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As gay rights progress, many hurdles ahead for transgender rights movement

Saturday, December 14, 2013

NEW YORK — As gays and lesbians rack up victories in their quest for marriage equality and other rights, transgender Americans are following in their path — hopefully, but less smoothly.

There have been some important legal rulings and political votes in recent months bolstering transgender rights. But those have coincided with an upsurge of hostility from some conservative activists and an acknowledgement by transgender-rights leaders that they face distinct challenges in building public support for their cause.

Coy Mathis

Brennan Linsley, AP
Coy Mathis (left), a transgender girl, plays with her sister, Auri, 2, center, at their home in Fountain, Colo. In June 2013, the Colorado Division of Civil Rights ruled that a suburban Colorado Springs school district had discriminated against Mathis, 6 , by preventing her from using the girls’ restroom.

Jamison Green

Jeff Chiu, AP
Jamison Green, a transgender man who owns Jamison Green & Associates, a transgender benefit consulting firm, says part of the reason more companies don’t offer transgender benefits is that many are not aware that the insurance they’ve purchased excludes treatments for transgender employees.

Chelsea Manning

U.S. Army (File photo)
Pvt. Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley Manning, in an undated photo. A day after being sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified material to WikiLeaks, Manning announced she wanted to live as a woman, and has requested estrogen treatments that would promote breast development and other female characteristics.

Laverne Cox

Eric Leibowitz, Netflix (AP)
Laverne Cox (left) and Beth Fowler in a scene from “Orange is the New Black.” The transgender character, Sophia, is played empathetically by transgender actress and activist Cox.

“My sense is that we are 20 years behind the mainstream gay and lesbian movement in terms of public understanding,” said Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“I see a lessening of anti-gay rhetoric as the American people get to know gays and lesbians,” he said. “But fewer Americans know transgender people that way at this point, and that presents an opening that opponents of transgender rights can exploit.”

One high point for transgender activists came in November when the U.S. Senate approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity as well as sexual orientation. Only 17 states have such protections for transgender people.

However, House Speaker John Boehner has indicated that his Republican-controlled chamber may not take up the bill, and much of the criticism directed at it by social conservative activists has focused on transgender-related matters.

“This law is about forcing Bible-believing Christians to deny their faith rather than inconvenience cross-dressing, gender-confused adults,” said Rick Scarborough, chairman of Tea Party Unity.

The Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, evoked possible application of the bill to school hiring, asserting that “students as young as 5 or 6 years old will be forced to watch should their teacher choose to transform herself from Marvin to Mary.”

Similar rhetoric has surfaced in California, where conservative groups hope to place a measure on the November 2014 ballot to repeal a new law giving transgender students the choice of playing on either boys’ or girls’ sports teams and allowing them to use either gender’s restrooms.

The National Organization for Marriage, which since 2007 has been a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, decided this fall to join the repeal campaign, even though the California law does not deal with marriage.

“We can stop this outrageous law in its tracks, and thwart the efforts of homosexual activists to use vulnerable children as a weapon in their culture war,” wrote the organization’s president, Brian Brown, in a fundraising appeal to supporters.

Repeal backers have submitted 620,000 signatures supporting a ballot measure; those are now being reviewed to see if enough of them are valid.

Dru Levasseur, director of Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Project, interpreted the wave of hostile rhetoric as a positive sign.

“The fact we’ve had so many victories on behalf of gays and lesbians means transgender people are now on the radar — and with it comes the nastiness,” he said. “There have been so many advances regarding marriage that the anti-equality groups are shifting to target the next set of upcoming victories on transgender issues.”

Same-sex marriage will soon be legal in 16 states, and opinion polls show that a majority of Americans now support it.

For the most part, transgender activists have welcomed the developments on marriage equality, while expressing some concern that issues of more direct importance to them were not getting sufficient attention from national gay-rights groups.

Health care coverage figures among these issues. In New York state — one of the most liberal when it comes to gay rights — activists recently launched a campaign to change what they consider to be a discriminatory regulation barring Medicaid payments for purposes related to gender reassignment

Dean Spade, a transgender law professor spending this year at Columbia Law School, said other pressing issues include high rates of incarceration and poverty among transgender people, as well as violence directed against them. He has questioned why some activists are instead placing a priority on helping transgender people pursue military careers.

“We should put our energies into relieving the worst conditions placed on people,” Spade said.

By any measure, there have been some significant gains for transgender Americans over the past decade, including decisions by scores of municipalities and companies to extend protections and benefits to them.

In 2011, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned the firing of a Georgia legislative employee who was dismissed after telling her boss she was about to undergo sex change surgery. In June, the Colorado Division of Civil Rights ruled that a suburban Colorado Springs school district had discriminated against Coy Mathis, a 6-year-old transgender girl, by preventing her from using the girls’ bathroom.

Yet in the western Colorado town of Delta, a school board member suggested at a public meeting in October that use of girls’ locker rooms by boys would be acceptable only if they’d been castrated. In Arizona, a Republican legislator introduced a bill this year that would have made it a crime for a transgender person to use a bathroom other than the one designated for his or her birth sex. After an outcry from advocacy groups, the measure was modified, and then withdrawn — at least for this year.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, says the best strategy for combatting such attitudes would be to enable a broad swath of Americans to become more familiar with transgender people.

“A huge number of Americans now have gay family members, gay co-workers … but most of them don’t know a transgender person, and that means we’re ripe for scapegoating,” Keisling said. “There are a lot of people in this country who just are ignorant about us. They hear people in authority demeaning and dehumanizing us, and they believe it.”

“I think for the next few years, until transgender people are more visible, come out at work, we’re still going to have a lot of ignorance out there,” she said.

Part of the challenge is demographic. According to demographer Gary Gates of the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, an estimated 3.4 percent of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, while only one-tenth that many are transgender.

One of the most prominent transgender Americans in recent months has been Chelsea Manning, the Army private previously known as Bradley Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified material to WikiLeaks. A day after the sentencing, Manning announced she wanted to live as a woman and has requested estrogen treatments that would promote breast development and other female characteristics.

Another high-profile transgender figure has surfaced on “Orange is the New Black,” the hit Netflix series set in a women’s prison. A transgender character, Sophia, is played empathetically by transgender actress and activist Laverne Cox.

However, that character is an exception among current offerings of TV shows and films, according to GLAAD, an advocacy group that monitors media portrayals of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

In a report last month, GLAAD examined 20 recent TV episodes that included transgender characterspho and deemed 60 percent of them to be negative or defamatory. Common themes, according to GLAAD, are portrayals of transgender people either as clownish or sociopathic.

“We need to get more good images in the media, so people can see us as regular people, not as predators,” said Tiq Milan of GLAAD’s Trans Education and Media Program.

Some conservative activists contend that many Americans will have more difficulty accepting transgender rights than gay rights.

“No matter how one feels about homosexual rights … there is a visceral reaction to the obvious implications of gender identity laws,” wrote Mathew Staver, chairman of the conservative legal group Liberty Counsel, in an email.

“One implication is men — no matter how they appear or how they actually think or identify — being able to use women’s changing rooms,” he wrote. “The majority of people will not accept such laws.”

Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow with the conservative Family Research Council, suggested that the visible characteristics of transgender people were problematic for some Americans.

“In many cases, transgender people are not convincing in their appearance, and therefore it may be more troubling to a lot of people,” he said. “It’s something people really struggle with.”

However, Dru Levasseur of Lambda Legal questioned the notion that — in the court of public opinion — transgender rights was a tougher sell than gay rights. The key to winning more acceptance, he said, was a willingness by transgender people to share the stories of their lives.

“Being who you are — being brave enough to be yourself. People can relate to that,” he said.

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62 more reader comments:

  1. We both still have many hurdles but we can do them together! One does not have to be gay to care about gay rights and one does not have to be transgender to care about transgender rights. :)

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:11pm
  2. We are all allies for each other.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 11:08pm
  3. indeed

    Replied on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 8:12am
  4. well said. :)

    Replied on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 1:31pm
  5. Or at least we should be allies to each other. Some people only seem to care about the LGB part of things, and that's sad.

    Replied on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 2:32pm
  6. I’m not sure about transgendered people using the opposite bathrooms. I would have to read up on how their hormones differ from people who aren’t transgendered. Or perhaps someone could inform me. They deserve the right to identify themselves as they do, but other people also deserve the right to safety. If they are male but produce more estrogen, they should be allowed to use the female restroom. Otherwise no.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:14pm
  7. What does safety have anything to do with transgender?

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:17pm
  8. How would men and women urinating in the same room cause anyone to be unsafe?

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:19pm
  9. Joaquin, I admit I don't know the difference in the amounts or type of hormone mainly produced in transgender person's body. A man with normal levels of testosterone in a woman's bathroom is a POTENTIAL danger! That's why it's illegal. But I think a transgendered man (if they produce primarily estrogen) is entitled to identify himself as a female and use the female restroom both pre and post op.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:22pm
  10. I don't either, and my question was genuine.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:23pm
  11. Joaquin, so was my comment. Walk into a women's restroom sometime and see what happens.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:24pm
  12. But I am not transgender, so I would not do such a thing.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:26pm
  13. what are you scared of? I might pee on the seat or something? :S (don't take offensive I'm fine with it lol).

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:26pm
  14. I did hear of some countries having unisex bathrooms as being the norm. However, I never verified the claims (if it is on the internets it must be true, right). All the same, this is America, and unisex bathrooms is not the norm (in my neck of the woods). Maybe it will be someday. I have no idea.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:29pm
  15. Which hormone is more prevalent in a person's body is wholly irrelevant. Not all transgender people identifying as their preferred gender are taking hormones (for one reason or another; often out of their control though). But that's no reason to exclude anyone from being in the bathroom that matches their gender identity. What if a cis woman, for example, just has a hormone condition where she has low estrogen levels? Would you force her to use a men's room? A trans person is going into the bathroom for the same reason a cis person is: to do their business and get out. Speaking from personal experience, the last thing I want to do is make a scene.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:34pm
  16. @Ashley. :) If you are transgender, I'm all for your right to identify yourself as you do. And there is a reason why someone feels like the opposite sex as what they were born as. I understand that. I just have to read up on what that reason is. :)

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:35pm
  17. Not sure what "cis" means. And thank you for the information. You're the first person here who actually gave me CONSTRUCTIVE feedback.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:37pm
  18. I think other people might be quick to bite your head off for some of this but I don't think your trying to be offensive and genuinely want to understand certain things. first off someone who was born male bodied but transitions to female is a transgender woman. I do not self identify as one but I do happen to be a trans women and the hormones levels are pretty much on par with other females. after a trans woman has srs her testosterone is actually lower than other females.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:37pm
  19. Thank you, Samantha, for understanding my intentions. :) And also for providing constructive feedback.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:39pm
  20. It's in essence a non-issue, also you can benefit to actually learn a thing or two on the subject matter since I can see you're clearly misinformed. I'm a transwoman myself and can tell you outright that I do not and will not "produce" estrogen. It's a biological impossibility. However I do take doctor prescribed hormonal supplements for estrogen and other drugs that have the side-effect of reducing testosterone levels. The latter will be needed until I have my testes removed. Me using a women's bathroom is a non-issue and it would be regardless if I was on my t-blockers or not really. Especially in my county of residence where it isn't illegal for me to use a women's bathroom as long as I'm presenting as female. Which I am. Also the thought that if a woman has testosterone and is using a women's bathroom poses any kind of threat is ludicrous. Are you saying transwomen (MTFs) not on hormones or transmen (FTMs) lack any kind of self control in some way? That's simply offensive to us as humans. I don't appreciate that mindset. However take what I've said however you wish. I've told you the facts, chose to listen to them or not. That's up to you hon. I have nothing more to say here now. Happy Holidays.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:41pm
  21. you don't have to read up on anything just let me pee DX

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:48pm
  22. I just use my own bathrooms or hold it till I pass my friends house or other family. I don't want the hassle or cruelty of todays society ruining my toilet experience (which sounded way better in my head... ._.)

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 7:03pm
  23. The amount of times transgender people get beat up in bathrooms greatly outweighs the number of times any of them have posed a threat to any cis people within those bathrooms. You guys are statistically a shit ton scarier than we are, violence wise.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 7:15pm
  24. if your issue is safety, then you would NOT send a transgender person into the restroom opposite of the gender with which they identify. send a transgender male into the female restroom, women will think there is a sexual pervert and call security. send a transwoman into the men's restroom and she'll probably be harassed, physically, or sexually assaulted. nobody is in danger of allowing a transgender individual to select the restroom of his/her choice. they may be uncomfortable with it, but their insecurities should not compromise the safety of others.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 9:08pm
  25. It will get there. In the meantime, the fuddy duddy lobby can cry while the world points and laughs at them. The world moves forward. They only have nostalgia for times long gone never to return. Thank goodness.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:14pm
  26. Ignorance is sad

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:25pm
  27. and you only need to look at Russia right now

    Replied on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 1:31pm
  28. Hell! Look in our own backyard! From lawmakers…in 2013!!!…crafting bills to legalize discrimination to religious groups claiming discrimination and persecution when they're the ones that started it, ignorance, my dear, is all over!

    Replied on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 3:57pm
  29. People here are missing my point. I freely and honestly admit that I have to read up on what makes a person feel like they are the opposite sex as the one they are born as.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:28pm
  30. most people don't fully understand what being transgendered means. the fact is that a trans girl is born with an actual physical female brain but the characteristics of a male body and vise versa for trans boys.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:43pm
  31. Yep Samantha is right, I have the mentality of a woman since as far as I can remember but I am just in the wrong kind of body. :)

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 7:04pm
  32. We should remember 'that it is' and not worry about 'what' it is.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 7:34pm
  33. There’s a club in Seattle called the “Q,” it has co-ed bathrooms! I think it’s fabulous! ^_^

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:35pm
  34. @Jeremy cisgendered is the opposite of transgender, a cisgendered male is someone born male with a matching gender identity.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:42pm
  35. All of this preoccupation with the bathroom is ridiculous. Sexual preference and or gender identity has nothing to do with urinating and defecating. You have sexual predators everywhere of every sex. Being transgender does not translate to sexual predator.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 6:43pm
  36. I’ve noticed a fascination some people have with the mindset of connecting LGBT people to sexual predators. If your first impulsive thought in regards to LGBT people is that they pose some sort of threat to you or others, you’re part of the problem and should probably fix yourself. We are not animals. We are not predators. We do not convert people to our sinister “lifestyle”. I don’t see what the problem is or how one could even see that there is one. It’s almost as if the problem doesn’t actually exist, almost as if it was fabricated out of nothingness and instilled and ingrained in the minds of the logic impaired.

    No one knows why people are transgender. No one fully understands how a person can be attracted to the same sex. We still have no idea what exactly makes a person asexual. And, we may never actually know why these things happen. But the important thing to take away from this is that we must accept that some people simply are and move on from it. Thank.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 7:14pm
  37. Also, invisibility of those who do not identify as male or female: gender queer, non-binary, no gender, gender fluid, bigender, two spirit (to name a few) are constantly threatened by this need to “pass” as male or female.

    The problem is the binary view of gender people try to use to look at trans* people. It doesn’t work.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 7:45pm
  38. Okay that is fucking ridiculous. As a human being you are either male or female. If you are a female and you identify as male that is transgender. But you can't just "not identify". Your not a fucking amoeba.

    Replied on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 2:38pm
  39. I still think this kid is way too young to even know what they want to be when i was that age I wanted to be a bird lol

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 8:28pm
  40. I hate when people compare being trans to wanting to be an animal or super hero or something its very insulting, i knew i was different at age four i knew my body didn't reflect how i felt i was, being transgender is not trying to become something else but trying to get your body to match your brain, i know people find it hard to understand because you have never experienced it you wouldn't notice the hundreds of times a day you are reminded what sex you are from how people refer to you to catching sight of your reflection it goes on and on all day every day, your brain is telling you one thing and your body another so there is a constant clash there is no age to young to notice this

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 10:16pm
  41. i’ve seen gay people claim the transgender community sets everyone back. i’ve also seen them say things like “i don’t understand why anyone would want to mutilate themselves.” from the LG community, people. it is astounding how judgmental and ignorant some are within OUR OWN COMMUNITY. people like this are no better than the bigots they loathe. -_-

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 9:02pm
  42. This is humanity at its worst/best. One group gets a leg up in the world and they feel free to piss all over the efforts of the next less enfranchised. Bad unintentional pun but true. Bisexuals get a different yet similar sort of brush off from the MAIN community's more ignorant members.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 9:42pm
  43. agreed. i keep it general. equality for all of humanity no matter the race, religion, gender/gender identity, or sexual orientation. i think the only groups of people i hold great disdain toward are bigots and sex offenders. sadly, even they deserve their rights so long as they are not breaking laws and hurting others.

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 9:51pm
  44. Weston James, you are my new favourite person. Would that there were more like you in this world x

    Replied on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 3:30am
  45. The primary problem is that most people view transgender people as objects that exist to amuse “normal people”. I’ve never seen an example of a transgender person on a TV show or a movie that did not only exist as a joke.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 11:01pm
  46. Public toilets during Roman times were open rooms with holes in benches that lined the room. They were co-ed, there were no partitions, and were a place for socializing and business. In Europe people used common pit toilets that were also co-ed without stalls.

    It was not until 1739 that a public toilet, for a dance in France, was first separated for males and females. The first permanent public toilet was installed, in France, in 1824.

    In most of the world people still use large pit toilets that are accessed by everyone. The notion that people need to relive themselves in gender appropriate rooms is only 274 years old…in Europe. The actual practice was only put in place 189 years ago.

    So when you get upset over people needing to go to certain rooms to relieve themselves remember that it is a NEW concept and the human race survived thousands of years without anyone caring about gender.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 11:09pm
  47. IgNOrance is BAD

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 11:17pm
  48. the only problem with this pic is there’s a JB poster in the backround

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 1:26am
  49. Grace. I am gay and I new at 5 but when it comes to gender I think that age is too young to know and im not comparing it to being an animal I am saying that is hoand I have dressed as a girl that young but I didnt know anything about anything I knew I was gay at that time I didnt know if it would last or if I really was. That age your brain has not developed fully its simply too young to know that’s my opinion

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 2:25am
  50. I've been transsexual my whole life. Even as young as 2 years old, I would make dresses and skirts out of almost anything, including dry cleaner bags, pillow cases, or even towels. I didn't play with the boys because they pushed and hit and it wasn't in my nature to push and hit back - they took my toys and I didn't have the instinct to fight back. When I started playing with girls, I had a LOT more fun, we liked the same things, we liked playing house, playing with baby dolls, and coloring and other fine motor skills. It was only when I was 6 years old and a girl's mother saw me in her daughter's dress, with tights and patent leather shoes that she decided that I should no longer be allowed to play with girls. She called the PTA, the Principle, and the teachers, and the next day I had to go out and play with the boys instead of the girls. In less than 15 minutes, all of the boys were throwing rocks at me. One rock hit me just below the eye (I still have the scar to this day). Over the next 6 years I was hospitalized over 60 times due to the trauma of being forced to play with the boys. For me, there was never any question about what I wanted to be, and I begged my mother to let me be a girl, often coming home crying. I was the subject of a research study on asthma, because I had been hospitalized so many times, and when they had me stay with the girl's house mother, who took me to play with the girls every night and all week-end, they were amazed that my asthma almost completely disappeared. I had proven their hypothesis that emotions and asthma severity were linked. They even considered moving me out of my home, but when they had me stay with the boy's house mother, and play with the boys, the asthma got so bad that I almost ended up in the hospital even though there were no other traumas during the period. They had me talk to a psychologist, and I told him I wanted to be a girl. His reaction was unexpected. He said "we know you want to be a girl, but you can't be a girl". He tried to explain the procedures, the shots, the surgeries, and make it as scary as he could, and I still wanted it. What I didn't know was that in Colorado, in the 1960s, the "treatment" for transsexuals was shock therapy without anesthesia, and lobotomy. They were fighting like hell to keep me from being turned into a walking vegetable.

    Replied on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 3:56am
  51. Being gay I can understand. Not fully obviously. I guess it's just different for everyone. I am sorry you had so many problems being accepted. I honestly think Ellen has the best idea of having every school have a mandatory compassion and caring class so people can understand more. When I knew, or though, I was gay I messed with boys but I liked girls so I was confused but, I finally found who I am.

    Replied on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 10:02am

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 3:38am
  53. And we shall stand with them, shoulder to shoulder, until Transgender people have equal rights too!

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 11:11am
  54. us aussie still got long way to go

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 1:37pm
  55. good luck to all

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 2:00pm
  56. I love. You all

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 3:56pm
  57. gotta hate on somebody ….

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 6:20pm
  58. People need to leave people alone and mind their motherfucking business!

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 6:24pm
  59. it’s easy, just tweak the ERA the read “Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state or local government on account of sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or marital status.” and get it passed.

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 6:32pm
  60. It’s sad that transgenders are portrayed so negatively – walk a mile in their shoes! It just disgusts me that someone would think a transfemale would want to use the bathroom for any other purpose than what it is intended for! People are so ignorant!

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 6:41pm
  61. This is really difficult for many transfolk, as for them, they see being ‘visible’ as being ‘a target for abuse or death’…

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 6:45pm
  62. get rid of state govts, to start with..

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 7:04pm