Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Trans Political Reflection And Goodbye To 2008

The New Year is upon us and it’s time for both reflection and looking ahead. It’s been a truly uplifting and historic year for us. We worked on and witnessed America elect its first non-white male President ever, Barack Obama! For the transgender community, we actually had a very active hand in participating in and seeing this come to fruition!

“Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?” — Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns

A number of our community’s leadership participated in the Obama Transgender Steering Committee, including names like Pauline Park, Donna Rose, Donna Cartwright and Marti Abernathey (Marti of course became the first trans delegate from Indiana – and for Obama). Even on the LGBT Advisory Committee post-election, we had a prominent, well-respected trans leader, Marsha Botzer, involved and likely a big part of what eventually became the announced Executive Order on federal hiring by the upcoming Administration: the first *ever* to explicitly prevent discrimination based on gender identity or expression!

The Obama campaign even drew me back into the game. From working the precincts and the Montrose bar run with locals and even out-of-state trans folks like Washington state’s Rebekah Lee (who made the trip down for the campaign) and having to chair a near-riot crowd of nearly 400 at our precinct convention to elect our precinct’s delegates, to our senate district fight, to our state convention fight. Eventually the struggle won me a surprise return trip to Denver and the Democratic National Convention as an Obama delegate, and participating in our largest ever transgender delegation: six delegates and two committee members in all! One of the committee members, Diego Sanchez of Boston MA, set history by being the first trans person elected to the DNC Platform Committee – an important first! Both delegate Laura Calvo from Portland OR, and trans attorney Shannon Minter of NCLR were chosen to sit in the special “inner circle” during the final night of the Democratic Convention – again firsts!

Even the Houston GLBT Political Caucus got into the act! In a stunning surprise to many, the transgender-led, and trans majority screening committee defied the Houston Stonewall Democrats and two of Houston’s most out elected lesbian officials in endorsing Obama! Even without my input, Houston’s trans leaders knew the difference between Hillary Clinton’s incrementalism and Obama’s history of supporting inclusive legislation.

Even after my layoff on Halloween, it provided me opportunity to take a bus trip from Houston to Dayton, Ohio to work a critical area in red-meat southwest Ohio – the very city which was home to one of the notable 2004 controversies regarding vote counts done in partisan fashion behind closed doors with no observers allowed. The “busload” from Houston was notorious throughout Dayton – even the other volunteers had heard about us – and we took a tough trip and energy-draining schedule and made change we could believe in! After Pennsylvania was called for Obama, the television pundits all stated whichever of the battleground states went first – Florida, Virginia, North Carolina or Ohio – that state would put Obama over the top.

Ohio was the first state of those battlegrounds that went Obama – and the roar was deafening! Even more uproarious was when they broke down Ohio by counties and they showed that our turf, Montgomery County, went blue – the only county in southwest Ohio that went blue! We helped create change!

“We two have run about the slopes and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot since auld lang syne.” — Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns

We also finally saw a notable and collective trend shift in the transgender community, away from being “tempered and measured” and working “collaboratively” with “our (so called) allies” in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). It was just over a year ago that Meredith Bacon, Board Chair of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) sent out a letter to a number of trans leaders vowing that they “would not be working with HRC in the foreseeable future,” and even shocking many with the tenor of the letter in blatantly calling it an “elite” movement geared toward white gay males. Later, a couple more NCTE board members, Donna Cartwright and Steve Glassman, wrote a similar letter pulling back a bit from Bacon’s tone, but still reiterating not working with HRC in the foreseeable future.

These, along with the eventual departures from HRC’s Business Council of longtime members Donna Rose and Jamison Green cemented in the collective community what had been seen and spoken of only by the old-line activists circa the Bill Clinton era: HRC was not to be trusted. While the old-line “heretics” among us are still marginalized and stifled by the “HRC-hater” neophytes, it’s at least a comfort to know the sentiments on HRC are uniform throughout most all the trans community.

Sadly, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re more unified. Ironically, it’s now more fractured (ah, the magic of HRC!) Now it’s the original old-line “HRC-Haters” who won’t show deference to the neophyte “HRC-Haters” who resent both the old-line heretics and the newer HRC Moths who can’t resist, nor stand to be away from the limelight! But the upside is that the numbers (at least for the time being) that blast HRC for being their natural selves is much louder and larger.

During the course of the 110th congressional session, another first – the historic Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act with trans inclusive language passed the House and Senate, only to get bottled up after it was attached to the Iraq War funding bill. Meanwhile the ignominious ENDA stripped of its original trans-inclusive language, also passed the House. Both Barney Frank and HRC pulled a fast one, coming up with a snap poll of some type (no details nor data were ever presented) that showed 70% of the gay and lesbian community supported passing the non-inclusive ENDA rather than waiting for an inclusive bill.

After the ENDA debacle, Ol’ Barn’ (at the urging of Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin) worked with Rep. Rob Andrews of NJ to convene a transgender panel testimony on employment before a Congressional Sub-Committee. Diane Schroer, Sabrina Marcus Taraboletti, and again Shannon Minter and Diego Sanchez set history in participating in the panel.

On more contrary notes, 31 trans people were memorialized at this year’s Day of Remembrance, with Memphis TN becoming the newest trans violence hotspot.

Worse, HRC continued sniffing around and nibbling at the edges on co-opting hate murders of transgenders (with an eye ever towards the fundraising potential for themselves). Not only were there reports around individuals like Angie Zapata in Colorado, but even plans to co-sponsor one plan to hold a “post vigil party” following Day of Remembrance at a night club to benefit a gay youth center, but even a prominent member of HRC staff calling and attempting to insert HRC into the Day of Remembrance planning for next year! They smell green in that red, see the trans community is not taking advantage of the opportunity, and have an eight-figure annual budget that will never be enough.

Worse still, even a couple other LGBT groups are beginning to sniff around the event as well. Everyone needs money, except apparently transgenders or trans groups in their opinion! Funds have become tight these days.

“We two have paddled in the stream from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.” — Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns

Indeed, the financial collapse has had an effect on many of us as well as the rest of the nation. With this collapse (which I didn’t find out about until days later due to no electricity after Hurricane Ike), many in America are losing jobs and losing homes. As a result, donations to all charities have dwindled to a sprinkle in a sun-baked drought.

This is taking an especially difficult toll on the trans community. Homelessness is becoming more common and as trans people all know, finding shelter as transgenders is virtually impossible save for a few isolated locales. A week before Christmas, longtime homeless trans-advocate and perennial mayoral candidate Jennifer Gale of Austin died of exposure while sleeping on a park bench in front of a local church on a freezing night. With jobs evaporating, federal, state and local budgets being slashed to the bone and even the bone itself being whittled down drastically, the forecast for this being addressed is bleak at best.

Another ominous bit of news is the Bush Administration’s seeming scorched earth campaign on other issues besides the bankrupting of the economy. They weren’t able to kill of Social Security, but they have been doing what they can on other policy changes away from Congress such as allowing relaxation of restrictions on corporate pollution in the oceans and near national park land for instance.

On the trans community front, though, the health connotations are rather harrowing. News came out during the DNC in Denver that the Health and Human Services (HHS) Dept. had enacted a “Provider Conscience” policy for federally-funded hospitals and health care facilities. It sounds innocuous, but it means that if a hospital or health professional feels treating an individual is against their moral conscience, they don’t have to treat them. As Asst. Sec. of Health Joxel Garcia put it, “health care providers shouldn’t have to check their conscience at the hospital door.” For women, it means more than abortions, but birth control (even in case of rape or incest) may be denied legally if the provider feels it’s against their morals. For trans people, it means any trans hormone replacement therapy or cosmetic surgery may be denied if the treating physician feels it offends his beliefs. (

Think of the implications if, say, a Southern Baptist decides someone with full-blown AIDS was deserving of it and denied treatment. It could be conceivable for a hospital owned by Christian Scientists to deny medication to someone suffering from post-traumatic shock after an accident, or even a doctor converted to Jehovah’s Witness who refuses to prescribe anything more than prayer for a patient suffering from flesh-eating bacteria. Regardless of Hippocratic Oath, this provides legal cover now for health providers to deny treatment. It’s conceivable that some physicians could choose to not violate their conscience by providing medical care to another race, or deny medical care to others of a religion different (and thus heretical) to their own beliefs. This is a real game-changer on a number of levels, especially for those living in smaller cities and towns where health care choices are limited.

This takes effect two days before Inauguration Day.
But on a final upbeat note, our first out transgender, Diego Sanchez, has been hired to work as a congressional staffer on Capitol Hill. After many decades and hundreds (if not thousands) of gay and lesbian staffers even up to the highest levels on the Hill, the first trans person has finally broken through that seemingly plexiglass ceiling and landed employment with a member of congress. The only downside: it’s in Rep. Barney Frank’s office. Knowing Ol’ Barn’ as we do, we’re certain there’s “strategery” (as Bush-baby would say it) afoot in his selection.

Nevertheless, Diego has again set history – hearty congratulations on that! And for those of us who have been lobbying Congress (as have I) for over the past decade plus, actually having a trans person in one of the offices there on Capitol Hill is a welcome sight indeed.

Here’s hoping for a productive 2009!

“And surely you’ll buy your pint cup! And surely I’ll buy mine!
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.” — Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns


TransmanAZ said...

Thank you for such a good recap of 2008. It's been a good year for us. Looking forward to an even more productive 2009!

Nichole said...

Good grief, Vanessa, you got the whole year in there!! :)

You own energy and willingness to involve yourself in our world and politics just always seem extraordinarily impressive to me.

Thanks for all your thinking, blogging and actions. You rock girl and the happiest of new years to you.