Monday, July 07, 2008

Congress comes out to the Transgender Community - Part 4

Angela Brightfeather has been an activist for the transgender community is some form or another for the last 42 years. Some of our community’s activists weren’t even born then. She has been on the board of NTAC, It’s Time, North Carolina and the several other organizations too numerous to mention. Currently, she serves as the Vice President of the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) and is one of its Co-Founders.

“Final testimonies and Summary of the Hearings”

Before Sabrina Marcus Taraboletti testified or even said one word, I predicted under my breath and to myself, “She is going to jump up and give her testimony holding the mic.” I was wrong of course, but Sabrina is a no nonsense woman who many of us are used to seeing control the situation at past Southern Comfort Conference. She did not let me down. As always, Sabrina started right out with enthusiasm and conviction.

Sabrina has always been a very “real and committed” person in every respect. It became even more evident during her testimony that Sabrina Marcus is the Transgender Community and of all the testimony given that day, she is the one who represented the average TG person; you, me and the whole community. Her story is the one heard at every support group meeting on any given night when one might attend such a gathering. Sabrina is exemplary of what we are and what we have been screaming from the hilltops for so many years. No matter how much we follow the rules of life and being a good person, if we express ourselves we are going to get fired, blacklisted or worse. Please stop the pain. Not just my pain, but also that of the people I love and who love me.

I am so glad that Sabrina was allowed to testify. She brought our families, children, relatives and the significant people in our lives and laid them right out in front of that hearing table for the Congress people to witness. Sabrina brought literally millions to that hearing by making them real enough so that everyone there understood that it’s not just the person who is Transgender who is affected when they lose their job. It is also their children and the fewer opportunities they will have in their futures with a parent and provider out of work.

Sabrina clearly brought to the hearing room the feelings of hurt, financial loss, being violated, cheated, harassed and humiliated for being a Transgender American. When she was finished speaking, I looked at the Congress people. They sat really quiet for a moment and all of their heads were bowed looking at their desks. I really think that they may have felt a little humiliated to now know about all this, and for the first time they understood how far reaching discrimination against Transgender people in the workplace imbeds and affects itself into every American life.

Thank you, Sabrina.

The final witness provided the perfect ending for our testimony. Shannon Minter clearly and without any doubt made the argument that there are no protective federal laws for Transgender people in the workplace and that Title 7 has never been a good argument. Nearly every defense tried using it has failed in the courts. For all those in our community who think that the judicial system is the way to win our rights, they should listen carefully to what Shannon had to say.

As a lawyer Shannon Minter has had a lot of experience in fighting cases of discrimination against gender diverse people, both in and out of the workplace. His experience and testimony was very valuable in making clear the justification for a federal law to protect us. It was the perfect way to end the testimony on a low note that was actually a high note for our community.

Shannon served another major perspective with his testimony also. If you were sitting in the hearing room and looking up at the Congress people there, you would have noticed that 90% of them were privileged, white males sitting behind those desks. They were looking down at Shannon, seeing another “privileged, white male.” Then they made some amazing comparisons from the moment that Shannon said he was born a woman. WOW! There went the bathroom issue right out the window. You could see the wheels turning in their heads again. I don’t think that they could hardly believe what their eyes were telling them.

I am not one to push the “passing privilege” button. But let’s face it, the FtM’s simply can go places that the MtF’s cannot because no one is going to question a partially bald, bearded, very male looking person in the men’s room. At the same time, FtM’s have available to them, all the other so-called privileges that are still traditionally allowed men in our society. If that were not true, then gender would not have had to be a protected classification in the EEOC. Unfortunately by “gender,” the laws don’t mean “gender expression.”

But besides giving an excellent rundown of the situation as it exists today for gender diverse people in the workplace, Shannon also represented a sector of our community that at present is still in a full transition type of limbo. The full transition is still emerging and being refined, but there is no doubt that Shannon and men like him are changing the face of our community in many valuable ways.


I won’t drag this along and I thank everyone who has actually read this account. As they say, I wish you were all there.

This Congressional hearing was an historic event for our community. It could not have happened without the people of our community, who over many years of suffering the loss of livelihood and being delayed their equality, created a united crescendo that could no longer be ignored. To the survivors who have continued the fight and to those who are just beginning to fight, this hearing has created hope that if we unite with one voice, there are people who will listen to us. Therefore, we have no choice but to unite for the sake of those who are unable to fight any longer and those who have yet to be gifted with gender diversity by the Creator and will be joining the fight later. This hearing has created a great opportunity for all Americans to take another step in their advancement to a “more perfect union”.

Finally, it is impossible to forget the many hours of negotiating, deliberating and hard work that has gone into this hearing by Mara Keisling and her staff at NCTE. By representing the heart and spirit of our community, they made sure that the right people understood what had to happen and the importance of the message that had to be communicated to Congress. As every day goes by, NCTE continues to grow, learn and become more representative of our entire community. They deserve our respect, our admiration and our financial support.

We also need to recognize the work of NGLTF and their coordination with NCTE to make all the right choices in presenting this hearing and preparing for it. Without their support, our community would not be where it is today.

Not everything was perfect. I would have liked to have seen a Transgender African American person testify, as Monica Roberts has also stated. And, it would have been a good thing to have a press meeting after the hearing to celebrate this event with the American public. But all in all, my grade for this hearing was A+.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Congressman Barney Frank and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin for their moving and supportive testimony. Their being at this hearing and speaking truly made this a family affair of the GLBT Community.

Video clips from the Hearing here.

Audio of the entire Hearing here.

Angela Brightfeather

Vice President and Co-Founder, Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA)

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