Saturday, March 14, 2009

Massachusetts' Shame!


"In violent times
You shouldn't have to sell your soul!
In black and white,
They really, really ought to know!
Those one-track minds
That took you for a working boy,
Kiss them goodbye.
You shouldn't have to jump for joy!" — Shout, Tears For Fears


Just yesterday I saw an advertisement for Massachusetts Equality (http://www.massequality.org/) with a photo of my friend, Ethan St. Pierre, on it. It was a very flattering photo of him showing up link stating "get the resources to help fight transgender discrimination here." Indeed it's an important first step for Mass. Equality -- an important first step in 2009.

Many would think this a positive development.

Many would ... and would also completely gloss over the shameful history of both Massachusetts and this very organization, MassEquality, on transgender rights. Many would completely ignore the selfish agenda of this organization and the gay and lesbian community in Massachusetts -- commonly referred to by no less than Rep. Barney Frank as "the most liberal state in the union."

Many would ballyhoo the fact that trans people, as well as gays and lesbians, have the right to marry in Massachusetts for the past five years. Many would also overlook the fact that trans people have that right alone (and just recently the right to get a proper gender designator on their drivers' license, passed in 2009), but can still be fired from their jobs, or attacked for reasons of hate -- just the most basic of rights.

And these same people would overlook that non discrimination in Massachusetts was passed for sexual orientation twenty years ago! Of course, they would also overlook that hate crimes protections were enacted only for sexual orientation there in 2002 as well!

"but the voice-with-a-smile of democracy
announces night & day
"all poor little peoples that want to be free
just trust in the u s a"

suddenly uprose hungary
and she gave a terrible cry
"no slave's unlife shall murder me
for i will freely die" — Thanksgiving 1956 by e. e. cummings


A year ago, the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) finally went pro, hiring an executive director and becoming a full-time organization devoted to transgender rights. Most people wouldn't notice that after MTPC's entré, only then did MassEquality finally get up off their duff and begin assisting in pushing for employment non discrimination. Of course, they were concerned with the upcoming elections in 2008 -- critical, of course! -- and even noted to the trans activists in the state that it was unlikely they could push for the Trans Employment Non Discrimination bill there. They didn't want to risk turning off voters on progressive issues by pushing something controversial.

Then again, many people would overlook that while they did ease off on Employment Non Discrimination, Mass. Equality still managed to push forward with passage of legislation recognizing out-of-state same-sex couples' marriages in Massachusetts. Right! Much more important (and less controversial) having out-of-state couples marrying in the Bay State, rather than having trans people have the right to work! After all, how many Massachusetts residents care about that, to say nothing of the controversy that would stir!

Per my friend Ethan, according to the report this year from Mass. Equality, one of their biggest agenda items, since most everything they wanted in their state was accomplished, was to work with adjacent states to help them pass marriage equality! Surely people will conveniently overlook that Trans people there still have no right to work or no right to address hate violence (in one of the most notoriously violent states in America for trans hate murders, no less!) Yeah, no urgency there ....

Now that suddenly people are waking up in straight America to the continuing disparities in the transgender community, not to mention our lack of equal voice, it's funny to watch how these GLBT organizations (BT in name only) are suddenly rushing to put splashy little web pages on their sites, giving the world the impression they truly care about their trans brothers and sisters. Surely no one will notice there's also money they can raise from trans people, trans supporters and foundations for their GLBT organization!

And I must note that MTPC -- the transgender organization, remember them? -- ekes by on roughly about $25,000 per year for their executive director, and not much else! Who wants to bet that in "the most liberal state in the union" as Ol' Barn' likes to refer to it, that the big GL(*BT*) organization draws in at least eighty times that in annual budget? No one will notice that.

So now, because the guilt stuff is nibbling around the edges, MassEquality decides maybe that they need to jump on this bandwagon and "be the transgender voice!" And many people will overlook the fact that they don't hire trans people there to be our own voice -- after all, gays and lesbians frequently aren't the ones who are their own voice, right? And those same people will overlook the fact that there is a Trans group (remember MTPC?) already existing, trying to work on expressing the trans needs by putting a trans face to it.

"be quiet little hungary
and do as you are bid
a good kind bear is angary
we fear for the quo pro quid" — Thanksgiving 1956 by e. e. cummings


Nobody's going to notice that the transgender issues are being championed and pushed by people who are themselves not trans, nor ever had much of a sense of the urgency in the community; much less a full awareness of all the nuances unique to the trans community that never even occur to those outside of our community. It will be overlooked that there even any need for trans input there.

Yes, many will overlook their history of ignoring trans people. Many will overlook the history of avoiding hiring of trans people. Many will overlook this spontaneous awareness and brazen exploitation of trans people. And many will overlook their -- ahem -- "generosity" with trans people in their own state. Better to devote resources and work on equality for gays and lesbians who happen to live in other states. That's equality -- not egalité (those get confused all the time!)

And of course, nobody will notice when those who speak out on this glaring disparity are challenged, discredited as crazy, isolated -- even encouraged to be isolated by some of our own more expedient trans folks -- censored and summarily dismissed into oblivion. It's always easy to tune out a trans-centric voice.

"I do for you a famous Soviet suppression: Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. "So how do you like life in Russia? (Hand over mouth, answering) Mmm! Mmm-mmm, mmm-mmm!" — comedian, Yakov Smirnov

Many people will overlook this. And many people -- especially trans people -- will not! The histories of these organizations are long-term lessons we in the trans community have learned the hard way. Lose the history, lose the lesson. And as George Santayana long ago noted: those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

"uncle sam shrugs his pretty
pink shoulders you know how
and he twitches a liberal titty
and lisps "i'm busy right now"

so rah-rah-rah democracy
let's all be as thankful as hell
and bury the statue of liberty
(because it begins to smell)." Thanksgiving 1956 by e. e. cummings


"I hope we live to tell the tale!" — Shout, Tears For Fears


Personally I won't overlook history and I have no intention of willfully allowing it to repeat. I remember the lessons I learned the hard way from Sylvia Rivera (and she was completely correct!) I remember what happens when you overlook small details that seem insignificant, like 2006's Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill language, and then it becomes much more significant later when the small detail becomes set in stone to our detriment. I remember the hard lessons of having allowed those the "benefit of the doubt" only to see it used to play us as fools, and watch as this only emboldens these same parties to play us subsequently as "old fools."

I also remember fully that the gay and lesbian community leadership, as exhibited by their own quotes from the likes of Hilary Rosen, Joe Solmonese, Barney Frank, Matt Foreman, have done an excellent job of not forgetting nor overlooking history either! Nobody in the gay and lesbian rights movement overlooks their own disparities, or the history thereof.

Blogger Jenna Lowenstein, writing on the marriage rights vs. civil unions debated noted it this way:

The idea that there is a trade-off for any rights movement – between principle and compromise, revolution and assimilation, absolutism or gradualism, belief and strategy – is what forces this debate, but I think the answer is easy....

We can compromise on taxes and on infrastructure funding and on health care costs. But we cannot – we must not – sell out the fundamental right to equality.


Why should we simply allow others more funded, with more power and privilege and with more access to media to come in and simply co-opt our issues and take ownership of our voices and hold our own rights in their hands -- something that means our lives, but means only an new funding opportunity and maybe an easy way to self-assuage their own guilt? Would that be viewed as equality to them? Why would they believe we would compromise our own voice and abdicate our own future?

There are plenty of very active and very effective trans activists in Massachusetts, including some who are unemployed. You want to do something about "equality" that'll send a message to your own and the trans community, and most importantly to the employers who note you don't even hire trans people yourselves (thus, why should they)? How about forgetting about putting trans men on your website and instead hiring these same trans men -- or better still, seriously underwrite the trans organization to hire staff (not just one person on a near-poverty shoestring) and open the doors to the powers that be to make an egalitarian dream for trans people something more realistic?

No ... folks like MassEquality conveniently overlook that we might be our own most effective advocates on our own issues! Better that they take our issues and advertise themselves with them. They'll take whatever funding they can draw to their own org via the plight of the trans community. They'll enjoy every second of media they can draw to themselves and paint themselves as heroically standing for trans equality (whatever that means to them).

It completely escapes them that trans people might want to be their own advocates, do their own work, raise our own funds, create our own community infrastructures, increase our own visibility (not possible when it's always a gay or lesbian face on TV), develop our own political résumés and help add to our own experiences and build the confidence wherefrom. We also might not want to forget our own intertwined histories!

So how does this empower trans people in Massachusetts, having other people take over our issue simply because they can? Is this supposed to instill trans people with pride?

If they can't help lift up transgender people or organizations, then don't exploit! That's not pride — that's shame.

"Shout! Shout! Let it all out!
These are the things I can do without!" — Shout, Tears For Fears

6 comments:

Diego said...

Vanessa: shame! What is happening in your head? We all KNOW each other. This is baffling to me. This is sadly erroneous, uninformed and not expressed by someone NEVER involved in equality work in Massachusetts, ever. You know so many things. Massachusetts politics, planning, work and policy are not among those. There's too much false information in this to flag each piece. From me, someone who HAS been involved for 20 years in MA LGBT, civil rights and social justice work: Every step that MassEquality has made, since its inception (and I say that because I was there when it was a spark in an eye and not yet formed) has been strategic and with participation, collaboration, negotiation, compromise and discussion with transgender people in MA. Your thoughts about Mass are so off base, you might want to focus on the many things you actually have lived through or are working on. Mass is NOT one of them. We'll handle MA as we have. I can't imagine what compels you to talk about Mass when you know us, the people who HAVE been doing the work. This is utter nonsense. Diego

Vanessa Edwards Foster said...

So let me get this straight: last year, when two issues came up for consideration -- employment non discrimination for trans people, and extending marriage rights to couples who live out of state, but wish to marry in Massachusetts -- it was the trans community who said, "you know what, we've been waiting for employment non discrimination for 19 years, what's another year? The priority should be marriage for couples in other states who wish to come to Mass. in order to take advantage of our great state?"

Now, Equality inherited whatever their gay/lesbian community forebear left them. The fact is that in (as Barney likes to point out) "the most liberal state in the union," as of the end of 2008 the only right trans people had was to marry. Period. After nearly 20 years of employment non discrimination for sexual orientation, the most priority item was not helping trans people be able to work -- it was helping others marry (which wasn't even being considered reality six years ago). They can say what they want about the past and the other organizations. But during their tenure, they've had ample opportunity to help fund trans groups, help open doors for trans people to the halls of power in order to be further along the lines and maybe even have attained employment rights at this point. Instead, it's 20 years hence and there is still no rights for even folks like Ethan, who was openly fired for being trans, to be able to work.

Whatever it looks like from the inside, I can't say. But from the outside, the priorities and their consideration of the trans community in general are pretty obvious at this distant perspective. And if trans people there are really that generous, that willing to put aside their own basic rights to work, survive and to be free from hate, in order to help gays and lesbians throughout the region and beyond be able to marry first ... well, the gay and lesbian leadership there should be standing up and publicizing this heroism loudly and pervasively across the land and not keeping it such a secret! And when the time comes that the trans community up there needs a hand in getting employed finally, or being covered by hate crimes, let's hope they share the same sense of generosity! Let's see them help uplift trans organizations, trans people and help create some visibility and opportunities beyond for trans people -- and not just see this as an additional opportunity to justify their own continued paychecks and parlay themselves into the front-and-center spotlight, trumpeting their own heroism!

Gunner said...

Actually, MassEquality has been one of our many strong partners in the coalition that MTPC's leads in advancing transgender rights in Massachusetts. I should know as the Director and founding member of MTPC.

Vanessa your assessment is off base, additionally you don't even live here or participate in MTPC. Lashing out at organizations and partnerships that you know nothing about is not helping build coalition, move our transgender rights movement forward, or encourage other state LGBT advocacy groups to work with their local transgender political groups.

You might want to focus on your own damn state, Texas, in moving transgender rights.

KatRose said...

Gee Gunner, you're sounding a lot like that belle of Maryland, Cathy Brennan. Get off of the 'focus on your own state' shit. What your state did twenty years ago helped give license to every state to came afterward that has created anti-trans apartheid - and that has then decided to go on to bigger and better things, like everything *except* basic rights for trans people.

Vanessa Edwards Foster said...

Trust me, Gunner, I'm no fan of Equality Texas either. All I see here is stonewalling, silence and doing everything possible to ignore us or their own pre-history. It's just another replay of what we've seen throughout many (if not all) of the Equality Federation groups -- include the trans only for superficial PR purposes.

MassEquality has a rather distinct history. So why do they act as if "all is fine and forgiven" in a state where even out of state same-sex marriages are recognized, but trans people still have no employment protectsion, no hate crimes protection, none of the visibility or leadership or even opportunities (as do the employees within their own group) to other employment in legislature -- or even the springboard to their own political office -- that those within G&L orgs like MassEquality do? You may personally consider this equal. To the outside observer, not! You're not using the leverage of their long-standing legacy to its utmost, and that will end up being opportunity lost.

Many years ago I learned that being "civil, decorous, and working within the system" for some type of considerations later produces absolutely zero! I gave them a lot of time to come around and make good -- that was a fool's exercise. My experience only got me played as a dupe and still written off as a "loose cannon" even when I was not even speaking out! Well, lesson learned. Now I self-fulfill their prophecies and will continue speaking out louder by the day! From my perspective, when there was nothing to ever gain, what's to lose? You work from the inside -- great! Keep pushing from the inside. But don't ever forget there are those on the outside with no reason to wait around. We've seen zero, and you're not on the outside with us to understand our perspective either!

As for criticism, you had no problem voicing your own criticisms of NTAC from the outside back in the day. So what's good for the goose is not good for the gander? Nice. Don't expect me or anyone else on the outside to place any faith in that type of mindset. I guess that means we'll keep fighting those keeping us all out, and you'll keep fighting us.

Kelli Anne Busey said...

I'm a transgender refugee from Franks 'liberal' dominion who 18 years ago found acceptance in a 'Conservative state'. That qualifies me as a 'insider'. I don't subscribe to Vanessa's all or nothing or Gunner's transgender group taking money from HRC. That does not make me right or wrong but I can say that when I left Mass. it took me a long time to get over the animosity I felt towards GL people. Gay and lesbian people would do a awful lot of healing if for just one legislative session they put transgender's people's neglected basic human rights number one, instead as being done again this session on the national level, last if at all.