Friday, August 31, 2007
The DNC Is Ready To Embrace Us
Guest column by Monica F. Helms
I recently spent three informative and productive days in Las Vegas with the hierarchy of the Democratic National Committee. Kathy Padilla from Philadelphia, PA was also there. I’m happy she came because she is a very knowledgeable person in the political arena. We were visible, we were vocal and we were active.
The structure of the weekend was such that on the first day, Thursday, they had the “Women’s Leadership Summit Agenda,” then an Issues Briefing with Q & A after lunch. During the Issues Briefing, two people had a presentation on the issues facing the DNC and the country. They used a Power Point slide that listed the various areas of the population the DNC include. On the list I saw the words “sexual orientation,” but I didn’t see “gender identity and gender expression.”
When they asked for questions, I got up and stated the DNC needs to start including those words, because “sexual orientation” doesn’t cover transgender people. If they don’t use them, they will be leaving out 3 million Transgender Americans. Kathy also got up and asked if all the vendors at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver had non-discrimination in their EEO policies that covered all GLBT people. Apparently, one didn’t.
On Friday, we had what was called “Constituency Sessions,” where the various constituency groups held all-day workshops that pertained to their specific issues. Besides the LGBT group, there was one for the Asian and Pacific Island Americans, African Americans and Hispanic Americans (which is how it was listed in the manual.) Some people checked out different workshops in different groups to get a feel of what the various groups were talking about, while others, like myself, stayed with one group all day.
I found the discussions interesting. The six different workshops/panel discussions in the LGBT Constituency Sessions were broken up into different subjects, with people on the panel who have had experience in that subject matter. Kathy was on the “Diversity in 2008 and Beyond” panel, which talked about diversity in the LGBT community. In that session, a very frank and heated discussion broke out on the issue of racism that is so prevalent in the LGBT community today.
On one panel, a lesbian from the Gill Action group presented us with various polls with American people that have been taken on LGBT subjects. Not surprising, most of the issues excluded anything having to do with transgender people. However, even when she was making generic statements, she used only “gay and lesbian.” I held up my hands and formed a “T” with my index fingers. She asked me if I had a question and I said, “No. I’m making a ‘T’ with my fingers so you won’t forget it.” From then on, she started saying, “gay, lesbian and transgender,” still leaving out the bisexuals.
Dennis Kucinich was there. I came up to him and thanked him for including transgender people all along. He told me it was the right thing to do and gave me a big hug. Another time, Gov. Howard Dean stopped in the room where the LGBT panels took place and gave a little speech. After that, he asked for any questions and I asked, “In 2004, transgender people were left out of the Platform. Will we be included in it this time?” He said a quick and strong, “Yes.” He then followed it by saying that he didn’t have complete control of that and reminded us that he was the only candidate that included transgender people in 2004 and couldn’t understand why others have a difficult time even saying the word. I’m hoping he has a little control over the Platform language in 2008 to ensure we are there. Of course, one of us needs to be ON the Platform Committee.
What I have also found out during that weekend was that all of the candidates support including us in federal legislation that has language for “sexual orientation.” The candidates should have updated their websites to have fully inclusive language. If anyone has a problem with their websites, they should contact the web masters of those sites and bring it up with them. Keep in mind, the one issue where we are not included and where we shouldn’t make a fuss about is Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Yes, it affects us, but the language doesn’t include us, so we just support the repeal of this law.
You have to keep in mind that the people who attended the summit were the heart and soul of the DNC. These were District Coordinators, National Caucus Chairs, DNC Officers, State Chairs, State Diversity Officers and many ground troops that will run the DNC’s “50 State Strategy.” These people are the ones who will have control over the Platform language. They will help and train others to work with the party and get the people out to vote. The DNC wants to focus on one state at a time, one county at a time and one neighborhood at a time, all done by thousands of people at the same time.
These were also the people who set the goals for their state to ensure that the 2008 Delegates look like the face of America. This includes us. Some of the people there are the ones running the various state and local Stonewall Democrats chapters. One person from the Colorado Stonewall Democrats stated that they are working with the Convention Planning Committee to set up “family restrooms,” so women with small children or anyone else who wants privacy can use them. They thought of us.
One thing that bothered me was when they discussed the way each Republican candidates make a case for themselves and what we needed to do to focus on making a case against them. When they put up Rudy Giuliani, they showed a picture of him wearing a dress and makeup. Many people in the audience laughed, but I was angry. Before I could say something, a gay man got up and said that he was a member of the LGBT Caucus and the picture highly offended him. He pointed out that by using that picture it says that people can make fun of the transgender community. I shook his hand. They got the message and apologized for using the picture, saying they would not do it again.
I walked away from that weekend completely convinced that the DNC heard Kathy and I. Everywhere I went (except in the general population,) I wore my “2004 Transgender Delegate” button and one that said, “Trans and Proud.” I now know in my heart and soul that WE WILL NOT BE LEFT OUT THIS TIME. I’m sure several people won’t even believe it if they saw the language in the Platform, but it is true.
So, now what? If any transgender person wants to get involved in getting the “T” out to vote, contact me at email@example.com. I have a plan on what we need to do in regards to the DNC this time. We need to drive home one simple message. “One Percent.”
Why “One Percent?” Over the last 5 years there have been various independent surveys/studies/researches done that when combined, we get a picture that one percent of the American population falls under the transgender umbrella. We don’t need to get into details on whether some no longer identify as being transgender or never were. For the sake of politics, if anyone has crossed the gender lines, even temporarily, they are in that One Percent. Hell, non-trans people are confused enough as it is, so let’s not make it worse for them.
We can easily use this “One Percent” to our advantage by constantly reminding the DNC on how many elections that took place in the past where a Democrat lost by less than one percent. In 2000, Al Gore lost by 537 votes in Florida. That comes to .003% of the population of Florida, according to the 2000 Census. If Al Gore carried just one more percent of the population in Florida, he would have won by over 158,000 votes. In 2004, John Kerry lost Ohio by 136,000 votes, which is slightly over one percent of the population in Ohio, but he lost Iowa by only .4% and New Mexico by .3%. We are no longer a voting block they can afford to ignore.
If any of you get asked about the hard numbers and where the One Percent comes from, a friend of mine, Jessica Xavier, told me to say something to the affect, “The intensity of the social stigma of transgenderism and things like violence, discrimination, harassment and multiple barriers to access of health care, drives most of us into secrecy, out of a need to survive an intolerant culture.”
I realize that not all Transgender Americans are registered to vote, or even old enough to vote. I also know that some transgender people vote Republican. (Yes, it’s true.) Many are registered Independent. When Transgender Americans talk to the DNC, they don’t need to get into those details. “One Percent” is all the DNC needs to know.
What I personally would like to see is an increase in registered Democrats in the transgender community and to see an increase in transgender people volunteering with the DNC at a local level. I would also hope to live long enough to see an openly transgender person speak from the podium at the Democratic National Convention and to see an openly transgender person elected to Congress. This is truly the MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION in our lifetimes. It is time for the Democratic Party to fully recognize us a part of their party, on all levels. They appear to be doing that. Now, it’s time for us to help Democrats on all levels of government to win in 2008.
Monica F. Helms is one of the founders and president of TAVA, the Transgender American Veterans Association