Monday, June 6, 2011

So … Whose Side Are You On Today?

“I absolutely believe in assimilation…. I don't look at sexual orientation as that big of a deal. It's just an orientation.” — Chastity (now Chaz) Bono

A year back, I made a decision to stop chasing the “breaking news” blogs in the Trans community. There’s plenty of folks out there who can expertly do it, and I didn’t feel the need to strive for redundancy in reporting. This blog will be an exception.

A good friend of mine reported back from the recent Be All conference in Chicago which wrapped up this past weekend. With an eye to pulling in attendance, the event’s special draw and keynote speaker this year was Chaz Bono; fresh from visits to Oprah, David Letterman, et. al.

The keynote went well from all reports, and there was even an Oprah-styled Q&A of Bono after his speech with Mara Keisling up onstage with him.

Following the keynote Q&A the music rose, and from the rear of the stage entered Regina Upright – a local drag queen who (per reports) does a decent Cher impersonation. Faux Cher came out, “fishnetted up to her waist” replete with leather jacket and black curly fall, and began her performance, focusing initially on Bono and working over towards Keisling for some onstage “crowd support.” Apparently Bono and Keisling were having none of it, doling an icy response to the drag artist.

Ms. Upright picked up on the cold shoulder and stepped down from the stage to entertain the keynote lunch crowd. According to the report, both Keisling & Bono were rather visibly steamed and eventually walked off stage during the performance (presumably in protest.) Meanwhile about half of the lunch crowd enjoyed the drag show and blissfully tipped Ms. Upright.

"With hair, heels, and attitude, honey, I am through the roof!" — RuPaul Charles

“It’s like rain on your wedding day.
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid.” — Ironic, Alanis Morissette

Ironic? At first glance it would seem so.

Chaz Bono in his previous identity (fka: Chastity) was once the lesbian activist poster-child for gay and lesbian equality and a very useful tool for fundraising for his former community organization, the infamous Human Rights Campaign. Back in the HRC days he uttered nary a T-word, being a good company recruit. And of course Mara Keisling gave birth to this recent era of Trans coziness with HRC, of always deferring to gay and lesbian leadership (even on Trans issues) and of holding the tongue with our “allies” in GLB while being unafraid to take on her own community.

However more recent times have seen Chaz’s transition and an end to the public hawking of HRC. And in 2007 Keisling led her NCTE members in joining NTAC and the rest of the Trans community in protesting HRC banquets after the ENDA duplicity debacle that year. Since their two reversals, though, there’s been nothing publicly indicating where either of them stand on HRC or the era of Gay Inc. and GLB(*t) other than the knowledge that the big gay funders continue pressing NCTE to work collegially with HRC once again.

But Chaz and Mara dissing a gay performer at a trans event?

Below the surface, though, there are other reasons in play. If folks have been paying close enough attention, they’ll note that Bono has indicated that he and his mom, Cher, have been “working through things.” Reading between the lines, his mom’s having issues coming to terms with his transition.

Yes, we’re all aware of Cher’s friendship and generous support of the gay and lesbian community and its issues. something I can relate to as my own mom kept pressing me on why I “couldn’t just be gay” for well over a year into my transition. My mom’s best friend was gay, something to which she could relate. But she couldn’t relate to me. Go figure!

So some of our own may find it surprising that when Cher was supporting “GLBT” causes, she was avidly supporting the L and the G, maybe even the B. But the T? Eh, not so much. It’s an irony that I’m certain has not escaped Bono’s attention.

As a result, the “surprise” drag performance by someone dressed as his own mother in explicitly revealing attire was a reminder Chaz wasn’t seeking. Then the added bonus of a caricatured impersonation of gender (even if it was trans women) at Bono’s keynote by a gay man (especially considering his time with HRC and the likelihood he was privy to some choice opinions on T while he was still an L) surely helped the show go over like a lead balloon.

Apparently some in the keynote audience did pick up on the faux pas and were “aghast.” The other half of the crowd were blissfully unaware, laughing, tipping and enjoying the show.

What was the message to take away from this?

"All sins are forgiven once you start making a lot of money." — RuPaul Charles

Once upon a time about a decade ago, we had clearly defined who was opposing us from within GLBT: the conservative elite G&L mindset, personified by HRC and others of similar opinion. Up until about 2002, it was de rigeur for us to be aware of what occurring in Trans America, to know our T history, to have spirited debates but end up unified at the end of the day against those who opposed us being equals.

Since then, the pendulum has swung back. It’s now fashionable to eschew our T history and to frown upon and marginalize those of us who speak out. Unity died in favor of allowing trans individuals to work for and with other communities and groups on causes that may have little or no impact on trans needs, but which may carry some individual reward at some point.

And so we find ourselves today. A sizable portion of us are unaware of what’s happening to our own at this moment in time; thus the invited Cher drag performer for Chaz Bono. The powers at Be All weren’t doing it of meanness. They were unaware.

Similarly for those who now wish to ally or work with HRC or similar groups who may not consider us as equals, they can do so without troubling themselves on how it affects the community. Those who support the HRCs of the world today, may well be the ones who publicly oppose them tomorrow … and maybe even support them yet again a couple days down the road. What’s to stop them?

Speaking out and letting folks know what’s happening? That fell out of favor about a decade ago. Why ruin the moment for these individuals …?

Oh! Happy pride month, y'all. Are we proud?

“If I could turn back time ….
I don’t know why I did the things I did.
I don’t know why I said the things I said.
Pride’s like a knife, it can cut deep inside.” — If I Could Turn Back Time, Cher

“Parents have to understand: if your kid isn't you, don't blame the kid.” — Chaz Bono

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hello Again ....

“Back in black. I hit the sack.
It’s been too long I'm glad to be back.
Yes I'm let loose from the noose
That's kept me hanging about.
I keep looking at the sky 'cause it's gettin' me high.
Forget the hearse 'cause I'll never die
I got nine lives, cat's eyes,
Usin' every one of them and running wild
‘Cause I’m back.” — Back In Black, AC/DC

Yes, it has been awhile ….

First my apologies to those following my blog. There are a couple reasons I’ve been dormant this past year.

One reason was good news reasons: I began dating and have found love. Sid Maxwell and I have been a serious item since early April last year, after he and his ex split up. Sid is one of my former-members from the now-defunct Texas Assn. for Transsexual Support (TATS) from back in the late 90’s (yes, he’s a trans man). And while he did drop out and go stealth for most of the past decade, he was at least a little involved in trans activism of sorts.

In the late 90’s, there was only one chapter of PFLAG in America that refused to add trans members or families of trans folks to their mission, and that chapter was right here in Houston. There was bad blood going back some years between members and previous trans activists (which I won’t go into here). However, I was bound to change that and comprised a panel presentation to the members and board of Houston’s PFLAG. Sid Maxwell was the lone trans man on the panel I moderated. And as postscript, we won them over and got a unanimous vote to change the local to match the national inclusion after that Sept. 1999 panel.

The second and more pertinent reason I self-imposed silence had to do with politics. In early spring of last year I began to hear the messaging efforts surrounding the 2009-introduced ENDA bill. In a nutshell: the bloggers (with their criticisms) were going to sink the bill (ENDA) and end up being the reason it would fail on Capitol Hill. Essentially it was preemptive diversion of blame from the parties heavily involved in the bill’s process to the outside folks panning the process from the outside.

This messaging effort was virtually the same wording as what was used in 2007. Replace the word “bloggers” with NTAC and you have a mirror image of the 2007 discreditation effort immediately before Barney Frank actually did what we in NTAC were warning about. This time, however, the message wasn’t originating from Mara Keisling and NCTE, but instead from HRC’s and Barney Frank’s folks. Eerily same messaging from two directions, two years apart.

I saw the handwriting on the wall. Rather than play into the snare they set for me, I decided to do the opposite and not give them any words to turn around and use as artillery against me. Zero.

I spent the better portion of a month up on the Hill immediately following 2009’s inauguration day ensuring I got all our freshmen up to speed on “Trans” and was the first person those offices saw from the Trans community. In fact, I even let some of these Trans HRC/Barney folks know which offices in the Senate needed more work and educating and shared other notes from office visits with them. And so … once they wanted us out of the dialogue, what did the silence accomplish? Ab-so-freaking-lutely nothing. Silence gives them (whichever party) a "free pass" and gives those imposed-upon nothing but heartburn, frustration and nothing else.

We had enough votes in the House to vote ENDA through with trans inclusion in the last congressional session – one with super-majorities of Dems in the House and a brief period of the same in the Senate. And again, just as in 2007 with Mara Keisling’s attempts, they can’t finger me for doing anything untoward regarding their efforts. All we got was wholly screwed over.

Moral: never be silent in order to be polite or to keep decorum. Speak out, speak loudly and never cease!

Initially I planned on writing this at New Years, but as fate would have it, I enjoyed a series of Windows crashes with my video card, and then finally a totally loss of use thanks to my motherboard issues and simultaneous loss of income. For now, though, I have a temporary fix.

So this blogger / activist / lobbyist is now reactivating and now has a question to the NCTE’s, the HRC’s, the NGLTF’s and the Barney Frank’s of our political world: what the F#@^% happened to employment non discrimination???!!!

And don't even think of pointing your fingers at me.

“Lucy, you have some ‘splaining to do.” — Desi Arnaz as Ricky Ricardo on ‘I Love Lucy’

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

GLAAD Should Be MAD, And Should Sue!

“{It's like] Grand Theft Auto. If you have a bad day at work, you can shoot some people, kill some hookers, trash your car and feel better. It's the same with my movie…. It's a type of release and keeps the momentum going for gay movies.” — Israel Luna discussing his recent film

We’ve seen the past two weeks in Trans America dominated by a low B-grade, campy movie with the operative phrase, “Trannies With Knives,” a nice fear-instilling catch-phrase for phobic America. There’s not much need for me weighing in on the film itself as this subject’s been expertly plumbed by Gina Morvay, Katrina Rose and Marti Abernathey among others.

Additionally I’m not really keen on providing more controversial buzz to help build the film’s mystique. Israel Luna’s nothing more than an opportunistic gay male prostitute turned wannabe media whore and Hollywood film director hopeful. Perhaps he can become the next D.W. Griffith, another filmmaker who made fear and ignorance work for him.

Initially the Trans activist community was up in arms over not just the movie, but questioning where was a response from GLAAD, the community’s big media advocate. Shortly thereafter, GLAAD responded:
GLAAD was recently alerted by community members and allies to a film called Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives that will be screened at the upcoming TriBeCa Film Festival. After viewing the film, GLAAD is now calling on TriBeCa to pull the film from its schedule.

Although the title is certainly problematic, it is far from the only issue with this film. The film, its title and its marketing misrepresent the lives of transgender women and use grotesque, exploitative depictions of violence against transgender women in ways that make light of the horrific brutality they all too often face.

Meanwhile TriBeCa Film Festival went on the offensive. First there was Movieline’s Seth Abramovitch typing out an odiously dismissive editorial on GLAAD and the Trans Community’s protests of Luna’s film:
GLAAD is a funny little organization, on the one hand these self-appointed sentries for positive representation of gays in media, on the other a kind of nutless institution reluctant to get their Pradas dirty on the way to the awards show. …

And even more importantly — isn’t this, like, censorship? Take a cold shower and count downwards from ten, GLAAD. You don’t want to walk down this dark alley. There’s far worse things lurking in it than a couple punnily-named trannies with switchblades.

And of course we “trannies” (with or without switchblades) couldn’t help but notice how Abramovitch literally nuzzles up to Luna’s posterior orifice, crowning him the next Quentin Tarantino and effusively gushing how “his profile [is] heightened immeasurably as the man at the center of this particular contrannieversy.”

Contrannieversy! Nice. A clever way to shove a slur into the middle of a word, and make it appeal to both Hollywood’s and the Glenn Beck / Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter audiences! Guffaws all around. One wonders what other kinds of slurs Mr. Abramovitch could mash-up with words, but alas! Three days after his post he resigned to pursue other things. Pity.

“It’s a hot tranny mess up in here!” — fashion designer, Christian Siriano from Project Runway 4: The Season Of Love.

The Abramovitch screed proved insufficient for TriBeCa to cover its tracks though. So they followed with a statement to both Movieline and the New York Times ArtsBeat:
“The filmmakers provided a copy of this film to GLAAD in February, and for weeks the organization had been supportive to the filmmakers. In fact, GLAAD representatives advised the film’s producer, director and cast on how to describe the film to its core constituency.”

“TriBeCa is proud of its ongoing commitment to bring diverse voices and stories to its audiences, and looks forward to the film’s premiere at our Festival next month.”

GLAAD issued an update to their Call to Action on March 26, 2010:
Last month, GLAAD was asked to meet with the director and cast members prior to seeing the movie to educate them about transgender terminology and issues facing the transgender community. During that meeting, GLAAD was not shown the film and voiced strong concerns about the title and the use of the word "tranny." …

GLAAD hopes that an institution as respected as the TriBeCa Film Festival would be concerned about how this film trivializes violence against transgender people, concerns that the filmmaker has repeatedly shrugged off.

In the wake of this outcry, GLAAD and many other transgender advocates ask that TriBeCa rescind its selection….

Yes, I did note how they went from being “alerted” to the movie by the community to meeting with them the previous month.

Nevertheless, GLAAD also states for the record that they had indeed NOT seen the film and had “voiced strong concerns about the title and the use of the word "tranny".”

And TriBeCa Film Festival, for its part, tries to deftly sidestep controversy by fabricating the opposite story out of whole cloth: they “provided a copy of the film to GLAAD”? the “organization had been supportive”? GLAAD “advised” the filmmakers “how to describe the film to its core constituency”?

Is this what TriBeCa is proud of? Egregious falsehoods about GLAAD?

TriBeCa is, as GLAAD noted, a respected institution that was founded after 9/11 as a way to bring back some normalcy and vitality to a neighborhood devastated after the World Trade Center attacks. Robert DeNiro is one of their co-founders and co-chairs and even Martin Scorsese sits on their board of directors. What they’d attempted to accomplish with the festival heretofore is laudable.

Yet they’re committed to diverse voices, but have no problem dismissing us – ahem – ‘ticked off trannies’ in this “Trannygate.” It must also be noted that while Israel Luna’s work is featured, transwoman Kim Reed’s Prodigal Sons documentary (which has drawn quite a bit of positive press) is not – and she lives right there in the neighborhood!

With all this controversy brewing TriBeCa felt it would simpler to concoct a story and attempt a smear campaign on GLAAD for advocating for us. Essentially GLAAD was publicly defamed! And this is the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, no less!

GLAAD should pursue a libel suit against TriBeCa Film Festival. This is an excellent fundraising opportunity for them, and there’s certainly no reason why they shouldn’t pursue it. Yes, I realize this won’t put a penny in any Trans pocket. However, GLAAD stood up for us and got publicly smeared and it was their organization that TriBeCa damaged.

One thing we’ve noted in the Trans community is how easy it is for our own leadership to be slandered and libeled and have it become urban legendary fact. When there’s no brush-back in return, it only emboldens those same parties to continue the character assassinations. They don’t stop – they get worse.

Tonight, April 6, is the protest of the TriBeCa Film Festival in New York, and I wish Ashley and the rest of the crew all the best. One point that should be the following battle cry is to encourage GLAAD to file a libel suit and take TriBeCa Film Festival to the mat! They have every reason to do so.

And shame on TriBeCa for the lies!

“Good name in man and woman …
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands.
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.” — from Othello, by William Shakespeare

Monday, March 29, 2010

Looking Back Ten Years Ago

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness.” — George Santayana

There’s been quite a buzz in recent months over our GLBT community – particularly how the GL views and treats the T. It’s reached a fevered pitch with Rep. Barney Frank tampering with the ENDA language and the release of the movie “Trannies With Knives” by gay male prostitute-turned-film maker Israel Luna (of which I’ll write on later).

While all this was transpiring, a couple of anniversaries passed without notice. Ten years ago this past Monday, on March 22, 2000 was the meeting between the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) at HRC HQ in downtown DC, not far from K Street.

Six weeks earlier, on Feb. 11, 2000 was the National Roundtable meeting between the Gay & Lesbian organizations, Trans organizations and a few from academe at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) headquarters, then on Kalorama NW. in Columbia Heights.

The NGLTF roundtable was the brainchild of their executive director, Kerry Lobel, with assistance from PFLAG, and came at a crucial point in GLBT history. It was a period of flux, where the Trans community first began truly exercising its voice.

Only nine months had passed since the largest Trans lobby day on record at GenderPAC, but it created fissures within the T community, with GPAC announcing a move toward “gender” and later “gender orientation.” Also at that lobby day was a seeming closeness developing between GPAC and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and a simultaneous cooling off between them and NGLTF.

Meanwhile the Trans community who were not part of the east coast cabal were breaking from them, and speaking out independently and more pointedly about HRC, with one faction forming what became NTAC later in 1999. At the same time, NGLTF was becoming more pointedly critical of HRC, with PFLAG and others cooling off towards both they and GPAC.

New alliances were being struck, rhetoric was being lobbed back and forth and the community seemed to be roiling. The timing was perfect to have a meeting of the minds to hash things out and avoid a boil-over.

Besides Kerry Lobel and Blake Cornish from NGLTF, and Rob Schlittler and Cynthia Newcomer of PFLAG, and other notables (of whom I can still remember) were Nancy Buermeyer of HRC, Chai Feldbum of Georgetown School of Law, Robert Sember of Columbia School of Public Health, as well as reps from LLEGO, NYAC, Lambda Legal and GLMA.

The bulk of the Trans attendance was NTAC: Monica Roberts, Dr. Sarah Fox, Michael Gray, Chelsea Goodwin, Rusty Mae Moore and I in person, with Dawn Wilson, Yoseñio Lewis, Katrina Rose and Deni Scott via teleconference. Additionally attending were Pauline Park and Donna Cartwright from NYAGRA. Even though Donna would not resign from GPAC’s board for another eight months, she did not declare to represent them at this meeting, curiously enough.

The meeting displayed unspoken symbolism of the community status quo. For the T community it was a watershed, displaying that we did actually have some strong allies, and quite a bit more than we’d presumed. It also showed that GPAC was beginning to wane in the community’s eyes so soon after working collegially with HRC. HRC was feeling surrounded, pained and combative due to their being the only non-inclusive org (they had still refused to add Trans to their mission statement even) and the controversy swirling around their participation in the Millennium March.

And NTAC personified the spirit of this juggernaut of energy in the Trans movement of not waiting or settling for clever image-crafting sleight of hand (such as “gender” being all-inclusive) nor pat answers of accepting that we must be “incremental” and left out of gay rights bills. For many T-folk outside of the northeast (and increasingly within as well) it was becoming obvious we needed something different, with stronger and more forthright representation.

“The meeting was a very good start to build alliances,” NTAC vice-chair, Yoseñio Lewis, noted at the time. “For the most part everybody played well together. There was a tense moment when Nancy Buermeyer brought up the friction between HRC and NTAC.”

Indeed I was out of the room getting the nickel tour with Kerry Lobel, and when we walked back in, it was over: Monica Roberts and Chelsea Goodwin had their backs up, Nancy Buermeyer was crying and Michael Gray was offering to set up a group-to-group meeting between HRC and NTAC. Nancy shoved, and apparently Monica and then Chelsea shoved back.

However, to a person, everyone except Buermeyer left that roundtable with a lot of hope and enthusiasm.

And for the record, I’m not overlooking out NCTE. At that point no one in political circles had heard of Mara Keisling as she was still months away from her first participation in Trans activism with GPAC, and three years away from creating her own organization.

“When minds meet, they don't just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn't just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards.” — Theodore Zeldin, philosopher

The following month was “the fact-to-face” at HRC presaging their eventual move to include the T in their mission statement. The meeting, set up by Michael Gray, occurred as the IFGE conference in Arlington, VA was taking place (giving us an opportunity to knock out two birds with one throw).

For my part I wanted no participation in this meeting or the trip. At that time, I was having bouts of heart arrhythmias, major burnout, stress from both of the support groups I was heading (including one member’s suicide the month before) and major stress from my misogynistic boss at the time which included a fight over having to take those three days off of work.

Added to this was additional pressure from NTAC’s interim chair, Dawn Wilson, who insisted/demanded that I (as a steering committee member) attend the meeting as a show of support, even though I had no clue what the ‘ask’ was to be or what we hoped to accomplish with it. Additionally Monica Roberts had already left one of her buddy passes reserved for me at Continental Airlines (where she worked).

It was my opinion (accurate, as it turned out) that HRC would not view us lowly Trans folk as contemporaries or equals in any of our lifetimes and was against my better judgment, but I relented.

My trip was timed so that I’d have enough time to land in DCA (Reagan National Airport), trek over to the Crystal City Hilton where IFGE’s convention was located, drop my luggage off in the room I’d share with Anne Casebeer, Dawn Wilson and Monica Roberts who were driving down from Louisville, change into a business suit and then travel presumably en masse to HRC.

Arriving at the hotel, I noticed that my roomies- hadn’t checked in. Hmm … quandary! Time was tight for the meeting to begin, I had no clue how long it would take in transit to HRC’s HQ and I didn’t know if my roomies were just driving straight in to HRC. I didn’t even own a cell phone at that point!

Plan B, I hailed a cab and traveled to HRC, then housed in an office suite not far off of K Street lobbyist's corridor. Arriving early, I slogged upstairs with baggage in tow and cooled my heels at the front office, looking like some kind of Trans refugee in my faded jeans and running shoes. Needless to say there were numerous staffers walking through, giving (ahem) the semi-discreet side-eyed looks as they walked through, wondering “what is this in our office?”

While sitting there waiting, I kept wondering why I was even there, how the airlines almost didn’t let me on the plane due to buddy-pass complications, and how I wished I would’ve simply missed the flight and stayed home and gone back to work. There was a legit excuse!

As 2PM neared, Nancy Buermeyer popped out and brought me (bags and all) into the conference room. We met and chatted quite a bit as we occasionally ran into each other over the years, beginning in 1996 at Houston’s ICTLEP conference. Nancy, Tony Barretto-Neto and I even went out country & western dancing at a local lesbian bar, The Ranch. Keep in mind that I was brand new to activism in 1996, and was in “discovery phase” of seeing which side was right: Phyllis Frye’s hard-line anti-HRC, or HRC’s being unfairly maligned. Over the course of those next three years, I’d learn Phyllis was correct.

After chatting for nearly a half hour, I realized the meeting was already 15 minutes late and I was the only Trans person there! When Tony Varona and Kevin Layton walked in and saw me, and I repeated that I was waiting for “the others”, we all sat there with a ‘what are we doing here?’ look on our faces. I kept a cool exterior, but was beginning to panic and excused myself to the restroom.

After walking out of the restroom, I was relieved to see Michael Gray walking up and asked where the others were. “They’re not coming” he whispered. “They weren’t ready and won’t be here.”

Panic began anew, as well as anger as we both walked into the conference. Michael would lead and present his white paper: The Primacy of Gender. I sat there feeling useless, not knowing what to do and wishing I was back home. During the presentation, Alex Fox also dropped in, which evened out the numbers at three HRC, three NTAC. The rest of Michael’s presentation went routinely, but ended without any real request or direction other than asking that they all agree that everything GLBT had to do with gender, not sexuality.

We all sat and looked at each other.

So Michael again took it from the top, restarting his presentation and shortly into it used it as a platform to exchange accusations with Buermeyer. Shades of what I’d missed at the Trans Roundtable a month earlier! That was when Alex and I decided to take over.

Nancy railed about NTAC’s story of HRC buying Riki Wilchins a condo (something we admitted had no verification and was removed already from the NTAC website) and also requested removal of Katrina Rose’s editorial comparing Elizabeth Birch’s words to Josef Goebbels.

We decried the lack of trans inclusion in legislation, wanted our own access to legislators in order to educate them on T issues and blasted the pre-lobbying of legislators by HRC and GPAC. On the last item, again Buermeyer insisted there were no such meetings – until I brought up the fact that I had a screen shot saved of GenderPAC’s website circa 1998 (thanks to Gwen Smith’s eagle eye), noting the specifics of the very meeting at Sen. Harkin’s office (the first we were aware of) including who visited … including Ms. Buermeyer herself.

At that she backpedaled and admitted the meeting did occur after all – but it wasn’t pre-lobbying.

In the end, I explained to Nancy, Tony and Kevin that I personally had no problems with them not including us (at that time, Trans was not even part of HRC’s mission statement). In fact, that was fine with us: HRC should continue focus on the sexual orientation issues in Congress, and NTAC should focus on the gender identity issues.

As HRC had their ability to get their message to Congress, we stated that NTAC needed our own voice to be heard similarly as we knew our issues experientially. We were also opposed to being shoehorned into a dicey inexplicit coverage under “gender” (which was the prevailing push at that time to get Trans folks to believe they were covered).

HRC threw much of the non-inclusion blame at Barney Frank’s feet, wanted NTAC’s editorial blasts stopped and all rhetoric about the pre-lobbying with GPAC ceased as well. We explained the pre-lobbying rhetoric would stop so long as they stopped the pre-lobbying visits that we felt poisoned the well before we even arrived.

All seemingly agreed the requests were reasonable and came to a tentative agreement to take them back to our respective leadership to achieve them. When Alex asked Tony Varona about a timeline on when we would hear back from HRC on their behalf, Tony replied that their upcoming Equality Rocks concert was their focus at the moment and gave a soft “couple months” answer.

That response from Tony should’ve been a sign.

In the interim we removed the offensive editorials, and stuck specifically to news communications as per our half of the agreement. Even when HRC took over and conducted the Millennium March later that year with its unresolved financial controversies, and when many other GLBT orgs were piling on, we didn’t capitalize on the situation while they were down.

Though I sent a few Emails to Nancy inquiring of it afterward, we never heard back from them again. They never followed through with us.

“Kick ‘em when they’re up.
Kick ‘em when they’re down.
Kick ‘em when they’re stiff.
Kick ‘em all around.” — Dirty Laundry, Don Henley

“Even Gandhi, with all his charisma, did not 'melt the hearts' of his oppressors, as he had hoped. After softening, hearts harden again.” — Theodore Zeldin, philosopher

Much has changed since those meetings in early 2000. At the beginning of 2001, HRC suddenly announced they were including transgender in their mission statement and shortly after began billing themselves as the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights group in the nation. They were not going to allow us our own voice: they would declare oversight of it in order to manage our message themselves.

Responsively NTAC turned up the heat in the media in 2001-2002 and had a measure of progress, even beginning to crack through to mainstream press. HRC claimed they were working with “transgender leadership,” we responded that that were working with GPAC who had recently divested themselves from the T word, and that HRC was indeed not working with us.

We also worked diligently on developing good relations with all our allies apart from HRC. Things progressed well through 2002 and it seemed (save for a number of the former GPAC Trans members) that the community was coming together in a do-it-yourself, shoestring fashion. There was no funding and precious little assistance, but we were moving forward and doing it for ourselves despite it all.

New Years 2003 saw the advent of Mara Keisling, who went through numerous ad-hocs on the periphery before jumping in solo as the professed “hired gun” lobbyist in DC. Six months later, she changed her mind and appointed a board of directors and by year-end was a full-scale organization. As opposed to NTAC, NCTE would work collegially and collaboratively with HRC, not having the same history as the more tenured trans advocates. In fact, of all the trans leadership that were part of those meetings in 2000, the only one on the national-level radar at the moment would be Donna Cartwright who went from GPAC’s board to NCTE’s board of directors.

Over the next three years, NCTE effectively supplanted NTAC and all its members. It wasn’t for malfeasance or being in the wrong (we were actually correct, which ironically worked to our disadvantage). We were replaced strictly for not playing the Washington game: we didn’t feel that Trans folks should simply accept our “place” at the bottom of the pecking order.

While playing the game didn’t show results immediately, the progress has been coming. There’s been a jump in visibility in mainstream media, but it’s also a much more controlled, watered-down version than our gay and lesbian counterparts enjoy.

We finally got explicit inclusion in hate crimes legislation and got it passed. And after a couple of false starts, we’ve also seen legislation written with explicit inclusion as well. But again, in the tightly controlled environment, we still don’t know what the language or limitations of this potentially watered-down bill might be – even after so many have lobbied for it, sight unseen.

In early 2000 we seemed to be on a track of true GLBT community cohesion. From 2010’s vantage point, that view was quite delusional. The good relations NTAC had with other organizations through 2002 magically vanished almost overnight in 2003, coinciding with Mara’s arrival. Shortly thereafter, media relations vanished as well. Most everything began singularly funneling through Mara Keisling afterwards. This was no longer a community dialogue, but a top-down controlled environ.

The last half of this decade saw a decide distance develop between Trans and GLBt organizations as well (NCTE for the most part notwithstanding). The years have seen increasing grassroots Trans criticism and frustration with formerly closer allied groups such as NGLTF, GLAAD, PFLAG and ACLU. It’s becoming increasingly evident that the marriage between GLB and T was not made in heaven. It’s been a boost in visibility, media and funding for the former, and come at the expense of those in the latter who worked so hard to make T progress in the first place.

Indeed, the trans movement overall has become much more machine-like as a result of having one rep in the GLBT elite who’s part of the Washington game. For nearly all of the families and activists who worked so hard over the years for it, even the hate crimes victory had an anti-climactic feel to it. It wasn’t our victory: it was Washington’s. Even the sentiment that the community’s resigned to accepting whatever limited language in ENDA just to have something – anything – speaks to the lack of soul that we used to have.

Then again, it’s no major surprise. The Trans community always eschews our own history. What’s here today will be forgotten tomorrow by the next generation as we’re each compelled to create our own. Even those who lead today helped perpetuate that trend with their predecessors.

A local activist, Jackie Thorne, called me during Christmas holidays. During our conversation, she lamented how our community wasn’t “community” in feel any more –we’re just a “bunch of individuals now” seeking our individual stardom. The cohesion and cross-pollenation in our movement that began the last decade has been replaced by a classic Washington by-the-book, silo style of management complete with its hierarchies and insulated communication.

We’ve changed quite a bit over the last decade. I can’t say it’s worse. But I can’t say it’s better. It’s just certainly changed.

“All is flux. Nothing stays still.” — Heraclitus, from the book Diogenes Laertius

“The conquest of the Earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it.” — Joseph Conrad

Sunday, January 10, 2010

First Video Blog for Transpolitical

“ If you can afford a pretty expansive media room, you can afford what I spent in the hospital.” — Rush Limbaugh after leaving a hospital stay in Hawaii

A New Year and a New Decade ... and I decided to try something new. It's my attempt at a VLog (video blog, whatever). It's too cold here in the house (I don't use heat) to type at the moment -- too much to say, too many cold days without end.

Basically it sucks, but it's better than nothing!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Reflections On A Historic Campaign

"Tonight is a night for all the activists." — Rick Hurt (aka: Rainbo De Klown)

In many ways, this election cycle for Annise Parker's latest candidacy has been very familiar. It's also been very different as well.

Just as the last two times Annise has run for her first shot at a new office, I've been long-term unemployed, there's been family strife and stress to deal with on the side, severe depression set in and there was a sore need of finding a diversion to keep me focused and not obsessing on my own hell. It even rained on me again and soaked me to the bone on election night eve. It's certainly coincidental, but not something I'd ever want to plan (especially getting rained on in December).

Cold dark weather, holidays, the isolation and feeling out of synch with the rest of the world on this whole "seasonal happiness" also add to the malaise. It's not something I'd recommend to anyone, but it does seem oddly comforting in that it produces political wins, strange as that sounds.

And after it got dark and the blockwalking we were doing became impossible, I spent the last hour plus where I was first assigned to work the polls: John Reagan High School in the Heights.

Unlike 1997, I didn't have a dozen friends and relatives die in a six month span during election season this time (too intense). The election also worked much smoother with a larger influx of volunteers and actual paid staff. Election eve was so smooth that I felt guilty leaving to drop off signs at polling places before 10pm! And of course the election, though pulling close near the end, wasn't as stressful as the first one which seemed as if everything was riding on it.

Even my time at Reagan was low impact as they closed off the other three gates and had all voters, and all card pushers, at the one main gate into the school gym. (Back when we had all four gates open, that location required lots of energy to run back and forth across the schoolyard to catch voters trying to avoid the main gate.) It actually removed the challenge of that location. Obviously I burned off zero calories working Reagan this time, but then I'm getting older too....

What little resources we had in the old days and how stressed we were at getting everything organized correctly was now a well-oiled machine moving like clockwork. There were multiple coordinators with various pieces of the tasks instead of one volunteer coordinator and one field general. It was amazing how simple it looked this time. I was a bit envious.

Financing was a big difference this time as well, which accounted for that easier process. At the post-election celebration, about a dozen folks walked around with the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund pins and even Chuck Wolfe, their executive director, was onstage with Annise during her victory acceptance.

However, it also seemed like homecoming week being back at the campaign. So many of the old volunteer stalwarts I used to pester on the telephone to come in and help back in the days were back again, 12 years later. It was great seeing Peggy Smith again, and blockwalking with Annise's best friend, Cicely Wynne, on major thoroughfares in Meyerland during rush hours.

It was great seeing the '97 TV ad guru Cindy Rindy (her official name now that she's married, although she goes by her maiden name Miller to avoid being called Cindy Rindy.) We chatted, laughed and reminisced about raising baby squirrels during the '97 campaign.

At the victory party, even more of the familiar faces from '97 that I hadn't seen for so long: former Parker staffers Kathy Elek and Terence O'Neil, former city council candidate Mary Ann Young, former Women's Caucus member and judicial candidate Mary Kay Green, and one of the other former Team Parker members, Patrick McIlvain. I even got a quick wave with Cong. Sheila Jackson Lee who was holding court with a throng of animated supporters as I was leaving.

Things like this are the blessed diversions that help prop the spirit up during dark times.

Obviously media was everywhere. This was a history-setting day for lesbians and gays across the nation. Peggy Smith and I even showed up on a live CNN feed (unbeknownst to us) at the victory party. Thank goodness I brought my signs along from the polling place as eye-catching props.

Besides Victory Fund, it seemed a number of folks were in from out of town to catch a ride on the Parker phenomenon. You see the best and sometimes (especially at the victory) the most unctuous aspects of politics in full display. One of the men I blockwalked with (an older gay gentleman) showed up to volunteer right before dark on election night for his first time. He asked me if I'd ever met Annise (and I gave him my history going back 12 years). Then he had the audacity to ask me "does she remember you and did she do anything for you after election?" along with other questions of how one gets an insider track with someone like Annise.

In response I gave him a flip answer: "she gave me one of her cats" (true). Not knowing if he had contributed or not, I held my tongue; but I felt like telling him this isn't a quid pro quo game that johnny-come-latelys can buy into on the cheap. Other than asking for trans inclusion on the city employees' non discrimination, I'd never asked for anything personally ... and I guess you could say I got what I asked for.

It just drove home the reminder that political stardom is like a lit spotlight to moths at night. Opportunists abound.

Catching up with some of my old-time friends at the party, one noted there were a lot more gays and lesbians in attendance at the runoff victory party than attended the general election party. Admittedly, I didn't attend the general party either.

Another noted that during Gene Locke's concession speech, the "diversity" onstage with him looked anything but. It was a pretty homogenous group. But for the fact that they were virtually all African-American instead of virtually all white, it could have been a Republican victory party. Indeed, Annise's had a very nice pastiche of all cross-sections, obviously heavier on gay/lesbian but still a very sizable contingent of straight as well as seemingly every ethnicity.

An old friend from the Houston Gay/Lesbian Political Caucus days, Rick Hurt (aka: Rainbo De Klown) and a couple others commented that he was surprised the party was held in a small room of the George R. Brown, instead of one of the larger rooms. It just made it intimate and more crowded looking. He also kept repeating that "this is a night for the activists."

Maybe it was a night for activists. Annise started off as an activist. Many of the longtime Team Parker folks have been perennial activists. And it also allowed this activist a night of basking in the warmth of victory's afterglow, watching the ebullience on Annise and her family's faces as they stood onstage, seeing the pride and excitement (and maybe even a bit of inspiration) in the faces of every lesbian and gay person in the room that night. It's fun getting to see people finally achieving their dream. It's also a nice little vicarious thrill, even if for a moment.

After the victory speech, Rainbo and I went to the Montrose to check out the victory street party. It wasn't. The street was blocked off, but there was no one out there as it was chilly and damp. They were all in the bars — essentially a typical bar night. Nothing there for me.

Other thoughts that hit me during and after the victory was how many people were congratulating me; not just trans, but gay and lesbian – even Grant Martin – as well. Surely I was quick to return it to Grant, as it is directly his and Annise's leadership to this victory. But to the Trans Community I'll remind how infuriated we've been throughout the years when gay and lesbian groups like HRC, GLAAD, NGLTF, et. al. co-opt or capitalize on our issues and efforts. We should not be doing the same in reverse, regardless of whether they do it. Take the moral high ground.

This is rightly the gay and lesbian community's victory and not a time for Trans people to be in the spotlight taking bows or grandstanding. Our efforts were a part of what helped them achieve their goal.

Which brings up the issue of the next bit of history to work on: Trans people in office. It's easy for us to make a decision to run, but putting this desire to reality by being elected is another thing altogether.

In her speech to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Annise noted that she got elected "with gay money, transgender volunteers and black voters." We should work on attracting the black or straight voters. But with Trans money?!? And then who would we attract as volunteers – intersex? And Trans people still have the image problem (even within some segments of the lesbian and gay community, much less straight) and zero media presence to combat this. Even T employment in politics is rare, so how easy would it be for us to be elected? This is a discussion we in the Trans community need to have: how do we make what is a virtual impossibility a reality?

Nevertheless I'm very pleased for Houston's gay and lesbian community and especially for Annise and Kathy. Of course Annise has her work cut out for her in the years to come. We've got budget constraints, sales tax revenue that's dropping like a rock, home values that are stagnant at best with the foreclosures popping up and a lot of people dealing with major hardships.

As a Club For Growth lobbyist mentioned to me, Houston's attracted all these Fortune 500 corporations because it's a place they can locate, pay their people low wages and yet their employees can still have a good quality of life due to low costs on most everything (except utilities). While that's true, even Houston's companies have been shipping our "low waged" jobs to even lower waged countries across the globe, like all other locales in the country. Unlike these other cities, though, Houston's wage-earners are much more vulnerable inasmuch as the low wage base means there's typically little to nothing saved up in order to weather the hard times. And Texas is renown for ensuring there are virtually no safety nets at all.

None of this bodes well. And Annise's victory speech acknowledged that there's many Houstonians in rather dire economic straits. She'll have her work cut out for her. But as she also mentioned in her speech, she intends to be there for all Houstonians. This writer sure prays it's so. It can't come too quickly!

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage" — Anais Nin

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Historic Houston Elects A History-Making Mayor

"Tonight ... the voters of Houston have opened the door to history." — Mayor-Elect Annise Parker at her acceptance speech on election night.

And so it is done.

History was set on December 12, 2009 with the election of Annise Parker as our next Mayor. Not only is this a red-letter day in lesbian and gay history for Houston or Texas, but indeed this is a truly momentous victory for America's lesbian and gay community.

The gay and lesbian community worked feverishly to get her elected. Campaign Consultant and Manager Grant Martin (who joined Team Parker the year I did in 1997) conceived the gameplan way back then, stuck to it and ensured it was implemented and masterfully executed this year.

And of course Annise herself did everything she needed to do to deftly show what was once a skeptical Houston that a lesbian (or even a gay man) could indeed be just as skilled as any other political candidate or elected official.

It wasn't some "knee-jerk" decision of "liberal guilt" that got the first out gay or lesbian elected to the top spot in a top-ten American city. This was here in Houston: home to the Bush family, where Dick Cheney ruled the roost at the corporate headquarters here for Halliburton/KBR, the region where Kay Bailey Hutchison grew up and where Tom DeLay hammered his way through Congress and even trained his own acolyte, John Culberson. This was done in a two-fisted, blue collar, refinery-laden monster city renown for having the largest rodeo in the U.S.

Annise Parker was elected by showing Houston that she was just as human as anybody else, just as committed and caring as anybody else and just as competent as anybody else ... and maybe just a little bit more so. She also demonstrated to Houston and to Texas that "gay" or "lesbian" does not have to automatically be threatening or feared. She came across as just a regular everyday professional woman from Houston.

Make no mistake, Annise certainly has the skillset to do the job after six years as City Controller and six on city council. But it also shouldn't be discounted that Annise humanized herself and the image of gays and lesbians throughout the city. Even in red-meat, fire-breathing, rednecked Republican Texas, being "gay" is no longer an automatic death-knell for any job or any career.

Annise has long made efforts to reach out to all communities in Houston, and she is truly putting out the message that she is everyone's mayor. As she mentioned in her victory speech at Riva's Restaurant back in 1997 when she was first elected to city council: "I wasn't elected to be the city councilmember for gay and lesbian Houstonians. I was elected to be the city councilmember for ALL Houstonians.

It's something she takes very seriously. She's reached out to every ethnic community in this, the third most diverse city in the U.S. She's reached out to unions and to high-powered corporate leaders. She's reached out to Republicans and has also never shirked from the fact that she's openly lesbian and fully supports her GLBT community.

In an interview with Open Left during the run for this year's mayoral campaign, Annise noted: "in that campaign 12 years ago, I was told by members of the GLBT community, "well, if you have open transgender people as campaign volunteers or if you have identifiable openly gay people out pushing cards for you or representing you at public events, you'll never get elected." My response was, "well, then what would be the point?" and I immediately went out and my volunteer coordinator was transgender, my office manager was a flamboyantly gay man."

Even in the latter stages of the campaign, when her runoff opponent Gene Locke recognized he was losing the election and resorted to desperation passes in attempt to win, Annise stuck with Grant's gameplan: avoid the mudslinging, avoid compromising principle and hammer the opposition on the issues.

Watching Annise onstage with her partner Kathy Hubbard and her adopted children, it was a watershed moment. It seemed both surreal and appropriate that this was happening here in Houston. Kathy was literally beatific. Annise was dignified, but you could see the pride beaming through.

Even though I've met and visited with both of the last two mayors of Houston, it's also nice to finally have a Mayor who instantly knows me on a first-name basis! That's something Trans people don't get very often down here in the Bible belt ....

And before I forget — a heartfelt congratulations to the Lesbian and Gay community here and throughout the U.S. As Annise mentioned in her victory speech (and a sentiment I also agree on): "I know what this win means to many of us who never thought we could achieve high office."

For the Lesbian community, and I'm sure for the Gay community as well, that glass ceiling has now officially been shattered. Savor this historic occasion and enjoy!

"We have a responsibility to live as openly as we can and to bring our full selves to everything we do, and begin to change hearts and minds." — Houston City Controller Annise Parker in an interview for Open Left Blog.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day Of Remembrance, And Remembering What It's About

"Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons,
Packed up and ready to go.
Heard of some gravesites out by the highway,
A place where nobody knows.
The sound of gunfire off in the distance,
I'm getting used to it now." — Life During Wartime, the Talking Heads

Today is officially Transgender Day of Remembrance (DOR) across the globe. For me, it was last week in Chicago for their Day of Remembrance. Chicago does theirs a little early as Kimberly Nicole and Cyndi Richards professional set up and film the event there in the Windy City in order to have it edited and uploaded onto YouTube in order to coincide with Day of Remembrance.

The Chicago event was moving, and the location in New Spirit Church of Oak Park was an excellent stage for it. According to Rev. Bradley Mickelson, the church was apparently once where Theodore Roosevelt worshipped at his congregation — an interesting bit of history.

It was also well-attended DOR as the church nearly filled. A lot of thanks goes out to Cyndi Richards and IGA, the church staff and volunteer Marsha Jackson (an old friend from my late 90's lobby days in DC) for busting ass and ensuring that the entire event and the spaghetti dinner afterward were a success.

My reason for being there was to keynote the event. The one thing that I did was to address the creeping "external opportunism" from super-sized, cash-guzzling organizations on DOR itself, and to remind those attending of the history of how this collective community memorial came into being.

DOR was extremely grassroots in creation, totally spontaneous based upon the suggestions of Gazebo chat list attendees in 1998 in response to Rita Hester's murder, and over the course of the frustrating year following when local authorities never resolved her case. Gwen Smith, the list moderator based in the San Francisco bay area, decided to put the thoughts into action by getting San Fran activists and others together and hold the first official Day of Remembrance. There were also reports of a similar vigil taking place in Boston on the same anniversary night.

There was no big political organization, no entity, no non-profit fundraising, no staff, no one benefitting from it personally. Only volunteers.

The following year, Day of Remembrance went national with about a dozen cities. It was all begun by local group leaders, activists, volunteer national advocates like NTAC members, and just everyday trans folks who'd never been involved in leading things, but felt strongly about our community's consistent bloodbath due to hate murders. Again, no national org's with fundraising ambitions laying claim (even with a few NTAC board coordinating local events).

"Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit?
Heard about Pittsburgh, PA?" — Life During Wartime, the Talking Heads

We grew DOR on our own, with rudimentary resources out of our own individual pockets, for the most part. We researched and reported on trans murders that came to our attention and spread the word on DOR to other cities on our own time. Just a bunch of ragtag trans folks putting together what we needed to do to get word out and draw attention to the glaring and criminally ignored murder epidemic.

Keep in mind this was in the days before the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) had even bothered adding "gender identity" to their mission statement, and even that would not bring about their support for us in any legislation for years to follow. There was no "help from above." We had only ourselves, our own resourcefulness and determination to push forth our issue in the mainstream media. At some point, no matter how many obstacles, the message would eventually break through.

Later while helping push this around the country for new locations, I suggested to Gwen and took initiative to bring in our first couple locations outside the U.S: Vancouver and in Santiago, Chile. Afterwards was a watershed of international cities and trans communities joining the chorus. DOR was, and still remains, an international crisis in the Trans community, and having this go worldwide was appropriate.

After years of work and finally bringing it to the world stage, it finally started hitting the straight press and the colleges. Once the straight community started joining in and agreeing this was heinous – especially once they were aware of the commonly grisly details symbolic of typical trans "overkill" murders with mass stab wounds, multiple gunshots, body mutilations, decapitations, burnings — DOR suddenly landed on the consciousness of the world and elicited sympathy in what we were experiencing.

With this came need for the press to get commentary for news stories on the annual events.

And with that came the attention of the large GLB and T organizations, heavily bankrolled (anything over five-figure annual budgets in trans standards is massively bankrolled) with staff and big fundraising mechanisms.

Here was an automatically generated day of easy, positive public relations on the cheap. All they had to do was show up and put their face out there, express sympathy for the Trans victims and the situation, then walk away looking all-too-altruistic and heroic. Afterward, use the press as basis for raising more funds for their "sincere concern" about our plight. It's a simple as falling backwards into a swimming pool full of dollar bills.

Better still, they even began offering those of us original organizers suggestions: having the day moved from the date Chanelle Pickett was murdered on Nov. 20 (too cold, too close to Thanksgiving) to a warmer day in late spring; making it more of a soiree-type event replete with refreshments, where there can be awareness seminars in colleges (and great PR to new young recruits!); even requesting of us that it less somber and depressing (too dark) and lightening it up to more of a "celebration of life."

"This ain't no party! This ain't no disco!
This ain't no fooling around!
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,
I ain't got time for that now!" — Life During Wartime, the Talking Heads

That last suggestion stunned a few of us who received it. Celebrating our memorialized hate murder victims? Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd be afraid to ask family of Holocaust victims to "lighten it up" and "celebrate" the lives of their murdered family members. Hell, I'd feel uneasy with asking Judy Shepard to "celebrate" the anniversary of Matthew's murder.

But I guess trans people are supposed to be the exception. We shouldn't have such feelings the way other humans would....

So when we insisted upon keeping our ceremonies solemn, darker and in the Fall (when foliage dies in the northern hemisphere), they simply circumvented and found other more accommodating trans folks in places like Houston, Orlando and Las Vegas [ ]. They tossed a little donation, got to stick their name and logo on the event and maybe even put out a little press blurb on it and – voila! – it's revised to seem they've been there all along with us and we're all just one big happy family!

At least that's the image these new organizing (and enterprising) hopefuls want out there.

But take a look at this symbolic "family": a majority of them robust and healthy, and dragging around these bony waifs by the arm, beseeching the world of this tragic situation and the need to help do something about it! Then when the world's attention is turned away, the bony waifs are thrown back into and locked in the dark closets and starved again. Yep, one big happy ....

"Sitting here in Queens eating refried beans.
We're in the magazines gulpin' thorazines.
We ain't got no friends. Our troubles never end
No Christmas cards to send. Daddy likes men....
We're a happy family: me, mom and daddy." — We're A Happy Family, the Ramones

All these years, with all the work put in by the likes of Gwen Smith, Ethan St. Pierre and other assistants like Monica Helms, Mercedes Allen or I, became a lot of blood, sweat and tears for us and a nice boost to the bottom lines and the staff of the opportunists. It's nauseating how easy it is for trans efforts to be usurped and utilized to benefit others. I never truly appreciated how hated we were until I found out how easily we were exploited.

Meanwhile, we finally got a large GLBT community action on the recent murder, decapitation and dismemberment of Jorge Mercado. As it's reported in the press, it was a most brutal murder of a gay teen in Puerto Rico. Buried in the details and away from most media reports, Mercado was wearing a blue dress and boots. This may well have been a gay teen. This was most probably a trans-panic response with all the overkill implications.

It reminds me of the Martinez case in Cortez, CO (and no, she never chose the name Fredericka! That was a joke name given to her by her classmate friends). That was yet another murder where all indications were it was "a gay teen, some gender issues, maybe trans...." At the vigil in Cortez, her mother Paula brought up an 8 x 10 framed photo of her as a female. I still recall Cathy Renna of Gay, Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) remarking in amazement that Paula had a great photo of her son, and wondered why she wouldn't use the photo of "a handsome young man" on the stage at the vigil.

How would a lowly trans such as I explain to an organizer of a national group like GLAAD that maybe they didn't take time to look at the entire picture, so to speak. In response I muttered to her that "maybe a mom best knows her child." There's no way for me to know if Renna listened or learned, but I learned something that day. We can't take all "gay hate crimes" at face value in the press. The Lawrence King story is another that comes to mind.

Another lesson learned is how easy it is for our hate murder victims to become a wonderful opportunity and potential for future fundraising to those who really don't give a flip about having us around anyway (at least not beyond the political correctness "diversity" requirements). We're street chattel: mere coffin fodder to help boost the big bucks for the ballroom boys and girls.

Cyndi Richards, who coordinated the Chicago DOR, sent an Email to me noting an observation to a preacher from a trans parishioner. The transperson noted that angels, like trans people, weren't of either of the two specific genders. Angel food for thought ....

To the hundred-plus fallen victims to anti-trans bias this year, whether you were angels or whether you were not, we do remember. We will not forget.

"A good friend once told me the way to be an effective speaker: make them laugh, make them cry and make them feel religious." — Rev. Bradley Mickelson of the New Spirit Community Church of Oak Park, IL

"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." — Revelation, 21:4, King James version

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hate Crimes: A Long Time Coming And A Long Struggle Ahead

[Note: this is a reprint from a requested project at Pam's House Blend]

"It's been a long time comin'
It's goin' to be a long time gone." — Long Time Gone, Crosby Stills Nash & Young

It’s been a long time coming. The historic passage of hate crimes legislation and signature into law by the President signals the very first federal law covering trans people in America. My emotions, though, are mixed: ebullience, wistfulness, solemnity, sadness

To have this finally pass, and to have it inclusive of trans people, is a major victory. Since 1997, I’ve been consistently taking time, shelling out money and visiting offices all over Washington DC and Austin – and even once in Annapolis this year – in attempt to get even this, the most elemental protection, passed with coverage for us all. With this official passage last week, all the memories of where we’ve all collectively been working to achieve what’s finally reality – seemingly against all odds – come streaming in.

In 1999 I had the opportunity to pull in the most critical component of what would eventually be the key to eventual passage of the James Byrd Hate Crimes Bill in Texas two years later. Taking two of my gay friends on their very first lobbying visit to show them how to parry and effectively argue our case, we landed the support of Rep. Warren Chisum, long-known as an arch-conservative, lightning rod author for the most heinous anti-GLBT legislation. His support brought in other crucial moderate GOP co-sponsors and votes and also provided cover for blue dog Dems as well. Our only responsibility was to change the wording to “sexual preference” and “gender non-conformity.”

It was a victory I was pleased to help along, but a hollow one personally. In 2001, gender non-conformity was refused inclusion in the bill (with a promise made to me that if we didn’t fight this and let this pass, they’d “come back for us” the next session). The bill passed, I held my tongue, but they never “came back” for us. Even this year, while in Austin, I visited with Rep. Chisum again a couple times. He chastised me with reminder that he didn’t want to revisit this bill again. However, he was ready once again to support. I’ll always remember the bravery of those like Rep. Garnet Coleman, author of 2009’s expansion bill in Texas, and the initial co-sponsors like Rep. Rafael Anchia and Rep. Alma Allen, as well as conservative Rep. Chisum and at least one other longtime Republican friend who were ready to bravely support and push this. The bill died in committee after testimony, but these unsung heroes deserve mention.

Memories of victims past stream back. Meeting one of our homeless trans girls in Houston mere months before she was shot and killed in the Montrose sticks in my mind: would this law have helped solve her murder and bring some solace? Seeing the abject, stoic sadness in the faces of the family of Terrianne Summers as I attempted to hold my own emotions in check while eulogizing my activist protégée, knowing her murder is also still unsolved with no justice.

Even in the cases where the murderers were caught, there’s only a little solace for the victims’ families past. Random memories. Watching the silent tears stream down the solemn face of Paula Mitchell at the Cortez, Colorado vigil in 2001 for her murdered child F.C. Listening to the sobs of Sylvia Guerrero over the phone in 2002, recalling her precious Gwen and how callously her body was dumped and buried, not long after Fred Phelps had found out Sylvia’s address and viciously protested in front of her home. Sitting alongside Queen Washington as she recounted for a reporter covering NTAC’s 2004 Lobby Day how her baby, Stephanie Thomas, was riddled with bullets a mere block from her home. Hearing the broken-hearted story from Sakia Gunn’s mother about the shoddy treatment from Newark authorities and community leaders and later seeing it first-hand in 2004 when our march from West Orange into Newark had only six white faces – four NTAC members and two local PFLAG parents – and was briefly refused entry into the city by police even after organizers had received permits. Hugging an activist friend, Ethan St. Pierre, who was shaken and teary-eyed after having making his very first speech in Boston recounting his aunt, trans woman Deborah Forte, being brutally murdered and having to go to the morgue to identify her body. There’s no way to adequately relate experiencing this.

I still recall vividly the long battles and the acrimony over the years of merely having trans people covered by hate crimes. Struggling with conservatives just as we did with the Human Rights Campaign or the Anti-Defamation League for protection. Vehemently arguing with Mara Keisling and Lisa Mottet at the 2003 IFGE convention as they agreed with HRC and ACLU lawyers, and tried to convince me, that “gender” would include “gender identity” due to congressional intent. Less than six month later, finding out first-hand from our own local District Attorney’s office that they didn’t “give a damn about,” nor had the time nor budget to research what congressional intent was as they were following the letter of the law as written in Texas, and nothing beyond.

Even something as indirect as political campaigning paid off. Being an Obama delegate won me few friends in the GLBT community during the primaries. From my lobbying experience though, I knew Hillary Clinton’s fondness for incrementalism and lack of knowledge on trans people just as well as I knew Obama’s full-scope approach to rights. Trans folks, including myself, fought hard during the campaign up to the national convention and all the way up until election day. That night, 1000 miles from home in battleground Dayton, Ohio, I knew we’d finally won our rights to be included when Ohio was called for Obama and later when it became official that President Barack Obama would soon occupy the White House.

We were branded as pariahs, had our characters impugned and reputations ruined for standing firm on trans inclusion. It was worth it. We now have what we set out to achieve: coverage, rights, recognition. Finally, federally, we’re now human.

The Hate Crimes Bill is a watershed symbolic victory for Trans Americans. But beyond the symbolism, we remain vigilant. It’s an important first-step, but not the final goal.

"You've got to speak out against the madness,
You've got to speak your mind, if you dare.
But don't – no don't now try to get yourself elected...." — Long Time Gone, Crosby Stills Nash & Young

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tricks, No Treats For Trans As Psychic Vampires Bleed Us Dry

“I ain't gonna work
For no soul sucking jerk.
I'm gonna take it all back
And I ain't saying jack.” — Soul Sucking Jerk, Beck

After a three month self-imposed hiatus, I’m back. A bout of depression and physical fatigue was wiping me out and gave me pause. After my friend Lisa Gilinger noted my recent inability to write about what I was feeling, and realizing my attempt to rid the blues cycle had little beneficial effect, it was obvious my pulling back wasn’t helping me.

So I restart on, of all days, Halloween. And tonight’s subject, something I’d recently learned about, is quite appropriate: Vampires.

Recently I’d watched an episode on the History Channel on the myths, legends and facts on vampirism. Everyone knows about vampires from popular culture. There are lifestyle vampires who are into the role-playing and the gothic fashion and even living it as a permanent style. There are also the most commonly known sanguine vampires – those who actually drink blood (though the attacks and neck-biting tend to be more the stuff of novels and movies.)

There is also a lesser-known category called psychic vampires (psi-vamps for short). Unlike sanguine vampires, they don’t suck blood. Instead, they feed off of others’ life energy – they suck souls. To my surprise, it made was eerily familiar to how I’d been feeling for quite a number of years.

Psychic vampires, when you come into contact with them, don’t stand out in any physical way. Rather, they usually have magnetic personalities but can otherwise appear rather ordinanry. They seek out vibrant, energetic, creative or hyper individuals or crowds of energetic people.

Per Michelle Belanger’s book “Codex: A Manual of Magick and Energy Work,” psychic vampires are unable to generate their own "life force," and must feed off of others, not just as an ability, but as a necessity. Feeding can cause an amphetamine like rush and most psychic vampires report to get greatly invigorated physically and psychologically. If unable to feed on others, symptoms of "energy deprivation" include extreme fatigue, depression, mood swings and immune system suppression.

While there are different types of psi-vamps such as elemental and symbiotic, emotional vampires only feed on certain emotions others elicit.

Usually, the negative psi-vamps will exert a strong mental control on the victim, and do as much as possible to provoke feelings of distress, shame, and sorrow. These types exhibit a seemingly insatiable need for conquest and, as such, an endless appetite for drawing energy from others – in essence, a Type A, uber-competitive version of a psychic vampire.

Sound familiar?

“Set all on ‘rave on,’ let’s see some action.
We’re gonna shine on, get satisfaction.
I am the singer. I take control.
I point the finger. I take your soul….
This is the only way to feel!” — Freedom No. 5, Scorpio Rising

While I’ve never given much belief in vampirism, it’s certainly coincidental that the trans community with all its initial energy and talent typically ends up burning out quickly, leaving us with husks of former leaders. While many gay and lesbian leaders have long, productive careers and lives, typically only the rare trans individual manages to survive similarly.

Historically, only two of the Trans community’s political leaders come to mind in a similar vein. And typically, most of the folks these two meet, work with briefly or for a period of time, end up feeling completely depleted (physically, financially or spiritually) after. Ironically, the older activist of the two is the inspiration and example for the protégée who only popped up in this decade, and who’s now overtaken and even fed upon and conquered her mentor.

It’s a rough world out there: feed or get fed upon.

Curses are something I don’t believe in either, yet the consistent pattern since my own reversal of fortunes beginning on Jan. 1, 2003, and the consistent string of horrific luck often makes me wonder if curses actually do exist, and are possible reason for my own situation. While I’ve personally hung in for over thirteen years, my situation is only agonizing refusal to give up. My tenacity’s come at a huge financial, spiritual, physical and emotional toll, though. Thus, the last-legs level depression. There’s virtually nothing left.

Incidentally it’s occurring on a constant and ever-widening basis throughout the community. Our community’s historical leadership appear to be dropping like flies, and its draining effects over time are pretty consistently noticeable.

Dr. Judith Orloff identifies several profiles of psychic, or in her terminology, “energy vampires”:
The Sob Sister who always considers her/himself the victim. The world is always against them and they’ll recount every horrible thing that has happened, wallowing in every perceived slight and whining all the time.

The Charmer, a constant talker or joke-teller who has to be the center of attention ad-nauseam.

The Blamer who cuts you down with criticism doling out endless servings of guilt.

The Drama Queen who lives in extremes of emotion with life being unbelievably good or horrifically bad and wearing you out while blabbing on and on and on.
Psychic vampires have various ways of sucking your energy. Sometimes it can merely be a casual contact, but they also have the ability to reach their victims long distance through anything from phone calls, to dreams, to even visualization (essentially meditating and seeing themselves drawing the energy from a vibrant individual into themselves and feeling the increase in power and invigoration.)
Effects on the people they drain might include: depression, fatigue, or loss of energy when people are around you, people sometimes avoiding you or withdrawing from you for no apparent reason, or people giving you harsh feedback about your alleged neediness, clingyness, intrusiveness or negativity.

Negative comments are very efficient at draining the life right out of you. ‘You can’t do that; you should do this; are you living in wonderland?” are all very effective at bringing you down. “What’s wrong with you? You are bad” – are (psychic) vampire tools that make you feel weak and small even if you are robust and tall.
Indeed I’m fully familiar with the chorus of steady criticisms beginning in 2000 on, beginning with the constant negative feedback from HRC folks to the latter trans community leader, post-GenderPAC schism. It was well-orchestrated and made for a nice echo chamber effect of cast suspicion and dubious intent on anyone in the ragtag activist element in the Trans Community.

It never abated and instead continues to crescendo even now from most of the very same parties and even some newer psi-vamp entries into the game. Just recently, none other than Mara Keisling passed along a typical comment to Ethan St. Pierre, declaring grassroots activism “dead.” It drew a rather emotionally rancorous response from Ethan, and he’s now paying a price most severe as the retribution is continuing to mutate and virally grow like an old 50’s era horror movie monster.

Yes folks, while Count Dracula may be figment of a novelist’s imagination it appears that at least psychic vampires are for real. And it appears the active members of the Trans community are all part of a mass psi-vamp feeding frenzy.

Google psychic vampires and read up on them, as well as how to keep them from depleting you and pulling you down. Break their cycle of usurpation.

Oh! And eat lots of garlic!

"It was enough to make an old world monster go back into the earth, this stunning irrelevance to the mighty scheme of things, enough to make him lie down and weep.” — The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Speaking Up For Those Mute "Trannies"

"People with virtue must speak out; People who speak are not all virtuous.” — Confucius

This blog I'm going to begin with what I finished with in the previous blog: how would the Gay & Lesbian community would react if Matthew Shepard's murder drew a manslaughter conviction instead of the murder conviction it ended up with?

Would Judy Shepard feel this was justice if Matthew's murderers received a manslaughter conviction?

Let's say theoretically that the jury found that the men that beat Shepard and left him bound to that cross-tie fence on a cold Wyoming plateau never had the desire to kill him, but just to "beat him and teach him a lesson," and they then came out with "Manslaughter One" conviction: how would the gay and lesbian community react to press reports of this being a "victory"?

Moreover, how would they react if it were Trans community, or African-American community members from NAACP that were coordinating this press and speaking the message in the mass media: this manslaughter conviction was justice served? Hey, what if they found Matthew partly culpable, drawing the unwanted reactions essentially by being gay and out in public in a place where gays should remain in the closet? Everybody knows Wyoming's no gay mecca!

How would they feel if we or the NAACP came out with those statements without bothering to ask their sentiments on the ruling?

These are questions I'd like answered honestly from the gay and lesbian leaders of our so-called movement (hereafter referred to as "the Biz".)

Will they answer? No! They know where this subject is going and damn sure don't want to face the dual standard.

Instead, they'll point to "facts in the trial" and offer a tempered response to the outcome. Yet, these same leaders, when given opportunity of speaking out on gay issues, have no problem opening up and letting the discord show.

Take a look at the responses of "injustice" plastered on media about California's vote to ban same-sex marriage, and later the state's courts upholding the vote response. Note their response to President Barack Obama in not being more outspoken on supporting them afterward (even though his campaign promises were always supportive of recognition of domestic partnerships, not marriage). Even the hue and cry over the lack of "out" gay or lesbian Cabinet members that the community could "respect," and the anguish over only 31 mid-level openly gay or lesbian staffers in the Obama Administration.

If you'll notice, the released press and statements were less concerned with the actual facts on the ground, and more about the big picture: furtherance of gay and lesbian values and desires through aggressive media advancement.

Media goes out to the entire public (not just the politicos). Aggressively asking for more than you expect means that when inevitable compromise comes, it settles on a much more desired result much closer to the actual goal. If you don't aggressively set the bar high (pushing the envelope, so to speak), when the eventual result settles in you end up with less.

That's smart press.

To wit: note how much the discussion has advanced (and the acceptance levels risen) in the subject of same-sex marriage. Note also how even while most of them supported his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the primaries, the pressure the gay and lesbian press has put on the Obama Administration has shaken out some beneficial responses (more hirings, the recent reception for the community leaders and their partners in the White House, more attention paid to their leaders and issues).

Smart, aggressive press produces results.

So compare these to the press just release by these same folks on the manslaughter conviction for Lateisha Green. What is the message communicated from this? Weak.

"All my life I wanted to fly
But I don’t have the wings, and I wonder why
I can't break away!" — Breakaway, Big Pig

Of course there's been defense by those involved, and of course brushback from a few of our own. My Husband Betty's En-Gender blog by Helen Boyd wrote a piece entitled "Trans-Centric" :

I don’t agree with is the vitriol directed at the LGB leadership of the organizations that called the ruling on Teisha Green’s murder a victory.
What bothers me about the politics between the LGB & T is that there are plenty of other gay bashings and hate crimes experienced by the LGB that the trans community pays little attention to, such as Sean Kennedy’s. If you want an example of an absolute failure when it came to our legal system, that’s it. It’s horrific. Every time I see that young man’s beautiful face, and think about his parents’ loss, I wonder where exactly the trans community has been in raising awareness of that horrible injustice. No, he wasn’t gender variant. He was a young adult who was out and proud about being gay. But he’s dead just the same as Teisha Green is, & for the same reason: someone hated him for what he was.

Do we know Michael Scott Goucher? Richard Hernandez? Satendar Singh? Ryan Keith Skipper? Jeremy Waggoner? Daniel Yakovleff? These are the names of gay men who have been murdered for being gay in the last couple of years. I didn’t know most of their names.
Point taken. And indeed many of these hate crimes Helen notes have made nary a blip on the national screen. In fact, in one case on the hate crime for Sakia Gunn in Newark, I was rather astonished with the dearth of public press. It was interesting to note the press never materialized for them, and when the march and rally from West Orange NJ to Newark took place, there were only two groups who sent national level people: an African-American group and a transgender group (myself from NTAC). PFLAG had two local parents join the march. That was it: no GLAAD, no NGLTF, no HRC. Nada in their budgets for that show of support, I imagine.

Odd, that they will devote the money and work so hard to craft the trans message when similar cases of their own beg for attention.

However the most notable distinction in Helen's question on where the Trans community is on these cases: when is it that Trans people or Trans organizations are the spokespeople in gay or lesbian hate crimes – or any directly gay and lesbian issues? They certainly wouldn't trust us with that. It's pretty clear they'd worry about us bungling up their message by not fully speaking from the gay and lesbian community perspective.

So how is it we're expected to be the ones to forgive bungling this press from their leaders and the isolated house trannies they employ?

As Helen added in her blog post on En-Gender:

I agree with her that our standards are low when it comes to justice for the trans people, and their families and friends, who are murdered.
Our standards are low because we are too used to seeing no justice at all when it comes to people who intentionally hurt and kill trans people for being trans.
Far too many in the Trans community, regardless of whether they're speaking up or not, were upset with the manslaughter charge and it's portrayal as a "victory." Of course, who was going to bother asking us! Additionally, the hate crimes charge – while a first – may well be a complicating factor in a couple senses.

One has to be concerned with how legislators are going to view a pending bill like New York's GENDA with its hate crime coverage and what the response from the less supportive senators will be: "see, you're already covered, no need for more legislation."

As such it's galling that a group like Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), the very group that could not be troubled with including trans coverage in their bills when they were coming up – wouldn't discuss it – are now prominently celebrating press over the "justice" of a hate crime conviction knowing full and well what happened years ago. This happens while the state senate is considering the pending bill in the legislature that still has yet to come for vote! Are they really that politically naive? Or are they quite aware of their actions and how this may well dissuade some of the more conservative potential supporters?

If what I fear ends up happening on this conviction and the subsequent legislation, there will be no excuses.

This was not optimal press, certainly not a "victory" the gay and lesbian community would've been suffice with and not how we'd have done it on our own. But as always, we don't have that choice for our input.

As Helen noted in her blog, "Community goes both ways." Indeed it should. Unfortunately, it rarely ever pans out that way.

Well mama told me when I was young,
"Stand tall girl, you're number one."
(She said)
You can't be what you wanna be;
But you can shake the course of your destiny." — Breakaway, Big Pig