Thursday, November 20, 2008

Trans Tragedies Bring Out Worst In Queer Capitalists

It's the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) once again, and across the globe tonight there are vigils going on to memorialize this year's transgender citizens who were killed simply because they are transgendered. It's a somber occasion for obvious reasons.

But again this year there is growing fury with the opportunists in the greater community, non-T members and organizations of this GLBT amalgam. These organizations are nibbling around the edges, looking for ways to avail themselves of the "heroism" they feign in order to get some quick and cheap public relations, and perhaps even creating fundraising prospects as well.

To say the least, it's pretty ghoulish – which says nothing about the selfishness this communicates. I personally had it out with local transgender community leaders in Houston who decided that HRC was our friends last year – immediately on the heels of our excision from ENDA. Today I'm locally non grata. But increasingly more of the trans community nationally is seeing what those of us were warning of years ago. Rather than my belaboring the point, I'll leave it to others.

Below is a lengthy post from Little Light's Taking Steps blog from Portland, OR. The first portion below is an up-to-minute update to the original post.... (

EDITED TO ADD--IMPORTANT: It has come further to my attention that HRC is not in fact doing any of the planning for Portland's Trans Day of Remembrance, which is, of course, a glaring error. I am retaining the current text to preserve my inaccuracy rather than pretend it never happened.

Having checked with one of this year's organizers--someone who did work I admired a great deal for last year's event--I had it confirmed to me that while HRC lobbied hard to have involvement and control over Portland's Trans Day of Remembrance and in fact announced to their listserv and on their website that they were so involved, the organizers from Portland State University took a stand and chose to limit HRC's involvement to a display table.

And below is the original post from Little Light's blog on HRC and Portland's Transgender Day of Remembrance:

It has come to my attention that the Human Rights Campaign has got its hands on Portland's Trans Day of Remembrance.
Yes, that Human Rights Campaign.

It's being touted, along with many events across the U.S. this year, as a change of emphasis from "Trans Day of Remembrance" to "Trans Awareness Day," something much more upbeat, much more focused on feel-good celebration of the community, something much more acceptable to upper-class, culturally-normative assimilationists you can put in the newspaper without making anyone feel threatened.

Last year's Day of Remembrance in Portland featured a young, poor, politically-radical trans woman of color (hi!) as an invited speaker and was organized, grassroots, by a multiracial, cross-class, cross-generational group of locals, largely students. This year it's HRC, a Democratic Party flack, a local therapist, and the executive director of an advocacy organization, two of the three white, all binary-identified, middle-class, and middle-aged--all acceptably-photogenic Spokespeople For The Community. This is not to disparage those speakers, some of whom I've worked alongside personally--I just find the choices telling. They may all be good people who do good work, but the diversity seems to have gone away in who we're presenting as our community's face, at the same time that we're supposed to be de-emphasizing commemoration of the dead and trying to re-focus on the sunshiny bits. I cannot imagine that has nothing to do with our inviting a national GLb organization in, one whose goals have largely been assimilationist, white, middle-class, and yes, anti-trans--to "present" us.

The Day of Remembrance is not about being photogenic. It is not about fundraising or lobbying or recruitment. It does not need the HRC.

The Day of Remembrance is ours, and it is sacred. It is the one day we set aside to honor those in our community, overwhelmingly poor trans women of color, who were killed due to bigotry and hatred. It is a single day in the year where we make certain that the names of the murdered are heard and held up, so we can all remember that these people mattered, were real, were loved, and are missed. It's a day to gather the community together and call attention to the violence directed against us and the caring we have for each other. It came from us. It was built by us. It was never supposed to be flashy or glitzy. It is a solemn mourning for the dead, a place to hold hands, and a promise to those who violence took away from us that we who are still living will hold together, take care of each other, and push forward together into a world where that violence is only a painful memory.

We can do better than this, for our sacred dead. We can do better for ourselves.
We need better than this.

Our community is constantly looking down a gun-barrel, and organizations that don't honor or support us continually ask for more of our money, our time, our hope, and now, even our events so they can push their own agenda--one that often leaves us behind. It doesn't just leave us behind deliberately, as in the ENDA fiasco. It also leaves us behind by prioritizing goals that many of us simply don't have on the radar because we're too busy surviving. An inclusive ENDA would have helped guarantee jobs and homes for the most marginalized in the queer community, a bare chance to just have a table to put food on, let alone the food. Instead, we're focusing all of the queer community's resources on what, marriage equality? That's a worthy goal. It's just not on the docket for many of us--working-class queers, queer people of color, trans people--who're often more worried about keeping our families alive than having full legal equality for those families. That equality would be wonderful, as would the public affirmation of us as full citizens. But those of us who aren't even considered citizens--those of us who aren't even considered human, or important enough for an organization that purports to speak for us to advocate for--those of us who are denied votes, livelihoods, and more--we have a much more basic agenda. Make it till tomorrow. Make it till next week. We're dying out here, this year at a rate of more-than-twice monthly, and we are not such a large community we can afford that. This month alone, as many as six trans people--again, almost exclusively poor trans women of color--were reported murdered, and the month isn't even over.

Where are our priorities? Where are the priorities of our so-called allies? You were all out on the street, in the hundreds of thousands, protesting Proposition 8. Where will you be on Thursday night?

HRC just recently put out a new line of designer wear. (Hey, look, it's Christian Siriano, who made his fame spitting on trans people and encouraging the public to use bigoted slurs!) As a young, queer trans woman of color with a white-collar education and a blue-collar job, I can't afford new shoes, and I'm one of the more privileged in my community. Do you get it yet? Do you get why this is such an obscenity?

I am all for marriage equality, believe me. I proudly wear the ring that displays my engagement to my partner, another queer woman, and I look forward to our wedding, whether or not it's legalized. I want those legal protections for my family, and I want the security of knowing that my society places equal responsibility, honor, obligation, and sacred meaning on my marriage as anyone else's. As the law currently stands--and until we achieve marriage equality in the United States--as a trans person with mismatched government ID, I can't legally marry anyone.
But I have to live long enough to get married, and I have to know that my partner won't come to harm for loving me, and I would like to no longer have to carry the knowledge that as marriage is for people, until my society considers me fully human, it will never consider me "marriage material."

Listen, I know marriage is important, but it is not the only issue, here, okay? Because, per the studies even HRC cites, as a trans woman I have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered. 1 in 12. To put that in perspective, as a member of the general population I have an approximately 1 in 100 chance of dying in a car crash. I am almost ten times likelier to die of murder than a car crash! How many people do you know who've been in traffic accidents? How many of you know someone who's lost someone to a car wreck? Because they're extraordinarily common. And they're accidents. Murder is not. A population ten times likelier to be victim to violent crime as the general population, with a more than fifty percent sexual assault rate and a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered, is not an accident. It is a pattern. It is an epidemic. It is an all-out war. And marriage won't protect us from that. Neither will cocktail-party fundraisers.

You know what else won't protect us from that? Mainstream queer organizations. Not "GLBTQ" newspapers that purport to serve a whole community but list themselves, when not being called out, as "Gay and Lesbian News"--and give the Trans Day of Remembrance an almost two-inch blurb, a whole page to a gay men's drag show, and half a page to a gardening column. Not the Human Rights Campaign with its consistent pattern of taking trans people's money, time, and hope only to cut the legs out from under us when they think it'll make them a buck, who're keen on replacing our in-community, vital Day of Remembrance with an upbeat "Trans Awareness Day" that's easier for cissexual and straight people to swallow without feeling guilty about that long, long list of names, easier to organize parties with keynote speakers around, easier to pass the collection plate during. We need more of that, after all; the greater community only has Pride Festivals and a couple of TV channels to work with, right? All those dead people are such a downer. We should focus on our accomplishments and what makes us feel good, not dwell so much on the overwhelming epidemic of violence directed at our community and what to do about it, not take a whole two hours of a whole day in the autumn to solemnly commemorate the passing of hundreds of people who often never even got a decent funeral, to honor those so disparaged and degraded as sacred, missed, and important--
Where's the champagne in that?

You know what else won't keep you and you and me off that crack-of-doom, heartbreaking list? Hiding the freaks, sweeping the genderqueers under the rug, putting only our most privileged out front, bowing and scraping, and constantly apologizing for existing in a way that might make someone uncomfortable. That won't save my life. That won't save the lives of my friends. Trusting cissexual organizations to represent us and choose who represent us because they have money--that won't save our lives. Considering ourselves less than the cissexual people around us--that won't save our lives.

This isn't a matter of "reasonable people can disagree" or "it's just politics."
This is life and death.
This is whether or not you and I find a world where my fiancée has a 1 in 12 chance of being a widow due to murder alone acceptable, and whether or not watering down the one chance to honor those our community has lost to violent crime, the one chance to call attention to the constant violence aimed at my trans family and especially young, poor trans women of color, is the way to change such a world.
This is a matter of "allies" who turn out in the hundreds of thousands to protest for civil marriage equality staying home and dead silent, a week later, when it comes to advocating for and honoring murdered trans people and the great loss to all of us now that those beautiful people are gone. You want us on the street for your "Day Without Gays" or cheering for a group screening of "Milk"? Show up. Just once. For us. We're not just getting made fun of out here, and it's not just our relationships being invalidated--it's our basic humanity and right to live another day. Hundreds of thousands were in the street for marriage equality last week. Last year, at the Day of Remembrance in Portland, I saw fewer than forty attendees.

I would love to get married. As a trans woman, especially a queer trans woman in a same-sex relationship, I have just as much hurt and yearning about marriage equality as anyone. I plan on living that long, and I plan on living long enough to grow old with my partner and, heaven willing, children. Whether or not that happens may just be up to you.

My right to stay alive is more of a priority than my right to get legally married. And right now, as this society and its culture and its legal system stand, I'm one of many people who don't have either right. You want to fight for my right to marry? Wonderful. Thank you. But those hours protesting, those donations, all that outrage and community support and work--I'd prefer they went, for a start, to keeping me alive out here. And I think the "GLBTQ" community in the United States, such as it is, needs to take a long, hard look at why they have money and time to fight Measure 8, but nothing to give but silence, co-opting, and more requests for us to pipe down and lighten up when it comes to the more than monthly murder of trans people. Show us our lives and deaths matter to you. Show us you acknowledge that the violence against us is worth paying attention to, that our dead were real people who deserved far better, and that our living shouldn't have to live in fear.

See you in the street.

In her blog, even former HRC board member Donna Rose commented on HRC’s attempt to capitalize on the transgender community at this most painful day in our community. (

I blame this organization for actively supporting the single-most destructful thing to be forced upon the transgender community despite their commitments to the contrary. I blame this organization for continuing to treat us with disrespect and, over the past year, could have used their resources to create untold amounts of support and education - but has not. I blame this organization for actually penalizing legislators who demonstrated a higher standard and a greater commitment to full Equality than HRC held itself to. I blame this organization for doing more to fracture the GLBT community than anyone from the outside would ever have been able to do. I blame this organization for trying to become a voice for transgender people when, in fact, they have no right to speak on behalf of any of us: they need to talk with us before they can hope to talk for us. All these things make these kinds of videos feel like a slap in the face more than something to appreciate. They don’t seem to learn that how you do something is just as important as what you do and they continue to do things wrong.

The best way to get the message across that you really care isn’t to produce flashy videos that include only HRC staffers. It’s to treat us with respect, to be honest with us, to engage us, and to actively help find ways that we can work together. It’s to actively build tools to help educate, to help get transpeople jobs, to do the difficult work or rebuilding some level of trust that continues to lay in shambles for most of us. If some of that had come before this video I might feel differently. However, it hasn’t. As a result, recent Press Releases and videos feel more like the same old tired HRC PR tactics than anything heartfelt or sincere to me.

To be sure, this is not a new development. It’s merely the latest example of their ratchet effect of what is, in some cases, successfully sublime division of the trans community. The last few years we’ve been battling HRC on this incursion into Day of Remembrance, as well as some of our own community members who accommodate them and give them the leverage point within which to wedge us apart.

It works to a small extent in certain areas. Houston was one of the first to bring HRC in immediately after this writer stopped organizing our DOR. I then stopped attending as well. More cities keep tying themselves to the monster-org, and there was some consternation between communities such as Columbus and Cincinnati who invited HRC sponsorship, and DOR organizers when they were officially left off of the list. Even more G&L led groups are sniffing around looking for their own opportunities now too. Not even cash-poor groups like NTAC or IFGE ever capitalized upon previous DOR’s, even though their members were among the first to give the nationwide and international vigils their wings – a point clearly overlooked by HRC Fund.

Underscoring what this does to trans events like DOR, Hayley Speck replied to Little Light’s blog:

… I had no idea this year's TDOR was an HRC-sponsored event. It's so incredibly frustrating - the one day out of the year that's definitively ours, and now I feel ambivalent about going. Trans Awareness Day, my ass.

It’s obscene how blithe and oblivious these folks are to this trans community they purport to care about. The HRC video noted one of the victims in their PSA – “Fredericka” … the two-spirit teen killed in Cortez, CO. For starters, the name “Fredericka” was a joke name given to her by classmates – not the one she ever used. Additionally, many tribes like the Navajo consider it very disrespectful to use the name of the individual who was killed more than three days after their burial – not that HRC could be bothered to make the trip there to find out first hand!

Again this year, the DOR organizer Ethan St. Pierre noted how one of HRC’s representatives attempt to insert themselves into our events. There was even suggestions of “making it more upbeat, more affirming and positive.”

This was almost word for word what one of our most recognizable trans activists (you know who you are, and will always have to worry about being outed!) inquired about a couple years earlier. Why not make it more upbeat, more positive, less depressing? Well, it’s our community’s collective funeral service for victims of hate-related murders – thus the depressing part. How upbeat and positive are those normally in non-trans circumstances? She even outrageously suggested moving it to a date in spring instead of November in order to get more college participation – and they tend to participate in things more in the springtime. (Gee you might actually raise more funds that way too, simply by moving the funeral observance to a different unrelated day, eh?)

This from a trans leader who should’ve known better … but then, one wonders where that idea really came from, noting the almost identical request from the HRC contact!

As we again complete the memorials to our victims of hate, the collective trans community wonders if one day our entire community will end up being victims of opportunity for those with money, power, and absence of conscience.


Mark D. Snyder said...

I invite you to post things like this on Great work!

tgcyndi said...


Once again you have hit the proverbial nail on the head. Here in the otherwise trans-friendly city of Chicago, the "good news" was that Diane Schroer, arguably one of the trans-community's leading "rock stars", was generous enough to share her limited time and unlimited wisdom with all who attended the candlelight vigil organized by Illinois Gender Advocates as our much-respected keynote speaker. Most of her speech is up on Youtube for those who are interested.

Also from the "good news" catagory was the address of Mr. Rick Garcia, who, along with Equality Illinois, has been a loyal and consistent supporter of the TG/TS community.

Rick's typical eloquence can be found on Youtube as well.

The "bad news" was that, although we saw NOBODY from the local hrc franchise (their actions always speak louder than their mealy-mouthed words), still a couple of the carefully selected speakers (who shall remain nameless) chose to focus on what THEY (and the people they work for) were up to, rather than confining their comments to the solemn subject at hand.

Just what we needed - insipid LGBT infomercials.

Apparently opportunism is a basic trait of human nature that transcends (no pun intended) sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

There is a time and place for business, and there is a time and place for parties: the Day of Remembrance is NEITHER.

Monica Roberts said...

It's time to call out the Vichy trans leaders.