Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Congress comes out to the Transgender Community - Part 1

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 numberous to mention. Currently, she serves as the Vice President of the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) and is one of its Co-Founders.

It was my great privilege to attend the recent hearings held in Washington, DC this week on Transgender Unemployment, as the representative from the Transgender American Veterans Association, TAVA. My thoughts are fresh from the hearing and my sense of having to be there to witness an historic moment in our community was more than justified.

I pleasure myself sometimes in thinking that I am a person of vision. Only those who have been active in the Transgender Community for a few years may understand it. In my fondest visions of the past concerning our community, I would have to be the Transgender reincarnation of Nostradamus to have been able to predict our community giving testimony at a Congressional Hearing about Trans Unemployment problems. We all know that this is at the heart of so many of our long list of problems.

Well, that would be a lie. There are many that made this hearing possible and some have passed on, like Christine Jorgenson, and many others, but many are still in this fight to the end. Many of those people had visions also for our community and still do. These hearings are confirmation of many of those visions that hard, hard time and sacrifices made possible. There are the heroic efforts of those who work in DC and take the flack from this community, but still manage to hang in there and do a great job. They are equal to or better than many organizations who have been around much longer and have done this by being among those people and working with those groups and with their assistance.

Groups like NGLTF, United ENDA, ACLU, the DNC, IFGE, AVER, SLDN and TAVA are changing our lives and from what I witnessed this Thursday. We need to support them in every way that we can. Sorry, I’m leaving out the fine work that HRC did in helping and advising on getting this hearing. But, Joe Solmonese’s apology for “misspeaking” to a small and closed gathering of Transgender people in Atlanta is not the same as apologizing to our community.

This hearing is remarkable to me, because it means that there are people in high places, in places that we never thought they would be, finally ready to listen to our Transgender children and their parents in PFLAG, our Transgender Veterans in TAVA. They are reading our emails and letters about ENDA. This hearing is not our coming out to them, but it is they who are coming out to us and asking us to show them where it hurts and why it does, to be a Transgender person in America. Certainly an event worthy of all Transgender people in America helps us sympathize with how Michelle Obama felt when she said “this is the first time in my adult life I have felt proud to be an American.” Yes, Ms. Obama, I understand.

As my friend Pamela in Charlotte might say, some of us survivors have to pinch ourselves from time to time so that we know that we are not just dreaming about events that have been occurring over the past five years. It is truly a testament to those survivors who have fought for so many years and to the many younger activists who have taken up the cause of Trans Equality and been doing such a professional and outstanding job.

We all step up on the shoulders of those before us and so many names come to mind. From the past to the present, I have nothing but respect and admiration for their sacrifices and hard work. From the hundreds of support groups that meet across the country in every city and town on every Saturday night, to those who lobby and work hard in DC, we are all working for that person we don’t yet know in the closet that has not been able to live and be who they are without fear.

Other perspectives about the hearing that you may read will, I think, be different than mine, but they revolve around the same theme of “community.” This is a word that has finally reached a maturity and recognition that even the Congress of the United States is willing to work with and understand.

My perspectives have been dragged through the hearts and souls of hundreds of support group meetings and thousands of Transgender friends I have known over many years. The reality of this hearing, in part, is the culmination of a long journey and the promise of a better future for our children, our families and us.

Now the trip.

After suffering for a few days earlier in the week with a case of food poisoning, the day before the hearing left me spent and dehydrated, but finally free of my own personal rest room issues and the determination that the four hour trip North from Raleigh to DC had to be made.

I usually stay at the Red Roof Inn in Alexandria when going to DC because I have to blanch at paying $250.00/night for a room inside the beltline. Wednesday evening I arrived without a problem and tried to sleep. It was one of those restless nights that I did not need. You just know that tomorrow is going to be special, like Christmas.

Waking and getting ready, I didn’t even stop for coffee in the lobby and headed straight for the Capital with my little map on the passenger seat to guide me. I drove into town and found a place to park within a few miles from the Rayburn Building where the hearing was to be held in room 2175. I have lobbied in the halls of this building many times before, but this time it was really a different feeling of anticipation.

After going through the scanning and security, I was stopped due to some of the jewelry I was wearing (a TAVA badge) and the officers, who were right on cue with the “stand here please mam” and their getting a female officer to pat me down acted like they were very thoroughly trained in Transgender 101 before I got there. I had to laugh a little inside, thinking about being patted down by a female officer in the Rayburn Building and all the times in years past when I was fearful of just such a thing happening, but in the neighborhood police station. Those sure were the good old days.

Approaching the hearing room, people were lined up outside in the hallway waiting for the doors to open. Standing against the wall at least 70 people had assembled and were all talking nervously and exchanging business cards. Then I noticed some familiar faces like Donna Cartwright, Mara Keisling, Shannon Minter, Sabrina Marcus, Lisa Mottet and others pop out of the crowd with warm smiles and excited hugs.

I was surprised to meet others there who had traveled from Phoenix, San Diego, New York, Kansas, Ohio, and many other places who also felt the need to be there to witness an important moment for our community. I also met supporters from HRC and NGLTF and other organizations like the ACLU who sensed this as a special moment in time and had to be present. They are had some part in the planning of this hearing.

After a short while, a very dictatorial young lady came out into the hall, announced that she would only allow 45 people inside the hearing room because that is all the room she had and that she was handing out passes so we all had to line up against the wall. Those who did not get a pass could go to the hearing room one floor above and watch the hearing from there on their closed circuit screens.

I felt very safe in my position and being able to get a ticket and had even prearranged with Mara to have a “seat sitter” in the hearing room save me a chair. Mara asked me that since I had a ticket, would I mind giving up the seat that was being held for me. Not a problem. But now there was a quiet reshuffling going on and I noticed a rather large contingent of HRC folks begin to move to the front of the line

Standing next to me was a gentleman who I had met from HRC who had worked with Donna Rose and Jamison Green when they had worked for HRC in their corporation and employment area and we had discussed his work. He is not a “policy person”. I turned to him and quietly told him that if he did not go and tell his co-workers to get back in line or give their tickets to Transgender people waiting in line, I would immediately start my own version of an anti HRC protest on the spot, right there, right now. Noting that if anyone deserved the right to sit in that hearing room it should be Transgender people.

He looked at me and smiled until someone next to me told him “Oh, she is serious and she will do it”. He went to talk to them and came back and told me that they would be watching the hearing from upstairs in the other room. I breathed a small sigh of relief, knowing that I would not have to make my point further, but also happy that they understood my concerns.

The doors opened and in we went. 30’ ceilings, oak everywhere, curtains over the windows and three rows of bleacher type oak desks side by side from one side of the room to the other, where Congress persons could look down at the table in the center of the room, casting their eyes down to the long table on the floor level where the witnesses sat.

After some milling around and shaking hands, the Congress people took their seats on both sides of the Committee Chairman, Congressman Rob Andrews, a proud graduate of the Cornell Law School, close to my old home town and a place that I went to at least once a year to give a class on us, convened the hearing. I immediately wondered and hoped that he was in one of those classes.

The rules of the hearing were laid down by the Congressman as to length of time for each witness to speak and testify and we were of to the races with a statement made by the Chair that could only be described as eloquent, relevant, persuasive, accurate, forceful and committed to a fair presentation, remembering that cause by law had to be proven, but that also the recent ENDA law and all the fuss and bother out there that the non-inclusive version generated from the GLBT community, helped to lay a groundwork for the need for this hearing. Well, in so many words at least.

Of the seven chairs at the table, only two were occupied. One seat was filled by Congressman Barney Frank and the other by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin. The testimony began with Ms. Baldwin and my account and views of the testimony are as follows, I trust that you all will listen, or have listened to it yourself:

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin of Minnesota was first to speak. When reading from a script, she was less effective but still meaningful. When telling the story about being an attorney and representing a Transperson who was fired from their job when announcing her gender to her employer, Tammy Baldwin speaks the best. When talking from her heart, she is the most effective and she needs no script to get the message across. If I had any complaint at all about her testimony, it was in her references to “being trapped in the wrong body”. This one statement advances us immediately into the areas of doubting if she doesn’t need some further training about the diversity of the Transgender Community.

Video clips from the Hearing here.

Auto of the entire Hearing here.

Part 2 “Congressman Barney Frank and Colonel Diane Schroer”


caprice said...

Tammy Baldwin is from Wisconsin, not Minnesota.

Quetzalli said...
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Quetzalli said...
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Quetzalli said...

T]Just a clarification, the Honorable Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin represents Wisconsin.

SeaMonica said...

Angela can get things wrong on occasion. This is one of them.