Wednesday, February 28, 2007

New TransGriot Blog Links

left photo-Jackie
right photo-Angelica

Hey TransGriot readers!

Just a quick note about two of the blogs that I've linked to TransGriot.

Jackie's Things According To Me is one I discovered after she left comments on many of my posts. It's an enjoyable read on subjects ranging from her life in a long term committed relationship to current events, so check it out. I get a kick out of the fact that her partner's name is Monica as well ;)

Angelica Love Ross is a person I introduced you peeps to earlier this month. I wrote about her You Tube video imploring African-American transwomen to work on the internal part of transition. In addition to having a Chicago-based image consulting business Angelica has started a blog called The Transsexual Revolution. I'm pleased to announce that she has asked me to become a contributing guest poster on her blog.

One thing that you'll discover as you continue to peruse TransGriot is that there are many ways to transition. What makes it so fascinating is that it's a journey that can be universal in nature but it's also as individual as the person undergoing it. I hope that you'll enjoy reading the thoughts of a twentysomething transwoman that's traveling that road right now.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Janet Hill


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

Janet Hill is one impressive sistah. She's the Vice President of Washington, D.C. corporate consulting firm Alexander & Associates, Inc. She sits on the boards of Sprint Nextel, Inc.; Wendy’s International, Inc.; Dean Foods, Inc., McDonald Dental Laboratory in New Orleans, the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and the Durham Literacy Council.

She is a former chairwoman of the bipartisan Women’s Campaign Fund, a national PAC raising money for women running for federal, state and local offices. She taught mathematics at the high school and collegiate levels and served during the Carter Administration as a Special Assistant to then Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander.

Oh, did I mention she's the wife of NFL Hall of Famer Calvin Hill and the mother of Grant Hill?

She was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on December 23, 1947. She attended Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts as one of five African-American students on the entire campus at the time. An interesting footnote from her time at Wellesley is that her college roommate was Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. She graduated in 1969 with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and also holds an M.A. in mathematics from the University of Chicago.

She's a no-nonsense parent that earned the nickname 'The Sergeant' from her son's friends that she upgraded to 'The General'. She considered it a compliment as she mentioned in a May 12, 2002 CNN interview.

"Oh, it's absolutely a compliment. You know, I was tough as a mother of Grant when he was a young child, but that all ended when he was 18 years old."

She also believes that you have to set high standards for your children and do more than spend quality time with them.

"We aren't challenging them to work hard at something other than perfecting their athletic ability," she said in a 1998 Jet interview.

Like myself, she believes in the importance of role models. She takes it a step further and hopes that youth would look at accessible role models, i.e. the people that are closest to them and who can touch them every day.

"I hope your role models will be your parents, or maybe your teachers, coaches, neighbors or minister."

Janet Hill reminds me in a lot of ways of my own mother and many of the women of her era. It's a level of excellence that I want to emulate as well.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Shilah Phillips-The First African-American Miss Texas

Congratulations to Shilah Phillips who made a little Black history of her own on July 8, 2006. She became the first African-American to win the Miss Texas pageant.

She finished first runner up in the 2007 Miss America pageant held on January 29 and narrowly missed joining Vanessa Williams, Suzette Charles, Marjorie Judith Vincent, Dr. Debbye Turner, Kimberly Aiken, Erika Harold and Ericka Dunlap as sistahs who've won the Miss America crown.

As of yet there hasn't been an African-American who has won the Miss Texas USA pageant, but I have to add an asterisk to that statement.

In 1995 Deer Park resident Chelsi Smith won Miss Texas USA. When she was asked by a reporter how it felt to become the first African-American to win it, she replied that she wasn't Black, she was white. She clarified her statement by saying she was biracial but she'd already angered many Black Texans in the process.

It was like rubbing salt in the wound when she captured the Miss USA and Miss Universe titles later that year. I was even more pissed because one of my homegirls, Crystal Dillard competed in the 1984 Miss Texas USA pageant. Crystal almost made history that night but finished as the 4th runner up.

Okay, I'm done venting now. Back to the story.

I'm happy to see a sistah finally break through in the Miss Texas pageant. Pageants are such a big deal in the Lone Star State this one and Miss Texas USA are televised statewide in prime time. The Texas state pageants are traditionally more competitive and tougher to win than the actual Miss USA and Miss America ones with up to 100 contestants.

Texas girls that win the local ones consistently place in the semifinals of both pageant systems. Three Texans have gone on to win Miss America. Eight Texans have won Miss USA with the aforementioned Chelsi Smith becoming Miss Universe. Halle Berry had the misfortune of competing during the unprecedented run from 1985-1989 in which Texans won Miss USA five straight years, otherwise she would have become the first African-American Miss USA in 1986.

Shilah, congratulations and continued success in all your future endeavors.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Tall Sistahs

TransGriot Note: Photo is of Sen. Barack Obama and his statuesque 5'11" wife Michelle. 

(List has been updated as of August 5, 2020)

In our society women are considered tall if they are 5'8' or taller. There's much debate as to how elastic that definition of 'tall' is. My personal belief is that if you're 5'7" or above you can consider yourself tall. Some people dispute my belief and state that tall status for women starts at 5'6".

One of my issues when I started transition was my height.
I used to believe the hype despite the abundant evidence that there weren't a lot of women my height (6'2") and I would get read like a cheap novel.

A few things happened that changed my outlook. The rise of 5'11" Tyra Banks as a supermodel at the time I was beginning my transition, Dr. Cole drilling it into my head during my gender counseling sessions over time that women come in ALL shapes and sizes, my own observations of the world around me and the startup of the WNBA in 1997. I began to look at it with a renewed sense of pride that I am over 6 feet tall and most of my under 5'7" sisters would love to be walking in my pumps.

My fears turned out to be unfounded. The ironic thing is that most peeps when they see me on the street ask me if I'm a fashion model or a WNBA ballplayer. ;)

To help those who may be going through a similar thing, this is a list that I have compiled of sistahs that are 5'7" or taller. While there are other lists of tall women on the Net, many of them either don't have or list few of our African-American stars, athletes or peeps of note.

This post will be one that I'll continually update. There are tall women of all ethnic backgrounds and I'll be putting that together in a separate post.

The Tall Sistahs List


Halle Berry
India Arie
Vivica A. Fox
Sanaa Lathan
Jackee Harry
Tracee Ellis Ross
Florence Griffith-Joyner
Rosario Dawson
Dawnn Lewis
Beyonce Knowles
Dionne Warwick


Shari Headley
Ananda Lewis
Whitney Houston
Gabrielle Union
Jill Marie Jones
Pam Grier
Chudney Ross (Diana Ross' daughter and Tracee Eillis Ross' baby sis)
Maritza Correia (US women's team swimmer)
Zahra Redwood (2007 Miss Jamaica)

5'8 1/2”
Jennifer Beals


Michael Michele
Mariah Carey
Kim Coles
Beverly Johnson
Toccara Jones
Garcelle Beauvais
Lela Rochon
Valarie Pettiford
Yoanna Henry (2007 Miss St. Lucia)
Renata Christian (2007 Miss US Virgin Islands)
Shakara Ledard 5'9 1/2" (supermodel)
Crystle Stewart (2008 Miss USA)


Jayne Kennedy
Naomi Campbell
Serena Williams
Cynthia Cooper
Laila Ali
Queen Latifah
Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Robin Roberts
Kenya Moore
Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth
K.D. (Karen Denise) Aubert
Lisa Fischer (Luther Vandross backup singer)
Naomi Sims
Micaela Reis (2007 Miss Angola)
Meleesea Payne (2007 Miss Guyana)
Flaviana Matata (2007 Miss Tanzania)
Gayle King
NeNe Leakes

5'10 1/2"
Veronica Webb
Grace Jones
Leila Lopes (Miss Universe 2011)


Tyra Banks
Grace Jones
Nikki McCray
Alek Wek
Marion Jones
Marsha Warfield
Michelle Obama
Anne Marie Johnson
Rachel Smith (2007 Miss USA)
Rosemary Chileshe (2007 Miss Zambia)
Sydney Tamiia Poitier
Lauren Green (FOX Noise anchor)

5’11 1/2”
Wendy Williams

6 feet

Phyllis Hyman
Aisha Tyler
Faye Wattleton (former head Planned Parenthood)
Sheryl Swoopes
Nona Gaye
Macy Gray
Kimora Lee Simmons
Maya Angelou
Stagecoach Mary Fields
Jamaica Kincaid
Octavia Butler
Carole Gist (first African-American Miss USA)
Yolanda Adams
Jewel Garner (2007 Miss Barbados)
Ainett Stephens
Jordin Sparks
Diahann Carroll


Wendy Fitzwilliam (1998 Miss Universe)
Tamika Catchings (Indiana Fever)
Swin Cash (Seattle Storm)
Jade Johnson (British long-jumper)

6'1 1/2"
Venus Williams


Tamara Dobson (from the Cleopatra Jones movie)
Tina Thompson (Houston Comets)
Rev. Paula McGee (Twin sis of Pamela McGee and USC b-ball great)
Pamela McGee (Twin sis of Paula McGee and retired WNBA baller)
Oluchi Onweagba (Nigerian-born supermodel)
Flo Hyman (former US Olympic volleyballer)
Chamique Holdsclaw (LA Sparks)
Tari Phillips (former Houston Comet)
Tamika Whitmore (Indiana Fever)
Katherine 'Kat' Smith  (author, blogger and model) 


Cheryl Miller
Mistie Williams (former Houston Comets center and daughter of Chubby Checker)
Cheryl Ford (WNBA player and daughter of NBA hall of famer Karl Malone)
Astou Ndiaye-Diatta (WNBA player)
DeMya Walker (WNBA player)
Kim Glass (USA volleyball)


Carolyn Peck (ESPN analyst)
Candace Parker (LA Sparks)
Monique Ambers (WNBA assistant coach)
Tangela Smith
Tammy Sutton-Brown 


Lisa Leslie-Lockwood (Olympian and retired LA Sparks center)
Monica Lamb (former Houston Comets center )
Michelle Snow (former Houston Comets center)

Sylvia Fowles (Chicago Sky)
Kara Braxton
Chantelle Anderson (retired WNBA player)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Black Transgender TV Characters

Back in 2000 when GLAAD was crowing about the TV show Ally McBeal having a transgender character, I pointed out the Edith Stokes character from The Jeffersons was missing from their list. As usual when it comes to matters of people of color GLAAD was silent about that.

And that ain't the only one.

African-American transgender characters are not a new phenomenon. They've been on television for a while and you can probably consider Flip Wilson's Geraldine Jones as the first one. On Thursday nights from 1970 to 1974 I would tune in to The Flip Wilson Show so that I could see the latest antics of the sassy wise-cracking Geraldine. I loved to see her utter her famous line 'what you see is what you get' and professing her love for her boyfriend 'Killer'.

Interestingly enough one of the shows that was on opposite Flip was All In The Family, which had the Beverly LaSalle character on for three episodes.

In 1977 came the 'Just A Friend' episode aired during The Jeffersons fourth season. We get to see George happily anticipating the arrival in New York of his old Navy buddy Eddie Stokes that he hasn't seen in 25 years.

He discovers when he arrives at the hotel that Eddie has transitioned and is now Edith (played by Young and the Restless actress Veronica Redd).

George initially thinks that it's a prank since his former bunkmate has a rep as a practical jokester. But when he comes to the realization that Edith is not joking about this subject he gets uncomfortable, rejects her and storms out of the room.

He returns home and discovers he's in hot water with Louise who doesn't believe his story.  She called the hotel and discovered that the room was registered to Edith Stokes and suspects that George is having an affair. George goes to the desperate measure of having Leroy, one of his employees dress in bad drag trying to impersonate Edie after he fails to locate her.

Edie shows up at George's apartment and Louise is skeptical until Edie validates her identity by reciting a line from the letters that Louise used to write to George during his time in the Navy. They end the episode with George accepting his friend and her playing a practical joke on George that results in him getting dunked with water.

That episode was groundbreaking at the time in terms of the accurate depiction of some of the emotions that transpeople deal with when Edie was explaining her transition. It shouldn't have been a surprise to me since it was a Norman Lear produced show and a spinoff from All In the Family. They were aware of the issues thanks to the Beverly LaSalle episodes. It was just the first time it was done with an African-American character and show cast.

RuPaul from 1996-1998 hosted a talk show on VH-1 and has done cameo roles on a few television shows as well during the 90's.

The CW show All of Us during its first season featured Tyra Banks playing a transwoman in the 'O Brother Where Art Thou?' episode aired on February 24, 2004. It was an episode in which she played Dirk's estranged brother Tyrone.

She shows up at the TV station and revealed that she was now Roni. I didn't like the way that one was handled because the Roni character she played came off as stereotypical and cartoonish.

Barbershop: The Series debuted on Showtime August 14, 2005 and for six episodes Sheryl Lee Ralph played Claire, a woman that Eddie meets in a local bar.

Things progress very quickly and Claire tells him not long after they would up in bed that she is a transwoman.

The delicious part about it was that Eddie was forced to confront the homophobic statements he'd been spouting from his barber chair. Over those episodes you get to watch Claire and Eddie attempt to resolve the unique issues that crop up in that relationship.

While Veronica Redd and Sheryl Lee Ralph have done the best job in my opinion of a realistic portrayal of what we go through, I'm greedy.

I want and need to see a show that's willing to do a realistic African-American transgender character. Additionally I'd like that character to not be a one shot deal, killed off in the first ten seconds and be part of a soap or drama series. Is that too much to ask for? Then again I may have to write that character on my own.

Yo Hollywood, hit me up on my e-mail when you're ready for a realistic transgender character with soul.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Professor Emeritus John Hope Franklin Helps Teach Us Who We Are

Tuesday, February 20, 2007
By: Michael H. Cottman

"We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey." -- JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN.

John Hope Franklin, the undisputed dean of black historians, turned 92 last month, but his landmark work studying the 300-year social evolution of African-Americans continues as professor emeritus of history at Duke University.

Franklin’s many publications have focused on the history of the American South and on the African-American contribution to the development of the United States.

His best-known book, the pioneering and now classic "From Slavery to Freedom (1947; 8th ed. 2000)" revolutionized the understanding of African-American history and changed the way the subject is taught throughout the United States.

Among Franklin's other works are "The Militant South: 1800–1860 (1956)," "Reconstruction after the Civil War (1961)," "Color and Race (1968)," "Racial Equality in America (1976)," "Race and History (1989)," "The Color Line (1993)" and "In Search of the Promised Land."

"It was necessary, as a black historian," Franklin once said, "to have a personal agenda."

Franklin also edited a number of books, including a 1997 autobiography of his father, an Oklahoma lawyer. Franklin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995. His papers form the collection of Duke's John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African-American Documentation.

Darlene Taylor, who has researched the African slave trade for several national and international educational projects, said she frequently turns to Franklin’s work for accurate accounts of black history.

"We should celebrate Dr. Franklin’s contributions to African history and his contributions to understanding the history of people of African descent," Taylor, director of the Middle Passage Legacy, told Monday.

"When you look at history books, when you look at how children are learning about African history and African-American history, so much is left out," Taylor said. "But thanks to Dr. Franklin, he is keeping our history alive."

Taylor said she often referred to Franklin’s books while researching the slave trade when she lived in Egypt during the 1990s.

"It’s important to celebrate Dr. Franklin’s work as he continues to tell our history," Taylor said. "Dr. Franklin provides a special perspective that should be heard."

A renowned historian and Medal of Freedom recipient, Franklin was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 to chair the Advisory Board for the President’s Initiative on Race, created to begin "a great and unprecedented conversation about race" across America.

"We can't undo this part of our heritage," Franklin once said. "But what we can affect is where we are headed. I want to talk about multi-culturalism, because I think that's where we are headed."

Franklin was a co-recipient of the $1 million John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity, awarded by the Library of Congress last year. Professor Franklin shared the prize with Princeton professor Yu Ying-Shih.

It is how humanity has impacted black Americans -- from the Civil War to civil rights -- that Franklin has studied and debated.

"It's not so much Katrina as a phenomenon as it's Katrina as a metaphor for what our society has become," Franklin told reporters last year. "It reflects; it's a mirror of what we've become -- super-extraordinarily complacent."

In 2001, Duke University opened the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, which is dedicated to bringing together the nation’s social scientists.

Franklin was born on Jan. 2, 1915 in Oklahoma and was educated at Fisk and Harvard University, where he earned a Ph.D. He has taught at Fisk, Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago. In 1982, he was named James B. Duke Professor of History at Duke and was elected professor emeritus in 1985. From 1985 to 1992, he was professor of legal history in the Duke Law School.

Franklin's mother, Mollie, was a teacher, and his father, B.C. Franklin, was an attorney who handled lawsuits precipitated by the famous Tulsa Race Riot on 1921. A black man named Dick Rowland, stepped into an elevator in the Drexel Building operated by a white woman, Sarah Page. Rowland was accused of sexually attacking Page, which sparked the riots.

"When I was eight years old, people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up," Franklin said in a speech at Duke University last year. "I said, ‘The first Negro president of the United States.’ "

In addition to his work as a historian, Franklin was involved in some of the key events of the civil rights movement. As an expert on Southern history, he was recruited by NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall in 1953 to help prepare the brief in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case before the U.S. Supreme Court. He also accompanied Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965.

"He's been, in many ways, like an African elder, a repository of wisdom, of tradition, and just a solid good sense, and a remarkable sense of humanness," Archbishop Desmond Tutu said of Franklin in a PBS documentary.

In 1978, Who's Who in America selected Dr. Franklin as one of eight Americans who has made significant contributions to society. In 1996, Franklin was elected to the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame, and in 1997, he received the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. In addition, Franklin has also received honorary degrees from more than 100 colleges and universities.

"If the house is to be set in order," Franklin said, "one cannot begin with the present. He must begin with the past."

If Anna Nicole Smith Were Black, Would She Be Getting Such A Glorified Post Mortem? No

photo-Anna leaving the Supreme Court

Wednesday, February 21, 2007
By: Tonyaa Weathersbee,

Maybe it's out of respect for the dead that Rush Limbaugh hasn't called ex-stripper and Playboy centerfold Anna Nicole Smith a "ho," the insult he leveled at the black stripper who accused three Duke University lacrosse players of raping her in a bathroom.

But I suspect that when people like Limbaugh see white women who behave like Smith, they see her through the prism of quirkiness and outrageousness. With black women, they're quicker to turn the morality lens on us.

And when they look at us with that lens, they tend to freeze us in it.

First of all, let me say that it is always a sad thing to hear of anyone dying before their time, whether that person is a 19-year-old black guy who gets gunned down by gang bullets or a 39-year-old blonde bombshell like Smith, whose excesses finally caught up with her. Sadder still is that Smith leaves behind a five-month-old daughter, Dannielynn, who will never know her mother.

But when you strip away the spin and apply the morality standards to her life that black women, and especially poor black women, are lambasted for not living up to, you find someone who fell far short of those standards.

Yet in spite of that, she's being iconized.

Let's see. Smith began her climb to fame as a stripper. She posed naked in Playboy, and achieved her greatest fame as a Guess? Jeans model. She had no great artistic talent to dwarf those superficial beginnings, so she built her life on trying to find bizarre ways to stay in the spotlight.

By the end of her life, she had become a drug abuser and had given birth to a daughter out-of-wedlock. Three men are claiming to have fathered her daughter -- one of which includes a married man, Prince Frederick von Anhalt -- who claims they had an affair since the 1990s.

While no one will know, at least for a while, who Dannielynn's real daddy is, what is clear is that Smith was a tad promiscuous. She did triple the things that got Janet Jackson vilified for exposing a nipple ring at the 2004 Super Bowl, but even her death won't make her go away.

The headlines and newscasts have been dominated by her. Journalists are combing her old stomping ground in Mexia, Texas to uncover clues about her childhood. She's being dubbed as a "tragic beauty," and, laughably, being compared to Marilyn Monroe -- even though her closest brush with movie fame came in a "Naked Gun" spoof.

Yet when I think about how Smith lived her life, and all the empathetic airings of the circumstances surrounding her death, I have to wonder: If she were black, would there have been a rush to euphemize her? Would writers be struggling to find meaning in her life, a life that was basically driven by her need to be in spotlight?

The answer I keep coming up with is no.

Even a black woman as talented as Jackson wasn't able to make outrageousness work for her. Her wardrobe malfunction, for example, sent America into a tizzy for months. No one saw it as gutsy, or even accepted it as a mistake as much as they saw it as immoral, as all that was wrong with America.

She couldn't apologize enough for it. And people wouldn't let it go.

Some pundits even blamed her and "Nipplegate" for galvanizing morals voters and causing John Kerry to lose the 2004 presidential election.
Anytime she visited a new place, few media smart-alecks could resist admonishing her to keep her clothes on.

I wonder what those so-called morals voters are saying now, as the tawdry details of Smith's daughter's paternity continue to eat up much more air time than the 2004 Super Bowl did.

Now, none of this is to say that black women ought to be out there fighting to get famous for being loose or promiscuous. But as I constantly am bombarded with the details of Smith's life, I can't help but to think about how race and wealth is lived in this country. I think about how Smith receives adulation and empathy in spite of the way that she lived her life, and black women like Jackson, as well as the Duke stripper, receive only contempt and are held up as examples of black immorality if they take off their clothes in public or have babies out of wedlock. And while I'm all for black women holding themselves to high behavioral standards, I still don't like it when we're held to a double one.

One that makes the lower standards fine as long as they come in creamy blond packaging.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

In New Orleans, Black Carnival Has its High-Society Side

The 2005 Bunch Club Gala attendees seven and a half months before Katrina struck. Photo by Lloyd Dennis

The Associated Press

Considering she says she's not a "girly-girl," Lynez Preyan has spent a lot of time dressing up, practicing the graceful wave of a scepter and working on her curtsy.

"They want us to sweep all the way to the floor," Preyan says, giggling as she demonstrates the move she employed as queen of the Young Men Illinois Club ball. "I'm a little shaky, especially in high heels."

Preyan _ who's older sister Lynesia made her debut with the club in 2002 _ is carrying on family and New Orleans traditions that are an important thread in the social fabric of the city's black community.

After Hurricane Katrina, Carnival clubs to which prosperous black New Orleanians have belonged for generations were lost, their members scattered by the storm.

Last year the Young Men Illinois Club, and its parent, the Original Illinois Club, founded in 1895 by Pullman porters, canceled their balls. The Black Pirates, Plantation Revelers, Bon Temps, Beau Brummels and the Bunch Club also canceled.

This year, many of the clubs are making a comeback.

Mardi Gras in the black community happens on several strata. There are the blue-collar Mardi Gras Indians, whose marches in Native American regalia are highlights of the season, and the middle-class Zulu organization, whose float parade is a local favorite. But the upper crust of New Orleans black society _ doctors, dentists, lawyers or skilled professionals _ debuts its daughters in the private setting of the traditional, invitation-only Carnival ball.

"People only talk about the poor people that were displaced by the hurricane," said Dr. Willard Dumas, a dentist and member of the Bunch Club. "But a lot of the black professionals, families that were a big part of New Orleans economy and culture, were flooded out as well."

Historically, the private side of Carnival has been a mostly segregated affair with whites and blacks forming their own organizations. In recent years, the race barrier has broken down somewhat, partly due to a 1991 city ordinance to bar street parading by racially discriminating groups.

Rex, an old-line white society krewe, admitted black members, but Comus, founded before the Civil War, dropped its parade rather than admit minorities though it still holds an exclusive ball. Zulu has long admitted white float riders.

"We've talked about admitting white members at length," said Lawrence Robinson, president of the Young Men Illinois, and a member for 31 years. "We don't prevent anyone from joining. We just haven't been approached yet. I think it will happen though. I look at the girls now and they have more white friends. They go to school together, play sports together. It'll happen."

The black Mardi Gras clubs are an important part of New Orleans society, said Errol Laborde, a Mardi Gras historian.

"New Orleans always had a large black middle class," Laborde said. "And the clubs became the way they introduced their daughters into society. And just as the white clubs do, it was always in connection with Carnival."

So despite the daily burden of the recovery from Katrina, the balls are reappearing on the Carnival scene. The Bunch and Plantation Revelers will stage scaled-down dances and balls as did the Young Men Illinois Club, though the latter is still short 10 of its 40 members.

Preyan, a freshman pre-med student at Xavier University, was queen for an evening on Feb. 2, reigning over a court of 15 other debutantes under the auspices of the Young Men Illinois Club. They range from 16 to 18 years old and most are students at the city's old-line Catholic high schools.

Preyan's family was displaced for almost a year after Katrina. Her father, who owns an electric service company, commuted from Baton Rouge. Preyan made the trip with him from January to June 2006 so she could finish her senior year at Dominican High School.

Their home in eastern New Orleans was gutted and rebuilt. But damaged houses, some with Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers in the yards, extend out for miles around it.

For the club's debutantes, events begin in September and include a formal tea and three or more formal parties, plus the debutante ball.

They attend weekly meetings with the club's etiquette officer, Gail Barnes-McConduit. Her instructions cover everything from proper table place settings to how to execute the floor-sweeping curtsey they will use at the ball.

"The Young Men Illinois Club has a great interest in teaching these girls how to make the transition into adulthood," Barnes-McConduit said. "That covers everything from table manners to common courtesy."

At 18, Preyan prefers jeans and tank tops. She and fellow debutantes balked a bit when Barnes-McConduit began introducing then to the finer points of protocol.

"It was all about which glass went where, which fork was used for what," she said. "We even had to learn how to walk a certain way. Grace and dignity, I heard those words over and over."

More than that, she began living them.

At the formal tea in September, Preyan, decked out in am off-white silk suit, matching hat and gloves, was undaunted by the elaborate place settings or the sedate ambiance of the regal tearoom.

In addition to the suit for the tea, the debutantes must have a different gown for each party and the ball.

"It is very expensive," said Dalton Savwoir, spokesman for the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office. His daughter, Macy, 17, is making her debut this season.

Besides the wardrobe, which costs thousands of dollars, Savwoir said, there are presents for the queen and the other debutantes, the pages _ young boys that escort the queen onto the stage at the ball _ the club members and their families.

Savwoir threw the required party for Macy at Gallier Hall, the Greek Revival building that served as City Hall for more than a century.

"The party ran about $8,000," Savwoir said. "And that doesn't include the limousine or the hairdresser or any of the incidentals."

The ball was the culmination of the debutante season.

Preyan, in a flowing white gown, a sparkling rhinestone crown on her head, a jeweled scepter in her hand, began the traditional tableau _ the picturesque grouping that highlights the ball.

"I'm supposed to stop when I first step onto the floor and stand there for a minute so the audience can admire me," Preyan said. "My pages will be behind me and we will slowly move around the room while I sweep my scepter back and forth."

Preyan ended up on the stage where each of the other debutantes was escorted and posed.

Although she originally hesitated at the rules that confined gowns to pastel colors with wide straps and billowing skirts, Preyan said she and the other debutantes eventually came around.

"I'm not really a girly-girl, or a tomboy," she said. "But for a little while I get to be an 1890s girl with all the glamour that goes with it. It really is wonderful."

Beaten but Not Broken, Black Krewes Make a Big Return at This Year’s Mardi Gras Fest

photo-the start of the Zulu parade

Tuesday, February 20, 2007
By Jackie Jones,

When the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, Inc., steps off at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning to lead the Mardi Gras Day parade, it will cap a major recovery of the black Carnival season in New Orleans.

Last year, Zulu, the premier black parading organization in the Crescent City, managed to put together a parade, despite the displacement of many of its 600 members in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The city’s smaller black social clubs, which host parties and debutante balls during Carnival, were mostly absent from the scene.

This year, however, the black organizations have made a comeback.

“We came back strong last year, and we’re going to be even stronger this year. The city needed it,” said Alvin Lee, a Zulu member. “It’s time for it.”

Lee said for a true New Orleanean, Carnival festivities leading up to Mardi Gras are just part of the fabric of life.

“Zulu has been in my life since I was a kid,” Lee told “There’s something about that second line music. It’s in the blood.”

Zulu is the only black organization marching on Tuesday, but the Bunch Club, the Young Men Illinois and the Plantation Revelers were among the traditional black, middle-class organizations hosting soirees.

The groups have had to patch themselves back into the fabric of New Orleans life because so many of their members were displaced by Katrina. Some commuted from Baton Rouge, Houston or places farther afield to participate in Carnival.

According to the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce Web site, there are about 70 carnival groups. “Some are over 100 years old," the site quotes, "but krewes are continually forming and disbanding.”

A check of a Web site that lists contact information for krewes and social organizations revealed that many no longer have active Web sites, have disbanded or have chosen not to participate this year. A number are inactive because it has been too difficult to keep the organizations going with members displaced by Katrina.

“These cultural events are vital to the city,” Keith Weldon Medley, a writer and a member of Bunch, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “When we put on our dance, we’re making a statement that New Orleans’ traditions are alive and will continue into the rest of the century.”

“To a true New Orleanean, it’s a way to relax, get your focus, deal with the devastation,” Lee said. “For one day, there is no race. Everybody gets along on this day.”

Lee added that for Zulu, Mardi Gras is just one part of its mission.

“Mardi Gras is one day a year. Zulu is 12 months a year,” Lee said, pointing out that while most people know about the revelry of Mardi Gras, fewer know about the community service the organization provides throughout the year.

“We give out Thanksgiving baskets, we have a college fund. We help people in need. We’re a social aid and fun organization,” Lee said.

Zulu is involved with the Partners in Education Program in the city’s public schools. In fact, Morris F.X. Jeff Sr. Elementary School was named for the first black man to become a supervisor in the New Orleans Recreation Department, a man who also was King Zulu in 1972. The organization also has a scholarship fund that helps students at Dillard, Southern and Xavier universities.

“I know any way I can contribute and give back to the things that have been around for years, I want to do,” said Kaira Stelly, who will be riding on the Zulu Governor’s float, one of the most prestigious floats because the Zulu King and Queen will be aboard.

Stelly, a native of New Orleans who now lives in Silver Spring, Md., just outside Washington, D.C., told that she tries to get home every year to participate.

She said that it is even more important to help build the economy and black organizations in the wake of Katrina. She said the Zulu’s theme this year, “Keep It Rollin’,” sums up what participating in Mardi Gras means to her and her family.

“I’ve got family riding with me this year, my dad, my aunt,” Stelly said, adding that it is hard work trying to keep up with the planning meetings and other activities that Zulu sponsors because she lives so far away.

It also is a serious investment of money. Whether you are a member of an organization or a civilian who wants to ride on a float, you have to ante up.

“Anybody can ride a float, as long as you pay your reciprocity,” Lee said. “Everything is a budget; everything is about dollars. It averages $1,200-plus to be a member, then you have to buy your throws,” the trinkets thrown from the floats to the crowd in the street.

The more prestigious the float, the more it costs to ride, but the fee to ride runs around $1,500.

“You have no idea. It gets costly. There’s always that one thing more you tell yourself you wish you had. But I’m at the point that whatever I have, I have. There is no turning back. We have to be ready to start assembling at 2 a.m.,” Stelly said the evening before Mardi Gras.

“Zulu is the first parade of Mardi Gras Day. It’s all black. It’s pretty prestigious,” Stelly said.

“You’ve got to see it to believe it,” Lee said. “Until you really feel it and breathe it and smell it and feel it, you’ll never know. It helps you escape. For that one day, you forget about your troubles.”

Don't You Conservatives Have Your Own Heroes?

Conservatism: n, The disposition and tendency to preserve what is established; opposition to change; the habit of mind; or conduct, of a conservative.

I have a conservative that likes to post comments every now and then on this blog. This person seems to think like all conservatives tend to do that they are smarter than everyone else. I've got to call him out on one of his more ludicrous statements.

To borrow an old saying, those of you who THINK you are intelligent really annoy those of us who ARE.

One of the things that I have noted in my decade long battle of wits on and off the Net with conservatives is that they always make this claim that a Democratic or progressive hero if he were alive today would vote GOP.

Excuse me for a moment while I double over in laughter. (cue The Proud Family Papi Boulevardez laugh here)

One of the people whose name they love to try claim as one of theirs, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had this to say about conservatives in an October 26, 1939 radio address:

"A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward."

Obviously FDR wouldn't be voting GOP right now because the Republicans are the peeps who playa-hated the New Deal for decades and have spent the latter half of the 20th century working tirelessly to dismantle it and its crown jewels of Medicaid and Social Security.

Abraham Lincoln said about them in a February 27, 1860 speech:

"What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?"

John F. Kennedy? Please. There's as much chance of JFK voting Republican as George W. Bush has of successfully completing a Dale Carnegie speaking course.

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."

Does that sound like a man that would vote GOP? Nope.

They sank to new lows last year when the National Black Republican Association ran ads in support of Michael Steele's failed 2006 US Senate campaign in Maryland claiming that Dr. Martin Luther King would have voted Republican.

I have only this to say. Better yet, I think I'll let Dr. King's words speak for themselves.

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

Is the conservative movement so bereft of its own heroes that you have to disingenuously try to appropriate mine and attempt to twist their words to support your political agenda when that person's lifetime body of work is geared toward progressive causes and themes?


Both parties have been in existence over 100 years. Their constituencies have flipped over time. It is now the GOP that has since 1964 been the home of the Dixiecrats and race-baiting bigots. The once solidly Democratic South has flipped the script in our time period to become Republican. Conversely the Democratic Party since 1964 is the one pushing progressive forward-thinking legislation and the one taking the lead role in civil rights matters.

It must be frustrating to be a conservative. Y'all have a longer losing streak than the Chicago Cubs and you're not as loveable. Ann Coulter and the conservative pundits that spout similar poisonous rhetoric devoid of facts just illuminate the image problem y'all have and the moral bankruptcy of conservatism as a political philosophy.

I gues it's tough being on the WRONG side of every issue in American history.

Y'all were on the losing side (and still are) in terms of American independence, slavery, the 40-hour workweek, women's suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, interracial marriage, US involvement in World Wars I and II, the environment, meat inspection laws...Shall I continue?

You conservatives will also lose on gay rights, universal health care and campaign finance reform.

But back to the originally scheduled post.

If conservatism is as superior as you peeps claim it is to liberalism, why would you spend so much time hatin' on liberals? Why do you always go negative in your campaigns and use vote suppression tactics if your conservative ideas are supposedly superior election winning ones? Why is it necessary for you to use Orwellian weasel words and deception to articulate and implement your policies? Why do you come up with bogus theories, excuses and spin to hide your policy failures?

With such a losing track record and a political philosophy that has more in common with communism in terms of stifling freedoms and individual rights, I can see why you'd attempt to falsely attempt to claim our progressive icons as your own. If I had folks like Richard M. Nixon and George W. Bush as shining examples of conservative leadership I wouldn't claim them either.

Oh well, at least y'all have Ronald Reagan.

Why Y'all Hatin' On Beyonce?

I used to joke back when Destiny's Child was the hottest group going that they were the Supremes 2K version. Not long after that Beyonce released her solo album followed by Kelly Rowland's and Michelle Williams' solo releases.

I've noticed over the last year or so the increasing negativity from the Net and other quarters being directed at my Houston homegirl. I've heard people take perverse glee in the fact that Jennifer Hudson emerged as the breakout star of Dreamgirls and I'm a big Jennifer Hudson fan. I refuse to watch American Idol because she was screwed that year.

I'll be honest. If the technology were available for me to look like ANY woman past, present or future on the planet, she'd be in my top five. (hmm, there's an idea for a post. I'll get back to y'all on that later)

I had the pleasure of meeting Beyonce and her parents on an LAX flight I worked several years ago. I've had other peeps who spend extensive time around her report that she's a sweet kid. (I observed the same thing myself).

Frankly, I think a lot of the industrial sized Hateraid that's directed at Beyonce Giselle Knowles stems from jealousy. She's living what seems like a fairy-tale life. She's breathtakingly beautiful but down to earth. She's won Grammys. She sings the national anthem at the 2004 Super Bowl played in our hometown. She has a wealthy boyfriend in Jay-Z. She just became the first non-athlete, non-model and the second African-American woman to do the coveted Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover solo. If I'd come up with her story as the basis for a fiction novel people would roll their eyes and claim it's unrealistic.

It's real folks. Check out the videos and the Billboard Top 100 lists.

You have to admire someone whose father believed in his daughter's dream so much he quit his job at IBM to manage her career. Her mom Tina's shop is where during the 90's the power sisters in H-town got their hair done. The Knowleses were successful peeps and entrepreneurs before Beyonce blew up in the music biz. They have given money to their home church in Houston. The House of Dereon fashion design house they just started will drive that point home once again.

It's time for some of y'all to stop hatin' on the Knowles family, start appreciating and start taking notes.

Judge Glenda Hatchett

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

I first became aware of Judge Hatchett in 2000 thanks to her TV show. After watching the show, reading her bio and discovering articles about some of the groundbreaking work she was doing in the legal profession and beyond I became a fan.

She's an award winning jurist, children's advocate, author and mother of two, She's been recognized as Woman of the Year by 100 Black Men of America and one of the 10 Women of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of America.

She's an Atlanta native who graduated from Mount Holyoke College and Emory University Law School. She spent ten years as Delta Air Lines' highest ranking African-American woman in the company's legal and public relations departments. During her Delta tenure she was recognized by Ebony Magazine as one of the '100 Best and Brightest Women in Corporate America'.

In 1990 she accepted an appointment as chief presiding judge of the Fulton County, GA juvenile court system. During her eight year tenure Judge Hatchett received accolades from her legal colleagues for her innovative approaches to juvenile justice and creative sentencing. It's an approach she continues to implement on her television show. She is a spokesperson for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).

That concern for our children and the work she's done as an advocate for them is something I hope to be able to incorporate into my own life one day.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I Have To Prove It Every Day

photo-Grace Park as Sharon 'Athena' Agathon

There was a recent Battlestar Galactica episode in which Sharon and her husband Helo were discussing some issues. During the conversation Helo remarked that to him his Cylon wife was always human. She countered that to the rest of the fleet she has to prove that every day.

I feel her on that.

There are times during this gender journey that I feel like Sharon. No matter how fly I look, how smart I am, how many awards I garner, how good a job I do and how many times my genetic girlfriends, supportive family members and classmates that are still in my life tell me that I am what I've known I was supposed to be, I still feel like Sharon in the fact that I have to prove my womanhood every day.

Sometimes that can get to be a pain in the ass.

Yeah, I'll admit that there are some days that I wish that I'd been born female from jump and get to experience everything about it. Usually the transmen I know will tell me otherwise and extol how happy they are to escape cramps, bloating, the cycle, et cetera. Even my girlfriends will tell me they consider me the lucky one. I'll sometimes respond with the comment that no one questions your femininity nor do you have to think about it on a regular basis. However, I do share one aspect of it with my genetic sisters. I now have a heightened risk for breast cancer and have to do mammograms and regular breast exams.

But as philosopher Simone de Beauvoir once stated, 'Great women are made, not born.'

I may have only been female externally for thirteen years, but in a sense I've been prepping for this point in my life for a long time. My goal is to be the best woman I can be despite being born in a male body. To me that means observing the great examples of positive women in my own family, my feminine role models famous and not-so-famous (which I'm profiling in my Women I Admire posts) and incorporating their best qualities into my own life.

One thing I'm acutely aware of growing up in a family of historians is the great contributions that Black women have and continue to make to advance our people. Uplifting the race in terms of community service is a part of Black womanhood that I eagerly embrace. All the sisters that I've read about and witnessed doing positive things inspires me to step it up another level.

I'm cognizant of the fact that Black women are considered trendsetters in terms of fashion and their images. I'm considered a role model in the transgender community and have to pay attention to the image that I project to the outside world. Not a problem since I like fashionable clothes, get a manicure and pedicure every two weeks, hair is on point and I rarely leave the house without my face done. The fact that I have a fashionista diva as a roommate who will not hesitate to call me out along with my best girlfriends doesn't hurt either.

With hormones, electrolysis, laser hair removal and surgery the physical part of transition is easy. The toughest part is the spiritual and emotional end of it. That part of the feminine journey doesn't end until they close the coffin lid on you. Getting in tune with the spiritual and emotional side is a must and too many of my transsistahs ignore or are unaware of that aspect of womanhood.

Black womanhood is a lofty goal to live up to. Sometimes I believe that some of the genetic women in my family dismiss the prayerful seriousness I place on being a compliment and not a detriment to the women (and men) that are related to me. I realized in my youth I don't just represent me, I represent my family and the entire African-American community. My interactions with society must be on point and reflect that at all times.

Nothing in life is easy. Being an African-American transwoman definitely isn't. It's hard work and frustrating as hell sometimes. All these words about my latest take on being transgender get boiled down to one simple fact: I'm happily living life in my own skin.

Even if I have to constantly prove that I'm one of the girls.

For Women of Color, A Fuller Beauty Standard

photo-model Toccara Jones

By Robin Givhan
Friday, February 16, 2007; C02

The voluptuous actress Jennifer Hudson wears a burgundy satin dress on the cover of the March issue of Vogue magazine, where she has been photographed by Annie Leibovitz and lionized by Andre Leon Talley. In the cover image, she leans slightly forward and her mouth is open as if she were captured in the middle of a song. Hudson, one of the stars of "Dreamgirls," is not the usual fragile-framed celebrity or model that one typically finds starring in an issue of Vogue.

March is not Vogue's "shape" issue, its yearly nod to women whose body type does not fit the fashion standard. It would not be particularly surprising to see her there. Instead, Hudson, who went from a reality show castoff to Oscar nominee, is the logical but unexpected star of the fashion bible's enormous "power" issue, which also celebrates women such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the model-turned-philanthropist Natalia Vodianova. Hudson is not photographed wearing her own clothes, the technique often applied to glamour-shy politicians and real people too big to fit the samples. She gets the full fashion treatment, Carolina Herrera dress and all.

The Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition also has a cover model known for her generous curves: singer Beyoncé Knowles. Although one should point out that her figure is generous only by the standards of Hollywood and Seventh Avenue. Most everyone else would simply describe it as "wow." Knowles, who was also in "Dreamgirls" is kneeling in the sand in a yellow and pink bikini.

The magazine also invited talk/reality show host Tyra Banks, who famously posed on the cover of the swimsuit issue 10 years ago in an itsy-bitsy polka-dot bikini, to re-create that image, according to the Associated Press. Banks was the first black model to appear on the cover alone.

Banks is approximately 20 pounds heavier on her 5-foot-10 frame since that time, a fact that caused so much cyber-sniping that she defended herself by posing as a luscious 161-pound pinup on the cover of People. She is a whole lot of woman now, but she did not diet down to fit into the old swimsuit. Sports Illustrated, clearly understanding that a lot of men like "a lot of woman," just added a little extra fabric to ensure tasteful coverage of the parts that had grown bigger.

These disparate magazines are lauding the booty beautiful at a time when the body standard for models -- and actresses -- has come under scrutiny for being unrealistically and unhealthily thin. While designers in New York were unveiling their fall 2007 collections last week, the industry hosted a panel presentation on the subject of ever-shrinking models who have gone from a size 6 a decade ago to size 2/4 and occasionally 0.

The one thing that connects these three curvaceous women, other than their celebrity, is that they are women of color. On them, curves are acceptable. While women such as actress Kate Winslet, who is white, have talked about not giving in to a Hollywood culture that demands they be super slim, it seems that only African-American and Latina actresses really get away with extra pounds, or even just a round
bottom. See: Jennifer Lopez, Queen Latifah, "Ugly Betty's" America Ferrera and "Grey's Anatomy's" Chandra Wilson and Sara Ramirez.

One could argue that these women, each one quite pretty, are not considered part of the mainstream -- their ethnicity is still a regularly used modifier in their professional lives. They stand just a little apart, so they are exempt from adhering to mainstream definitions of beauty. They set their own standards. But being judged by a different set of rules can be both liberating and vexing.

There may be a greater willingness to accept heft when it is brown or black because it is so much easier to find evidence of black women who are large and proud and take pleasure in their bodies. While so many women -- of all ethnicities -- fret about a modest waistline that protrudes slightly over a pair of low-slung jeans, creating the dreaded "muffin top," there is a group of self-assured women of color who have an entire loaf of bread rising up and over their waistband, and they don't care. Their pudge may not be healthy, but they project confidence and contentment.

There is also the stereotype of the large black woman as the diva-like sexpot: strong, aggressive and entitled. See: the comedian Mo'Nique. There is always the looming danger of taking that caricature into destructive and demoralizing territory -- black women as oversexed, or black women as impenetrable, or obesity as healthy.

But that iconic image has established that big can be beautiful and desirable -- at least when it comes to women of color. Telling a black woman that she has "big legs" -- meaning shapely -- is a compliment, not something meant to send her into training for a marathon.

The larger culture has not bought into that opinion, but it seems to have been swayed. Roundness is more accepted of black women because they are more accepting of their own curves.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Transcending MLK’S Dream

Local activist Tracee McDaniel speaks her truth in an attempt to spark change

By Ryan Lee
Friday, February 09, 2007
From the Southern Voice

MOMENTS BEFORE TRACEE MCDANIEL prepared to approach the podium outside The King Center on what would have been the revered civil rights leader’s 78th birthday, she began to second-guess the speech she was about to give.

She wondered if the hundreds of people who gathered in the Sweet Auburn district to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. last month were ready to hear a new message about tolerance, about expanding King’s dreams of equality. For a minute, she questioned if she was ready to be the one who delivered it, or if it might be better for her to at least tone down her words.

“I finally just decided, it’s too late to be changing the speech now,” says McDaniel, who is the first transgender individual to speak at the rally that concludes Atlanta’s annual MLK march. “I thought the message needs to be expressed, and I was just so happy and excited that I was the one who was asked to do so.”

McDaniel received a call from organizers of the MLK march about 10 days before the event inviting her to speak, and ironically was in the middle of studying about MLK and Coretta Scott King for a public speaking and communications course at Georgia Perimeter College.

“I had been doing research and I read about their inclusiveness of the TLGBQ community as a whole, to make sure everyone is represented when it comes to equal rights,” McDaniel says, adding that she was somewhat nervous addressing the mostly black crowd.

“I would say it’s more challenging to build bridges with the African-American community basically because of what we’ve been taught and conditioned to believe over the years,” McDaniel says. “I just relied on the fact that Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King included openly gay members in the civil rights movement.

“It was one of the most important speeches of my life,” she adds.

That legacy of inclusion is part of what motivates organizers of Atlanta’s MLK march to permit all of its partner organizations — including In The Life Atlanta, a black gay group — to select a speaker to participate in the post-march rally, said Rev. James Orange, who organizes the march on behalf of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“We always have gays and lesbians participating in our rally because it’s their right to be there, too,” Orange says. “We’ve always tried to allow each of [the partner organizations] exposure.”

ABOUT FIVE YEARS AGO, MCDANIEL would’ve had a difficult time imagining herself talking with anyone about being transgender, let alone giving a speech in the shadow of The King Center. She moved from Los Angeles to Atlanta in 2003, around the time she was considering ending the silence in which she lived for more than 15 years.

“I was in the closet because I was fortunate enough to be one of the ones who could pass,” says McDaniel, who recently turned 40 and has been living as a woman since her late teens. “It was easier that way, just to blend in.”

McDaniel recognizes parallels between her experience and light-skinned blacks who avoided discrimination by passing as white, and says she realized it was time for transgender individuals to begin making more noise in order to be treated fairly by mainstream and gay society.

“I feel like we’ve been placed last on the list of everything,” says McDaniel, who has immersed herself in community activism since arriving in Atlanta. She is the transgender liaison for the Atlanta Human Rights Campaign’s diversity committee, serves on the Atlanta Police Department’s GLBT advisory group and is an associate board member for the Atlanta Pride Committee.

Last year she founded the Juxtaposed Center for Transformation, a transgender non-profit agency.

“I had to be comfortable expressing who I am and not apologize for who I am or being born transgender,” McDaniel says of how her activism sparked changes in her own life.

The nascent Juxtaposed Center for Transformation is creating an infrastructure that McDaniel hopes will make it a safe place for transgender individuals to receive group support, legal advice, counseling and referrals. She also expects the organization to chronicle transgender history, including the key role of transgender people in the Stonewall Riots.

MCDANIEL CONSIDERED HERSELF female for as long as she can remember, and her feelings were well known throughout her family, albeit never discussed. Throughout McDaniel’s childhood her mother made her read Bible verses condemning homosexuality, filling McDaniel with anticipation of leaving Sumter, S.C., when she turned 18.

Upon striking out on her own McDaniel stepped inside a Myrtle Beach mall that forever changed her life.

“I was walking through J.C. Penney and instead of walking to the male’s department I went to the female section where I’ve been shopping ever since,” she says. “I went home for [a grandmother’s] funeral and I did not change my dress or make-up, and my mother and I were having a conversation.

“I remember telling her the family was going to talk about the way I presented myself,” McDaniel remembers. “She told me if anyone had anything to say, they better keep it to themselves.”

Despite their earlier struggles, McDaniel says her mother eventually told her she loves her because she is her child, not because of her gender.

“Now my mother calls me her daughter when she’s introducing me to new people back home,” McDaniel says.

Hardaway Hates Gays-So Do Some Other Black Peeps

Tim Hardaway's anti-gay comments made me recall a conversation I had with my father when I was a teen. He stated that he had more respect for the Klan than he did for some of the Black community's so-called friends.

When I asked him to clarify that, he pointed out that a Klansman's hatred for Black people is well known and out in the open. With the people that profess to be our friends, they can eat dinner with you and still hate you with the intensity of a Klansman. His thought was that he'd rather know who his enemy was upfront so the appropriate response to deal with him could be formulated.

That conversation resurfaced in my mind as I listened to the replay of Tim Hardaway's radio interview. It turned ugly when the interviewer asked questions about retired NBA center John Amaechi's announcement last week that he is gay.

"You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people," he said while a guest on Sports Talk 790 The Ticket. "I'm homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."

When the host asked Hardaway how he would interact with a gay teammate, he said, "First of all, I wouldn't want him on my team. And second of all, if he was on my team, I would, you know, really distance myself from him because, uh, I don't think that is right. I don't think he should be in the locker room while we are in the locker room."

Incredibly, he went there and indicated that he'd ask for the gay player to be removed from the team.

"Something has to give," Hardaway said. "If you have 12 other ballplayers in your locker room that's upset and can't concentrate and always worried about him in the locker room or on the court or whatever, it's going to be hard for your teammates to win and accept him as a teammate."

John Amaechi, who just released his autobiography Man in the Middle, yesterday said that he hoped his coming out would be a catalyst for intelligent discourse.

Unfortunately, it seems that the words 'intelligent discourse' don't enter some peeps minds when it comes to GLBT issues.

When Amaechi was asked by the Miami Herald about Hardaway's comments, "I'm actually tempted to laugh." he said. "Finally, someone who is honest. It is ridiculous, absurd, petty, bigoted and shows a lack of empathy that is gargantuan and unfathomable. But it is honest. And it illustrates the problem better than any of the fuzzy language other people have used so far."

To his credit, Hardaway later apologized for the remarks during a telephone interview with Miami's WSVN-TV. "Yes, I regret it. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said I hate gay people or anything like that," he said. "That was my mistake."

Hardaway has reportedly been removed from any further league-related appearances by NBA commissioner David Stern. "It is inappropriate for him to be representing us given the disparity between his views and ours," Stern said in a statement to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

If anyone questions the fact that homophobia in the African-American community needs to be confronted, then this should leave no doubts not only as to the extent of the problem but the work we need to do in our community to eradicate it.

There are other Tim Hardaway's out there in our community. Unfortunately some of them stand in pulpits and utter the same rhetoric as he just unleashed except they try to hide their homophobia behind scriptures.

Thanks Tim for letting us know that you're on the same team as the Eddie Long's and Gregory "I'd ride with the KKK" Daniels' of the world.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day Musings

TransGriot Note: photo of the painting 'In The Garden' by Keith Mallett

Happy Valentine's Day everybody!

Like most people I'm part of that percentage of the population that is single. It's not that I choose to be, I just am.

I'm a bit of a romantic, and that's the toughest part of being single on Valentine's Day. Enduring the endless commercials that are pushing jewelry, candy, flowers, et cetera. The romantic movies that get dusted off and broadcast. Ironically I was up until 2 AM this morning reading a Kayla Perrin romance novel and spent most of yesterday afternoon writing my own.

One of the things that I factored into my decision to go ahead with transition was the fact that I could possibly be spending a lot of Valentine's days alone. But I love myself far too much to allow myself to wallow in the unhappiness that was part of my life prior to transition.

Maybe there is a special person out there for me, maybe not. I'm not gonna lose any sleep over it. I know what's it's like to be in love, albeit from the other side of the gender fence. It's one of the hard facts of being transgender that love isn't any easier to find or deal with than some of the other life issues we grapple with. We all realize that it is gonna take someone that is secure and confident in their personality and their own lives to love us. That love is tougher to find when the genitalia between your legs doesn't match up with the rest of your gender presentation.

Then there are the misconceptions that potential suitors have about us. News flash to the peeps that want to step to me or any transwoman. I'm not one of the fellas. I look at life, romance and love through a feminine prism. To get with me will not break your bank account, but a prerequisite is treating me like any other sistah you want romantic attention from. (that means flowers, chocolate and my fave perfume)

Another thing that's a must is that some of the things I like to do require you to take me out during daylight hours. If your ego can't handle being talked about by society for having me on your arm, then don't step to me, period. I want the person I love to be just as proud of being seen and being around me as I am of them. If you can't meet that simple requirement, step.

Finally, I am not a booty call or looking to be the other woman. I do believe in karma. I'm not going to deliberately be the cause of any discourse in a stable relationship. I don't want any relationship I eventually get into vulnerable to the reverse spin of the karmic wheel because I disrespected somebody's relationship or their marriage.

So as you can see I haven't and won't give up on love. I have much respect, admiration and a little twinge of jealousy for those people in the community and beyond who are in stable, satisfying relationships or who have experienced the heady rush of having someone worship the ground they walk on. Maybe that will happen for me one day.

In the meantime, what time is the next showing of Daddy's Little Girls and the closest place I can go to get some chocolate to scarf up?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Angelica's Had It Up To Here (And So Have I)

Yesterday Elizabeth (one of my TransGriot guest colmunists) posted a link from You Tube of a video from Chicago transwoman Angelica Love Ross.

Angelica expressed her frustration with the images out there of African-American transwomen. She made it clear that she wasn't criticizing those people who are involved in the pageant, showgirl and adult entertainment worlds, but implored them to think about life after being in those worlds. She drove home the point that we are capable of doing far more than that. Angelica does shows but has a real estate license and a business she's putting together that she's launching later this summee.

She drew from her Native American heritage and personal example to implore African-American transwomen to look past fleeting beauty and stretch themselves spiritually and emotionally to become better human beings that can make positive contributions to society.

I couldn't agree more.

It's a subject that I and other African-American transwomen have discussed for almost a decade now. Many of us are beyond Fannie Lou Hamer status when it comes to 'being sick and tired of being sick and tired' of negative images. Somewhere along the way we veered away from the classy image of Justina Williams to and I have a theory as to when it started.

My suspicions point to the early 80's. That's when AIDS was ravaging the GLBT community and taking out those people who would have been mentors to my generation of transpeeps. Those who were willing to do so, that is.

Factor in what gender clinics told their patients back in the day about gender transition. They advised them to have SRS, blend in with society and cut any ties to the transgender community. Many did. In the case of some African-American transpeeps they went stealth for employment, personal security reasons or both.

The problem with 'stealth' is that we end up not having any knowledge about successful transwomen like the Lynn Conway's of the world unless they come forward or are outed. That becomes more critical when you are part of a minority community and you look for role models for additional inspiration and strength. One of the factors that held up my transition was because I didn't have multiple examples of college-educated transpeeps who looked like me. I didn't meet any until the late 90's.

There's an old saying that 'nature abhors a vacuum'. The lack of visible role models, the death of many in the 80's due to HIV/AIDS, stealth status of others who could have acted as mentors, lack of a community information and support structure similar to our Caucasian sistets and brothers and lack of media coverage created a vacuum that allowed the 'only thing a Black transperson can do is shows or adult entertainment' myth to flower into existence. That's BS, but until you see out and proud African-American transpeeps that are successful in life and the business world, then that negative perception is one we are going to have to expend a lot of energy counteracting.

That image makeover needs to happen right now. We have some churches in our communities preaching hate sermons against us. Because of ignorance and misperceptions about gender identity in our community we comprise a disproportionate share of the people tragically affected by anti-transgender violence. Some 'ejumacation' is sorely needed in the African-American community about who we are and what we have to offer our people.

That information dissemination also needs to happen amongst our fellow transpeeps. There are other ways to 'get paid' and education is the key to a better life. There are African-American transistahs and transbrothas who not only sucessfully work nine to fives but are helping uplift our race as well.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Kim Coco Iwamoto-The Highest Ranking Elected US TG Official

When  Kim Coco Iwamoto was growing up in Hawaii,  her parents stressed that education was the key to achieving her goals.

 After graduating from high school she subsequently earned her undergraduate degree from San Francisco State University and a law degree from the University of New Mexico.

On November 6, 2006 she was elected to Hawaii's State Board of Education. In the process she became the first out transgender person to win a statewide office and has the distinction of being the highest ranking transgender elected official in the U.S.

"I didn't run to get this attention as an individual. I ran to be an advocate for the students," the 38-year-old civil rights lawyer said.

Iwamoto credits the higher values Hawaiian culture places on responsibility to family and community over personal identity for giving her the confidence to seek out success.

Eevn though a number of states, municipalities and major corporations have passed laws and rules banning gender discrimination, it's still a struggle for transgender people just to get a job. While New Zealand (Georgina Beyer) and Italy (Vladimir Luxuria) currently have transgender members of their parliaments, it's a struggle for transgender people in the United States just to get elected into public office.

"For me it's about resilience and having a strong core of self-esteem, which I was very fortunate to have the support and love my parents, my family," she said. "Really, in the face of adversity you have to tap into that place where you feel valued as a member of family and a larger community."

Following her win, Iwamoto's father, Robert Iwamoto, Jr., who heads the well-known Roberts Hawaii tour bus company, issued a statement congratulating his daughter on her successful campaign.

Iwamoto pointed out that Hawaii voters have ushered in a host of electoral firsts in addition to her successful run for statewide office. They include the ratification of the federal Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 and the election of Hiram Fong, the first Asian-American U.S senator shortly after Hawaii gained statehood in 1959.

"This election speaks less of me and much more, I think, of the place and the people of Hawaii — the fact that Hawaii's always been a place of fair-minded, critical thinking voters who vote on the issues and who see people for the substance of their character," Iwamoto said.

She didn't make her gender status a part of her campaign, but she has long been a vocal advocate for the transgender community. She also listed her attendance at an Honolulu all-boy's school, St. Louis High School, and her board membership of Kulia Na Mamo, a local transgender organization, in her campaign materials.

When asked when she knew she was different, Iwamoto replied, "I've only been me."

Iwamoto got involved in local education after becoming a foster parent three years ago. By advocating for her children, two of which are now in college, and other youth, Iwamoto said she found herself testifying before the board on a variety of issues. Board Chairman Randall Yee said he was "very impressed" by Iwamoto's testimony and called her background "excellent."

"She has a legal background. She has a business background — business family. And I just felt that in terms of bringing different individuals with different perspectives on the board, I felt that she would bring a good perspective," he said.

Iwamoto said her personal experience also validates the message for education.

"Whatever the situation, I think if kids grow up with a core sense of self-esteem and feeling like they're a valuable part of their family, of their classroom, of their school, their community and if we teach to their potentials," she said. "I think that's the key to having them be in a position where they can give back to their families and communities."

Congratulations, Kim for making history.

Barack Is In!

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - (AP) Democrat Barack Obama declared himself a candidate Saturday for the White House in 2008, evoking Abraham Lincoln's ability to unite a nation and promising to lead a new generation as the country's first black president.

The first-term senator announced his candidacy from the state capital where he began his elective career just 10 years ago, and in front of the building where in another century, Lincoln served eight years in the Illinois Legislature.

"We can build a more hopeful America," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery. "And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States."

Obama did not mention his family background, his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia or that he would make history if elected president.

Instead, he focused on his life in Illinois over the past two decades, beginning with a job as a community organizer with a $13,000-a-year salary that strengthened his Christian faith.

He said the struggles he saw people face inspired him to get a law degree and run for the Legislature, where he served eight years before becoming a U.S. senator just two years ago.

"I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness, a certain audacity, to this announcement," Obama said. "I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.

"Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what's needed to be done," he said. "Today we are called once more - and it is time for our generation to answer that call."

Obama, 45, gained national recognition with the publication of two best-selling books, "Dreams From My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope," and by delivering the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. His optimistic message and his compelling biography immediately sparked talk of his White House potential.

Initially he said he would not run for president. But he said last fall that he was considering it after receiving so much encouragement. He formed a presidential exploratory committee last month.

Despite his thin political resume, Obama is considered New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's chief rival among many vying for the Democratic nomination.

Obama planned to travel throughout Iowa on Saturday and Sunday before a rally Sunday night in Chicago, where his campaign has its headquarters.

He planned to visit New Hampshire on Monday on the heels of front-runner Clinton, whose first visit to the state as a presidential candidate over the weekend provided some early competition for attention from Obama's announcement.

Thousands of people in their warmest winter wear came out for Obama's campaign kickoff despite temperatures in the teens. The crowd huddled in close for warmth and to squeeze into the closed off streets around the Old State Capitol.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us," said Bethany Scates of Ridgway, Ill., who drove four hours with her family for the announcement.

Brenda and Michael Calkington of Muncie, Ind., said they have never been involved in a political campaign, but both were laid off from jobs with a lighting company and plan to volunteer for Obama.

"He makes you feel like it is possible to change things," Brenda Calkington said.

She seemed to be reading from Obama's songbook.

He spoke of reshaping the economy for the digital age, investing in education, protecting employee benefits, insuring those who do not have health care, ending poverty, weaning America from foreign oil, fighting terrorism while rebuilding global alliances.

"But all of this cannot come to pass until we bring an end to this war in Iraq," Obama said. "America, it's time to start bringing our troops home. It's time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war."

Obama was not yet elected to the U.S. Senate when Congress voted to give Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq, but Obama gave a speech in 2002 opposing the war. He said Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat to the United States and predicted the invasion would lead to an occupation with undetermined costs and consequences.

Obama has introduced a bill to prevent President Bush from increasing troop levels in Iraq and to remove U.S. combat forces from the country by March 31, 2008 - legislation that has virtually no chance of becoming law while Bush is president.

Obama's address was steeped in American history.

He talked how previous generations have brought change - fighting off colonizers, slavery and the Great Depression, welcoming immigrants, building railroads and landing a man on the moon.

He repeatedly referred to Lincoln and his success in moving a nation. He said it is because of Lincoln that Americans of every race face the challenges of the 21st century together.

"The life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible," Obama said. "He tells us that there is power in words. He tells us that there is power in conviction. That beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people. He tells us that there is power in hope."

Associated Press writers Deanna Bellandi and John O'Connor contributed to this report.