Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Racist College Parties Causing Drama
11:38 a.m. EST January 30, 2007
GREENVILLE, S.C. - A party held by some Clemson University students two weeks ago is causing controversy after pictures taken at the event ended up on the Internet. Some students say it was just for fun. Others say that it was racist.

The party was held the day before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The theme of the party was "Living the Dream," but some Clemson students are calling it a nightmare.

Pictures of the party were posted on, showing at least one person in black-face paint, with others dressed in knitted caps and jerseys and some girls with stuffing padding their pants to make their behinds look larger. There's an image of party-goers holding 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor.

Clemson officials said that the images were taken at an off-campus party thrown by some university students.

University administrators said the behavior at the party is unacceptable and they met with hundreds of angry students on Monday night to discuss the situation.

Officials also said that they plan to meet with those who attended the party and eventually bring the two groups together.

Students who planned the party and who were willing to talk to WYFF News 4 did not want their identities revealed because of fear of harassment

One student said, "We have a lot of theme parties where you dress up and have fun. We decided we'd have a "gangsta" party for fun. You know, the gangsta's like the hip hop culture. So we dressed up. We did not know it would offend so many people...and we did. We feel so bad about it. We realize we can't begin to apologize to all the people we offended."

Ranneice McDonald, another Clemson student, said she saw nothing funny about it.

"People painted themselves black. Put fake butts inside their pants to signify the big booty black-girl thing. Fake gold teeth in their mouths caps and jerseys -- depicted us as wearing such things as that are disgusting to me. It's disgusting. It makes me sick to my stomach," McDonald said.

"I was hurt that there were people who think that it's OK," she said.

School officials said that some of the students who threw the party approached them in an effort to make things right once they heard people criticizing the party.

The students involved told WYFF News 4 that they threw the party to show unity, and they apologized for the damage that they have done.

Tuesday morning, Clemson President James Barker sent an e-mail to students addressing the situation. (Full text of e-mail.) Clemson is expected to issue public statement later Tuesday.

Theme Party Not The Country's Only One

The Web site The Smoking Gun reported that similar parties were held at both the University of Connecticut and Tarleton State University in Texas. To see the reports on the other parties, click on the links:

University of Connecticut party

Tarleton State University Party

Disrespecting My Race Is NOT Okay

And whites... I'd have to say there is still racism in our society and there are still attitudes based on race. Suprmeme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

News flash, people. Race permeates everything in American society. The sooner we admit that the sooner we can all deal with it. Until the white folks who are in denial (and clueless folks like Dinesh D'Souza) buy a vowel and get a clue about that fact we are going to continue to have situations like this blow up.

African-Americans feel that despite the progress that we made during the Civil Rights Movement, under GOP rule this country has reversed course on race relations just like it did after Reconstruction. We are weary of pointing out ad nauseum that we are STILL expericing the aftershocks of slavery's effects on this country and tired of being disrespectfully ignored. We see incidents like the racist parties as a sign that confirms our suspicions that America is indeed backsliding on working toward making Dr. King's dream a reality.

Some whites that I've had the chance to have honest discussions with on this topic over the years feel that 40 years of talking about it and other actions that occrred in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement are enough. Since African-Americans don't face overt racism in many areas of American life they feel that the country has moved beyond it.

One thing that 'errbody' forgets is that chattel slavery in this country lasted for 246 years and Jim Crow racism was around for 100 more. There was a lot of disinformation disseminated to justify slavery that if you're honest about it, reflects itself in today's racial attitudes. It's difficult for some whites to acknowledge that there is a problem with race when they go through life without having to deal with the issue because they're at the top of the societal pecking order.

So if you want to know why we go ballistic when we see those stereotypes acted out at a college party or a white gay man dressing up in blackface and claimong to honor Black women in his act, now ya know.

It's all about respect and right now African-Americans don't feel the love.

Monday, January 29, 2007

'Roots' 30 Year Anniversary

Photo-(left) Alex Haley's Roots
Photo-(right) LeVar Burton as Kunta Kinte in the miniseries

Thirty years ago this week I like millions of other Americans was glued to the television watching a groundbreaking television show. I was a high school sophomore at the time and Roots was mandatory viewing in my history class. It was going to be mandatory viewing in my house whether it was a class assignment or not. ;)

The twelve-hour mini-series aired on ABC from January 23 to January 30, 1977 for eight consecutive nights. ABC executives initially feared that the historical saga about slavery based on Alex Haley's book Roots: The Saga Of An American Family would be a ratings disaster.

They were 'scurred' for nothing. Roots scored higher ratings than any previous entertainment program in history. It averaged a 44.9 rating and a 66 audience share for the length of its run. The seven episodes that followed the opener earned the top seven spots in the ratings for that Nielsen ratings week. The final night of Roots held the single-episode ratings record until it was bumped from the number one spot by the 1983 airing of the final episode of M*A*S*H on CBS and the 1980 airing of the 'Who Shot J.R'. episode of Dallas. The fianl night of Roots is still 30 years later the third highest rated show on network TV.

Historian and writer Roger Wilkins wrote in the New York Times on February 2, 1977 that the miniseries "may have been the most significant civil rights event since the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965."

It was a cultural watershed event. Roots had ALL Americans face the history of slavery up close, without the misinformation, stereotypes and myths.

It revived among all American ethnic groups interest in oral history and tracing their genealogy. It briefly made the name Kizzy (Leslie Uggams' character in the miniseries) one of the most popular African-American girls names in 1977-78.

It inspired millions of African-Americans to shed their fear and shame of our genealogical links to Africa and embrace them. That inspiration ignited by the miniseries is still alive today. African-American owned companies such as Washington D.C. based African Ancestry have compiled DNA databases that can tell you what part of Africa you're genetically linked to (or not).

Those lessons are sadly still needed in our time. On Martin Luther King Day you have a Republican state legislator in Virginia tell Blacks that they 'should get over slavery'. During that same weekend white college students on several college campuses were having racist 'ghetto parties' on a holiday designated to honor a man who is probably one of the greatest Americans we ever produced.

Maybe we should send sets of 'Roots' to the college libraries at Clemson, UConn Law School, Tarleton State and every other person who is woefully in denial about how slavery has impacted this nation.

TransGriot notes
The link to African Ancestry if you wish to contact them

Daddy's Little Girls

I have a confession to make. I'm a serious movie junkie.

If the premise of a movie intrigues me I won't hesitate to head to the local multiplex to check it out on the first weekend it opens. When I get there I'll buy a large tub of buttered popcorn, a large drink and contentedly munch away as I enjoy the show. If I'm not feeling the plot synopsis that's when I'll wait until it hits DVD. (and it won't be a bootleg DVD either).

I love movies with great plots, realistic characters, and a compelling story. Hey, I'm a writer. That's what I like in a movie and I believe that what's been missing in a lot of films lately. A bumpin' soundtrack doesn't hurt either. I also like romantic comedies, action films, sci-fi, some musicals and a good documentary from time to time.

One movie that's definitely on my must see list is the Tyler Perry produced film Daddy's Little Girls starring Gabrielle Union, Tracee Ellis Ross, Malinda Williams, Lou Gossett Jr, Terri Vaughn and Idris Elba.

The plot centers around Julia, a successful attorney played by Union who falls in love with Monty, a financially challenged mechanic played by Elba. They are introduced to each other when the mechanic's ex-wife with gangsta boyfriend in tow suddenly reappears in his life and threatents to take away their three daughters. He needs legal represenation fast and he's introduced to her by a friend who works for Julia.

I've liked the trailers I've seen for this movie so far. This will probably be another hit for Tyler Perry. It's also the first film he's produced that won't have Madea in it. The film was scheduled to be released on February 14 but I'm now seeing February 23 as a release date for it.

In any case, whether it's on Valentine's Day or sometime before or after that date, I'm still looking forward to seeing it.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sabre Child Running Wild

photos-Dawn teaching a fencing class, Peter Westboork wins a match, Two-time Olympians Keeth and Erin Smart and Laura Flessel-Colovic

This morning I found myself rising at 7 AM so that I could hit the road with Dawn. She was competing in a fencing tournment on the IU-Bloomington campus an hour north of here.

Fencing? Black folks actually fence? Yes, they do.

Fencing is one of the fastest-growing sports in the US. There are an estimated 100,000 participants in various fencing sailles or clubs across the nation. Dawn's club, the Louisville Fencing Center headed by Maestro Les Stawicki is one of them. Maestro Stawicki is the current coach of the US Paralympic Fencing Team and the former head of the Polish national team from 1973-1990.

In addition, there are 82 colleges that offer fencing either as a club or full team sport. The NCAA has conducted championships in fencing since 1990.

Before the 1984 LA Games the only thing I knew about sabre was that it was the name of the American Airlines reservation system. That was before six-time Olympian Peter Westbrook became the first American to medal in the sport since 1960. He had a very compelling life story as well. He's a multi-ethnic kid from Newark who became an Olympic bronze medallist. He is considered an icon in the sport and an inspiration to many African-American fencers through his Peter Westbrook Foundation in NYC that he founded in 1991.

Ironically the first two kids that walked through the doors of his foundation, siblings Keeth and Erin Smart became Olympians. They competed in the Sydney and Athens Games and Keeth was the number one ranked fencer in the world during much of 2003. Several of his Fencer's Club teammates such as Ivan Lee, Akhi Spencer-El and Kamara James made US Olympic teams in 2000 and 2004. They are making much noise in the world and US national fencing ranks as well.

On the collegiate level there is Notre Dame sophomore Ashley Serrette, who is an up and coming sabre fencer for the number one ranked Fighting Irish women's team.

Internationally there is Caribbean-born three-time Olympian Laura 'The Wasp' Flessel-Colovic. She won double Olympic gold in Atlanta and folowed that up with a silver in Sydney and two bronzes in Athens in her specialty, epee.

There are three fencing weapons, foil, sabre and epee. While some fencers compete in more than one discipline, like Dawn many decide which one they like and concentrate exclusively on mastering the rules, tactics and strategies for that weapon.

It's fast paced and a lot of fun to watch. In addition, many of the fencers get to know one another during the various club, sectional, regional and national tournaments and a sense of esprit-de-corps develops amongst them.

In terms of the African-American presence in the sport, while New York City is currently the mecca of the sport thanks to the Westbrook Foundation, the African-American presence in the sport actually dates back to the early 50's. There are also clubs in New Orleans and Atlanta that are producing more African-American talent as the sport gains popularity. I'm starting to notice when I'm able to attend tournaments like the one at IU that Dawn isn't the only African-American there.

Dawn's LFC is also making a serious effort to grow the sport among African-Americans locally. They participated in a recent demonstration event at the Frazier Arms Museum and offer after school classes at Brandeis Elementary and several other locations around Louisville. They are currently working on getting a program started at the Southern Leadership Academy.

The club recently moved from downtown to a more spacious location on the Central High School campus, the alma mater of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali. Fittingly enough, the address is 1401 Muhammad Ali Blvd. If you live in the Louisville metro area and wish to stop by the LFC, someone is usually onsite from the afternoons until early evening. If you want to see what a competitive fencing tournament actually is like, on March 3 the LFC will be hosting the Cory Stauble Memorial Open.

If you're interested in participating in fencing or would like information about what the club has to offer, you can stop by the LFC, click on this link to check out their website or call them at (502) 540-5004. You can also access the US Fencing Association website to find a club near you.

It wont be long before the heightened interest of African-Americans in fencing finally pays dividends.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Stomp the Yard

Last night I went to see Stomp The Yard at my local multiplex. Since I have more than a passing interest in step shows being the child of a sorority member, I wanted to see if the filmakers accurately captured the flavor of African-American fraternity life.

Boy did they ever.

While I wasn't enamored of the opening gangsta step sequence, I definitely got into the rest of the movie. Seeing Harry J. Lennix and Valarie Pettiford in the movie was a bonus.

One sad note about the movie for me. I noticed during the scene in which TNT was practicing their step show routine, they were in a gym that had MBC painted on the bleachers. That's when I snapped to the realization that some of the scenes for the fictional Atlanta-based HBCU called Truth University were filmed on the Morris Brown College campus.

It took me back to my own UH college days. Remembering the step battles that happened at the North Texas Greek Show and various other local step shows at TSU, Prairie View and UH. There was the on-campus Hateraid between the Que's and Kappas that I observed the first week I was on campus that provided a constant source of amusement for me.

Wednesdays and Fridays were the days that all the African-American frats and sororities stood their pledges in front of the UC for inspection by their big brothers and big sisters. The Omegas after checking out their pledges would have them jog through the Kappa pledge line to break it up and dare them to do anything about it. One day they pushed it too far and the Kappas retaliated. A Kappa Kane was swung at the tail Que pledge in line and he fortunately ducked in time. A Que who was 6'5" and worked as a bouncer at a new wave nightclub snatched that inch thick cane and broke it into four pieces with his bare hands as his brothers chanted, "Shook, shook, shook, got yo' cane took."

But back to the movie. Awesome step sequences, the old school-new school drama, conflicts between rival frats that play out over generations, a great love story, with power plays and secrets that ruined and have the potential to ruin lives play out as this movie unfolds. It also has a neat sequence in which points out the fabulous leadership and service heritage that African-American fraternities and sororities have provided for our people.

It's definitely getting added to my DVD collection when it comes out.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Barbara Jordan

Another installment in my ongoing series of articles on transgender and non-transgender women who have qualities that I admire.

What the people want is simple. They want an America as good as its promise.
Barbara Jordan. Harvard University Commencement Address, June 16, 1977

Barbara Jordan for me is my personal definition of the best qualities of a politician. Smart, humble, eloquent with rock solid ethics and integrity.
It's the vision of leadership I take into the voting booth in every election and strive to live up to in my own life. Her legacy is so powerful even after her death that many Houstonians still consider the 18th Congressional District 'Barbara's seat.'

Barbara Charline Jordan's life was a groundbreaking one. It took the Phillis Wheatley honors grad from the Fifth Ward to Austin to Washington DC and back. As a Texas Southern University student she participated on the first debate team from an HBCU to compete in the forensic tournament held at Baylor University. She won first place in that competition and honed those oratory skills that would define her life in public service.

After graduating magna cum laude from TSU in 1956 and receiving her law degree in 1959 from Boston College, she served as an Adminstrative Assistant to the County Judge of Harris County, the first African-American to hold that position. In 1966 Jordan became the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate since 1883 and its first African-American woman.

In 1972 she was elected President Pro Tempore of the Senate. In the tradition of the Texas Senate, when the governor leaves the state, the President Pro Tempore becomes governor. On June 10, 1972 she served as Governor for a Day, making her the first African-American woman governor in the history of the United States.

When the 18th Congressional District was created in 1971 she was overwhemingly elected to that post in November 1972, becoming the first African-American congressmember from Texas. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee her stirring words during the 1973 Watergate Hearings garnered her national and international acclaim. She decided not to seek reelection and left Congress in 1978.

For the next sixteen years she taught at the University of Texas, wrote and spoke about critical issues facing Americans and gave memorable keynote speeches at the Democratic Conventions in 1976 and 1992. The 1976 speech was another trailblazing moment. It was the first time an African-American had ever given a keynote speech at a party convention.

In 1991 Governor Ann Richards appointed her as Special Counsel for Ethics and in 1994 she served as Chairwoman of the United States Commission on Immigration Reform. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton in 1994.

Even in death, she was a trailblazer. She became the first African-American honored with burial in the Texas State Cemetery, our Lone Star version of Arlington National Cemetery.

I'd love to be half the woman that Barbara Jordan was. I'm still working on it. ;)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Gender and the Pulpit

Photo-Rabbi Levi Alter and Rev. Joshua Holiday talking during a summit break

Workplace difficulties can arise for trangendered persons in nearly all professions, but what about those who are called to work for God?

By Lauren McCauley
Special to Newsweek
Updated: 1:42 p.m. PT Jan 23, 2007
© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.

Jan. 23, 2007 - In 1973, Eric Karl Swenson was ordained in the Presbyterian Church and went to work doing what he’d always dreamed of: ministering to a congregation of the Southern Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. More than 20 years later, one dream almost ended when another began. When the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta discovered in 1996 that Swenson had finally fulfilled another lifelong desire—having sex-change surgery to become a woman—it started proceedings to revoke Swenson’s ordination.

At the time of her “transition,” Swenson did not resist the church’s questions nor blame its reluctance. “I had been in the closet for 30 years, learning to accept myself,” she says. “It is difficult for me to be angry at others for not accepting.” Married with two daughters before her transition, Swenson described her struggle, years later, in a sermon: “I had spent the better part of four decades wrestling secretly with the unreasonable and incorrigible desire to be female.” After almost three years of grueling questions and debate, the Presbytery finally agreed, 181-161, to sustain her ordination, making Swenson the first known Protestant minister to transition from male to female while remaining in office. Now 59, Swenson is tall and blond, with shoulder-length hair and an assertive manner. Erin, as she’s called, continues to work as a pastoral counselor and, she hopes, as an inspiration for others who find themselves living out, what may be, the last taboo in society, let alone organized religion.

This past weekend, Swenson and her peers gathered in the hills of Berkeley, Calif., for the first National Transgender Religious Summit at the Pacific School of Religion, an ecumenical seminary that prepares students for ordination in the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church and the Disciples of Christ. The conference, open to members of all faith traditions, is a joint project of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) in Washington, D.C., and the Pacific School’s own Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS). Sixty-five religious leaders attended, from Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Unitarian, Quaker, Jewish and Agnostic communities across the country. On the agenda: denominational policy and outreach to transgender communities.

At the heart of almost every conversation that occurred during the conference was this: how does a person who chooses to live “with permanent gender ambiguity,” as one handout put it, also participate as a leader in an institution as traditional as religion?

Conference organizers think the time is right for transgendered persons of faith to come out of the closet. “Transgendered people are beginning to find their public voice with more advocates and opportunities for protection,” explains Justin Tanis, an ordained minister who helped put together the summit—and who was born female. With the House and Senate now under Democratic control, Tanis says, activists in the transgender community feel that they may finally be heard, and they are working hard to put together legislation on Capitol Hill, especially on the issue of workplace rights. No one knows how many people in the United States live with an ambiguous gender identity, either because of a firm conviction that they were born in the wrong body or because of a political ideology or youthful experimentation. But the issue has gained great resonance on college campuses of late, as well as in local legislatures and in gay activist circles. Last weekend’s conference was evidence that at least some of these people have strong religious identities as well.

The transgender issue is so new that most religious denominations have not yet made policy statements about it. In 2003, the Roman Catholic Church announced that transsexuals suffer from “mental pathologies” and should be barred from religious orders and the Catholic priesthood. Often using Biblical language to make their point, conservative Christian groups have treated transsexuals and other people with ambiguous gender as having psychological defects that can be cured with psychotherapy. Swenson, not surprisingly, objects to this characterization. “To pick out small pieces of Scripture and use them in a hateful way is damaging to me and to the Scripture,” she explains. “God says to love one another; should anything else matter?” Swenson finds evidence of God’s love, for her unique case, in Isaiah: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than songs and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:1-5).

Transgendered people say another difficulty is that many religious denominations reinforce gender stereotypes—conventions about women’s and men’s roles in the life of a church, for example, that pose problems for people who want to live outside those rules. “The Bible has been used incorrectly throughout history to justify slavery and to oppress women,” says Joshua Holiday, a female-to-male pastor at the LIFE (Love Is For EveryBODY) Interfaith Church in Louisville, Ky. A year and a half ago, Holiday organized a gathering of African-American transgendered people, The Transsistahs, Transbrothahs Conference (TSTB), to promote greater acceptance in the black community.

Transgendered clergy say they know that parishioners can become distracted by thoughts about what lies beneath their robes, but they hope that people in the pews can learn to see them as ministers with a holy mission. Religion, says Tanis, “is about compassion and human dignity”; he hopes the seminar will teach transgendered clergy to embrace their uncommon situation and use it for good. After going through his own transition, he says: “I had a greater sense of internal peace; I was wiser and could be a better religious leader. It is a gift to be able to see the world through more than one gender’s eyes.”

Monday, January 22, 2007

Feeling the Gender Gap Firsthand

Having Worked in Science as a Man and a Woman, Ben Barres Has Experienced Its Gender Divide From Both Sides
From ABC

Sept. 27, 2006 — Ben Barres is a world-renowned neurobiologist, whose quiet demeanor is off-set by the twinkle of intensity in his eyes.

With an M.D. from Dartmouth and a Ph.D. from Harvard, Barres is a respected scientist who is known on the Stanford University campus as a great mentor, especially to women.

Barres, a staunch feminist, is deeply offended by the insinuation that women are less talented in science. That may be because Ben Barres spent 40 years of his life as Barbara Barres.

Growing up, Barbara Barres was a tomboy and math whiz who wound up at MIT, despite the fact that her high school guidance counselor discouraged her from applying there.

It was the 1970s, when only 11 percent of MIT's students were women, and Barres described the atmosphere as occasionally sexist.

Once, Barbara Barres solved an equation the professor had designed to stump the class, and was the only one who got it right. But the professor didn't believe a woman could solve the puzzle.

"He looked at me with sort of this disdainful look and said, 'Well, your boyfriend must have solved that for you,'" Barres recalled.

Barbara Barres didn't get credit. And yet, it was the accusation of cheating that got under her skin, not the blatant sexism.

"It was only years and years later that it occurred to me, 'Gee, this was sexism,'" Barres said.

It's possible the sexism didn't register because Barbara Barres never really identified with women. "I certainly did not feel comfortable wearing makeup, wearing jewelry. High heels, things like that, were agony," Barres said. Ironically, the only problem she couldn't solve was deeply personal.

As Barbara Barres in college, she dated only briefly, Barres said. "If anything, I have weak attractions to men. But I really don't have strong attractions to either sex," Barres said, describing himself now as a contented bachelor. His passion, aside from science, is roasting his own coffee, which fills his kitchen with a rich aroma.

Receiving More Accolades as a Man

Today Ben Barres seems comfortable in his skin, but his was a long journey toward self-discovery. It took a breast cancer scare and a mastectomy when Ben was still Barbara to make Barbara realize she'd been living in the wrong body for 40 years.

"I remember that my doctor was kind of horrified at my suggestion that he cut 'em both off while he was at it, and another doctor, a year later, saying, 'Well, don't you want to have reconstructive surgery now?' And I was like, 'No, I am not gonna let anybody put those things back on me.'"

It's been 10 years since Barbara Barres became Ben Barres, with hormones and surgery. And Barres' unique perspective has turned him into a fervent crusader in the debate over whether gender matters in science. In one of the first lectures after his sex change, Barres spoke at MIT.

"Afterward, somebody who was familiar with the work of Barbara Barres apparently was heard to comment, 'Gee, that Ben Barres' work is so much better than his sister's.'" The person said this, evidently not realizing that Ben and Barbara were the same person.

That's a telling anecdote about the way men and women are perceived in the field of science. "There is a presumption that work being done by a man is better than work being done by a woman," said Barres.

When former Harvard president Lawrence Summers caused a firestorm last year by suggesting that women are less innately talented in science than men, Barres called it verbal violence and felt he had to speak up.

"If people treat women as if they are less good, that treatment in itself causes them to be less confident, to choose to leave science," Barres said, adding, "I am always amazed when Larry Summers and others make this comment, because it so flies in the face of the data. A little bit less arrogance would go a long way."

In an impassioned response just published in the journal Nature, Barres references a slew of academic studies that found that women who applied for grants had to do more than twice as much work as men did, and that women at MIT were not getting equal resources, such as lab space.

His point: The gender gap in science has less to do with subtle differences in brain power and much more to do with bias.

Last week, a panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences said women in science and engineering are hindered not by lack of ability but by bias and "outmoded institutional structures."

The report recommends altering procedures for hiring and evaluating scientists, changing typical timetables for tenure and promotion, and providing more support for working parents.

Barres helps to fight bias by lending his hand to the respected Pioneer Award program, the National Institutes of Health's most prestigious prize. As a judge, he worked to make the application process more open, which led to important results.

Barres said the number of women and minority winners shot up from zero percent to nearly 40 percent. "The very best part was that we only discussed who was the best scientist and what was the best science."

And in Barres' perfect world, that's all that should matter.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Black Super Bowl

Black History Month 2007 will have a historic matchup kicking it off on February 4.
Super Bowl XLI in Miami will feature two African-American coaches facing off for the NFL championship. One of them will leave Dolphins Stadium with the Lombardi Trophy in their possession.

Lovie Smith's Chicago Bears mauled the New Orleans Saints 39-14 in the NFC Championship game at Soldier Field to make it to their first Super Bowl since the 1985 'Super Bowl Shuffle' squad. He became the first African-American coach to make it to the Super Bowl.

A few hours later Tony Dungy's Indianapolis Colts fought back from a 21-3 deficit to beat the New England Patriots 38-34 on a Joseph Addai touchdown run with 1:00 minute left. A late interception by Marlon Jackson sealed the win at the RCA Dome and allowed Tony Dungy to join his former assistant in making history. Lovie Smith was on (as was Kansas City head coach Herman Edwards) Dungy's staff when he was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach in 1996.

The Colts are playing in their first Super Bowl as an organization since the then-Baltimore Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys 16-13 in 1970. Ironically that game, Super Bowl V was also played in Miami.

The Bears have been the dominant team in the NFC for the majority of the season and had the best record in the league at 13-3. The Colts have struggled with their run defense for most of the year but got their groove back when the playoffs started.

Both men realized the burden they carried as African-American NFL coaches. Art Shell and Dennis Green paved the way in the modern NFL era in terms of breaking that head coaching barrier down. Dungy and Dennis Green took it a step further and made it to conference championship games when they coached at Tampa and Minnesota. But they and other African-American coaches knew that the doors staying open for others to follow in their path would require them to win the ultimate prize.

Maybe this was the moment that pioneering NFL coach Frederick Douglass 'Fritz' Pollard had in mind during the 20's and 30's when he was coaching teams during the barnstorming days. Even if you're not a fan, this is a significant moment in Black history. Every African-American is standing a little bit taller tonight, but none moreso than the African-American players, coaches and general managers of the NFL.

Like the peeps in Chicago and Indianapolis, I can't wait for the kickoff on this one. And it won't be because Prince is the halftime entertainment either.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Florence Griffith-Joyner

Another installment in my ongoing series of articles on transgender and non-transgender women who have qualities that I admire.

"We were dazzled by her speed, humbled by her talent, and captivated by her style."
-- Former President Bill Clinton

I remember the first time I saw Florence Delorez Griffith-Joyner. She was stepping into the starting blocks for her 200 meter finals race during the 1984 LA Olympic Games. One of my friends remarked about the sistah with the long nails, "Damn, she's fine."

"That she is." I remarked. "But can she run?"

She answered my rhetorical question by winning a silver medal during those games. From that day forward I began to keep up with the exploits of Florence Griffith-Joyner or as the world later affectionately called her, FloJo.

FloJo revolutionized the way we looked at female athletes. The legendary 1960 Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph said about her, "For a long time, we've been thought of as 'jocks.' Florence brings in the glamour. She walks out on the track like she owns it."

She definitely owned it in 1988. Her world record times of 10.49 seconds in the 100 meters at the US Olympic trials in Indianapolis and her 21.34 time in the 200 meters set during the 1988 Seoul Olympics have yet to be broken. She also walked away from Seoul with three golds and a silver.

She was not just a world class athlete wrapped in a beautifully stylish package. Florence was a devoted wife and mother, fashion designer, actress, sportscaster and writer. She was appointed co-chair of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports during the Clinton administration and served until her passing.

She was born on December 21, 1959 and grew up in the LA projects in a home that stressed the values of independence and individualty. The straight-A student started running at age seven and was a star athlete by the time she hit adolescence.

She had some tough times before she became the legend we revere to this day. She graduated from Jordan High School in 1978 and attended Cal State-Northridge. When she couldn't afford to return for her sophomore year she worked at a bank until a young Cal State-Northridge track coach by the name of Bobby Kersee helped her to apply for financial aid.

She followed him to UCLA in 1980 when he became the assistant track coach there and in 1982 became the NCAA 200 meter champion. After winning the silver medal at the LA Games behind teammate Valerie Brisco-Hooks she drifted away from track for a while and gained weight until a chewing out by Kersee got her back into the game.

She picked up something else besides gold and silver medals at the 1987 World Championships in Rome, the affections of 1984 Olympic triple jump champion Al Joyner. They got married a month after the conclusion of the World Championships and became proud parents of a daughter in 1990. FloJo died from suffocation during an epileptic seizure on September 21, 1998 a few months short of her 39th birthday.

Although FloJo's time with us was brief, then U.S Olympic Committee president Bill Hybl stated, "She was a role model for girls and young women in sports. She will be remembered among America's greatest Olympians, and she will be recalled with the legends, like Wilma Rudolph and Babe Didrikson Zaharias."

She will indeed.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Houston Traffic Rules

TransGriot Note:This was posted to another group that I'm a member of and I found it hilarious. The original author is unknown. I've cleaned it up and added some things as well.

H-Town, Space City, the Bayou City, 3rd Coast, The Dirty 3rd or whatever you wanna call it.

1. You must learn to pronounce the city name. It is 'Hue-stun,' not 'Ewe-stun', or 'house-tun' You call it 'house-ton' and we know you're a Yankee or worse, from New York.

2. Forget the traffic rules you learned elsewhere. Houston has its own version. The first one is hold on and pray. There is no such thing as a dangerous high-speed chase in Houston. We all drive like that.

3. All directions start with, "Go down to Loop 610"...which has no beginning and no end. Conversely, if you get lost, find Loop 610. 30 minutes later you'll end up in the part of town you wanted to be in or find the major street you were looking for.

4. The Chamber of Commerce calls getting through traffic..."a scenic drive."

5. The morning rush hour is from 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM. The evening rush hour is from 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Friday's rush hour starts Thursday morning.

6. If you actually stop at a yellow light, you will be rear-ended, cussed out and possibly shot. If you find yourself as the first car off the line, count to five when the light turns green before proceeding in order to avoid getting clobbered by someone running the red light on the other side.

7. Kuykendahl Road can ONLY be pronounced by a native Houstonian.

8. Construction on I-10, I-45, US 59 and Loop 610 is a generational way of life, an economic stimulant and a permanent form of entertainment.

9. All unexplained smells are explained by the phrases, "Oh, we must be in Pasadena!" , "God, I hate Baytown!" or "I must be near the Ship Channel."

10. If someone actually uses their turn signal it is either a factory defect, they just graduated from driver's ed or they just moved here.

11. All old ladies with blue hair in a pink Cadillac have total right-of-way.

12. The minimum acceptable speed on Loop 610 is 85 mph. Anything less is considered downright sissy. In turn, the minimum speed on Westheimer Road is at least 45 mph.

13. The rod iron on windows in east Houston is NOT ornamental.

14. Never stare at the driver of the car with the bumper sticker that says, "Keep honking, I'm reloading." In fact, don't honk at anyone.

15. If you're in the left lane and only going 70 mph in a 60 mph zone, people are not waving hello when they pass you.

16. The Sam Houston Tollway (Beltway 8) is our daily version of NASCAR. The Hardy Toll Road is our local version of the Autobahn.

17. If it's 100 degrees, Thanksgiving must be next weekend.

18. When in doubt, remember that all unmarked exits lead to either Dallas or Louisiana.

19. If you live in Katy or Spring and I live on the south side of Houston we'll never hang out.

20. The best thing about being drunk between 2-5 am is that Whataburger, Jack In The Box and Denny's all serve both breakfast and regular menus.

21. You can be pulled over by any police vehicle, even if you were just given a ticket.

22. You don't have to wait for an exit to get off a freeway. Just follow the ruts in the grass to the feeder road like everyone else. This is how Houston residents notify the Texas Department of Transportation where exits should have been built.

23. Some major crosstown streets in Houston have multiple names depending on what part of town you're in. Exhibit A: Westheimer Rd. turns into Elgin St. which becomes Lockwood Dr. when it passes the University of Houston.

24. If given directions that involve driving on freeways, we don't call them by their names. I-10 is the Katy/East Fwy, I-45 is the Gulf/North Fwy, US 290 is the Northwest Fwy, TX 288 is the South Fwy, US 59 is the Eastex/Southwest Fwy and Beltway 8 is the Sam Houston Tollway

25. Elsewhere, they are called frontage roads. Here in Houston we call them FEEDER roads. Those feeder roads also have U-turn lanes at major intersections. So don't give us blank stares when we say "Exit the feeder road and use the loop-de-loop"

If you've never lived here, most of this will sound utterly insane. But to all of us who were either born here or call Houston home, this is the truth and y'all know it!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I'll Get Over Slavery After Y'all Apologize For It

I've observed over my lifetime that when some legislator makes a racist remark, nine times out of ten they'll be a member of the GOP. So when I heard about Virginia Del. Frank D. Hargrove remarks in opposition to a measure that would apologize on the state’s behalf to the descendants of slaves and Googled his name, I wasn't surprised when I saw the (R) come up next to it.

It took me back a few years to a incident that happened when I was working for a major airline. We had a 45 minute break before we had to start working a flight. The crew was already in the gate lobby waiting to board the aircraft once it cleared customs. This was one of those rare moments in which the entire flight crew was African-American and we spent time talking about a variety of subjects.

One of the topics we discussed was then President Clinton's recent apology to the survivors of the Tuskegee Experiment. One of the pilots remarked that he needed to do another apology for slavery. We were discussing that when one of my white co-workers who had been ignoring our conversation until then remarked,"Y'all need to get over slavery." Incensed, I shot back, "When our Jewish friends stop memorializing the Holocaust, I'll get over slavery."

Later in the break room after listening to her enunciate her feelings about it, I explained to my co-worker why African-Americans are sensitve about that 'get over it' comment. I pointed out to her that Jews not only will not ever forget the Holocaust, there are museums, documentaries and oral histories passed down that keep that story alive for their future generations.

So why should African-Americans stay silent about our Holocaust?

The federal governemnt has apologized to the surviving Japanese-Americans who were interred in World War II camps and paid $250K in reparations. The German government not only apologized for the Holocaust but paid reparations. In 1992 the Japanese prime minister admitted that some women in the Asian countries they occupied during World War II were forced by the Japanese Army to become 'comfort women' sex slaves. However, the Japanese government has yet to apologize, compensate or claim full responsibility.

140 years after the Civil War ended we have yet to hear the words 'We apologize' from our government over the 246 years my ancestors spent in chattel slavery and the governmental infrastructure that arose to support it.

I was feeling Del. Dwight C. Jones, head of Virginia's Legislative Black Caucus when he stated, “When somebody tells me I should just get over slavery, I can only express my emotion by projecting that I am appalled, absolutely appalled.”

I'm more than appalled. I'm agitated about the insensitive, flippant nature of the comment. Many of the ills that Black America faces have their roots in slavery.

I'm aware that I didn't grow up on a plantation or that you personally did not own slaves. The irrefutable facts are that some of your ancestors owned some of mine. I'm reminded of that every time I check out my family tree or have to look through property records to find my ancestors. My great-great-grandmother on my father's side was born a slave in the state I now reside in. I have another ancestor on my mother's side who didn't arrive at Ellis Island in 1810 but at the port of New Orleans in chains.

Before this is dismissed as another call for reparations, continue reading for a moment. I'm not expecting it to happen in my lifetime. I have better odds of the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol showing up on my front doorstep with a million dollar check than having a $175,000 reparations check (the value of 40 acres and a mule in 2007 dollars) from the feds hit my mailbox.

All I and other African-Americans are asking for is a fair shot at earning our money, living our lives and having our grievances heard without having to go through major drama to do so or being dismissively told, "get over it."

It would also help if we heard the words 'I'm sorry' from our government for its role in the slave trade.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Happy 65th Birthday Muhammad Ali

Today is the 65th birthday of 'The Greatest'. On this day Cassius Marcellus Clay, the man who would become an inspiration to millions and a symbol of Black Pride was born in Louisville.

The self proclaimed 'pretty' man in 1960 won Olympic gold in Rome, then shocked the world twice. He beat Sonny Liston for the championship in 1964, then joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He was a rare blend of lightning quick speed, punching power and unabashed showmanship. The boxing world had never seen anything like him and frankly hasn't been the same since he left. He was also a proud, principled man. He refused induction into the Army during the height of the Vietnam War, an act that cost him his title and three precious years of his boxing career.

Ali's body has been ravaged by the effects of Parkinson's disease, but all of us who had the pleasure of growing up during his heyday and watching the epic 'Thrilla in Manila' with Joe Frazier, him rope-a-dope the then-invincible George Foreman to regain his crown for a second time in 1975, defeat Leon Spinks to regain his crown for the third time in 1978 and his verbal jousting with Howard Cosell will never forget it.

He brought tears to my eyes when I watched him along with the rest of the planet light the Olympic flame during the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Games in 1996.

He will always be 'The Champ' to me.

A Pageant of Our Own-The MBU Pageantry System

photo-Jasmine Bonet
from the MBU Pageantry website

If you've never had the pleasure of watching a transgender pageant, you are missing out on a interesting and entertaining evening. The various drag pageant systems put on shows that can and sometimes do put their mainstream cousins to shame.

But some negative experiences and infighting within the drag pageant world's Big Three Systems (Miss Gay America, Miss Gay US of A, and Miss Continental) led some visionaries to form pageants geared toward various constituencies within the GLBT community.

One of those systems that was created for African-American contestants is MBU Pageantry. It's only been around since 1992 but quickly established itself as a premier pageant. Ironically, MBU Founder Randy Matthews was watching the Miss Gay Black America pageant when he was inspired to create the MBU system.

He and Niesha Dupree's goals when they started the Miss Black Universe pageant system were to not only provide the best in Black gay entertainment, but provide another competitive outlet for Black contestants.

15 years later the pageant they created has become a highly anticipated event for Black gay Atlanta and a sought after title among pageant contestants. Two of its queens have gone on to capture the Miss Continental title, considered the crown jewel of drag pageants. Other MBU queens have placed in the Miss Continental five finalists multiple times. Tasha Long and Paris Frantz, the two MBU queens that captured Miss Continental titles, did it in back-to-back fashion in 1996-1997.

That success was noticed by the Big Three. The Miss US of A system started their inaugural Miss Black US of A pageant in 2005, a move that was vehemently criticized by supporters of the Black-owned pageant systems.

The MBU Pageantry system touts itself as 'The Epitome of Excellence.' It has definitely lived up to that lofty goal in a short period of time and its founders are diligently working to keep it on that path.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Survival of the Fiercest

Five New York Girls Strive for Drag Divinity at the Miss Continental Pageant

by José Germosén
photo of Candis Cayne by Bryce Lankard
August 29 - September 4, 2001
From The Village Voice

Candis Cayne bounds onto the stage in a belted white dress with tattered streams and spray-painted graffiti; it's very Christian Dior meets Tina Knowles. "I have to tell you I was a little depressed before I came out tonight," she tells her audience, as an offstage fan blows back her strawberry-blond tresses.
"I got my gown delivered to me in the mail for the pageant I'm entering, and it wasn't what I expected, but then I tried it on," she chimes, nailing her punch line with a pose out of a Féria ad. For the past few weeks, her Monday-night show at Chelsea's Barracuda has doubled as a fundraiser. Passing around the tip jar, she pumps her fist in a call to victory: "Onward to Chicago, to win!"

This Labor Day weekend, Candis and four other New York girls are heading to Chicago to compete in the Miss Continental Pageant, a showcase for performers specializing in a kind of drag that runs on high-voltage glamour. Candis will be joined by Angela Carrera, Barbara Herr, Bambi "International" Star, and Victoria Lace, ladies who've built their reputations in the city's Latin gay clubs, places like Escuelita, Krash, and Lucho's.

Since the mainstreaming of the gay community—a development shaped in part by drag—New York "girls" have been left in the background as the boys took to the hypermasculine, steroid-fueled circuit. With Wigstock, the open-air drag expo, in its final year due to mounting debt and caving ticket sales, the torch has been left to a disparate group of mainstays and their loyal followers. For them, the Continental pageant represents the way queens used to do things—an ultra-feminine brand of escapism, stylized, a little tacky, even. But where it flies, it wrings an almost pious fervor from its fans. In the world of homogenous gods that is Gay New York 2001, what's needed the most is the power of a few goddesses.

The man behind Continental, pageant owner Jim Flint, is an enigma. "I don't like bad drag. I just can't take bad drag. I love beautiful, beautiful drag," Flint says on the phone from the office of his Chicago travel agency. He started Continental in 1980 as a rebuttal to pageants like Miss Gay America, where stringent rules barred transsexuals and transgender women. The pageant grew so popular that it spawned a spin-off, Miss Continental Plus, for girls 250 pounds and over, of which there have been 12 winners. Flint says he dreams of one day holding the pageant and a Continental revue in Las Vegas.

In the straight world, beauty pageants stand as a tired anachronism of the limited spheres women were allowed to occupy in American culture. Pageants for biological women leave aspiring professionals grimacing in swimsuits and ball gowns.

But in the gay world, especially for transgender women who work as drag queens, pageants come from somewhere else. While straight pageants present a fantasy image implied to be attainable, drag pageants make fantasy the point. If a Miss America girl is discovered to have had a nose job or her breasts done, it's a scandal—but for a Miss Continental hopeful to have had implants or a bone reduction is routine.

With cosmetic surgery so prevalent these days, Continental judges are looking more at talent and presentation. It's all about the late Continental winner Tandi Andrews, clad as Wonder Woman, springing out of a Plexiglas plane to roar into a lip sync to Bonnie Tyler's "I Need a Hero," or Cézanne re-creating Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation dance routine, perfectly in step with her dancers. "It's about spectacle," says Scott Allen Cooper, a/k/a Michelle Dupree, a former Miss Continental now appearing in the Off-Broadway show Bombshell: The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe. "It's about becoming something that people want to look at. It's even more effective because you're a guy."

In addition to talent and interview, queens are rated for living up to the formal rigors of female impersonation. Drag after all, is simply an acronym from Elizabethan theater: DRessed As Girl.

Carry O'Neal, co-owner of Regalia, an Orlando atelier that makes custom clothing and gowns (average price: $3000), says the pageants are unforgiving. "The ones that are very competitive at the start—like Candis—their goal is perfection," he says. "Not only in the illusion, but perfection in talent, perfection in evening gown. They [the judges] can't find one thing wrong with them onstage."

Of the country's five major pageantry systems for drag, many consider Continental the best. "Continental girls are the most talented, the prettiest, and usually the smartest," says Martina Diamante, Miss Georgia Continental. "It's the total package."

Since most of the contestants are transsexuals, the Continental look involves appearing both glamorously finished and as "real" as possible. Continental standards demand that contestants stop working on "drag time"—that long-held tradition of showing up late—and give up speaking in slang. "If you go into interview and use a double negative or the word ain't, just go home," says Angel Sheridan, the current Miss Continental Plus. "They've made that so important now, that whole interview spokesperson thing."

The 22 former Miss Continentals and 11 Continental Pluses are referred to as the Inner Sorority. For these sorors, benefits mean sponsorship and an agenda full of bookings across the country. The oldest members, nearing their sixties, still perform. For transgender women, a Continental title means they can continue their art lucratively in a world in which job options are otherwise limited to the nightlife industry, low-wage jobs, or advertising other services in the back of this newspaper.

Miss Continental's image of buxom transsexuals has been drawn so closely that when Michelle Dupree—a "boy queen" (pageant-speak for a drag queen who lives as a man)—won in 1999, fans and contestants decried the decision as an outrage.

It seems silly to take something like drag pageants so seriously, but they represent the overcoming of obstacles in a vessel so dazzling no one can deny its power. "For gay people, they go for the pageantry, the fantasy, the glamour," O'Neal says, "the idea that gay men who look so humble on the street can look so beautiful onstage as a woman."

Drag, as done in the rest of the country, may be over-the-top, but it's not senseless. In places like the Deep South and the Midwest, it answers a spiritual need in gay communities, giving men and women alike a way to commune with the energy of femininity and sensitivity in a patriarchal culture. A drag queen—like the divas gay culture deifies—is another rendering of the ur-mother, like a modern-day Black Madonna.

Queens pack tapes of Celine Dion singles for lip-synching, just in case an audience demands heart-wrenching melodrama, an on-call outpouring of female energy in a theatrical space that can often resemble a place of worship. "I definitely think that drag has that religious aspect to it, where the club is like church and we're the goddesses," says Diamante.

At La Escuelita, Angel Sheridan sits chatting with a group of performers. Off to one side, the late Lady Catiria's evening gown and crown from Continental sit in a display case, as though in a museum. "I think drag takes the ideals that were set by people like Max Bennet and all the Hollywood people that wanted to capture on film this perfect beauty or this ideal of glamour," she says. "They just started a person and created an illusion. It creates this perfect illusion, especially with what the Continental system always strives to be. Even the people in the system who do comedy, there's always an air of glamour, of the ideal woman."

Early in their drag careers, these girls were already well familiar with the pageant and what it represented. Bambi, now the reigning Miss Washington D.C. Continental, moved to New York six or seven years ago to train at the Eighth Street Studio. "I wanted to become a woman, I wanted to transition, and I wanted to study acting," she says, pushing back her blond locks. "I just started doing shows because reality fell upon my little naive head that the regular world just wasn't so ready for a transsexual actress to just walk in and audition."

Helped along by Angel, Miss Sherry, and promoter José Abraham, Bambi decided to compete in a Continental preliminary. "I just made the decision that if I was gonna do this, I want to do the best," she says. "I didn't see videos or anything."

Angela Carrera, Miss Escuelita Continental, says she first saw a Continental video in 1985, when she was a teenager just starting to live as a woman. "Being a young transsexual, I thought, 'Oh no, drag was just for men who dress as a girl,' " she says. "But Continental opened me up to the fact that transsexuals were able to compete on a national level."

New York has always maintained its different attitude about what drag is, or should be—as Angel discovered when she first began coming here from Florida in the mid 1990s, with the promoter Suzanne Bartsch. "I was a drag queen with all these people that resembled nothing of a woman," she says. "You know, very talented, and all these things, but it wasn't drag."

Drag queens were brought to parties to give attitude and supplement the outrageousness of the era's superclubs like Roxy and the Limelight. "But now that's burned out, because as entertainment value, there's no developing of that," she says. "And it got to the point where it just got so big and so outrageous, and it was like, OK. New York is very jaded that way. 'Seen it.' "

If there's any signal that things might be changing, it's the recent conversion of Candis Cayne into a favored Continental contender. "I had never thought to do any pageants, because I'm one of the downtown girls," she says. "I had done things in Europe and am well known here in New York, but I had never gone into the United States to take on this part of the world."

Candis found out about Continental while working as an assistant choreographer on the film To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, where she had met the Lady Catiria, who kept suggesting that she go and compete. "I was like, 'I dunno, it's not really my thing.' Then Catiria died, and that was really heartbreaking. I was willing to discover new things, and in New York there was nothing going on." She went last year, and ended up placing as second runner-up, a rare occurrence for new contestants.

Candis stayed with two members of the Inner Sorority, Mimi Marks and Cézanne. "I felt a camaraderie with them right away, which is nice," she says. "While I have a great camaraderie with many of the girls here, there aren't that many transsexual performers here. That was a great part of it."

This year she is preparing to serve up glamour the Continental way, in a $2900 custom evening gown ("crushed beading head-to-toe with rhinestones") that reflects her new approach. Candis's triumph raises the question of why the Continental style of drag, with its Southern sense of dramatic interpretations, never caught on here before. "I think it has a lot to do with the fact that New York is a forward-moving place, an edgy place," she says. "In the rest of the country, drag is a lot more traditional, a lot more melodramatic." For Candis, the downtown approach works better. "I'm not going to do a Celine Dion song, because it's tired." But she admits there is a change coming, and that if presented in the right angle (perhaps without those Celine Dion numbers), Continental can catch on in New York.

"I think that when people see this," says Scott Alan Cooper, a/k/a Michelle Dupree, "they'll change their mind. Candis Cayne is a perfect example of that. She was always in that kind of East Village, kind of more bohemian style. I think that in terms of New York, Candis has been a good way for a lot of that community to segue back. And now that she's been to Continental, and she's saying, Wow, I'm like, Yes, honey, that"—cue the sweeping hand motion—"is what it's about!"

TransGriot's Note: Candis did go on to win the Miss Continental 2001-2002 title

Obama Launches 2008 White House Bid

By NEDRA PICKLER, The Associated Press
Jan 16, 2007

WASHINGTON - Sen. Barack Obama launched a presidential campaign Tuesday that would make him the first Black to occupy the White House, and immediately tried to turn his political inexperience into an asset with voters seeking change.

The freshman Illinois senator - and top contender for the Democratic nomination - said the past six years have left the country in a precarious place and he promoted himself as the standard-bearer for a new kind of politics.

"Our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, commonsense way," Obama said in a video posted on his Web site. "Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions. And that's what we have to change first."

Obama filed paperwork forming a presidential exploratory committee that allows him to raise money and put together a campaign structure. He is expected to announce a full-fledged candidacy on Feb. 10 in Springfield, Ill., where he can tout his experience in the state legislature and tap into the legacy of hometown hero Abraham Lincoln.

In a brief interview on Capitol Hill, Obama said the reaction has been positive and added, "we wouldn't have gone forward this far if it hadn't been this positive."

Obama's soft-spoken appeal on the stump, his unique background, his opposition to the Iraq war and his fresh face set him apart in a competitive race that also is expected to include front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Obama has uncommon political talents, drawing adoring crowds even among the studious voters in New Hampshire during a much-hyped visit there last month. His star has risen on the force of his personality and message of hope - helped along by celebrity endorsements from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, billionaire investor Warren Buffett and actors Matt Damon and Edward Norton.

"I certainly didn't expect to find myself in this position a year ago," said Obama, who added that as he talked to Americans about a possible presidential campaign, "I've been struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics."

The 45-year-old has few accomplishments on the national stage after serving little more than two years in the Senate. But at a time when many voters say they are unhappy with the direction of the country, a lack of experience in the nation's capital may not be a liability.

"The decisions that have been made in Washington these past six years, and the problems that have been ignored, have put our country in a precarious place," Obama said.

He said people are struggling financially, dependence on foreign oil threatens the environment and national security and "we're still mired in a tragic and costly war that should have never been waged."

Clinton is expected to announce her presidential campaign within days, but her spokesman said there would be no comment on Obama's decision from the Clinton camp. Back from Iraq, she abruptly canceled a Capitol Hill news conference minutes after word of Obama's announcement, citing the unavailability of a New York congressman to participate.

Other Democrats who have announced a campaign or exploratory committee are 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Biden of Delaware and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also are considering a run.

Obama's decision was relatively low-key after months of hype, with no speech or media appearance to accompany his online announcement. He said he will discuss a presidential campaign with people around the country before his Feb. 10 event, and he wasted no time calling key activists Tuesday.

New Hampshire lobbyist Jim Demers talked with Obama for about five minutes. "He is extremely pumped and excited that this campaign is coming together," said Demers, who accompanied Obama on his visit to the state last month.

Obama's quick rise to national prominence began with his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and his election to the Senate that year. He's written two best-selling autobiographies - "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream" and "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance."

Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, where his parents met while studying at the University of Hawaii. His father was black and from Kenya; his mother, white and from Wichita, Kan.

Obama's parents divorced when he was two and his father returned to Kenya. His mother later married an Indonesian student and the family moved to Jakarta. Obama returned to Hawaii when he was 10 to live with his maternal grandparents.

He graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was the first African-American elected editor of the Harvard Law Review. Obama settled in Chicago, where he joined a law firm, helped local churches establish job training programs and met his future wife, Michelle Robinson. They have two daughters, Malia and Sasha.

In 1996, he was elected to the Illinois state Senate, where he earned a reputation as a consensus-building Democrat who was strongly liberal on social and economic issues, backing gay rights, abortion rights, gun control, universal health care and tax breaks for the poor.

The retirement of Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois in 2004 drew a raft of candidates to the Democratic primary, but Obama easily outdistanced his competitors. He was virtually assured of victory in the general election when the designated Republican candidate was forced from the race by scandal late in the election.

Obama insisted during the 2004 campaign and through his first year in the Senate that he had no intention of running for president, but by late 2006 his public statements had begun to leave open that possibility.

Associated Press Writer Dennis Conrad contributed to this report.

Vanessa L. Williams

Another installment in my ongoing series of articles on transgender and non-trans women who have qualities that I admire.

I remember that September 1983 morning that I woke up, opened up the Chronicle and read the story about Vanessa Lynn Willams becoming the first African-American to win the Miss America crown.

It along with the Miss Black America, Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants were my favorites to watch back in the day. I got more than a little fed up about the gorgeous sistahs who had graced the Miss USA, Miss America and Miss Universe pageant stages over the years who sometimes didn't even make it to the twelve semifinalist phase of the pageant. Janelle Commissiong of Trinidad and Tobago broke through in 1977 to becme the first woman of African descent to win Miss Universe, so I did hold out hope that a sistah would eventually do the same here in the States.

That year she and Suzette Charles made it to the five finalists but for some reason I turned the TV off and went to bed mumbling to myself, "They're gonna end up third and fourth runners-up." I was happy to see the picture of Vanessa eating breakfast in bed while I ate a Texas-sized portion of crow. (For the record, the first runner-up was Suzette Charles)

She goes from that lofty height of being Miss America 1984 to tragically having her crown stripped before her historic reign was about to end. After holding that press conference resigning the crown, many people wrote her off.

In 1988 I was driving home from work and was jamming to a brand new song being played on Majic 102 called 'The Right Stuff'. When the DJ annnounced that it was Vanessa Williams I was blown away.

Vanessa still has it going on. She oozes style and class. She's had the right stuff for years. She's done hit movies, Broadway, television and recorded hit albums. She's nominated for numerous awards, won a Grammy and NAACP Image Awards. Vanessa turned a moment that would have broken some people into a triumphant career that makes her arguably the most successful Miss America ever. I still laugh when I read the story about the prophetic birth announcement her parents issued when she was born March 18, 1963 that stated 'Here She Is, Miss America.'

As you can tell, I'm proud of her and I'm still a fan. She's on my short list of artists who if they release a CD I don't insist on listening to it before I buy it. I just simply snap it up and take it home. I have the same reaction to any movie or television show that she's involved in. I'd heard about 'Ugly Betty', but once I found out she was part of the show's cast it's Must See TV for moi.

One of the lessons I take from her life is never give up on your dreams no matter what obstacles are placed in your path. Keep fighting for them and they will happen.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

P-Funk Forever

One of the things that I enjoyed about my dad's radio job in addition to the comp concert tickets was getting those promo albums. Thanks to those promo albums I was musically two months ahead of my peer group by the time they finally released it for sale to the general public.

I remember the day I got introduced to Parliament-Funkadelic and the whole P-Funk universe. I was in eighth grade at the time. Dad came home from work, tossed Parliament's Mothership Connection album in my room and said, "You need to listen to these guys."

I did and I've been a Funkateer ever since. A documentary was done that I gleefully watched on PBS late one night called Parliament-Funkadelic - One Nation Under A Groove. I even tested out to Doctor of Funkology level on the P-Funk quiz. If you want to take it, it's on the PBS Independent Lens website.

Besides learning about the various players in the P-Funk universe such as Starchild, Sir Nose D'voidoffunk and Dr. Funkenstein, I got to spend my high school years grooving to Bootsy's Rubber Band and the other components of the Funk Mob. The first concert I was allowed to attend without parental supervision was a Funkadelic one. I even learned how to spell psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop correctly. My high school class jokingly calls 'Flash Light' our unofficial class song.

There are some fond memories of attending a Funkadelic concert that had a skull prop that smoked a giant joint. The lavish P-Funk Earth Tours that rivaled the ones that rock bands were doing. Pedro Bell's provocative cover art and the cartoons inside the liner notes and covers detailing the battles between Sir Nose and Starchild.

And the music. Funky, sometimes political and in many cases ahead of its time.
Flash Light is the most sampled song by rap artists. Dr. Dre used the music from 'Mothership Connection' for his song 'Let Me Ride'.

I couldn't even begin to list some of my favorite Parliament-Funkadelic songs...aaah why not? Flash Light, Knee Deep, Aqua Boogie, Tear the Roof of the Sucker, Up For the Down Stroke, One Nation Under A Groove, (not just) Knee Deep, Atomic Dog, Bullet Proof, Do Fries Go With That Shake...(and the list goes on)

The P-Funk Empire may be gone, and you have a few pretenders out there faking the funk, but George Clinton's legendary status as a music innovator and his music will be around forever.

To take the P-Funk quiz

Who Dat?

Who dat?
Who dat?
Who dat say they gonna beat dem Saints?
Who dat?
Who dat?
Who dat say they gonna beat dem Saints?

It's hard to believe, but for the first time in the 40 year history of this NFL franchise the New Orleans Saints will be playing in a conference championship game.
Ever since the Saints joined the NFL in 1967 they've been seen more times on NFL Follies highlights than Super Bowl ones. The city has also hosted more Super Bowls than they've played in.

But the Saints are as much a symbiotic part of New Orleans as the beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe DuMonde, Mardi Gras, and the French Quarter. The city lives and dies with this team. Even though I was a toddler when I lived in New Orleans, the Saints were number two in my NFL affections behind my hometown Oilers. (until they moved to Nashville) They serve as a link to the New Orleans part of my life.

So like Saints fans everywhere I was glued to the TV watching their thrilling 27-24 playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the Superdome. While I watched the game my thoughts drifted to my pre-Katrina visits to the Big Easy. I was either hanging out with my godsister and her family and friends in Marrero, driving or flying there to party, or just spending a leisurely weekend there getting away from H-town for a minute and soaking up the city's history, music and culture.

There are a lot of times when sports events and teams can bring a city together. I saw it firsthand during the Oilers Luv Ya Blue days in 1978-79, Phi Slama Jama's 1983 run to the NCAA Championship, the Rockets back-to-back NBA titles in 1994-1995 and during the Comets WNBA dynasty from 1997-2000. The Yankees 2001 World Series run helped New Yorkers for just a moment forget the tragedy that had taken place just a month earlier. The Saints are providing the same medicine for the New Orleans area.

If there's any team in this year's NFL playoffs that deserves to go to Super Bowl XLI in Miami it's the Saints. After a Hurricane Katrina forced relocation that caused them to play their home games in San Antonio and Baton Rouge, they limped through that 2005 season with a 3-13 record. This year the script got flipped. New coach, new players, new attitude, a NFC South title complete with a first round playoff bye and a rebuilt Superdome that they christened with a nationally televised win.

This ain't the 'Aints. This Saints team has an explosive offense and a suffocating defense. The players also realize that they represent something bigger than themselves. They represent the hopes and dreams of the people in the region and a diversion for just a few hours from their post-Katrina problems. Like a lot of football fans across the country I'm hoping the Saints come marching back into the Superdome in February with the Vince Lombardi Trophy in their possession.

That would set off a celebration that would rival Mardi Gras.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

January 2007 TransGriot Column

Cleaning Up Our Own House
Copyright 2007, THE LETTER

Happy New Year TransGriot readers!

This month marks the third anniversary of my column, the third year of the founding of Transsistahs-Transbrothas and the second anniversary of my TransGriot blog.
Thanks to all of you who have expressed to me during the year how much you enjoy reading TransGriot. That makes my editor Dave and I very happy.

Something that didn’t make me happy was the drive-by show that Chuck Knipp performed at The Connection during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The reports that I’ve received about it from several people that attended were that they didn’t find it funny and they observed people leaving during the performance.

While that is gratifying to hear, the differing race-based reactions to the SQL minstrel show controversy have exposed the need to have a conversation about racism in the GLBT community.

We are a microcosm of society at large. Since racism is prevalent in the parent society, then our subset of it is also contaminated and it is naïve and foolish to think that we aren’t. When we started planning the first Transsistahs-Transbrothas Conference back in 2005, we had a critic of it post a comment on a predominately white transgender Internet list in response to my letter explaining why we were having TSTBC that said ‘It’ll make it easier for them to service their tricks.”

The March 2002 NGLTF report entitled ‘Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud’ highlights the problem. From April to September 2000 a survey was done at nine Black Pride events in an attempt to learn more about the African-American GLBT community. Guess what one of the issues was for the 2,500 respondents that cropped up?

When asked the question if the racism of GLBT whites was a problem for GLBT blacks within the community, 48% of the respondents agreed with the statement. The numbers were even higher among my fellow transgender survey respondents at 57%.

When asked about their interactions within white GLBT orgs, 39% reported negative experiences within those organizations, 29% reported positive ones and 39% of respondents reported both negative and positive experiences in White GLBT orgs.

When asked about their experiences in white GLBT clubs, 36% reported negative interactions in white GLBT clubs, 30% reported positive ones and 31% reported negative and positive experiences in those clubs.

I can cosign on that last one. I’ve been called the n-word by a white gay patron of one club back in my hometown and denied entrance at another one with the excuse that it wasn’t a transgender bar. However, I observed from the entrance door white t-girls not only inside the club but partying with the predominately white gay male crowd. I’ve had people in the pageant world report that even with equal status level in terms of titles, et cetera, they receive far less appearance money from promoters for performing in shows than their white counterparts.

Accumulations of those negative experiences over time and the frustration of dealing with white GLBT community indifference in tackling the problem head on eventually leads us to say ‘enough’. If you wondered why Black GLBT people have separate pride events, pageant circuits, and conventions such as TSTBC, racism in the community is a major component of why those organizations exist.

As GLBT peeps we are fighting for recognition of our constitutional rights. We need all sectors of our community engaged in this process. It is to our advantage to find a way to work together building a diverse, multicultural community that respects all of its members and face the reality that 40 years of post Civil Rights Movement education and policies did not magically erase 400 years of negative racial attitudes.

There needs to be a long-term commitment from all leaders in the GLBT community to aggressively tackle this nettlesome problem. However, it can’t be just people of color doing the grunt work on this issue. I’m glad to hear that Fairness will spend time in 2007 focusing on anti-racism work.

It couldn’t come at a better time.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Oprah’s Academy Inspires Hope, Memories for Black Attendees of All-Girls’ Institutions

Wednesday, January 03, 2007
By Monica Lewis

Educator Jane E. Smith knows firsthand how inspiring an all-female academic environment can be for young women.

A graduate of Spelman College, Smith now heads up the prestigious school’s Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement and has regularly watched how a weekend program spearheaded by Atlanta Mayor Shirley F. Franklin is helping countless young Atlanta females seeking guidance and direction.

“There are people who find that, in the single-sex environment, they perform better. And for me, there was never a question as to whether or not I could do anything,” Smith told Tuesday, the same day talk show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey opened a school for disadvantaged girls in South Africa. “I know that (mentality) comes from the fact that I could do everything at Spelman.

“(Single-sex) environments boost you,” Smith said. “They take you from the corner or the back of the room, and they allow you to speak up.”

Smith is confident that the 150 students chosen to attend the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Henley-on-Klip, just south of Johannesburg, are now in a position to excel not simply because of Winfrey’s celebrity or financial backing. The young women will now be able to receive a quality education that could help them overcome the gang violence, drugs and rising rate of teenage pregnancy that plagues many state-funded schools.

According to the Associated Press, Winfrey said that she decided to build her own school because she wanted to feel closer to the people she was trying to help. The $40 million academy aims to give 152 girls from deprived backgrounds a quality education in a country where schools are struggling to overcome the legacy of apartheid.

Winfrey's academy received 3,500 applications from across the country. To qualify, they had to show both academic and leadership potential and have a household income of no more than $787 a month. Eventually, the academy will accommodate 450 girls.

The 28-building campus boasts computer and science laboratories, a library and theater, along with a wellness center.

The idea for the school was born in 2000 at a meeting between Winfrey and Mandela. She said she decided to build the academy in South Africa rather than the United States out of love and respect for Mandela and because of her own African roots.

She said she planned a second school for boys and girls in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Singers Tina Turner, Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey, actors Sidney Poitier and Chris Tucker and director Spike Lee attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Each guest was asked to bring a personally inscribed book for the library.

Winfrey rejected suggestions the school was elitist and unnecessarily luxurious.

"If you are surrounded by beautiful things and wonderful teachers who inspire you, that beauty brings out the beauty in you," she said, according to the Associated Press.

Such an endeavor is applauded by Smith and many more because of its far-reaching impact.

“She is doing three things: A pursuit of academic excellence, self-betterment and leadership work or preparation,” Smith said. “It’s great that she’s doing this for them. And of course, something like this is needed here (in the United States).”

Melissa Harris Lacewell, an associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, said it’s hard to be anything other than a supporter of what Winfrey does. However, she hopes that more attention is paid to ensuring that all American children receive an adequate education, as opposed to creating special schools for a limited number of children.

“On the one hand, I applaud any initiative that gives opportunities to children, but I also really worry that we continue to accept the idea that some schools are just better,” Harris Lacewell told

“My concern is that as important these pockets of opportunities are, there really shouldn’t be vast differences to the education that is available to children in this country,” Harris Lacewell added. “We ought to be trying to figure out all the time how to make public education right for everybody.”

But because there seems to be so little being done to rectify the nation’s public education system, Harris Lacewell said, too many American children are faced with sub-par education simply by virtue of circumstance. If they’re born to parents who can afford to live in communities with top-rated schools, they’re lucky; if they are born into economically-challenged communities, the education too many children receive leaves plenty to be desired.

The scenario hits home for Harris Lacewell, whose daughter attends public school in upper class Princeton while, just minutes away in predominantly-black Trenton, the school system continues to be plagued with problems.

“I really want us to get to a point as a country where we are appalled, shocked and embarrassed by the idea that any five-year-old would necessarily have a better education that another five-year old," she said.

While most ordinary citizens can’t fund a project on the scale of Winfrey’s academy, they can find a way to give something just as important to a child -- time.

“Last year, my New Year’s resolution was to pick one teenager and listen to them, and I encourage others to do that this year,” Harris Lacewell said, stressing that in addition to academic opportunities, children need to know that adults believe in them.

“I know a million goodhearted people who say they want to go to schools and talk to kids, but I rarely hear people say they want to go and listen to the kids,” Harris Lacewell said. “It turns out that these kids have a lot of ideas on how to fix their situations.”

Spelman College’s Smith agreed with Harris Lacewell that education is just as valuable to people in poorer communities as more affluent ones, and she’s hoping that Winfrey’s move to start her academy will spark conversation on what people can do to provide all children with the best opportunities.

“What this is going to do is start a global awareness of the need for different strategies for the education of boys and girls,” Smith said. “This really will allow for a global discussion of what’s going on and how we, as a culture, can value education.”