Sunday, July 27, 2008

GenderVision releases "Pride" and 2nd DVD

Now available: another installment of the trans-produced new video program, "GenderVision."

In this fourth program, titled simply "Pride", join Gordene and Nancy for an insider's view as they march and speak with participants in Boston's 2008 Pride parade. Meet members of the new GLBT Senior Coalition, and hear from transgender and youth participants about what makes Pride so special to them. A variety of spectators contribute their perspectives, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino delivers a sincere statement of support, and Raving Raven adds some finishing reflections on what Pride means to "The Bird with the Word". Watch "Pride" at

Also newly released on DVD is GenderVision's second program, "Being Transgender… Myths & Youth Issues". The DVD includes, as a bonus feature, an exclusive interview with Grace Sterling Stowell about what it was like for her to grow up transgender. It can be purchased at

Viewers are encouraged to request that their cable access channel show the program in their area. For more information, please visit

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Bit of Good News

A German court has decided that a pre-existing marriage does not have to be dissolved if one of the spouses in said marriage changes their legal sex.

In the UK, that’s exactly what has to happen, & if the couple wants to remain married, they can then have a civil union (just as Jan Morris & her wife have just done).

In the US, of course, it’s more a loophole because marriage is a contract, & contract law is such that as long as the contract is legal at the time it’s written, it continues to be unless otherwise contested.

But as far as I know, this is the first ruling to acknowledge that some transsexuals are already married when they transition, that they choose to remain married after transition, and that their marriage is legally a same-sex marriage after the fact.

It’s good news.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I'm Spartacus!

I was thinking about these two things this morning, in response to a conversation I was having with someone about "what causes trans? Is it neurological?" I'm sure this is a conversation you've all heard, or participated in, now and again.

So in thinking about this, first, I admit that I think some forms of being transgendered must be neurological. The experiences of trans people that I know are just too various. Plus, for those of us who had a sense of "something" from our earliest memory: well, it seems hard for me to believe something as profound as this could have "set" into a child's heart, in spite of otherwise loving, stable upbringing.

Two: It doesn't really matter what causes it, probably, any more than what causes left or right handedness. It is what it is, another variation in the human experience, and the sooner everybody accepts that, the sooner we can all be at peace.

I WILL say that early on I did not believe #2; it was very important for me that everyone know that it was "a medical condition" or "neurological." Now and again I will still trot out, for particularly hostile audiences, the not-particularly-convincing research about brain structure done by the Dutch. But for me, it was important that this be seen as an INEVITABLE, UNALTERABLE, THING-I-COULD-NOT-CONTROL, because as long as that was clear, IT WAS NOT MY FAULT. I wanted people to think, it could just as easily have been you who was born with this, not me.

I guess I still think all that, sometimes.

But I also think that behind that is a desperate desire not to be thought of as "weird." It's kind of like admiting that the whole gender-dysphoria thing is WACK and that I I'm distancing myself from how weird it is.

I will say that if I could have "chosen", I'd have chosen NOT to have this.

But being trans for me meant accepting it-- all of it, including the fact that we dont' really know for sure what it is, or where it comes from. And so when I see people flying the flag of "it's just a medical condition" sometimes I worry that there's a desire in there to distance ourselves from other people. Who seem like they HAVE chosen this, and for whom gender-variance DOES seem like a game.

It used to irk me that, for some people--drag queens and gender queer people, to name two-- it did seem like a game, or at least something highly entertaining. Or about messing with people's minds, or challenging the "binary." You know the drill. Because none of it was ever entertaining, or fun for me, and I have other ways of messing with people's minds, and because, while I reject a "binary" sense of gender, I surely didn't go through this miserable process in order to make some sort of point about binaries. I just wanted to survive.

But now I feel like we're all in the same boat, and that all of these fights are my fight. And I am a lot less quick to start trying to defend myself as "really normal" and divide myself from other trans people. Even those that I can't identify with.

Roman soldier: Just give us the "weirdo" Spartacus, and the rest of you can go free.
Drag queen: I'm Spartacus!
Genderqueer: I'm Spartacus!
Cross dresser: I'm Spartacus!
Me: I'm Spartacus! I'm Spartacus! I'm Spartacus!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dallas: Another LGBt Rift

A gay bar, and its gay bar owner, have decided to ban drag queens and trans women from their “Trashy Tuesday” night - exactly because the bar night is so crowded that they don’t have time to babysit the bad apples of their crowd.

“How do I separate one draq queen that is being bad from others?” Moore said. “We don’t have the time on Tuesday nights with all the people in here to sit there and tell them apart from one another. If a drag queen misbehaves one week and then the next comes back in a different outfit I wouldn’t be able to recognize them. That’s why I don’t want any of them in here on Tuesdays.”

Wow, now that IS tricky! How about you just ban the person who does the bad stuff?

(from The Dallas Voice. More at their blog. Thanks to Ben for the tip.)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Partners, Talking

On BBC, an interview with the (female) partner of an MTF and the (male) partner of an FTM is worth listening to. Though I will say the FTM in question turned into a jackass, not a man.

Most interesting to me are their thoughts about their sexual relationships.

In Response To Meghan Stabler

Yesterday the Human Rights Campaign's Backstory blog published the full unedited text of a letter to the editor of the Bay Area Reporter in support of HRC written by transgender activist and HRC Business Council member Meghan Stabler. Unfortunately, Backstory doesn't allow comments (gee, I wonder why?), so I thought I'd just turn mine into a blog post.

I've never met or spoken to Ms. Stabler and so I would not presume to pass judgment on her or her motives, but I believe this letter gives one an insight into the way the HRC faithful see the rift between HRC and the transgender community. For example:

"We must work together for the best strategy to secure employment protections that cover our entire community. To separate our community via a continuance of anger and in-fighting will not move our inclusive need forward. I fear that it will only add more fuel to those so-called "citizens" groups that are doing all in their power and in their coffers to hold equality back, and in some cases put back and down, ALL LGBT people."

Right off the bat, I take issue with Meghan Stabler's entire premise. WE did not separate our community. WE did not break our promises. WE did not endorse leaving the poorest and most victimized behind to gain advantage for the wealthier and less different-seeming segments of our community.

WE didn't start this...but we're sure as hell going to finish it.

"My involvement with HRC is part of my personal commitment to do all I can. I don't like "sides;" I never have. I hate injustice and inequality. Most of all I hate conflict, especially now that I see conflict within our community. In my opinion we must move forward and show cohesively that we are one community that is equal to the rest of America, at home and in the workplace."

Again Stabler seems to be relying on this faulty premise, that the conflict is a result of the actions of the trans community rather than the actions and choices of the Human Rights Campaign leadership which precipitated those actions in the first place. Stabler is essentially labeling the trans community and our allies divisive for getting upset about the HRC leadership's despicable behavior and speaking out against it. The closest she even comes to acknowledging that HRC has some responsibility here is when she says:

"I, too, was disappointed by the separation of Gender and Sexual Orientation from an inclusive-ENDA, and I was dismayed about how the leadership and board of HRC handled it."

Not exactly what you'd call a strong condemnation, is it? Maybe it's the US vs. UK English thing, but I'm "disappointed" and "dismayed" when there's an hour wait for a table at my favorite restaurant. When I'm lied to and have my community's interests betrayed by an organization that claims to speak for me and others like me, I feel something entirely different. For a long time, far too many in this community have been "disappointed" and "dismayed" but not enough have been genuinely pissed off and angry enough to do something about it. Things are different now, though. For once, maybe even for the first time, the numbers are finally on our side.

I don't say all this to attack Meghan Stabler personally. Again, I don't know her. I have no doubt whatsoever that she is sincere in her opinions. I also think, however, that she has fully bought into the HRC leadership's view of things and we are seeing that viewpoint clearly depicted in her letter. If I am correct here it would explain a lot about why we have yet to see an apology from these people: They really don't believe they've done anything wrong. That, of course, right there is the problem, and the crux upon which this entire conflict rests:

HRC's leadership sees their position on ENDA as smart politics, but most of the politically-conscious American LGBT community sees it as unjust, immoral, and bad behavior.

When you strip away all the politics and political posturing, it's really no more complicated than that. It isn't the trans community that's being divisive here. The true voice of the greater American LGBT community is demanding transgender inclusion in an ever-increasing chorus, but it's the Human Rights Campaign leadership that stands alone here, apart from the vast majority, endorsing legislation that offers protections only to the straight-appearing Queer elite, taking the very same position on transgender inclusion as the Log Cabin Republicans. It's not the trans community, but rather the Human Rights Campaign leadership which has chosen to separate itself from the will and political agenda of the greater community. HRC is isolated because it chose to isolate itself. If it wishes to rejoin this movement and perhaps someday be seen as a leader again then it must move to where the rest of us are. This community has moved on, past the divisive "ivory tower" politics of HRC, to a truly progressive agenda which demands that no American's right to be protected against discrimination ever be considered negotiable.

It all comes down to the simple reality that HRC's leadership knows perfectly well that its position on ENDA is in direct opposition to the one held by most of our community. They simply don't care. They are not qualified to represent us and they need to step aside and let a credible organization that truly reflects the will and the interests of the American LGBT community like NGLTF take the reins of this movement.

Of course, HRC doesn't want to step aside, but I think as time goes on this organization will find itself with less and less of a choice in that regard. That decision has already been made by the people, and the politicians are dutifully following suit. It's only a matter of time now before HRC finds itself disempowered in Congress, perhaps even left out of the loop on major LGBT political issues as the politicians increasingly look to our chosen leaders for guidance on where our community actually is on the important issues of the day. And y'know, I really don't think that time is all that far off.

Karma can be such a bitch.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

An Ally, & a Priest

Another trans ally has been attacked defending a few trans teenagers, and right here in Queens, NY.

People often wonder why, as an ally, I get so upset about violence against trans people, but I know that as much as I’d prefer to be the type of person who would run & save myself, I’d be the idiot who got in the transphobic asshole’s way.

But more than that: sometimes people assume New York is some trans mecca. In some ways, it is. But the reality is, it only takes one transphobic asshole to ruin someone’s day.

I hope the folks at Carmen’s Place all recover okay, & that they find somewhere they feel safe.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Trans for Obama

The National Stonewall Democrats are doing a cool thing: trying to track transpeople's donations to Barack Obama. The letter they sent out not along ago is reprinted below the break in full, but the basic idea is that, if you're trans, & you want to donate to Obama's campaign, you donate through their website, so that the donations can be "counted" as a bloc.

Excellent idea. Go do it.

Here's the letter:

Dear Fellow Transgender Advocate,

This year we have an opportunity to elect a President who will be the most transgender-supportive in history.

But electing a candidate isn't enough just by itself. Unless we're visibly and vocally involved with campaigns and giving our time, energy, money, and ideas we will miss out on an opportunity to create a relationship with a President who has already said he's willing to stand with us. That is why we are asking you to join with us in supporting Barack Obama.

We've set up a specific page to track donations from the transgender community and our allies to Sen. Obama's campaign. You can donate by clicking here:

In both the United States and Illinois Senate, Barack Obama has a long commitment to supporting the LGBT community—and specifically the transgender community. Most recently, here is what he said when issuing his statement on Pride month:

"It's time to live up to our founding promise of equality by treating all our citizens with dignity and respect. Let's enact federal civil rights legislation to outlaw hate crimes and protect workers against discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. . .

"We are ready to accomplish these goals because of the courage and persistence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who have been working every day to achieve equal rights. The gay couple who demand equal treatment in our family laws as they raise their children; the lesbian soldier who wants nothing more than to serve her country openly and honestly; the transgender workers who ask for the simple dignity of being judged by the quality of their work. Generations of LGBT Americans, at once ordinary and extraordinary, have made possible this moment in our history. With leadership and hard work, we can fulfill the promise of equality for all."

--Sen. Barack Obama, June 6, 2008

Fully inclusive hate crime protections, fully inclusive employment non-discrimination, and a fully inclusive vision of the American family; these are the values we can have in our next President.

But he can't win—and our community won't advance—without your support.

We're encouraging you to give today to Barack Obama for President at a special fundraising page that will track the impact of the transgender community and our allies on the election.

This page, launched in conjunction with Stonewall Democrats, will track donations to the Obama campaign from the transgender community and our allies. The money raised on the page will go directly to Sen. Obama's campaign.

This election is too important to sit on the sidelines. Let's elect a pro-equality Democrat and help build power for our community.

Marti Abernathy, Karen Bachman, Pam Barres, Caprice Bellefleur, Dana Beyer, Laura Calvo, Carrie Davis, D'Angelo Johnson, Julie Johnson, Eden Lane, Lisa Mottet, Rev. Elijah C. Nealy, Donna Rose, Diego Sanchez, Lisa Scheps, Amanda Simpson, Barbra "Babs" Casbar Siperstein, Melissa Sklarz, Lynn Walker, Jill Weiss, Jaan Williams

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)

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Transgender Inclusion Goes Mainstream

If there’s anything you can count on the city of San Francisco for when it comes to LGBT rights and community support, it’s that even when they’re not on the very leading edge of something, they’ll still do it bigger, better, and more fabulously than anywhere else. New York, Philadelphia, and several other major cities have had protests and demonstrations against the Human Rights Campaign at their local fundraising events, but what’s waiting for HRC in San Francisco on July 26th, when they hold their next fundraising dinner in that city, is likely to make the rest look like a warmup act.

The “Left Out” protest/counter-party, organized by Pride at Work and local area organizations, will take place outside the hotel where the HRC dinner is being held and is expected to draw more attendance than the HRC event itself, featuring appearances by celebrities and political figures who are loudly and publicly shunning the HRC event.

When the most popular and well-respected political leaders in the city considered to be the Queer Mecca of the US are describing the largest “LGBT” civil rights organization in the country as “human rights cowards” and promising not only not to support them or attend their functions, but also to support those who oppose the Human Rights Campaign and their agenda, you know that the tide has indeed finally turned, that treating gender-variant people as equals and as an inextricable part of the LGBT community both socially and politically is an ideal that has evolved over the last couple of decades and especially over the last few years from merely wishful thinking and the rare attempt at inclusion to now being popularly considered a basic tenet of modern Queer activism. Transgender inclusion has gone mainstream in Queer America, and is now an integral part of the cultural and political identity of this community.

Where once most of the gay men and lesbians leading this movement acted selfishly, preferring to seek advantage only for those like themselves, and the community passively supported whatever path they chose, HRC’s behavior in regards to ENDA now has enraged so many in the greater LGBT community across the board that another faction in our community has begun to assert itself for the first time, one made up of staunch progressives who believe in not only tolerance and acceptance, but also in proactive and aggressive social and political action, in concert with an unshakable belief in full inclusion and in acting inclusively.

When we step back and look at this situation with a little perspective, it seems likely that the biggest mistake HRC and the Democratic House leadership made in dealing with transgender inclusion in ENDA wasn’t made behind a podium at Southern Comfort or even when Barney and Friends stripped us from the bill. Chances are, their real mistake was that these folks made a bet and they lost, bigtime.

In 2004, Transgender-Americans were, politically speaking, a joke. I can say this because I was there, I saw and heard it firsthand. I heard representatives of the LGBT outreach team of the Kerry campaign tell me and a team of transgender activists and supporters I’d assembled to meet with the campaign to discuss how we could help Kerry become President that even though they considered us part of the team and wanted us to do all we could to help get Kerry elected, neither the campaign nor the candidate would even do as little as publicly recognize the existence of Transgender-Americans, much less subscribe to the idea that civil rights are for all of us.

We were similarly ignored in the media. Virtually all of the Queer community media of the time, both in and out of the mainstream, was almost exclusively geared toward the interests of gay men and lesbians, usually with only a passing nod at best to transgender people and the issues relevant in our lives. The protests leading up to HRC’s original promise in August of 2004 only to support inclusive federal legislation from then on garnered only a smattering of mainstream community media attention. In fact, really the only places to find reliable and up-to-date news and information on topics and issues relating to transgender and gender-variant people then was in media specifically targeted toward us.

Given these realities, it wasn’t very surprising when most of the greater LGBT community responded to the events of 2004 with little more than a collective yawn. I suspect that HRC and the House leadership were betting that going with a non-inclusive ENDA would elicit much the same response from the community in 2007 and, because upcoming elections are always a consideration in politics, 2008. They gambled on being able to just slip it by most of the community with nary a ripple of complaint from the mainstream, where HRC and the Democrats are most concerned about protecting their public images and reputations. Fortunately for transgender and gender-variant Americans, the vast majority of the LGBT community and our allies would have absolutely none of it.

In a lot of ways, politicians, at least the good ones, can be like telltales on a ship, indicating through their actions and behavior exactly where their constituency is on a given issue. The choice of many of these pols to stand with those opposing the HRC and, by extension, the Democratic House leadership, in regards to the way they’ve dealt with ENDA is a powerful and courageous statement, but also one that seems to become easier and easier for politicians to make as time goes on. This suggests that transgender and gender-variance inclusion and support are currently making quantum gains in popular and political support, probably in large part because this drama is now being played out on so large, loud, and public a stage.

The irony here is almost palpable. In a very real way, it’s HRC and the House Dems themselves who created this monster. Through their actions, by acting in a way that they apparently didn’t realize would be seen as arrogant and morally reprehensible by the vast majority of the American LGBT and progressive communities, the issue of equal rights and treatment for transgender and gender-variant people has gone from a barely-mentioned side issue in many Queer and progressive spaces to a cause célèbre in cities across this country. If you’d told me in 2004 we’d be seeing politicians forgoing HRC dinners and publicly speaking out against the organization in support of transgender rights and inclusion in 2008, I’d have thought you insane. I don’t think we could have ever accomplished all this so quickly on our own.

I also believe that the real game-changer here in the minds of many has been not simply what these people did to us in regards to ENDA, but also the blatant disrespect and arrogance exhibited by the Human Rights Campaign and their friends in Congress in doing so. I think that resonated with many LGBT’s, friends, allies, and supporters, inspiring many in this community to examine whether or not they who may have been persecuted themselves or had witnessed anti-LGBT discrimination directed at a friend or loved one, were comfortable with seeking to escape that injustice at the expense of others who are even more harshly oppressed.

Of course, this is a very good thing. Equally obvious, however, is that we currently have no idea at all if this will have any relevance whatsoever as to whether or not we’ll see an inclusive ENDA (or ENDA replacement) in the next Congress. We can speculate all we want, but the real truth is that there’s just no way to even have a clue as to what might actually happen until those votes are all counted in November. If the Dems do win in a landslide, that which was once considered possible and then impossible may suddenly become possible once again. If this past week’s hearing is any indication, there are at least some members of Congress who are actively hoping to take advantage of that potential scenario.

As more progressives come to understand the discrimination faced by transgender and gender-variant people, more decide to help and declare their support for treating us fairly. We all thought it would take years, maybe even decades longer for it to happen, but it’s not, it’s happening right now. Support for transgender rights is rapidly becoming every bit as much a mainstream issue in some quarters now as support for gay and lesbian rights is or ever has been, particularly in places where gays and lesbians are already relatively well-protected from discrimination. We may not have completely caught up yet, but we’re covering the ground between us far more quickly than anyone could ever have reasonably predicted. We’re still racing forward at breakneck speed in terms of increasing understanding and acceptance, and we’ve been consistently doing so even during times when the American political climate has been its most aggressively anti-gay in modern memory.

I’m no less cynical today about the motives of politicians and selfish political advocacy organizations than I’ve ever been, but I also acknowledge that a smart politician is one who knows when it’s time to get on the popular side of an issue, and when it’s time to stand up and speak out on what they really believe. It’s become pretty clear what most of the LGBT community, and therefore many of the politicians seeking to court the Queer vote, believe the right side of this particular issue is and they’re moving toward it faster than a superdelegate on June 4th. I believe that we can take the lack of attendance at these HRC events and last week’s Congressional hearing as signs that the politicians are not only ready to listen, but also that an ever-increasing number of them are finally ready to act.

It’s also important to remember that there’s another reason why this particular event is significant as well. San Francisco contains the home district of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. In the past, Pelosi has been able to depend on the LGBT community to rally behind her in support of her candidacy at election time. Call it a hunch, but I don’t think that same level of LGBT community support will be forthcoming for Pelosi and her campaign this time around.

This was a huge gamble for HRC and the Dems, and so, just as correspondingly huge a loss. The Human Rights Campaign is now a community pariah, their brand and their reputation all but completely discredited in much of the community and obviously in many political circles as well, especially in the major cities where most of the Queer money is. House Democrats have been coming under relentless fire from LGBT media and activists for passing a non-inclusive ENDA. It has quite literally become cool, hip, and cutting edge in LGBT and progressive circles to support transgender rights and to speak out against HRC and those in Congress who support non-inclusive civil rights legislation. Suddenly, we’re the new Black.

I strongly suspect that part of the motivation for holding last week’s hearing in Congress was to signal to the transgender community and our allies that we haven’t been forgotten. No doubt many Congressional Democrats are well aware of the public flogging HRC has been receiving from the LGBT community over ENDA, and at least some of them have experienced a taste of it themselves. With the election looming ever closer, the Democrats would like nothing better than to unite us all as one big happy Queer nation, under Obama, with liberty and justice for…well, nobody really.

It’s not going to happen. Not this year. There’s a new Queer Agenda© in effect now, one that doesn’t compromise on fighting bigotry and discrimination in the workplace, and most especially one that reflects the will of the vast majority of politically-conscious LGBT Americans and not that of just a handful of mainly ultra-wealthy white gay men. Congress knows it, and HRC knows it too, whether they want to admit it or not. The days when you could treat transpeople like crap and not have it be seen as a reprehensible thing by most Americans are over. It seems we’ve crossed that line for the virtually all of the LGB community and probably for most of modern America, and we can thank HRC, Barney Frank, and all the rest of the Democrats who went ahead with a non-inclusive ENDA despite the community outcry not to do it for pushing progressive public opinion over the line by highlighting and modeling the kind of unjust exclusion and discrimination transgender and gender-variant people face every day.

That’s right, you heard me. We have HRC and the incrementalist Dems in Congress who voted for the crippled, non-inclusive ENDA to thank for the surging support for transgender rights in our community and probably in our country overall, at least in part. Ain’t that a kick in the ass? Stranger still is the fact that we have to thank them for modeling bad behavior, thus rallying the community to our cause in droves to organize and fight against them and their elitist agenda.

Regardless of how we got here though, we’re here. We’ve made it. Transgender and gender-variant people are a bonafide American minority now, recognized as such not only by progressive Democrats like Barack Obama, but also by the United States Congress. If there’s any true sense of actual progress made to be had from last week’s hearing, perhaps it’s that. It’s what we asked from Kerry and the Democrats in ‘04 and were basically told to piss off.

So what does it all mean in the long term? The first thing it means is that we need to do everything we can to make damned certain that Barack Obama is elected President. The second thing it means is that it’s highly likely that what we’re seeing now is damage control. Congressional Democrats are wondering how they should respond, both when they get their own HRC dinner invitation and when (if) the question of transgender inclusion is called next year. They are, to be blunt, coming to terms with the fact that they misjudged the situation so completely and fucked this up so badly that it’s a tactical blunder worthy of the Bush Administration, and they’re trying to fix it after the fact as best they can.

What I’m hoping is that this hearing was a set up for an inclusive “reboot” of the whole ENDA legislation next year, be it a revamping of the bill itself or the introduction of a completely new piece of legislation. It would probably be the best way to put the past behind us as quickly as possible and bring the battle for transgender inclusion and its attendant political fallout to an end, or, at least a quieting, until the next battle lines are drawn.

It’s working. This is how we’ll all win together. Slowly. Steadily. Definitely. It may take a little longer and require a little more work to get there, but more people than ever before think it’s worth the effort. I’m still not yet convinced that anything has changed in any real way as far as ENDA is concerned, but at the same time, I’m more convinced than ever that the possibilities of something, maybe even a lot of things, changing for the better in the relatively near future is both real and worth fighting for.

For years we complained that no one was listening.

They’re listening now.

Let’s give ‘em an earful.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Welcome to Life

Thomas Beattie gave birth to his daughter today.

Congratulations and best wishes to the happy family. Thomas, you rock.

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”

Congress comes out to the Transgender Community - Part 2

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.

“Congressman Barney Frank and Colonel Diane Schroer”

You never seem to see Congressman Barney Frank enter or leave a room, or so it seems to me on every occasion I have seen or talked with him personally. Even sitting at the witness table, he folds his hands in front of him with his palms flatly on the table and bends over and rests his chin on them to lower his profile. But, when the time comes, Barney Frank literally explodes in your face and you know you’re in a room with a very astute and respected politician.

When called to speak, Congressman Frank (who I will refer to as “Barney” henceforth, after having shaken his hand a few times) went right into his routine of cracking a few jokes at the Senate’s expense, in connection with having to deal “with the wrong body.” It was his diplomatic attempt to leave the last thought on the failures of Congress to move the ENDA legislation through the Senate. The man is a master.

The first thing you may notice, as I did, when you see the video of Barney’s address, is that he does not have any papers in front of him. He looks directly at the chair of the committee and other committee members and he speaks less from memory than he does from his heart. There is no doubt that he understands our dilemma regarding employment problems. This is something that I have always known and trusted about him. But, like his entrance into any room, he seems to feel that maybe we can “sneak” something by others if we are patient.

Previously, Barney somehow did not feel that our problems were “ripe” enough to be solved immediately. This is where we differ greatly. The comments of the Chair in saying “The way we operate here is we don’t measure our duty by the quantity of those who are aggrieved. We measure it by the depth of the grievance that those who have been discriminated against suffer.” This was eloquently put and gives great hope for next year and any rewrite of ENDA. It made me feel like standing up and singing God Bless America.

Barney moved on to note three very relevant points. The first is that Transgender people are not protected in the workplace by any existing federal legislation. To protect them now, as in the case of ENDA, is not a duplication of effort.

Frank asked the committee to consider the premise of expanding the opportunity for all Americans to grow by accepting Transgender people freely and equally in the workplace. His example of previous anti discrimination legislation that has passed and that they were never disruptive was spot on. He pointed out that the track record for such expanding legislation allows Americans to accept people of all types, who faced the exact same complaints as would be resolved in ENDA, and always has been proven to be wrong.

Lastly, Barney’s remark on the feeling of “being uneasy”, seemed to me, to be his mea culpa for remarks regarding the rest room and shower concerns voiced by him some years ago. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that Congressman Barney Frank has become confident enough to pierce through the fog of fear mongering and hate speech, and has finally lost his fears of being confronted by an FtM in the Congressional showers. Hurrah!

Getting ahead of the inevitable “rest room” issue and having Barney Frank address the feelings of people about being “uneasy” when it comes to Transgender people is something that he speaks well to, because it comes from personal experience. One can only imagine back in the 70’s how uneasy the first gay congressman must have made people think and act and how much he has felt that same uneasiness that we sense in some people about who we are.

This is the tragedy of ENDA and what happened to it. The Congressperson who is most experienced with our making others uneasy and being in turn discriminated against, refused to step aside and let United ENDA do its job. We need him on our side for many reasons, but it is time for him to understand that delay and denial equates to loss of lives, threats and bullying of our children and suffering for our families. Just how uneasy does a person have to feel before “being uneasy” justifies damaging the lives of others immeasurably?

It’s hard to summarize Congressman Frank because he defies summarization. He continues to work hard, surprise and delight people with his intellect and background and he seems to be far from done. In the long run, I hope that our community and he can reach a mutual understanding of each other and respect, because like this hearing that was held, he also is an important part of our history.

The testimony of Diane Schroer was off the charts in every respect. At the very end of her address to the chair, you can hear her voice cracking a bit. Sitting to the right of her I leaned forward and could tell that she was fighting off the tears. If anyone understood the historic nature of this hearing, it was Diane Schroer.

As some of you know, I used to be a Drill Sergeant. I remember when a person like Colonel Schroer walked into an area where I was, someone would always say “oh shit, stand tall”. You get the impression from Diane right away that she is not the type of woman who tolerates being told that she is “second class” in any way as compared to anyone else. The testimony that she gave at the hearing was about justice and being treated like a human being. Her past history and unimaginable service to our country only lend credence to the depth of that injustice and the same injustice that is played out every day to Transgender Americans.

Diane is a stark example of the best and the worst in our society today. She gave the very best that she could in defense of our country and in return she received the worst treatment that can be afforded a bona fide hero by one of our most prestigious and intellectual bastions of government, the Library of Congress.

Such a contrast and such a compelling situation is only superseded by Diane’s grace and courage while still under fire and having to defend herself. From the offset, she has handled her grievance with dignity and respect through the ACLU, who also seems to recognize those traits in her and the validity of her case. This is why they are helping to defend her in court.

When successful, Diane’s case can be the building block for other future judicial cases to be determined, just as Peter Oiler’s case was, although different in many ways.

The future of Diane Schroer within our community will be set by her and after she has won her case. She remained strong to win her case and has done a great job of surviving so far, unlike others who have fallen to the prejudices and inexperience inherent in their own minds. Diane is more than a survivor alone. She is an outstanding leader, who I hope will grace our cause for equality long after she has obtained her own place in the Library of Congress.

Video clips from the Hearing here.

Audio of the entire Hearing here.

Next: Congress comes out to the Transgender Community - Part 3

“The Opposition Testifies Against Us”

Congress comes out to the Transgender Community - Part 3

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.

“Our Opposition Testifies Against Us”

Before I report on the opposition, I need to mention the testimony of Dr. Bill Hendricks of the Dow Chemical Company, who was a witness from the corporate sector. He addressed the hiring of Transgender employees and Dow’s perspective about what has happened to them.

During his testimony, I could not help but think of the work that is being done all over the country today in corporations and businesses to broaden their HR policies to include Transgender people. I specifically want to mention the work done along those lines by Donna Rose and Jamison Green, who felt compelled to “draw the line” when it came to what we used to call “biting the apple.” They recruited the favor of many HR executives in their work on behalf of our community.

I appreciate a company like Dow and many others being inclusive. I also know that they are obtaining loyal, hard working and intelligent employees in the process, people who also really appreciate their jobs.

With 48,000 employees, working in 150 countries across the world, I was rather set back to hear that they have only experienced one person transitioning. I could not help but wonder about that single employee who transitioned at Dow since 2005. That would be two and a half years, give or take a few months. I may be stepping on a few toes here in saying that it is strange for a company of 48,000 employees to have only one Transgender person who they know about, when they probably have hundreds of Transgender people working for them. I heard this perspective echoed throughout the hearing. Most people feel that the only real Transgender people who are discriminated against are those who wish to transition on the job. This assumption is ridiculous.

Dr. Hendricks read from a script, so I am not sure how the body of his address was put together or how much input Transgender groups made in coaching him. But, I feel that they missed an important point and an important opportunity for a major corporation to state that they know they have hundreds of Transgender employees and that they would not fire them if did come out. Dow would go on record as protecting their job also, even if their employee did not want to transition. In fact, I would have liked to have seen that one person who transitioned at Dow speak for her company at the hearing. Perhaps these are a few things that people might think about at the next hearing.

One of the things that bothered me about this testimony is that it came from a corporation. I would have liked to have seen a representative from the Labor and Union sectors testify. Perhaps, someone who would speak for the vast majority of Trans people, who work below the corporate level every day might make a compelling statement. I would have liked to have heard if they have had any problems with the Transgender workforce who were lucky enough to have jobs in the trucking, construction, transportation, medical and law enforcement sectors. I would also have liked to hear them testify as the ability of the common workforce to adapt to our situation.

Now we move on to the opponents at the hearing, the first of which is JC Miller, a lawyer and partner at the firm of Thompson Hine.

I find it a good thing to look for statements in the opposition’s testimony which provide hard evidence of the way they plan their attacks, especially the legal attacks instead of the moral ones used by people like James Dobson and his fascist tribe. Ms. Miller’s testimony gave us many directions as to where the legal attacks will come from. I think that when listening to her clear testimony, we hear their important need to emphasize “fears”, if not “great fears.” That was the seed she was paid to sow.

However, we will see the primary legal attack fall into the category of “definitions.” Who are Transgender people legally? What constitutes a Transgender person to those who aren’t sure and even some who think they’re sure in our community? As she put it, “There will be problems with language and definitions.”

We all know about this slippery slope of clearly defining and putting us into boxes to break us down and play one against the other. It may come in the form of, “Well you TS’s are OK but we don’t know about these part time dressers or those drag queens.” We know that this is coming and will be thrown up as a fear just as often as the bathroom issue is. Sadly, we already have people in our own community buying into this way of thinking.

This also points to the fact that we are all in this together and we need to stay together on the issue of gender expression and identity. My friends on the Hopi reservation in Arizona have identified 32 different genders in their society. Perhaps Ms. Miller might like to find out how they define those 32 genders before she calls for the need to do the same thing about the entire Transgender Community. The Hopis seem to have worked well with them for over 10,000+ years

I am not sure about her statement regarding mannerisms. I would assume that any reference to mannerisms would include protection for effeminate males and masculine females who may not identify as being Transgender. That being the case, she tried to limit the discussion to one type of Transgender person and eliminate protections for others.

Ms. Miller moved on to “shared facilities.” A groan was heard from the audience. Her references to “carving out” a section of the legislation that will especially talk about rest rooms told a lot about her thought process. Their hot button issue of the bathrooms was debunked by Shannon Minter, showing strong evidence that this “straw man issue” had a lot of history to prove this was really a non-issue. If they can accomplish anything in rewording ENDA, it would be to “carved out” areas to provide special exemptions for religious organizations and small businesses, all to further excuse certain parties from having to deal with Transgender people in the workplace. Barney Frank has already bent to their will on this issue in both versions of ENDA.

We have given away too much already in the legislation negotiated by Barney Frank and HRC. Like Donna Rose and Jamison Green, it’s time to draw the line in the sand and not give any more ground. Next year, if the Democrats win, I hope the talk about ENDA becomes, “What are you going to put back in the legislation instead of taking more things out?” This again can refer back to the opposition’s need for definitions so they can create additional targets to “carve out” more of us.

Ms. Miller also brought up a “huge problem of notification”. Are you kidding me? Will an employer have to accept the transition of an employee one day and immediately start construction on a new set of rest room facilities the next day? This is one of the most ridiculous things I ever heard.

Ms. Miller should have turned directly to her right and asked Dr. Lawrence if that was what Dow had to do. Or she could have gone to any of the over 300 companies that have inclusive policies and have Transgender employees to ask them if they had proper notification and what happened immediately after.

Another point brought up was jurisdictional problems. The opposition wants Congress people to make sure that they pass federal legislation to not back efforts in the states to pass their inclusive laws. My big question on this is, “Why can’t we chew gum and walk at the same time?” It also reminds me of one of my other favorite sayings, “We have to fight on all fronts.”

Ms. Miller called in the reserves by bringing up “prevailing costs” even though she did not mention what they might be or what she referred to. She finally ended with the specter of “frivolous lawsuits” from things like looking through key holes in the rest rooms. Now that was really reaching. Ms. Miller’s testimony might be summarized as the introduction of “fears” to deny people of their rights. But never the less, it was informative in learning about some of their arguments.

The testimony of the next witness, Mr. Glen Lavy, Sr. Council for the Alliance Defense Fund actually made my skin crawl. It was like listening to someone arguing against the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil Rights Act or the Americans With Disabilities Act.

I felt amused by Mr. Lavy’s fear of sitting in a room full of Transgender people and affirmed my belief that Transgender people have a power and presence that can literally make people like Lavy writhe in anger and fear. Of course Lavy sat directly next to Sabrina Marcus Taraboletti, who looked at him directly as he made his address. She had that look she got when people didn’t shut up and listen to her when she ran the Southern Comfort Conference. I think an intimidating look might be the expression that came to mind. Being a religious righter, Mr. Lavy had entered into his version of the The Twilight Zone and his presentation sounded like it.

Every point of Mr. Lavy’s testimony against us was so laden with fear that one by one, each point could have been defeated and torn to shreds by almost any Transgender person with even a little experience.

His position on employment rights for Trans people, violating the rights of employers was preposterous and absurd. Only outdone by his next statement that employers not having any means of knowing an employee’s views.

Then Lavy launched into this comparison of race and gender which left me astounded. Apparently he thinks that all Transgender people are passable and out to fool employers and make them all look like fools after they pop the big news about who they are. His argument would make you think that back before the Civil Rights Act that if an employer were to hire a light skinned African American who may have passed as white, would they have had the right to fire that person for not telling them that they were not actually white?

After that, Mr. Lavy stated that religion is not protected under Title 7, so why should Transgender people in the workplace be protected? It certainly takes a “sharp” legal mind to come up with that excuse, seeing as that freedom of religion was addressed by the founding fathers in the Constitution already. Chairman Rob Andrews took Mr. Lavy to task during the questioning phase, absolutely cutting him to shreds and leaving him speechless, defenseless and looking as stupid and prejudicial as his specious arguments.

Mr. Lavy’s flimsy statements then moved to our old friend, the bathroom issue.

We could all go on forever about the bathroom issue and we all know that this was going to be brought up somewhere in the opposition testimony, if not in more than one place. It was inevitable. His first shot across the bow was that employers cannot accommodate the rest room needs of Transgender people. My answer to that is that architects cannot seem to accommodate the bathroom needs of people who are not Transgender.

As a contractor, I know that there are certain spaces inside of every building which architects, planners and employers consider “bad space.” The bathroom ranks right up there in the category of “bad space” along with janitor’s closet and mechanical rooms. If employers had any sense – and some already do – they would probably prefer to have a single unisex bathroom, which would cut down on 50% of the construction cost for bathrooms in every project budget.

However, since we all are familiar with this argument and grow tired of it, we can finally end Mr. Lavy’s testimony with his statement (fairy tale) about a fictitious transgender bus driver in Utah whose major problem was finding a bathroom on her changing bus route because she does not have a permanent route. Mr. Lavy expected this to be a strong supportive example in his favor and I hate to pop his bubble, but this should be traceable for anyone who wants to waste the time looking for this bus driver in the Transgender community.

A lot of things made me mad about Mr. Lavy’s testimony, but the one thing that really made me incensed was that someone like James Dobson did not have the intestinal fortitude to face Congress himself. Perhaps he felt that it was below him. But I would certainly have liked to see him subjected to the same cross examination that Lavy got from the Chair after all the witnesses made their statements. In fact, Dobson is too afraid to show up at such a hearing because he knows that he would be made to look in public exactly like what he is, a pompous, arrogant, self righteous, right wing, radical, conservative, nut case. All we will hear is his constant rants from a distance.

Video clips from the Hearing here.

Audio of the entire Hearing here.

Next: Congress comes out to the Transgender Community - Part 4

“Final testimonies and Summary of the Hearings”

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hero Worship

In 1999, Amanda Schrader and I journeyed to Washington, DC to lobby Congress for transgender rights as a part of a group gathered there by GenderPAC. It was my first time in DC and my first time talking to Congress people on anything, much less transgender rights. I had been living as Monica for just under two years and was about to get a major dose of what it was like being part of a minority.

That event was special because I met several people who would become long-time friends, such as AG Casebeer, Monica Roberts, Dawn Wilson, Jessica Xavier and Ethan St. Pierre, who was not “Ethan” at the time. I also met my idol at the time, Riki Wilchins.

Amanda and I raised money from LGBT people in Arizona so we could represent the transgender community in our state. We planned on this so perfectly that we had scheduled appointments in ever Arizona Congress person’s office, with the exception of Senator McCain. It felt good to be so prepared.

Through all of this, I saw how much attention and admiration Riki got from the rest of the community. After all, she had done a lot to help our community to become more visible. However, when someone heaped praises on her, she would act as if she deserved it. Like everyone else, I saw her as a hero and wished someday I could become a leader in the transgender community.

Be careful what you wish for.

Boy, was I an idiot . . . and in many ways, I still am. In later years, Riki fell from grace in the transgender community and our people went on to worship others for their accomplishments, or their perceived accomplishments. I met some trans people who truly deserved the label “hero,” but I also met many more who sought out the limelight for personal gratification and got what they wanted by those who didn’t know any better. In 1999, I didn’t know any better.

I have noticed that money makes our heroes. It’s a cruel thing to say, but more often those with the means to go places and make their bodies look perfect will do things to get their faces out in the limelight for all to see. Some of their fame happens accidently and they can make things happen because of it. Those are “heroes.” Others who seek fame actually accomplish important things in spite of it. But, most of the time, many aren’t really doing anything, yet people praise them for their “accomplishments” and they do nothing to point out where the praises should really go. Some have published books, while others have big important websites. And, if you challenge them even in a tiny way, you get the wrath of their adoring fans. “You dare to question the great and powerful Oz?”

In my opinion, the true heroes of our community are those people whose names you will never hear in blogs or in the press. Some are known in their local area because they help one person at a time survive from one day to the next. Some open their homes to homeless trans people, while others visit trans people who have been incarcerated for whatever reason. They work in HIV/AIDS clinics, run support groups for street people and interact with places of worship to educate them on who we are. When one of our inner city sisters or brothers is murdered, they are the ones pushing the police to investigate and not ignore. On their backs, this community rides.

For me, I have been called a hero for some of the things I have done, but as time progressed, I felt less like I deserved it and more like a glory hound. It is true my writings are visible, but I write because it is a passion of mine. I’m still active in the community, but I would rather people praise the organizations I’m associated with for what I may accomplish and leave my name out of it.

I have made transgender history and witnessed it first hand, but it is all meaningless compared to the lives of those in our community who cannot survive from day to day. My activism bio could choke a horse, but it does nothing to help the transgender veteran who is being mistreated by the VA. For ever minute of limelight I have had another one of my transgender brothers and sisters either lost their lives by the hateful hands of others, or by their own hands. It puts a whole different meaning on getting my “15 minutes of fame.”

Can anyone blame transgender people for seeking recognition? We are vilified by such a large portion of society and our families that we want to break out and show the world that we are people who deserve fair treatment. Being in the news or on a talk show can help to educate the general public on who we are, but it doesn’t make that person a “hero.” The line between being brave by appearing on television to tell your story and doing it for the publicity is one that gets blurred easily with trans people. To be at the top of the heap in the transgender community is like being the top worker ant in an ant hill. Some of the most well-known trans people in our community are vertically unknown by the rest of the world. A “big fish” in our pond couldn’t feed a guppy.

I am ashamed at some of the things I did to put myself front and center just to bask in the limelight. Today, when someone heaps praises on me for what I have done, I get uncomfortable. I always have my friend Alice staring down at me, making sure I get a dose of reality. She took her life because she could not get employment and her story should have been given to the Congress people at the recent hearings. Homeless shelters in Atlanta would not take her in and for a whole year, myself and a few others tried to convince them to change their policy, but to no avail. To me, it was one of my failures, one that has a devastating affect on other trans people in the Atlanta area. Hero? No. Never.

There is always the possibility I may once again find myself being interviewed on local issues or transgender veterans’ issues. I have to remind myself that I’m only the messenger and the primary focus has to be the issue at hand. If I deviate from the message, I know several people who will call me on the carpet, and deservedly so.

People need to step back and look at those they adore and praise in the clear light of day. Most are just everyday people trying to do what they can to help, but not all of them. Some work with people at high levels of government and others work in the trenches. None of us should be set on pedestals for anything we do, because the entire transgender community deserves a pedestal just for surviving.

To me, a military veteran, a hero is someone who puts their lives on the line to save the life of someone else. We have many in our community who have done just that, and none of them are ever asked to ride in the front of a parade. They just move on to the next person to help. These are the people who make things happen. These are the people who we should emulate. These are the people who deserve our praise, and much more. Yes, they are our true heroes.