlier this spring, my dad’s heath began to fail. Diabetes and arteriosclerosis were conspiring to restrict blood flow to his 83-year old legs and feet, and he was in danger of losing a few toes, and possibly a leg.

Coincidentally, three years ago and just days before the 2013 Marathon, my dad, then 80, had heart bypass surgery at Tufts Medical Center. I remember visiting him in the hospital on Sunday shortly before he was moved to a rehab facility in neighboring Newton, our family’s hometown, and just blocks from the start of infamous Heartbreak Hill.  The next day, Tufts became one of receiving hospitals for many of the victims of the so-called Boston Bombing.

Settled in his new location I decided to return to Maine, my adopted home for the previous twelve years, and not stay and cheer on the runners on Monday, like I had done countless times since childhood, and also appreciate as a marathon runner myself. As my dad slowly regained his strength in the rehab facility, bomber and terrorist, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured, hiding in a boat parked in a Watertown driveway.

Last month, my dad was back at Tufts Medical Center, and the vascular surgeon performed two angioplasties in his left leg and removed one dead toe.  While the five hour surgery was quite extensive, the surgeon was unsure the prognosis at that time. We’ll have to wait and see was the approach

We got word this week things didn’t look good. The blood flow hadn’t improved enough to sufficiently to heal wounds on his feet and two more toes had turned black, just like you see in those documentaries about mountain climbers with frostbite.  An emergency procedure was planned for Saturday to see if an arterial bypass in his leg would be possible to save his leg.  You know it’s urgent when they schedule a weekend surgery.

I drove directly to Tufts Medical Center last Friday after work. I had an idea the city would be alive and full of people with the marathon on Monday. I pulled into the garage across from the hospital, which doubles as a garage for theatergoers. Waiting in line to park, I noticed a bold sign, Flat Rate $28 Paid Upfront for Event Parking, No refunds!  That sucks I thought to myself, I’m not going to the damn theater, I’m visiting my dad in the hospital. Finally it was my turn. I “rolled down” the window.

“Where you headed ma’am?”

“The hospital” I replied, thinking I’d have to fork-over $28 upfront.  

But, in a very sincere tone, he answered,

“Okay” and handed me my parking ticket.

I found the floor and the room where my dad was staying. It’s the same floor, and nearly the same room he was in last month, and three years ago. It’s become all too familiar.  Already in the room with my dad, were my mom, my two sisters, and my oldest brother. As they said their hellos, I looked to my dad sitting up in bed. His hair, which has been nearly non-existent for years, was a mess, and I noticed he was wearing a sweater under his blue Johnny.  He raised his arms, calling out my name, Gia! signaling me to come give him hug. I walked over and hugged him gently while kissing his forehead, like I’ve done so many times these past few years. But this felt different. I sat down next to his bed and could see sadness and perhaps fear behind his perpetually bloodshot eyes.  I reached out and touched his arm and the faded brown cashmere was wonderfully soft, warned down after so many years.

I spent Friday night with my mom, my two sisters and five nieces. The next morning we awoke, and one by one found a place around the kitchen table. While some of us drank coffee, my nieces had glasses of milk and ate pancakes with chocolate chips. I don't know what they think is happening to their "papa."  My older sister was already at the hospital, waiting with my dad for his surgery to begin.

After breakfast, I sat in the living room and read some of the Boston Globe. There was a cover story about a recent LGBT event where trans activists interrupted the Massachusetts' governor, demanding he take action and support a bill that would ban discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations, such as going to a restaurant, staying in a hotel, accessing the emergency room, and yes, using a bathroom. As a transgender woman who was born in Boston and visits Massachusetts regularly to see my family and spend time with my friends, and girlfriend, I find the current law deplorable. I flipped to the back of the first section, and their was and OP Ed written by the Boston Globe, criticizing the trans activists for being rude and interrupting the governor.  I was furious with the Globe’s board for taking such a patronizing position, telling us trans folk to be more polite.

I immediately wanted to write a letter to the editor and tell them I don’t have time to be polite. My dad is in the hospital facing loosing his leg, and possibly more, and my mom is afraid of what will happen next. I just want to spend the precious time I have left with my aging parents and not worry about which bathroom to use or which restaurant is safe for me to go to with my girlfriend so she hold me close and tell me it’s all going to be okay.

The Boston Marathon is today, and I don’t care. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016


Trans Day, Maine State House, March 31, 2016
This past Thursday I was one of the featured speakers for a press conference at the first-ever, Trans Day at the Maine State House.  Below are the remarks I shared to an audience of supporters, curious legislators and lobbyists, and members of the beautiful trans community in Maine.

Good morning! 

My name is Gia Drew, and I am Program Director at EqualityMaine, a statewide organization that has been working to secure full equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Mainers since 1984.  I also serve as president of the board of directors of Maine Transgender Network, an organization that provides support, education and resources for the transgender community across the state.

As a transgender woman, just five years removed from publicly embracing my trans identity, I’m honored and slightly overwhelmed to have been asked to speak this morning at the first ever, TRANS DAY at the Maine State House.

I do want sure to thank the organizers from Maine Transgender Lobby for bringing this event to life on this Transgender Day of Visibility. It is truly a magical day.

On this last day of March, I want to call attention to Maine’s record in advancing equality. Our state motto “Dirigo” which translated, means “I lead” is fitting. Not only does America’s day begin in Maine, but we have lead the nation in ensuring that everyone who lives and/or visits this beautiful state feels safe and welcome in every aspect of their life. In 2005, Maine was one of first states in the nation to extended anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation as a protected class, which as defined in the Maine Human Rights Act, to include gender identity and expression. This law protects Mainers like me, against discrimination in housing, employment, education, public accommodations, and credit.

Soon after the Maine Human Rights Act was passed, state agencies went to work and updated policies, regulations, and procedures to not only reflect the new law but also provide necessary guidance on how to interpret the law in their specific area. Unfortunately, rules and guidelines related to education never came to light, leaving school districts to interpret the law on their own, some did so with satisfactory results, others did nothing, and so we’re left with a patchwork of policies and procedures that vary drastically from one school to the next, leaving educators and administrators in the dark on how to follow a law passed eleven years ago.

In 2014, the Maine Supreme Court affirmed the rights of a transgender student, Nicole Maines, affording her all the rights of other girls at her school.  This past year, both the Maine Human Rights Commission and Department of Education finally created guidelines for schools to follow which would have given educators and administrators the tools needed to better support LGBT students, and addressing the needs and the safety of transgender students.

Unfortunately, those guidelines, which were ready for public comment this winter, needed the Governor’s signature to move forward on a procedural step. He declined to act, and in doing so, left schools, educators, administrators, parents, and students out in the cold.

In the aftermath of the Governor’s decision, The Maine Human Rights Commission published a memo that includes interpretations of the law in relation to supporting transgender students. While this is a great step forward, and the interpretations are thorough and adhere to best practices, it’s not enough. Maine educators, parents, and students deserve more respect from our Governor, not the cold shoulder they received instead.

Thank you!