Monday, July 31, 2006

Elizabeth's Body Image Article: My Thoughts

As transwomen we are a subset of the greater society. That parent society places huge emphasis on how one looks. The better you look, the more money you make, and various studies over the years have corroborated that.

It's assumed that if you have the looks and cash to go with it you'll have a fabulous life. That's not always the case. Ask Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, or Vanessa L. Williams about the not so sunny side of that. You can't ask Dorothy Dandridge or Phyllis Hyman that question because they both took their own lives. (Dorothy Dandridge in 1964 and Phyllis Hyman in 1995.)

You get the good and the bad with transition. You not only get the femme body to match the gender brain map, you also get the increased risk for breast cancer, decreased strength levels, devaluement of your intelligence and all of the other assorted drama that women grow up with.

Women tend to admire other women who have bigger breasts, prettier faces, curvier hourglass figures, bigger butts, fly hair, more flawless skin...well, you get the picture.

Transwomen are no different. I'm envious from time to time of my sisters that have that combination of genetics and hormones that allowed them to transition into those types of feminine bodies with minimal surgical intervention. I'm also envious of the women who were fortunate enough to be born and raised from birth as such and got the genetic luck of the draw as well. (I'm currently writing a series of TransGriot blog articles about various women I admire and why)

One of the reasons I founded Transsistahs-Transbrothas is because we DON'T have a lot of positive role models that we can point to with pride and look up to. I've been on ths planet for four decades and I've only seen articles written about African-American transwomen in Jet FOUR times.

In order, they are the 1979 Justina Williams one that discussed her transition and her fight with GM. The one about Teddy Pendergrass' 1982 car accident in Philadelphia that identifies the other passenger in his car as a transsistah named Tamika Watson. The 1987 Sharon Davis one that discusses her transition and the book she was writing about it. On the very next page from the positive Sharon Davis article is the negative one about then Mississippi governor Bill Allain (D-MS) and a picture of the attractive sistah transgender call girl he was accused of sleeping with. I recall her being interviewed on ABC's 20/20 about it.

As we know from being African-American in this country, it's vitally important to see representations of yourself doing positive things in various walks of life. Since there aren't many out African-American transwomen, (or they haven't gotten the recognition for being so) it leads to a skewed impression with our transgender youth about who they are and what they can accomplish. If the only role models they see are porn stars, escorts or female illusionists and there's no counterbalance to that, it does ALL of us a disservice.

As for the 'can you tell' game we play, it's not just us playing it.
Nobody is 100 percent male or female. You get half your chromosomes from mommy, half from daddy and we all started out as a FEMININE fetus until that critical eighth week of pregnancy. Any woman who is over 5'8", has broad shoulders, wears a size 9 shoe or larger or has 'masculine traits' is now suspected of being transgender.

Everyone has some trait about them that 'belongs' to the opposite gender. My female relatives and friends constantly tell me that they are jealous of my naturally long and thick eyelashes. I was mercilessly teased in junior high about my 'girl's legs' and 'girl's butt'. I have a friend who is as beautiful and girly-girl as you can be but has a deep masculine tone to her voice. My late ex-girlfriend was 5'11", wore a size 9 shoe, had 38C breasts, a flawless even-toned honey brown complexion and a natural hourglass figure complete with sistah butt, but had hands bigger than mine. (my hands are SMALLER than many guys, BTW). Conservative pundit Ann Coulter is not only 6 feet tall, but has a very prominent Adam's apple.

I was told a story about a Southern Comfort Conference in which they do a tour of CNN headquarters as one of the events. From time to time those tours are led by various onair CNN personalities. That day the SCC one was led by international reporter Christiane Amanpour. Christiane told them that she requested this one because she wanted to meet some transpeeps. She also revealed to the tour participants that she's often been accused of being a transwoman because she's six feet tall and broad shouldered. She's not a transwoman, but when I watch her do her news reports on CNN I'm a bigger fan of hers.

It's been rumored for years that Eddie Murphy's soon to be ex-wife Nicole Mitchell was a transwoman. Before you laugh it off, remember this is LA/Hollywood and anythang can happen. Janet Jackson kept a 10 plus year marriage to Rene Elizondo secret. Rock Hudson being gay was covered up for decades until AIDS blew him out of the closet. So what's the probability of Nicole being a transwoman and married to a Hollywood actor, especially when Nicole's background prior to marrying Eddie was so mysteriously murky?

While I have my doubts that Nicole is, with four kids being powerful evidence against that, it's the May 2, 1997 West Hollywood, CA traffic stop that continues to breathe life into this conspiracy theory. He was stopped on Santa Monica Boulevard, a known transgender hooker stroll with the late Atison Seiuli as a passenger in his vehicle. Several LA area transwomen have mentioned for years Eddie's fascination with transwomen. I even heard the same stories when I visited Club Peanuts back in 1992.

As to the 'can you tell' game, I do it as an icebreaker exercise in my Trans 101 lectures. I show pictures of various trans and non-trans peeps and get the audience to try to guess who's genetic and who's trans. Nine times out of ten people get it wrong, including us trannies. Some of Maury's most popular and highest rated talk shows are the 'Can You Tell' ones that have the audience try to guess who are the transwomen and who are the genetic ones. It's not a coincidence that he runs those shows during the February, May and October sweeps.

If Ciara were a transwoman, would I love to see a press conference in which she states, "I'm transgender and I'm proud of it"? Damn skippy. Any assorted WNBA ballplayer? Any congresswoman? Any actress/singer/fashion model? Sorority members? Notable business leaders? Politicians? Female athlete? Yep, I would.

I personally know and have heard of transpeeps who are doing great thangs, but unfortunately they're stealth transpeeps. I'm not going to out them because it would cause blowback that could compromise their corporate jobs, marital status, et cetera. The ill timed outing of such transpeeps may also have repercussions in terms of our quest to be accepted in this society as valued members of it.

The decision to come out is theirs to make. Hopefully one day there will be a climate of understanding and acceptance in my community and in this country which will allow them to do so without repercussions in their lives. I hope I live long enough to see that day.

Invisibility and a dearth of knowledge about us leads to fear and repression. Visibility and abundant knowledge about transpeople will eventually lead to understanding and acceptance. Even with that, the issues of celebrity status, body image and acceptance will always be a part of the transgender community as long as it is prevalent in our parent society.

Celebrities , Body Image and Acceptance: The Effect On The Transsexual

Guest Column by Elizabeth

What is it with transsexuals and their obsession with outing celebrities as closet transsexuals? I understand that some girls really want to be feminine and perfect. They want to be admired, passable, unclockable and unspooky. Some feel they may not be so flawless or that they are too close to being boyish or mannish.

Of course when transsexuals are obsessed with their looks and less concerned about actually living the role of women I think more than gender dysphoria is involved and they suffer from some form of body dysphoria. People who are just unhappy with their bodies like Michael Jackson and well, Amanda Lepore (a NY transwoman). She's had hundreds of cosmetic procedures and plastic surgeries performed on herself.

Do girls need role models, though? Everyone is lacking in some feature or characteristic when compared to another. It seems as though the typical teenage girl has to idolize someone, be that Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Paris Hilton, Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Lopez or Madonna.

Many of these celebrities are in fact talented, attractive and feminine but does it go beyond admiration sometimes when folks want to be like them? Of course it seems transsexuals take the admiration to the extreme sometimes. Amanda Lepore wanting to look like cartoon character Jessica Rabbit. A show on MTV called I Want A Famous Face recently featured a transsexual girl who wanted to look like Jennifer Lopez.

I think it's quite sad when genetic or transexual girls look up to these celebrities and think that celebrities have the perfect body when that is not the case. The photos that appear on the CD covers and magazines from celebrity photo shoots are often Photoshopped and manipulated. Obviously there are people in the media and entertainment industry that don't think certain celebrities meet those perfect standards. For example, seems someone thinks Serena Williams is too manly/muscular and Beyonce's boobs are never big enough.

Just check out the portfolio of Glen Feron sometimes. He's an artist hired to Photoshop and retouch photos of celebrities for magazines and CD covers. He smoothes over their faces, gives them flawless complexions, exaggerates makeup, narrows the waists of women and gives them plumper and fuller breasts and butts.

Transsexuals and Their Obsession With Celebrities

I've seen other transsexual girls ask each other, "Is so and so a transsexual?" "Look at her forehead and those man hands." It just seems like there is some grand witch hunt to out and expose these celebrities. Maybe it's just that trans girls would feel better knowing that there is someone out there in the world who is transgendered, has made it and has gained acceptance. Highly doubtful that any of them are indeed transexuals.

I feel that sometimes transsexual sisters idolize these girls and celebrities but do nothing to really be anything like them. Being transsexual has stopped some girls from modeling, acting or singing such as Harisu, Jordana LeSesne, Dana International, Roberta Close, Caroline 'Tula' Cossey, Claudia Charriez or Gia Darling.

Of course my feelings on the subject are if they aren't out or admit to being one in the first place then why do I want them to be labeled as a transsexual icon?

Much like gay black men and their obsession to label people like Malcolm X, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis and Luther Vandross as gay. They never admitted to it in their life publicly or otherwise and there is no hard evidence to support such labels. Seems like part of the "gay agenda".

What gay black people are doing is proclaimimg someone to be their black gay messiah whenever it seems most convenient. I know they seek greater acceptance and recognition in the larger white GLBT community but really, why not admire someone who actually lived and identities with the life? Why settle for anything less than the real thing? Transexuals must stop and not do the same thing. We won't find wide acceptance this way.

Ciara Harris, That Whole Transsexual Mess and Why She Is My New Flawless Role Model!

Sometime in 2004 rumors began circulating that R&B singer Ciara was a transsexual and that she even admitted so on Oprah. Only problem is that she has never appeared on Oprah, so the rumor is bogus. Ciara denied this and the controversy has sorta gone away and died down.

I have to admit that during the height of those rumors some people commented that she looked quite mannish in one of her videos. I certainly do believe that she possesses features that would leave some room for doubt. No one can be 100% perfect though I'm sure she is 100% female. I mean it's not as if I want to diminish any part of her femininity. I look at her now and think, 'Wow, she does have some broad shoulders and a bit of a square chin.' It's a 'things that make you go hmm' kind of moment.

I have broad shoulders. I look at more it more like, well if Ciara looks like she does and is accepted as being beautiful, sexy and desirable by Black men and society at large then why can't I be accepted as female with my features?

Maybe I should stop feeling so bad about myself for having broad shoulders.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Why Should I 'Come Home' To the GOP?

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman has been on a campaign to increase African-American membership in the Republican Party. He has rhetorically called for African-Americans to come “back home” to the GOP.

Why should I?

Mehlman and other GOP offcials keep pointing to MD Lt. Governor Michael Steele US senate seat run, Ken Blackwell's run for governor of Ohio and Lynn Swann's run for Pennsylvania governor as evidence the Republicans are serious about competing for African-American votes.

Over the years many of the African-Americans that the GOP anointed as candidates for office have proven time and time again their willingness to sell out their own people for personal gain or how out of touch their views are with mainstream African-Americans. Those candidates end up having zero credibility with many of us.

In Ken Blackwell's case, I guess Mehlman thought we'd forgotten about how Kenny Boy sold us out during the 2004 presidential election. He was more concerned about being the point negro of the 2004 Bush campaign committee than his role as Secretary of State.

It's also still fresh in our memories the less than speedy response to Hurricane Katrina's devastating New Orleans landfall. When our brothers and sisters needed help last summer it was slow in coming. The only silence more defeaning than President Bush's was the sellout Black megachurch ministers who support y'all.

But back to Ken Blackwell and the other GOP Blacks y'all have running this fall. Their success is predicated on clearing a historically high hurdle for Black politicians: Winning white voters.

That's proving to be difficult in Ohio because Blackwell has at this writing only 35% support in his Ohio race despite sounding like a caramel colored clone of Pat Robertson. Lynn Swann is trailing incumbent PA Governor Ed Rendell 50%-40%

In recent US history only Douglas Wilder of Virginia has been elected governor in the United States and by the way, he was a Democrat. Tom Bradley couldn't get elected to the governor's chair in California in 1982 and 1986 despite having served as mayor of Los Angeles since 1973. Deval Patrick is attempting to make history by running for governor of Massachusetts this fall.

Voter pattern analysis between 1982 and 2000 reveals that Black and White voter turnout increases up to 3 percentage points with each African-American Democratic Party candidate on the ballot. When the candidate is a black Republican voting turnout does not show a significant increase.

*Whites of both the Republican and Democratic parties are less likely to vote for their parties' candidate when he or she is black, regardless of the politician.

So y'all can stop perpetrating about Condoleezza Rice's chances of winning the 2008 presidential nomination. They're about as good as Condi showing up at a White House gala with a weave down to her behind.

*Nationally, white Republicans are 25 percent more likely on average to vote for a Democratic senatorial candidate when the GOP candidate is black.

I saw an example of that in November 1994. In my hometown there were two African-Americans running for Harris County judgeships as Republicans during the 'Angry White Male' midterm elections. Guess who were the only Republican challengers to lose their races to incumbent Democratic judges?

*Whites who identify themselves as politically independent are more inclined to vote for a white Democrat than a black Republican.
*In races for the US House of Representatives, white Democrats are 38 percent less likely to vote for their party's candidate if that candidate is black.

That applies to US Senate races, too. Harvey Gantt lost twice in North Carolina to Jesse Helms, although Jesse had to pull the GOP race-baiting card to stave off defeat. Ron Kirk lost the 2002 US Senate race in Texas to John Cornyn despite serving two successful terms as mayor of Dallas. I'm interested in seeing if that plays out again if Harold Ford gets the Democratic nomination for senate in Tennessee.

I'll call the Dems out later about that. Right now I'm focused on the GOP.

Explain to me why I should 'come home' to a party that's homophobic, anti-science, anti-intellectual and racist? You GOPers can protest all you want, but until you repudiate the 'Southern Strategy' and stop spending millions to suppress our votes, I'll continue to support Democratic Party candidates.

Until the GOP gets serious about doing something about the problems that vex African-Americans besides cutting off funding to programs that help end those problems, moralizing sermons, actively opposing issues the African-American community considers vital to its progress or demonizing poor people, the GOP will have as much credibility in Black America as Vanilla Ice at a gangsta rap reunion.

NGLTF Takes Aim At GOP’s Courting Of Black Churches

by Roberta Sklar

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute (NGLTFPI) released a report April 4 that exposed the dishonesty of attempts by leaders of the Republican Party to lure black voters based on ‘moral values’ and spotlight the false promises inherent in Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman’s call for African-Americans to come “back home” to the GOP.

The report, “False Promises: How the Right Deploys Homophobia to Win Support from African-Americans,” compared the voting records of key Republican policymakers in Congress to polling of African-Americans’ top voting priorities and found that Republican lawmakers have abysmal voting records on these issues. Authored by Task Force Policy Analyst Nicolas Ray, the report showed that legislators with low ratings on LGBT equality also received low ratings from organizations that promote the rights of people of color, including the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Strange bedfellows

The report outlined the incongruity between historic Republican strategies, including Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” Reagan’s “welfare queens” and George H. W. Bush’s Willie Horton ads, all with disturbing racist undertones, and the Republican Party’s current push for African-American voters to “come home.” The study suggested that the current moral values rhetoric espoused by many in the GOP was designed in part to generate support by stoking homophobia in the African-American community.

“The right wing of the Republican Party has a long-standing record of using fear and bigotry to set Americans against each other for its own gain,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “It is supremely ironic and profoundly sad that this is the party of Lincoln, a party that once sought to unify a nation. It was a party in which ‘freedom’ was a principle, not an empty platitude espoused purely for political gain as is done so often by present-day Republican leaders.”

“This report should be a wake-up call to all black advocates for racial justice and social equality,” said H. Alexander Robinson, chief executive of the National Black Justice Coalition. “We can ill-afford having our voices dissipated by those who would exploit our differences over issues of sexual orientation for their own sinister political gain. Now that their thinly disguised attempts to render our votes meaningless has been revealed, it is up to us rebuild our coalition for change. Poll taxes, literacy tests and lynching didn’t stop us and I am confident we will prevail against this new tactic.”

According to data compiled from polls of the African-American community by the conservative Black America’s Political Action Committee and the progressive Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (JCPES), top priorities for black voters include economy and jobs; health care and prescription drugs; education; and Social Security. “Moral values” was not a significant concern of the poll respondents.

Despite the Republican Party’s attempt to use LGBT equality as a wedge issue, according to the JCPES poll, 47 percent of African-Americans would support some form of legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

“I’d be excited to see the GOP finally making a serious push for black voters — if the party was offering fresh ideas on police profiling, housing discrimination, unemployment and other issues of importance to black folks. But, the focus (isn’t) on any of that. Rather, it’s on the gosh-darned ‘homosexual agenda,’” said Leonard Pitts Jr., an African-American author quoted in the report.

Conservative Voting Records Is Bad For Blacks

The report outlined the voting records of members of Congress who received the highest ratings from conservative political organizations such as the American Conservative Union and the Family Research Council. All but one of these 125 representatives and 34 senators (a group which includes Sens. Trent Lott and Rick Santorum, and Rep. Tom DeLay) are Republican. The most conservative members of Congress also received some of the lowest ratings from people-of-color rights organizations such as the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. These legislators also received low ratings from other progressive organizations concerned with LGBT equality, including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Americans for Democratic Action.

In addition to these GOP legislators’ sometimes disturbing affiliations with racist organizations such as the Conservative Citizens Council (Lott) and opposition to reauthorization of parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (DeLay), people-of-color civil rights organizations were concerned with these legislators’ lack of support for established priorities of the African-American community. These legislators have consistently opposed affirmative action, raising the minimum wage, full funding for education initiatives, including No Child Left Behind, and funding for Medicaid initiatives that disproportionately affect African-Americans.

In addition, the report examined in detail the voting index scores of members of Congress from the six states with the highest proportion of African-American residents — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi and South Carolina. Republicans from these states consistently scored high on conservative measures, low on indices addressing African-American concerns and near zero on HRC’s measure score of support for LGBT equality. Conversely, while some Democrats managed moderately well with conservative groups, they simultaneously scored much higher on issues of significance to African-Americans, the poor and the LGBT community.

African-American leaders: LGBT rights = Civil rights

Finally, the report pointed to anti-LGBT rhetoric used by religious right figures, including James Dobson, the Rev. Lou Sheldon and Bishop Henry Jackson, as a part of the attempt to bring African-American voters into the Republican Party and spotlighted just how out of step these folks are with major figures of the African-American community, including the late Coretta Scott King, Rep. John Lewis and the NAACP’s Julian Bond.

Rep. John Lewis: “It is time to say forthrightly that government’s exclusion of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters from civil marriage officially degrades them and their families…this discrimination is wrong.”

Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP: “There are no ‘special rights’ in America; we are all entitled to life, liberty and happiness’ pursuit. … I see this as a civil rights issue. That means I support gay civil marriage.”

Coretta Scott King: “I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King’s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bush Acknowledges Racism Still Exists

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - President Bush acknowledged persistent racism in America and lamented the Republican Party's bumpy relations with black voters as he addressed the NAACP's annual convention Thursday for the first time in his presidency.

"I understand that racism still lingers in America," Bush told the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "It's a lot easier to change a law than to change a human heart. And I understand that many African-Americans distrust my political party."

That line generated boisterous applause and cheers from the thousands in the audience, which generally gave the president a polite, reserved reception.

"I consider it a tragedy that the party of Abraham Lincoln let go of its historical ties with the African-American community," Bush said. "For too long, my party wrote off the African-American vote, and many African-Americans wrote off the Republican Party."

Black support for Republicans in elections has hovered around 10 percent for more than a decade. In 2004, Bush drew 11 percent of the black vote against Democrat John Kerry.

Most of the president's remarks were greeted with smatterings of applause, but many in the convention center stood up to clap when he urged the Senate to renew a landmark civil rights law passed in the 1960s to stop racist voting practices in the South.

"President Johnson called the right to vote the lifeblood of our democracy. That was true then and it remains true today," Bush said.

Bush, joined by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and chief political adviser Karl Rove, spoke as the Senate debated a bill to approve a 25-year extension of expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The House has passed the bill, and the Senate was expected to pass it quickly, propelled by a Republican push to increase the party's credibility with minorities.

For five years in a row, Bush has declined invitations to address the NAACP convention. This year, he said yes. He was introduced by NAACP head Bruce Gordon.

"Bruce was a polite guy," Bush said. "I thought what he was going to say, `It's about time you showed up.' And I'm glad I did."

He knew it would be a tough audience. According to AP-Ipsos polling conducted in June and July, 86 percent of blacks disapprove of the way Bush is handling his job as president, compared with 56 percent of whites who disapprove.

Bush said he saw his attendance at the convention as a moment of opportunity to celebrate the civil rights movement and the accomplishments of the NAACP.

"I come from a family committed to civil rights," Bush said. "My faith tells me that we are all children of God — equally loved, equally cherished, equally entitled to the rights He grants us all.

"For nearly 200 years, our nation failed the test of extending the blessings of liberty to African-Americans. Slavery was legal for nearly 100 years, and discrimination legal in many places for nearly 100 years more."

The White House denied claims that Bush's appearance was a way of atoning for the government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and some black elected officials alleged that indifference to black suffering and racial injustice was to blame for the sluggish reaction to the disaster.

Bush, noting that he has met several times with Gordon, and that they have discussed Katrina. "We've got a plan and we've got a commitment," Bush said. "It's commitment to the people of the Gulf Coast of the United States to see to it that their lives are brighter and better than before the storm."

Bush also recalled his visit in June to Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tenn., with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. While in Memphis, the two made an unscheduled stop at the National Civil Rights Museum at The Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Bush and Koizumi emerged from a tour to stand on the spot on the motel balcony where King was slain.

They were joined by former NAACP head Benjamin Hooks.

"It's a powerful reminder of hardships this nation has been through in a struggle for decency," Bush said. "I was honored that Dr. Hooks took time to visit with me. He talked about the hardships of the movement. With the gentle wisdom that comes from experience, he made it clear we must work as one. And that's why I have come today."

Toward the end of his remarks, two protesters interrupted the president, shouting inquiries about Vice President Dick Cheney and the situation in the Middle East. "Don't worry. I'm almost done," Bush whispered to NAACP board chairman Julian Bond, one of the dignitaries with him on the stage.

"I know you can handle it," Bond replied.

Friday, July 14, 2006

July 2006 TransGriot Column

Congratulations Domanique Shappelle!
Copyright 2006, THE LETTER

I enjoy watching a good drag show or pageant every now and then (as long as I’m not choking on cigarette smoke in the process). I’ll even sit down and judge them from time to time when presented with the opportunity.

Thanks to all the wonderful people who extended me an invitation to judge the inaugural Miss Imperial Diva 2006 Pageant that took place on June 14. Congratulations to Vanessa Ross of Indianapolis who was crowned the winner.
I also enjoyed getting to meet special guests Amelia Black and Terri Vanessa Coleman and watching them perform as well

Speaking of congratulations, it’s past time for me to extend them to the other royalty in our midst in Da Ville since her reign is rapidly drawing to a close. Congratulations to Domanique Shappelle, Miss Continental 2005-2006.

Miss Continental is held during the Labor Day weekend in Chicago. The Miss Continental system is one of the prestige pageant circuits along with the Miss Gay America and Miss Gay USofA systems. There are several African-American pageant systems as well such as Miss Black Universe and Liberty International for starters and the list seems to grow longer with each passing year.

I met Domanique in conjunction with the time I spent with HIM 100 Concerned Men and HER back in 2003 as Transgender Initiative Coordinator. I was asked to become coordinator when no one else wanted the job. She was doing shows at The Connection at the time and had the respect of many of the transwomen I was trying to reach. That was critical as Dawn, myself and several other dedicated people worked diligently for almost a year to try to revive the Afro-American centered HIV/AIDS program before its funding was pulled.

I have had the pleasure during my journey to transwomanhood of meeting many female illusionists. Some are no longer here like the legendary Naomi Sims. Others I’ve met in my hometown and elsewhere have gone on to bigger and better things such as Tommie Ross, Chevelle Brooks, Chanel Nicole, Shawnna Brooks, Sophia McIntosh and Lawanda Jackson.

I have always been aware of the fact in conversing with many of these beautiful and talented ladies that many of them are intelligent goal-oriented individuals. I discovered during a dinner we had at the house a few years ago that Domanique has a degree in communications. We shared the same concerns about our younger transsistahs growing up without the foundations of a good education, knowing their history and having role models they can be proud of.

Well, Domanique is doing it in the pageant world. Whether she’s onstage or off, she’s carried herself with class and dignity. She’s cognizant of the role she plays as a mentor to the girls of the pageant world as their representative just as myself and others strive to build a positive image for transpeople in our interactions with the folks we come in contact with on a daily basis

Our busy schedules over the last two years have prevented us from being in contact as much as I’d like to, but Domanique is definitely someone I want to spend more quality time with. I still consider her a friend and hope she feels the same way.

Congratulations, sis. May you have continued success in your career.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Johannesburg Statement on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Human Rights

I'm always hunting for information about my transgender bothers and sisters on the African continent. I've been deeply concerned about the increasingly repressive anti-GLBT attitudes that are manifesting themselves there.

Seems like I'm not the only one. On February 13, 2004 fifty-five participants held a meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa. They represented twenty-two groups from sixteen African nations. The following statement was adopted at this meeting.


To African member governments of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and of the United Nations:

We write to you as a coalition of African lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organizations. If we do not sign the names of our organizations to this document, it is because of the climate of repression and fear that we face every day. We represent sixteen countries across the whole continent of Africa. We speak to you as fellow Africans, concerned that our continent develop and realize its full potential, steady in hope for African democracy, aware that repression and fear are inconsistent with peace and freedom, conscious that democracy and development can only be attained by mobilizing the energies of all Africa’s peoples.

We say to you: We, African lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people, do exist--despite your attempts to deny our existence. We are part of your countries and constituencies. We are watching your deliberations from our home communities, which are also your home communities. We demand that our voices be heard.

We ask you to support a resolution before the Commission on sexual orientation, gender identity, and human rights.

Across Africa, we face human rights abuses which threaten our safety, our livelihoods, and our lives. That we are targets of such abuse proves that we exist—states do not persecute phantoms or ghosts. It also proves the necessity for action to safeguard our real situations and our basic rights.

African lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people confront harassment from police; abuse by our neighbors and our families; and violence and brutality—sometimes punitive rape—on the streets. We are discriminated against in the workplace. Some of our families force us into marriages against our will, in the hope of changing our inmost selves. Some of us, among them the very young, are evicted from our homes because of prejudice and fear.

Our intimate and private lives are made criminal. Laws punishing “unnatural acts” or “sodomy” are enforced against us. Political leaders say these laws defend African “cultural traditions”—even though, without a single exception, these laws are foreign imports, brought by the injustice of colonialism.

We are denied access to health care and basic health information targeted to our lives and needs. We are blamed, unjustly, for the spread of HIV/AIDS (known by experts to be, in Africa, primarily transmitted by heterosexual sex); at the same time, we are omitted from HIV prevention programs. The brave contributions we have made to HIV prevention and treatment—doing outreach to our own communities and educating them in the face of state neglect or persecution—are ignored or actively harassed.

Schools teach intolerance, contributing to a harassment that denies young people whose sexualities or gender identities do not “conform” the basic right to an education. We are targets of media propaganda campaigns that call us “foreign,” “diseased,” “evil,” or “sick.” Political leaders promote hatred against us to solidify their own political situations. We are kept in silence and denied the right of reply.

At the same time, we have and have always had a place in Africa. Despite the pressure of prejudice that politicians and self-styled popular leaders promote, many of our families do not succumb; many of our neighbors, co-workers, and friends continue to love and to support us. Many of our communities continue to affirm that we are an integral part of their web of relationships. Many traditional cultures still are governed by those principles of welcoming and belonging that have always been central to African life; they do not allow themselves to be distorted by the politics of exclusion, and preserve our rightful place in the gathering. Many African religious leaders from many denominations speak to us of love and inclusion, not hatred and revenge. And, on our continent, South Africa, at the end of its long liberation struggle, became the first country in the world to include, in its post-apartheid constitution, “sexual orientation” as a status protected from discrimination.

In supporting the resolution on sexual orientation, gender identity, and human rights, you will be true to the real African tradition—which, in culture after culture, before colonialism cast its stultifying shadow, recognized the interrelationship and interdependency of us all.

We urge you to support this resolution.

Signed by representatives from:

Sierra Leone
South Africa

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Gay Atlanta in Black and White

Separate bars, churches sign of segregation or just different cultures?

Spend any weekend in a black gay club in Atlanta, and it's easy to see why this city is considered a mecca for African-American gay men and lesbians.

Thousands of people cram into every inch of the 14,000-square foot Atlanta Live each Saturday for the party hosted by Traxx, and the wall-to-wall crowd inside the gay bar Bulldogs regularly results in a considerable number of black gay men lining up along Peachtree Street waiting to enter.

A new generation of black gay youth continue to fill Club 708, celebrating their sexual orientation by listening to hip-hop music and competing in J-set dance routines.

But outside these clubs, there are few indicators of Atlanta's status as a black gay mecca. Most of the city's major gay political groups, social organizations and community-based institutions have largely white memberships, whether because African Americans choose not to join or their involvement is not recruited effectively.

An unsuccessful attempt to bridge the disconnect that sometimes exists between black gay people and Atlanta's gay organizations recently brought to the surface long-simmering racial tensions.

Dwight Powell, publisher and editor of Clik, a monthly national magazine for black gay men, offered the Atlanta Pride Committee free advertising in Clik as a way to attract more black gay men to the annual Pride festival in June.

When Atlanta Pride Executive Director Donna Narducci turned down Clik's proposed sponsorship ”saying Pride already had in-kind media sponsors and was desperate for cash donations” Powell sent out an e-mail claiming "the refusal of AmericaĆ¢'s only national black gay publication lends to the fact that Ms. Narducci really isn't concerned about reaching out to this demographic."

Powell said this week that he never meant to imply that outright racism motivated Narducci's decision, but that he believed the incident highlights how attracting black gay men and lesbians is "not a priority for the Atlanta Pride Committee."

"The fact that we had to reach out to them is itself a bit alarming," Powell said. "They don't have many options to reach African Americans, and they could've used our magazine as a vehicle to achieve that."

After Powell went public with his complaints, Narducci reversed her decision, saying she recognized the "intrinsic value" of Pride partnering with Clik. Calling the misunderstanding a "teachable moment," Narducci extended a sponsorship to Clik.

Powell refused, and discussions between the two sides continued without resolution this week.

But Narducci said the misunderstanding between Pride and Clik sparked discussion about the role of race in gay Atlanta.

"I have had many opportunities these past 10 days to have conversations with a lot of folks," she said in an e-mail response to questions. "There is agreement that more work needs to be done in our community to improve race relations, and there are many folks willing to be engaged and do the work."

Race or sexual orientation: which comes first?

State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), Georgias's only openly gay state legislator, said she was oblivious to the racial divisions among gay and lesbian Georgians until the summer of 2004, when she led the coalition that unsuccessfully fought a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

"On many days, instead of us fighting the marriage amendment, we spent a lot of time figuring out racism in our own community," Drenner said. "The gay community is just a microcosm of society at-large, and one of the largest problems facing our country today is racism.

"I've finally come to terms with the fact that until we put an end to racism in our community, we won't have a movement and our rights are definitely in peril," said Drenner, who added that she always viewed herself as a gay person more than someone who is white.

Every person has a different way of incorporating their racial identity and sexual orientation into their sense of self, said Jane Ivery, an assistant professor in Georgia State University's School of Social Work.

"What's sad is people often feel as though they have to choose one over the other," Ivery said. "Often there can be tension with people in terms of which group they identify more with."

Many gay people have a "heightened understanding" of racial sensitivities, but that doesn't negate all racial bias, Ivery said.

"I think there is a sense that [white gay people] might not see some of their own racism or the way they stereotype people," Ivery said. "They'll say "We're all gay, we're all in this together,™ but you cannot ignore those other nuances that exist beyond sexual orientation."

˜We're in 1955™

It's often said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America; in gay Atlanta, the same could be said about Saturday night.

"The options are very nice when it comes to the number of clubs available, but in terms of integration, for all intents and purposes, we're in 1955," said Brandon Bragg, who coordinates mostly African-American networking and social events for gay men and lesbians.

The circuit house music at WETbar contrasts to the hip hop featured at Traxx, but Bragg thinks it's too convenient to chalk-up the rigid segregation that exists in Atlanta's gay nightlife to people's differing musical tastes.

"It's much deeper than the music” it speaks to the divide that exists in gay Atlanta that no one wants to talk about," Bragg said. "And because everyone tries to avoid it, whenever there's a disagreement or a misunderstanding, [the racial divide] always comes back up."

Luke Snyder used to hang out at Bulldogs, but said few patrons of the predominantly black bar make eye contact with him or strike up conversations.

"I don't know if it's because I'm white, or older, or what, but I definitely don't feel that cut off from people when I'm at a place and there are other white people," Snyder said. "Oh, god, I know that sounds terrible, but it seems like the truth. People feel better around people like them."

Cedd Davis has similar stories about his experience as a black gay man venturing into predominantly white nightclubs.

"The few times I've been to a white club, I don't get the same vibe that I do in a black club. No one makes eye contact, no one talks to you," Davis said. "It's like I'm basically just there to stand in the club."

The downside of having a segregated nightlife is that it makes interracial dating more difficult, and keeps different segments of gay Atlanta ignorant about one another, Davis and Snyder said.

But Powell, from Clik, said he considers the segregated nightlife a benign part of business.

Ivery agreed that there is little harm in having segregated nightclubs, but said it might be easy for such divisions to spill over to other areas of gay culture.

"There's a natural inclination, as humans, to want to be with individuals who are similar to us, and who have interests similar to ours, but that's different from institutional segregation," Ivery said.

Different cultural styles

Racial divisions in gay Atlanta aren't confined to Saturday night. But the segregation on Sunday morning in Atlanta's gay churches often has more to do with culture than racism, said Rev. Kathi Martin, an African-American pastor who has worked for five months at First Metropolitan Community Church.

"The basic segregation comes from different cultural styles. People gravitate to what's more comfortable," she said.

Founded for gay men and lesbians, First MCC is predominantly white, but the church is making conscientious efforts to bring together the black and white gay faithful, Martin said.

For more than a month at First MCC, Martin has led a Sunday evening service that incorporates worship traditions of the black church, including gospel music and a style that is unique to African-American culture.

Named "Spirit," the service typically attracts 45 people each week, she said. Sometimes congregants attending are equally divided between black and white, but sometimes whites outnumber blacks 60 to 40 percent or even 70 to 30 percent.

"It's an interesting phenomenon. A diverse group of people like diverse worship styles," Martin said.

For Rev. Antonio Jones, pastor of Unity Fellowship of Christ Church, a church for gay African Americans, the black church is a haven where African Americans can express themselves collectively and individually in a cultural way that is different than services at predominantly white churches.

"African-American GLBT people had no place to go that looked like the churches they came from and enjoyed. They could either come out and leave the church as a whole or stay in the closet," Jones said.

Unity Fellowship averages between 70 to 90 congregants each Sunday service and membership is mostly African-American, Jones said.

Jones also noted that work being done among Atlanta's gay clergy is significant in addressing the tough topic of racism.

"The religious community has been working diligently to build relations across race lines. This has been very intentional," he said. "Yes, racism exists, but there are small strides being made."

"Move beyond tolerance"

Churches are not perfect and elements of racism exist within gay congregations, according to Rev. Paul Graetz, First MCC senior pastor.

Of the 250-300 people who attend Sunday services at First MCC, most are white, Graetz said. But with the recent hiring of Martin as well as African-American evangelist Franc Perry, the church is striving to diversify and build bridges with the black community, both gay and straight, Graetz said.

"Racism is still evident but I'm excited about the movements being made. I've never seen it quite like this," he said. "It's crazy that as gay people we seek acceptance but then don't want to accept others."

Rev. Chris Glaser, interim pastor of Christ Covenant MCC, said racism in among gay people must be directly attacked from the pulpit.

"I mention African-American issues often from the pulpit because I think that, just as LGBT people often don't attend churches that voice our concerns, African Americans may feel unwelcome when not mentioned," he said.

Christ Covenant MCC averages about 50 congregants every Sunday. In the past two weeks, 10 African Americans have attended services, he said.

In a recent sermon, Glaser stressed that people must move beyond tolerance to actual engagement if racism is to be truly eliminated.

"Being a welcoming church means more than being friendly to new people, it means also integrating them into our lives, integrating them through engagement, finding out about them and their needs, hopes and dreams," he said