Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Tale Of Two Keynotes

There were two individuals invited to deliver a luncheon keynote address to the attendees of the Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta, Georgia this past September. One of those individuals is a major heavy hitter in the LGB"T" leadership hierarchy (if there is such a thing.)

He played a primary role in arranging the nationally televised debate with most of the major Democratic candidates for President on the LOGO Network. He personally sat on the panel alongside Melissa Etheridge and Jonathan Capehart and asked questions of Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel. He even managed in the course of the 2-hour debate to ask the candidates a question about a transgender issue. Just one question.

The other keynote speaker was me, a relative unknown in the LGB"T" leadership hierarchy (if there is such a thing.)

I was given the honor of presenting the Saturday luncheon keynote as a result of my role in founding TransYouth Family Advocates, an organization working with children, youth and families and my work as the director of the YouTube film, "Out Of The Shadows".

I'm not one of the people who gets invited to sit at VIP tables, or interviewed by The Blade, The Village Voice, The Advocate or Curve. I'll probably never sit beside Melissa Etheridge or Ellen DeGeneres discussing LGB"T" issues. The organization I work with as Executive Director, TransActive Education & Advocacy, does not have a recognizable logo that graces bumper stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs, posters, banners or storefronts. I don't claim to speak for anyone other than the children, youth and families with whom we directly work at the grassroots level.

Unlike the other keynote speaker, I wasn't in the slightest demand prior to my keynote address, and really, in very little demand after my keynote address. There weren't many people, and certainly very few heavy-hitters in the LGB"T" leadership hierarchy (if there is such a thing) queuing up to speak with me or ask my opinion of issues related to the trans community.

The other keynote speaker presented his message to a packed house on Friday. Everyone knew that what he had to say was important. It was significant. It was, after all, coming from the very lips of one of the heavy-hitters in the LGB"T" leadership hierarchy (there IS such a thing).

I presented to a somewhat less than packed house at the Saturday luncheon.

I'm not saying that those who were there weren't entertained, moved or challenged by what I had to say. Many of them told me they were. It's just that, by the time I got up to speak, I had already been preceded by another of the heavy-hitters in the LGB"T" leadership hierarchy (there IS such a thing) and perhaps everyone thought that she was, in fact, the keynote speaker and simply left when she was through. Or...perhaps they left because they had no earthly idea who I was (not being a heavy-hitter in the LGB"T" leadership hierarchy), and therefore, what could I possibly have to say that be would worth hearing?

Now, please understand that I'm not complaining about the audience size. I was honored and thrilled to speak to those who were there and I believe we all shared a moment at the conference that we will not soon forget.

And I am most assuredly not complaining about not being considered a heavy-hitter in the LGB"T" leadership hierarchy...and yes, there is one. Let me just say that MANY of the people considered to be in that hierarchy deserve their positions of leadership.

It's time though for me to speak out about the major difference between Friday's keynote speaker, Mr. Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Coalition (a heavy-hitter in the LGB"T" leadership hierarchy) and Jenn Burleton (me), a mere gnat on the windshield of the LGB"T" bus.

The major difference between us is that one of us stood in front of nearly 1,000 conference attendees and lied about their personal and organizational commitment to transgender inclusive rights legislation. I want to be absolutely clear in that. ONE OF US LIED....

One of us sold out not only the adult attendees at that conference, many of whom have jobs that are going to hang in the balance of the lie that was told to them, but one of us lied, in absentia, to all of the transgender and gender non-conforming children and youth who keep hoping that they have a future in this country. The speaker that lied sold out our children and youth in order to maintain "access to power" and to solidify their position as a heavy-hitter in the LGBT leadership hierarchy...at least with a certain member of Congress from the state of Massachusetts.

Shame on that person. Shame on those organizations who stood with that person under the guise of moving forward incrementally. Our children are dying, in part because they don't see a future for them as transgender adults...and using transgender employment rights as a bargaining chip is the worst kind of betrayal.

That individual not only has the pink slips of countless unemployed trans adults on their hands, they will have the blood of too many trans youth and adults on their hands because those people see, yet again, that when the time comes for some equal rights heavy lifting, a few of the heavy-hitters in the LGB"T" leadership hierarchy take a smokescreen break.

In case you haven't guessed by now, the liar wasn't me. Being the lightweight I am, I was far too busy clinging to the windshield.

Jenn Burleton
Portland, OR


Dana said...


I'm just grateful there are brave, well-spoken, thoughtful people like you putting themselves out there and continuing to fight the fight for all of us! And this fight, as I understand it since Bush will veto the bill and an election is looming for the executive and the legislature, isn't over yet. It's time to spread the word that we are all equal citizens in this country to everyone we know in any way we can and work to vote out of office those politicians who would scapegoat us - it's the truest exercise of power left to us as citizens.

Karen said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one that's incensed. I'm tired of being stabbed in the back and then being told, "No, no, it's good for you."

I can't believe an organization like that can even be allowed to legally keep the "t" on their homepage. Raise money off their lies. And then take that money and not only abdicate their responsibilities, but actively work against their mission, stated promises, and board votes.

If I hadn't seen this from them too many times before, or hadn't seen from firsthand experience that their on-the-ground work is a JOKE, I would have given money to them every year and would now be in the position of demanding they give me my money back so I could give it two-fold over to somebody who cares about and works for, yes, L and G and B and T rights. Thankfully, I am not in that position. I wonder how many people are.

It's so short-sighted not to see that perception about gender and orientation, and real gender and orientation are complexly and inextricably linked. Passing protections for them piecemeal is dangerous.

Not to mention, stupid, since neither one will pass the Senate or be signed anyway. So, way to sow division, rancor, and undermine the credibility of the most-recognized organizations we have.

Honestly, any member should have legal standing against HRC because they sent out their lobbyists in active support (I admit this is only second-hand; I wasn't wandering the halls that day) of a bill despite a recent Board vote. And, they put up a page asking their members -- exhorting the public -- to use the pre-written form letter to contact legislators in SUPPORT of 3685. The letter, not surprisingly, also contained misinformation about the bill. I'm not kidding. The Board and ED have a duty of care to act in accordance with its mission and stated goals.

I haven't spent much time formulating a response yet, but I'm about to, and I hope I do not have to go all the way up the tactics ladder, because it's going to get ugly. They need to ditch their leadership. Yesterday.