Saturday, October 20, 2007

Punishing Friends Over Equality That's Unequal

“In politics it is necessary either to betray one's country or the electorate. I prefer to betray the electorate.” — Charles De Gaulle, former French President from 1959-1969

DeGaulle’s quote above did provide a glimpse of the paradox of politics. It also shows what “friends” we have in Congress, and how far that really extends. They find the job of providing real solutions to pressing problems as too taxing. As the French President also quipped, “how can you govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?” It's an apt metaphor for what we're going through in Democratic politics at the moment.

So opting for the path of least resistance or the most self-expediency (preferably both) is always the easy choice. It’s also why we find America in the predicament we’re in today, with pressing problems of all stripe, and no one willing to do the task of solving them.

On the recent Employment Non Discrimination Act, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) put out a press blurb, which pointedly accused those in the GLBT community decrying lack of equality for all in the current legislation as exploiting "a chance to cry betrayal at your friends."

In the article from Boston’s Bay Windows, author Ethan Jacobs pulled this quote from ol’ Barn’: "I'm talking about an attitude that says we want this and we are indifferent to how to get it. We will demand that you give it to us, and if you don't give it to us we will punish our friends.”

We’re the one’s punishing our friends? By noticing and speaking up when we’re treated as unequal humans, when we’re considered not even good enough for the same protections that Barney and his community wish to enjoy, we’re “punishing them”? Interesting concept. And those who write legislation that betrays equal treatment, and who leaves other segments of the population out … why, that’s being friends!

After all, that’s what friends do, right?!?

So say, if in the future, the trans community wishes to get marriage rights, then we should remember how to be true “friends” and get ours first and let the gay and lesbian community get theirs in their own due time? Follow Barney Frank and HRC’s precedent? Why, the gay and lesbian community will understand, and certainly wouldn’t punish their friends for that, now would they? In fact, they wouldn’t even notice it – much less bring it up, right Barney?

Excuse me while I barf!

Whew … sorry … this whole country has gone so topsy-turvy, inside out and spun so tornadically out of control that I lost my lunch! Careful where you step! So let me shake the dizziness out of my head here: anyone who points out unequal treatment is a punisher! And only friends write laws where inequality is to be cherished! And this is coming from those arch-conservative … Democratic leaders?

And I suppose the bleeding heart liberal Republican groups like Concerned Women for America will agree with the majority of the GLBT groups and oppose Barney’s bill. Guess what!?! It’s true. Oh God, talk about strange bedfellows! [cue the Tubes’ “Don’t Touch Me There.”]

Furthermore, Barney Frank added that, “this is what’s troubling me about this burst of activity now: Where was the lobbying for transgender inclusion when in December Nancy Pelosi announced we were going to do it and we knew we had this fight?"

Well, I know why the the majority of organized trans members from around the country were not there "in December." It was right before the newly elected Congress was seated! Lots of folks were about to be out of office on the GOP side, and the new Dems weren't even there yet! Why would we travel all the way up to Capitol Hill then for what was certainly a lame duck Congress? Didn’t consider that, did ya Barn’?

As for why the organizations that reside in Washington were not there ... well, that’s not a question NTAC or any of the non-DC organizations can answer.

However, it is a good question -- where was HRC in their pre-abandonment, still-a-hero days? They always advertise being the largest “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organization” in the nation. Of course, we all know about advertising and caveat emptor. Trans is so insignificant to HRC that we very easily get lost in the muddle – kinda like some beer-soaked, pot-bellied slob who isn’t aware of where his shih-tzu went until he peels himself off the couch to realize he’s been sitting on her the whole time.

For that matter, where was NGLTF in their newfound role of national lobbying group? They’ve always been very good with being vocal proponents of inclusive legislation – a perfect foil to HRC – throughout the past decade plus. They even have a transgender legal policy person on staff, Lisa Mottet, and Dave Noble as their newly-hired lobbyist. Why were they out of the loop?

More to the point, where was Mara Keisling? Her transgender organization’s been there for 4½ years now: more than enough time to get some roots and develop some contacts up on the Hill. In fact, she’s long-touted the great relationship she has with Rep. Barney Frank himself. It seemed incredulous, but this writer’s actually watched them interact friendly. They’re quite the couple. So much for being the Washington insider, huh? One wonders why NTCE wasn’t part of the good-friend-and-hero Barney Frank’s advocacy effort back in December?

Maybe Barney in his “still-a-hero” days decided to keep it secret from all the above organizations. If so, why be so clandestine? Perhaps ol’ Barn’ didn’t give a flying fig how much of a hero he was touted as in the Trans community. Maybe he really didn’t like Mara Keisling after all, and was simply being two-faced. Or maybe, some of the other groups on the Hill were aware in the early stages of this effort.

One slight problem: HRC seemed to be pretty on top of the game, and was johnny-on-the-spot even back in Feb. when they were lobbying offices. Both of my Hill staff contacts noted their “equivocating” approach to this inclusive legislation being conceived.

Fast forwarding to the current, they still remain johnny-on-the-spot and fully the insider with Barney and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, et. al. Say? Wasn’t Mara Keisling long advertising that we needed a transgendered “Washington insider?” Thus was the need to work “collaboratively” with HRC – to keep in those good graces.

One wonders what happened to HRC’s "collaboration" in kind with trans groups (or at least their trans-leader designee Mara Keisling)? After all of HRC and Mara’s tag-team efforts to build up their PR image to the trans community and beyond, and to lambaste the contrarians as negative naysayers, why would HRC do such a 180 now?

As the Queerty Blog recently opined, “HRC achieved [founder] Steve Endean’s ultimate goal: to become a powerful, politically active non-profit championing for gay rights. And, along the way, they fell into the old civil society trap. They’ve garnered unseen, unprecedented and unelected political power. They can use it as they wish, but only within the limits of preexisting institutions.

“HRC’s as big a part of the system as Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi.

“Joe Solmonese and HRC’s actions over the past few weeks have been politics. Pure and simple. Yes, we can criticize what we see as an immoral compromise, but the group’s ultimately impotent. There’s no way to severe [sic] the ties between HRC and its political allies [In Congress]”

Actually, I believe Queerty nailed it on the head. Politics is not the solution – it’s the problem. My God, did that come out of me? Was Ronald Reagan right (besides being far right)?

Well, there are political solutions for those with the money substantial enough to pay the piper. That’s why Gay & Lesbian rights are at the fore right now. They have the money and power and the media momentum going for them. They’re the next non-needy group to be endowed with officially-sanctioned protections they barely even recognize, much less need any more. That’s the way politics works: rights are for those who aren’t desperate for them.

Why do you think the wealthiest get the lion’s share of tax breaks, or no bid contracts, or other special considerations? They don’t need them. They just casually want them. That’s also why the working class and the impoverished will never have them – we’re in need of them. Nothing like pretzel logic, eh? Give to the wealthy -- keep the needy bereft.

But cheer up you cash-poor, under and unemployed trannies! Since you’re not desperate for them, you’ll be the first to be extended marriage rights! That’s how politics works. Caveat emptor!

Political solutions are officially dead. Time to do the funeral procession, plant the corpse and then move on ….

“Me, I'm a part of your circle of friends
and We notice you don't come around
Me, I think it all depends
on You touching ground with us.
But, I quit.
I give up.
Nothing's good enough for anybody else …
It seems.” — Circle, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

His Own Private Idaho: Senator Larry and the Pecking Order of Queerness vs. Straightness

“You’re living in your own Private Idaho …
Underground like a Wild Potato …
It leads you straight,
Right through the gate.” — Private Idaho, the B-52’s

It was painful to watch the Matt Lauer interview with Sen. Larry Craig on ABC’s Tuesday Night interview. Why they would allow a show to watch a man struggle mightily with his guilt on national TV escapes me. Perhaps the GOP couldn’t stop him – or maybe they decided this would help clear one of their many black marks over the recent years for the upcoming election season. Either way, it was like watching Dick Cheney wax about all the WMD’s and nuclear weapons that are still stashed by Saddam somewhere there in Iraq from somewhere around the time Hussein contracted all the hijackers to fly into the World Trade Towers. Yeah ....

When scrambling to defend ourselves we can cover most things we wish to hide, but there are almost always little telling clues that betray the ones trying to obfuscate truth. Both Craigs were well disciplined in their answers and facial reactions. Watching his wife’s expression during the answering process while speaking to Lauer, and then watching her expression while sharply looking over her husband’s answer was a bit of a giveaway. You could palpably feel the a) Love, b) Desperation, c) Anger!

Mrs. Craig’s trying hard to do the dutiful “stand-by-your-man” routine that now Sen. Hillary Clinton did as first lady to then Pres. Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal. It’s ironic that it was Craig's husband doing the less-than-charitable piling on during that affair with his now infamous “It’s a bad boy, Bill Clinton … in fact, a nasty bad boy” comment.

Of course, Bill Clinton’s multiple sexual impropriety claims were always coming from the behest of rather partisan individuals, either directly or via bankrolling. With Sen. Larry, he was outed by none other than Roll Call, a not-so-liberal publication that acts as a non-partisan newspaper for Capitol Hill – not the New York Times, or the L. A. Times, or even the Idaho Statesman. Rats! That takes the punch out of the liberal media witch hunt claims!

“Don't let the chlorine in your eyes
blind you to the awful surprise
that's waitin' for you.” — Private Idaho, the B-52’s

It was oddly amusing to note how the good senator from Potato-land now sees the condemnable actions of cops who “profile” and how easily innocents can get swept up into this (ahem) dragnet. Perhaps good news for all the longhairs, the blacks or Latinos who’ve been pulled over and searched for drugs or unlicensed weapons – a good conservative senator sees their injustice of how they’ve been railroaded as was he! You can also bet good Sen. Larry will seek a cessation of the profiling of guys ‘cruising the men’s rooms or other gay hot spots’ for possible sex simply because they’re fitting a profile. Criminy, all those men in the bathhouses weren’t sexually insatiable and immoral – they’re just poor men looking for a place to take a bath! Isn’t bathing a natural and hygienically admirable thing? Cleanliness is next to godliness, so they say.

One damnable part of the entire public interview was when Sen. Larry decided that after his guilty plea, he demanded a do-over “to the extent that all Americans” would want to defend themselves. When does the rest of America get a do-over upon their guilt pleas? Maybe those “profiled” hippies, ethnic minorities, hookers and gay men can use his precedent to reclaim their clean records – or not. Or maybe we can all just get together and agree that rich folk, especially politically-connected and most especially if they’re conservative, connected, rich folk, have a standard of law that’s very special and one we can all envy (but in all likelihood, never enjoy ourselves).

Hey! Why have one standard when you can afford two? One for everyone else, and a special one just for you! Capital idea!

The second, and most damnable part was Craig’s explanation that he should’ve fought the charges and that (as Matt Lauer supposedly was to understand) Sen. Larry Craig is “a fighter.” As Lauer himself pointed out from earlier in the interview per Sen. Larry’s own words, he initially pleaded guilty, went to work, told neither his attorney, nor his staff or colleagues, nor even his own wife and family in hopes that he could avoid this hitting the media. Does that sound like “a fighter”? If he was such a “fighter”, why even admit guilt in the first place, rather than the typical Republican approach (a la Tom DeLay, George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, et. al.) of denying it to his final breath. So what if your hand is photographed in the cookie jar? Denial to the point of deceit is good in conservative values – admitting guilt is defeat and shows poor resolve (no matter how true it may be.) You never lose until you admit it.

“Get out of the state! Get out of the state you’re in!
Walkin' through the gate that leads you down,
down to a pool fraught with danger:
It’s a pool full of strangers.” — Private Idaho, the B-52’s

What came through loudly and clearly was the order of things. There’s an obvious pecking order of being queer. There are shades of queerness to straightness along a continuum, with the higher-echelons always looking down upon and disparaging those beneath. Just as the transgender community found the last few weeks how gay and lesbian community (at least the straight-acting portion) still consider trannies trash. They look down on dykes, fems, leather boys and bears too, so we shouldn't feel alone.

But even the Disco gay set is held at arms’ length by the more denial-oriented gays a la Andrew Sullivan, Matt Drudge, the khaki pseudo-straight gays and lesbians and closeted politicos a la Rep. David Dreier or former Rep. Mark Foley, for whom “outness” is anathema. Indeed, in conservative circles, outing is a career-ender.

Then you have the straight folks who at times sidle up to the straighter of the G&L folks, but damn near stampede themselves to death when someone in their party is scandalized by being labeled “gay.” Then you have the hyper-straights who look disparagingly upon the straights who occasionally sort of “understand” gay colleagues, and create a buffer between their sanctimony-by-example lives and those of their “welcoming, tolerant” set. In hyper-straight America, God is always unforgiving. That welcoming-and-understanding garbage was spewed by some hippie kid of His, the liberal! Who’s gonna listen to that kid when they can follow Paul instead?

Everyone tries to be top-of-the-heap in order to look down on the others. It makes them feel big. Is this what it’s all about: success is the ability to look down upon all the others (or as many as possible)?

Sometimes just being you is liberating beyond belief. It makes me sad for Sen. Larry that he’s cut himself off from ever knowing this feeling (at least with any credibility left intact). It reminds me of the sexuality rumors that flew for so long about a local weatherman in Houston, Frank Billingsley. Even the gay community (desperately seeking heroes or validation) was pushing him out of the closet – one that Billingsley fought. Eventually, he settled down and let it gradually seep out. Meanwhile his weather forecasting and reporting style was also reaping him kudos, even among those who once salaciously awaited his public outing with a hangman’s baited breath.

In the end, Frank became simply a good weatherman, everyone was pleased with his job, and folks basically moved on to other topics beside his personal life. The sexuality controversy faded into a complete non-issue. It became that way for many gays and lesbians over the past decade or so – once discovered or outed, as long as they weren’t in religiopolitical or conservative environs, their talent, their output, their surpassing the obstacles became what they were known about. We’re in the very seminal stages of that in the Transgender Community as well.

Ultimately, all these folks needed was a chance to prove themselves. Sadly, for many like Sen. Larry – conservative, but also gay – they will never have that opportunity to prove themselves in this lifetime without being self-loathing and denouncing their own lifestyle. Even as we speak, the GOP folks have circled their wagons, and Sen. Larry is not on the inside of that circle. He’ll be left out to the wolves.

Who knows what Sen. Larry could’ve done if he’d just been allowed to be himself, free from prejudice and judgment. But then again, we live in America. What were we expecting: humanitarian compassion?

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.” — from the play ‘Hamlet’ by William Shakespeare

Fresh New Lies, or How To Kill Off the Last Of Hope

“I’m up on the Tight Rope … one side’s Fate and one is Hope,
It’s a Circus Game for You and Me.
I’m up on the High Wire … one side’s Life and one is Fire,
But the Top Hat on my Head is all you see.” — Tight Rope, Leon Russell

Indeed there is a very fine line between Hope and Hell. It’s also proven pretty easy to become manic by letting our emotions fly to the sky based upon this concept of Hope. So much for this “Hope” stuff. It appears that we’ve collectively bought into the same fate as Icarus when we should’ve kept our feet on the ground, our eyes clear and our ears open to hear.

Now what was it that Joe Solmonese said to the press during the controversy exploding around their national banquet? Something about how not only would HRC “support only a fully inclusive ENDA”, but that it would actively oppose anything less?

Well, we found out a couple weeks after his grand proclamation at the Southern Comfort Conference (SCC) in September before a standing ovation from the Transgender Community attending that the “actively opposing” thing was, well, just rhetoric. Made for nice speechy stuff, drew in the rousing cheers (and a few memberships and donations!), but that’s really all it was good for in Trans America.

However, in both news conferences and in person, Joe and HRC both said they stood by their board vote of 2004 where they would only “support a trans-inclusive ENDA.” Even during the protest of the HRC Banquet on Oct. 6, 2007 in Washington, HRC sent out one of their handlers to challenge the protesters, and his words to me were repeating the HRC board vote of 2004 and their commitment to the board’s vote.

While they could feign innocence over not realizing people would take their 2004 board vote as meaning they would oppose anything less or claim that Joe badly misspoke while at SCC, they’re going to have an even tougher time explaining away their most recent actions.

In her most recent Phyllabuster of Oct. 13, entitled “No more winking or nodding - HRC screws GLBT community,” Phyllis Frye had this report to the trans community.

“The Human Resources Campaign (HRC) began actively sending paid lobbyists to Congressional offices on Friday morning for the passage of the alternate Employment Non-Discrimination Act or ENDA (HR 3685) which does NOT include the legal terms of protection in employment based on "gender identity or gender expression" but leaves only protections based on "sexual orientation."”

They’re actively lobbying for passage of HR 3685. Hmm … sounds like they’re supporting HR 3685. And guess what? That’s the bill that is distinctly not transgender inclusive! A non-inclusive bill … and HRC is specifically supporting it with their with their own lobbyists. You’ve gotta hand it to HRC: they’ve never met a bandwagon they didn’t like (to hop on).

So much for that board vote stuff about “only supporting an inclusive ENDA.”

I’d like to see how this is spun to somehow cover their ass this time. No doubt, they’ll dig deep and pull one out of their hat – a real doozy, I’m sure. But are we buying any of this?

Transgender Community! Can you say; “We Bought a Bill of Goods?”

It’s a tough pill to swallow for those who put their eggs in that HRC-and-Barney-are-friends basket. Thankfully I kept a safe distance from them (learning from a couple previous experiences with them) … others similarly stayed clear of them for similar reasons. However HRC was pretty successful in getting their marketing out to us, and enlisting some of the newer folks with more recent credibility within the trans community. You’ve got to hand it to them: they played us well (and will continue to do so for whichever of the Barnum Babies they can still manage to hook.)

Whether it’s with those outside of the community, or even from within, you always have to have a healthy skepticism. Treat this political game as you would if you were a consumer. In essence, you are. It’s caveat emptor (buyer beware, for those not familiar with the phrase). If we too easily buy into the sales pitch, we’ll end up owning a Florida time-share with a water view … of the Everglades swamp.

Be smart consumers, and take a look at the history of that used-car you’re about to buy. Don’t be afraid to look into where it’s been, nor to ask questions. Guarantees are always nice, but many times we’ve seen how they aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Beware of promises that don’t pan out.

For me personally, it means I listen intently to my couple of contacts on the Hill and pay little to no attention to the GLBT community. I must say they’ve been fully accurate every time. One of them even closely predicted the HRC & Barney Frank response to Mara Keisling in one meeting that anyone opposing them would have a price to be paid and would face little support.

His specific words were that they were “closing ranks” and “going forward with this” and if we “stand in their way, it will not be taken kindly – it’s your future.” At the time, I was feeling brushed-off (he was admittedly rushed during our briefest of visits) and the last part I took as being a bit ominous. But the candor was helpful nevertheless, especially in light of recent events.

Ultimately, that’s where we all should be moving towards: nurturing our own specific relationships with our own Congress-Critters, or even other Congress-Critters’ office staff. Or better still, the Critters themselves. At the very least, we get a more circumspect view of what we’re buying.

Oh! One last thing: once you learn what’s true and become a skeptic, be prepared to have the “Kook” label affixed to you. It happens – no big deal. Just be patient and wait for the day when all the dirt comes out in the wash.

I’m finishing this blog entry with a poem that is quite apropos, written by one of the HRC Steering Board members from North Carolina who recently resigned, activist Robbi Cohn. Thanks for expressing your thoughts, Robbi! You’re one of NTAC’s heroes!

“I am transgender.
I am the person who is unemployable merely because of my gender identity.
I am the person who lives within a heartbeat of homelessness.
I am the person who might be reduced to prostitution to survive.
I am the person most likely to commit suicide because I have no way to survive.
I am the person living with the despair of hopelessness.
I am the person my family has abandoned an d forgotten.
I am the person my church tells me is damned.
I am the person the military has asked me to “don’t ask, don’t tell”.
I am the person right-wingers think will molest women and children in bathrooms.
I am the person who has the same values as other human beings.
I am the person Barney Frank has asked to wait my turn.
I am the person my political party wishes would just go away.
I am the person who has spent countless hours educating in vain.
I am the person who my political party has claimed still needs to educate.
I am the person my community has asked to not make waves.
I am the person who advocates for equal opportunity.
I am the person who believes in diversity.
I am the person who believes people should be judged by what they do, not how they look.
I am the person who wants to love and be loved.
I am the person my one-time friends and acquaintances often shun.
I am the person who works for equality for all marginalized human beings.
I am the person who abides by the principles of Martin Luther King, Jr.
I am the person who trusts in the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi.
I am the person who finds solace in the love of the Great Spirit.
I am the person who was created to be free.
I am the person who was endowed by my creator to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I am the person whose potential should remain unlimited, yet has been marginalized.
I am the person society has disenfranchised.
I am the person who must work in stealth, lest I be fired.
I am the person who has erected a wall around myself so as to keep my reality secret.
I am the person other minorities have disinherited.
I am the person elites within my community tend to disparage.
I am the person who lives in your neighborhood.
I am the person who attends your church.
I am the person who works side by side with you wherever I am employed, if I am employed.
I am your brother, sister, father or mother.
I am transgender.” — Robbi Cohn © 2007

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Hero Worship

“What makes us heroic? Confronting simultaneously our supreme suffering and our supreme hope.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Over the past few years, the transgender community has had its share of reports of heroism from Mara Keisling and Lisa Mottet of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) about the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). It flew in the face of what this writer and many others active in the trans rights game knew as conventional wisdom. These claims were oft-repeated by others who believed this new “heroic” phase of both Barney and HRC, disbursed by blogs, claimed on list-servs, spoken about by the hand-chosen few trans people they use for PC PR, and even distributed on a prominent trans activist’s newsletter, providing a well-orchestrated legitimacy to these reputably embattled folks. One of my personal contacts on the Hill who knows Phyllis Frye was “shocked” to see that even she believed in the “hype” as she put it. She probably would’ve have believed as well had she not known differently, first-hand.

In the face of claims from our true allies on the Hill (congress-critters’ staffers, for those needing elaboration), we were always countered by Mara and Lisa with claims that “these [staffers] have their own [agenda] for wanting to bring HRC and Barney Frank down” and other dismissive explanations.

What a sea change we’ve seen from a month ago. It turns out that everything our Hill contacts said was true. Consistently true, in fact.

What’s more though is how many of us came to believe Barney and HRC in the role of “hero,” without asking. Skeptics, such as our own NTAC, were the ‘anti-heroes,’ summarily kicked to the curb and discredited for our stodginess, or for our unwillingness to disbelieve our ‘unreliable’ Hill contacts. Looking at this weekend’s protest and noting the presence of Mara Keisling and others from NCTE, we can’t help but notice how suddenly our isolated little bandwagon became crowded. Guess everyone wants to be the intransigent anti-hero now.

Moreover, this makes one question who are considered the transgender community’s heroes? How about the well-funded organizations that never leave transgenders behind in their support? When HR 3128, the “Federal Employment Protection Act” (known as the Waxman Bill in the community) was introduced in 2004 protecting sexual orientation, but not gender identity, the National Organization of Women stood up to oppose the bill for it’s lack of inclusion, as did AFL-CIO’s Pride At Work and (after initially signing on) Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). All of the aforementioned organizations were heroic.

Even NCTE couldn’t oppose the bill, instead helping quietly to generate support within the trans community and supportive allies in favor of the bill (prompting one ally from the gay and lesbian community to wonder to this writer “how is this transgender advocacy?”) Was this an example of trans heroism?

I’d posit that the folks from NCTE like Chair, Meredith Bacon and former Chair, Donna Cartwright – both of whom were boisterously adding to the protest cheers, neither of them earning a penny for it – were more heroic. Donna especially was a mere month earlier repeating the “HRC as hero” role on the TGV Advocacy list. For someone to then come out so soon after, knowing all were watching, and actively engage in protesting took guts.

In fact, there are a number of individuals in the Transgender Community who’ve worked tirelessly at thankless voluntary positions of leadership, expended a lot of their own money out of pocket, and in some cases hampered if not outright killed their paying 9-5 jobs they do to pay their bills. Unlike the gay and lesbian community and a precious few amongst our own, none of the trans activists earn a living at this full-time sideline.

Some of these unpaid board members who take personal time off and pay out of pocket to travel cross-country with no compensation for issues pertinent to the community, I’d consider them heroes: folks like, Kathy Padilla, Jerimarie Liesegang, Carrie Davis, Marisa Richmond, Rachel Goldberg, Michael Woodward, Rusty Mae Moore and Chelsea Goodwin, Roz Manley, Katrina Rose. Angela Brightfeather Sheedy, Marti Abernathey and Josephine Tittsworth to name a few.

How about board leaders who’ve paid the price with no due?: It’s Time America’s leaders all did the work gratis, like Jane Fee, and two of them paid a severe economic price with major kinks in their careers: Jessica Xavier and Sarah DePalma. In the latter case, Sarah and her partner both struggle just to keep a roof over their heads.

There was ICTLEP with both Phyllis Frye and her staff of one, the late Dee McKellar. Dee was near minimum wage and Phyllis barely made livable wage – certainly not the worth for their work.

Or take NTAC’s Chairs, Dawn Wilson, Yoseñio Lewis, myself and Ethan St. Pierre, all of whom lost their jobs once taking over the top spot of the group and went through long-term joblessness, save for current Chair St. Pierre who was unemployed well before taking the top spot. All lived well below the median while Chair – and in at least one, if not two cases, lived well below the poverty line while Chair. Any of the above leaders are the “heroes-who-are-not” (especially in the latter case). NTAC of course just finished organizing the protest of our popularly advertised “heroes,” HRC.

There’s plenty of other heroes, including those leading quasi-national or local groups who’ve also done their share of traveling: Miranda Stevens Miller, Lori Buckwalter, Courtney Sharp, the late Alexander John Goodrum, Sarah Fox, Dawn Wilson, Monica Roberts, Michael Woodward, Virginia Stephenson, Babs Casbar, Cecilia Chung, Naomi Archer and others.

Not everyone has to travel to be a hero. Some (because of budget) keep the local groups active and spend a great deal of time keeping our “allies’ feet to the fire” via the media: Gwen Smith, Dallas Denny and Rebecca Juro come to mind.

There’s even a (precious) few major donors who are also heroes for keeping even the struggling groups alive and providing hope: Julie Johnson, Diane Dale and Jo Ann Roberts for instance.

Sometimes it can be someone who seemingly appear to some to “cross over to the enemy’s side,” but really don’t. Shelley Emerson in Atlanta has long been a major donor to GLB organizations and issues, and a former Federal Club Member. She recently resigned, hopped in her car, and with injured foot drove 600 miles to DC to protest the very same HRC. She tried to get the chasm between trans and GLB closed, and worked diligently to achieve that to a small degree. But when push came to shove, she stood on principle and helped join the renunciations of this former “ally.” Similarly Robbi Cohn of NC and Melissa Brown of Michigan resigned from their diversity committee and board of governors respectively.

Donna Rose is an open story. Most don’t know that I’d spoken with Donna some time before anyone else had spoken with her about activism and gave her a run down of the situation between T & GLB. She was skeptical – everyone has a right to make up his or her own mind without another’s coercion or hard sell. After being involved with HRC, and then elected as their first trans board member, she took no small amount of heat – even from some well-known names in the trans leadership. I spent my time peeling folks off of her and letting them know she hadn’t had the history yet (not what we long-timers had) and had no way of knowing what we experienced. But Donna’s a smart cookie, and I knew with time she’d see what this charade was all about. When it became apparent last week, it was a lot to give up for her personally, and a bit humbling of an experience for her. Yet she resigned straight up, was forthright, and did what she felt was the honorable thing for her community. That was heroism.

Meanwhile, none of the above HRC board were ever paid for their time – again all out of pocket, and again done in the dashed hopes of furthering our community.

Some of the folks who should qualify as heroes suffered loss of their livelihood or marriages and then still came out and assisted the trans community cause immediately after. Susan Stanton, the city manager from Largo, FL who then came out to lobby with NCTE was the most recently, but certainly not the only. Recall Dana Rivers who lost her job as a teacher, then came to Capitol Hill with GenderPAC. Of course, for crossdressers, Peter Oiler was the standard-bearer after being fired from Winn-Dixie. Christie Lee Littleton took no small amount of heat when her marriage challenge was working through the Texas Courts – virtually all of our community leaders trashed her. My words to them that “wouldn’t it be funny if she came out after this lawsuit and became an activist?” turned out to be prescient. Christie Lee indeed did come out, and became very active in San Antonio and in Texas, as well as coming to Capitol Hill, along with Peter Oiler, to lobby with NTAC.

A couple gave the ultimate sacrifice as activists: their life. Tacy Ranta, a protégée of Jessica Xavier, was killed on a Baltimore street in what may well have been a hate crime. Terrianne Summers, a protégée of mine, ended up ambushed while pulling into her driveway after work. There were activists who continued fighting even when (esp. in Terrianne’s case) they were tired, frustrated, getting nearly no support and wondering aloud if they even had any effect. Terrianne was the sparkplug, organizing the first Winn-Dixie protest at their corporate headquarters a mile away from her home in Jacksonville. She was also re-energized and again beginning to organize the second anniversary protest of Winn-Dixie when she was gunned down. It pains me to no small degree that her activism may have contributed to her death. Nevertheless, both Terrianne and Tacy were heroes to their very last breath of life.

Not everyone who’s a hero is trans, of course. Family members such as Mary Boenke, and even families with a trans family member killed, such as Ethan St. Pierre and his mom Ellen (aunt / sister, Debra Forte) or Queen Washington (daughter Stephanie Thomas) or la familia Guerrero, esp. mom Sylvia Guerrero (daughter Gwen Araujo) certainly took public stands and went those extra miles to get word out that their they cared for their loved ones and wouldn’t allow society to brush it aside or ridicule them. These are certain heroes, every bit as much as Judy Shepard is also a hero for advocating for hate crimes protection for all – not simply for her son, Matthew.

Sometimes we have straight allies who heroically stand up for us even though we’re not family. Board member, Ken Dollarhide, and PFLAG’s Jim & Sue Null come to mind. Politicians such as Rep. Dennis Kucinich (the first presidential candidate to prominently say the word – much less declare support for – transgenders.), and Rep. Jan Schakowsky. Locally we have state heroes like Rep. Jessica Farrar and Rep. Garnet Coleman, while New York had hero former Dep. Mayor, Gifford Miller, and Houston has Council Member Ada Edwards, who even heroically co-organized the Bush Inaugural Day protest on Houston’s Fed. Courthouse steps back in 2001, along with Dan DiDonato and myself.

Speaking of Dan, he’s one of the staunchest heroes I know from the gay & lesbian community who’s not a politician, along with Two-Spirit Circle members Victor Cutnose and Gilda Yazzie. Add to them heroic gay/lesbian politicos like U. S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), or New York State Sen. Tom Duane, or even NYC Council Member Margarita Lopez.

Finally, how about the true heroes who fought this equality fight back in the days of yore when it was harrowing and possibly dangerous for one to come out of the closet, much less do so blatantly and challengingly. Ray Hill is one such individual: a local Houston activist par excellence and even a national-level activist who once represented his own case all the way to the Supreme Court and won! Ray was also one of the co-organizers of both of the first two gay and lesbian (as they were known then) marches on Washington. Ray and I have disagreed strongly on each other’s views on Hate Crimes laws, to the point of even debating it before our local GLBT Political Caucus. That said, there’s no one I trust to be at my side or watching my back in any battle than Ray Hill. Ray was also someone who never fell for a line of bullshit, and saw through the smokescreen every time! And for all his work, he was just as casually brushed aside and kicked to the curb as any trans activist: too loud, not mainstream.. While he’ll never get any GL community recognition, he’ll always personify “hero” to the underclass underdogs in this disparate GLBT amalgam.

Speaking of those who never get their proper due (at least in life) are both Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson of the Stonewall Riots, 1969. Sylvia especially fought hard to get the trans part into the first Pride festivities and was not going to take getting shoved off lightly. She literally fought them on the stage. Gay activist and Stonewall vet, Bob Kohler commented that Sylvia sat afterwards on the front edge of the stage, nose bleeding and crying. It was the only time in Sylvia’s hard-as-nails life that she was ever seen crying.

Both Marsha and Sylvia did sex-work on the mean streets of New York to survive – there were virtually zero job opportunities for trans people in the late 60’s and most of the 70’s. That lifestyle may have cost Marsha her life. Sylvia continued on even without her best friend and Stonewall cohort. Sylvia continued doing a large amount of street activism, bringing much attention to the plight of homelessness among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Sylvia was the brainchild and co-coordinator of the 25th anniversary of Stonewall March (dubbed the Illegal March) and other protests that saw her arrested numerous times. She did all of this while living well below the poverty line, and for a good amount of that time, living homeless in a refrigerator box on the Christopher Street Piers. Sylvia hated aggressive elitists with a passion, but saved a special brand of that for folks like Harry Hay and the HRC. Just mere months after organizing one of the larger transgender marches through the streets of downtown New York, Sylvia died of liver cancer. One might think that, due to her lack of education and years on the streets in a self-medicated haze, that Sylvia was a burnt husk of a human. Quite the contrary. The night before the Amanda Milan Vigil and March, I found her surprisingly canny and very aware of what happened around her, and when she or the community was being manipulated. But even on her death bed, with negotiations moving forward with the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) about pushing for an inclusive bill such as the one Sen. Tom Duane authored, Sylvia fought and demanded a spot on the board for a trans-centric trans person on ESPA, and seeking a move toward the inclusive language. Even near death and against the toughest of odds, Sylvia exhibited tremendous heroism.

Sadly, after her death, ESPA Exec. Dir. Joe Grabarz reneged on all the promises on Sylvia’s deathbed, and the organization pushed forward, ignoring Sen. Duane’s bill, per the instructions of their then-board Chair, Jeff Soref. More loose promises were made and never kept, and to this day, New York State still has no employment protections for the transgender community. Heroic for their community –nothing heroic at all to the New York trans community.

Actually, I’m sure I’ve likely left off a number of activists who should be listed among these heroic types: folks who’ve earned nothing, or at best a pittance, working on behalf of a cash-poor and extremely marginalized community. These are, however, my opinions (and opinions I’ll admit come along with a half a bottle of NyQuil as I have a serious cold). Feel free to disagree with the above assessments.

However, if you’re of a mind to keep folks like Jeff Soref, or Joe Solmonese or HRC or even the exalted “ally” Rep. Barney Frank on the Pedestal of Heroes, feel free. I’ll respectfully and unequivocally disagree. HRC and Barney make no sacrifices – they’re simply doing what is expected of them to earn their paycheck each week. Ask them to find a real 9 to 5 job, and then do what they do on the side in their “spare time”! If our community’s heroes can be dismissed, shut out, disreputably labeled, disemployed, underemployed or fully unemployed, and live this for decades, then perhaps we can hope for a day when we’re all egalitarian, and allow the gay and lesbian community to experience the same type of living standards we enjoy.

Until that day is met, I really don’t want to hear about their “heroism” any longer.

“Here is a hero who did nothing but shake the tree as soon as the fruit was ripe. Does this seem to be too small a thing to you? Then take a good look at the tree he shook.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

“I had to kick their law into their teeth in order to save them.” — Gwendolyn Brooks, African-American poet

Monday, October 8, 2007

Observations From A Protest

“Don't you know you're talking about a revolution, sounds like a whisper” — “Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution,” Tracy Chapman

Well, finally woke up from a nap after a tough weekend protesting the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) National Banquet in Washington DC. On one hand, I hate these last-minute actions where you have to travel halfway across the country.

· They’re obviously quite expensive (not to mention no planning or chance for budgeting).
· They’re physically taxing as sleep is minimal (you sleep on the road wherever you may find place (again, not easy at the last minute), and the events themselves can be draining if not injurious (not at this one, but at one in New York).
· They’re stressful trying to get everything coordinated and plotted out while (in my case) getting out press, dealing with press calls and individuals’ calls wanting information.
· They’re also a bit of a concern: you wonder how turnout will be, whether it will be effective, and even concerns over your personal safety or arrests.

* The last item above I had some concerns about as I was singled out by two of DC’s finest and also a couple of the Convention Center security for some uneven treatment. (Note to self: leave the red beret at home next time.)

On the other hand, there’s nothing like being completely incensed and having such a task ahead of you with all odds working against you. It compels the fight in you. It also certainly lets you know you’re alive.

The HRC protest was a rousing success – and the first of an ongoing campaign that will not relent, so a wrap-up is in order. We had folks from Atlanta, Raleigh, the SF Bay Area, Boston, Louisville, Knoxville and myself from Houston. The effort, coordinated by the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC), drew approximately 100 protesters out to line the front entrance, replete with signs and UnEqual stickers (the newest trend: speaking truth to power) from all of the unequally disparate portions of this GLBT alphabet soup.

My personal disappointment was the lack of music (I need to fix this for next time) for setting the mood. This required the yelling and cheers through duration, which went well. The only problem is sometimes these can get out of hand, but blessedly there were no serious breaches.

“While they're standing in the welfare lines,
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation,
Wasting time in unemployment lines.” — “Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution,” Tracy Chapman

While I’ve not always agreed with my NTAC-alum Angela Brightfeather Sheedy who came up from NC, I gotta give her some serious high-fives. In protests, Angela is fully in her element! Singularly, Angela was an MVP here. She was mobile, was persistent, and had her message down pat (focusing on the stats of unemployed and underemployed T folk). Way to kick butt Ange!

We didn’t get Jamison Green, but we did have fellow Texan, now bi-coastal DC-Californian, Shannon Minter of National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)! I’ve watched him grow up from 1996, and I gotta say I’m proud! Yeehaw, Bubba … thanks for showing, and for wearing the unequal and being a very vocal part of this!

Donna Cartwright came out, representing both Pride At Work and NCTE, and was another star – especially with getting the crowd energized and generating the cheers for the phalanx at the steps to the entrance.

Monica Roberts (formerly of Houston) and Anne Casebeer made the drive from Louisville and were more than willing to vent the stored-up frustration, though both were on best behavior during the protest vocals. Props for keeping the eyes on the prize!

Even the Co-Chair of NCTE, Meredith Bacon, with UnEqual sign prominently displayed, was there for what may have been her first trans protest! Meredith was an active part of the gauntlet of protest cheering crew at the front steps, along with NTAC’s Chair, Ethan St. Pierre, and Transgender American Veterans Assn.’s Exec. Dir, Monica Helms.

Danielle Clarke traveled in for the effort as well. She’s been hampered by a bad rep based on past experiences, but I will say that she was much more focused and lucid for this effort. For a brief few seconds I listened in on her response to the local Fox News channel, and she did (for a layperson) a decent job. There was nothing to add to it.

Mara Keisling, Exec. Dir. of NCTE showed up to visually support the protest. Not part of the chants, or those with posters or UnEqual stickers, she was there to speak with press. From what this writer observed, she appears to be keeping her powder dry in hopes of an HRC change-of-heart.

One thing that did stick out: we had a number of signers and verbal supporters throughout this week, but only had NTAC, IFGE, NTCE, Pride At Work, NCLR and the Equality Federation folks (passing out EQUALI_Y stickers) at the protest. We also had folks joining us from the Green Fest attendees, the radical and activist segments of the unaffiliated GL community, as well as the IndyMedia activists. Conspicuously absent (from those I observed) were NGLTF, PFLAG, GenderPAC and other signers onto the newly formed United ENDA group ( One wonders if they’re similarly keeping their powder dry, looking to get back in HRC’s good graces.

Another conspicuous absence was Donna Rose, though hers was in solidarity with the trans community. Principle is a precious asset, and Donna is keenly aware of that.

Message to Mara, any of the fence-sitting GL organizations, or any other hold-outs for an HRC “come-to-Jesus” moment: this game is already over. We went through this in 2000, 2002 and 2004, there is no hope here, and the trans community – certainly those of us not of the privileged few looking for personal opportunity – is moving on. Stick a fork in it.

Random observations:

There were two other events going on at the convention center simultaneously. The Green Fest had one of the events, and also ended up joining in solidarity. Once they got windfall of what happened on the ENDA bill. These young adults (anathema to the Bush/Reagan conservative paradigm) believe in egalitarian ideals. There’s no judgmental predisposition to transgenders– they’re just openly curious.

That we enjoy eager support from them shouldn’t come as a surprise. One thing I’ve noted over the years is that we have much more baggage and work to do within GLBT, but there’s a refreshing lack of that with progressive straight America! If we take the time to explain it to them, they get it! And it’s plainly obvious who’s on the inside and who’s left outside! This is one of the ready benefits of the protests: opportunity to reach out to the curious potential allies in the straight community.

The AUSA convention was also going on, and we got a couple of the military folks walking through asking questions as well. In fact, one retired gentleman walking with cane asked about the protest and was legitimately curious about why we were doing this. I gave him a brief overview and steered him towards TAVA’s Monica Helms.

We also had plenty of press coverage. Metro Weekly and the Advocate were both there covering for the GLBT community. Better yet, we had straight press coverage (finally). Both CNN (yes, Cable News Network) and the local Fox channel in DC had TV crews out to film and interview. As event coordinator, NTAC Chair, Ethan St. Pierre had his hands full with press to get our message out (save for the one I worked with CNN at the end of the evening.)

We even got major dispersal in the Indymedia press (and a big thanks to Isis for the assist!)

Having Ethan and Mara working press most of the protest allowed me and others such as Angela, Danielle and Andrea B. to be a bit more mobile, catching protesters away from the protest cheers to get a message out.

We did see two transgenders attending the event: Dana Beyer of suburban MD, and Amanda Simpson of Tucson. While most of the trans committee members, board of governors and directors have resigned, Beyer is still holding on with HRC. Both of the two recently ran for political office and enlisted help from the Victory Fund, which could explain the calculus behind their attending. At this writing, it’s unknown if there was any type of visual or verbal protest on the inside of the banquet from either of the two.

Of the GL attendees, we did have a few supporters who signaled to us while braving the picket lines, and almost the same number who were saying the words but weren’t giving a very convincing case. Even the latter, though, were better than the rest.

There were some who did the trendy keep-a-cell-phone-to-the-ear busy thing to shut out the protests. One even walked by me, intently focused on his blackberry, and after passing me I noted he had a video game of some type on! That was probably the evening’s most clever method of avoiding “having to look at the protesting trannies.”

Most however didn’t use the props to avoid confrontation. Most were either eye-rollers or the avoid-eye-contact types. A number of them engaged in more overt response. One attendee who walked up near the edge of the building saw me and decided to give a hearty thumbs down to me, then Angela and then the entire crowd assembled near the entrance. His elitist childishness was very caricatural.

One lesbian walking up the steps responded to me “you don’t understand. We’ve been at this for many years. You haven’t.” I guess she’s never heard of Sylvia Rivera or Marsha P. Johnson – either that or believes they’re confused gay men!

Yet another couple walked up, and in tones dripping icy cold, chastised me that we “don’t’ even know what they (HRC) are doing for [us]. Being that there’s few if any trans people ever in groups like HRC, it kinda stands to reason that we wouldn’t know what they’re doing that isn’t publicized. We do know what they’re doing to us, and how much they’re keen on fundraising and even using trans examples of discrimination or hate crimes for their own legislation which many times has not included the very community they cull money or anecdotal support from. How often do you see trans people raising serious money at the largest GL events, or using examples of sexual orientation discrimination to help pass a gender identity only bill?

While we’ve got some support on the inside, we’ve got about twice to three times as many of these attendees that either have no problem leaving us out, if not emotionally opposing inclusion of gender identity if it hurts their chances.

I guess none of them had thought about what the past few years worth of G&L marriage push has done to the trans community’s marriages, even in states that previously allowed post-operative transsexuals to marry – though that’s a subject for another time.

The only other observation of any note was a few of the cops who peeled off and followed me to the far end of the convention center building. At the time, I thought Officer McClain instructed them to follow me to monitor and (when they desired) limit my protests. According to Angela Brightfeather Sheedy, that wasn’t it at all.

It turns out they were (not so subtly) wondering aloud about me. “Is that one of them [trans]? Is that still a man? Or is that really a woman?”

At one point Angela added her take on their questions: “If you can’t tell and have to ask, does it really matter?” Perhaps these next few years’ of protests are going to be kinda fun after all!

“Poor people are gonna rise up and get their share
Poor people are gonna rise up and take what's theirs” — “Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution,” Tracy Chapman