Friday, March 15, 2013

2013 Black Transmen, Inc Conference Keynote Speech

Black Transmen, Inc

This is the text of the keynote speech I just delivered to the 2013 Black Transmen, Inc Conference in Dallas, TX.   If some video pops up of me I'll add it to this post later.


2013 Black Transmen Conference Keynote Speech
March 15, Dallas, TX.

Giving honor to God, Carter Brown, The Black Transmen, Inc. board of directors, Dr. Oliver Blumer, Esperanza Brown, Rev. Carmarion Anderson, my transbrothers and transsisters, BTMI conference attendees, organizers, sponsors and volunteers, distinguished civic leaders and guests, family, friends, and our allies and supporters.

It is indeed a wonderful blessing, honor, and privilege to be standing before you this morning as the first trans woman ever to give a keynote address to this rapidly growing and eagerly anticipated conference. I was stuck in Houston when the inaugural event was held last year and I was bummed I couldn't attend or participate in it due to a previous commitment. That disappointment stung even more when I discovered Louis Mitchell was last year's esteemed keynote speaker.

While this is the first time I've had the pleasure of attending this BTMI conference, it's not my first time in the Metroplex. I have a lot of relatives in the Dallas area on my mom's side of the family and there were more than a few times when I was growing up I was bouncing up and down I-45 for some family reunion or event.

But I'm in the Black Transmen, Inc. conference house and I couldn't be happier. It was a personal goal of mine when I started the activist portion of my life in 1998 that through my work I would speed up the day that we Black trans folks not only would become more active and visible in the overall trans scheme of things, but build community to the point that we could have large conferences and conventions like this.

As Louis will tell you, I met him when a group of people on the Transsistahs-Transbrothas Yahoo list I founded organized two African-American trans conferences that were held in Louisville, KY in 2005-2006, so I have a deep appreciation of what it takes and how much time and unceasing effort goes into planning a multi-day event like the BTMI Conference.

It also takes a lot of time, sweat equity, and effort to efficiently solve whatever unforeseen problems crop up for the conference organizing team and their volunteers and make the conference attendees, panelists and presenters experiences a memorable one.

So please give the BTMI folks a well deserved round of applause for doing so.

I'm making a little personal history today as my stylishly dressed self stands before you. It's the first time I have ever done a keynote speech inside the borders of the Lone Star State.

It figures that the first time it happens it would be 262 miles up I-45 from Houston, but such are the ironies of life. I thank BTMI, Esperanza Brown and Rev. Carmarion Anderson for all the e-mails, phone calls and coordination that helped make being in your company a reality for me.

As some of you are aware, I'm delivering this speech at a time of great sorrow in my life. My father suffered a major stroke March 3. He has been gravely ill and in a hospice since Tuesday. On behalf of myself and my family I thank you, the TBLG community and our allies for all the kind words, phone calls, Facebook and e-mail messages, Tweets and lifting me and my family up in prayer during this trying time.

Welcome to the Black Transmen conference and my home state of Texas. One of the interesting things about the Lone Star State is that it has played a pivotal role in shaping trans history at the state and national level. There are four Texans who have won IFGE Trinity Awards and I'm the first African-American Texan to do so.

We started fighting our H-town oppressors in 1975 when Toni Mayes flied and won a federal lawsuit to stop the Houston Police Department from harassing arrests of her every time she used the bathroom. Phyllis Frye would cap a successful three year battle that on August 12, 1980 resulted in the takedown of the odious Houston anti-cross dressing ordinance that HPD was using to harass Toni and other Houston LGBT denizens.

Before Southern Comfort became the go-to trans conference, down I-35 south in San Antonio, Cynthia and Linda Phillips were welcoming transpeople from around the country to the Boulton and Park Society sponsored Texas T-Party in the late 80's and early 90's.

That T in this case stands for transgender, not the Tea Klux Klan.

Phyllis also made a major contribution to trans kind on a national scale by founding in 1992 ICTLEP, the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy that was held in Houston until 1996. ICTLEP laid the foundation for the modern trans rights movement by training activists with a core set of human rights priciples that were passed down to my generation of activists, opened the door to trans inclusion in the National LGBT Bar Association and that organization's subsequent pro trans rights stances.

Sarah DePalma, Tere Prasse and the late Dee McKellar were early and iconic Lone Star state and national leaders based in Houston and San Antonio. Texans were part of the team of activists that in June 1999 founded NTAC, the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition. It was the trans community's first national multicultural trans human rights organization that also had POC transpeople in its senior leadership ranks.

Josephine Tittsworth founded the now five year old Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit in 2009, which has the mission of getting non discrimination policies enacted in Texas school districts, community college and university campuses. This year it will happen on the University of Houston campus July 19-21. And here in Dallas, you have Carter Brown and Rev. Carmarion Anderson who are getting well-deserved national attention

Even some of the precedent setting legal cases and ones we discuss in the trans community have a Texas twang to them such as Littleton v. Prange, Kantaras v. Kantaras, Lopez vs. River Oaks Imaging and the ongoing Delgado vs Araguz one.

And when it's time for thought provoking commentary, education, needing to get something done, providing visionary leadership or have someone bluntly tell you in print, on the radio, the Net, in a podcast or to your face you're all hat and no cattle, call up Cristan Williams, Katrina Rose, Meghan Stabler, Vanessa Edwards Foster, Josephine Tittsworth, Katy Stewart, Lou Weaver, Rev. Carmarion Anderson, Carter Brown or a certain award winning African descended Houston based trans blogger y'all all know and love.

We also have peeps who may not have been born in the Lone Star State, but got here as fast as they could and have made tremendous contributions to their local communities and statewide.

As I was enroute to Dallas I thought about the fact last month marked the 60th anniversary of Christine Jorgensen's return to the United States after spending two years undergoing the hormonal part of her transition in Denmark. In October it will have been 20 years since I started the chain of events that led to me beginning my own transition in 1994 by writing the letter asking the nearby Rosenberg Clinic for their first open date for an appointment.

When I took that first step to transition, My own life not only finally began, I jumpstarted a process that 20 years later has led to some amazing changes in my own life. It has also led to me witnessing two decades of marvelous changes for the trans community.

I also thought about on the trip here the theme for this year's conference which is 'The Power of You'. It dovetails nicely with the motto of Black Transmen, Inc which is 'Become the change you want to see in the world.'

One of my Houston sheroes Barbara Jordan stated in 1992 'It is a burden of Black people that we have to do more than just talk.' That is also true of those of us who are African descended trans people.

But I don't really see having to do more than talk as a burden. It's a pain in the butt at times, but the constant challenges of being Black in America force us to be ever vigilant of our precious human rights that were paid for in our ancestors 246 years of unpaid labor, sweat equity, the shed blood of fallen soldiers and civil rights warriors and rivers of tears.
It's why we African-Americans continue to fight fiercely to protect them against any attempt to roll them back.

Having us needing to do more than just talk led to the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60's and being involved with the human rights struggles of all the communities we interact and intersect with. Having to do more than just talk ensures that we are constantly learning how to make a way out of no way. We calmly and creatively deal with crises. It stimulates our creativity and fuels the passionate way in which we live our lives.

It keeps us from getting stagnant as a people because our oppressors are constantly looking for new ways to shift the human rights goalposts, roll back our hard won rights and continue to erect roadblocks to retard our progress.

And for us trans persons of color, we not only have that legacy of progress and struggle to live up to, it compels us to as I borrow a line from the National Black Justice Coalition's powerhouse Executive Director and CEO Sharon Lettman-Hicks, to Own Our Power.

Yes, you peeps sitting in the audience have power and express it in multiple ways. You do so by registering to vote and doping so in each and every election you can participate in. You do so by educating yourself about the issues facing you and coming to conferences like this one. You do so by staying in tune with your spiritual selves by whatever means necessary and way you choose to do so. You do so by stepping outside the doors of your domiciles and living your out and proud lives as trans men and trans women. You do so by working hard to make a reality the positive change you want to see in Dallas, the state of Texas, your hometowns, your home states, this nation and the world.

Being trans men and trans women is not an impediment to us owning our power, nor should we see it that way. We are simply being the beautifully made trans masculine and trans feminine persons that God created us to be.

The cool thing about the 'being the change you wish to be in the world' concept is that change can start with little old you standing up for yourself and inspiring like minded people around you to collective action. It also doesn't have to be just trans specific either. We intersect and interact with many different communities, and the more people see us transpeople out and about, getting involved and doing things intersectionally, the better it is for the trans community at large. We make friends, break down misconceptions about us and build allies and political capital for the day when we'll need to ask them for help with issue concerns of vital importance to our community.

We know the Power of You and the value of collective action to be true by perusing the countless examples in Black history. We also have examples in Black trans history to look at and glean lessons from. There's the powerful 1965 example of African descended gender variant kids at Philadelphia's Dewey's Lunch Counter standing up, saying no to transphobic bigotry and staging a sit in to protest it. There's Alexander John Goodrum helping to pass trans inclusive human rights laws in Tucson. There's the legions of Black trans men and trans women toiling away in their local areas who unfortunately don't get recognition for doing so.

That example of what the Power of You can do and being the change you wish to be in the world continues in the person of our previous keynote speaker Kylar Broadus who is the founder and executive director of the Trans Persons of Color Coalition and Carter Brown's founding of Black Transmen, Inc.

Being the change we want to be in this world can sometimes seem as though for us transpeople of color to be a daunting and impossible task. But as our ancestors would tell you if they were in this room, no it isn't.

When our ancestors were emancipated from slavery after the Civil War, we Texans didn't find out about the Emancipation Proclamation until June 19, 1865 because we were the westernmost outpost of the Confederacy. After those initial Juneteenth celebrations ended the newly emancipated freedmen faced odds even more daunting than the ones we trans folks do grappling with a mere gender transition.

Our ancestors rolled up their sleeves and handled it the best way they knew how. They organized and registered to vote. They used that power to get themselves elected to public offices ranging from city councils to state legislators. They built churches, formed cohesive neighborhoods and raised their literacy rate from 15% to 85% within 20 years. They pooled their money in Houston, Austin, and Mexia to buy land on which to host their subsequent Juneteenth celebrations that later became public parks in those cities and founded schools and colleges to educate our people. They did all this while facing Klan terrorist attacks, lynchings, virulent hatred and bigotry.

So when I look at this legacy of struggle and progress, I know deep down in my soul that we early 21st century transpeople can, will and should draw inspiration from their example. We can and should find ways in 2013 and beyond to excel and provide the leadership our people inside and outside the trans community need.

A transition is different for Black transpeople. We catch hell not only for being trans, but have to contend with faith-based or outright ignorance from people inside and outside our community about trans issues and their impact on us. Then throw in good old fashioned racism into the mix on top of that.

As Carter Brown said in a 2011 Dallas Voice interview, “Our lives, the path we feel we have to take is a challenge. We are voluntarily accepting the role of Public Enemy No. 1: The black man is the most feared man in America.”

“When we transition from female to male, we are accepting all the challenges that black men in this country face, from society, from our families and from ourselves. It’s a lot to bear.”

That it is. The cross we Black trans women voluntarily have to bear is not only dealing with the repercussions of walking Planet Earth in a feminine body, we get the fun of wrestling with sexism, being walking targets for sexual and physical assault and being considered ugly no matter how stunningly attractive we are courtesy of the Black unwoman meme.

Black trans women discover that what the late Dr. Dorothy I. Height said about Black womanhood is resoundingly true for girls like us as well. 'When you're a Black woman, you seldom get to do just what you want to do; You always do what you have to do.'

And what we have to do is from the moment we take our first estrogen shots, we have to prepare ourselves to step up to leadership roles in order to push back against the virulent hatred we get aimed at us from multiple sides in this ongoing War on Trans Women.

It's a war we didn't start, and it's propagated by people that range from garden variety transphobes to radical feminists, right wing legislators and fundamentalist Christians.

Unfortunately those haters also include gay and lesbian folks who loudly express the misguided belief that transpeople aren't part of 'their movement'. Sadly some of the people spouting that claptrap are same gender loving people who share our ethnic heritage.

Hell, if it weren't for transpeople like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson raising hell at Stonewall back in 1969 and being involved in the early days of New York's Gay Liberation Front before they were forced out of it, you wouldn't have a movement. I also must point out the reality to my same gender loving brothers and sisters that some of us trans peeps are also part of bi, lesbian and gay end of the rainbow community in addition to belonging to the trans end.

That negativity aimed at trans women has fed into the horrific level of anti-trans violence and discrimination aimed at us and our Latina sisters and it's way past time it stopped in the LGBT community ranks. We need to be better than our oppressors,and this is one place we can be an example to the straight community in that regard.

While I briefly touched on why Black trans women have stepped up to leadership roles, I'm ecstatic to see more transbrothers step up to be community leaders as well. I'm happy to see the Trans Latina Coalition highlighting the issues concerns of importance of trans Latinas. It's gratifying to see our allies from the TBLG and straight communities in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area and elsewhere in the country gathered here and participating in his conference.

While I have seen some amazing things happen in my own life and over the 15 years I've been a trans advocate, the reality is we POC transfolks have much hard work ahead of us to even begin to approach the level of community and organizational infrastructure and media attention that our white trans and same gender loving counterparts have enjoyed for six decades.

Sadly that has become necessary that we continue on the path of creating POC controlled organizations and events because it's painfully clear elements of our white trans counterparts are reluctant or unwilling to share room at the leadership tables of their organizations that purport to claim to speak for the entire trans community.

And it's also problematic that those organizations that claim to speak for the entire community are pushing policy agendas that don't have input from us when they compiled them.

For those of us residing in the Lone Star State, in addition to those issues, we're having to build local and statewide community in a state bigger than France and temporarily under right wing GOP control.

Note I said temporarily. Demographics are swiftly catching up to the Texas Republican Party and they will have to adapt to the looming political reality or die. The Delaymandering they pulled off in 2003 with a major assist from the GW Bush controlled Department of Justice bought them time, but will not protect them forever from seeing Texas inevitably because it is a majority-minority population state from going purple and back to blue.

But don't worry out of town visitors, you're sitting in one of the blue oasis cities in our beloved state. The city of Dallas and Dallas County not only went blue in the last two election cycles for President Obama, it has been blue since 2006. It has two lesbian elected officials of color in Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Judge Tonya Parker and an ally to the gay community in county judge in Clay Jenkins. It is one of the few areas in the state that has trans human rights protections at the city and county level. It also has protections for trans students from DISD and Fort Worth ISD to the Dallas County Community college level to SMU. Quasi governmental agencies such as the DFW airport, Parkland Hospital and the North Texas Tollway Authority also do so as well.

But in terms of stepping up our leadership game we Black transpeople can and must do better in this decade and beyond. We have issues that need to be addressed that are unique to our community. While I support marriage equality, at the same time I'm painfully aware of the fact we suffer an unemployment rate double that of the African-American cisgender community and that non-white transwoman are disproportionately bearing the brunt of unacceptable levels of violence.

We need jobs, jobs, jobs. We need to deal with the HIV/AIDS crisis in the trans ranks and the scourge of silicone pumping. I would like to see the ban on transgender military service die so that our people who wish to openly serve our nation can do so just like anyone else.

We need to continue to be the role models our trans kids sorely need in addition to arming them with the knowledge of their trans history. We have much work to do inside and outside our communities with our coalition partners to get the discussion of trans issues past Trans 101 level and get it to Trans 201, 301, 401 and beyond.

We need to make it crystal clear to friend, foe and frenemy that African-American trans people exist, we are part of the kente cloth fabric of the community, and we aren’t going away.  We also need to call out people who give mad props to RuPaul and Tyler Perry dressed as Madea, will use feminine pronouns to describe them when dressed that way, but will gleefully misgender, disrespect and sometimes assault a trans woman in their neighborhoods.

And sadly some of the peeps that refuse to acknowledge our transmasculinity or transfemininity are in our own families.

I hope that as part of exercising the Power of You and becoming the change you want to see in the world you will support TPOCC, the Trans Latina Coalition, BTMI, the National Black Justice Coalition and other organizations with your donations. Even if you don't do anything more than send them $5 or $10 from time to time or whatever you can afford, as President Obama proved in 2008 and 2012, small donations done by thousands of people can add up to nice tidy sums quickly and those organizations would deeply appreciate it.

We will also need to use that same fiscal strategy when we finally have transpeople of color step up and run for public office. I hope that some trans person in Dallas will pick up where Monica Barros-Greene left off in 2005 and run for and win a seat on the Dallas City Council. I hope some of you sitting in this room will consider running for public office in your own locales because it is the next level of being the change we want to see in the world.

The last time we had a Black trans person elected to a statewide legislature was Althea Garrison in 1992. She unfortunately only served one term in the Massachusetts House.
Don't y'all think it's past time that we have some of our people become mayors, city council members, county commissioners, school board trustees, judges, state legislators, state senators, and eventually run for Congress with the goal of writing the policies and laws that impact our lives instead of begging for inclusion in them?

But the Power of You must also manifest itself in the vitally important area of banishing the unholy trinity of shame, guilt and fear from our lives.

Mary McLeod Bethune wrote in the January 1938 Journal of Negro History, 'If our people are to fight our way out of bondage, we must arm them with the sword and the shield and the buckle of pride-belief in themselves and their possibilities based on a sure knowledge of the past. This knowledge and pride we must give them—if it breaks every back in the kingdom.”

I knew being a child and godchild of historians that connecting Black trans people to our history would have a positive transformative effect on us. So would being out, proud visible and having our own trans icons to look up to.

I wish that when I was a skinny teenager trying to sort out my gender issues while jamming to Donna Summer, Sylvester, Chic and Parliament-Funkadelic I'd had a Janet Mock, a Kye Allums, a Sharyn Grayson or a Miss Major to look up to as a trans role model. I wish that back in the day I'd known the history I'm now aware of about trans actress and August 1981 JET beauty of the week Ajita Wilson. I wish I'd been aware of the fact that the first patient of the now closed Johns Hopkins Gender Clinic in Baltimore was a girl like me named Avon Wilson or the story of Mississippi trans man Jim McHarris that was told in the pages of a 1954 EBONY magazine article.

I'm aware of that history now and eagerly pass it on to other people. I'm happy that the POC trans people of this generation have visible role models, icons and visionary leaders who share their heritage they can be proud of and I'm flattered that some of you consider me a role model.

I'm proud to do my part on my TransGriot blog and in concert with the efforts of other trans historians in getting everyone acquainted and familiar with Black trans history. I hope it results in them standing up a little taller, feeling more connected to the transpeople who walked this planet before we did, feeling they have a legacy to uphold and all of us being more willing to say it loud, I'm Black, transgender and proud!

It's no accident that since the trans community has become more visible, we have quickly made trans human rights gains. It's also no accident because of that visibility we are getting more pushback from the Forces of Intolerance. But we need to keep on pushing because we are on the correct side of the moral arc of history, our cause is just, and we will win.

As we have more trans people of color come out, tell their stories and live their lives, our communities and legacy organizations such as the NAACP are finally getting past the trans informational blackout and recognizing that we exist, but that Black trans issues are African-American community issues.

Conferences like this are also empowering events. The panel discussions, thought provoking seminars, meet and greet events and opportunities to have some fun also give us an opportunity to network with other like minded people, share information and forge those partnership that will hopefully result in change that positively affects our community and the multiple ones we intersect and interact with.

While we still have a long way to go in terms of getting the media to show us transpeople of color some of the love they've had for white trans people for six decades, we've at least gotten the process started in terms of getting more media face time for trans people of color to discuss the issues that affect us.

In conclusion, to paraphrase a famous quote from French philosopher Simone De Beauvoir, one is not born a man or woman, you become one.

However, that road to becoming a man or woman of trans experience is sometimes a bumpy one with plenty of twists, turns, and potholes you'll encounter at inopportune times.

It is a journey in which you'll need courage before you step behind the wheel and you'll have to fuel up your vehicle on high octane faith to ensure you have the ability to keep moving forward. There are times you'll get tired or driving and need to hit a rest stop along the way to relax and refresh yourself so that you can continue your journey.

There are others who start out on that transition highway who misread their GPS and lose their way or return to where they started. There are a few reckless drivers speeding past you who are texting and driving, are out of control, on drugs or drunk who eventually run off the road and either find themselves badly injured or killed from the accident they got involved in.
But if you're doing what you need to do and staying fairly close to the speed limit, the miles melt away and you'll appreciate the scenery you'll encounter as you get closer to your final destination of being a trans masculine or trans feminine person of substance.

The journey of discovery toward finding the power of you and being the change you wish to see in the world is one that is well worth taking for your own peace of mind and satisfaction.
And it's time for all of us to check the mirrors in our vehicles, put the key in the ignition, start it up, put it in gear, back the car out of the parking space and drive.

And may you have a peaceful journey toward discovering the Power of You and owning it.

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