Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Month Shy Of The 40th Anniversary Of Stonewall And A Pride Parade Is Boycotted


"We've been working our whole lives to make things equal. And we still got nothing. They don't care about trans people. ... But we will come back. We will fight back." — Sylvia Rivera from an interview on KPFT, June 9, 2001

As we come upon June 28, 2009 – the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City which catalyzed the public push for rights among GLBT people – we will see any number of events popping up to remember the occasion. While it may not have begun the actual behind-the-scenes work for rights, it arguably was the key moment to bring gay rights into the lexicon and consciousness of the rest of the world.

However, it became gay rights only shortly thereafter when those same behind-the-scenes, shadowy leaders in high places with memberships in the Mattachine or the Daughters of Bilitis commandeered the rough cut protests and tailored into a palatable visual for the inception of rights attainment.

This was a boon for the gay and lesbian community, but for those molotov-throwing "queens" and the "stone butch dykes" that began the physical confrontation and spontaneously organized the resistance, it was an opportunity quickly stripped from them. Any of them who would identify as the opposite gender, such as our movement's forebearers Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson and the like, would find themselves squarely on the primrose path to hell. Many of them would never live to see the day when they are equal.

Fast forward forty years: there has been much progress on the GLBT front. However, there is disparate levels of progress between the G or L portion as opposed to the T. Marriage rights is on everyone lips these days and enjoys a hearty push and the most recent victories in a few states. And as soon as these victorious laws are enacted, couples begin lining up immediately for the nuptials.

At the same time, employment is tenuous for everyone – but especially so for the trans community. We're seeing our folks losing work, and worse, losing homes to foreclosure and going homeless at startling levels. Even once non discrimination laws are enacted, it could be years before society wraps it's brain around it enough to actually hire trans people – hell, even gay and lesbian groups don't have faith enough in trans people to hire them beyond the rare instance.

In a sense, it is Dickensian: the best of times for some, the worst of times for the rest.


As we enter into Pride month and begin our marches and rallies, let's keep in mind the many of our pioneers who fought for equal rights for all, even after they were denied those same rights by actions of some of those very people they fought for. As the gay and lesbian community had their Bayard Rustin, so do we trans people have our Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson.

"Goodbye to the summer.
Sold down the river.
Unhappy ever after.
Well did you ever? ...
Burns are red, bruises blue.
Out with the old. Cheated by the new.
Do you suffer from long-term memory loss?
I don't remember ...." — Amnesia, Chumbawamba


And if you think we're rounding the corner into getting everyone in our collective Queer community on the same page, I've attached a press blurb below in its entirety from the more progressive (at least much more so than the U.S!) environs of the U.K., where London's Pride is exhibiting the community stress fractures as well.

http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=87458034207&h=KYuc9&u=af_fr&ref=mf

TransLondon announces boycott of Pride London, 2009

In a busy meeting on May 19th, members of TransLondon, London's largest support group for all trans-identified and genderqueer people, voted overwhelmingly for a boycott of the Pride London 2009 march and rally. As a result, for the first time since the group was formed, TransLondon will have no presence in the parade, nor at the rally.

This is part of an ongoing estrangement from Pride. Last year, a successful Pride march was marred at the rally in Trafalgar Square when a number of trans women were denied access to the women's toilets by Pride security stewards. One woman was subsequently sexually assaulted after being told to use the male toilets. Roz Kaveney, one of the women targeted in the 2008 "ToiletGate" incident, explained how she felt Pride London had only ever provided a grudging apology under threat of legal action, and that she felt they had never taken the discrimination against trans women in the 2008 rally seriously.

During the meeting on May 19th 2009, members heard how the democratic and transparent structure used in 2008 to co-ordinate participation of trans groups and the funds made available for transgender attendees, through the elected Trans@Pride committee, has been abolished by Pride London for 2009. Instead, Pride London have imposed their own unelected "representative" for the trans strand. Furthermore, requests for information about funding, how decisions were made and who participated in the decision-making process, have been rebuffed.

Last year, the elected Trans@Pride Committee consulted repeatedly with over a dozen groups and hundreds of individuals over before arranging travel bursaries for trans people to attend from around the country, hosting a breakfast for marchers on the day, commissioning artwork from a local queer artist as a rallying point for trans marchers, producing banners and bunting, arranging trans performers for all of the Pride stages including the main stage in Trafalgar Square and publicising the arrangements widely. In stark contrast, the meeting heard of how Pride London's appointed trans "representative" for 2009 has simply imposed Pride’s vision for trans participation in the march and rally.

The 2009 pride participation is, so we are told, to consist of a float at the very back of the parade which would pander to the most tired and inaccurate media stereotypes of trans people. Trans women would, in Pride's vision, be dressed in sequins, high heels and fairy wings and, apparently as an afterthought, a few trans men would be invited to pose in football strips. The Pride representative explained that the trans float would complement a float at the front of the march with members of the cast of the West End musical, "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert". In her vision, onlookers would be delighted to see "Priscilla at the front and Priscilla at the back". As a coup de grace, a visible cordon of security stewards would surround the trans float, ostensibly "for our own protection".


Rather than address the true diversity of the trans community, members of TransLondon felt that participating in such an event would serve only to bolster the kind of negative media stereotypes which portray trans people as "the cast of Grease", and that these undemocratic plans constitute an insult to London's diverse trans community. Sarah Brown, a member of TransLondon, an elected member of Trans@Pride 2008 and co-founder of the London Transfeminist Group said, "If I am to march at Pride, it would be as the lesbian woman I am, not dressed up as a corporate parody".

To determine TransLondon's official position on participation in Pride London 2009, three options were put to the vote:

Option one, to participate in the march under the terms we felt were being dictated by the Pride London board, received no votes.

Option two, to participate in the march independently of the "official" trans strand, as a form of direct action to show our dissatisfaction, received 31% of the votes cast.

Option three, to boycott the parade and rally received 65% of the votes cast.

There were some abstentions from members who wanted to see what their friends in other groups were doing before making a decision.

The democratic decision of the membership of TransLondon is therefore that the organisation will have no official presence or banner at Pride London, 2009.


Christina Alley, co-organiser of TransLondon and elected member of Trans@Pride 2008 said, "Volunteers from a dozen trans groups worked incredibly hard for Pride last year. Members of TransLondon are extremely disappointed at being betrayed, marginalised and stereotyped in this way by Pride. Members have made their disappointment clear in a democratic vote to boycott this year’s march and rally."

TransLondon is keen to hear from other trans groups, allies and any groups from other parts of the LGBTQ community who also feel disenfranchised by Pride London this year. We would like to discuss alternative arrangements for a celebration of the diversity of the LGBTQ community, free from cynical corporate politics, where we can enjoy the true spirit of Pride.

Reactions to TransLondon’s announcement:

We were extremely proud to march with TransLondon in the parade last year along with dozens of other groups and individuals of all ages and backgrounds. As a result of this announcement we are devastated this display of unity won’t be repeated this year. The only official offer of “support” from Pride this year has an offer to send a selection of our own members to be part of their separate and official “Trans Float” which we have already objected to on the same grounds as TransLondon. So we’ve had to seek funding for banner-making and costumes elsewhere as Pride London seem unwilling to hand any over.

We are currently reviewing our involvement in the parade pending the outcome of further consultation with our membership. Regardless of the outcome we remain committed to supporting safe, inclusive spaces for ALL trans young people even if many of our individual members decide to support a boycott.
Statement from Trans Youth Network http://www.transyouth.org

Contact: Joey McKillop (red_chimera@hotmail.co.uk)

Queer Youth Network members are still committed to participating in the parade because pride is often the first time they have had the chance to actually be out in public as a group so we will support anyone who wishes to do that. Some of our volunteers who have previously taken a break from their duties in order to assist Pride have decided not to offer their services as stewards this year. We appreciate the level of hard work that has gone in to organising the youth at pride activities and events, however we also accept they won’t appeal to everyone so our main focus will be supporting inclusive, grass roots events that bring all of our community together regardless of their identity. We have decided not to take part in the rally in Trafalgar Square and we will not be having a stall as we can’t afford the fees and most of us will be heading to Hyde Park instead.

Statement from Queer Youth Network http://www.queeryouth.org.uk
Contact: Jack Holroyde – Campaigns Officer (jack@queeryouth.net)


I fully support this boycott. I am sad to announce that Trans Ebony will not take part in Pride London this year. This would have been my first very pride in England having visited events all over the world. I was intending to enter a float for our group and was even told we could get some funding.

Pride London has the potential to offer a unique platform to showcase those normally ignored by the mainstream. As a struggling black transgendered artist I’m actually feeling incredibly angry towards those in charge of the festival. I was equally distressed to hear black and asian people have now been removed from the decision making process last week according to Pav Akhtar of UNISON and LGBT Muslim group IMAAN.

Deliberately closing so many doors on so many people does nothing but add to the multitude of prejudices trans ebony members live with every day of their lives. I accept we are a normally silent minority but that doesn’t change the fact London’s pride management have betrayed the very history it owes its existence to.

Angie Kingston (Founder) - Trans Ebony (tebony@teachers.org)

"Hey! We're just fucking 'round 'cause we've got no work, you know? ... You know what you want? Hey! You listen to me bollocks! You know what you want?!? A bloody revolution, that's what you want! Hey! Do you know what I think of you!?!" — Outsider, Chumbawamba

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Tale Of Two Protests


"Don't wonder why people go crazy. Wonder why they don't. In face of what we can lose in a day, in an instant, wonder what the hell it is that make us hold it together." — character Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) in Grey's Anatomy

It's been interesting watching the two different protests in the greater Queer community over the past week: the APA protest over the categorization of trans people as a disorder, and the protests around the country after California's Supreme Court upheld Prop 8, removing the right to marry for same-sex couples.


Last week we saw the reports on the trans community's protest of the American Psychological Association's meeting to discuss reforms to the DSM-V (Fifth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual dealing with mental disorders). At issue is the concern over how the DSM-V will categorize trans people going forth. It's bad enough to have had the pathologizing over the years. To continue the same after a full review would be devastating.

That said, they do have some folks on the committee considering the new version of the DSM who tend to favor keeping trans people pathologized. I won't go into the details on this as I know a number of other sources have covered it already, and have been dealing with it much more closely.


My one concern, which I haven't seen addressed yet, is when the DSM removes transsexualism specifically from the manual, then what? Over the years, I've understood the need to have something diagnosable in order to receive hormone replacement therapy. We need specific diagnostic categorizing in the Medical Association standards of care as soon as DSM is removed or sooner. As such, simply removing us from the DSM is only half the task.

"I have great confidence that our efforts are so crucial and colossal that we will render it impossible for our adversaries to reverse the direction of our socio-cultural transformations. As the great Reverend Martin Luther King said: “Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” [58] As we speak our truths, we must remember to love ourselves and our community members, and hold fast to the strength of our convictions." — trans activist and scholar, Joelle Ruby Ryan from the presentation "The Tipping Point"

The problem I see is that a condition such as ours which requires prescribed medication to assist and correct will need something to refer to. Physicians typically don't just write elective prescriptions upon patients' request (at least the reputable ones don't.) If we're removed from the DSM, without a psych's letter and without any standard of treatment in the medical journals, from where do we get our HRT?

Don't get me wrong: I firmly oppose our categorizing in the DSM. In fact, I felt so strongly about automatically being "disordered" (and the employment and insurance ramifications with it) that I circumvented the HBIGDA Standards and avoided counseling altogether, going straight to one of those less-than-reputable doctors back in 1995. Once on hormones, it was easy enough to move to another doctor more reputable and simply continue what was already started. But considering the prospects of everyone having to seek hormones through back channels is harrowing, considering black market medications coming over from China and elsewhere.

We need to be working on placement as a treatable medical condition in the AMA now (hint, hint).


But I digress. The protest drew 150 participants from around the country and speeches at the rally from those who've been deeply involved in this for some time, such as Andrea James and Kelley Winters.

Even Mara Keisling from NCTE was speaking and protesting, and it was good for her to be out there. The irony of Keisling, the self-appointed Washington insider, being in San Fran protesting can't be overlooked. She used to chide NTAC over our membership and lobbying for the LGBT Health Coalition, saying we weren't focusing on our primary issue: lobbying. In her words to me, we needed to "figure out what it is [we] want to be when we grow up." To her, I countered that we were lobbying with the Health Coalition, it did deal with legislation that would eventually be our primary purview (once ENDA and Hate Crimes passed), and we were right (as she herself later joined and lobbied with the Health Coalition).

However, protesting and working on GID reform with the APA which affects international standards of care for trans people is great work – but not going to affect legislation in DC one iota. When the Washington insider is in San Fran, who's minding the store? Maybe time for Mara to hear her own words and "figure out what it is you want to be when we grow up."

While the APA protest was successful in drawing a lot of participation, there was one thing the attendees and the rest of us noted. There was a collective yawn by the media. There was also wasn't much of any support from the gay and lesbian community or organizations, save for (ironically) HRC putting out a statement. Nevertheless, it registered nary a ripple outside our own community.


"I think heterosexuality and homosexuality are a kind of psychosis, and the truth is somewhere in the middle." — out lesbian, British novelist Jeanette Winterson

This week saw the same-sex marriage decision coming down from the California Supreme Court. Note the difference in attention level in the media. Also note the fact that even the trans community was awaiting and chattering about the "Decision Moment" and awaiting action. Sure enough, the Supreme Court upheld Prop 8 which was voted in last year. And sure enough, the protests began on both sides and even trans people were there front-and-center for the opposition to Prop 8 – even including APA protest organizer Danielle Askini in San Francisco.

Since then, the protest has been ubiquitous on all gay media and widely publicized on national mainstream news across the country – even though the law affects only one state. It's a pretty impressive media blitz on behalf of the gay and lesbian community, of which we should take note.

What gets me is how we're also seeing a number of trans folks around the country publicizing and working hard to pull support for Prop 8 protests in their states like Texas and Michigan! Michigan of course used to allow transsexual marriage until the year following the Massachusetts decision when that state (along with Kentucky) voted away the rights to same-sex marriage even for trans people. Texas, meanwhile, had the Christie Lee Littleton case where Texas' courts retroactively declared her Kentucky marriage was a same-sex coupling. Littleton's got scant attention from the media and, though proffered to the U.S. Supreme Court, was turned away from consideration by the high court.

Yet even here and other dark-age states where marriage is disallowed now post-Massachusetts and in states where marriage has been declared available to all, trans people are still attending the rallies, helping get the word out, expressing their outrage. Sometimes we don't even attend our own trans community protests in similar numbers!

Meanwhile, note the variance of participation and attention from the gay and lesbian community between issues key to gay and lesbians (marriage) and issues key to trans people (employment non discrimination vis a vis HRC, de-pathologizing trans in the DSM). No, I'm not the only one to notice this stark disparity.

"Marriage, n: the state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two." — American satirist and journalist, Ambrose Bierce

"More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse." — British Olympic athlete, Doug Larson


Even while we still have the criticisms of the gay and lesbian defenders of Barney Frank and HRC ringing in our ears after our attempts to raise our voice, we are now seeing protests and even public disobedience put forth by the gay and lesbian leaders. Our critics all but called us in words the "shrill" "crazy trannies" "protesting", and acknowledging that while we need employment, we also needed to wait. Now we have interviews on TV where protesters in California cry "not allowing us to marry is wrong! It's shameful that in this country I can be denied equal treatment just because I'm gay!"

(After New Hampshire's Senate vote last month, the dual standards of this entire scenario can't be missed.)

One blog even tagged it that "Gays and Lesbians are now 2nd and 3rd class citizens." It makes you wonder what class trans people are if we're somewhere well below 3rd class!


One out of state protester, Louis Thompson from Colorado, said "It's taxation without representation. It certainly is taxation without equal rights." And they even have elected officials that are gay. Trans people have none anywhere save for Silverton, Oregon. It seems the intensities of discrimination have somehow been flattened out all while marriage has moved front and center and supplanted the focus.

"We wish we shared the same rights you have, but we have to stand here until we have the same rights you do," said Kate Burns, another Denver protester who was arrested for their civil disobedience. "We don't feel that business should go as usual when all citizens aren't granted the same benefits and rights...."

There are even suggestions on the web to begin protesting President Barack Obama on his silence regarding Prop 8. And it's funny to think back that it was the Trans community who's long been portrayed as the screaming protesters, stirring up shit and living up to our "shrill" stereotype! Really?

One point of note is that these protests by the gay and lesbian community have had their effect. The media on the marriage issue has far eclipsed even employment non discrimination and hate crimes campaigns! Even on other recent subject, while being heavy supporters of Obama's rival Hillary Clinton's campaign, gays and lesbians even managed to draw media attention and use pressure on the Obama Administration to strive for out gays and lesbians in his cabinet and White House staff with at least a measure of success. After all the trans people working against Hillary and busting butt for Obama, how many have we seen? Zero?

The coordinated pressure, protests and media work! Especially in light of 2007, this is something the trans community must take note of!

Meanwhile, it becomes clearer every day that while the gay and lesbian community and the trans community are on similar quests, we're also on vastly different tracks – more so by the day. They're making gains. We're losing ground. We throw our effort into our issues and issues important to them. And how much are they supporting back? If you want to see what life is like once the gay and lesbian slate of issues on their agenda has been met, take a look at the Massachusetts example where trans people still have no hate crime protections, no employment non discrimination, virtually no rights at all and an Equality Federation group that helps their neighboring states win marriage rights and gives scant funding or assistance to the trans jobless or hate victims.

The one right trans people have is the right to marry! They can do so immediately. It must also be noted that even after employment non discrimination goes into effect, it may well be years afterwards before trans folk like me or Massachusetts residents like Ethan St. Pierre could ever be employed even in gay or lesbian workplaces or organizations.

So are our collective priorities set appropriately? It leads many of us to wonder....

"My advice to you is get married: if you find a good wife you'll be happy; if not, you'll become a philosopher." — Socrates

"You play. You win. You play. You lose. You play." — out lesbian British novelist, Jeanette Winterson

Sunday, May 17, 2009

HRC Protest Houston: Only The Committed Continue Fighting Against The Odds

"There's no way out of here, when you come in you're in for good
There was no promise made, the part you've played, the chance you took
There are no boundaries set, the time and yet you waste it still
So it slips through your hands like grains of sand, you watch it go." — There's No Way Out Of Here, Unicorn



There was none of the controversy or the hype this year. There were no protest barricades, no crowd control police on horseback, no show of force whatsoever by the Houston Police Dept. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Gala in Houston went off with little fanfare on both sides.

As for the protesters, we only had two show: Courtney Sharp from New Orleans and myself.

In that sense, being honest, this was a big victory for HRC. You may also surmise it was seen as a big loss for the transgender community. Certainly from a visual perspective, HRC has to be happy in breaking the trans community down further, winnowing the small numbers further, and looking forward to the day when we give up completely and our voices silence.

Of course, there are still a number of folks who gave Courtney and I the moral support. One Gala goer admitted he hates the organization, and only does it for business and "for visibility reasons." He even came out to apologize to us and was honest about "being a quisling and going back in" to the party.

Another couple drove by, spotted us and asked us which organization we were from. When I told her I was from NTAC, the passenger whooped and called me out into the street to their car to shake her hand. As it turns out, she was visiting from out of town and was coordinating San Diego's protest of the Hyatt Hotel for their owner's contributions to California's Prop 8. She also commented that we needed "a lot more people out here!"

I agree with her. Sadly, the community's tired and doesn't want to be bothered. Being principled and consistent is a laudable thing – or at least we were raised on that being the case. These days, though, it's also what gets you punished. You're written off as the crazy dingbats, too stubborn to realize you've lost.


And of course, to the victor go the spoils. HRC will de facto own the trans community's voice, regardless of their spotty and shady history. We've allowed them to divide us and easily conquer.

However, as long as there's a few of us left with history, and a decided need for something to trust in, something more principled, there will always be a few of us showing to speak truth to power. We'll let them laugh at us and duck in to their well-heeled parties. It please them, so at least we can make someone happy! And meanwhile, we'll rare few will still walk it like we talk it!

Nevertheless, it got Courtney and I discussing when the trans community and the trans movement totally implodes and becomes annexed into the gay and lesbian community holdings, as it were. They have the money and the power. That alone allows them to take whatever they want. And as we've learned in politics, you don't have to be in the right. You only have to have the money and pull to buy whatever you choose to be reality.

We reminisced about the 2007 Southern Comfort Conference, with Courtney recalling Ethan St. Pierre's call to her concerned that he'd have to "walk home" to Massachusetts. Ethan and I were the only two visible folks giving a silent protest of the HRC presence, and the exalted position they and NCTE's Mara Keisling were afforded, celebrating the 'staunch alliance' and HRC's commitment to support only a trans-inclusive ENDA.


Of course, Ethan and I and the NTAC crew knew better. While Ethan was exhorted by IFGE's E.D. Denise LeClair to remove his "UnEqual" sticker, we both – me especially – did everything we could to warn of the impending betrayal. No one wanted to hear it. It was "negative" news. It sullied the dream. It was a direct threat to the illusory bubble that nobody wanted burst.

In the end, we actually generated a couple extra donations to HRC due to our warnings. I actually had one trans woman finish her argument with me by stating she believed Mara and Joe Solmonese, and just for what I'd said, she wrote out another $100 check to HRC right in front of me which she then took to give to Joe.

In the end, we were right ... and we were also the big losers! Lesson: don't do "the right thing." It's something I suppose I'm too stubborn to learn.


As Courtney mused, it was at that moment that she said we were done. HRC had won, and no matter what we did and what was accurate, our own community was not going to believe its own. We weren't going to support our own.

In short, we'd lost our community.

Since then we've been working, especially after the grand betrayal, to bring things back. But as HRC has already discovered, the trans community appears to have a very short memory. Additionally, there's any number of available (and desperate) folks willing to be HRC's wedge, to keep us divided into pro-HRC vs. pro-trans camps. Time is on their side, and if they wait long enough, we'll die off and give them the defacto victory by attrition in a death-of-a-thousand-cuts style. They have the money and security to wait us out.

At the same time, take notice how the gay and lesbian community remembers everything. They have a full knowledge of their community's long history of being left out of the civil rights movement a la Bayard Rustin. They rally around their community in uniform outrage when they've been denied. They rally their troops and are aggressive in courting allies from other communities (even trans people!) to support their protests for their current causes. They know how to maximize their numbers, their echo chamber and thus their impact in making change for their own, even on marriage (the most sticky issue of all).

It's something trans folks should envy. But knowing how easy it is to divide us and break our will, it's not something I see us replicating in the short term. Only once the gay and lesbian community has won its entire slate of issues, and once the trans community realizes we're getting nothing of the like will we finally start realizing this – although many years too late.


To be sure, we'll have more losses. More New Hampshires, etc. Of course, knowing our community tendency, they realize in a year the trans folks will be saying "Who Hampshire?" We'll be worrying about the next new outfit we can buy, or maybe snaking a free ticket to an HRC banquet.

"Have We Lost Our Voice?" — Sen. Robert Byrd

Saturday, May 16, 2009

NTAC Hits Capitol Hill On Its Tenth Anniversary


The last couple weeks have been jam-packed so much that it's hard to find time to sit and write! This week has been nothing but back to back board meetings and homework for those organizations.

The prior week, though, was Transgender Lobby Days in Washington DC with NTAC – the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition. As I write, NTAC is now celebrating 10 year anniversary! A full decade of working on advocacy at the federal level, it's hard to believe we're still in it. With GenderPAC now morphed into another organization name and vision at the beginning of the year, it leaves NTAC as the longest running federal-level advocate for transgender or gender variant issues.


Anniversary aside, this was the smallest group we've had to date thanks to the crushing economy and competition from other newer interests in the game. However we still managed to pull in people from every section of the country except for the Northeast, ironically enough. We blanketed the entire Senate and hit over 100 offices in our day on the House side as well.

While we're dealing with a much friendlier congressional environ with inclusive bills (concerns with hate crimes' definitions aside), it was still a good year to make it up there for other reasons.

Due to the Obama victory, I was facing the loss of my fourth, solid staff contact on the Hill. I was starting to panic a bit! While LGB and T groups will obfuscate or keep us collectively in the dark, it's always been our staff contacts who have kept us enlightened. Certainly for NTAC, they've been a godsend. Without them, we'd have been buying into the oft-repeated Barney Frank or Human Rights Campaign-concocted story lines: e.g. "gender includes the trans community" [2003], "Christopher Shays is holding back trans inclusion" [2004], "Barney Frank and HRC have been our champions in fighting for inclusion" [2004 & 2005]. "ENDA won't be submitted this session" [2006], "Rep. George Miller is keeping trans inclusion from ENDA" [2007] and of course "HRC has promised and is committed to supporting nothing but an inclusive ENDA" [2007]. While others were encouraged to disbelieve us for what we heard from our Congress friends, we weren't wrong.


Clearly you can see why we'd not want to lose some of our contacts on the Hill!

Those contacts, plus three new ones we gained (including one of our best contacts from the past who's now on the Senate side!) proved incisive again. The only item of concern on legislation was from only one office, but did allude to the possibility of "different language" coming on ENDA regarding how they deal with gender identity. So far, it's the only one and was very basic – nothing urgent. All other offices are still in the dark on ENDA and its status.

We even managed a few face-to-face visits with our drop-in, buttonholing method – including very good meetings with both Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), as well as personal visits with both Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) and Rep. Anh 'Joseph' Cao (R-LA).

That said, the ENDA debacle has changed the game slightly. A number of offices in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) who were opposing trans inclusion in the previous session are now back on board this time. That said, there are at least a couple like Sanford Bishop and James Clyburn who are outright opposed even still. We're not going to be able to count on a bloc vote of CBC with us in the equation, which could still prove problematic for us. This has potential to be used by the incrementalists to "fan the flames" smoldering on the lifeline we're dangling from.


Most of our information this time wasn't so much about the legislation though. This time we got quite a bit of information about how others felt about the last session. Many House offices felt they were jerked around sincerely by the various parties who were heavily involved in last session's ENDA "debacle." As one of our office visits noted, "Congressmembers don't like being played for fools. They're not likely to forget [last session.]"


There's now no uniform view of the inside and outside players in GLBT civil rights!

The primary members of the LGBT Coalition are still very much on board with HRC, and their word is still golden. To them, NTAC is still nothing but trash, and it's obvious they just want to hurry up and be done with our meeting to get us out of there. But the big surprise this session is that the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) has now lost favor with them, almost to a person. Whatever lustre they had, after what occurred earlier this session, has now disappeared.

Now the second tier supporters of GLBT rights are the big find. HRC is now persona non grata, as they have major trust issues with them (having been jerked around in the previous session). Again, Mara and NCTE are also quite out of favor, and their handout of nothing beyond two sheets of talking points was "too thin – there's nothing that those of us not familiar (with trans issues) can use beyond repeating someone's scripted soundbites." In short, they felt they were not being given info to use and learn from but rather being directed to stick to talking points.

These same folks were quite eager to work with us, and also happy with the data and specific stories to be referred to, both for counterpoints and also to help edify themselves on the full range of what "transgender" is. Many of them know us, but as one Senate staffer reminded, they don't "fully know" us yet. That was sweet sounds to sore ears!

What really surprised me was the Senate side having issues with both HRC and Mara. As one Senate office noted, they have to play with HRC (alluding that they were the only game around on GLBT), but they'd rather not. However, noting that all the hijinx on ENDA in 2007, and the Hate Crimes language early this year occurred in the House, it's important (and surprising) to note they have issues with these two parties.

As for Barney Frank, he's the Teflon Don. They know what he did, but they all have to work with him. Considering his Banking Committee position and the clout that holds, they don't want to rock the boat.


So in a nutshell, NCTE has credibility with the trans community, HRC and NTAC have very little. NTAC has credibility with the supportive, non-prime LGBT coalition congress-critters, NCTE and HRC have none. HRC has credibility with the prime LGBT Coalition critters in Congress, especially Barney Frank, NTAC and NCTE have none. It's quite an odd predicament.

Nevertheless, it doesn't change the game on the Hill too much. While the second-tier supporters feel burned by Ol' Barn' and especially HRC, they're also not going to circumvent the LGBT Coalition on an LGBT bill. It's tantamount to passing a bill on issues for the black community without the support of the CBC. They must deal with them, and as expected, HRC is in the catbird seat with the all important folks who will decide legislation, language and set the agenda on issues LGBT.

As always, we're still going to have to watch this from the outside and monitor it very closely.

But the good news is, especially with our new contacts, Ol' Barn' and HRC are officially on notice. Any funny business they pull will be discovered quickly (on both sides of the Hill). We will not take their manipulations lightly!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Trans Lobbyists For NTAC Head To Capitol Hill

"Born down in a dead man's town.
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground.
End up like a dog that's been beat too much,
'Til you spend half your life just a-covering up." — Born In The U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen


Cinco de Mayo – a quick blog today until I get back. It's been a Murphy's Law past couple weeks between power outages, friend watches and worst of all, extreme family drama (I'm really wondering why I even have family at all!) Oh well, hell is hell, and what doesn't kill ya makes ya stronger!

Drama notwithstanding, the lobbying packets are done and we're preparing to once again hit Capitol Hill for the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC). Thanks to competition and the horrific economy, this will be a smaller, tighter Lobby Day than previous ones. Nevertheless, these are the committed folks making it to this one. We have no real need for going slow, so we can hit the ground running! From personal experience, I've had my most efficient and productive days in either small groups or solo-lobbying (I actually made 128 offices one day on the Hill – my personal best. There was no lunch and I went 'til almost 7PM though ... not for everyone).

That said, we can at very least laud the folks hitting the Hill with us as heroic. NTAC has never lobbied for money or fame. No preening, no glitz, no show. We aren't the "HRC tranny" set. It's always been individuals lobbying – citizen lobbyists, the grassroots way. We all travel up out of our own pocket and on our own vacation time.


We've catching a break, never had the luck roll our way and yet still, after ten years, we make it up to advocate for the community's behalf. Our only reward is more of the same derision and belittling from the "moneyed leaders" of our world. Ironically though, it's these same "leaders" who've ridiculed us for our open lobby days approach, criticized our getting the media our widely back in the day or trashed our mistrust of HRC who came around to adopt our philosophy! We've never budged. And clearly since they abandoned their initial philosophies, there's no reason to move in their direction.

One thing they can never say truthfully is that we had no effect! In 2004, presidential candidate, Rep. Dennis Kucinich put transgender into the presidential campaign debates for the first of the past two cycles. Who else was conducting lobby days specifically on transgender issues in 2004 and before, putting lobby packets in legislators' hands, having sit-down visits with Rep. Kucinich? Rep. Ron Payne, who courageously dropped in on a committee testimony with trans panelists and spoke up on our behalf, learned Transgender 101 back in 1999. Who might've done that?

Yes, the folks traveling in from across the country for this coming week's Lobby Days are the true heroes. I'll say something that you'll probably never hear anywhere else: On behalf of the trans community, and also on behalf of NTAC, thank you!

"Receiving far less attention are the working class heroes, who go about their solitary work routines with quiet dignity ...." — commentator, Armstrong Williams

Hip, Hip, Hypocrisy!

"People of double standards never experience happiness." — author, Sam Veda

The headline blared: "Where's Barack Obama, the 'Fierce Advocate' for LGBT Rights?" It was a recent post on Pam's House Blend, the highly popular LGBT blog, that got a number of peoples' attention in the community [http://www.pamshouseblend.com/diary/10757/wheres-barack-obama-the-fierce-advocate-for-lgbt-rights] Originally I was thinking Pam Spaulding, the blog owner, published a tongue-in-cheek title on a pan of a column in the Washington Post by Richard Socarides [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/01/AR2009050103401_pf.html]. Socarides, a former aide to Pres. Bill Clinton, rather shrilly taking the Obama Administration to task after they surpassed his 100-day mark.

What makes this especially disappointing is that it comes during a crisis-driven "change moment" in our country's history that not only cries out for leadership but presents a particularly good climate for making substantial progress on gay equality.
Keeping in mind it was only 100 days into a brand new presidency with the largest amount of inherited urgencies of any presidency in modern times, I thought surely this was really going to get a slap-down for being rather immaturely impatient (not to mention self-centered). But no!

I think a good question to ask about the situation is where are the gays in the Obama White House? Is their presence merely tokenism -- that their existence is supposed to represent a salve to the wounds inflicted by the Bush administration? Another question -- do any of the gay White House aides and appointees have any influence on Obama? Clearly not much, based on the silence about LGBT issues.
Even with the two closeted high-profile appointments, and numerous other

It's interesting in that, for years, the trans community has had more than mere silence but a complete lack of folks we in Trans America trust to stick by us no matter what. Oddly, we're always the ones called upon to trust "yet again" the very same folks who do us wrong time and again. And when we balk? Well, Marti Abernathey responded to that on this blog post:

You and people like you, who bitch about Obama, in THE MIDST OF PASSAGE OF THE HATE CRIMES LEGISLATION, really bother me. If you hadn't noticed, the economy is in the shitter, there are two wars going on, and there's a possible pandemic on the horizon. As far as Iowa, Obama has NEVER said he supported gay marriage.
If we come to the end of his term and he hasn't repealed DADT, passed civil unions, hate crimes, and ENDA legislation, then complain.

It's kind of amusing, after many folks in the trans community have been accused of being hysterical "crazy" trannies that just don't understand how the legislative process works, to have complainers repeatedly bitch about things that Obama didn't promise.
Apparently the hysterical "crazy tranny" disease was infectious, and gays and lesbians are just as susceptible. No wonder they were keeping their distance from us, eh? Actually, I don't even recall us getting that riled that immediately ... maybe our disease mutated?

Apparently they didn't bother touching base with the folks from NGLTF or HRC recently about a meeting that about 30 of the LGB and maybe T organizations had with President Barack Obama himself recently. Columnist Deb Price had this to say [http://www.creators.com/opinion/deb-price/obama-puts-out-rainbow-colored-welcome-mat.html]:

To their happy astonishment, the president didn't just quickly shake their hands on his way to greet the 30 or so other guests that night.

Instead, he asked when hate crimes legislation will reach his desk so he can sign it. And he listened as they stressed the need for a federal ban on job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity — legislation he supports.

"It was such a sharp contrast to the Bush administration — to have a president that recognizes the issues that our community has been working on for a long time," says Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
[...]
"I was able to bring to light a number of economic inequalities that (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people face in the absence of marriage equality," Solmonese says. "I can't tell you how important it was to have that conversation."
Yes, the President actually stopped and chatted with the gay and lesbian leadership personally, listening to their concerns on passing ENDA quickly, and even taking initiative to ask them when he would see the Hate Crimes bill crossing his desk with gender identity included in it! So far, it's already passed out of the House, and the President issued a cursory statement urging Senate to likewise pass it quickly.

Apparently, though, that's not good enough. Socarides (whose dad, oddly enough, is a psychiatrist Charles Socarides, the very one of the opponents to removing homosexuality as a disorder from the DSM), had the following agenda to demand:

First, he should start talking about gay rights again, the way he did during the campaign. What made Clinton such a transformational figure of inclusion was his constant willingness to talk to and about gay people. When he said, "I have a vision and you are a part of it," you could feel his sincerity.

Second, he should move swiftly, as he promised during the campaign, to help secure passage of the bill now moving through Congress imposing new federal penalties for anti-gay hate crimes, as well as legislation allowing gays to serve in the military. Ten years have passed since Matthew Shepard was killed. We have endured 15 years of "don't ask, don't tell" discrimination. We have waited long enough.

Third, he should appoint a high-ranking, respected, openly gay policy advocate to oversee government efforts toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. Give this person access to policymakers, similar to what has been done on urban policy and for people with disabilities. This is especially important because, unlike Clinton, who had gay friends such as David Mixner, Roberta Achtenberg and Bob Hattoy around to nudge him, Obama has no high-profile gay senior aides with a history in the gay rights movement.

Finally, Obama should champion comprehensive, omnibus federal gay civil rights legislation, similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation and granting a basic umbrella of protections in employment, education, housing and the like (rather than the existing piecemeal approach to legislation). Such a bill should also provide for federal recognition of both civil unions and marriages as they are authorized by specific states.
No big ask, huh?

"He hits from both sides of the plate. He's amphibious." — Yogi Berra

First, Obama talking to gay people – visits with 30 of them, including Rea Carey & Joe Solmonese – check! Move the hate crimes bill through quickly – just passed the House, and on to the Senate – check! Don't Ask Don't Tell – not much movement in Congress, so I guess that's the President's fault then, huh? Appointing high-ranking, respected openly gay policy advocate? We can't even get a trans policy advocate anywhere, even in gay and lesbian organizations, and they demand one from the White House! Hmmm.

And omnibus civil rights legislation! That's actually a good idea, and something I've thought about. Typically civil rights has three criteria to be filled before congress acts on it: a demonstrated widespread disenfranchisement or systemic discrimination, proven economic hardship and a lack of elected representation to address this. Both gay/lesbian and transgender can easily prove the discrimination, but economic hardship tends to be transgender almost exclusively. Elected representation has some for gay/lesbian, but absolutely zero for transgender. We can fulfill all three criteria if we only have documented proof of our economic duress.

Yet note which community Socarides is asking for civil rights for? Sexual orientation. Start talking about "gay rights" and "anti-gay hate crimes." However he does note "transgender" equality ... but only when talking about appointing a "respected, openly gay policy advocate" to oversee this.

Speaking of liaisons, there have already been 30 out gay and lesbian hirees in the Admin, including high level folks like Vic Basile and Brian Bond. We in the community even know a couple well-rumored folks already in those high level appointments, though there's no reason to out them (so I won't). It's not much of a secret amongst ourselves, though. How many trans people does anyone know of who've been in Admin, ambassador or staff positions? If you guessed zero, like all the other Administrations through history, you'd be right!

Now imagine trans people raising the issues with the same intensity! In fact, just imagine trans people raising commensurate requests from gay or lesbian organizations or administrations! I can easily imagine the howls from the David Smiths of HRC to the Chris Crains who own media outlets to the Jim Fouratts stirring the muck in columns and blogs to the apoplectic response from the Barney Franks on Capitol Hill. Do ya really think we're all judged and awarded by the same standard?

"He's one of the few in the history of this country to run for high office talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time and lying out of both sides!" — President Harry S. Truman

And speaking of Ol' Barn', he recently issued a statement on the decision to award Diane Schroer, a former Army Special Offices commander who had been offered a job with the Library of Congress as a terrorism research analyst and when notifying the Library of plans to undergo sex-reassignment surgery to transition from male to female, had the job offer rescinded:

The decision by United States District Court Judge James Robinson to award $491,000 to Diane Schroer because of the blatant discrimination she suffered at the hands of James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, is entirely justified, and is a strong indictment of Mr. Billington’s tenure. When this case first arose, I personally called Mr. Billington to urge him to reverse the decision to deny Diane Schroer the job she had been promised, primarily as a matter of fairness. Sad ly, Mr. Billington refused, and the consequence of this is that the government will have to pay a half a million dollar judgment, in addition to the legal fees that it incurred.

At the very least, Mr. Billington owes the taxpayers a prompt decision to reverse the discriminatory policy he enforced so that we are not again faced with a situation in which an individual is so unfairly treated, or that the taxpayers are forced to pay for the results that follow. Given the harm that has already been done to Ms. Schroer, I strongly urge that no appeal be taken of this decision and that payment to Ms. Schroer be made promptly.

When I spoke with Mr. Billington, he claimed, wholly implausibly, that he could not intervene in the decision to rescind a job offer to someone solely on the basis of her having undergone a change in gender, on the grounds that this was a personnel decision. Of course, the head of an agency has the prerogative to intervene in a policy matter such as this, and I regret the fact that because Mr. Billington refused to do so we are now forced to pay for his mistake. It is my hope that in this Congress, we will act to provide needed legal protection for people like Diane Schroer who suffer acts of discrimination, and in the interim, Mr. Billington will change the policy of the Library of Congress. As a Member of Congress, I am deeply distressed that the Library of Congress practiced discrimination in the name of the institution in which I serve.
That's nice....

What actually would've been nicer would've been to have not had the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) use Diane Schroer (exploit?) for some really beneficial public relations and to underscore the need for passing the Federal Employment Protections Act (FEPA) [HR 3128 in the 109th, HR 2232 in the 110th Congress) that was submitted a few weeks after her case hit the media with HRC. And as the legislation was submitted, it "protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."

Notice anything there? Yep, use the trans person's abject discrimination to further a bill to benefit gays and lesbians only. Even though it didn't ever draw any more than 37 co-sponsors and did nothing but bottle up in committee, they weren't about to listen to trans complaints about adding gender identity in FEPA. How dare us!?!

Meanwhile, if Ol' Barn' was so concerned about this case and its outcome, why didn't he – as one of the lead co-sponsors – bother pointing the obvious glaring discrimination just suffered mere weeks before the bill dropped the first time? He certainly knew what gender identity was. Of course, the "official line" from HRC and NCTE was that it was "(Rep. Henry) Waxman's bill, and they couldn't get him to budge."

Now that's a steaming cowpie of mammoth proportion! Having visited Waxman's office in 2004 before the Schroer incident, the legislative director noted to me and my co-lobbyist on an unrelated bill that for their support of inclusive legislation, we "needed to get HRC on board first. If they aren't on board, it's going nowhere in this office." Yet it didn't stop HRC and NGLTF and others to push for passage of FEPA, with Diane's story of discrimination prominently helpful in giving the initial nudge.

But Barney? Well if he were so "deeply distressed" at the "blatant discrimination" of Ms. Schroer, he sure had a funny way of exhibiting it before now. In a nutshell, Ol' Barn' hadn't uttered a peep before now while the more exploitative folks used her story to further their cause while leaving her the rest of us trans folk behind.

These double standards coming from the gay and lesbian leaders are bigger than all outdoors. How they've determined that if we're not screaming about it then it's unnoticed really escapes me. They're determined to play trans people as brain-dead fools.

This author has determined that attitude is offensive as hell.

"People, who rise above their petty individual selfishness and work for the welfare of society are considered patriots." — author, Sam Veda

Monday, May 4, 2009

Virginia Prince: The Passing Of A Trans Icon


"She never compromises.
Loves babies and surprises.
Wears high heels when she exercises.
Ain't that beautiful?
Meet Virginia." — Meet Virginia, Train


We got word last night that we lost arguably the most important figures in the our community's history. An innovator. A true pioneer. A queen. A Prince.

Above all, she was the grande dame of the "Transgender" Community — a term she semi-coined. Virginia Prince passed away after a short illness this past month. She was 96. Dr. Richard Docter, who has been compiling her biography, broke the news to the Liberty Conference yesterday in Philadelphia.

Though she was never a lobbyist on Capitol Hill, she was certainly (in my opinion, at least) the pre-cursor to Transgender advocacy. It was ironic, considering that she was only crossdressing when she began this quest. The risk of such public outing of oneself is overwhelmingly anathemic to most crossdressers. Personal impact be-damned though, Virginia Prince was courageously public in educating the psychiatric community, the viewing public and even government administrators and the courts.

And she did it all quite effectively and successfully.

I had the good fortune of meeting and visiting with her a few times: the first time was Juneteenth in Houston (June 19) a decade ago, the most recent was the IFGE conference in Philadelphia, immediately after Pres. George W. Bush began bombing Baghdad. That was about the time she'd decided to move to an assisted living facility. It was both distressing and yet left me resigned that it was a proper decision on her part as her memory was starting to fade slightly.

My first meeting with Virginia was quite the contrary. At 86, Virginia was as sharp as a tack and still quite cantakerous, but was quite solid in promoting the trans community's understanding and advancement. She was actually very supportive of my budding advocacy and activism then, which I hadn't expected. Our only beef was her disagreement with my usage of the word "queer." While I tried to explain the disarming of the term by capturing it for our own, it was still a word with a lot of sting for her history.

We had quite a lengthy and animated chat in 1999, giving me a very generous insight into her. I was shocked that she had much larger breasts than I (especially considering I was transsexual and openly on HRT. She was bemused by my use (and the community's) of the word transgender, and how the story affixed it's authorship to her, even though she'd referred to it as transgenderist as a self-descriptor once she'd moved from occasional crossdressing to living as female, though not transsexual (she was quick to correct that!)

The photos I had with her and me were reflective of her visit in Houston (I always tried to have plenty of photos in those days as I was our local transsexual group's photo-laden newsletter editor.)

"You see, her confidence is tragic
And her intuition magic,
And the shape of her body
is so Unusual." — Meet Virginia, Train


My last meeting with Virginia was quite a bit different. Unlike the previous two meetings, she didn't remember my name this time and seemed notably less focused. Then again, I was also distracted (due to political happenings). Our last visit was nice, but nothing as weighty as previous chats. She even had someone (I can't recall who) that was acting as sort of a handler/caretaker.

Similar to my initial photos, the one photo I have from that meeting was also reflective. One thing that stuck in my mind was her lipstick which was noticeably messed up, and numerous people saying hello, but leaving her to look smeared, kind of clownish. I went over with a tissue and wiped the excess and retouched it, and Mariette Pathy Allen snapped a picture of me wiping her face. Mariette thought it was a touching, poignant moment. It's not one that I ever showed publicly though as I felt it was unflattering to her.

At the time I figured I'd get a chance to see her again on a better day, maybe more like the Virginia of the late 90's or early millennium. But that was my last visit with her. Nevertheless, there's nothing to take away from my memories or her legacy. To paraphrase creatively here, Virginia Prince truly lived a Full Personal Experience in her long life.

I'll end this by tacking on the article I did in 1999 for the TATS (Texas Assn. for Transsexual Support) Newsletter for July, 1999: Meet Virginia ....
Transgenderism's ultimate pioneer, Virginia Prince, paid a rare visit to Houston, June 19 at the Westchase Hilton. She was introducted by Tri-Ess' Jane Ellen Fairfax, who read a passage written about Virginia 'Charles' Prince and giving a stirring requiem of her loss (*there was a false obituary which was circulated at that time, noting the passing of Virginia Prince).

Then Virginia took the podium and, quoting Mark Twain, stated: "The reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated." She then mentioned she was here by "special dispensation," quipping, "I always said I'd be more at home in hell than in heaven — there'd be more of my friends there."

Born in 1912, she surmises she felt the first stirrings to crossdress around the age of 12. One incident from her adolescence stood clearloy in her mind. Her parents and she had taken a trans-Atlantic cruise when 'Charles' was 16, and during the cruise she was exhorted by the wife of another passenger to have her dress young Charles as a 16-year old girl. It captured the teen's imagination and ignited stirrings never realized before.

But she didn't do it. She was so wracked with self-guilt and denial that she couldn't release herself.

After receiving her PhD in biochemistry at University of California, she discovered at one of her pharmacology symposiums that one of the other interns was a crossdresser. An epiphany! She badly wanted to contact the individual, but realizing the environment and fearing for her career, she had to think up a moniker [in order to keep her true identity secret].

She chose the name Charles (her father's first name) and Prince (the street she lived on). Later, Virginia evolved from the Charles Prince persona. After contacting this other crossdresser Louise Lawrence, she got the names of others in the Los Angeles area.

Still 'Charles,' she realized there may be some validity to this behavior. Someone once asked her if she'd ever seen a psychiatrist, and she replied: "Yes, I've cured two of 'em!"

It wasn't until she visited a Dr. Bowman from the college she interned at that she got her second epiphany. After spilling her guts, the psychologist put his feet up on a desk drawer and said, "Okay. So what else is new?"

'Charles' was shocked. Hadn't the doctor listened to anything that was just said? Did he not care? Insulted and mad, the doctor then explained that 'Charles' wasn't "alone. There [were] thousands more like you." The doctor related that he knew of at least 350 in New York alone!

"Learn to accept yourself!"

Virginia then moved to L.A. and looked up a person in Long Beach – desperately poor and living in a small shack – and along with seven others, they began a loose-knit crossdressing club. It was there that she got her first idea for "Transvestia."

Transvestia published its first issue in 1960, pre-sold at a (rather hefty for that time) price of four dollars each! The first issues were mimeographed, which was found to be unworkable.

About that time in the early 60's, she formed the Hose & Heels Club, but it was a tense start. Because of rampant paranoia during that time, and also the fact that crossdressing was still outlawed (thus many were afraid to admit to it), the group had a difficult time trying to figure out how to begin.

"You started thinking," Prince remembered, "that the person sitting next to you was with the Sheriff's, and the one sitting across from you was the FBI...."

So they devised a way of safely finding out who was a member.

Each attendee, in those early days, brought two bags. In one was a lunch; in the other, hose and heels. In that tension-filled first meeting, everyone sat in a circle and ate their lunch from the first bag. Then after the contents of the first bag were emptied, Virginia piped up, "now we have to eat the contents of the second bag." The participants put on the hose, and then put on the high heels. That was the telling factor: "if they had shoes that fit, they were a transvestite."

Later, Virginia founded FPE (Full Personality Expression): the pre-cursor to Tri-Ess. There were a number of chapters around the nation, and she recalled a visit to the Houston Chapter. "It was strange, walking the streets of Houston," she mused. The fear was that this was a rednecked city with (as many municipalities) laws against her appearing in public.

During the mid-60's, Carol Beecroft formed Mademoiselle: an open-membership group (such as GCTC - Gulf Coast Transgender Community), that was a conglomeration of crossdressers, transsexuals and drag, hetero an gay alike. Eventually Beecroft left that organization and offered to merge with Prince's group, which became Sorority for the Second Self – or then, Tri-Sigma.

However, there was a real female sorority of the same name, "and when they found out, they were not happy!" After the sorority filed suit, the group decided to rename itself Tri-Ess (S). Since then, Tri-Ess has become the largest and oldest crossdressing organization in the world.

At one point, Virginia was actually arrested for mailing pornographic materials during the U.S. Postal Service's crackdown on homosexuality. "We all know how effective that was!" she quipped.

But the arrest inspired two things. First she was sentenced to 3 years probation – meaning no crossdressing for that period (keeping in mind it was still illegal.) However, her attorney mentioned she could perhaps do seminars as a kind of "release." He mentioned his involvement in Kiwanis Club, and Victoria agreed to do it.

The first presentation on "pseudohermaphroditism" went so well that she was asked to another, then another. Before long she was touting and giving lectures on the subject, which brought her to Washington DC for a TV (pun intended) interview. As an aside, Virginia claims origination of the acronym TV, coined so she could talk about the subject in public without openly referring to it.

While in Washington, acting on information she'd received from an attorney frind, she spoke with the Postal Inspector General, and long story short, was instrumental in helping halt the Post Office's heavy-handed censorship of the mail and overturned her probation. She was free to live as Virginia full-time again, and never looked back.

At one point this Tri-Ess founder had actually sexual reassignment surgery! It was immediately after hearing about Christine Jorgensen. "When she hit the newspapers," Virginia related, "if I'd had $5,000, I'd have been on the next boat to Denmark!"

The fact that Christine didn't have to worry about a permit to wear women's clothing and appear in public captured her initial fancy. But in the end, Virginia said, "I was flad I was broke at the time. It would've been the greatest mistake of my life." At one point, she got a chance to meet Christine and her mother as she was performing in L.A. Jorgensen was a curiosity, but Virginia had no impression of her otherwise.

Someone once referred to Virginia as a "pre-op." – a term she said had no meaning to her. To back up her view, she quipped, "we're all pre-dead! What does that mean?"

In her view, if you're not a transsexual, you're a transgenderist – a term she coined and uses to identify herself. In fact, she considers sexual reassignment surgery a mistake for anyone, and doesn't really understand one's identification with transsexuality.

She also disagreed with another term finding usage in the GLBT community: "queer." In her view, it is as defined in the dictionary: a derogatory term meaning unusual or odd (or as Webster's defines it, mildly insane.) While understanding the need for a term to identify the entire GLBT spectrum, she prefers the search for a more positive connotation.

On gays, lesbians and transgenders, Virginia proffered that we "all have the same enemy: ignorance!" She then mentioned that she'd like to see the gay / lesbian community confront societal attitudes, to tell America, "what damn difference does it make? It doesn't affect what a person does. It doesn't affect anybody else. It's no one else's business unless they make it their business!"

"Why can't we give people the choice to be who it is, or what is is they want to be? And why does society get upset about males who wear dresses?"


Virginia related she was also good friends with Dr. Harry Benjamin, who in fact gave her her first prescription for estrogen. She then related a story of how Dr. Benjamin lived to be over 100 years old. At about the time he was to turn 100, one of his friends asked him: "What's the first thing you're going to do when you turn 100?"

Dr. Benjamin thought for a few seconds and answered: "I'm gonna look in the mirror." After the friend asked why, Benjamin replied: "because I've never seen a 100 year old man before."

Said Virginia, one of her goals is "to live to be 100, so I can look in the mirror. Because I've never seen a 100 year old crossdresser before!"

Stumbling a bit at one point, Virginia quipped, "I can't think ... I can't remember.... The important thing is to remember to think!"

Summing things up, Virginia mentioned we needed, "to get involved, in whatever fashion." She also exhorted the members of groups and organizations of the need to get actively involved, and to do their part to help their groups stay alive.

Sage advice indeed.

"Well she wants to be the queen,
And she thinks about her scene.
Well she wants to live her life.
And she thinks about her life." — Meet Virginia, Train

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Summer Stress Starts Off With A Bang

"In times of great stress or adversity, it's always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive." — former Chrysler CEO, Lee Iacocca

It's been a tough week! This coming week is Lobby Days for the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC), and trying to get the packets printed up and the logistics coordinated for it all have been a bit stickier than usual. And to begin last week, I ended up inheriting (once again) President of Harris County's Women's Political Caucus here in Houston – just in time for putting together and conducting our city election candidate screenings! Our current president got a lobbying job in DC as of May 1, and our VP there was AWOL from her election. Nobody else has experience in the screenings but me, so ....


Methinks generally that I've put too much community activity on my plate and things are starting to fray around the edges, in-home family drama notwithstanding. Giving it an extra bump of Murphy's Law, we lost electricity again on three consecutive days (and I lost two first halves of a blog in the process each time – causing me not to bother with blogging until I was certain I'd have power in order to finish!) And as the week before, our block was the last one to be restored due to our wacky electrical grid!


Two days' worth of our power outage here was due to a rather heavy flood in West Houston. Thankfully I had no flooding, though folks on the other side of the bayou from me weren't so fortunate. The repetitive power outages really started getting on our block's nerves. After we'd gotten power back only to have it go back off two hours later once they powered on our neighbors across the street, one lady from around the block got a bit physically hostile with the electric crew, kicking the truck and hitting the poor guy trying to head up the project. We were all pissed, but that was a bit much.


Then again it turned out she had a salt-water aquarium that overflows and floods her house when the power goes out, and she'd had two incidences of cleaning up flood water and dead fish in her house before that particular outage. Anyway, personal drama. Guess we all have it in abundance, just in time for the dog days of a very humid summer! Joy.

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Instead of the previous blog I was going to write, other issues popped up instead. There was lots of big news this week: Sen. Arlen Specter's big defection from GOP to Democrat, the Hate Crimes bill passed the House of Reps, and Supreme Court has had its first resignation: Justice David Souter, the progressive Republican on the bench.

Of course the Swine Flu in the U.S. has its first death, startlingly right here in Houston (when the day before there were no reported or suspected cases!) Now, of course the confirmed cases are piling up and we have ten schools now closed until further notice.

As we were hearing of the spread of Swine Flu here and I began wondering about the impact on NTAC's Lobby Day, got a call from my friend facing foreclosure whom I'd written about a few weeks back. Hearing her voice I immediately feared it was suicide watch time, but it was a false alarm of a different kind. It turns out she was coming down with the flu just days after a trip to her local Dept. of Human Services. And of course, now, her area has gotten its first confirmations of Swine Flu ... and she's unemployed and in desperate straits as is!

To make matters even more fun, our state's Hate Crimes bill which was moving along swimmingly, defying Equality Texas' earlier predictions of certain death, has suddenly and completely inexplicably languished for nearly a month in a committee known for processing quickly and efficiently. Even more interesting is the fact that my contacts in the State House are suddenly not returning my Emails and calls.

"Seem like the whole world's walking pretty and you can't find the room to move. Well everybody better move over, that's all! I'm running on the bad side and I got my back to the wall! Tenth avenue freeze-out...." — 10th Avenue Freeze-Out, Bruce Springsteen

Further more stressing is my pool of federal-level contacts has dwindled precipitously this year. It's actually good news for them as they're getting good Administration jobs in various departments (or in one case, a paid-lobbyist position). But I get nothing out of this except four lost contacts where I could monitor what was *actually* going on in committee and on the floor, as opposed to the sugar-coated poison pills we get from our so-called "advocates" and "champions."

Many years ago when I first began lobbying, I learned that lesson of relying on my staffer contacts and not GLB or T groups. They've been invaluable to me, personally, to keep me apprised of what was coming down the pike on specific bills I inquired about. Even without being physically in Washington, I was able to find out bits of information on trans-uninclusion and backroom dealings, probably even earlier than Mara Keisling!

Losing two of my really good contacts hurts, but at least I have faith in the Obama Administration and their principles. The key is getting decent legislation coming out of Congress, which is going to be much, much more tricky.

Meanwhile, we've got upcoming HRC Gala protests and the upcoming Pride Parade (again, I'm stressing as I'm coordinating both of those and not getting too much feedback). Malcolm Gladwell, in the Tipping Point, proffered the 80/20 rule: that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Perhaps he was being too generous in the low number and way conservative on the high one!

Summer's starting off with a bang. Now all we need's another hurricane ....

"Ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics." — author Malcolm Gladwell