Friday, January 30, 2009

Arctic Wonderlands and “I Told You So’s”

This past few days has been like living in the Arctic. When the snow and ice hit DC on Wednesday, like most everyone else I kept my butt inside and safe! Then that night, the entire town was collectively chastised by our new President and the agreeing media, calling us sugar plums. Pres. Obama has a point: in Chicago they don’t let ice and snow stop them, nothing shuts them down. Being from Houston and points even further south, I understand Washington’s response to shut in during ice.

Sufficiently guilty from the jabs of the previous day, I braved the elements. It was deceptively sunny, but still cold, and with the iced over snow covering everything. It gives the appearance of the retro 50’s and 60’s O’Keeffe & Merritt, Frigidaire and Hotpoint appliances with everything covered in smooth, shiny white. I learned that wearing spike heels comes in handy as you can spike through the ice with the heel and keep a bit of traction.

“When the cloudy skies are blocking out the sun and suddenly your nose has begun to run, do you still hear me?
…. Will you stand by me against the cold night?
Or are you afraid of the ice?” — Ice, Crack The Sky

All this week has been a casual lobbying experience – not a lot of folks around clamoring for appointments, and many of the staffers in jeans and other casual attire. I like the new feel this week as opposed to the tight, flinty-eyed stress pit during conservative times. It may just be that it’s still early in the session, though, and things may get back to hardcore soon enough. Either way, it’s been relatively productive, particularly in the offices where staff has been hired and assignments set. Like usual, there are some faces that have moved offices from places like ousted Rep. Lampson and Rep. Israel’s office to new offices – it’s good to track those new moves.

Additionally in one office I got a little more of the picture of what Rep. Barney Frank, and to a lesser extent the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), was up to in the previous session. Unsurprising to this author, but I’m sure their pal, Mara Keisling, would’ve liked to have heard that tidbit. And the beat goes on ….

“It’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party. You know you’re just on these talk shows and you’re living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of that thing. But when it comes to true leadership, not that these people couldn’t be or wouldn’t be good leaders, they’re not in that position of John Boehner or Mitch McConnell." — Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA)

The G.O.P. partisanship we’re seeing now is going to be the S.O.P. (standard operating procedure) throughout the first eighteen months of this session. It’s something I’d predicted a month or so ago, before inauguration, when the media and the new Congress was seated. Bipartisanship only happens when GOPers are in power. Even on something as important as whether or not America falls into economic collapse, now that it’s no longer Bush but Pres. Obama’s problem, the GOPers have no qualms watching it happen (and already have their blame-pointing fingers and scream-level voices at ready).

It’s the nature of things DC. The GOP must play up to their prime constituents (evangelical and corporate wealth) and must do so conspicuously in order to appear they’re earning their paycheck. Other than Rep. Cao from New Orleans and a couple of Senators, all GOPers left are from hardcore, red-meat, Ditto-head districts; and logic be damned – they must do their bidding. To wit: Rep. Phil Gingrey’s (R-GA) criticism of Oxycontin-head Rush Limbaugh in a moment of candor, and then being reined in by the short-hairs, made to genuflect nicely and apologize to the Grand Old Partisan Gasbag. Ol’ Dr. Philly-boy got the message quickly with a public emasculation. Take note!

“I regret and apologize for the fact that my comments have offended and upset my fellow conservatives – that was not my intent. I am also sorry to see that my comments in defense of our Republican Leadership read much harsher than they actually were intended, but I recognize it is my responsibility to clarify my own comments…. As long as I am in the Congress, I will continue to fight for and defend our sacred values." — Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA)

Finally the note about Donna Rose’s blog noting disappointment in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) not “coming around” and doing the right thing, she responded:

If Vanessa wants to say “I told you so” then I suppose she’s more than entitled (although I’d hoped we had outgrown that kind of silliness).
Folks can read it as “told you so” if they wish. NTAC (National Transgender Advocacy Coalition) folks could’ve easily done this many times over through the past five years. Ironically, I was personally chastised for not saying anything about what was about to happen in September 2007 by the likes of Angela Brightfeather (former of NTAC) now of the same National Center for Transgender Equality – NCTE that Donna Rose also is part of. NTAC and I were also branded as heretics needing “damage control” by this same group even before we got off the Hill in 2007 as Keisling knew what we were going to hear, reaffirming what was to eventually take place a few months later.

Ultimately, this has virtually nothing to do with the “I told you so” mentality. It is frustration that the transgender community and even our own leadership continue going back to the same people that played us for fools before (multiple times at that!) These same leaders never trusted NTAC, and that’s their prerogative – although we never burned them, and our “heresy” ended up being completely accurate. But why trust in the same gay/lesbian leadership that burned you before? Why be hopeful for change when that “Hope and Dreams” crap gets you played for a fool every time?

It’s not as if we didn’t give them a chance. Our own community’s neo-leadership, personified by NCTE, made the grand promises and signaled a new day by this “working with our allies” hope-and-dreams line. Well we stood down and watched and waited. By the time 2004 rolled around, we saw it as the ruse it was turning out to be and began pointing it out. After quick damage control (the now infamous “HRC board vote”) they went at it again, and yet again we got duped. And that’s notwithstanding all the iterations of this same pattern predating the advent of Mara and NCTE.

There’s no fool like an old fool. But this is not the message I want tied to my community – I’m sick of us being perceived and successfully played for fools time and again! It communicates loudly and clearly that we can easily be manipulated and used. There is nothing positive in that for us. Zero.

If an individual wants to play that role simply to get whatever miniscule reward you reap for yourself (if any!), then do so – but don’t speak for me. A personal plum doesn’t mean squat to the community as a whole who then take on the collective image that we’re all nothing more than naifs, incompetents, and the same “lesser beings” that we’ve always been perceived as from GLBT (read: GL) leadership in America. Yeah, they can write me off and tell the world that I’m dumber than a box of rocks – have a field day and enjoy! But I’m not stupid, nor do I have to sit pretty while we play that again and again and again simply to please them and fulfill their stereotype. I’m sick of it!

“Homey the clown, Don't mess around,
Even though the Man, Try to keep him down,
One of these days Homey will, Break all the chains,
Then he'll fly away, But until that day, Homey don't play (that).” — Homey the Clown Song, Damon Wayans as Homey Da Clown from “In Living Color”

In case it hasn’t been clear before, note: We will never be equals in GLBT, most certainly NOT in our lifetime. If we insist upon having it happen within GLBT confines and try to force it through that one and only path, then we will not see it at all.

Sitting on the outside throwing rocks at these people and their organizations, trying to get them to change what they’ve created for themselves has not worked yet. It only draws their ire and resentment. The pace of change within their confines will continue at its glacial pace. Those in G&L America are doing what they need to lift their community up, and that must be understood. The fact that we’re waiting around for them to lift us up is ridiculous and (in case you haven’t noticed) isn’t happening. If you want to place hope in that, then understand that you can starve and die in secrecy waiting around for hope.

Personally, I reject that hope crap. Hopes never happen. To make things change, you have to fight to personally make it happen and do it on your own. We need our leadership to stand on our own two feet, distinguish ourselves from this GLBT cacophony, break those ties that bind us down and that burden these willing collaborative types with obligations, expectations and filters to govern what they say about those they seek favor from and restrict them from telling the truth. Screw that!

Donna has spoken out about them already, which is good. But why then coyly play the part of courtiêre, hoping to grab attention of these royals holding court? We don’t gain anything from them and meanwhile they gain through exploiting us as a resource. Sylvia Rivera was right!

If that’s “I told you so”, then maybe it needs telling again and again until our so-called leadership finally gets the message: Stand on our own two feet, be our own leaders and stop looking to them for leadership, permission or assistance.

They’re busy taking care of their own. We should be busy taking care of our own.

“You gotta keep your shit together with your feet on the ground
There ain't no one gonna listen if you haven't made a sound
You're an acid-junkie, college-flunky, dirty puppy, daddy bastard.” — Filthy Gorgeous, the Scissor Sisters

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

GOP Doesn’t Care About Jobs, Just Add More Tax Cuts For The Rich

“All of those who feel their jobs are next on the cutting blocks, they need bold and decisive action now!" — Pres. Barack Obama

It’s time for America to once again embrace being “a nation of whiners” – at least the Republican ones. He may have used it to bash non-conservatives, but Phil Gramm (former of John McCain’s Presidential Campaign) uttered a phrase equally poignant for all.

As we speak, the House will shortly vote on the President’s Stimulus Plan. The President took time to visit for a second time the GOP leadership – matching Bush’s total meeting with opposition in his first term just in week one! And for all that, Republicans respect the President rhetorically, appreciated the visit, agreed they want to see America get better … and plan on voting against the President’s bill just because. They are Republicans, the others are not, and so they will bravely play down-the-line partisanship just because!

“If I wanted Obama to succeed, I'd be happy the Republicans have laid down. And I would be encouraging Republicans to lay down and support him…. I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don't want this to work…. I hope he fails.” — conservative talk-show host, Rush Limbaugh

Republicans in Congress are whining about the stimulus package not having enough tax cuts. Somehow or another, GOPer leaders like John “the TanMan” Boehner and Mitch “the Bitch” McConnell are twisting this stimulus from being about jobs creations and morphing it into a tax cut stimulus – and screw that jobs stuff! Further amazing is how they’re twisting this as being what President Obama has been pushing, ignoring all the rhetoric he’s been pushing about the unemployment hemorrhage and the desperate need for more jobs! To do so, they have to paint it as Nancy “the Nutcracker” Pelosi being the evil party by taking away their conservative manhood.

Some things that must be said to any of those who may be falling for this: tax cuts won’t create jobs, especially right now! None of the poor or working class will be spending these extra $10 or $20 in their paychecks on anything but helping pay their rent or utilities. Ditto with the majority of the middle class, who’s also been hurting throughout this decade.

So this leaves only the wealthy, a dwindling class themselves, who are scared of facing what the rest of us have lived with this millennium being called upon to go out and spend in numbers great enough to create jobs? Who do they think they’re kidding? The wealthy are going to do what they’ve always done: hold onto that extra money and look for a safe investment to plow their money into. In this day and age, where sales are falling everywhere because nobody in the U.S. has expendable income, that won’t be planted in factories producing things that can’t be afforded anyway! In these uncertain terms, that newfound capital will go into safer, conservative investments like bonds or commodities! Selling bonds or commodities produces virtually zero in the way of jobs.

In fact, after one week of the Obama Administration, not one tax has been raised. Yet we are still in the thrall of the Bush tax-cut era with plenty of tax giveaways. If tax cuts create jobs, then why did we lose 2.6 million jobs last year? Why is it we’ve lost nearly 100,000 this week alone? Tax cuts are still in place from the Bush and GOP-mandate era. So where’s the big job creation?

The only things that measurably increased are the incomes of the executive class and investor class. They’ve done well, and managed to get us into this Wall Street free fall while reaping increased paychecks and tax cuts hand-over-fist. Furthermore, we’ve just finished giving away $350 billion of future national debt to the banking industry that’s provided all these worthless investment opportunities that killed the stock market. And now that our tax money has made their firms flush with cash and the big, juicy bonuses have gone out to their high-rollers, we want to give them tax breaks on the taxpayer funded bonuses they just received?

Once again, how many jobs will this create? How will this get the lower 90’s of America working and spending again? Yep, you guessed it! It won’t!

Ultimately, this all has to do with Republicans needing to show their worth to their primary constituency: rich, white corporate folks. Do you really think GOPers are that concerned about pork and giveaways of large amounts of taxpayer cash? Does anyone remember the recent $350 billion given away to Wall Street banks which have produced … um … nothing!?! That giveaway was okay because it was going to the GOP base: the haves and have-mores.

This stimulus is going, primarily, to non-haves and have-mores – so this is why the stimulus must fail – not because it’s good for the country, but because it shows the GOP still remembers who they work for! Rich folks may be rich, but they still want more too – and will fight like demons to get it! Everyone thought Oxycontin-head Rush Limbaugh misspoke about “wanting Obama to fail.” It’s actually true. As long as America is led by Democrats, expect the GOP to throw every monkey wrench and every other tool in the toolbox in order to gum up the works.

If it’s not their glory and their folks’ profits, then they’ll make sure it can’t happen. Brace yourself America, now the Republicans are fine with letting the country tank! To prove their point, the Republicans have just voted unanimously along party lines to vote against Pres. Obama’s economic stimulus plan. Partisan discipline is now back in vogue. If the American economy suffers for the next four years, then that’s a beautiful day for the G.O.P.

"Just this week, we saw more people file for unemployment than at any time in the last 26 years, and experts agree that if nothing is done, the unemployment rate could reach double digits. If we do not act boldly and swiftly, a bad situation could become dramatically worse. " — Pres. Barack Obama

Monday, January 26, 2009

Back To Business As Usual

As Inauguration Week is over and peoples’ lives get back to the more routine, we get to go back to the same issues that have been dogging us throughout the past year or so, and which never really went away. Jobs are clearly taking headlines once again as the New Year shows businesses once again scaling back aggressively. Now that the banking industry has received their Wall Street Welfare checks and decided (now that their books are flush with cash and their worries alleviated) to hunker down and play conservative once again, holding onto their cash with tight fists – and all other corporate industries are following suit.

The result is an unsurprising but frightening deep cut in their workforces. This will help their upcoming quarterly profit ratios and boost their stock price numbers and cost many more Americans and other “global corporate” workers their livelihoods, especially in America. And Republicans will continue whining for the need for more tax breaks to boost profits higher – though as we’ve seen these past years, there won’t be job growth but more “hunkering down” for investors.

For trans people, this will be a harrowing time in the job market. It’s never easy to be hired (Lord knows I can vouch for that many times over), but we’ll be facing some really bleak times beyond what we’ve seen. As always, once those companies begin rehiring some years down the road, we are always last picked for hire – kinda like being the pudgy, nerdy kid in school being picked absolute last for team sports. By necessity, we’re going to have to be more aggressive, maybe even more cutthroat in marketing ourselves for the workplaces of tomorrow.

Maybe some of that was in the back of Donna Rose’s mind during a recent blog post, which Ethan St. Pierre picked up on and mentioned in last night’s TransFM broadcast of the Radical Guy. Donna wrote the following:

I confirmed a couple of suspicions while I was in DC for the inaugural. One is that HRC really isn’t interested in rebuilding the relationship with the broader trans community. Sure, they’ll take it if they can get it but they’re not willing to do anything to earn it. Rather, they’ve got a small group of transpeople who provide the illusion of inclusion and that’s as far as they’ll go. That’s disappointing.

My initial reaction would have been “duh!,” but the statement above baffles me. How could this only be a suspicion? Even students of only our recent history could have told you this was going to happen, much less those who’ve been at it over the decades. But Donna was directly involved in the fallout a little over a year ago, and was well aware of what they were doing in the years of her board tenure there. I don’t know how she thought they were going to change.

“It's a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn't lost or made, it's simply transferred from one perception to another.” — Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko from the movie “Wall Street.”

HRC presumes we have ephemeral memories, and that all will be forgotten in a year or so. This post played right into that, and gives them hope that this will again be the case. In fact, I know some of their moneyed trans donors who were irate at the ENDA 2007 debacle who are already back working to assist them again – playing right into that same “forgiving tranny” scenario.

Meanwhile, HRC never forgets a thing, and the last things they do are forgive, mend fences, compromise, much much less atone! While this industry is officially “nonprofit,” we should all keep in mind: this is business. Like all other business, bottom line and control of their market are paramount. These large groups are as cold, as calculating and as impersonal as any conservative Wall Street banker. Their Executive Directors are merely CEO’s over their nonprofit businesses, and are mindful of moving their business plan (or agenda) forward, to increase their market share and take care of their investors’ best interests … in order to attract even further investment!

Rights are merely a by-product, and validation for these businesses to exist in the first place.

Now there are wealthy trans people who “invest” in these groups, point taken. But compare their sum total of contributions to those of wealthy gay and lesbian investors/contributors. Far and away, no contest. As with business, they’re going to try to take care of their primary shareholders. Like all business, they will stoop to any level, no matter how shameless we may consider, in order to positive market and build it further. As activist Joelle Ruby Ryan termed it quite accurately, HRC wants to be the Wal-Mart of activism.

Envision Wal-Mart. Now envision it with gay and lesbian leadership and a marketing plan to successfully dominate that market-share. Comfy-cushy, touchy-feely happy-friendly work environment? No.

“Oh, there was a time I would have walked the line
But you bled me dry with your insatiable greed.” — Action, The Sweet

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge
of mankind.” — Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko from the movie “Wall Street.”

And yes, Donna, they will continue seeking out new trans people to validate their current and previous behavior rather than attempting to “do the right thing.” That kind of thing is great subject for a Spike Lee joint, but it’s absolute anathema to HRC. Think of it this way: if HRC makes amends, it communicates an admission that they did wrong. You would get more chance getting admission of guilt from George W. Bush or Dick Cheney.

In a nutshell, they have money, they have power, and they don’t care about transgenders beyond simply smoothing out the wrinkles in their public relations image and raising funds from and off of us. It’s been that way, is that way and will remain that way. As long as they’re well-employed and making money, why would they care about something as insignificant to them as earning our trust?

As for noting that other trans people being mere tools for HRC’s image repair, that’s gone on for years. In fact, it’s these “opportunities” simply by the HRC designation that allow for folks like Donna Rose or Mara Keisling or others to have an immediate leap up from the “bubbling under” to immediate trans leadership status rather than wasting years working up the food chain in trans organizations. An HRC imprimatur gives them an automatic “Who’s Who of GLBT” status in America; something that’s hard for many T people to resist and something HRC is well aware of.

Occasionally it’ll even create minor employment possibilities for those precious few. But keep in mind, it’s done with the cynically strategic eye to their quid pro quo. Generosity in business is oxymoronic. Once their tools become less effective, they’ll simply replace them and find other trans folks to fill those designated slots. There’s no lack for desperate and/or ambitious trans people with some pretty heinous discrimination or the occasional corporate success stories. And these folks no doubt noticed how simple it is to achieve a little pay and the added benefit of star caché that they can parlay into something else later.

We’ll always have at least one among us who is separable.

Trying to get any gay and lesbian leadership to see us as equals – not the “equality” equal, but truly egalitarian equals – may well be nothing more than chasing the wind. When you involve yourself with them, expect to be utilized for their best use – not yours. It’s the nature of the biz. And of all people, Donna cannot look me in the eye and say she wasn’t warned well beforehand! She was.

It’s a New Year: 2009. And HRC is still HRC.

“And that's why everybody wants a piece of the action.
Everybody needs a main attraction.” — Action, The Sweet

“The man who has won millions at the cost of his conscience is a failure.” — Bertie C. Forbes, founder of Forbes Magazine

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Inauguration Blog: After The Cold Rush

Well, Inauguration Week has come and gone. This was truly one of the more historic weeks in our nation’s recent history, and I feel truly blessed to have been a part of this past week as well as this entire past year from the primaries forward.

There wasn’t much going on the day after Inauguration – in fact, all I did was go to the front of the White House where a couple dozen of us gathered to serenade the first family on their first full day. I also discovered that what I’d presumed was always the “front” of the White House – the side facing the Ellipse and the Washington Monument – turns out to be the back! I’d always wondered why Pennsylvania Ave. ran in back of the White House if that’s where the address was … well now I know, it doesn’t! I was always in the back of it! Needless to say, I unfortunately arrived a little bit late for our serenade.

As the press had stated about the inauguration, this was to be an unprecedented level of attendance. So far I’ve yet to hear any estimates on the crowd, but the show lived up to the billing. It may have been so well attended that they either over-ticketed the event, or perhaps someone figured out a way to counterfeit tickets for one of the front-of-the-pond staging areas. Another of our Trans bloggers – Donna Rose – was to have been sitting in one of those prime spots in the Purple Section on the other side of the pond from we Silver Section folks. While I had a central vantage point, the distance made the details obviously a bit hard to distinguish. I was looking forward to a closer shot from Donna’s vantage point.

As it turns out, Donna and her pal Rachel – as well as literally thousands of others with Purple tickets – were turned away from the gate. Something apparently went badly wrong as the Purple Section was full, clearly visible from our section – but these thousands of Purple ticketholders were never to see a bit of the ceremonies (save for whomever may have watched on someone else’s TV or video elsewhere). It apparently made national news and has it’s own scandal tag: Purplegate. Donna’s got an extensive recount of her experience and links to others on her blog (

That is disturbingly heartbreaking. As Donna noted, there were people who’d flown in from the U.K., one man from Minnesota who had worked the campaign and had sold his snowmobile (essentially a waterbike made for snow) in order to pay for the trip, and thousands of others including relatives and employees of Congress members who had looked forward to this day – only to be denied opportunity to even see a minute of it! It would’ve infuriated me as I’m sure it did for them!

Now I feel crappy having complained about our minor delays, confusion and re-routings. Having heard about how hotly demanded the tickets were to this event – especially being nothing more than a mere delegate – I was truly honored to be invited even to our Silver standing area. It wasn’t until today that I’d realized exactly how fortunate.

It’s almost surreal looking back at how I initially had hopes for John Edwards until the first few primaries and his quick departure, and how I’d immediately switched to Barack Obama (knowing as a Trans person that Clinton wouldn’t be there for us) but swore off getting involved in campaigning as I did the previous two presidential cycles. Then a short six weeks later when the precinct chair who’d taken over for me (a lesbian devoted to Hillary) tried to sublimely pull a fast one by keeping primary info from me, and Oxycontin-head Rush Limbaugh began exhorting conservatives to cross party lines and vote for Clinton in order to bloody up the Democratic primaries, I enlisted myself in the Obama campaign just as I’d promised myself not to do!

Little did I know at the time that I was going to be leading my precinct and our charge into Texas’ State Convention, nor did I even fathom going back to the Democratic National Convention in Denver nor working the campaign in Ohio, much, much less seeing the inauguration in person. Yet somehow I find myself here.

Unfortunately, even though I knew a number of folks from Houston were coming up, the only one I saw while here was Roland Garcia (as I’d gone to a party he’d invited me to). And I never made connections with any of the other Trans Community members making it up here for the event – nor did I manage to connect with Diego when I went up to the Hill on Friday.

However, I never felt alone. There were always plenty of folks to talk to, even when I was just biding time grabbing a quick snack in the House / Longworth Cafeteria as I chatted with a woman who’d just moved up from California, a former staffer of Sen. Heinz of Pennsylvania, who was actually putting out paper and trying to land another position as staff in one of the offices here. It surprised me as she was casually dressed, but then the entire week seemed more casual than usual on the Hill, even in the House and Senate offices.

As cold as it was during the inaugural festivities, it was a gorgeous day on Friday – very mild, low 50’s. It’s a shame we couldn’t have had that kind of weather earlier on, but what a way to end the week! Maybe it was just the fact that there were other “holdovers” like me who were in town post-Inauguration. Maybe it’s just a different environment due to the absence of the typical flint-eyed corporate domination that’s flavored Capitol Hill these past eight years. Either way, it’s a much more inviting place these days for all.

We’ve returned to the days where Capitol Hill is once again “the People’s House.”

“Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give a you
Apple a plum and apricot-a too, eh….” — Come On To My House, Rosemary Clooney

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inauguration Videos: Presidential Parade

The Presidential Parade along Pennsylvania Ave. as taken from the big screen in Rep. Anthony Weiner's office on election day.

The Presidential Parade showing the President and First Lady stepping out of the limo and walking along the parade route on Pennsylvania Ave, and headed over towards the White House. (As taken from the big screen in Rep. Anthony Weiner's office on election day.)

Inauguration Videos: The Inaugural Presidential Speech

Part I of President Obama's Speech at Inauguration -- beginning: my fellow citizens ....

Part II of President Obama's Speech at Inauguration -- the discussion that all are free, all are equal and all have the right to happiness ....

Part I of President Obama's Speech at Inauguration -- end: ... God bless the United States of America

Text of the President's Inaugural Speech:

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.

I thank President Bush for his service to our nation as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.

The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.

Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.

It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died in places Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed.

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.

The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.

We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.

We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its costs.

We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.

And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.

But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.

Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We'll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard- earned peace in Afghanistan.

With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.

And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, "Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.

And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service: a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.

And yet, at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.

It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break; the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.

It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old.

These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall. And why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day in remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.

In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river.

The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.

At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it."
America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words; with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

Inauguration Videos: The National Anthem & Swearing In

Aretha Franklin sings "Our Country 'Tis Of Thee"

Joe Biden is sworn in as Vice President of the United States by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens

Barack Obama is sworn in as President of the United States by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Blog: Change Of An Era

Leaving the place I stayed on the morning of Inauguration was surreal for this Houstonian. Gaithersburg looked like it had suffered a powdered-sugar explosion. Everything was covered in a generous dose of white, with homes and their Christmas Tree pruned junipers or pines looking like holiday card scenes. In a word, the cold was biting!

Clearly everyone appeared in an excited mood. I rode down with a group of folks from Chicago: Theo the fireman and Anthony and Francis Davis who live four blocks from where Obama used to reside in Hyde Park. We discussed numerous things: They had questions on how many could get in on one ticket (it was one per ticket per the instructions I had), they showed me their invitation packet which was better than mine – containing a program, to keepsake printed photos on stock paper with signatures of both the new Prez and Vice Prez, and also where we needed to go to get out entry to our viewing section.

“My fellow citizens, I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you’ve bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors…. Every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms…. That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood.” — President Barack Obama on his Inaugural Speech.

That last subject proved to be a task! On our invitations, we were instructed to exit the Metro off of the Blue or Orange line on the south side of the Mall. As we were coming in from the northwest on the Red line, it meant a switch at Metro Center. Upon exit at Metro Center, we were turned away from the Blue and Orange embarking areas for unknown reason, and instructed to go one stop further to Judiciary Square, exit on the north side, and walk through a tunnel to the far side south of the Mall. It was a healthy hike, and clearly some of the folks in cane and hobbling with limps were having a tough time of it.

Especially considering the sudden change in pedestrian traffic flow from the Metro, there was no signage indicating direction and far too few (and obviously overwhelmed) foot cops or guides to ask for direction.

The coordination of the crowd and traffic control seemed, at best, unusual if not downright unfully hatched. Having the supposedly “closed” street in front of the only gate areas for Inaugural viewing repetitively blocked while police cars and transporting police riot squad horse trailers and officers seemed unnecessary and strangely timed immediately before the event’s commencement. Another oddity was having squad cars, buses or chauffeured vehicles traveling down streets blocked off for pedestrians who were already shoulder-to-shoulder on their way to the entrance gates. Other points where the crowds were held back to wait for clearing of the lines across the street, or even restricting pedestrian traffic in the cross streets, was done only piecemeal on an arbitrary manner. Some of these decisions made no real sense.

The introductions seemed to take quite some time, but then, I’m a newbie at this inaugural stuff! Nevertheless the crowd warmed up with the Carters and Clintons took the stage. Everyone was cordial throughout all introductions until the Cheneys and George & Laura Bush were introduced. It was most especially loud when W hit the stage, when a number of us flipped off our now ex-President, then spontaneously broke into a unanimous rendition of “Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye!”

“I just flipped off President George!
I'm going to Disneyland!” — Dizz Knee Land, Dada

During the performance by Yitzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma, a group of seagulls and pigeons flew in synch with the music, creating tempo patterns that caused many in the crowd to comment on the seemingly purposeful air dance they did to the string composition.

Clearly the crowd erupted when the Bidens and the Obamas were introduced. And all the fashion-watchers took note of the gorgeous golden dress ensemble that the First Lady Michelle Obama wore. She was, as always, tastefully dressed. Most of the presentation went without a hitch, with one exception – Chief Justice John Roberts apparently screwed up the oath when administering it to our newest President! Pres. Obama uttered the first word, smiled and hesitated … and the Chief Justice repeated the oath again, correctly this time! Imagine the braying from the Limbaughs and Coulters of the world if it would’ve been a liberal Justice screwing up an oath for their hero, George W. Bush!

There was also one other minor screw-up when it was noted that power has changed hands in the U.S. forty-four times. In actuality, it was forty-three – the first one was not inheriting it from any predecessor, thus no “transfer” of power.

Our 44th President gave another excellent speech. It wasn’t his greatest, but very much up to the high standards he himself has set for this office – and a very welcomed change from his predecessor. There is something about this president that leaves everyone with a sense of confidence that our country is now in firm, frank and conscientious command. We now have a national figurehead who will claim responsibility as opposed to the finger-pointing dodgers of the past eight years.

“Part of what we want to do is to open up the White House and remind people this is the people's house." — President-Elect Barack Obama in a Dec. 7, 2008 interview on Meet the Press

Despite my leaving slightly early, the nearest Metro stop south of the Capitol Mall was apparently closed due to over-capacity crowds. As a result, a crowd of what seemed near ten thousand waited for well over an hour with no real movement toward the subway entrance. One woman ended up passing out due to diabetic shock, and just trying to get an ambulance down that street (which was a sea of shoulder-to-shoulder people) was a chore!

As a result, many folks (along with me) gave up on Metro and decided to go to the Rayburn House Office Building to warm up. Getting out of that sea of humanity at the Metro proved to be the toughest trick and took close to half an hour to make it half a block! Nevertheless, I did finally push through and made it to the House – to wait in another line for screening! After another colder half hour wait (there was no wall-to-wall body heat in that line), I finally made it in to warm up. Numerous committee offices were holding receptions, so I dropped in on a couple. I never could tell who was sponsoring them, but it didn’t seem to be closed or restricted to anyone!

After a couple cups of coffee and loads of cheese and crackers (my first meal of the day!) I went to the one Open House I’d confirmed for: Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York. He’s one of the Transgender community’s staunchest allies in the House, and was the most vocal in berating Rep. Barney Frank and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) for their ditching of “gender identity or expression” in 2007’s Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Rep. Weiner was one of seven courageous House members who voted against ENDA – not because of their being prejudiced conservatives, but because of the principle of leaving some of us excluded from “equality.” As a result, all seven of those members ruined their perfect 100% score on human rights from the very same “Human Rights” Campaign (and all seven were re-elected despite HRC’s punitive bigotry). I got a chance to give the Rep a huge Texas hug, and thank him for his defiant support for us – and managed to grab a quick photo too! Anyone out in far eastern Queens or Brooklyn around the JFK area needs to get involved and help this guy on any of his efforts or campaigns – he’s a lion for our community!

On the way home I sat next to a woman who I believe was lesbian (I didn’t ask). It turns out she was from Atlanta but had coincidentally come to Houston to work the primaries for the Obama Campaign. The reason she came to us instead of Ohio was that she wanted to work a primary state that had a caucus. Ironically enough, it wasn’t until this year that I learned that what Texas did to elect a third of our delegates was a caucus (we just called them precinct conventions and I presumed every state had them!) We chatted a bit about her experiences in Houston (apparently in State Rep Cohen’s district in the West U / Med Center area), and I related mine from Dayton, O-H … I-O. (Yes, I still remember … and thanks to Mark Foster for teaching our Houston bus that!)

“They come from the cities and they come from the smaller towns ….
Well, they said goodbye to their families, said goodbye to their friends,
With their pipedreams in their heads and very little money in their hands.
Some are black and some are white, ain't too proud to sleep on your floor tonight.” — R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A., John Cougar Mellencamp

Unlike many of the others, I ended up home at a decent hour. In this economy, there’s no way I could afford any inaugural balls. Sure, they probably would have been nice with the glitz and glamour. And I’m sure they were also important parts of what will likely be cherished memories of the entire weekend. But for me, beyond the affordability, it seemed a bit too ostentatious for me to justify. We’re inheriting the Bush economy and will be in the throes of this for some time, with plenty of economic pain to go around for the majority of the country – and also the globe. We must learn to stop spending money on things, and mine starts with that. So I feel very pleased I’ve managed this overly long weekend on a relative shoestring, thanks to deflated gasoline prices and the help of good friends!

President Barack Obama has set history of global magnitude just in his election alone. He also gives every indication he will continue this high standard in his acts.

Ultimately, working the campaigns, attending the convention, blockwalking in Houston and in Ohio and now attending the inauguration, this was actively being a part of history instead of watching from the sidelines. It’s part of how history is made and how change occurs: physically involving yourself even in the small, seemingly inconsequential things that collectively, when added all together, create this singular event in our lifetime. It’s a memory we’ll be able to relive throughout our entire lives, and maybe passed for generations to come.

It’s also an inspiration to those of us whose hopes and dreams died years ago, that maybe by working hard and persevering, we can finally see a day when success is no longer the sole property of the opportunistically connected or the entitled class. It seemed all but impossible on paper, but “Yes We Can” became “Yes We Did.” While I don’t have hope, maybe I can make change nevertheless!

For those of us who worked this entire effort and participated in this, we’ll always share being a small piece of history, and helping begin this process of change. We’ve truly helped create change. We’ve truly helped begin a new era in America and the world.

“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.… We remain a young nation. But in the words of scripture the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to choose our better history, to carry forward our precious gift: that noble idea passed on from generation to generation, that God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” — President Barack Obama on his Inaugural Speech.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration Blog: The Eve Of History

Not much to report today as it was mostly balls and receptions. I'd intended to attend a few different events, but settled instead for just the one I went to initially. I suppose a good portion of this had to do with my issues with the weather. For those up north, it's not such a big deal, but for my little Houston self, seeing snow like we had in Maryland was a mental buzz-kill. I tried to put it out of mind as much as possible, but it was only partially successful.

Nevertheless, I did make it out to one soiree held at Greenberg Traurig's headquarters. A friend of mine from Houston who's both an attorney there, and also very active in Democratic circles sent an invitation to the Obama delegation from Texas. It was a very tony event with many of DC's movers and shakers, as well as folks from around the country. Being a firm that does professional corporate lobbying, I felt somewhat at home (even though my background is more social and volunteer).

A couple of ladies I'd met from DC's connected class - Margy and Karen - remarked that this particular party was well-known and written up in Honolulu's Star-Bulletin as one of the 'go-to' events during Inauguration time. I could believe it: the food was sumptuous, the band was good and of course the open bars were stocked with top shelf fare. Even in this notable private event, I still managed to get in a little bit of Trans 101 for a couple folks who'd asked, including an Indian-American couple from San Diego who were very sweet and intrigued at discovering this.
The party was so good, I didn't go to the other three that were taking place shortly after.

Diego Sanchez, Donna Rose and I were tentatively scheduled to get together and figure out something to do tonight, but to no avail. Diego worked late, and ended up taking in a movie after work. Meanwhile when I spoke with Donna, she was stuck in Virginia at one of the Metro stops in what sounded to be an enormously long line. After hanging out until nearly 9PM, I decided instead to call it an early night (as I'd forgotten to bring cash anyway). Hopefully Donna made it in to town and found something to do.

Tomorrow will be the big day, and I need a bit of rest after last night! My only concern is if we end up with snow tomorrow as well. The area in Maryland where I'm staying still looks like a winter wonderland, complete with Christmas Tree looking shrubs covered in postcard snow. It's nice to look at remotely, when you don't have to get out in it. Being in the stuff makes it a wholly different experience.

With any luck, focusing on the moment will remove thoughts of the cold!

Inauguration Blog: The Opening Act

"I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.” — Martin Luther King Jr. from the “I Have A Dream” speech.

How many ways can you say cold? Well, I won’t bother trying to get flowery with my “speeching” – it was damn cold – at least for me with my thin South Texas blood! Yes I braved the weather and the phenomenal crowds to attend “We Are One” – the official opening performance of the Inaugural Period – in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
It was the perfect location for it (albeit, for me, a constant reminder of the temps as I was parked right next to a frozen reflecting pond!) Despite the temperature, the crowds were jovial and really into the moment. One of the big themes of the show and indeed the entire Obama Campaign was to not just think of yourself, but remember that we all must pitch in and help each other while we “make a more perfect union.”
This was demonstrated by the folks I plopped next to, a couple originally from St. Paul, MN (although the husband works in DC now), who were there – like the rest of the crowd – bundled up like Eskimos against the elements, while I stood without the scarves and gloves and hats that seemed to be the fashion. The woman next to me took pity and lent me her thick pop-top glove / mittens to warm my frozen hands up (there was nothing I could do about my feet!)

Of course since I didn’t wear gloves most of the day, I had fingers free to snap photos of the gay couple standing next to me (who liked my “Un-Equal T-shirt!”) as well as others around me – including a group from Dayton, Ohio (who made the O-H … I-O with their hands, YMCA dance style)! After the picture, I told them I was part of the Obama Bus (Freedom Riders II?) who helped turned their town and county blue there in conservative southwest Ohio! I had fun connecting with Dayton folk again!
The concert was phenomenal: Bruce Springsteen opening up, with performances by Shakira, Usher & Stevie Wonder doing Stevie’s “Higher Ground”, John Legend & James Taylor (singing Taylor’s “Shower the People (with Love)”, Bettye Lavette & Jon BonJovi doing a duet, Sheryl Crow, Will.I.Am & Herbie Hancock, Jon Cougar Mellencamp doing his “Pink Houses,” and many other musical acts. The stand outs besides Mellencamp’s and Usher’s was a three-song performance by Garth Brooks(!) who had the entire crowd singing “American Pie” and the Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” and a performance by U2 of their “Pride” (honoring MLK’s life) and “City of Blinding Light,” which I believe is new – possibly written especially for this occasion. I loved the final lyrics of the song: “blessings are not just for those who kneel … luckily!”
Of course the speakers themselves were wide ranging and entertaining, beginning with Bishop Gene Robinson’s invocation (it was good to see Rev. Gene give again!), Martin Luther King III, Queen Latifah, and even more comically lighter versions of most serious material: George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, Steve Carell, Cal Penn. Tom Hanks did a very stirring insight into the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in his monologue, with an unplifting orchestral backing of an Aaron Copland composition.
Walking out a little before the show ended I was stunned to see every inch of ground between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument packed with people! Even kids hanging in trees a half mile away, just to catch a glimpse of a Jumbotron of the performance – the sight of it all astonished me! Was this some kind of record for a gathering on the mall? It seemed to me to easily surpass six-figures in attendance!
“We Are One” was a performance for the ages! For one, I’m glad I made it – frigidity and all!

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.” — Martin Luther King Jr. from the “I Have A Dream” speech.

After the concert, I got chance to touch base with an old friend living in DC – Jeffrey Braveheart. We hooked up as the crowds broke up, and headed uptown to find a bar to hoist a beer and have a toast – fitting end to an exciting day!

Afterwards, I rushed my butt back up to the far suburbs, changed into more appropriate evening wear, and went to the Warehouse Arts Complex across from the new Convention Center. They had an event – Obamarama – that was a series of performances in the theatre in back. It was an old-fashioned vaudeville and burlesque show, replete with women in pasties! Actually, it was done very tastefully as in the old 20’s era of strip-tease, replete with the ostrich feather fans and period costume. It was great fun as the MC’s and performers keep the crowd giggling and even participating in some of the action. At first I felt a bit unusually dressed with my beret, fishnets and more of a French look, but the crowd was also in various “fun dress,” including one man looking like he’d stepped out of a 40’s era Jimmy Cagney movie, another in a fez, and still another dressed as Abe Lincoln! (Hell, I even play wrestled with Honest Abe – go figure!)
After drinking perhaps a bit too much of their mulled wine, I discovered the Metro was not running late on Sunday night! Yeeps! Catching a cab in downtown DC at almost 1AM is a very difficult process, and many of the cabbies refuse to take you outside of the district! I finally found one that did, and the trip cost a hefty $60, but I was safe back home. Lesson learned: verify the last runs of the DC Metro subways before leaving!
Well, today is MLK day, and I plan to watch the “I Have A Dream” speech on CNN later. Another note – startling for me, although pretty to see from inside warm environs – is that we were snowed on last night! Houston people are not snow people. I’ll see how I manage to get around today, but I’m not sitting on the ground like yesterday! Inauguration is going to be a challenge, I see.
"Yikes! Snow! This wasn't in the forecast! How did I get into this?!?"

Either way, I’m here and enjoying being a part of this collective bit of history! Before I forget, Happy MLK Day everyone!

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"” — Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Inauguration Blog: The Arrival!

This is the beginning of short blogs (as I get time!) during an obviously frenzied weekend! Yes, I’m here in Washington (well, suburban Maryland) for the Presidential Inauguration! It was a relatively snap decision: I got a ticket reservation notice a week ago last Wednesday, made the decision and – here I am! Managed the drive in two days – arrived last night (albeit during DC rush hour on the Beltway – yeesh!)

That said, I’m doing this on the barest of shoestrings possible, keeping in note my unemployed status! No flying – I drove (thank God for the cheaper gasoline prices!) Plus I stayed with some good friends: Shelly in Atlanta, and Janet & Cookie while I’m up here in DC! Otherwise, there’s no way I could’ve done the motels, much less attempting car sleeping due to the sub-freezing temps!

And I do mean sub-freezing – like in the teens and low twenties! I thought Texas was bad! It does make a difference that I get a break from the cold staying with my friends as they use heat, plus the car heater on the drive up! It’s not bothering me the way it does when cold in Houston and it seems (to me) that the entire world is in a deep freeze! Plus the cold is much drier here, so it doesn’t knife through me the way the cold will in Texas oftentimes.

While here, I’ve been trying to get my schedule coordinated as more of the events have now been put up on websites, etc. There’s a lot of things to wade through, and most of them have three-figure or even four-figure (eek!) door fees! With America being in the throes of Bush’s “Economic Recovery” (or ‘Mental Recession’ or ‘Depression ‘ or whatever folks want to call it), there’s no way a tranny like me, with nothing but temp jobs, is affording that!

Nevertheless, there’s at least a couple small ticket items, and even the National Council for AIDS throwing a reception that’s free or GLAAD’s free event at a local bar here, so being resourceful and searching allows you to find some opportunities away from the chi chi, high visibility spots.

Ultimately, being here for this Inauguration is history! It sounds clichéd, but it’s true this time. America elected it’s first African-American as President, we’re also in the most difficult times since the Great Depression.

Additionally – out trans people were officially invited to the Inaugural Event! That’s a first at any Democratic Inauguration, though Kathryn McGuire attended the 1989 Inauguration of President George H. W. Bush – and even went to one of the Inaugural Balls! Of course this was immediately after she’d begun her transition, and she got the invitation under the presumption she was still her male (and very conservative) old self!

It’s also the largest inauguration ever, and is drawing folks from around the nation and the world! Even with the frigid temperatures, people are braving the elements to be there and make future memories to be retold for many years to come. If nothing else, Obama has had at least one small part in unblocking a bit of the economic freeze and get folks out, traveling, spending a little at least. He’s a one man industry!

Most of today has been getting settled in, computer set up and watching CNN News of the Presidential Whistlestop. It’s been amazing watching the crowds out in this frigid weather, standing and waiting for hours for a glimpse of the new President. One can see it being obviously special for the African American community – but there were a number of non-black folks of all race standing out amongst them as well, waiting for that glimpse in that same deep freeze! Everyone wants to watch even a piece of this history as the Obama family and the Biden family traveled by train from Pennsylvania and arrived in Washington this evening!

The one thing that strikes me is how different this election and Inauguration are. The feeling is electric. There is so much about this anticipation and the admiration for the incoming President that reminds me and my friends Janet & Cookie of America’s Camelot – the John F. Kennedy presidency.

Even beyond the crowd response and the clamor, just the look of the family coming in: very young and attractive, an athletic husband and a tastefully stylish wife with young kids coming into the White House. It really struck me watching a bit of the news coverage where the Obamas were chatting casually about things like Ms. Obama looking forward to the inauguration speech, and an easy, almost high-school type of good-natured teasing of each other and a few laughs. Even a lot of the messaging from both Barack and Michelle are reflective of (if not copycatting) the Kennedy couple.

We’re here this week to witness one thing: a chance to truly usher in an exciting change in America at the very least. While the jury is out for now, we may also be watching the beginning of one of the greatest presidencies in our nation’s history. We individuals who walked the blocks, knocked the doors, were delegates, contributors, phone bankers, hosts or hostesses for out-of-state campaign volunteers or simply voters for what may have been the first time ever, we’re not individually historic. But our participation in this process, and for those of us fortunate ones watching the ceremony in person, we get to say we were a small piece of this historic moment.

We can point to helping create change! Yes we did!

“When we dream alone it is only a dream, but when many dream together it is the beginning of a new reality.” — Austrian architect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

... Fear Itself

After posting my most recent diary on Daily Kos on Civil Rights not existing for transgenders, it elicited quite a bit of commentary ( Most of it was refreshingly supportive, and quite a few were surprisingly very knowledgeable on trans issues. Of course, there’s always the others who take issue.

One of those inevitable detractors started off with the hackneyed “I support and love my transgendered brothers and sisters … but ….” – followed by the backhand. As the other respondents replied to him, the ire rose and his anger continued swelling until his anger let some unguarded sentiment through. Ultimately his beef boiled down with a special focus on trans people who were unpassable – “big, hulking trannies,” who “latch themselves into [sic] the gay and lesbian fight [for rights]” and how he "never knew what violence was, however, until I saw a lesbian and a drag queen get into a fight about 3 years ago in Toronto. Even the cops were afraid to break that one up...and it took FIVE of them to do it!”

The respondent was gay and expressed an understanding of transgenders in his initial post. Yet despite the words, he didn’t know us as much as purported. He had encountered us and developed a cursory conclusion: if you looked passable, you deserved transition while the rest did not.

“I don't care if you approve.
What the f*ck is that gonna do?
‘Cause I ain't got nothing better to do
Than piss off motherf*ckers like you!” — Crossdressing G*ddamned Son Of A Bitch, the Frankenstein Drag Queens From Planet 13

But buried within some of the comments about ‘latching onto his rights’ or even the violence factor from ‘battling drag queens,’ something else was communicated – fear. There’s a fear of violence at the hands of these tough gender transgressors, a fear losing his rights (as an extension of his community) and even a fear of public embarrassment per the story that started his string: an unattractive trans person who made a scene in a restaurant due to disrespectful pronoun usage by her waiter.

I wouldn’t doubt that if I brought this up to the particular detractor, he would persistently deny there’s any fear at all, yada, yada. But it is fear of something he doesn’t know and feels would put him in a situation he couldn’t control.

One thing I’ve discovered throughout the years is this: Fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all. Some will argue it’s fear of death. But really, the fear of death is fear of the unknown as well since many who've gone through near-death experiences don't have that same fear after.

Ultimately it boils down to this: the human mind has an incessant obsession with "knowing". Whatever the new discovery is, we want to know what it is -- thus, our never-ending quest for learning, inventing, etc. Even if we don’t fully know, we take what facts are available and connect the dots in order to flesh out the entire picture. Surety breeds familiarity and ease of mind.

On the flip side, when our ability to know is obstructed, our minds still try to estimate what it is that we're trying to know based upon what limited facts are available to us, if any. When we have that big gap between available facts and what results in our confidently "knowing" or comprehending, we then estimate the rest: i.e. “filling in the blanks.”

This allows our imaginations and our mind’s unease with “not knowing” come into play. We fill in the blanks with whatever our mind conjures up, which is often unease compounded and embellished, maybe even tossed around the echo chamber to other like minds and increased. The end result of this lack of surety is that you come up with full-fledged fear (think "fear of the Evil Empire" in USSR fanned by Reagan and our lack of intelligence until the walls came down and we saw it was all a paper lion with little of what we feared it would be. Replay this with Bush/Cheney and Saddam Hussein).

This isn’t to be confused with healthy fears. There are fears that are stable, and are fully correct due to aberrant experience – but only when applied to that one item known to be harmful or detrimental. When it then bleeds over into fear of other things, it’s superimposing or misplacing fear to the point of paranoia.

Misplaced fears notwithstanding, all phobias and insecurities and most paranoias, along with the aggressive actions tied to them all, can be traced back to a lack of surety which is itself due to an absence of true comprehension.

As he doesn’t know us, he fears the potential we pose. This is the core of virtually all of the long-term prejudices held over the years. It’s the reason why religious fundamentalists fear GLBT people, and mutually why GLBT people fear them in return, the kernel at the center of class-based aversion in societies around the world and the nucleus of hate toward ethnically different people such as racism rampant in America and around the globe. It’s also the core of what creates the wars, the likes of which we seeing in the Middle East, particularly at this moment between Israel and Palestine.

This fear of the unknown dehumanizes the object. It creates a scenario allowing one to avoid seeing another as a human being. This desensitizes the objector, as well as validating what they subsequently do to this object of their fear.

“I get confused, 'cause I don't know where I stand,
And then you smile, and hold my hand.” — Spooky, the Classics IV

“If we fear the unknown then surely we fear ourselves.” — poet, Bryant H. McGill

Once you know that what was previously feared, then suddenly it’s no longer the monster we had imagined. These monstrous beings become human, and you privately kick yourself wondering why so much energy was placed into the fear in the first place. Fear is the underlying premise of nearly all aggression, save for schoolyard tit-for-tat style retribution.

One truly frightening possibility is that fear in the hands of those in power can be manipulated by keeping the truth or the real knowledge away from those in which you wish to instill fear. When the facts are kept hidden and awareness restricted, it becomes yeast to feed the rising fear. This foments the subsequent phobic or exaggerated actions. Once attacked, it also typically draws the retributive action, which only self-fulfills the original paranoia.

As we’ve seen over the past few decades, there are those who utilize this unawareness/fear/aggression model to drive their enterprise. It occurs as a result of full-blown war with its recently witnessed “no-bid” contracting boon.

But it also finds sanctuary in simple social aggression, where churches warn of the impending “gay war against families and marriage” – or conversely, the gay advocacy organizations warn of the “right wing persecution” – and draw quite a profitable windfall for their respective non-profits.

Neither side really understands the other, much less truly wants to know the other. It’s preferable to their industries that they keep the opponents as feared and dehumanized as possible. It makes the job of attacking them more palatable and easier to sell to those they wish to support it. With mainstream media being bought into this perpetuation (they’re businesses too, and selling advertising to the very people who wish to continue the knowledge-restriction in order to profit), it’s now become the province of the internet to get the truth out.

Trite as it sounds, knowledge is power – the power to end hate. So many of the fears, whether transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia or racism, fear of other cultures or religions or other differences, can be taken down by simply getting real knowledge out to people, finding the commonalities between the disparate parties, and ultimately see the other party as a human being. The key is to find ways to get knowledge around the obstacles in its way: inaccessibility, apathy or laziness, fear of what one might discover and intent restriction from it.

Knowing the truth abates fear. Avoiding or suppressing truth generates and fuels it.

“There is not a truth existing which I fear... or would wish unknown to the whole world.” — Pres. Thomas Jefferson

“Get to know me!” — Jon Lovitz from his skit on Saturday Night Live

“My only fear is the unknown.” — magician, David Blaine

Friday, January 9, 2009

Civil Rights Don’t Exist For USA's Transgender Citizens

Picture yourself as a transgender person, going out dressed as your new gender, when “nature calls.” Then picture yourself going to the restroom, only to by stopped and informed you cannot use any restrooms there. You can’t use the women’s and you can’t use the men – they have no facilities for people like you to use. Most folks would think this was something that occurred only during the Jim Crow era with “whites only” facilities. It happens as recent as yesterday, January 8, 2009, for transgenders in suburban Houston.

Fleshing out this story, it wasn’t in just any old public haunt either. This was in the County Courthouse in a county adjacent to Houston. A county where the person in question was ordered to come in for a court hearing regarding her divorce. The deputy who stopped her – addressing her as ma’am (as she was presenting!) – instructed her not to use either men’s or women’s restrooms, that there was no restroom to use, and that this was by order of the judge presiding over her divorce case. She said her attorney confirmed that was indeed the judge’s request.

A week from today I’ll be arriving in Washington with the intent of watching my first Inauguration in person. It’s heady times as a number of us in the Democratic transgender delegation will be the first trans people attending an inauguration for a Democratic President, Barack Obama. We aren’t the first, as one of Houston’s Republican transwomen, Charles / Kathryn McGuire, attended George Bush’s inauguration in 1988. But in many ways, we in the trans community have come a long way.

“Each person must live their life as a model for others.” — civil rights icon, Rosa Parks

This inauguration itself is historic in that we are finally electing our first non-white male to the White House over forty-four years after the Civil Rights Act eliminated America’s shame of no service or no facilities available for people of color. It seems quaint and remote remembering a time when such blatant discrimination was open and allowable.

The Civil Rights Act was long overdue, especially if one were to follow the true spirit of the preamble to the Constitution. It was proven that there was a demonstrated, systematic discrimination of a class of people, there was demonstrated economic hardship as a result and there was a demonstrated lack of this class empowered or elected to office, preventing any direct advocacy to rectify this disparity. Now codified, America’s finally made good on the promise “you can grow up to be President someday.”

Progress … but to this very day it’s legal to fire someone in this country for being gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. Now most of these companies in these states will point to the fact that they don’t discriminate and have hired and even promoted gay and lesbian employees. Most states will point to an out gay or lesbian elected official. But when discussions of this progress occur, transgenders suddenly become invisible and unheard in the discussion.

“Vote for me and I’ll set you free!
Rap on, brother. Rap on!” — Ball Of Confusion, the Temptations

Trans people, even in 2009, are overwhelmingly unemployed and under-employed, or disproportionately “disemployed” from previous employers once their status is discovered, even if they were in positions of authority (as was the case with Largo, Florida’s longtime city manager, Susan Stanton).

Even in the most enlightened environ for GLBT people, San Francisco, only 4% of transgenders responding to a study earned the median income of $61,200 or above, while 59% earned less than $15,333. The only other category in the U.S. that has a lesser per capita income that trans people would be Native Americans (and don’t get me started on that as I’m a “breed”.)

Trans people are typically considered to be nothing more than the prevalent stereotype for male-to-female trans people: streetwalking prostitutes. Accordingly, the court system is anything but kind to out gays and lesbians, much less transgenders. Unlike other classes, though, trans people are incarcerated with people of our birth gender, meaning a female-appearing male in with other male prisoners. A study in California observed that 59% of transgenders in prison were frequently raped and beaten by male inmates, and often were punished with being thrown in “the hole” if they raised the issue with guards.

How many states can point to having an out transgender person as an elected official? Two: Missouri and a just-elected mayor in Oregon. The first out trans person ever was just hired a couple weeks ago to work on Capitol Hill in Rep. Barney Frank’s office. We have no state officials, no federal officials, and no way to access and directly appeal our issues.

With George W. Bush’s Real ID Act coming to fruition, even the issue of obtaining identification becomes dicey, affecting our drivers licensing and passports – and increasingly, states requiring photo ID for voting. We already experience Social Security Administration sending letters to employers to amend their employment records to reflect transitioned transsexuals birth gender, not the one which they publicly represent. The potential for being disallowed voting in all of this chills me to the bone. May there come a time when we may be turned away from the polls because of mismatched gender identification?

“I knew that I could vote and that that wasn't a privilege; it was my right. Every time I tried I was shot, killed or jailed, beaten or economically deprived.” — activist & Black Panther, Stokley Carmichael

I’ve been in an Applebee’s in College Park, MD where they wouldn’t serve us, and made it distinctly clear (as we waited for over an hour) that we were the only table that wouldn’t be served. I’ve watched a trans man and person of color (and leader of NTAC) blatantly passed over when they came to our table to take our orders. There have only incurred two instances where I was refused usage of the women’s restroom – one in a lesbian bar, the other in a straight bar. The latter instance, I went into the men’s restroom (not wanting the Houston police officer to arrest me) and almost immediately upon entering was accosted by a man who was clearly inebriated and grabbed me by the elbow – I left the bar immediately and never went back.

I’ve been directly let go from jobs due to my transitioning and transgender status. I’ve been pulled over by police early in my transtion, before my ID was corrected to my current gender, and had the officers interrogate me over “where I was working tonight” – i.e. where I was “hooking.”

I’ve heard well the epithets (even a couple from gay men during this election cycle as I was campaigning for Obama instead of Hillary), though the most graphic ones came from straight men, including a couple who were black. And yes, I’ve felt the boot of the more physical manifestations of discrimination.

It’s a historic time in our country, and I’ll also join in the revelry of beginning of physically demonstrating the promise of Civil Rights as we see President Barack Obama take the helm. In my opinion, it can’t come soon enough. Hope as a word lost meaning for me many years ago, but Change means a lot. And change we must!

Yet I also must keep in mind transgenders will continue seeing systemic discrimination from the courts to the workplace, our lack of employment (as I’m experience now) will keep us economically at a severe disadvantage, and the prospects of having a Trans person in Congress currently do not exist. That said, without a sufficient voice to make this issue known, this is a situation we’ll be living with for some time as there are many, many priorities inherited by this president that will preclude even the most remote chance of extending civil rights for Trans America. That hasn’t changed, and we must find a way to work around it until the day that occurs. Like the Isley Brothers sang many years ago, “we’ve got work to do!”

For now, if a judge decrees it, we do not have the right to use any restroom in public. If we violate the law, we should not expect favorable treatment in courts or in jails after. Even without violating a law ourselves, we most frequently can expect not to be equally protected by those same laws. Economically, we can expect not to see “equal” for many years to come, nor the subsequent entré into politics or power.

Civil rights are being realized by many and being taken for granted as fact. But for us in the Trans community, those rights still don’t exist.

“There is a higher law than the law of government. That's the law of conscience.” — activist & Black Panther, Stokley Carmichael

“I favor the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it must be enforced at gunpoint if necessary.” — former Pres. Ronald Reagan