Friday, November 28, 2008

‘Tis The Season To Stay Home, Stop Spending

Hello America, you’re in a Depression. Not the emotional one (although that’s likely to follow) but an economic one. In short everyone’s broke. It’s not going to get better any time soon, so you better act accordingly. Stay home, stop spending.

Seriously, this economy’s been hurting a sizable portion of the country – the working class and poor – for quite a number of years (at least since 9/11). It’s worked it’s way up the food chain through the middle class as Bush’s Economic Recovery was in full steam and quarterly profits and stock markets were soaring to all-time highs.

But now those free-market chickens have come home to roost. Most of America has finally woken up: we’ve been priced out. We can’t afford to be Americans anymore – at least not the way we used to be. You know, the ‘consumer society’ thing? Flat wages, disappearing jobs and no safety nets finally sunk in to our collective psyche, and we had to severely slow our spending.

This, of course, sent ripples up the American corporate ladder as they saw revenues (even for their cheap foreign-produced items) trickle to a drip. They had to respond by even more labor cuts to protect their profitability. When we’re not working, and job prospects begin waning – even with cheaper wages – it begins to sink into even the thickest skulls that the pockets are empty. Stop spending.

“So your prophets of finance have fallen
On their collective proverbial face.
And you hear muffled voices callin’ …
Welcome to the human race.” — Welcome To The Human Race, Timbuk 3

Clearly we can’t stop spending altogether, but we can certainly cut it back to only the necessities, foremost of which is rent or housing, followed by utilities, followed by whatever transportation costs necessary to get to job (if we have one), or job interviews and to the stores where we buy the basic staples only.

The thing that worries me is that our idiots in the White House (and probably a large number in Congress as well) want us to keep buying stuff, and helping at least prop up their business friends. And yet, these are the same people who will blame the homeowners and creditors who took out loans they couldn’t afford, defaulted and (per the neo-con mindset) are fully to blame for where America finds itself economically at the moment.

Of course, the corporations who profiteered on this (remember the stratospheric profits in these past few years?) are somehow free of culpability. They’re victims that Bush, Cheney, Paulson and Co. whine that we need to bail out – and we have, now, to the tune of $1.5 trillion. Now that these economic leviathans are saved, they want regular America to go out and spend again to help create business again ….

Wait a minute, though. We’re not working or are under-employed, still economically flat, and the future’s looking really dicey at the moment for all of us. Didn’t these same folks in the White House, the RNC and FOX news and the like just finish railing against folks who couldn’t afford the credit to buy the things they had? Why again should we be buying?

“I've got a job waiting for my graduation.
Fifty thou a year’ll buy a lot of beer.
Things are going great, and they're only getting better.
I'm doing all right, getting good grades,
The future's so bright I gotta wear shades.” — The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades, Timbuk 3

If you’ve got a job right now, thank your lucky stars. Nonetheless, I’m in full agreement with Thomas Friedman right now: save every penny you can. Nobody has any idea how long this “economic recovery” will last until we finish “recovering” from it. The one thing that we can all bank on is that the Federal bank account has already been siphoned dry by Wall Street’s Welfare State Act. We individual citizens must fend for our own, Bush Republicans will turn up the whine-o-meter every time commoners individually request help in order to squelch and scotch that idea. You’d better rely on yourself and save your money, lest you be sorry later.

Yes, retailers will entice you with heavy-rotation advertising and seemingly great sale prices (some of which are not the deals they’re advertising as being). Ultimately, it’s about scraping up what money they can out of your pockets and putting into theirs. It’ll be hard for business. It’s BEEN hard for us for quite some time. And you can safely bet Corporate America isn’t going to be helping America’s workforce any time in the next few years (at least!). Why be guilted or coerced into making yourself a little poorer?

Folks, to quote Public Enemy, “Don’t Believe The Hype!”

This is all about propping up Bush’s pals in Wall Street and Main Street. None of this means an extra dollar in your pocket, and is actually counterintuitive if this wage and labor-shedding bloodbath continues (and it will). Be smart, look out for yourself and save your money for those rainy days coming up (and take a good look at those thunderclouds on the horizon – they’re moving your way!)

You better believe the executive class is doing it. Think of it this way: the upper 2% of America has done very well during the Bush years. They’re scared and even they are hording their money. If those who can afford to buy are not buying, why should you?

Think like your grandparents and great-grandparents did when surviving the Great Depression: save every penny you can (even if you’re gainfully employed), be as resourceful and thrifty as possible and just hunker down and hope for the best. If you must buy food, buy cheap. If it’s not something critical to you surviving (such as your house payment, electricity or other utilities, minimal food, etc.) then you should not be spending the money on it.

If you’re house or rent payment ends up going delinquent next spring, you’re going to feel foolish with that “brand new, on-sale” flat screen TV or IPOD or new running shoes. Your new laptop won’t keep you from being evicted … though it may sure contribute to it.

“Life is hard. Ain't no escaping when the rent comes due.
Can't get to heaven on roller skates. Can't take a taxi cab to Timbuktu.” — Life Is Hard, Timbuk 3

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pro Linebacker’s Child Used As A Football In Tabloidesque “Gender Confusion” Custody Battle

Typically I must admit a slight bias towards moms in allowing their children to be who they are innately – who they were meant to be. Much of this comes from my upbringing and my own dad’s notice of my natural feminine tendencies and his insistence that I “be the man” from the age of five onward, urging me into football and other masculine pursuits. Men have a harder time dealing with anything resembling emasculation.

But in an unusual twist, Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher may well be doing the right thing, while his son’s mom, Tyna Robertson, is in the wrong. It’s Robertson who is claiming that Urlacher is feminizing his three year old son Kennedy, and seeking to remove Urlacher’s visitation rights.

This is a slow-motion tragedy in the making from what I see in the news reports: “diaper dandy,” “…makes his son wear pink diapers,” “… puts his son in Cinderella diapers,” and “creating gender confusion for his son” are being bandied about in both straight news print, sports and the blogosphere. Only MSNBC sports had a more balanced note that Urlacher is “apparently pretty open-minded guy” in a story that was pulled down shortly after (so there’s no telling if that was tongue-in-cheek sarcasm).

All of this is playing out in what’s becoming a nasty and public custody battle. Robertson, the mother scorned, alleges that gridiron tough-guy Urlacher is deliberately “confusing” her son’s gender.

“My boy's gonna play in the Big League.
My boy's gonna turn some heads.” — Big League, Tom Cochrane

For those in the transgender community – especially those of us who’ve transitioned – read the below statements that Kennedy’s mom, Robertson, reports the interactions with her son:

"He pulls down his pants and says, 'Mommy, look how pretty they are,' " she said.

"He'd say, 'Mommy, I don't want to get my nails wet. I don't want to mess them up,'" she said. "It took two hours to get him in the bath."

Robertson said Kennedy refused to take a bath for two days to keep the blue polish on his nails from washing off, telling her "big boys paint their nails."

Sound familiar? If you’re someone like me who ‘discovered’ there were two genders only when I was four, and even then realized something was wrong … yeah, it’s all-too-familiar. And Kennedy’s mom is all too typical of most parents who are clueless as to what this sentiment truly is.

While Robertson claims Urlacher’s creating this gender-confused situation, it must be said that earlier on, Urlacher allegedly texted Robertson and claimed that she was “raising a little pussy.” That doesn't sound as if Urlacher was all that keen on such a concept early on.

Nowadays, the blue painted toenails and Cinderalla pull-up diapers are no longer a major issue with Urlacher. Robertson said her pleas to Kennedy’s dad to get him to cease the toenail painting and Cinderella diapering have gone unheeded.

Robertson told Urlacher, "You're confusing him, if he's a boy or a girl."

Now I know Brian Urlacher is a big, bad, Bear middle linebacker. What makes any rational person think it would strike someone from that macho a profession as a fun thing to ‘force’ his son into wearing pink diapers and painting his toenails? And how many folks think that a three year old would willingly allow that forced feminization – even proudly showing it off to his mom? To do that, Urlacher would have to be more than just an intimidating athlete. He’d have to be both an accomplished child psychologist and a damned good salesperson!

Somehow that just doesn’t seem plausible to me, especially when you consider Urlacher’s earlier text to Robertson about their son.

What appears to this outsider as being more likely is that Urlacher figured out that this is just what Kennedy wants, and it’s not something that physically harms anyone or steals or cheats anything from anyone else. So, where’s the beef?

"[Urlacher] says he can do whatever he wants," Robertson said. “'It doesn't make him feminine. It doesn't make him gay.'”

If indeed this is nothing but a passing phase, Urlacher’s exactly right. Painting toenails or wearing pink underwear will not make anyone either gay or transsexual unless they're already predisposed to that.

If indeed Kennedy has a penchant for femininity and has an innate gender identity already, then both Urlacher and Robertson can choose one of two options. They can force their child to repress who they really are (in order to save their own face with family, friends and peers) until Kennedy becomes an independent (possibly resentful) adult, hoping the depression or inner turmoil doesn’t result in behavioral problems, early use of alcohol or drugs, or in worst-cases either running away as a throwaway teen or ending it all by suicide. Or they could find out about what gender identity issues are now and learn from other parents who’ve learned to provide a positive and supportive environment, and work to keep Kennedy from becoming a sad statistic.

Barbara Walters' interviews with transgender children and their families might be a good first step if such is the case. (

And regardless of who Kennedy wants to be, if I were Brian Urlacher and anyone had problems with his child, I’d encourage them to keep their opinions to themselves or learn the fascinating discovery of digesting their own teeth.

Meanwhile, as long as the parents are using him as a child-custody football and the public gets to salaciously watch the whole trash-news soap opera unfold in tabloids and blogs, I worry that Kennedy may end up having a very sad life.

Enlightening Conversation With Bishop Gene Robinson

This past Saturday afternoon, a group of transgenders and a stand-in for one of our absent group members had the pleasure of meeting and asking Bishop Gene Robinson a series of questions – most gauging his knowledge and opinion on transgender issues.

In the trans panelist group were organizer Kelli Anne Busey of the Dallas Transgender Activists Alliance (DTAA), Tina Seitz from Detroit, Courtney Sharp from New Orleans, Lisa Scheps from Austin and myself from Houston. At the last minute we had to have a stand in. Kelli brought in Michael Robinson, a gay African American from Dallas who’d coordinated a local demonstration regarding a vicious hate-crime beating of a passing acquaintance that he’d witnessed in Dallas’ gayborhood.

The original format was a bit inquisition-like, which I didn’t understand originally. We would ask the Bishop a couple questions each. Some of the panelists’ questions though were admittedly to be softballs. Anyone who knows this writer knows what kind of questions mine were ….

Once the Bishop arrived, he greeted everyone warmly and was quite open and engaging. There was a change requested in the format immediately before the panel began, to make it less structured and allow for follow-up questioning – which also allowed a bit more leeway in the questions themselves. That turned out to be pretty enlightening for us.

“God and I have been about this for quite a while now and I would be really surprised if God were to want me to stop now.” — Bishop Gene Robinson

One of the early questions from Courtney asked the Bishop’s position on clergy who marginalized members of the trans and other GLB community members. The Bishop took to task some of the congregations for being timid in not standing up more strongly, even though they support a welcoming, all-embracing congregation. He also acknowledged that there are those whose minds were going to remain closed and who would do anything possible in order to dishearten those they wanted to keep out of their church, but the Bishop cautioned to never give up and to do what was necessary to keep pushing forward until these churches were inclusive.

Michael’s question and story was especially poignant as a man he saved was beaten within an inch of his life (badly enough that the police could not identify him from his photo ID). Yet even in the face of this, there was no response – much less a protest – of any kind from Dallas’ gay community over this incident until Robinson began organizing the local gay community of color to collectively raise their voice. Michael asked what was necessary to bring the community together as one in caring and support for all in the GLBT realm.

The Bishop commiserated, noting there was a tendency to be focused on their own circles within GLBT, but not standing tough when they needed. He noted that the white gay community, particularly, was lacking in courage comparative to the civil rights movement before it, adding that they were afraid of the risk (comparative to the civil rights marchers who understood every time they walked out their doors that they might likely be assaulted or arrested – or both). He finished by instructing Michael to continue raising his voice and holding the leadership’s feet to the fire on what he said was fake incrementalism.

My inquiry to Bishop Robinson began with his own quote in the Dallas Voice: “I don’t think we always have to hold out for the full loaf before moving forward. You get what you can accomplish and then continue to work for the rest of it.” I asked if his position was based upon political expediency or if there a moral or scriptural basis in advocating for feeding only some with half a loaf? He replied that we should strive for what we could realistically achieve at the time, but then began ruminating about his own answer and ended up a bit stumped with that question. At least those of us on our side of the panel could see him mentally kneading this new conceptual lump of dough, questioning even his own stand on his original notions of what to make of this. On a follow up, he was reminded of his response to Michael that the community needed to be more courageous and forge ahead despite the risks, on which he concurred.

So I followed up noting Texas’ own incident of the “false incrementalism” with the James Byrd Hate Crimes Act and its broken promises (leaving behind transgenders), asking if we should be more assertive and how to possibly do so without being summarily marginalized afterward. Bishop Robinson was surprised and seemingly incredulous that we’d be marginalized for speaking out as such. Both Michael and I nodded affirmatively as we personally knew that marginalization. The Bishop responded that we should forge ahead and assert ourselves regardless, and to never give in.

When Lisa Scheps reminded him of his own quote to the Dallas Voice and his response to her question earlier, and asked if this meant that those given none of the incrementally won “half loaf” should hold everyone’s feet to the fire – including him – the Bishop agreed. He noted that if he wasn’t unwavering enough to stand behind what’s right, then he needed to be taken to task as much as other incrementalists, and we should be raising the issue and raising our voices.

As Kelli Busey noted in her blog on the panel, it was interesting to see the two philosophically very divergent sides in the transgender community actually hear the same advice from Rev. Robinson: that we should be more audacious in raising our voices. For all to see, they get to see NTAC wasn’t the heretics after all! Au contraire!

“It's not about me. It's about not having to be ashamed.” — Bishop Gene Robinson

After the panel wrapped, the documentary crew following the Bishop invited us up to his personal suite. The crew took turns interviewing Lisa, Kelli, Michael and Tina. While they were taping, I went downstairs with Michael when the Bishop decided to take a smoke break. Down there, we had a chance to talk about our personal lives a bit.

He’s very disarming in person. I found him quite candid and earthy.

To my surprise I found there were couple things I sort of had in common with the Bishop. He was born to a family of tobacco sharecroppers in Kentucky, my mom was born to a family of cotton sharecroppers in Texas while my dad as a child worked with his family as migrant farm labor, picking cotton, walnuts and various fruit in California for a period. As a young child, Robinson’s family lived in a home with well water and no indoor plumbing, and my dad (possibly my mom as well) lived in at least one home with well water and no indoor plumbing.

It was comfort to find the Bishop is someone who remembers well what life is like on the disadvantaged side of town, and privately agonizes over some in his own community who neglect to see it (or forget what it was like once they’ve climbed out). It’s a philosophy I share as well.

The Bishop’s got a number of people’s ears – and not just within the GLBT community. He and I also discussed another thing we had in common – working on getting Barack Obama elected. The President-Elect reportedly even visited with Bishop Robinson on three occasions. As we know now, the trans community has a powerful ally in the White House!

If we have Bishop Robinson with a possible avenue to influence the President on our issues, we may be able to effectively thwart most any obstacle either Barney Frank or HRC (our community’s political gatekeepers) can throw before us.

While we panelists may have come away with different impressions, I get the sense there’s a legitimate chance of having made a key ally in Dallas. Who better than someone of humble beginnings who understands the crush of powerlessness and voicelessness borne of his own past?

“So the question is can we still live together and hold on to one another while we resolve this issue?” — Bishop Gene Robinson

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lend More, Spend More: GOP’s Insane Plan For Consumers

Having not monitored the news sites recently, I had to hear it on the TV morning news: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has decided the solution to our nation’s economic woes is for banks to lend more, and for consumers to spend more. At first I thought it to be quite a joke, until I realized they were serious!

What planet did we get this current Administration from? And can we send them back? Now?!?

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend….” — from “Hamlet,” Act 1, Scene 3 by William Shakespeare

The Bush Administration (yes, those “free market fiscal conservatives”!) wants to dump $800 billion in additional funds into the struggling U.S. economy. Even we democrats see this as ludicrous! This is even more than Congress approved in October’s bailout - the Wall Street Welfare Act. And without even a vote over it! I’m absolutely furious with this brain-dead president’s signature statement deceit and swindling of the American economy! We’re NOT brain-dead, we see every bit of this and we are furious! How do we make this clear to Washington?

Sure, maybe they’re meaning this for only the upper 2% of the economy – those who’ve done well during Bush’s “Economic Recovery” these past eight years. Yet they certainly weren’t structuring the message that way! And even if is for the upper crust folks, why need a program to “make $200 billion available for a range of consumer loans - including credit cards and car loans”? With cash in their bank accounts, do you think these moneyed folks would believe it wise at this time to borrow money? Why?

They should’ve been already picking up the slack that the vast majority of us used to consume in the American economy as they’ve got it all already. And typical to wealthy types, they’re saving and investing – not consuming! Wisely investing over spending as they always do … get it yet?

But Paulson whines that "this lack of affordable consumer credit undermines consumer spending and, as a result, weakens our economy."

As for those of us in the lower 90’s, the last thing we need to be doing is spending on anything that is not an absolute necessity!

Why? Here’s the answer: the Flat Earth. Call it the global economy, free markets, whatever … jobs have been heading overseas for years, wages had been flat or deflating, costs on everything (especially necessities) have gone up until recently, and we’ve already been tapped out. Now what few jobs still existing are evaporating here, and even beginning to affect the Third world burgeoning economies.

Bottom line, there are few jobs down here, they won’t pay much, and it’s not changing any time soon. Free markets, remember? And as a result, as well as the crunched credit, no one should spend (unless they’ve got a death wish!) It’s a recipe for bankruptcy, foreclosure, homelessness … you know, really good stuff! Well, we’re trying to stave off that ‘good stuff’ Mr. President and Mr. Paulson. It’s called “fiscally conserving” our meager resources. Quite a concept, huh? Does that sound familiar?

Even if we do happen to find jobs, HELL NO we’re not gonna be spending any time soon! We’ve learned! Bush and the Neo-Cons have taught us all that we common citizens are on our own. There is no hope, no cavalry running to our rescue, nothing to save or bail us out (those are only for large corporations and their execs – Bush’s base). If we can’t save ourselves, we are shit-out-of-luck … period. We’re saving up for the future calamities we’ll need to be prepared to weather.

To soothe us (I guess), our Treasury King described the $200 billion program as a first step, one that could be expanded later to include different kinds of debt, including assets backed by commercial real estate mortgages and business debt. Ah … here comes the rub! Now the true nature of this is coming clearer….

Paulson stated the fact that the Fed and Treasury had to get an additional $800 billion into the system is not a sign that the $700 billion bailout of banks and Wall Street firms passed by Congress last month has been a failure. He said that without that program, it is likely that the financial markets would be in even worse shape than they are today.

As Jeff Foxworthy would say: “there’s your sign!”

It’s not about the common consumers at all. It’s about continuing to prop up the banks who received bailout money already, have not been lending (and have not been making profit) and have bottom-lines that show near-zero revenue. And maybe after borrowing more money we have no jobs to pay off, we’ll go out and buy stuff that pumps business revenue into the other industries.

The arrogance intrinsic in Paulson’s statement that the initial bailout is not a failure is jaw-dropping.

“Any informed borrower is simply less vulnerable to fraud and abuse.” — Former Fed. Reserve Chair, Alan Greenspan

Message to the Bush Administration and all “Free Market” Republicans: If you want people borrowing money and consuming, go to your patriotic CEO’s and CFO’s, your executive class, your wealthy investors, or “the haves and have-mores” that Bush called his “base” so famously displayed in the movie Fahrenheit 911. They are your only hope to save your American economy.

Don’t even bother us “spread-the-wealth socialists” who live paycheck to paycheck if we’re fortunate enough to have a paycheck right now – which many of us do not! All we get from our delusional “fiscally conservative” Republicans is “spread-the-debt” fascism. Thanks!

My house got damaged during Hurricane Ike, insurance was extremely stingy (leaving thousands short of getting it fixed), FEMA denied me. If you think for half a second I’m applying for even a small, low-interest Small Business Administration loan to repair my home, especially now that I’m having troubles finding even temporary jobs I’ve relied upon the last six years, you’re way beyond wrong! There’s no way of knowing what’s coming at me, and I’ll be damned if I feel confident enough to take out some loan even for necessity!

So Mr. Bush and Mr. Paulson, if you entertain any delusions of America suddenly running en masse down to the bank to take out a loan to bail out your Wall Street buddies once again, snap out of it! We can’t afford to participate in your American economy any more, nor will we further bankrupt ourselves to help you.

Now … you’re on your own! How does it feel?

“Good night, and good luck.” — Edward R. Murrow

Monday, November 24, 2008

Transgenders Protest HRC's Big D (As In Big Donations)

..................[The street protester and the preacher]

“You can’t be here on our sidewalk. This is our sidewalk, you’re gonna have to leave.” Unidentified security guard for the Sheraton Dallas Hotel.

It was the grandest of the grand, the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) largest annual fundraising opportunity in the nation, there in Dallas. And as has occurred in cities around the country, we conducted another protest of HRC in Big D (as in big donations!) While it was mostly just Courtney Sharp and myself holding it down, we still made our presence known and obvious, educating a number of folks (mostly straights) who inquired and ensuring the gay and lesbian crowd attending that night understood we were not going to be swept under the rug.

In case anyone hadn’t clued in on this previously, Dallas has always been – and still is – HRC territory. It may be Cowboy country, but it’s also wealthy gay country. The volume of well-heeled party-goers was quite impressive – easily doubling Houston’s. And these aren’t chump-change tickets as they’re going for $300 a pop!

Courtney and I walked over to where the banquet’s silent auction was located. I was stunned. It was as if we’d walked into a very high-end department store, with vases, sumptuous solid wood entertainment centers and tables, numerous bedroom suites ranging from the very tastefully classic to the cutting edge contemporary, tuxes and Hollywood styled gowns (enough to make a tranny drool!), vacations to places such as Tahiti estimated at $25,000 and even a BMW at $100 per bid with a list price at $39,000! Ostentatious didn’t even come close to describing most of the eye-catching items on the block.

"Man has a body that is both his burden and his temptation. He ought to watch over it. Keep it in bounds, repress it, and obey it only as a last resort. It may be wrong to obey even then, but if so, the fault is venial.” From Les Miserables, Book 1 by Victor Hugo

Just in a quick estimation, the list price of the goods on auction were likely as much as $2 million, maybe more. Easily this could fetch half of this in good times. Of course, these aren’t “good times” – and even the wealthy wall street investors are hording their money in fear of the economic abyss. Wondering aloud to Courtney, I questioned how anyone could afford this opulence. This truly felt like I was wandering through an alternate universe somewhere, far removed from reality: Planet Earth.

We’d conducted a panel discussion earlier that afternoon with one of HRC’s honorees at the chi-chi event: Bishop Eugene Robinson of the New Hampshire Episcopal Diocese. After the panel, we were all invited up to his suite and further interviewed by a documentary group that has been following the good Reverend around for much of the past year.

At one point early in the evening when banquet-goers first began streaming in, I was standing and chatting with Bishop Robinson and Michael Robinson of Dallas (no relation) in the entry drive of the Sheraton where the banquet took place. It didn’t occur to me until minutes later that the folks in black tie and gown walking in and the folks in the lobby areas on both floors were the black tie banquet attendees.

It explained the looks I got from the folks walking in!

As we walked back out at dark to begin the protest, we again had to maneuver through “the gauntlet” of banquet goers collected around the door to the dinner room. Watching the attendees looking at me decked out in my Un-Equal shirt was just like watching conservative Republicans bedecked in white tie eye a swarthy homeless man stumbling through their midst. Studied aversion of gaze. Stark-eyed stares forward with quick glances down at my shirt, before relocking eyes straight ahead. An occasional full once-over of the shirt with putrid expression. A few horrified glances (mostly from women) with a look communicating “what are you doing here?” Also a few of the mutual glances to partners with the “eye roll” and sideways smiles or quiet snickers.

It’s the dichotomy of GLBT personified: the stray undesirables walking in the midst of the entitled.

“It’s good to be king.” — Mel Brooks as Louie XVI from the movie, History of the World, Part I

As Kelli Busey and Tina Seitz had both dressed professionally for the panel, we bid them goodbye until they changed and returned at the protest’s end. While it wasn’t a well-attended demonstration, it was nonetheless effective. We caught hordes of drivers trying to make their way under the circular drive, not wanting to bear the blustery cold winds. (As temperatures dipped into the upper 30’s, I rued my decision to wear only my long-sleeved t-shirt under my short-sleeved tee – not wise.)

With signs in each arms clutched to my body, the winds were strong enough at their high point to actually hold me up against the gusts! I felt I could fly, kinda Flying Nun-style. Hey, it kept my mind off of my lips and fingers going numb in the cold!

We had a few encounters of note out in the street. To begin, I attempted to set up my boombox to play music (and had some unknown malfunction that was preventing it), but at the first sounds coming out, I had one of Sheraton’s security right at my shoulder asking “is this really necessary?”

When I explained that this kept us from yelling and screaming at those going in, the man (with a Nordic or Germanic accent) tried to convince me that we couldn’t have the music and could not speak either. I replied that we could absolutely do those things and reminded him that there is free speech in America, to which he sardonically shot back, “yeah, I know! It’s one of the things I don’t like about this country!”

I shot back “well, there are still countries which don’t value free speech! You could always go there….”

Later he came back out with a tall African American man (maybe a supervisor?) who said we couldn’t be there and claimed the sidewalk was the Hotel’s property (as I noted in the opening quote). He made it look convincing too, looming over me and acting as if he knew the hotel owned it – even threatening to have us “removed.” He received my answer: we were fine as long as we didn’t block the sidewalk, and I knew if I marched in the street I could be arrested for obstructing traffic. Looking over and seeing Dallas cops in the street directing traffic, I challenged the towering security man to call the Police and see what they say, and I even challenged him to a bet that I was going to be right. He got on his cell phone, looked seriously involved in his conversation with whomever, but he walked away and didn’t come back.

They’ll pull out any stop to intimidate us into not getting our story out.

One thought that struck me as Courtney and I marveled at the never-ending line of expensive autos was how Dickensian it all appeared. As we watched the long-lined limos easing by with TV screens and flashing lights blinking, or as I looked up at the skywalk between the hotel and the auction area as passers-by looking down on us, it seemed appropriately emblematic. They eyed us from inside with shock and disgust, and us in the cold breezes, laughing at them watching. We’re on the right side of history, something their money can never buy.

We did have about a dozen folks stop, curiously inquiring what we were protesting – mostly straight folks driving by or unconnected hotel guests. One man asked, and when I informed him we transgenders were protesting “the largest gay and lesbian rights group in the nation,” his face brightened (apparently he’s a conservative) and he smiled, gave a thumbs up and said “Good! Keep it up!” The enemy of your enemy is your ally ….

Another couple, gay, stopped an inquired as well. Obviously I gave them a brief rundown of HRC’s history with trans people, the brief ‘bait-before-switch’ of this session’s ENDA bill before breaking it into two bills, and Joe Solmonese’s promise to the largest transgender conference who invited him as a keynote (Southern Comfort). I then summed up their waffles on both supporting the inclusive bill only, and finally the report card scoring threats and follow through with folks like Anthony Weiner and Edolphus Towns having their 100% rating attaining their first black marks. The man inquiring thanked me (I think perhaps skeptical of me) and said he was going to look it up on the net. Good!

Out of the negative comments I got, the best was one gay man who walked up with the sour look as he read my signs, then walked around and looked at the back of them (I make two-sided signs with different messages). Upon looking at them, he declared, “Oh no, no honey! We don’t need you here! We don’t want you here – you need to go home! Take yourself back to Waxahachie, or wherever it is you’re from!”

Waxahachie is a town of about 28,000, about 28 miles south of Dallas, perhaps inferring I was trailer trash as well as being tranny trash. Regardless, the tranny trailer trash was well represented in high-falutin’, rootin’-tootin’ Dallas.

Now I wonder how much that pink Dallas Cowboys’ Star pennant went for …?

“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied...but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.” – John Berger

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Trans Tragedies Bring Out Worst In Queer Capitalists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you in the street.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Epithets, Threats And Disrespect Could Doom Same-Sex Marriage Movement

There’s been a lot of emotion pouring out as a result of the elections two weeks ago. Clearly having someone who cares about human beings (as opposed to corporations and the “haves and have mores”) in the White House has elicited celebrations and a sense of hope once again in America. Yet along with that has been the intense acrimony generated in a number of states regarding same-sex marriage – most especially in California, where marriage for same-sex couples was once legal.

California’s case has understandably generated raw emotion. It’s this emotion that has fueled this event, taking it from being “just another state voting down same-sex marriage” and making it a quasi flash-mob movement. It is also, of itself, wresting the marriage movement from the hands of the initial organizations leading it and putting it into the hands of the collective pool of anger, resentment, frustration and pain. Those in need are now seizing the issue and not about to relinquish it.

Watching this spontaneous combustion of this marriage rights wildfire over the past two weeks has been inspiring. But the mob has also forsaken anything but the raw emotion to drive this forward. It’s pure heart and no head at this point, and that will prove problematic down the road.

Before the recent nationwide rallies this past Saturday, in effort to advertise the protest against Prop 8, I received a flyer via Facebook from a friend. Not knowing what it was (as it merely said I was tagged in a photo), I opened it to see a poster stating “I was a Victim of H8.” My name was tagged to that. Immediately my reaction was visceral: why was I being advertised as a victim of hate (as in hate crime)? When it was mentioned to me that it wasn’t about hate crimes as in violence, but about marriage (e.g. Prop 8, which was a little esoteric for those of us outside of California), it drew my ire again.

It was not a good subject to breach with the Transgender Community.

This flyer was coming out a week to the day before the Transgender Day of Remembrance, our community’s international memorial to remember our victims of hate crimes – as in violence and murder due to hatred. This writer failed to see how this made an easy transition from violence and murder to being equated with keeping same-sex couples from marrying via removal from law.

If they wanted to conflate these two distinct issues and term them hate, then one could use the same logic to say the Transgender Community was collective victims of hate by the gay and lesbian political leadership personified by HRC and Rep. Barney Frank, et. al. for their unceremonious removal of gender identity from this year’s Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA). Or for that matter, Sen. Ted Kennedy for removing us from the very Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the previous session of Congress! How do they feel Sen. Kennedy, or Barney Frank or HRC would react to being perpetrators of H8? Seriously, beyond the Prop 8 histrionics, that was a severe diminution of hate violence and not looked upon favorably.

“Oh heavens, how I long for a little ordinary human enthusiasm. Just enthusiasm – that’s all.” — John Osborne

More troubling were reports at that same time of the protests in California in the aftermath of Prop 8. Numerous reports of the epithets lobbed at African-Americans – even directed towards gay black men attending the protests – were counterintuitive, to say the very least.

Geoffrey, a student at UCLA and regular Rod 2.0 reader, joined the massive protest outside the Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Westwood. Geoffrey was called the n-word at least twice. (

It was like being at a klan rally except the klansmen were wearing Abercrombie polos and Birkenstocks. YOU NIGGER, one man shouted at men. If your people want to call me a FAGGOT, I will call you a nigger. Someone else said same thing to me on the next block near the and my friend were walking, he is also gay but Korean, and a young WeHo [West Hollywood] clone said after last night the niggers better not come to West Hollywood if they knew what was BEST for them.
Los Angeles resident and Rod 2.0 reader A. Ronald says he and his boyfriend, who are both black, were carrying NO ON PROP 8 signs and still subjected to racial abuse.
Three older men accosted my friend and shouted, "Black people did this, I hope you people are happy!" A young lesbian couple with mohawks and Obama buttons joined the shouting and said there were "very disappointed with black people" and "how could we" after the Obama victory. This was stupid for them to single us out because we were carrying those blue NO ON PROP 8 signs! I pointed that out and the one of the older men said it didn't matter because "most black people hated gays" and he was "wrong" to think we had compassion. That was the most insulting thing I had ever heard. I guess he never thought we were gay.
Jasmyne Cannick has a similar and unfortunate report.
"I have received several phone calls from Blacks, both gay and straight, who were caught up in Westwood around the time of that march. From being called 'niggers' to being accosted in their cars and told that it was because of 'you people gays don’t have equal rights and you better watch your back.' These gays have lost their damn minds."
Even if 70% of African-Americans voted for Prop 8, there wasn’t substantial enough numbers of African Americans in the total vote to make that the difference in its passage. It’s unknown if any other ethnicities were singled out similarly.

Some of the protests have also provided a glimpse into how easily the gay and lesbian protesters can adopt the behaviors of those right-wing protesters that were once vilified.

Previously, the thuggish displays and verbal intimidation and threats were the province of the red-meat GOPers. In fact, while watching the second video, I initially thought it was the angry, gesturing man who was the conservative Prop 8 supporter as the Christian woman was standing with the Prop 8 signs behind her, and wasn’t able to get a word out. To my own surprise about 30 seconds through, I realized I had it backwards. Surely the woman shouldn’t have been there picking at scabs. But the displayed response on TV was bracing. In fact, I have no doubt this will be (if not already) widely distributed throughout neo-con America and twisted to validate their continued disenfranchisement of us all.

There’s no love lost between the religiopolitical elitists and I. But I fail to see how knocking crosses down and stomping on them in full view of TV cameras (and even having other protesters rush in with their own video to tape it!) are doing our community any favors on getting the two polarized sides closer to understanding each other. It’s just more shock value meant to repel, taken straight out of the red-meat neo-con handbook.

It’s true that reciprocation is the essence of equal treatment. But with whom are these Prop 8 protesters equating themselves? Are such displays the “politically maturity” or political acumen that they’ve tried to instill in trans activists throughout the trans political movement? If that’s the case, then I’m happy to be a poor student at that lesson!

Longtime gay rights advocate Dean Trantalis of Fort Lauderdale, FL, and others on a recent conference call expressed concern that the gay rights movement has become too focused on marriage, and is now paying the price in other more critical areas.

"Marriage was never our issue," Trantalis said. "It was thrust upon us by the other side, and they've done a very good job of beating us up over it." Trantalis and others are worried that even as the gay rights movement continues to win court victories, those very victories may prompt stronger and stronger backlashes, jeopardizing other hard-won rights, from adoption to anti-discrimination measures by local governments and in the workplace. They noted the recent adoption law enacted in Arkansas on election day as an example of the brushback in other non-marriage legislation.

Indeed, many of the critics of the failure have been looking for the reason (easily turned into the blame game). The initiative to defeat Prop 8 raised nearly four times the money, had all the star-power behind them seemingly, had a very active core of staff and volunteers … and yet lost in the bellwether of progressive thought in America.

Sitting with an African American gay men’s group here in Houston, the question was posed on their take on the marriage issue. Many in California blamed the failure of No on Prop 8 leaders to reach out to the African-American community, both gay and straight. There was at least one prominent minister in L.A. who could’ve been a strong and eloquent voice for defeating Prop 8, and who has been strongly criticizing other clergy over supporting Prop 8 – he was apparently never approached.

But when I asked how the African American men in the room felt about the rallies, the lack of adequate integration into the Prop 8 fight, they were more candid and casual on the issue. One even admitted he felt a little guilty that they weren’t out in larger numbers assisting in the fight.

For this group, marriage rights are a goal, but one of many they must address and not the most critical. “Being black, we still have a lot of things on our plate due to race, employment and discrimination ….” He noted that there’s a distinction between where white gay America is and where their community is. “Like (transgenders), there’s a lot of perception based on how we look.”

“You never turned around to see the frowns
On the jugglers and the clowns when they all did tricks for you.” — Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan

Unlike the leaders of the modern (and uniformly white) gay/lesbian movement, marriage isn’t the predominant goal before Gay People of Color. There are still a number of other issues unaddressed … if they only had mind to learn.

For the trans community, it feels as if we’re along on Mr. Toad’s wild ride. We never get to know which direction this movement is going, have no input on where it should go, and Mr. Toad can’t hear us anyway. We’re just along for this ride – exhilarating or harrowing, so we hang on and hope for the best.

Meanwhile, the straight community’s impression of what’s happening currently is what’s got me fretting the most. At the moment, the gay and lesbian community could care less what they think and are just as likely to chase those not on board with them completely out of their gayborhood with neoconic zeal and menace. How will this be replayed over the coming years? Beyond marriage, how will this affect the rest of the rights movement (not needed much by the leaders of this movement, but still primary concerns to the ancillary segments of their LGBT conglomeration)? If successful or if not, we will learn from this experience.

The voices embittered need their concerns heard. But from an advocacy standpoint, I see the actual job of negotiating this in the years to come may now be a much tougher road.

“Therefore, progress depends on the unreasonable man.” — George Bernard Shaw

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Marriage Protests And The (Seemingly) Invisible Trans

“What we're gonna do right here is go back, way back, back into time.” — Troglodyte, the Jimmy Castor Bunch

The year was 2002. As part of the screening committee of the Houston Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus, we screened our candidates for the upcoming November elections on the top issues: the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, candidates’ stance on equal benefits and rights for Domestic Partners (or civil unions), and the most recent hot topic the Permanent Partners Immigration Act (PPIA)…. Oh, and also we gauged candidates’ sentiments on gender identity inclusion in all of the above.

Yes, marriage was missing from the screening. No, it wasn’t an oversight on our screening committee’s part. For the record, in 2002 the only place we were hearing anything about gay marriage were from religiopolitical zealots in Maine using the topic as reason for keeping a statewide non discrimination from passing. From the GLBT world, there was zero about marriage six long years ago, with the big battle being against the perennial harpies (transgender activists) about the flimsy justification for keeping gender identity out of federal hate crimes and employment bills.

A lot has changed in the last five and a half years. Marriage had it’s first victory in 2003 in a Massachusetts court, and the juggernaut launched into hyperspace shortly thereafter.

It was initially odd watching this from a transgender perspective. Our very first victories in marriage were mostly due to no action on our part. They came in the 1960’s in places like Illinois and Louisiana and from unusual sources – not progressive democrats, but Republicans who wrote and sponsored the legislation. In many states, trans people were getting married even without legislation, but we never created a legislative push backed by any organizational structure. The cost for court cases or even organizations was expensive (money in trans circles is in short supply) and no one wished to personally jeopardize their marriage with a challenge when they could simply get it and go on with their lives.

Most trans people worried about finding work or some way to keep from being homeless and penniless, marriage was further down the list.

So to watch this first court victory in Massachusetts in 2003 spread this viral movement replete with widespread statewide organizations, staff, and marketing budgets virtually overnight, was mindbending.

More incredible was watching how this non-issue a year earlier became the sudden impact and an overnight cause celebre with major GL-led organizations, who’d always been stodgy on the issue of things like expanding employment or hate crimes legislation. Groups like HRC who had long admonished the trans community to be “patient,” the need for “education” and communicated trans activists’ “naivete” and lack of “political maturity.”

On election night 2008, I was in Dayton, Ohio celebrating. The Obama victory was a watershed. My thoughts weren’t even taking note of what was happening with California’s Proposition 8 as I’d heard nothing but positive marketing coming out of there. Same-sex marriage advocates were winning the game in fundraising, in raising awareness, even bringing on quite a bit of star power to advocate on their behalf.

Furthermore, it’s California! It seemed a no-brainer victory. Living in Texas meant that whatever they did out there would do nothing to undo the vote that put marriage between “one man and one woman” in the Texas Constitution a few years back. With zero plans to move to (much less afford living in) California, I had nothing to look forward to on that. Our Texas federal races were depressing enough news.

It took a couple days before I made it back home from our bus trip before I realized Prop 8 passed. That was stunning.

Track back to February of 2004: at a meeting of the Transgender Community leadership, Lisa Mottet of NGLTF posited that the newly forged marriage movement would be the entire GLBT community rights movement’s savior. Once marriage rights passed, she declared, “all other rights would be passed, easily.” We had to win marriage first, then we would see passage of things like fully inclusive Hate Crimes and Employment Non Discrimination Acts enacted shortly after.

Both Shannon Minter and myself quickly protested that at that meeting. Shannon was concerned over upsetting the balance of what had already been accomplished in the courts (vis a vis Kantaras v. Kantaras), and I questioned whether this wasn’t putting the cart before the horse, rather than approaching things (as HRC personified by Elizabeth Birch had cautioned) in proper time, attaining what victories were possible rather than trying to force through even the unpalatable right off the bat. In other words, “education” … especially considering that marriage hadn’t even been in the realistic lexicon of the gay and lesbian community for the past year, much less straight society and the faith community’s.

Nevertheless undeterred, the gay and lesbian community pushed forward with the marriage movement. We lost twelve states that election cycle in passing legislation against same-sex marriage, including at least two states – Kentucky and Michigan – where trans people used to legally marry.

Today, with the 2008 elections behind us, we are 29 states down, one state (recently two with Connecticut) victorious. Same-sex marriage is now 2-29. This will be our panacea? This will give us hope for our future? It’s certainly better than zero to 31. But then it was also better when employment was the top issue as well and things were actively moving, rather than being relegated to a side-stage issue with only passing concern.

Flash back two years before the Summer of Love – 1967, when Loving v. Virginia was decided in the Supreme Court. The laws banning miscegenation in individual states (while legal elsewhere) were struck down as violating individual’s choice (as well as perpetuating racism and a white-supremacist structure). Many in the modern marriage movement are pointing to that as basis for challenging same-sex marriage bans. On employment, it must be noted, discrimination in Virginia based upon race became illegal in 1964. Is this putting the “cart before the horse”?

“We want to be citizens.
We want to be a full and equal part of our own homes and our own families and our own lives.
And some of us, having been in that room for a short while, know what it feels like.
And we will never, ever let it go.” — Andrew Sullivan from the Andrew Sullivan blog

So this past Saturday, I attended the Prop 8 rally on Houston’s City Hall steps, a little ambivalent about all of this – something a number of my trans friends also communicated. Indeed I disliked what passed in California as it affected our own as well as the gay community. But was California with us when Texas was going beyond our state laws to enter it into our Constitution? Indeed the numbers in the protests in California and in solidarity across the nation have been impressive, not to mention the amounts raised in funds to help fight the right. Yet in the back of my mind I was thinking about transgenders being left behind even in something as simple as hate crime protections in many states such as Texas, and the complete lack of attention to trans protections or activists’ efforts.

The speeches during the rally were stirring. Our local activist emeritus, Ray Hill, was on stage again with what was an inspiring exhortation based upon his 35-years plus of experience in GLBT rights. Indeed, another friend of mine – local attorney, John Nechman – also gave a solid defense of staying in the fight, and pushing through until we all see equality. Perhaps I should’ve listened to nothing but the speeches and simply left.

Unfortunately I hung out, talked with friends, even got a few folks to sign a petition the Young Stonewall Democrats were passing around in order to compile a mailing list. Then came the conversational comments, innocuous but telling.

One man I hadn’t met before who I was signing up on the petition, gushed: “with all these people, I’m so excited to see this! All we need is marriage (rights) and we’ll have it all, everything we’ve ever needed! We can all finally be equal!” He said this looking me straight in the eye. Perhaps I should’ve mentioned I was trans at that point, but I got distracted.

Later I had two friends, one an attorney, muse that if we could attain this “dream” of marriage for same-sex couples, that it would “open the door for equal rights for everyone.” One even noted how if this passes, it will all be because of the “Lawrence Garner v. Texas ruling” regarding what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes. That didn’t make sense to me respective of a public issue such as marriage.

The lack of even acknowledging obvious judgments regarding full-faith and credit on marriage rulings such as Gardiner v. Gardiner or Littleton v. Prange’s egregious lapses made me see finally.

Even in full view of all at the rally, I as a transgender was invisible. Fifteen years later, our issues don’t even register on their immediate awareness scale. We are irrelevant (affirming my other T friends’ thoughts about this rally.)

So, what exactly is this "equality" again?

“If I got your back then you best have mine.
When it goes down, lay it on the line ….
I wanna know, I wanna know,
I wanna know … can i count on you when it's time?” — Romper Stomper, Transplants

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hurricane Ike, Two Months Hence

"After the hurt has gone away,
Oh will we feel the pain?
After the storm begins to turn,
Oh will we ever learn?" — After The Storm, the Outfield

Yesterday was the two month anniversary of Hurricane Ike. From a time perspective it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. Personally, I will credit the political campaigns – and specifically the Obama campaign – for contributing to time’s supersonic flight. Then again, it does seem worlds away from the summer heat and humidity from two months ago, especially considering we have our first brisk norther which is expected to drop our nightly temps in Houston down to the 30’s for our first time. Nights in the 30’s are about as far away from summer as one can get.

But as it’s been two months, I thought I’d do a periodic post-script of life after Ike.

There were a few things we discovered after my last hurricane blog entry. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why my neighborhood smelled of such a pungent musk and rather gutter-like. It turns out there was a simple answer. With the loss of electricity across the area, all of the sewage lift stations lost power too … which caused overflow of effluence into the area’s creeks and bayous.

Yep, I was catching a whiff and even enjoyed the residual aroma of the raw sewage leached into the north fork of the Upper Brays Bayou (in my case) running in back of my house. To be sure, it was a common complaint across the city. At least I can take solace in the fact that I’m in the upper bayou instead of the more unfortunate folks further down our city’s bayou systems who had the collective of all of the other sewer stations further downstream. I’m glad nobody took the notion to go swimming!

Another somewhat annoying discovery was that a large number of the semis filled with ice were parked in Houston parking lots, waiting … and all the while, places in one of the rural areas hit hard across Galveston Bay, who were desperate for any ice, went without. Much of the ice was ordered to be melted in some cases. FEMA decided the need wasn’t there, and figured it cost more to have the drivers sitting and rigs running than it cost to just melt the ice and send them home! Something about this really speaks to the level of planning (or lack of) by the Bush Administration’s version of FEMA / Homeland Security Dept.

Shortly after I ended my blog, all of the gasoline shortages here, as well as lack of grocery staples around the Houston metro, ended. Galveston and areas closer to them obviously suffered longer with these issues, though surprisingly they seemed to be in much better spirits than one might expect, living without essentials for such extended periods. Unfortunately, there’s been very little news that’s come from points across the bay, in the Bolivar Peninsula communities hit the hardest. That’s been a bit curious.

Speaking of Bolivar, there are still no firm numbers on the death toll, the most recent number I’ve heard was 82. As mentioned in my previous blogs, there may be bodies swept out to the gulf, post-storm surge. There are also a number of sand spits and islands dotting the bay side of the peninsula that have yet to be fully examined, not to mention the places on the peninsula still in varying states of clean up with the same lack of full search for body recovery. The last estimate I heard on TV news was that eleven people (however accurate that may be) are still unaccounted for in the coastal communities.

The coastal communities themselves, Galveston being epicenter of this, are in the process of rebuilding. While FEMA has been processing the applications and attempting to get things back to some normalcy, there has recently been some strong criticism of the agency and the Federal Government. Houston’s Mayor Bill White has voiced criticism with both the snail’s pace of government promised reimbursement of the city for out-of-city-pocket costs to get Houston and the region back to speed, as well as FEMA’s disaster aid stinginess, and requirements that hurricane victims instead seek help through a laborious Small Business Administration (SBA) loan process instead. In a nutshell, FEMA doesn’t want to hand out disaster assistance – they’d rather lend you the money to rebuild.

Additionally, Galveston’s residents and some city leaders are also upset with FEMA. To date, there are a large number of mobile homes ready for deploying and sitting in storage in Mississippi, yet few if any have been delivered to and established in Ike-ravaged Galveston and other coastal areas here. The double standard between the post-Katrina response with housing, and the post-Ike response are too blatant to be ignored. Meanwhile, many of Galveston’s residents not getting emergency housing assistance are living in tents, makeshift shelters, even one man lives in his trailer park’s laundry room.

Just three days ago, FEMA announced that people in Galveston – mostly indigent – that are being housed in motels or other temporary emergency housing would be asked to leave. Many families living in hotels learned of the FEMA cutoff from fliers slipped under their doors. Many of them have nowhere else to go.

“We can't get leases for three months,'' Mayor White added at a City Council meeting. ''Landlords won't do that.'' He called the directive absurd and added, ''I'm sure they'll change that today.” Well, they didn’t. The edict is going ahead, likely necessary due to the government’s tight purse strings in light of the recent Wall Street bailout. Those newly evicted, former hotel-boarded residents are vowing to return to Galveston and live in their cars parked along the city’s seawall in both protest and utter frustration, having nowhere else to go.

This of course comes as the northers have begun blowing through, putting everyone in the instinct (if not the mood) of the coming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Economically, the region’s only bright spot was that Big Oil had been immune to the Bush “Economic Recovery” that has hammered the rest of the nation’s budgets. On Sept. 22, 2008, oil stood at $122.61 a barrel. Friday, Nov. 14, the same barrel was $55.95. The same station I bought gas at immediately before the storm (thinking it was a good deal, even) was at $3.82 per gallon. Today it is $1.79.

Needless to say, the job drought is starting to migrate to Houston for this economic winter. Just recently the news warned that Houston could see a loss of 15,000 jobs next year.

As if that’s not bad enough, Galveston’s University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) – the largest hospital on the island – announced that they must shed 3,800 jobs due to declining revenue. UTMB is the largest employer in economically challenged Galveston.

While there were promises of reimbursement for those temporarily unemployed due to Hurricane Ike’s workplace closures, I personally filed, had difficulties getting the information adequately explained to the Texas Workforce Commission, and even to this date – two months later – have yet to see a penny for the week I was out of work due to the storm.

As of Halloween, I’m now truly unemployed full-time as well. My job – with a Big Oil giant – was complete and my position has henceforth moved to Chennai, India. Trick or Treat!

And for the Houston / Galveston region, in the wake of Hurricane Ike, it’s Seasons Greetings as well. Along with the storm recovery, the Bush neo-conservatives’ Economy Recovery grinches have come to stay. We’re just one big happy!

“It’s never too late to say a prayer.
It might be all we got to share.
There’s always a hope that someone’s there.” — After The Storm, the Outfield

Friday, November 7, 2008

Battleground State Diary: VICTORY! And Change!

"I woke up this morning, feeling brand new
‘Cause the dreams that I've been dreaming has finally come true….
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for." — It’s A New Day, Will.I.Am and Pres. Elect Barack Obama

E-Day. This was the moment we’d been waiting for throughout the past four years. We needed change in the worst way for some time, but only recently had it finally worked its way up the food chain to affect even the corporations that Washington dotes upon. Now that their bottom line has been impacted, it finally dawned on the American media: we’re in a disastrous, one-sided economy. Change was needed desperately.
4:45 came way too early for me, and I was kicking my butt for not falling asleep right away. But Tuyen and I made it to the staging location on time and sat in as our Red Team captain, Dayton’s former mayor Clay Dixon and Larkin from Montana gave us our marching orders. As it turned out, our location managed to get enough folks in to cover the two positions – Line Manager and Houdini – at each of our precincts for Canaan’s territory, and I gave our volunteer coordinator Tim a high-five.

As a result, Tuyen and I were sent out to the Trotwood office to work the Line Management at a location that was going to have their assigned Line Managers come in an hour after polls opened. We made the trip and immediately noticed it was even colder than in town. After a short visit at the Trotwood Obama office, we drove back to our assignment at the Trotwood Library.
The first thing we noticed was it was colder out in Trotwood than it was in Dayton – low 40’s. And being a typical Houstonian, I wasn’t dressed for Ohio in my vest and short sleeve top. The adrenaline flow kept me from really registering the cold as I normally would.

The next thing we surmised was that the line was about a 45 minute wait due to three of the ten computer voter machines being inoperable. Yet everyone in line was affable and determined, with the only one leaving the line vowing to return after she took her daughters to school. We spent the first hour of the day as the sun rose in Western Ohio, chatting with the voters, and I (with my button festooned vest and Obama “Vote Today” cards) kept the folks happy and in line.

About 45 minutes into our task, one of the couples who’d finished voting took pity on me and returned with a jacket! Sometimes having the handout mementos pays off! After our assigned Line Manager and Houdini arrived, Tuyen and I headed back to Dayton and down to Canaan for the next assignment. And immediately upon arrival, I stepped wrong on a curb and bent back my toe – the sore toe, of course. More pain for election day – perfect!

We learned all line manager teams had arrived, so we weren’t needed for those assignments, we would instead switch to Blue Team and canvass door-to-door to ensure everyone had voted. But before going out (political junkie as I’ve become) I had to hear the first news reports coming in. They weren’t good omens: Wake County NC (home to Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s opponent, democrat Kay Hagan) had problems throughout the county with none of the ballots being able to be read … and in Florida, nine trash bags full of voter registrations were found tossed on the side of a highway.

The ditched registration / voter suppression issue touched a nerve with me. Two days earlier on Northcrest, Shannon Bledsoe had noted that she had registered at apartment she shared with her boyfriend, had not voted, but was not on my list of unknown voters. She was curious why she wasn’t on the list. I’d urged her to vote early and demand a provisional ballot, gave her the name of the law (the Help Americans Vote Act, or HAVA) that mandated officials allow her to do so, and then gave her the 866-OUR-VOTE phone number and instructed her to get in touch with whomever collected her registration and challenge her provisional to ensure it was counted.

Shannon wasn’t sure who registered her, but she believed it may have been ACORN. It was illegal for ACORN to toss away any registration collected even if suspicious (voter suppression), so they flagged it. It must be equally illegal for authorities in any state to summarily toss all such registrations without verification for the same voter suppression reasons. After hearing of Florida, adrenaline was back and my toe pain disappeared. I needed to move!

"It was a creed written into the documents that would declare the destiny of a nation. Yes We Can.
It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail for freedom. Yes We Can." — It’s A New Day, Will.I.Am and Pres. Elect Barack Obama

Tuyen and I, and teammates LaQuinta Eldridge and LaTeah Jackson hit the road to familiar environs – those same dangerously neglected apartments on Riverside near Shoup Mill! I began wondering if they kept giving these to us because no one else would walk them. As Tuyen correctly noted, these were exactly the people that needed to get out and vote, and needed change – and she was right!

At one point, I encountered an 81-year old man in a neighborhood adjacent to the apartments – Mr. Brock – who told me he was not going to vote because he couldn’t stand in line for any length of time. Per his report, when he called election officials to see if he could have a seat while he waited for his vote, he was told there would be no chairs at the precinct locations. Incredible!

Again I had to invoke HAVA, and instructed him that he should demand a chair – the pollworkers would have chairs, and they could easily be ousted from one of their chairs for a period of time (they sit most of the day anyway!) They should offer him a spot in the line, and call him when his spot reached the front of the line. They couldn’t disallow a voter because of their physical disability.

After walking away, I caught myself second-guessing whether I’d just offered Texas voter law or HAVA, so I had to call former mayor Dixon (Red Team Captain) and verify, then gave him Mr. Brock’s phone number and the voting location for his precinct. Hizzoner confirmed what I’d noted, and was going to make the calls and take care of the situation! Problem-solving on the run? Yes we can!

Both LaTeah and LaQuinta ended up twisting ankles and we had to leave them behind at Canaan. So Tuyen and I took on our next precinct. Again we were at the Northcrest and Norris apartments, as well as Foxton. The residents, overwhelmingly African-American and all economically challenged, knew us well by then. We were like mini-celebs, high-fiving kids, chatting with others like we were old neighbors and enlisting others to volunteer. Once again on Norris, I had no less than three other residences, some of whom noted they were not on my list, had not voted yet (indicating they should’ve been listed), and reporting they had just registered a month earlier. Again, I had to do the HAVA instructions about provisional ballots, calling 866-OUR-VOTE and challenging to make sure they had votes that counted.

Whether this was input operator error or registrations that were simply disallowed because of incidental suspicion unrelated to these voters’ apps, it was burning me up by the minute. Now I began worrying about how widespread this was, and what impact it would have on election results. We need a state ID-voter registration law federally. Make it uniform and eliminate the confusion, arbitrary decision-making and typo-related disallowances. It will also encourage all to have state identifications (which should be a no-brainer anyway).

Over the course of the day, Tuyen and I tackled eight precinct turfs in total. In Meadowdale, I was a bit unnerved by having two African American residents – one eighteen, one nineteen – answer the door and (when I encouraged them to make sure and vote), responded with apathy and blank stares. They were registered, they could vote for their first time in a historic election … and it seemed not to matter to them! For me, that renewed the urgency and helped me put the left foot pain out of mind again. My confidence wasn’t failing, but the worry was ramping up a bit now.

Another of our precincts we drove had us paired up with a longtime resident of that neighborhood off of Main and W. Nottingham. She helped us for that period and gave insight into the neighborhood – but I still had to navigate while driving. At one point she even noted I knew her neighborhood better than she did. After those three days, I feel like an old hand at northwest Dayton and Harrison Township.

Tuyen and I took our last precinct to canvass at 6PM. It was already dark, but thankfully it was one I’d door-hanged on the day before. We finished that up and made it back to Canaan at 7PM, only a half hour before polls closed. There wasn’t anything to do but stand around and eat more chips, candy, cold pizza or cold chicken – something we’d had in abundance over the last few days. As we were too keyed up to eat, Tuyen and I began helping tear down and hauling out the remaining door hangers, flyers, signs, etc. I collected a few of the posters and push cards for mementos, as well as a couple Obama Phone Bank Team buttons, as well as a Obama Comfort Manager button (which I would leave with our kind hostess, Cyndee Montgomery).

Once we broke everything down, we began saying our goodbyes, taking photos and exchanging contacts with those not going to the campaign’s election night party. Our team: Mike from Austin, and the Houston folks, Laran, LaTeah and LaQuinta, Tobi Myers, Tuyen and I departed Canaan Community Center for the last time and made the short drive downtown.

Conveniently, our party location was the city’s hottest club a half block away from the downtown Obama headquarters. As fate would have it, it was also Dayton’s drag bar – though the nicest one I’ve ever seen, quite impressive! A tranny-girl Obama delegate with predominantly straight Dems, celebrating the election in a drag club … ironic, yet fitting! One of the local Dayton volunteers who canvassed and arrived downtown with, Laran piqued my tranny radar as well. I didn’t want to ask, but I also noticed she was staring at my button-laden vest and noticing my Tranny Triangle button. In fact, there was an even taller girl in the club who may well have been as well … or maybe I was the only T girl there.

It didn’t matter though. This night was for the entire nation, whomever and wherever we were. We anticipated a nation that was no longer ruled by exclusionism. This would be a party where everyone is invited!

“Hello, Chicago. If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer…. It's the answer that led those who've been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.” — Pres. Elect, Barack Obama

As the results began initially trickling in, the club got louder and the crowd got ‘crowder’. There were banks of TV screens everywhere in the club – a perfect venue for election night! As folks came over and introduced themselves, all we had to do was mention Houston. We were oblivious to the notoriety we enjoyed throughout Dayton until then. Everyone had heard of the bus from Houston, even the folks in town from other states! We got to regale them with the story of our 26 hour bus ride up. We were sorta like Dayton’s cavalry, riding to the rescue! Now it was only a matter of seeing the results of what we’d just finished.

There were three or four eastern zone states that I watched for as the results came in. McCain would not capture any of the Kerry states at all, including Pennsylvania (the numbers weren’t there for them). So it would be either Virginia, Florida or Ohio that would elect Obama. The obvious northeastern states were the first declarations for Obama. Then crucial Pennsylvania came in blue – there was no way for the rest of the state to overcome the populous Philly region. That left only the one of the other three to come in (knowing also that New Mexico and Nevada were likely to come in blue as well). We watched the numbers come in early, with McCain leading in Virginia … but then the northern counties came in. Obama was winning Virginia – end game for McCain.

While I was upstairs exploring the club’s vacant second floor, I heard a roar outside and discovered what it was – Ohio was called for Obama! McCain would not win without a major upset out west. Then came the second blast from the crowd when they showed the counties that went blue. Dayton and Montgomery County were the lone blue county in a sea of southwestern Ohio red. We’d not only won the state, but our collective efforts won this crucial county – one shrouded in controversy during the secretive ballot count in 2004. We kicked butt!

While mingling through the party, we also got a chance to meet others assigned to the other three city quadrants and around the rest of the county. I met a mom and daughter team who flew in from Northampton, MA to work the weekend, and we immediately hit it off. A short time later I met a team of folks flown in from Sonoma County, CA who did likewise. Later I met a couple guys who’d flown in from New York City to help out.

We’d all come the opposite ends of the country – east, west and south – and ended up in heartland’s Ohio. We were all from non-battleground states, working to win a critical battleground state. Unlike their states though, Texas’ situation was quite the opposite as we’d have no victories for our party back home. There was some guilt I felt in not staying home and fighting, though I couldn’t single-handedly overcome those numbers the red-meat folks generate. We did good, though.

One of the California volunteers noted that when her team was getting assignments, her local team lead kept turning down a number of northern and northwestern precincts as “they were too dangerous.” She let me know that they’d heard about “the bus from Houston coming up” and instructed them to assign those precincts to us, confirming what we were suspecting. Ultimately, that was probably best. We were undaunted with wherever they sent us, whether it was Joe The Plumber-land, or blighted urban enclaves, we were there to get the job done. And Yes We Did! Not only that, we were notorious in our “dangerous” precinct turfs!

Obama racked up 207 electoral votes rather quickly, but then .. the McCain states in the south starting coming in – from fifty-something to 125 in the central zone states. Then everything hung up, nothing moved … although Florida was leaning Obama, Virginia was in the win column and North Carolina and Indiana were not looking red. McCain’s aides issued a statement saying they didn’t see any path to victory. Shortly before the west coast polls closed, John McCain came on to deliver a concession speech. After the initial hush, the club’s crowd heard McCain’s crowd boo him when he spoke about supporting Obama as our new president. Afterwards, there was nothing but club crowd noise, and I never heard what McCain said or registered how his crowd responded.

Once the western states closed and the exit polls reported, the roar in the club was deafening. Obama captured the entire bank of west coast states, hands down, and about the same time, New Mexico finally declared Obama as well. Game over, we had our 44th president! Watching the reactions on TV was amazing. Shots of Keshumu, Kenya where Obama’s family lived showed the entire village dancing through the street. Shots of Harlem and Atlanta’s Morehouse College showed election night crowds in jubilant celebration and a number of African Americans collapsing in uncontrollable tears of joy. I then looked over to see a mirror image, LaQuinta from our team was leaned over the pool table, broken down in tears as well.

“But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you.” — Pres. Elect, Barack Obama

Seeing how it affected LaQuinta was one of the most touching images, along with Jesse Jackson standing in the crowd with tears streaming down his face (especially poignant considering his own controversy during the Obama campaign). Watching Oprah, enrapt in Obama’s speech with teary eyes, leaning on the shoulder of a stranger in front of her. Even watching Mike from Austin, a 50-something white accountant, wiping tears from his eyes, and looking back at the TV screen images of cities around the country, and around the globe, people enthralled with the election results and riveted by the acceptance speech in London and Paris.

It wasn’t just America, but the entire world waiting for the pall of the past eight years to clear away, for the fear and the hatred to crumble into dust, for the unease and hardship to evaporate, and for the ugly America to disappear, replaced by what we used to be and always knew we were – a respectable and respectful nation of promise, of goodwill, of justice and of hope. And with this election, we once and for all signaled to the world that our promise of opportunity for all wasn’t mere sloganeering, but was truly something America stood for.

“Living in America - eye to eye, station to station
Living in America - hand to hand, across the nation
Living in America - got to have a celebration.” — Living In America, James Brown

It happened right before our eyes. All the years of the barrier of “not being people like us” and “never being good enough” were disintegrated as easily as when Barack Obama walked through that curtain and took the stage, delivering what was truly a presidential speech. In fact, it may well go down as one of the greatest presidential speeches of all time. This was a moment for the ages. Yes we can have egalitĂ©!

Veni, Vidi, Vici – we came, we saw, and we conquered Montgomery County for the Democrats. We met new friends on the bus and all across the country from our common cause. Yet while watching celebrations and partying ourselves, in the back of my mind I couldn’t shake the thought that we were 1,000 miles from home, giddy from victory, and left our local races down the ballot to falter. There is new hope across the country and even across the world, but I fear hope will visit Texas last. We are the dead end.

We left Ohio early the next morning, precious little sleep, groggy and hung over from the night before, on the bus back to our partisan war zone where we’ll still face hate, disenfranchisement, inequality and voicelessness. And it’s time for me to hit the job trail and hope it won’t be a long drought before working again. Houston isn’t the best part of the country to be a transgendered job-seeker.

But we worked hard, we succeeded and now we and Ohio can be proud of our accomplishment, and the country and the world can celebrate. Driving through Kentucky that crisp morning, even the trees seemed to be celebrating in bright red and gold.

“I gotta keep moving
With the white lines on the highway,
Watchin' every mile go by –
The silos and the by-ways.” — Gotta Keep Moving, Kellie Pickler