Sunday, November 30, 2008

The ol' pronoun glitch

Went to a friend's birthday party last night. Then to dinner after the party. All lovely.

Except that at some point during the dinner, someone called me "he." Corrected herself, but didn't exactly apologise.

I knew, before we left the house, that someone was going to call me by the wrong pronoun, because someone always calls me by the wrong pronoun.

This little slip-up happens virtually every time I am out with friends from Colby College, where I have worked for 20 years now. I know full well that most of these slip-ups are unconscious, and not intended as hurtful.

But they hurt, maybe because they are unconscious.

The ol pronoun slip is an issue we've talked about ad nauseum, over at MHB/community, as well as on my own site. I'm not trying to plow any new ground here. I understand the reasons people mess up, sometimes, and I accept that most people who do so mean well, most of the time.

But it still hurts, god dammit.

I'm always left to simmer quietly, to try to get over it, or to forgive whoever the miscreant might be. But I'm always the one simmering; no one else ever seems angered on my behalf; no one else ever seems to even notice these slips, or even care.

I'm almost seven years post-op, almost ten years from when my transition began. I pass pretty seamlessly-- for whatever that's worth--in most situations. So what is this about?

The idea that I will have to keep getting he'd, and I will have to keep forgiving, into my fifties and sixties and seventies drives me up the fuckin' wall.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Crossdressing Husband & Father on NPR

Some things you just never expect. NPR recently did a show about a crossdressing husband & father that was about as off the mark as Dr. Phil usually is. Pathologizing, full of the embarassed & shamed comments by the wife and commentary of the narrator, it was rife with ignorance and misunderstanding, and seemed to equate this person's other mental health issues with his need to crossdress.

Wow. I wish I were more often pleasantly suprrised by the media, but I really never expected this kind of crappy story-telling from NPR. Just one opinion that offset all the negativity would have been nice.

That the story is about someone who is deceased makes it all the more sickening. There is no one to represent Doug/Donna to explain what crossdressing is all about.

You can listen to it here - all of 12 minutes & nothing redeemable! - & narrated by a family "friend." Feh.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Transgender Day of Remembrance-Vigil Speech

November 20, 2008
Portland State University

Portland, Oregon

My name is Jenn Burleton and I am the Founder and Executive Director of TransActive. I am the wife, spouse, partner and significant other of the woman with whom I’ve shared my life for the past 26 years. We have been the foster parents of two transgender youth.

In the aftermath of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, I traveled to Phuket, Thailand and volunteered whatever talents, skills and abilities I could to the recovery effort. I am old enough to have marched with Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy and James Groppi in the fight for civil rights and fair housing in the late 60’s and I am young enough to have voted enthusiastically, idealistically and teary-eyed for President Elect Barack Hussein Obama. I am a middle aged, middle class social liberal.

My name is Jenn Burleton; I am a woman who happens to be transgender and today just happens to be my birthday. It has always been a special time of reflection for me.

Early on, it was the yardstick against which I measured the time it was taking my mother to accept and support the little girl that lived within me. During my teen years, it became the hourglass through which the sand that was my changing body flowed. And in adulthood, it is the day on which I take stock of how far we’ve come as a culture and how far we still have to go with regards to gender identity and expression.

Since 1999, November 20th has been the day we set aside to remember our sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, lovers, companions, friends and total strangers whose lives were cut short by violence, ignorance, misogyny and fear. This is our day to honor and remember those who died simply because they were or were perceived to be sharing our transgender umbrella.

We know that at least one trans person dies violently every month. Many of these murders remain unsolved. This does not include those who take their own lives after having been slowly but surely emotionally assassinated by intolerance, indifference, poverty and isolation. Those of us who share, to one degree or another, a trans identity are the survivors… and when I did the math with regard to my own life, I realized how very fortunate I have been. As of today, I’ve survived 496 months since first coming out as transgender at 12 years of age.

Lawrence King was not as fortunate.

I did not have the privilege of knowing Larry in life; however I did spend several weeks earlier this year in Oxnard, California speaking with Larry’s friends, teachers, counselors, mentors and neighbors.

Joined by my friends and colleagues, Hayley Klug, Mariette Pathy Allen and Esther Griffin, I met with school administrators, the Mayor of Oxnard and even Larry’s father and family members of the boy who shot Larry. I have taught classes at E.O Green Middle School… 20 feet from classroom #42 in which Larry was shot in the head twice from behind at close range. Several of the students who were there that day were in the classes I taught.

You may have read that Larry was a troubled and flamboyant gay teen who liked to wear women’s clothing and harass straight boys. That Larry flaunted his sexuality. That one of the boys Larry liked finally wouldn’t take it anymore and brought a gun to school and shot Larry twice in the head as Larry sat at a desk in the computer lab.

I’m here to tell you that the only true part of any of that, is that one of the boys Larry liked brought a gun to school and shot Larry twice in the head. The remainder is nothing more than a cisgender-centric manipulation of Larry King’s trans identity in order to fit his death into a politically useful, binary gendered model of what homophobic violence is.

An article in The Advocate even suggested that support and encouragement for Larry’s overtly feminine gender identity and expression and his presumptively "gay" sexual orientation contributed to Larry’s death. It’s time for the hijacking of Larry King’s identity to stop. Larry, who told friends he preferred the name “Letitia”, was transgender.

It’s true that Letitia had male anatomy and at 15 was boy crazy (as are many straight girls at that age). But as many of us in this audience already understand, our identity… her identity existed between her ears and not between her thighs. The inability of some cisgender people in ALL communities to understand and respect that simple fact lies at the center of the identity theft that Letitia King was subjected to in life and most tragically, in death.

Letitia ’s life was complex, challenging, inspiring and, in the days prior to her murder, even joyous.

Born on January 13, 1993, Letitia turned fifteen one month prior to being killed. She had been taunted, harassed and abused for being feminine from elementary school on. Long before she may have even had a sexual orientation, Letitia understood that non-conforming gender expression is at the core of LGBT oppression. And yet, this small for her age child never backed down from being who she was.

Everyone who knew Letitia said that the weeks after she began fully expressing her true gender identity were the happiest of her life. Far from being the outcast some have portrayed her to be, Letitia had many friends at school, mostly other girls, and was well-liked by many in the school faculty and staff.

She loved butterflies. A child after my own heart, she loved the music of Crosby, Still & Nash. Her favorite song though, was “Lean On Me”, which she confidently told her chorus teacher she wanted to sing the solo on at the Spring 2008 school concert.

Letitia was described as a sweet child who befriended stray animals. Together with her adoptive mother, she crocheted scarves to send to the troops in Afghanistan and she loved Archie, the dinosaur-sized therapy dog at Casa Pacifica, the residential care center she was staying in at the time of her death. When asked how she withstood the teasing, bullying, harassment, physical and emotional abuse of others, including possibly members of her family, Letitia would simply say; “I am what I am.”

While some have tried to co-opt, manipulate, pigeon-hole and minimize Letitia’s identity in order to serve political or social causes, the brilliance of who she was lights the way out of the shadows for those who were fortunate enough to have known her. Averi, one of Letitia’s friends wrote this poem a few days after her death:

“I was his friend
And loved him till the end
You all treated him bad
You made him feel so very sad
Now take your life and change it up

So God can fully fill your cup”

Whether one attends a church that believes in a Supreme Being, or worships as I do at the intersection of equality, justice, respect and hope, we must all keep our cups filled with the compassion needed to understand those who are different than us and the courage to, despite all opposition, stand together not just as men and women of trans experience, but as human beings first and foremost.

Another victim of senseless violence, Martin Luther King, once said:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

We owe it to those we remember today, to Letitia King, to Cameron McWilliams who took his own life at age 10 after telling his mother he wanted to be a girl, to Ian Benson and Gwen Araujo, to Brandon Teena and Barry Winchell. To the transgender children of today and tomorrow whose quality of life and whose very lives hang in the balance of what we do on their behalf in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

To each of us who has traveled our own unique road to where we are, and to where we’re going. To all of these and to those whose names and lives may never be known, let us remember… and let us promise them that from this day forward, we will never again be silent about the things that matter.


Jenn Burleton
Executive Director

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shades of "To Wong Foo"

At least 150 locals in Silverton, OR showed their support for the first openly transgender/gender queer person elected major -- Stu Rasmussen, who sees himself as male but who had breast implants and presents himself as a woman -- drastically outnumbering the quartet of Westboro haters who had slithered into town to protest and get their media fix.

Best sign of the day: "My love is bigger than your hate." And there was this heart-warming encounter:

A woman pushing a baby jogger past City Hall did a doubletake on her run, backing up to question 16-year-old Victoria Phelps, whose family runs the small Kansas church.

"I'm a Christian," Lesley Brighton said, clearly perplexed by the girl's "God Hates Fags" sign. "This is some kind of joke, right?"

No, it's deadly serious, Phelps replied. Electing a transgender mayor, she said, was an abomination.

"I don't expect for it to sink in but it's our duty to come out here and preach to these people because they're so proud of having a transvestite mayor," Phelps said. "It's disgusting. And where was it? Was it Isaiah? Deuteronomy? About it being an abomination?"

Brighton shook her head. "I've read the Bible cover to cover," Brighton said. "Bottom line: love beats hate."

And while I was joking about the "To Wong Foo" reference,* apparently someone did in fact show their solidarity: in a similar way:

Silverton attorney Yossi Davidson, 59, wore a dress to the rally.

"Today, I'm just Joe the Cross-dresser," Davidson said. "Stu's an institution in this town … which is probably why he got elected. He's a straightforward, genuine kind of guy despite his gender complexities.

"I think a lot of people in town are against this sort of bigotry and militancy, their (Westboro's) bullying attitude," he added. "People are out here to mock them."

Even the comments about the newspaper story -- which are all-too-often seem to bring out the haters whenever it's a trans-related article -- were a pleasure to read.

Finally, one of the locals gives his account of the counter-protest (and thanks for showing your support Barry!). As he put it: "[T]he good guys won. And we did a good thing." That you did, that you did.

* For those who didn't get the headline reference, here's an explanation (be sure to read the plot outline).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Transgender Veteran Makes History

By Monica F. Helms, Angela Brightfeather and Allyson Robinson

Monica Helms: A few months back, the Transgender American Veterans Association’s Organizational Liaison, Paula Dee Wright, received a communication from Dr. Judy Rosenstein, civilian instructor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Dr. Rosenstein teaches Social Inequality, a sociology elective, and she asked to have a transgender veteran come and speak to her class.

You can imagine how we felt being presented with the opportunity to speak at the oldest military academy in the United States. Some of our most famous military figures in this country’s history have walked its halls. Never in its 206-year history has an openly transgender person been invited to speak to the cadets, so the invitation to TAVA was a first.

The discussion between board members on how we should proceed focused primarily on finding the perfect person to take on this historical task. We had many in our community who have also spent time in the halls of West Point, but only a few would be able to represent our part of the community in the way that would not only respect West Point and their long traditions, but respect the transgender community. Angela Brightfeather, TAVA’s VP, had the right person in mind.

We asked Allyson Robinson, who graduated from West Point in 1994, to take on this “mission,” and she proudly accepted. However, we made one big request of her. Allyson currently works for HRC as the Associate Director of Diversity and we asked that in this situation, she represent TAVA when she arrived at West Point, even though she was not part of our board. We made the request only because Dr. Rosenstein made the initial contact to us. Because of how important this visit would be, Allyson and HRC had no problem with that.

Angela Brightfeather: I make no bones about my dislike of the way HRC has acted towards the transgender community over the last 18 months. While I feel that we do not need them as a part of the Transgender Movement and that we are far better of either ignoring them or just telling them not to do us any favors, that would probably contribute to the schism that has already occurred. I cannot find it in my heart to simply dismiss those transgender people who are associated with them and their commitment to change HRC and the way it does business with our community.

As misguided as some people may seem, there is merit in working for change inside of HRC if at all possible.

The purpose of Allyson Robinson representing TAVA during her visit back to her Alma Mater at West Point, clearly as an example that, as a community, being transgender is much more important than our affiliations with organizations. There is a point where we have to admit that we are involved and activists because we feel we must be part of something larger than ourselves or any one organization. Allyson's visit proves exactly that point. TAVA and Allyson Robinson allied together, one for the purpose of knowingly and purposefully creating history, and the other, to have a transgender person ready as the best individual to be a part of that history.

In today's new age of creating unity, new beginnings, changes and reaching across the aisle, TAVA and Allyson decided that West Point needed to learn about our community, which was far more important and painted a far larger picture. This need overshadowed any obstacles regarding group affiliations or things that might have happened in the past, most gratefully sacrificed for new and loftier beginnings.

While some of us can never agree with who Allyson Robinson works for, we all have to admit that she is a transgender person first and foremost, who understands the big picture of our community and will reach across the aisle to help. To us on the outside and who take exception to HRC and the way they treat us, at least we know that transgender people on the outside and on the inside can still respect and work with each other, one, committing to change, and the other communicating what those changes need to be. That is a hopeful situation for all of us that gives little credit for political causes, but gives great credit to being transgender and creating community.

Allyson Robinson:

A native of Scranton, Pa., Allyson Robinson is a 1994 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, where she majored in engineering physics. After an internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory, she was commissioned as an officer in the Army and served with PATRIOT missile units in the United States, Germany and Saudi Arabia. She also worked for NATO as an air defense evaluator and advised the Royal Saudi Air Force on missile defense tactics, techniques and procedures.

Robinson resigned her commission in 1999 to pursue a calling to Christian ministry. After her ordination, she served as pastor-teacher to churches in the Portuguese Azores and in central Texas. Her ministry work focused on raising awareness of systemic poverty and the intersecting systems of oppression that create and sustain it, while working to organize responses to poverty at the local, regional, national and international levels. She earned a master of divinity degree in theology, with a capstone emphasis in social justice, from Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary in 2007.

The following is Allyson Robinson’s report to TAVA on her historical return to West Point:

I arrived at West Point on the evening of November 4, just as election returns were beginning to come in from the states on the eastern seaboard. The timing seemed portentous to me; I felt a bit as though I was riding the leading edge of the wave of change sweeping our nation. But paradoxically, I also felt like I was coming home. I had been back to West Point many times since I graduated in 1994, but not since my transition. To return not as a prodigal, but rather as an honored guest, was meaningful to me in ways that are difficult to put into words. So many transgender people are (formally or informally) disavowed by organizations and institutions that had once embraced them. To know that my alma mater, my "Rockbound Highland Home," was calling me back with honor was profoundly moving for me.

I arrived on post on the morning of November 5 and presented my identification to the guard at the gate. He asked me what my business was and I replied that I would be guest lecturing in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. "Do you know your way to Thayer Hall," he asked as he returned my license to me. "I'm a grad," I said, "so I know my way around." He smiled. "Well then, welcome home, Ms. Robinson," he said, waving me through the gate. I fought back tears as I drove toward the Cadet Area.

It was a beautiful fall morning--sunny, cool, and crisp, with the autumn leaves just past their prime--and so I parked about a mile from Thayer Hall and walked. On my way, I stopped by the post cemetery, as has been my custom for almost 15 years. I couldn't help but notice how much fuller it has become in just the last few years, with graves of young men and women killed in battle far outnumbering those of older veterans in the newer areas of the cemetery.

I also stopped for a moment at the grave of my West Point roommate, my best friend, who was killed in an accident less than a year after we graduated. After having come out to so many old friends over the last few years, I was so glad that time and fate had conspired to give me the opportunity finally to tell Mark the truth. I know he would have been one of the first to offer me his love and support had he lived--as it was, I felt his love and support as I continued on to the academic area.

I met Dr. Judy Rosenstein in her office about fifteen minutes before my first class was to begin. One of the cadre of civilian instructors in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, Judy is a great friend to our community and a bold advocate. We had spent a couple of hours on the phone the night before, discussing the ways her cadets had responded to the news I would be coming and brainstorming about what we might expect from them, and so I felt very well prepared as we made our way to the room where the lecture was to be held. When we arrived, much of the class was waiting for us, along with several other faculty who had asked to participate. The chairs were set up in a wide circle, and so I found a seat and waited for the Cadet Section Leader to bring the class to order.

This first section I was teaching was Social Inequality, a sociology elective, and most of the class were Firsties (seniors). One thing that stood out to me immediately as I looked around the room was the ethnic diversity of the cadets, which seemed to be much greater than during my time. The percentage of women also seemed to be a little higher. (Later discussions with faculty confirmed these perceptions as accurate.) After a brief introduction by Judy, I began my lecture.

The cadets were very respectful and engaged, as I expected them to be. There were some who were clearly uncomfortable with the topic, but my teaching style is very conversational and by the time I worked my way through my notes and opened it up for questions, nearly everyone in the room seemed to have gotten over their discomfort.

Their questions ran the gamut of the transgender experience and were very well thought out. That said, they seemed particularly interested in two topics: how my wife and I had preserved our marriage through transition, and how I had been able to justify my transition in light of my faith. (This interest carried over into the second group I taught as well.)

The first focus, on my marriage, seemed natural enough coming from this particular audience; the second, however, seemed out of place. While many cadets in my day were people of faith, far fewer practiced their faith regularly, and I can't recall a single time that an issue of faith was raised in the classroom.

When I mentioned later this to Colonel Tom Kolditz, the department chair, he shared with me how the spiritual face of the Corps had changed in the fifteen years since I graduated. As our culture has shifted toward tolerance and celebration of diversity, many prospective cadets and their parents have come to see West Point as a bastion of conservative social values--a place where they can be assured of experiencing the kind of social-moral environment they desire.

In Colonel Kolditz's words, "In previous years, when you'd ask cadets what other schools they had to choose from, you'd hear, 'Yale, Harvard, and West Point,' or 'MIT, CalTech, and West Point.' Today, you're just as likely to hear, 'Liberty University, Wheaton College, and West Point.'" This represents a change that is worrisome to me, but I'm comforted to know that Colonel Kolditz's department is dedicating itself to exposing cadets to the diverse face of America as it is, rather than allowing them to exist in a cocoon of America as they wish it was.

About half a dozen cadets lingered after our class to ask questions, and after speaking with them, Judy and I made our way to Colonel Kolditz's office for the meeting I just alluded to. When I entered his office, he got up to greet me, extended his hand, and said, "Welcome home," the second time I'd heard those words that day.

Our meeting, originally scheduled for 15 minutes, lasted an hour. He was interested in my impression of the cadets and I wanted to hear from his perspective why I was there and what he hoped his students would gain from having met me. I was incredibly impressed with the colonel. He struck me as a leader with his finger on the Army's pulse and his eyes on the national horizon. He expressed interest in having me return to speak to future classes, thanked me profusely, and as our time was drawing to a close, asked me a question that surprised me. "What can we do for you?" I had prepared to make an ask of Colonel Kolditz, but didn't expect to be offered such a clear opening.

I asked him to begin considering how the Army should treat transgender soldiers and dependents in light of the imminent repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." With the story of my dear friend, a transgender woman and Royal Army officer currently serving in the cabinet of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as my launch pad, I suggested that this issue would soon present itself to the Army and that the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership was naturally positioned to lead the way in making the Army fully inclusive of transgender service members. He committed to considering the issue, and I urged him to seek the advice and counsel of TAVA at the earliest opportunity. As I left, he gave me a Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership coin--a special honor for me as my wife majored in that department and doesn't have a coin!--and asked me to stay in touch.

I'm sure by this point that my fond remembrances and nostalgia are beginning to bore you, so I'll only note here that I was able to visit a cadet barracks with the Firstie who served as my escort and then had lunch with the Corps in the Cadet Mess--the first time I had been in those areas since my graduation fifteen years ago.

After lunch I lectured to a second group of cadets, this time in an Introduction to Sociology class for junior sociology, psychology, and leadership majors. While they were less engaged than my first class--which I chalked up to the greater diversity of academic backgrounds in the room, as well as the fact that it was the hour immediately following lunch--they were still very respectful of me and of our community, and seemed eager to learn more.

There were many faculty members in attendance as well, and I spent an hour after the lecture speaking with them and getting their perspective on the issues. They echoed Colonel Kolditz's assessment of the Corps' conservative shift and expressed concern that it seemed to be a tremendous challenge for them to discuss an issue like the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" objectively and dispassionately. I share their concern.

I dined that evening with Judy and two other faculty members, Major Darcy Schnack (professor of one of the sections of Introduction to Sociology I had taught) and her husband, Major Troy Schnack of the Department of History. We had a wonderful discussion of our shared experience with my lectures and of future opportunities.

I'd like to close by thanking you, and every member of TAVA, for allowing me the opportunity to represent us at West Point. Words fail me as I seek to express my gratitude, so I will say simply that I count it as one of the very highest honors I have ever received, or ever could. I am deeply, deeply grateful.

Please let me know if my report raises any questions for you or if you'd like more details on any part of my visit. Of course, if I can serve TAVA in any capacity in the future, I hope you won't hesitate to call on me.

Duty, Honor, Country,
Allyson Robinson

As the President of TAVA, I cannot express how proud I am of Allyson and her commitment to our community. She won’t be at HRC for many years, and when she does decide to move on, I see her as one of our future leaders. She is another example of how the military veterans in our community can step up when the need arises. She made history, but there are more moments like these waiting for us in the future. After all, there is the Naval Academy in Annapolis and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Is someone out there able to open these doors for us?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Remarks from Memorial Vigil

Last night in Allston, nearly 200 people walked once again the path taken by the candlelight vigil for Rita Hester ten years ago. It was my honor to have led that first vigil for Rita, and to speak to our assembled circle last night prior to our reading of the names of this year's victims (and all those from MA). For what it's worth, my words:

Ten years ago, our sister Rita Hester was brutally murdered because she happened to be transgender. We gathered here with her family, and marched in solemn vigil for Rita.

We came from diverse identities and communities, united by our outrage at the horror perpetrated against a friend, a fellow community member, a human being treated inhumanely.

On that cold November night 10 years ago, a new community was born. A community of transgender people, friends, family and allies freshly connected with all of humanity in a growing bond of mutual respect.

For this, we owe Rita a great debt.

For her sacrifice was not chosen, but rendered upon her.
And we benefit from her horror, and the suffering of others, like Matthew Sheppard, James Byrd, and countless others, now including Duanna Johnson, whose suffering helps us move the most cynical of heart to say, finally, enough.
Enough violence.
Enough denigration.
Enough disrespect.

We stand here tonight in solemn vigil, not as people prefixed with any kind of descriptor or pronoun, but as human beings brought together by our abhorrence of senseless violence and the oppression of yet another class of people.

Thank you, Rita, and your family, for the friendships you made, and for your great loss, which has become our rallying cry.
And thank you, everyone out here on this very cold night, and those preparing hot drinks for us back in the church.

Thank you for caring.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Breeze at Dawn (don't go back to sleep)

The signs are all around us that we are in the midst of something big. A social movement that has grown out of a response to oppression and one that contains in its pedigree the battles fought by women during their suffrage movement of a hundred years ago and by racial minorities in the civil rights movement of forty years ago. The climate has changed in such a way that everyone who falls outside the gender binary can soon gain legal legitimacy if we continue to press forward and do not settle for incremental progress. Full social legitimacy will take years longer, but it will follow, except in hearts filled with hate and bigotry. Equality will not stop hate crimes but it will make them much less socially acceptable. It will by it’s very existence increase education and familiarity, and that may make the crucial difference.

Although caged at the moment as being about same-sex marriage, the current fight is for full gender equality. It is the fight to prohibit discrimination against anyone regardless of gender expression, and without regard to the gender they find attractive. This fight has been sidetracked and strung along for a decade or more by the likes of the HRC, Joe Solmonese, Barney Frank and others; politicians that made a nice living and a career off of speaking for the most mainstream of GLBT folks, those that can fully blend in. They made progress within that very limited arena and that was a good first step. One which laid the groundwork by inoffensively suggesting to primarily white collar corporate executives that they make their non-discrimination policies more inclusive. However, at some point in recent history that set of politicians not only began to outlive their usefulness but ramped up their efforts to intentionally hold everyone back by not wanting to push any limits, by taking an incremental tact that in the end would help only those most like themselves. And starting with the ENDA fiasco a year ago, large numbers of LGBTQ people started noticing that the group that proclaimed it represented them did not in fact do so. Prop 8 in California followed this same path: it wasn't until Election Day and afterward that most of us realized that we'd been duped again by the same people. It was beginning to feel like we were Charlie Brown and they were Lucy, always pulling the football away and leaving us flat on our backs. Google HRC and Joe and the rest if you want the full messy history, but suffice it to say that a small group of professional politicians have been harming the entire community for thirty years while proclaiming themselves our mouthpiece and our connection to Washington. Literally since the early gay rights movement circa-1973, they have been working within the American political system to promote the rights of white gay men, while largely holding back anyone that is different from themselves. It started with the exclusion of drag queens and lesbians and over two decades became so privileged that the Prop 8 campaign did not even realize that there was anyone to convince outside of themselves. But now people have noticed and are saying very loudly that the Good Old Boys Club does NOT represent us or our fight. That is the essence of the grassroots swell that we have been witnessing and that is the spirit that will carry us through to full equality.

California’s Prop 8 is just one little battle and will likely be decided fairly soon by the state Supreme Court, and that is probably how it should be. Cries of "the will of the people" ring hollow against the oppression of a minority by a theocratic bare majority. The larger social movement has begun, and is helped by the election of a President who has stated that he is for equal rights not just for Gays and Lesbians, but for Gender Identity as well. He has also stated publicly that he will push for a Fully Inclusive ENDA. The conditions cannot get much better for us to move forward and we must do so, without hesitation.

Trans people have largely flown under the radar in all of this, yet we keep finding ourselves included by everyone other than the "professionals". Could it be because we are less offensive somehow? You would not think so, in fact the idea seems laughable. Yet, we have recently enjoyed a greater expansion of protections than gays and lesbians. My thought on this is that it is because we do not have a huge, affluent political machine fighting for us. We have our friends and families, loved ones speaking heartfelt testimonials. We have bloggers, and the likes of Barbara Walters, attempting to gently educate the general public. Ironically, we have been incrementalists of a different sort working from the bottom up because we have had little other choice.

On Eve of the Day of Remembrance: Criminal Justice and Our Communities

This is the opening of a recent AP report on the resurgence of anti-black racism, since Obama's election:

"Cross burnings. Schoolchildren chanting "Assassinate Obama." Black figures hung from nooses. Racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars. Incidents around the country referring to President-elect Barack Obama are dampening the postelection glow of racial progress and harmony, highlighting the stubborn racism that remains in America. From California to Maine, police have documented a range of alleged crimes, from vandalism and vague threats to at least one physical attack. Insults and taunts have been delivered by adults, college students and second-graders. There have been "hundreds" of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes."

I'm writing past midnight, having just taken part in a discussion on anti-trans hate crimes for Gender Blender Radio, hosted by Jacob Andersonn-Minshall and Rebecca Nay. This morning, I finished a quick newletter piece about the criminal justice issues facing transgender people for the Mass. Lesbian and Gay Bar Association newsletter. Earlier this week I sent someone a copy of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project report on violence against trans and intersex people in prisons, It's War In Here. Apparently, every November, I spend time immersed in thinking about crime and violence.

Perhaps it's obvious, but I think it might be worth stating: even as we mourn those of us who have been killed or hurt by hate crimes, dealing with hate crimes is not enough.

Central to the transgender civil rights agenda must be a robust and multi-faceted approach to reforming the criminal justice system and reducing violence in society. As a community, we experience extraordinarily high rates of so-called "ordinary" crimes, not just hate crimes. Not surprisingly, many of us are reluctant to report crimes for fear of retaliation and police harrassment. If we are incarcerated, we are likely to be subject to horrific violence and are at high risk of being denied proper medical care.

Not surpisingly, many of our concerns are shared by non-transgender communities of color. One cannot have a society with a substantial history of complex discrimination, human exploitation, and serious disparities in wealth and life opportunities and expect otherwise.

In turn, as the racist backlash to Obama's election reminds us, we have everything to lose if we fail not only to fight transphobia, but to fight racism and other intersecting oppressions.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's The End Of The World As We Know It

At least, I hope it is anyway.

Stonewall didn't do it. The Briggs amendment didn't do it. The Defense of Marriage Act didn't do it. The horrific misuse of Don't Ask Don't Tell to facilitate the most intense anti-gay witch hunt in the history of the US military didn't do it. George W. Bush actively championing a Federal Marriage Amendment didn't do it. Constitutional bans or laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in 45 states didn't do it. Only one issue over the course of our collective community history, HIV/AIDS, has even come close to doing it.

Unbelievably, it took the actual stripping of already existent marriage rights from gay and lesbian Californians to finally mobilize our community to loudly and proudly fight for our rights in significant numbers nationwide. At last, LGBT America has said "Enough!" and we're taking to the streets in protest all across our country. It's about damn time.

As a community, we've spent most of the almost forty years since Stonewall getting our asses kicked by the conservatives and the fundies pretty regularly and pretty soundly. Not once did we rise up all over the country in the kind of numbers we're seeing now in response to the passage of Prop 8. Maybe it's that people feel safer to come out and be seen now than they used to be? Well, all of the Pride events I've been to since the mid-90's when I first came out have drawn pretty good crowds, so I don't think it's a fear of being seen. Could it be that people are just selfish and don't care? Nah, I can't believe that either. Anyone in our community who lives anywhere in or near a major city or owns an Internet-capable computer knows that just isn't the case. Could it be that there's been no one to organize and coordinate large scale LGBT activism and events? Nope, that hasn't been true for decades now, and besides, these protests really don't have any organization or group of organizations leading this effort.

So then, what is it? Why did it take not simply being denied equality but having already-won rights stripped away before we finally began taking the kind of bold, wide-scale action we've desperately needed to happen for so long? I think we all know the answer, don't we? Yep, plain old laziness.

It's easy to be complacent when things are good, or at least, not bad. Just as many who have good jobs and nice homes don't seem to take a lot of interest in fighting to protect the homes and jobs of those who don't, people who aren't personally impacted by the lack of ability to get married haven't seemed especially motivated to stand up and speak out for those who are. That is, until now.

In a way, the passage of Prop 8 is probably the best thing that could have ever happened to our community. Stunning in its hatefulness and bigotry, cast into even higher relief against the backdrop of the election of Barack Obama, I believe it is that very juxtaposition of simultaneous events that has brought us out of our warm and fuzzy Queer cocoons at last. We watch our country and our world cheer as a new President prepares to take office, marking a major step forward in the history of racial equality and civil rights in America, but at the very same moment we see ourselves slapped down hard. As most Americans now look with anticipation and excitement toward what is now possible with a new and more progressive federal government, we ourselves are forced to face what has been taken away from us.

For me, and I'd bet for many of you reading this, particularly if you are transgender, the parallels to the recent past are pretty obvious. When the transgender community was stripped from ENDA, we responded in much the same way, though on a much smaller scale. For the past year or so, there have been regular protests at Human Rights Campaign events nationwide, and while significantly smaller in size, they've been consistent and they've been active. Despite their small size, the message has gotten out, slowly but surely, not by force of numbers but by constantly being out there, constantly promoting the same clear message of equality and fairness, and by never, ever, backing down or giving up on what we know to be right.

That's how this battle will be won. Not by marching and protesting for a week or even a few weeks, but by being consistent and unrelenting, by making our voices heard wherever and whenever they need to be heard, over and over and over, until the message finally starts sinking in to the community, to those inclined to support us, and eventually to average fair-minded straight Americans. We've seen it happen with HRC and ENDA, and we'll see it happen here, perhaps even more quickly because of the huge numbers involved.

Consider where the transgender community was just a few years ago. We protested, we yelled, we screamed, but we couldn't even get our own community media to pay attention for the most part. In my opinion, the biggest part of the problem was that we had just two protests in the summer of 2004 and that was it. Sure we had plenty of community-created media online addressing our issues, but the reality we quickly discovered was that the only people really interested in what we had to say were fellow transfolks, and preaching strictly to the choir just doesn't have much of an impact. The only time non-trans-specific media took even a cursory interest in our issues was when we finally got out from behind our computers and actually protested in front of HRC's headquarters.

Over the course of the last year we've seen that level of interest and support increase significantly, and I believe that's directly due to fact that we're not just shouting in the dark anymore. We've called out HRC on their home turf, their dinners and events, all over the country. First, our own community media began picking up the story and then it spread to mainstream media. Once that happened, things suddenly started to change.

As news stories and columns on the topic have run in mainstream newsmedia, we've seen more and more people step up and join our struggle. Where just four years ago the Democratic nominee for President publicly opposed our fair treatment and equality, we now have a President-elect who has publicly and repeatedly expressed his view that transgender people should be included in ENDA. Politicians all over our country have declined to attend HRC events because of the increasing public outcry over their selfish, discriminatory, and transphobic political games. States and municipalities all over the country have taken it upon themselves to extend workplace anti-discrimination and hate crimes protections to their transgender citizens. We've seen Barney Frank go from being publicly supportive of treating us fairly to non-supportive to supportive once more. The political playing field regarding the issue of transgender equality has changed drastically for the better over the last four years and that's because we've kept putting the message out there consistently.

It's taken us over four years to come this far and the battle is still far from over. The battle for same-sex marriage will take far longer because there's so much farther to go. As hard as it's been to achieve the gains we've already won, transpeople didn't have to first overcome laws and constitutional amendments prohibiting our equal treatment under the law as already exist in 90% of American states. It's far harder to argue convincingly that there are moral and religious prohibitions against treating people fairly in the workplace or protecting them from violence driven by hate than it is to make the case against same-sex marriage. That shouldn't be the case, of course, but it's nonetheless true, requiring us to either hope for a Supreme Court decision of a scope and impact on the level of a Roe v. Wade or Lawrence v. Texas, or we must resolve to engage in an intensive state-by-state battle that probably won't be completely won in our lifetimes. No, it isn't fair, but it is the unfortunate reality.

Stonewall got people to take notice, but it took decades longer before the promise of that uprising began to bear fruit in any significant way. In fact, it's arguable that it's only in the last ten years or so, long past the time of Harvey Milk and the repudiation of the Briggs Amendment by California voters, decades after the ACT-UP HIV/AIDS uprisings, that we've really begun making serious inroads toward equal rights and treatment for all LGBT people in this country.

We've made enormous strides over the last decade, despite suffering through the most aggressively homo/transphobic federal government in modern memory, and in the face of loss after loss in terms of the legal validation of same-sex relationships even as we've made great progress in other areas. Just as is being said about our current economic problems, things will likely get worse before they get better. Regardless, we must continue to persevere. As Dr. King said, the arc of history does bend toward justice, but it will not reach that point unless and until we are committed and relentless in pushing forward toward that goal.

It's time for gay and lesbian people to heed the lessons not only from their own history but also from the struggles of racial and ethnic minorities and from their transgender brothers and sisters. We will win this war (and yes, we must consider it a war if we are to have a hope of winning it), but only if we understand and act on the undeniable truth that we are still closer to the beginning than we are to the end.

We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again

- The Who, "Won't Get Fooled Again" (1971)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Duanna Johnson

Duanna Johnson was murdered Sunday night.

You may remember her as the woman who pressed charges after dealing with harassment by Memphis police.

She was shot execution style while on her "usual corner."

I'm tired of this.

I want there to be no reason for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I want there to be no new names on that goddamn list.

I hope her mother, and her family, and her friends, find peace, and that she has too.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Forward Thinking

Of the GLB's (and T's) that are starting to blog about the post-Prop 8 world, there is a small but growing group of individuals that have come to the same conclusion, apparently independent of each other. These are D.C. lawyers and the like, political wonks, people that dig into political strategy for fun and have been blogging quietly in their own arenas.

The religious conservatives are going to keep their momentum going, they are going to build on the recent anti-gay ballot victories at the state level. Their plan is to move from state to state focusing their attention on enacting "marriage sanctity" laws in each state. They will be backed by large groups such as the Catholic Church, Evangelicals and the Mormons. And four or eight years from now, Republican neocons will use that platform to their own end as well.

They've shown us how they intend to organize and operate; that was their first mistake. Their second mistake is the decision to wage these state level battles to oppress gays. Once their political machine gets moving in a predetermined direction, it will be hard to turn. Lucky for us, they have already laid the aim and groundwork for their push. While they are focused on state level anti-gay marriage resolutions, we need to focus on the bigger prize. They are still thinking in Republican terms of States Rights over Federal, but this is a new era.

It is time to build the push for a fully inclusive ENDA.

We need to start rebuilding for a fully inclusive ENDA. Start making strong alliances, start reaching out, start laying the bare strategic groundwork for the next battle a year or so from now. Let the lawyers continue to fight to overturn Prop 8, it was in some respects a red herring primarily designed to build and test a religion-based political machine, but it did serve (hopefully) as a fertile source of lessons learned and an insight as to how we need to fight the upcoming fight for our rights.

Read the religious and neocon blogs daily. Get to know who we are up against. Start talking to and reaching out to those religious nuts you usually avoid or worse still, ridicule for their beliefs. They are the ones that will eventually need to be educated and turned, in a manner that does not put them on the defensive. Don't try to change their point of view just yet; instead learn why they think the way they do. Get inside their heads. I guarantee you'll find that their world view is *not* the mirror image of ours. Rather, it is a completely different view altogether and one that strongly affects their motivation to act. Think of why they are called Jesus' Flock and why wear that label as a matter of pride, wherein many of us would see it as mocking criticism to be called "sheep". Start thinking in terms of "group unity" and "the good of society overriding personal liberty". That is where the next battle for rights will be waged, not in the esoteric field of Constitutional Rights or Personal Liberty.

ENDA will form the foundation for our battles that lie ahead. Now is the time to build our push for Federal level legislation, while Democrats are in control. In the end, both the religious groups and we will have won our chosen battles. However, once ENDA is enacted, Federal civil unions will have something to build upon and at that point the battle over the "sanctity of marriage" will be moot and hopefully even forgotten. We will have overcome the bigotry and the hatred, we will have spoken to people's hearts in ways they understand. We will have earned our equality.

(Note: Yes, I wrote, "earned our equality". Think Barney Frank, think Joe-I'm-A Good Christian-Six Pack; to them rights are not inalienable and they are not imbued simply by Creation, they are earned by trust and union with those like yourself. It's an important distinction and one we need to learn to apply.)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Devaluating Your Self Worth

By Monica F. Helms

As I get older, I am starting to understand the viewpoint of my parent’s generation and those who are older then them. I have to take drugs to combat high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and now I’m experiencing leg and joint problems. But, I take comfort in what my elders like to say, “At least you’re still alive.” I’m thankful for that.

In the recent passage of the anti gay marriage amendment in California, Proposition 8, I have seen literally hundreds of gay and lesbian people make statements to the effect of saying they feel a total loss of equality. In a state that has passed every single protection they can for LGBT people, including ones no other state has elsewhere, they see the passage of Prop 8 as a death nail to their total equality. Yet, they don’t seem to appreciate all they do have that makes them far more equal and protected then any other LGBT person in the country. They should be thankful for that.

Maybe it’s time to remind Californians what they do have, “straight” from the Equality California website. Since there were so many pieces of legislation, I only listed the bill number and the title. If you wish to read the details on each bill, please click on the link to the year.

2003: EQCA sponsored legislation that passed: AB 17 - Equal Benefits in State Contracting, AB 196 - Gender Nondiscrimination, AB 205 - Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003

EQCA-Supported Legislation that passed: AB 76 – Discrimination by Non-Employees, AB 458 - Foster Youth Anti-Discrimination Act of 2003, AB 879– Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), AB 1082 - CalPERS Recognition of Locally-Defined Domestic Partners, AB 1250 - Bias Prevention Training for Teachers, ACR 89 – Boy Scouts Resolution, SB 2 - Health Insurance Act of 2003, SB 71 - California Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Education Act, SB 85 – County Employees Death Benefits, SB 578 – “Sweat-Free” Contractors, SB 719 – Revisions of 1985 School Safety Act, SB 774 - Syringe Sales, SCR 11– Shareholder Pressure for Pharmaceutical Provision of HIV/AIDS Meds.

2004: LGBT related legislation that passed: AB 2208 - California Insurance Equality Act, AB 2900 - Omnibus Labor and Employment Non-Discrimination Act, SB 1234 - Omnibus Hate Crimes Act, AJR 60 - Permanent Partners Immigration Act (PPIA) Resolution.

2005: LGBT related legislation that passed: AB 849 - Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, AB 866 - Code of Fair Campaign Practices, AB 1400 - Civil Rights Act of 2005, AB 1586 - Insurance Gender Non-Discrimination Act, SB 973 - Domestic Partner Pension Death Benefit Legislation, 2005 EQCA Supported Legislation (13 bills)

2006: LGBT related legislation that passed: AB 606 - Safe Place to Learn Act, SB 1437 – Bias free Curriculum Act, SB 1827 - State Income Tax Equity Act of 2006, AB 2800 - Civil Rights Housing Act of 2006, AB 2920 - Older Californians Equality and Protection Act, SB 1441 - Nondiscrimination in State Program and Activities, AB 2051 - Equality in Prevention and Services for Domestic Abuse Act, AB 1160 - Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act, AB 1207 - Code of Fair Campaign Practices, 2006 Equality California-Supported Legislation (4 bills passed)

2007: LGBT related legislation that passed: SB 777 - Student Civil Rights Act, AB 394 - Safe Place to Learn Act, SB 518 - Juvenile Justice Safety and Protection Act, AB 14 - Civil Rights Act of 2007, SB 559 – Fair and Equal Taxation for Surviving Partners Act, AB 102 - Name Equality Act, SB 105 – Domestic Partners Joint Income Tax Filing Implementation Bill, 2007 Equality California-Supported Legislation (4 bills passed)

2008: LGBT related legislation that passed: AB 2654 - Civil Rights Act of 2008, SB 1729 - LGBT Senior Care Training, AB 3015 - Foster Youth School Safety Education.

This list contains 65 different LGBT-related bills that passed in the state of California since 2003. This doesn’t include any bills that passed before 2003. I dare say that no other state in the union can come close to all the bills California has passed, and in the large diversity of areas they cover. Does this sound like a state where an LGBT person has no equality?

I cried when Prop 8 passed, as I did for 102 in Arizona and 2 in Florida. Many of my friends have been affected directly by these. The passage of the anti gay adoption bill in Arkansas affected me greatly as well. LGBT people in Arkansas cannot adopt children, but they can if they live in California.

By checking the map on the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, we find that 29 states now have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage or broader anti-gay amendments. Another ten states have statutes based on DOMA. It will be a very long time before same-sex marriage will be accepted across the country, in a year many of us will never live long enough to see. This subject has become one of the most volatile in our community.

In a recent piece on The Bilerico Project, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solmonese stated:

“But make no mistake: I do not think we have to audition for equality. Rather, I believe that each and every one of us who has been hurt by this hateful ballot measure, and each and every one of us who is still fighting to be equal, has to confront the neighbors who hurt us. We have to say to the man with the Yes on 8 sign--you disrespected my humanity, and I am not giving you a pass. I am not giving you a pass for explaining that you tolerate me, while at the same time denying that my family has a right to exist. I do not give you permission to say you have me as a "gay friend" when you cast a vote against my family, and my rights."

The question I would like to ask, “Why does marriage qualify as being the one defining issue that validates your self worth, or your humanity?” As a trans person, I have had to come to grips with my self worth, because society considers me less than human. I started my transition in Arizona and I moved to Georgia, both are not noted for their high degree of acceptance of LGBT people. Those states have given me many reasons to have a low opinion of my self worth.

Today, I have no problem with my self-worth. I don’t need laws that protect my employment or include me in hate crimes legislation to justify my humanity. My self worth and humanity is based on me and me only. My renewed belief in God has also been very helpful. Trans people all over the country have come to realize that they will not relinquish their humanity to anyone. No one decided our humanity or self worth but us.

Maybe our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters need to take a little lesson from the trans community when it comes to self worth. We have been put down and marginalized for such a long time and for so many reasons that we had to make peace with our humanity. We have been left out of legislation so many times that we had to build the strength within us to move on. We have seen so many trans-related bills fail that it has dampened our self worth. Yet, we keep moving forward.

What moves us forward are all the places where bills have passed that protect us. Yes, we fail at times, but we have also won, like the many times they have won in California. We got comfort from each time California passed another bill. Thousands of smiles go with each of those bills I mentioned above. Let’s not have anyone decide our humanity by their hate and the passing of Prop 8. You cannot lose your sense of self worth unless you let someone take it from you. Fifty-two percent of California voters voted on a bill, but not your humanity. Stand up and let them know they haven’t taken that from you. Remember, there is always a new day to fight.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Mayor Comes Out as Trans, is Re-Elected in Oregon

Stu Rasmussen was the Mayor of Silverton, Oregon (population 7,414) from 1988 to 1992. He was transgender, but in the closet. In 1994 he came out and started cross-dressing in public. In 2000 he got breast implants, but he continues to identify as male and hasn't modified his voice.

On November 4 Rasmussen won a third term, beating the incumbent by thirteen points to become the first known openly transgendered Mayor in the US. Thanks to Metafilter for the link.

Friday, November 07, 2008

eliminating civil rights...

I posted this 2 days ago on my "blog-born-blog":

As of today, I refuse to acknowledge 52% of Californian's rights! I will do so randomly, at my choosing. I have deemed myself the ultimate arbiter of rights! After all, as a California voter, I have a God given right to decide who is entitled to "rights" and who is not.

Thus, by the powers vested in me as a California voter, I declare that:

1) Freedom of religion has been eliminated for all of the Mormons and Catholic who funded the "yes on 8" ads

2) Freedom of speech has been eliminated for anyone who voted for prop 8.

3) And if you fall into class "1" or class "2", then too bad, because I am eliminating your right to marry too. Ha!

special transsexual bonus:
While I'm at it, I refuse to acknowledge the gender identities of anyone who won't acknowledge mine. So watch out Ms. Blanchard and Mr. Jeffreys....

p.s., I know that Ray is Canadian & Sheila is Australian, and thus not under my jurisdiction as a California voter. But I'm feeling really justifiably entitled tonight...

Employment Non-Discrimination

On Twitter, Gunner Scott of GenderCrash directed me to the new Obama-Biden administration's employment policy, which says:

The Obama-Biden Transition Project does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or any other basis of discrimination prohibited by law.

Note the bold print.

Feministing points out that the CT Employment Law Blog has stated that this "signals a dramatic shift in the hiring practices of the executive branch because current law does not prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity."

So not only is this a proposed change or ideological shift, but an actual policy change has already happened with the Obama-Biden administration.

I told y'all they were hip to gender!

People of color are not to blame for California passing Prop 8

First, let me just say this: This is a little ranty, and the ranting is not directed, as far as I know, at anyone on this blog or anyone I know personally. A good bit of frustration about the anti-gay amendments is spilling out in all kinds of different directions in all kinds of different communities. Some of it's been spilling over into blame-slinging racism from white queers. Now some of it's spilling over into blame-slinging at our not entirely effective marriage equality campaign, which didn't really do half a bad job considering what we were up against... but clearly we needed to do better, and we needed to do better in one specific area in particular: Involving people of color.

Okay, folks, there's been a good bit of noise in the blagosphere that if Black and Latino voters only hadn't turned up to the polls in record numbers to vote for Barack Obama, Prop 8 wouldn't have gotten passed and (presumably white) queers would have nothing to do but celebrate on November 5th.

But Dan Savage can bite me.

If you really think that statistically speaking, Black and Latino homophobia is to blame for Prop 8's passage, first go here and read this, then get back to me.

Here? Okay, good. To recap, there are insufficient numbers of Black and Latino voters in California to have ensured Prop 8's passage all by themselves. If they voted for Prop 8 only in the same proportions as white voters (which, one exit poll suggests, they didn't), the Proposition still would have passed by a narrow margin. If every Black and Latino voter in the country stayed home, maybe Prop 8 wouldn't have passed... but we'd definitely be looking to John McCain and Sarah Palin to uphold our rights on the federal level, which, let's face it, is an unlikely prospect at best.

Need more numbers? Maybe simpler ones? You're excused for another few minutes to look here.

Okay, but the exit poll says that Black and Latino voters voted for Prop 8 in greater proportion than white voters did. Leaving aside the notorious unreliability of exit polls, why might that have been? I'm hearing from the Dan Savage quadrant that it's because Black people are homophobic. Chil', please, as any number of white gay men might say.

Proportionally more people of color supported Prop 8 because Yes on 8 did a better job asking for their votes. No on 8 didn't bother. We tailored our message to straight white women. We didn't do any coalition building with communities of color. It was a reasonable course of action from a political standpoint. After all, Hilary Clinton was a foregone conclusion for the democratic nominee. And when it turned out she wasn't after all, we still knew white women were going to be the decisive factor in the election; all the media said so. It was all about whether white women would vote for Obama because he's young and good looking, or whether they would vote for McCain because they were disillusioned and angry with the Democrats and the Obama campaign, or whether they were for Palin or against Palin. Why, we had no way of knowing people of color would get to the polls and actually vote. You know, after fighting so long and hard for that right, a fight that continued during the elections this year, given (as it happens, ineffective) voter suppression attempts aimed at people of color.

Still and all, many Black and Latino people, gay and straight, found a way to support marriage equality. The NAACP came out opposing Prop 8, without much fanfare from the No on 8 campaign. President-Elect Obama officially opposed 8, even though he did cave and make the obligatory "marriage etc etc" statement that the Yes on 8 people twisted in their dirty robocalls. And many more regular people would have if the Yes on 8 campaign didn't get to their families and churches first. Because believe it or not, Black civil rights leaders have a history of supporting gay rights. Jesse Jackson and the NAACP were there at the 1987 march on Washington for gay and lesbian rights. Gay rights leaders don't have the same history of supporting Black civil rights. And in the gap between what white queers owe the Black community and what they owe us, it's just possible that marriage fell.

So if anyone would like to continue to pin the responsibility for Prop 8's passage to Black people, go right ahead, but only if we actually learn something productive from it instead of just slinging blame—and that's that we can't win our rights without the help of people who've had many years more experience at it, and we've got to earn that help by lending a hand unasked in the continuing fight against racism. (And no doubt about it, it is a continuing fight: just because Barack Obama was elected President doesn't mean there aren't millions of young Black men, maybe some just as smart and talented, behind bars for no crime or for a crime a white man would have got off for.) If you won't acknowledge the context so we can learn from our mistakes, then you'd better chalk up those extra few votes to bad luck and start organizing for the next four years. Just don't make the same mistake.

Here's my suggestion for a plan of action for the marriage equality movement for the next four years:
1) Reach out to LGBT of color organizations first. Cop to the mistakes we made in organizing against Prop 8, eat some crow, and ask them what they need to be involved.
2) Having done that, offer help to queer-positive anti-racist organizations. Acknowledge that in the past, mainstream gay organizations haven't been doing all we could in the fight against racism. Follow through on commitments we make at this time.
3) At the same time, build inroads in mainstream communities by lending a hand in community projects. Go out with teams of VolunQueers to work on explicitly non-gay related projects that affect the lives of Black people, Latin@s, Asians, Native people, and poor straight white people. Volunteer at their churches' food banks. Be hard working, open hearted, and humble.
4) Ask moderate church and community leaders what it would take to make a counter-amendment palatable to them and their constituents. WHAT?!? Yes. Not every demand could possibly be met without failing in our aim of equality—but you might be surprised, for several groups to get on board, it might take as little as the addition of a line that explicitly states that no church will be required to marry same sex couples, just to counteract the lies Prop 8 supporters have been telling. Perhaps the next marriage amendment will state that religious organizations are responsible for defining the meaning of the word marriage for themselves, and the state is required to recognize every religious marriage and civil union equally—but that would still work for me.
5) Value people of color's work. Give thanks and reciprocate. Follow up and maintain the coalition. Call every so often and ask if there's anything they need, find out what they're working on and volunteer to help.

We're in the equality caucus together.

Mean Times

So, the election is over and like so many in our community I'm still not sure whether to be happy, sad, both, or neither.

Not only did our guy win, but the Democrats took virtually complete control of Congress, reducing the Republican influence of the political agenda of our federal government to its smallest in decades. In New York, Democrats took control of their state Senate for the first time in forty years, clearing the way for transgender rights and probably same-sex marriage as well. Barney Frank told us we'd need at least a 15 seat Democratic pickup to make an inclusive ENDA passable, and latest estimates indicate that gain was at least 20. More openly LGBT and pro-LGBT officials were elected all over the country than ever before in our history. All great news to be sure, all reasons to hope.

And then, there's the other stuff. Three more states have now banned same-sex marriage, including California, which not only wrote a ban into its state constitution but defied it's own high court ruling that banning such marriages was not constitutionally permissible, thus taking away rights gay and lesbian Californians already enjoyed. I guess what gets me most about this is that two of the three states that voted to discriminate against gay and lesbians also voted for Barack Obama. It's not a coincidence that mailers that went out to Californians in support of Prop8 included pictures of Obama and his statement that he did not support same-sex marriage. While of course the lion's share of responsibility here lies at the feet of those who supported this hateful legislation, there's also one thing we must not forget, no matter how happy we are to have Barack Obama instead of John McCain as our incoming President: They couldn't have used it if he hadn't said it in the first place.

No matter where the blame is to be properly cast, however, there's one thing that's undeniable: Voting for Obama (and his inclusive agenda) but against treating gay and lesbian people equally under the law is hypocrisy of the first order. At the same time, not only is it hypocritical and wrong, it's just plain mean.

As anyone who lives in a state where either same-sex marriage or civil unions are or have been legal knows well, the legal status of committed homosexual relationships has zero impact on those who are not in committed homosexual relationships. Zero, nil, nada, none whatsoever. Californians know this because they had same-sex marriage for six months before the election. California did not break off and fall into the Pacific Ocean during this time, nor did an angry divine being smite the west coast (or New England, for that matter). Children didn't begin being indoctrinated into homosexuality (as if such a thing were possible) in California schools. Preachers were not jailed for speaking against homosexuality. No church was forced to perform any marriage ceremonies they didn't wish to. While I'm certainly willing to be corrected should I be wrong, I'm also not aware of a single heterosexual marriage or family unit disintegrating as a result of gay people having the ability to get married during this time.

So, if we logically assume that the ability of gays and lesbians to get married has no real impact on the lives and families of those not inclined to enter into such relationships and that Californians know this because they have experienced it for themselves, we must also therefore assume that the true motivations for voters to strip this right from gay and lesbian Californians isn't about concern for their own families but rather nothing more valid than expressing their personal distaste for gays and lesbians in general and a desire to punish them for being different from themselves. You'd think racial and ethnic minority groups like African-Americans and Latinos which voted for Prop 8 in significant majorities would know better, wouldn't you? Apparently they don't, or at the very least, they don't care to.

I feel like I should have the right to be happy about what happened on Tuesday. Looking at the results strictly from a transgender perspective, I'd have to say we did pretty well. The prospects for an inclusive ENDA appear to be significantly improved, hate crimes is even more of a slam dunk then it was before, and it's reasonable to expect New York's legislature will move to protect its transgender citizens in fairly short order. If that was all I cared about I wouldn't be able to help but see Tuesday as a massive win for our community and the clearest indication yet that our futures as Americans are brighter than ever.

I just can't do it, though. I can't cheer with a full heart for myself and those like myself while others are being persecuted and excluded from fair and equal treatment under the law for no good reason at the same time. I can't take joy in victory when in order to do so I'd have to ignore the very real plight of others who are no less entitled to the full rights and benefits of American citizenship than I am.

And yet, despite it all, I cannot help but have hope. In just 74 days we'll have a Congress that can (hopefully) actually get something done on our issues and a President who will be a help instead of a hindrance in that effort. We can look forward to the appointment of US Supreme Court justices who will be more rather than less inclined to make decisions that help to guarantee equality and fairness for all Americans under our laws. We can also look forward to the issue of same-sex marriage eventually making it to the USSC (hopefully after Obama has had the chance to appoint at least one or two justices).

In the meantime, I know what I'm going to do. Like so many insisted on doing when gay rights used to be perceived as more politically palatable than transgender rights, I'm going to fight for what is possible, fully inclusive LGBT workplace protections and hate crimes laws, and prepare for the day when same-sex marriage is more politically palatable. I won't be a hypocrite and celebrate our victories in moving the cause of transgender rights forward when so many others have been forced to take a step backward, but I'm certainly not going to let the get in the way of getting what we can.

While I know it may sound to some like this rationale is something one would find in an HRC press release, there's one key difference: When an inclusive ENDA finally does pass, it will protect all of us. When the hate crimes bill becomes law, all LGBT Americans will be covered by it. When New York passes GENDA all LGBT New Yorkers will enjoy protection from discrimination. No one will be left behind. I can fight for these things with a full heart because I know it's fighting to protect all of us. Just as I and so many other transpeople demand inclusion for ourselves so too must we demand it for all of us or it isn't inclusion at all but rather the exclusion of those left behind.

Now is our time. We must take advantage of what is now possible because we don't know if we'll ever see such an opportunity again in our lifetimes. If there was ever a time for all of us to put aside our differences and work toward our common achievable goals, it's upon us now and we must rise to meet it, swiftly and enthusiastically.

There will be a day for same-sex marriage in America, a day when all loving and committed human relationships will be recognized as equal to those of heterosexuals across our nation. Sadly, we know, even if we are loathe to admit it, that day is still far in the future. Fully inclusive protections against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, hate crimes protections, the repeals of DOMA and DADT, these are the things we now have a real chance of seeing become reality soon, but only if we band together and work in concert to make it happen. In doing so, not only do we serve our own immediate goals, but we also continue the work of creating a country where same-sex marriage will be a reality nationwide someday, a country where discrimination against LGBT people will be as looked down upon by American society as discrimination based upon race and ethnicity is now.

Perhaps for the first time ever, I find myself offering a quote from an unexpected source, but one that hits the nail right on the head:

"...But make no mistake: I do not think we have to audition for equality. Rather, I believe that each and every one of us who has been hurt by this hateful ballot measure, and each and every one of us who is still fighting to be equal, has to confront the neighbors who hurt us. We have to say to the man with the Yes on 8 sign--you disrespected my humanity, and I am not giving you a pass. I am not giving you a pass for explaining that you tolerate me, while at the same time denying that my family has a right to exist. I do not give you permission to say you have me as a "gay friend" when you cast a vote against my family, and my rights."

-HRC Executive Director Joe Solmonese on the passage of California's Proposition 8

That goes for all of us, Joe, in all of the ways we fight against hate and intolerance, in all of the ways we work toward a more fair and just America.

All of us, all the time, with no one ever left behind.

It Was The Best Of Times...

A friend of mine posted this on a Yahoo! Group we both participate in:

"OK, let me state for the record that I voted for John McCain because I thought and still believe that he was better qualified. I don’t think that my vote makes me a racist (Besides, most of you who know me, know better than that)."

I don't believe for a moment that everyone who voted for McCain is a racist. I do believe though that, in general, the concept of and quest for equality for all Americans is further down McCain voters "to do" list than I am comfortable with.

I could never vote for any candidate that stood opposed to full equality for lesbian and gay Americans in committed relationships. So long as the Republican party (or any party) bases that intolerant and discriminatory aspect of it's political platform on evangelical religious doctrine, I will never understand how anyone professing commitment to human rights could vote for them.

Let me ask a question of McCain voters: If everything else about John McCain's campaign remained the same with the following exception; instead of opposing "gay marriage" the Republican party and its candidate opposed the right of an African-American to marry a Caucasian, would YOU still have voted for McCain?

I was a Hillary Clinton supporter. I believed that our nation was finally going to see someone from the majority binary gender ascend to the highest office in the land. I believed that she was imminently qualified and ready for the job. Yet, despite my dedication to Hillary, I told anyone who would listen that our nation was so very fortunate to have (in my opinion) at least two highly qualified and visionary candidates running to be President of The United States of America.

I voted proudly and enthusiastically for Barack Hussein Obama because I believe he was the most qualified candidate. I believe his steadiness, good judgment, even-temper and impressive intellect are exactly what this country and the world desperately need in order to recover from past eight disastrous years.

I've waited almost 40 years for someone to truly inspire me to believe that America is still a place where hope trumps fear, where equality overcomes discrimination and intolerance, where intellectual curiosity, scientific knowledge and competence takes precedence over ignorance, authoritarianism and arch-conservative religious doctrine. To some degree, the wait ended Tuesday night.

To paraphrase the words of Michelle Obama, I have never been more proud to be an American than I was on November 4th. I was not, however, as proud as I had hoped to be.

On the same night that millions of progressive minded Californians helped elect Barack Obama President, a majority of those same Californians voted to take away the existing rights of their lesbian and gay neighbors.

It hurts to realize that while I was casting my vote for Barack Obama in Oregon, a majority of African-American and Hispanic voters down the coast in California were saying "yes" not only to discrimination, but "yes" to the removal of existing rights from Americans like me.

70% of African-Americans voted to ban "gay marriage"
53% of Hispanics voted to ban "gay marriage"

The irony is immobilizing: The inspiration and hope that drove so many minorities (and majorities) to the polls to vote for Barack Obama also (temporarily) doomed existing marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians.

An America that takes an historic step forward while simultaneously stepping on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans is standing tall on a shaky foundation. We have much work to do.

On election night Barack Obama said;

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, GAY, STRAIGHT, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America."

Cher (my partner of 26 years) and I remain proud of our vote for President-Elect Obama. We believe that America's best days lie ahead. We believe in his dedication and commitment to returning America to a place where its better angels speak louder than the demons of hate, prejudice, self-righteousness, greed and imperialism.

We believe. We believe as much as second-class citizens, in second class relationships with second class families can believe.

We shall overcome.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama's Victory

Barack Obama's electoral landslide is a tremendous victory in a struggle that has lasted, not just two years, but since forces of violent human exploitation landed in the "New World."

Over time, that violence has had many names and faces: genocide, racism, slavery, colonialism, segregation, misogyny, homophobia, anti-semitism, religious bigotry, and transphobia.

We need not make a special intellectual or political effort to connect the transgender movement to Obama's victory; we are already part of it. We are already connected by the fact that his victory gives us hope for overcoming the burdens of fear, distrust and pain that separate and destroy communities of people.