Friday, March 30, 2007

Twenty Things I Love About Kentucky

While y'all know I have much love for my birth state and my hometown, I've grown to love and appreciate a few things that are unique to living in Kentucky as well.
(and being able to scarf up Blue Bell again makes it even better)

So without further ado, the Top Twenty things I like about Kentucky.

1-GLBT civil rights protection in Louisville Metro, Lexington-Fayette County and Covington

2-Fall colors

3-Keeneland (especially in the fall)

4-The beauty of the horse farms around Lexington

5-The number of major cities clustered within a ten-hour driving radius of Louisville.

6-The Kentucky Derby and all the hoopla surrounding it.

7-Derby pie and Chess pie

8-SEC football and basketball on the tube

9-Big East football and basketball on the tube

10-I can still see all the pro and college sports teams I grew up with in H-town by driving to Indy, Cincy, St. Louis, Memphis, Nashville or Chicago.

11-I'm an hour's drive from Mammoth Cave in the south central half of the state.

12-The cost of living is roughly comparable to Houston's.

13-The Ali Center and the Louisville Slugger Museum.

14-The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center museum being a little over an hour away in Cincinnati.

15-The wonderful architecture, alleys and huge trees in Louisville and Lexington neighborhoods that are older than my hometown.

16-The Castle in Versailles, KY

17-Adam Matthews cheesecake (it's the bomb)

18-I have four weather seasons and summers are cooler than what I'm used to (sometimes)

19-The great local pizza parlors.

20-Blue Bell is sold here now!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Barack Obama Is More Than 'Black Enough'

One of my TransGriot readers posted this commentary on the blog concerning Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama

Monica sistergirl,

I am sooooo fed up with people talking about whether Obama is black enough like Black people are actually sitting around arguing about it. I've made it clear to people that I think it's nothing but rehashing *other* people's stereotypes of blacks as being anti-education, driven by a herd mentality, and just plain silly but people insist that it's a real issue put forth by "prominent black leaders". Would you mind lending your eloquence to this subject? I'm eager to hear your thoughts

Since TransGriot strives to be an interactive forum, I'll honor your request to add my two cents to this ongoing debate about whether Barack is 'Black enough' for the African-American community.

One of the painful legacies of slavery is African-Americans who aided and abetted our slavemasters. Whether it be the Black folks who 'told massa' when the slaves were planning a revolt or an escape' or helped thwart our progress during the Jim Crow era and beyond (see Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas and other Bush misadministration Negroes as current examples), we have always been vigilant about being taken in by 'Oreos'.

Barack's appeal to the white electorate in this country, while refreshing, makes him suspect to many peeps the African-American community. His story as a kid that was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas who didn't grow up in the hood but in Indonesia (and in their mind doesn't have any ties to the Civil Rights Movement leadership many of them detest) has many African-American people asking questions. We wonder whether he would be an effective advocate for those of us who did grow up in the hood, who never forget HOW we got to these shores in the first place and how much fighting we STILL have to do just to get our rights as human beings and American citizens respected.

Personally, I like him. I plan on reading his books Dreams of My Father and The Audacity of Hope . I like a lot of what he has to say in terms of what's wrong and what's right with this country because much of it mirrors my own views in many ways. I'm encouraged by his record as an Illinois state senator, by what I've heard about him from my relatives who live in Chicago and by some of the policy stances he has laid out.

My concern is whether Barack Hussein Obama would actually get to stand in front of the Capitol building on January 20, 2009 and take the oath of office as the 44th President of the United States.

I have observed throughout my life that African-Americans have a hard time just getting elected to statewide office. Granted, Barack is the sitting junior senator of Illinois. But I have seen enough of the GOP slash-and-burn win-at-all-costs election tactics to know that if they're losing, they will not hesitate to negatively use race to keep the White House in their hands (ask Harold Ford, Jr. and Harvey Gantt about that). They know that 10% of this country's electorate will not vote for an African-American no matter how qualified he is and that's a sizable enough chunk of votes in a close election to turn it.

We African-Americans define leadership in a different way as University of Maryland professor Dr. Ron Walters points out.

The task of Black leadership is to provide the vision, resources, tactics, and strategies that facilitate the achievement of the objectives of Black people.

These objectives have been variously described as freedom, integration, equality, liberation, or defined in the terms of specific public policies. It is a role that often requires disturbing the peace. And we constantly carry on a dialogue about the fitness of various leaders and the qualities they bring to the table to fulfill this mission.

This standard is what Barack Obama is being evaluated by in the African-American community. Contrary to what conservatives think, we are not monolithic lemmings who reflexively vote for anything with a 'D' behind their name or as Michael Steele, Ken Blackwell, Lynn Swann and the GOP found out last November we don't vote for peeps or support them just because they're fellow African-Americans either.

As Dr. Julia Hare said during the recent Tavis Smiley 'State of the Black Union' event at Hampton University, there's a difference between Black leaders and leading blacks. Right now we're trying to figure out which category Barack fits in. And let's be real here. It's only March 2007 and the first presidential primaries don't happen until January 2008.

If he is deemed to be a Black leader after some introspective thought, debate and input from the various sectors of the community, you will see his support rise. If he doesn't pass that community litmus test we will support the candidate who we deem not only has the best chance to get elected but who will pursue our interests once he or she is sitting in the Oval Office courtesy of our votes.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hoyas Make History

Back in 1984 Georgetown coach John Thompson, Jr and Patrick Ewing ruined my year when they beat my alma mater 84-75 in Seattle for the NCAA championship. The only thing that made it bearable was with that win over my Coogs John Thompson became the first African-American coach to take a team to an NCAA title.

Twenty-five years later another Thompson-Ewing combination is going back to the Final Four. This time it's their sons John Thompson III and Patrick Ewing, Jr.

They stunned No. 1 seeded North Carolina 96-84 to avenge the 1982 Final Four defeat and ruin my bracket. They erased an 11 point deficit to force overtime and then reeled off 14 consecutive points in extra time to earn a trip to Atlanta as the East Region champs.

In that classic game played at the Superdome some freshman by the name of Michael Jordan hit a 17 jumper with 17 seconds remaining in the game to beat Georgetown 63-62 for the 1982 NCAA title.

With the win Georgetown made history. The Thompsons are the first father-son coaching duo in NCAA history to take the same school to the Final Four. They're hoping that John Thompson III can make even more history and lead this current group of Hoyas to another NCAA championship.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Another Sistah Wins Miss USA

Rachel Smith just completed a volunteer stint at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

The 21 year old magna cum laude Belmont University journalism graduate has another commitment she just picked up. Congratulations to Miss Tennessee Rachel Renee Smith, who was crowned Miss USA 2007 at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles last night.

The statuesque 5'11" beauty was born in Panama and grew up in Clarksville, TN after her military parents were transferred to Fort Campbell. She interned at Oprah's Harpo Productions in Chicago for eight months last summer and was managing editor of Belmont's student newspaper prior to making the trip to South Africa.

She becomes just the fourth African-American to win the Miss USA title after Carole Gist, Kenya Moore and Shauntay Hinton. She will represent our country May 29 at the Miss Universe Pageant in Mexico City and attempt to end a ten year USA victory drought. The last Miss USA to win Miss Universe was Hawaii's Brook Lee in 1997.

No African-American has ever won the Miss Universe pageant. Coincidentally this will mark the 30th anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago's Janelle Commissiong's breakthrough Miss Universe win when she became the first woman of African descent to win the title in 1977.

Here's hoping that Rachel makes some history of her own a few weeks from now.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Sermon

Dionne Spencer made a quick left turn off Fourth Street and pulled her red Nissan Sentra into the parking lot of her home church. It had been a year since she’d last attended Sunday services and after parking her car on this sunny November morning did a final check of her makeup and hair. She wanted to make certain that she looked as good as she did when she first slipped on her stylish pink suit, put on her black hose and heels and sashayed her five-seven body out of her apartment near the University of Louisville campus.

She got out of her car and strode nervously toward the front doors of the church building once she was satisfied that her appearance passed muster. She entered the one hundred thirty-eight year old Greater Hope Baptist Church just as the choir began singing a rousing version of Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. She decided to go to the restroom to recheck her appearance one last time before sauntering into the sanctuary.

She made her entrance as the organ music faded and the congregation was still on an emotional high from watching their award-winning choir rock the house. She started to take a seat in the back pews but remembered that Reverend Oliver asked her to sit on the front row when they’d had their conversation in his office a few days ago. She wasn’t going to disappoint him as she pivoted on her heel and ambled toward the front pews.

Reverend Lorenzo Oliver rose his six-three frame from his chair and strode to the pulpit. He looked over to his left and spotted Dionne sitting on the front pew flanked by Sister Zerline Elliott and Sister Doris Thompson. He observed two longtime members of the church seated two rows behind her, pointing at Dionne as they shook their fancy-hatted heads and whispered to each other. He noticed Sister Elliott clasping Dionne’s right hand as Sister Doris Thompson whispered in Dionne’s left ear. He smiled at the trio and glanced at his wife Althea before he began speaking.
“Let the congregation say amen.”
“Thanks to Brother Jordan and our choir for that wonderful rendition of one of my favorite hymns,” he said while opening his book-marked Bible to the section that he’d selected earlier that morning while proofreading the final draft of his sermon.
“I’ll start with a reading of the Word from Matthew, the nineteenth chapter and the tenth verse. ‘For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.’ Thus ends the reading of the scripture.”
He paused for a moment to survey his congregation before he continued. “Now, you may be wondering why I chose that particular passage. It’s because I’ve been concerned over the last three weeks about anonymous comments that I’ve been receiving about one of our members from various people in our congregation.”

One of the deacons began to nervously shift his body position in his chair at the base of the pulpit as Reverend Oliver continued. “This person was baptized by me at age ten. Sister Althea and I have had the pleasure of watching this young person grow up and become an outstanding adult despite the tragedies that have befallen them.”

He paused for a moment as some members of the congregation shouted amen to his last statement. “When this person’s parents and grandmother were tragically taken away from them several years ago, she didn’t give up. She buckled down, did an outstanding job in the classroom and got that high school diploma. This person is now attending U of L as a Governor’s Scholar.”

He looked over at the beaming young woman and took a sip of water from his chalice. It shouldn’t be any secret that I’m referring to Sister Dionne Spencer. I did not stutter saints, I said SISTER Dionne Spencer. Some of you are aware that she informed Sister Althea and I three weeks ago about the reason for her long absence from our church family. She is undergoing her transition to womanhood.”

Dionne looked up at Reverend Oliver and nervously smiled as Sister Elliott put her arm around her. “Now, I am astounded by the people who have come to us and openly suggested that we cast this young person out of our church. It’s ironic that some of the folks who proposed this haven’t been members of this church a hot minute. Sister Spencer’s family served Greater Hope faithfully for many years. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

There were murmurs of approval by several congregants as others fidgeted uneasily in the pews. “Just two weeks ago we had an amendment pass in Kentucky over same-sex marriage that made a group of people second class citizens. The charge was led by people who I’m ashamed to say, call themselves Christians.
“Amen.” replied some of the members.
“I was concerned that the passage of this amendment would foster a climate of intolerance in the commonwealth for our gay, lesbian and transgendered brothers and sisters. I am appalled that the intolerance has surfaced in my flock.”

Reverend Oliver wiped the sweat that was starting to bead up on his forehead with a small towel and resumed speaking after taking another sip of water from his chalice.
“As a civil rights veteran who was at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday I beg to differ. Christians don’t promote intolerance. They should be the people helping to eradicate it. Christians don’t promote hatred of their fellow man. They should be uncompromising advocates for loving all their fellow human beings.” Reverend Oliver said with his voice rising.
“God belongs to all of us. His Son Jesus stood up for downtrodden people. That is my one of my charges to keep as a minister. I am a voice for the voiceless. I am an advocate for my community. If no one else will speak up for the suffering people of my time on this earth, I will. As your pastor I will not tolerate any attempts by members of this congregation to strip Dionne of her membership in our church family.”

As Reverend Oliver surveyed the congregation he noticed that the fancy hatted ladies sitting behind Dionne had contrite looks on their faces. He paused to let those words sink in before he stepped onto the sanctuary floor and strolled over to where Dionne was seated.
“Sister Dionne is a Christian who happens to be transgendered. She has a different outer shell now than what she grew up with. It’ll take time for us to get used to the new one. She is the same person that many of you love and respect. I’m pleased to have her back. I look forward to Dionne contributing her talents toward making the Greater Hope church family the best it can be.”

The rest of the service was a blur to Dionne. She shed a tear when he mentioned her late grandmother Pauline and her membership on the usher board. He also reminded the congregation of her grandmother’s last whispered words from her deathbed as he closed his sermon. After Reverend Oliver offered his final prayer and benediction, the congregation rose and filed out of the sanctuary. Dionne picked up her black crocodile print purse and chatted for a few minutes with Sister Elliott and Sister Thompson before she prepared to leave.
“Dionne, wait.”
“Yes, Sister Thornton?”
“Jamila and I are going to Jay’s to eat dinner. Would you like to join us?”
“Thanks for the invitation Sister Thornton, but I already promised Sister Elliott that I’d come by her house after church.”
“Okay. Maybe some other time?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
She opened her purse, pulled her sunglasses out of the case and put them on before she stepped outside into the bright fall sunshine. She was stopped a few times by various members expressing their support for her before reaching her car. As she unlocked it a full-figured woman she recognized as LaTasha Cole and her slim-waisted friend Sarita Sanders approached LaTasha’s battered blue Chevy Caprice. It was parked directly in front of hers, and once they spotted Dionne deliberately adjusted the volume of their conversation so she could hear them.
“I don’t care what the pastor said.” thundered LaTasha. “I ain’t talking to that drag queen.”
“You got that right.” Sarita agreed. “The deacon was correct Thursday night when he said that there’s no room for he-she’s in heaven.”
“What a waste. First that fine Brother Jordan, now this wannabe woman. What’s the world coming to?”
“Girl, I’m gonna have to find me another church,” Sarita said as they climbed into her car cackling to themselves before they drove off.

Dionne was a little hurt by the comments as she clambered into her car. She expected negativity from LaTasha. They’d never liked each other and had been going at it since elementary school. Sarita’s comments were a shock, but she understood her frustration. She was told by a U of L classmate two weeks ago that Sarita liked her previous male persona. Dionne started her car and headed back to her apartment to change clothes before heading over to Sister Elliott’s Newburg area house.

Thirty minutes later she was standing in Sister Elliott’s living room perusing the photographs on the fireplace mantel. The first one that caught her attention was of Miss Zerline and her late husband Walter dressed in formal wear for a Derby party. Even though she’d recently passed her sixty-third birthday, Zerline was still an attractive honey-brown woman who looked twenty years younger. She had a figure that put the younger women of the church to shame. Much of Dionne’s evolving sense of style had come from observing her over the years.

Dionne shifted her gaze to a photo of her grandmother and Miss Zerline. It was taken several years ago on a church bus trip to the Black Expo in Indianapolis. They’d fallen asleep on the return trip to Louisville and were leaning on each other’s shoulders. It reminded her that they’d been best friends since their Kentucky State college days.

She glanced at her Waggener High School graduation photo. She frowned, but not because the photo was of Don. Her feet were starting to hurt after wearing these pumps for a few hours. She gingerly walked over to the couch and pulled them off after she sat down. She rubbed her feet for a few moments to get the soreness out before putting them back on.
“I see you’ve already learned one of the first lessons of femininity.”
“Which is?”
“You’re gonna suffer to look good.” she said as they chuckled.
“Very funny, Miss Zerline. So when’s dinner gonna be ready?”
“When you come in here and help me cook it.”
She smirked before kicking off her pumps and getting up to join her in the kitchen. She’d always loved to cook. Since Zerline didn’t have a child of her own to pass her mouth-watering recipes down to she taught Dionne after she came to live with her.
They spent the next two hours working to finish cooking before the guests were slated to begin arriving at five o’clock. Dionne sensed someone staring at her as she prepared the salad. When she turned Zerline was intently watching her before she gently sighed.
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, baby. I just recalled a day when your grandmother and I were talking in the teacher’s lounge. She always remarked about how much you looked like your mother.”
“So I’ve been told.”
“Well, now you REALLY look like your mother.”
They both laughed as Zerline’s conversation topic switched. “I was proud of you this morning.”
“I was gonna have to show up for church sooner or later, Miss Zerline.”
“I’m glad you did. Too many people in your situation have turned away from God. I didn’t want that happening to you. That’s why I stayed on you so much about going to church.”
“I wasn’t planning on letting it happen. I wanted to give the hormones a chance to work on me before I came back to Greater Hope.”
“Good. But you know I was getting concerned.” she said. “Your grandmother said to me on her deathbed, ‘Zerline, take care of my grandbaby.’ I had every intention of honoring my soror’s last request ”
“You did a great job. I appreciate everything that you’ve done for me. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, baby.”
“I’m getting my degree in a few months. But best of all I’ll be walking across that stage as Dionne ”
And you’ll be happier than you’ve even been in your young life, thought Zerline. “Your grandmother and I discussed that before she passed. She knew that you were unhappy. She was aware that you were getting picked on, teased and ostracized by other kids.”
“When someone we love is involved, there’s not much that happens in a school district we work in that we can’t find out.” Zerline said as she opened the oven door to check on the cornbread. It wasn’t done yet, so she made a mental note to check on it in a few minutes.
“You got that right. She was in my teacher’s classrooms more than Mama and Daddy were.”
Zerline paused and smiled as another memory of her soror flashed through her mind. “Umm hmm. Pauline taught a child several years ago that had a gender identity issue that wasn’t positively addressed.”
Dionne’s eyebrows raised. “Who was it?”
“Pinky Perry.”
“Grandma was Pinky’s teacher?”
“Yes, she was. Pauline noted how badly Pinky’s life turned out after his parents tossed him onto the streets. She said that he was one of the smartest kids she’d ever taught. She was adamant that wasn’t going to happen to you.”
“Yes, she was. It’s hypocritical how some Black people treat kids with gender identity issues. If Pinky had been arrested for a crime and was on trial at the Hall of Justice, they would’ve been shouting their child’s innocence to every TV camera in sight.”
Dionne nodded as she continued “She felt that had Pinky received the love that was needed at the time, there’s no telling what he, oops she could’ve accomplished.”
The doorbell rang as Zerline was pulling it out the oven. “Don, can you get the door for me? That’s probably Doris and Reba now.”
Dionne frowned as she heard her old name. Zerline noted the change in demeanor on her face. “Sorry, baby. You know it’s gonna take me a while to get used to your new name.”
She nodded and smiled as she walked over to hug Miss Zerline, then headed to the front door to let the early arriving dinner guests in.

Two Houston Lawmakers Seek Apology Over Slavery

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

AUSTIN — Convinced by this week's debate over Confederate monuments that some Texans remain insensitive to the issue, two Houston lawmakers plan to sponsor a resolution supporting an official acknowledgment of slavery in Texas' past.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis and Rep. Senfronia Thompson, both Democrats, will suggest a formal apology for slavery, a correction of the historical record and recognition of contributions made by African-Americans in Texas.

The language of the resolution is still in draft form, but it seeks "acknowledging with profound regret the involuntary servitude of Africans, and a call for reconciliation among all Texans."

"Texas played a key role in this 'peculiar institution' called slavery," Ellis said Thursday. "It existed here longer than the rest of the country," he said.

News of the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves didn't reach Texas until June of 1865, more than two years after it took effect.

Texas would join legislatures in Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, New York and Vermont that are considering similar measures.

Last month Virginia lawmakers unanimously passed a resolution expressing "profound regret" over that state's role in slavery and the segregation of African-Americans after slavery.

On the federal level, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., has introduced a resolution for a national apology.

Thompson and Ellis have been considering legislation for weeks, but had planned to proceed slowly, seek consensus and reach out to experts around the country.

All that changed on Wednesday when Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, sought to preserve some Confederate statues by prohibiting the removal or relocation of memorial plaques or statues from state property without approval of the Legislature, Texas Historical Commission or State Preservation Board.

The debate veered into a divisive discussion of slavery and civil rights. After nearly two hours of debate Miller abandoned his bill.

Thompson said the leadership should not have allowed the bill to make its way to the House floor and "subject the members to such an unnecessary confrontation."

On Thursday she said the showdown highlighted some House members' "lack of sensitivity, by constantly reopening wounds that have not healed."

Earlier this week Ellis won unanimous approval from the Senate for the state's two large pension funds to divest their holdings in companies doing business in Sudan as a protest of the genocide in Darfur.

That measure was cosponsored with Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and has been endorsed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

The lawmakers pushing for an apology are hoping to get similar bipartisan support for their measure. They are considering inserting language about the contributions of Native Americans and Hispanics, who have been "historically overlooked and undervalued, mistreated and maligned," Ellis said.

Lawmakers backing the bill, including Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said they want to be methodical and analytical in their approach. They already are anticipating the kind of push back they will get, including members who will say that they should "get over it," or let "bygones be bygones."

Ellis' response to that will be that they are not seeking a personal apology, rather an acknowledgment that Texas sanctioned and encouraged the institution of slavery.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

It's 'Un-African' For Nigeria To Treat GLBT People This Way

photo-Nigerian president General Osegun Obasanjo and his good friend president George W. Bush

I gripe with my friends sometimes about the way that GLBT/SGL peeps are treated in the United States and how backward we are legislatively compared to enlightened countries like South Africa, Canada, Great Britain and Spain.

But to some of our African cousins, we are the enlightened ones in terms of the hell they are catching all over the African continent, with South Africa, Mali and Burkina Faso being the glaring exceptions.

Nigeria is about to pass a draconian new law in advance of their upcoming national elections next month that is the wet dream of our homophobic Religious Right.

Nigeria already punishes people with 14 year jail sentences for consensual homosexual contact under the provisions of a law dating back to the British colonial period. If you are a Nigerian who is unfortunate enough to live in the 12 northern Nigerian states with Muslim population majorities, they are under Islamic Sharia law and the punishment is death by stoning.

But the proposed law being billed as a same-sex marriage ban has some alarming provisions that would make ANY public or private expression of homosexuality in the Federal Republic of Nigeria a crime.

Under this proposed Nigerian law you could get five years in jail for:

*Being a member of a gay group

*Attending a gay meeting or protest

*Donating money to a gay organization

*Advocating gay equality in any way, shape, or form.

*Hosting or visiting a gay Web site

*Expressing same-sex love in letters or e-mails

*Attending a same-sex marriage or blessing ceremony

*Screening or watching a gay movie

^Taking or possessing photos of a gay couple

*Publishing, selling, or loaning a gay book or video.

The proposed law goes beyond a simple same-sex marriage ban. It punitively targets GLBT/SGL peeps for simply existing. In addition to criminalizing the activities listed mere everyday socializing by two or more gay people would potentially be interpreted as illegal.

Even heterosexual allies would be affected. Nigerians could find themselves being charged with the crime of 'promoting the lifestyle of homosexuals' with broad parameters on what constitutes the 'crime' of 'promoting homosexuality'. For example, simply selling a house to a gay couple could earn you a trip to prison.

The proposed Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act was introduced last year by Nigerian Minister of Justice Bayo Ojo but a firestorm of international criticism temporarily tabled it.

While the proposed law has 100% support from Archbishop Peter Akinola, the homophobic leader of the Nigerian Anglican Church, its passage is still in doubt. Reportedly one third of the Nigerian National Assembly supports it, one third opposes it and one third is still undecided.

While President Obasanjo is term limited, his hand-picked successor is Umaru Yar'Adua, the governor of Katsina state in the Nigerian Islamic north. If he becomes president of Nigeria he is expected to enforce the new law if enacted.

Realizing that this is a watershed moment for GLBT civil rights in Africa, Nigerian GLBT people and other citizens concerned about its anti-civil rights provisions traveled to Nigeria's capital city of Abuja to testify against the bill. They were initially barred from testifying on the pretext that it was an 'invitation-only hearing' but after intense pressure from the European Union and international embassies they were allowed access to the hearing room to speak out against the bill.

Cary Alan Johnson, senior specialist for Africa of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) said in an interview for the Direland Blog that there is still time for United States GLBT people to help kill this bill.

"While Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin have both weighed in against the bill, Americans still need to put pressure on their representatives to condemn the bill. Your readers should call their members of Congress and the State Department and ask them to speak out against the Same-Sex Marriage Act. Full-scale activism is what is needed at this point."

Nigeria is the largest country on the African continent in terms of population. The OPEC oil-producing nation has been making a serious push over the last few years to raise its stature and become an international leader.

But if you want to be an international leader, respect for human rights is a primary prerequisite for that status. It's something that we've unfortunately forgotten over the last six years in the United States. There's another recurring theme in this situation that has proven to be an uncomfortable reality for GLBT peeps all over the world.

Hating on GLBT peeps not only helps lousy leaders hang on to political power, it distracts the population from tackling the serious issues impacting your country.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Are The Divine Nine Sororities Ready To Admit Transwomen?

In 2008 Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first African-American sorority will celebrate their centennial year.

AKA's founding was followed by Delta Sigma Theta in 1913, Zeta Phi Beta in 1920 and finally Sigma Gamma Rho in 1922. They have compiled a long and distinguished history of achievement and have done exemplary work over the last century in terms of uplifting our race. I have women in my own family who are members of the various Divine Nine sororities. It's a safe bet to make that if you see a sistah in the news or who's making history, nine times out of ten she's a member of a Divine Nine sorority.

The Divine Nine Sororities have been at the forefront of social change as well. These sororities are not limited to just African-American membership only but admit Latina and White women as well. For example I doubt that many people realize that former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is an AKA. They all have White and Latina members at the undergrad and graduate levels who are more down with the organization and what it stands for than some of their African-American members.

So that begs the question. If the Divine Nine sororities embrace all women, does that include myself and other transwomen as well?

The answer to it would probably break along generational lines. Some of the most conservative institutions in the African-American community next to the Black church and the NAACP are the Divine Nine sororities. They are proud of their history as they should be and are fiercely protective of it.

There's been a firestorm of controversy on the website over a group of gay men who claim to have formed a unofficial chapter of AKA. Those comments about MIAKA have devolved into the usual recitation of conservative gay-bashing Old Testament talking points mixed with the justified outrage of AKAs ticked off over the appropriation of their organizational shield, colors and symbols. So far there hasn't been any comment from AKA National headquarters other than 'MIAKA has no official or unoffical standing with the sorority'.

That vitriolic reaction makes me wonder how a transwoman who met the qualifications for membership in any of the Divine Nine sororities, sincerely wanted to not only be a part of that history but pledge, pay dues and do the necessary work would be received. Then again, there may be transwomen who are already members of the various Divine Nine sororities at the undergrad and graduate levels as I write this.

I'm jealous of you if you are. ;)

These stealth transpersons may be doing wonderful work within the sorority but if their sorors like her, they unfortunately won't associate her positivity with the first out transwoman they meet because their stealth transgender soror didn't let them know her status. This out transsistah may have the same positive qualities as the stealth member but because she is open about being transgendered gets saddled with overcoming the stereotypical baggage heaped upon African-American transwomen.

Depending on the chapter, that may keep her from probably getting in and proving to those skeptics that she's down with what the sorority stands for, is cognizant of its history and wants to be an asset to the organization. Those stereotypes combined with outright religious bigotry by some of the members are why I believe the Divine Nine sororities will be extremely resistant to expanding their membership ranks to include out transwomen.

In my case it's well known who I am and that I'm proud to be an African-American transwoman. I have much love for my mom and sister's sorority. My old neighborhood was chock full of her sorors. I faithfully read that organizations magazine when it hit the mailbox. Before I transitioned I DJed my mom's chapters Christmas party back home with my DJ partner for two consecutive years.

I'd be honored if I were invited to join one of the Divine Nine sororities. I do believe in and practice in my own life many of the same things they value in terms of education, community service and uplifing the race. I have the awards on my mantel to prove it.

So will an out transwoman someday wear the colors and letters of the sororities that have been proudly worn by the women in their families for generations and be embraced by her sorors as one of them at the same time?

While I'm hopeful that the Divine Nine orgs will prove me wrong and emphatically state that womanhood includes females who were stuck in the wrong bodies at birth as well and open their doors to us, I don't think it'll happen in my lifetime.

TransGriot note:
The Divine Nine is the nickname given to the nine African-American fraternities and sororities that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the umbrella organization for African-American Greek orgs. The frats are Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi, Kappa Alpha Psi, Phi Beta Sigma and Iota Phi Theta

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Yuck, I Feel Like A Boy Today

Back in 2003 when I was running HIM’s Transgender Initiative, we had a meeting in which one of the attendees exclaimed during a break, “Yuck, I feel like a boy today.” A gay man who was on the HIM board heard the comment while he was on his way to another part of the building for a separate group meeting. He asked Dawn and I about the comment when we met for our board meeting later that week.

We are always in education mode when it comes to getting the GLBT/SGL community and others to understand the varying degrees of differences in terms of transwomen and what we experience. We had some time before the board meeting started, so we sat him down and attempted to break it down to him what that person’s thought process was that led to the comment.

Transition is an emotional process in addition to being a physical one. The physical part of it is easy. It involves making the body morph to fit the mental gender imprint that a person is born with by using hormones, gender specific clothing, hairstyles, et cetera. It is the external manifestations of gender.

The mental aspect is the hardest part. Gender roles are learned. Certain behaviors, societal expectations and actions are assigned to the gender roles of male and female and it takes time to learn what those are. Genetic peeps have 18 to 20 years to do that with the guidance of their families and society. Transpeople have the complication of trying to get up to speed with their new gender role and unlearning the old one in a very short amount of time. In addition to that, they have the burden of trying to learn those roles with those same societal and familial forces sometimes arrayed against them.

There are days when everything is clicking for you and you’re in the gender zone. Your presentation is on point, voice is in the correct pitch range, and everybody’s complimenting you about your hair and appearance. You look so fly and are feeling so feminine that you believe that you could take on the Miss Universe pageant beauties and win in a walk.

Then there are those days when you don’t feel so feminine and external things exacerbate it. You’re slightly upset because you have an electrolysis appointment to finish removing body and facial hair. You had someone use the wrong pronoun to address you multiple times and you’re running low on hormones. You’re having a bad hair day and you overheard some little kid while you were out asking his mom if you’re a boy or a girl. You feel a little jealous because you saw this strikingly beautiful sistah getting admiring looks from the brothas, or another one holding her child and it brings back all of those conflicted, inadequate feelings you had before transition.

I suppose that’s what this person meant when they said, ‘Yuck, I feel like a boy today.”

All you can do when you feel that way is what ballplayers do when they’re in a batting slump: Fight your way through it. You remember how you felt when you had on your best clothes and had your face made up to supermodel precision. Remind yourself when you feel a little upset about having to undergo electrolysis that there are genetic women waiting to get hair removed after you’re finished. I’ve even had my genetic female friends tell me that even they have days where they don’t feel quite so feminine and they have possessed vaginas since birth.

So it’s not always about feeling like a boy or girl. It’s about loving yourself, the skin you’re in, enjoying life and confidently loving every moment of it.

Happy 50th Birthday Spike Lee!

In addition to March 20 being the first day of spring (hallelujah) today is also Spike Lee's birthday. He was born in the ATL 50 years ago on this date.

Spike is one of my favorite filmmakers. I remember when I rolled over to the River Oaks Theater back in 1986 to see She's Gotta Have It. It was the first time I'd gotten a chance to see a movie with an all-Black cast since I caught The Wiz back in my high school days. After seeing that movie I made it a point not to miss a premiere weekend for a Spike Lee Joint until 1994. I also have many of Spike's movies in my personal DVD collection.

One of the interesting things about Spike Lee movies in addition to them being topical is the long list of people who have acted in them and later became big stars on stage, screen and television such as future Oscar winners Halle Berry and Denzel Washington. Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Eriq LaSalle, Queen Latifah, Jasmine Guy, Laurence Fishbourne and Samuel L. Jackson have also been in Spike's movies and some people have acted in more than one Spike Lee joint such as the late Ossie Davie and Wesley Snipes.

He has also done highly acclaimed documentaries such as 4 Little Girls and the recent When The Levees Broke for HBO.

I also loved those humorous Nike Air Jordan commercials he directed in which he reprised his Mars Blackmon character from She's Gotta Have It.

One thing I adore about Spike is that he's never been shy about expressing his opinions about various subjects. Spike gets much respect from me for that. He also gets much love from me as a movie fan for resuscitating our legacy of filmmaking that goes back to the great Oscar Micheaux and inspiring a new generation of filmmakers to pursue their dreams.

Looking forward to seeing him win that elusive Oscar one day and the James Brown biopic that he's been signed to do when it comes out next year.

Katrina Rose

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

I first met Katrina Rose when she and I transistioned in Houston back in the mid 90's. I was the lone African-American member of TATS (Texas Association for Transsexual Support) the local transgender group and feeling a little isolated in it until Kat and my Latina homegirl Alexandra joined.

We bonded almost immediately. As I've mentioned I like having intelligent people around me and Kat definitely fit the bill. She was attending law school at the time and loathes hypocrites as much as I do. We also loved discussing history, politics and other real-life subjects that often put us at odds with some then members of the TATS group who were more concerned about getting SRS and going stealth.

Kat's also a gifted writer, photographer and painter. She wrote a column for several years in a local GLBT newspaper while I was doing my radio show co-hosting with Jimmy Carper on KPFT-FM at the time. It's kind of an interesting twist in our lives that now I'm the one writing the newspaper column and she's doing radio.

We're an unbeatable team when we're partnered together at Trivial Pursuit. We used to beat up on our fellow TATS members so badly that they wouldn't allow us to play on the same team after a while. ;) I also admire the relationship she has with her mother.

Kat's now happily married, working on her doctorate and does a podcast radio show these days when she's not cracking books, teaching classes, attending law conferences, teaching seminars and writing scholarly legal articles.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Happy Birthday Vanessa Williams!

On this day in 1963 Vanessa Lynn Williams was born. Her parents announced her birth with a prophetic statement: 'Here she is, Miss America!'

She not only fulfilled her parents prophecy by becoming the first African-American Miss America but has built an enviable career for herself in the process. Vanessa has graced Broadway stages, television, Hollywood and the recording industry and racked up numerous awards in the process.

She's currently playing the delightfully backstabbing Wilhemina Slater on ABC's Ugly Betty.

Happy Birthday, Vanessa!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Miriam Xtravaganza Hospitalized After Brutal NYC Attack

Miriam Rivera AKA Miriam Xtravaganza was hospitalized February 27 with multiple broken bones and internal bleeding after she was attacked and thrown from the 4th floor window of her New York apartment.

She moved from the New York ballroom community to being featured on the Australian 'Big Brother' show. She became world-famous for the controversial 2004 British reality TV show There's Something About Miriam, in which six men competed on the island of Ibiza to win her affections, then the winner was told she was a pre-op transwoman. That led to a lawsuit by the six men to stop the show from airing on British television that was settled out of court.

"I did it because I wanted to know if real love exists. Can a person fall in love?," she stated to TV Plus in an interview during the height of the controvery. Miriam also stated that she "didn't feel used by it."

She caught flak from the British transgender community because they feared that it would turn British public opinion against them at the time they were working for passage of the Gender Recognition Act by Parliament.

"I was trying to be myself and if anyone had asked me about myself I would have told them," Miriam said.

Miriam was unconscious at the time she was taken to the hospital. Her injuries included in addition to internal bleeding two broken legs and multiple broken bones in her arms.

'Transgender' Category Needed For The 2010 US Census

When I graduated from high school in 1980 my first job was working during that hot Houston summer as an enumerator for the decennial US census.

It wasn't just any old summer job. They didn't have to tell me that in my training class. I knew how important it was. The population stats I was helping to gather would determine congressional seat allocations, how much federal funding was allocated to my hometown and determine the population of Houston, Harris County, Texas and the United States for the next ten years. I used 1910 Census data a decade later to cross check the accuracy of my genealogical research on the family tree I was compiling for my father's side of the family.

In 2000 the US Census for the first time allowed people to check multiple racial categories to more accurately count and document the people who have biracial status.

In 2010 I'm proposing another change to the US census: Adding a 'transgender' category to the options available to define yourself.

Over the last decade we've had a serious debate between the transgender community and the psychiatric one about the actual prevalence of transsexualism. Psychiatrists have long claimed that male-to-female transsexualism is extremely rare, occurring in only one in every 30,000 males and 1 in 100,000 females and that figure is often quoted. It's even quoted in the recent C-J article Angie Fenton wrote about me and Dawn.

However, Professor Lynn Conway of the University of Michigan challenges that figure by saying, "It’s way too small, perhaps by a factor of 100.”

Simple observation by transpeople tells us that something is amiss with those numbers. In my high school gifted and talented class of 70 people I have a transman in it. That's the one I actually know about. There may be others in my class I DON'T know about and the total number of graduates in my high school class was 700. If the 1 in 30,000 number were correct then that other transperson shouldn't exist.

By counting the number of surgeries performed over the years, Dr. Conway estimates there are as of 2005 at least 40,000 postoperative trans women in the U.S. These women have transitioned out of a population of roughly 100,000,000 adult males*. Simple division reveals that at least one in every 2500 people born as males here has undergone sex reassignment surgery (SRS): i.e., ~ 40,000/100,000,000 = 1/2500.

However, something on the order of 5 times as many people inherently experience transsexualism than those who have already undergone sex reassignment.

That has led Dr. Conway to conclude the inherent condition occurs in at least one in every 500 children born as males. Note that this figure of 1 in 500 is a "lower bound" on the prevalence of transsexualism (intense gender dysphoria), and the actual value could be higher. Her hypothesis was tested by researchers using her methods in Thailand, India, Great Britain and Malaysia who came up with roughly the same ratio.

“Those are still small numbers, but transsexualism is certainly not ‘extremely rare’”, Dr. Conway says.

After revealing that psychiatrists have vastly underestimated the prevalence of transsexualism for many decades, Conway asks: “Can’t psychiatrists count?

So since they can't count, let's settle the debate by adding transgender as a category on the upcoming United States Census in 2010.

It'll be an uphill battle to do so. Our right-wing opponents don't want us to have those hard numbers to point to so that they can continue to marginalize and demonize us. The psychiatric community wants to perpetuate the 1 in 30,000 myth as well. Even some transpeople would rather not see the more realistic numbers be proven as fact because in their eyes they won't be as 'special' any more.

Sorry peeps, this inquiring mind and others want to know exactly how many transpeeps are inside the borders of the United States. It's past time we ended the speculation and get those precise numbers.

The Dred Scott Case-150 Years Later

150 years ago this month the Supreme Court ruled in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case.

On March 6, 1857 Chief Justice Roger B. Taney made his famous declaration that '"beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

Hell, sometimes I think that many white Americans still operate under that premise.

When I see the way that African-Americans have been attacked since 1866 by white hooded terrorists, had our neighbohoods burned by white mobs, people lynched, our women raped, our images distorted, history and contributions to this country ignored and had the legal system unfaily stacked against us, I haven't seen much to change my perception.

Miss Honey Dijon

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

Since I like to spin from time to time (70's-80's-90's R&B, old school hip-hop and jazz are my favorites) my homegirl Jordana brought this transwoman to my attention during a long IM conversation we were having one night.

Miss Honey Dijon has become one of the most sought after DJ's in New York's party scene.

She grew up in Chicago during the early days of house music exposed to the work of legendary house DJ's Frankie Knuckles AKA The Godfather of House, Ron Hardy and Andrae Hatchett. She would later be inspired and encouraged to become a DJ herself by influential DJs such as Danny Tenaglia and others.

After spending a short time in Washington D.C. she moved to New York in the mid-90's and rapidly became one of New York's top DJ's with her infectious mix of house, acid, hip-hop and new wave. Some peeps describe it as a Chicago house sound with a deep New York underground feel to it. She's been featured in Wigstock: The Movie , articles in various DJ magazines and nominated for several local DJ awards.

Miss Honey Dijon is someone that I am looking forward to meeting one day and hearing her spin. If you are lucky enough to see her in your locale or get to New York don't miss her.

Your dancing feet will be glad you did.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Monica's March Madness Men's Bracket

TransGriot readers,
Here are my 2007 March Madness bracket picks:

Midwest Region

1st Round
Florida, Arizona, Butler, Maryland, Notre Dame, Oregon, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin

Sweet 16
Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Wisconsin

Elite 8
Florida, Wisconsin

Midwest Champion

West Region

1st Round
Kansas, Kentucky, Virginia Tech, S.Illinois, VA Commonwealth, Pitt, Gonzaga, UCLA

Sweet 16
Kansas, Virginia Tech, VA Commonwealth, UCLA

Elite 8
Kansas, UCLA

West Champion

East Region

1st Round
North Carolina, Marquette, Arkansas, Texas, Vanderbilt, Washington State, Texas Tech, Georgetown

Sweet 16
North Carolina, Texas, Vanderbilt, Georgetown

Elite 8
North Carolina, Georgetown

East Champion
North Carolina

South Region

1st Round
Ohio State, Xavier, Tennessee, Virginia, Louisville, Texas A&M, Nevada, Memphis

Sweet 16
Ohio State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Memphis

Elite 8
Ohio State, Memphis

South Champion
Ohio State

Final Four Teams
North Carolina, Ohio State, Florida, Kansas

Championship Game
Florida vs North Carolina

2007 NCAA Champion

We'll see starting tomorrow just how accurate my predictions are. ;)

Bathroom Issues

Hunter Coleman was sitting at his ultra modern desk conferring with the Texas Division head of HR Mary Ann Lemons, the Senior VP of Marketing Ryan Harper and their corporate attorney Juanita Robinson when his cell phone rang.
"I'm sorry, I thought I had it on vibrate," he said apologetically. "Let me see if this is Alexis."
"Go right ahead," said Ryan.
"This is Hunter Coleman."
"Hunter, this is Alexis. I'm in town and just leaving Bush Intercontinental now."
"Hi Alexis. How was your flight?"
"Hit some bumpy air over Arkansas but overall it was a good one."
"Good to hear. So what's the problem that you alluded to yesterday?"
"A potentially explosive human resource issue has come to my attention."
"Can you give me some background info on it?" Hunter asked as her limo passed Greenspoint Mall.
"I'd rather discuss this in your office with Ryan and Juanita when I arrive."
"Very good, Alexis."
"My limo's on I-45 right now. When I get downtown I'll call you. Have Samantha Simon and Lauren Schmelter in your office when I arrive. "
"Will do."
"Good. Se you in a few minutes."

Senior VP of Human Resources Alexis Wilson was not a happy camper. She was already upset about downsizing the HR department. She was in the process of analyzing the data and determining which cities would take the hits when the e-mail came from the people at the Ethics Hotline.
She recalled her reaction when she'd heard about the mysterious resignation of Shanita Taylor. She'd already sent her assistant Shelby King down to Houston to talk to the gentleman who called in the complaint. Alexis was incensed when Shelby gave her report on what this gentleman overheard at his church and what the investigation had uncovered.

Her eyes were getting tired from looking at the laptop screen and she decided to rest them for a few minutes. She looked up just as the limo came out of I-45's ten-lane S-curve approaching I-10 and the view of the downtown Houston skyline rapidly grew closer.

Moments later she was pulling in front of the building on Smith Street that used to be Enron's headquarters. She put on her Jimmy Choo pumps and whipped her cell phone out of her purse to make the call announcing her arrival before packing her laptop into the leather briefcase her boyfriend had given her for Christmas.
She cut off her cell phone after talking to Hunter, put it in her Prada purse and waited for the limo driver to park the car and open her door.

As she stretched her stylishly dressed 5'7" frame out of the limo the cranberry juice she'd been drinking on the flight began demanding release from her bladder as she entered the revolving door of the Xavier Young Zeno Corporation Tower. She headed for the bank of elevators as the handsome security guard on duty smiled and waved at her. She had other things on her mind as she gave the bald buffed brother a friendly wave and briskly kept moving.

When Alexis arrived on the 23rd floor she knew she needed to make an immediate pit stop in the ladies room. She knew from previous corporate visits that there was one close to Hunter's office so she quickened her pace, entered it and raced to the nearest stall. I needed to check my makeup anyway, Alexis thought as she handled her business.

Not long after she setlled in she heard the door squeak open and heard two sets of heels click clacking on the floor and stall doors open a few paces away from her.
"Lauren, why are they calling us into this meeting?"
"Beats me. Just stay cool until we find out what's going on."
"You mean they didn't tell you?"
"You know that closet queen Ryan can't stand me because his precious Shanita quit."
"You mean Sheldon don't you?" Samantha said with a sneer.
"Whatever that he-she's name used to be I don't care. I got the job thanks to you."
"You're welcome. Thanks for making me your assistant."
"I believe in rewarding people who are loyal to me."
"Me and my Coach purse thank you."

Both toilets flushed and Alexis heard running water from the sinks as they washed their hands.
"Have you made any progress with Javon yet?'
"No. I can barely get his attention when were at church."
"What's wrong, Samantha?" Lauren cooed. "You can't take a man away from a wannabe bitch with a manufactured pussy?"
"I'm more than woman enough for the job, especially if Sheldon still has his original equipment. I can show Javon what he's been missing," she said as they both laughed.
"You ready?"
"Let's go before Ms. Wilson gets here."

She heard their heels click and the bathroom door squeak as it closed. She waited a few minutes before she rose from her seated position, adjusted her clothes and opened her stall door. She strolled over to the mirror and washed her hands before checking her makeup. She checked her appearance one last time before sauntering
out of the restroom and heading to Hunter's office.
She allowed a smile to crease her ebony-hued face when she thought about the bombs she was going to drop on those conniving heifers.

"Ms. Wilson, so nice to see you." Lauren said as she entered Hunter's office.
"Hunter, can you have Ms. Schmelter and Ms. Simon wait outside until I'm done briefing you?"
"Yes ma'am."
Lauren and Samantha looked puzzled as the got up from the couch in Hunter's office and headed to the office waiting area. Once they exited the room and closed the door she began the meeting.

"I've called you together because I've been apprised of a situation that has exposed our company not only to a possible lawsuit but a potential PR nightmare."
She briefed them about Shelby discovered during her investigation as Ryan, Hunter, Juanita and Mary Ann looked at her and listened in stunned silence.
When she was done she said, "Hunter and Ryan, find Shanita Taylor, have my limo pick her up and bring her here ASAP."
"Yes ma'am."
"Mary Ann, call Ms. Simon in please."

Samantha's nervousness shot up a few more levels when Mary Ann called her into the office. What the hell is going on, she thought as she entered.
"Have a seat, Samantha."
"Yes, ma'am."
"You may be wondering why we called you in here today."
"That thought has crossed my mind, Ms. Wilson."
"It concerns a call the Ethics Hotline received a call three weeks ago."
"Did it involve someone in our department?"
"Yes, it did."
"May I ask who it was?"
"Someone you know very well. I can tell you it was in relation to Shanita Taylor's resignation from our company," Alexis said impassively. "Seems that this gentleman overheard a conversation take place that implicates you in the series of events that led Ms. Taylor to resign."
"Say what?"
"We investigated it and have verified that what he told us was true. What we discovered could put you in jail for a long time."
Samantha tried to stay cool but that icy Fifth Ward bravado broke down and tears started flowing down her caramel-colored face as she told Alexis what happened.
A few moments later she sent Samantha out and called Lauren into the office.

"Sit down, Lauren."
Lauren obeyed but was on guard. She observed her assistant walk out of the office with a look that had a mixture of defeat and fear. She wondered what Alexis could have said that terrified her.
"You may be wondering why I asked you and Samantha to come in."
"I know there are rumors about a downsizing of this department."
"Yes, I can confirm that rumor."
"Do you know mow many people we're going to lose?"
"I'm still crunching the numbers, but right now it looks like only two of you will be leaving," Alexis said as she crossed her legs beneath Hunter's desk.
"May I ask who?"
"I'll let you know in a few moments. But first I have some questions for you."
"Yes, ma'am."
"What do you know about Shanita Taylor's departure?"
"It was most unfortunate. She's a very talented person who would have made a wonderful supervisor for us."
"I agree with you. Did she state a reason as to why she was leaving?"
"No," Lauren said. "We were just as shocked when she quit."
Stop lying tramp, Alexis thought. "So was I. That's why I initiated an investigation."
"An investigation?"
"We received a complaint on the Ethics Hotline that mentioned this situation."
"May I ask what was the nature of that complaint?"

Alexis reached into her briefcase, pulled out a sheet of paper and slid it across the desk for Lauren to read. "I can't believe that Samantha would do something like this."
"Some people will do almost anything for love and revenge," said Alexis.
"It's gonna break my heart to give her the news that she's terminated."
"Don't worry about that, Lauren." said Alexis. "I've already taken care of it."
"Thank you Ms. Wilson….."
"You're going to be busy writing a letter of resignation."
"Are you serious?"
"Deadly. I want your badge and your company keys."
"You can't fire me," she defiantly said.
"Seems like that's exactly what's happening right now."
"Do you know who my Daddy is? I'll have your job."

Alexis' impassive look suddenly turned nasty as she stood up and looked Lauren dead in the eye. "Little girl, you don't know who you're messing with. I make phone calls to two of my sorors and not only will you be facing a stint at Club Fed but your Daddy's political career will be ruined as well.
"You're bluffing."
"You think so?" Alexis said. "Does the name Lanita Turner ring a bell?"
She knows the ABC News reporter, thought Lauren. Who else does she know?
"I know you've heard of Senator Jason Reynolds, the man your daddy lost his US senate race to four years ago." Alexis said as Lauren digested the last comment. "And how could I forget my soror DeAndria Randall, the federal prosecuting attorney for the Southern District of Texas?"

Lauren sullenly sat in her chair as Alexis continued. "I want your resignation letter on this desk in the next thirty minutes. If either you, your father or any of his associates mess with this company or my employment status I will bring a world of hurt down on your ass. Do we understand each other?"
Lauren mumbled under her breath. "What did you say?'
"I said yes ma'am."
"That's what I thought you said."
"Are you finished with me?"
"Not quite. Just want to give you a piece of advice for your next job. Be careful what you say in corporate restrooms. It can come back to haunt you."
Lauren's eyes grew wide with shock as Alexis sat back down in the chair and said, "Especially if your boss has as you so crudely put it a 'manufactured pussy' as well."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Black Playwrights Decry ‘Chitlin Circuit’ Label While Keeping Audiences, Actors Satisfied

March 12, 2007
By William Douglas, Special to
photo-Actor Morris Chestnut

You can call David E. Talbert’s latest production, “Love in the Nick of Tyme,” an urban play or a gospel play. Just don’t call it a “chitlin circuit” show.

“What is the chitlin circuit? I don’t do ‘these plays’ or chitlin circuit,” Talbert, an NAACP-award-winning playwright and producer, told “My plays are theater, they’re stories. I wouldn’t classify my plays any differently than August Wilson’s plays are classified. My primary focus is to entertain, uplift and inspire those people who look like those people on stage.”

With themes rooted in religious faith and contemporary storylines that rival the juiciest soap operas, black playwrights and producers like Talbert and Tyler Perry are packing them in at playhouses across the country and raking in millions of dollars from their works.

Hollywood has taken notice of the success of shows like Talbert’s “The Fabric of a Man” and “Lawd Ha’ Mercy,” and Perry’s “Dairy of a Mad Black Woman” and “Madea Goes to Jail” -- and is looking to get in on the act.

Lions Gate Films struck a multi-picture deal with Perry that has been pure gold for the company. Perry’s screen adaptation of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and “Madea’s Family Reunion,” made on shoestring budgets by Hollywood standards, have brought in more than $100 million in two years, industry analysts say. They will make even more money on DVD sales. “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” sold 2.4 million units in the first week of its DVD release in 2005.

“We’ve got Tyler Perry fever,” Michael Paseornek, Lions Gate’s production head, told in February 2006. “As far as we’re concerned, the last weekend of February belongs to Tyler Perry, and we plan to be there every year.”

Lions Gate released “Daddy’s Little Girls,” Perry’s third film, last month on Valentine’s Day. The film raked in more than $18 million since it opened.

The take is less than Perry’s previous movies, which some industry analysts attribute to the absence of Perry or his matronly alter ego Madea from the film. Despite brickbats from movie critics, the movie is scoring well with women and people in all age groups, especially in the 25 to 34 range, The Hollywood reported last week.

“Tyler Perry’s movies are primarily selling out to African-American audiences,” Talbert said. “It’s the same audience that’s going to the theater that's selling out the movies. What it’s saying is the black audience is gravitating toward story lines that they can relate to, that they can identify with, that are real to them.”

Both men have also taken their act to the small screen. The success of Talbert’s plays -- which he estimates have grossed over $75 million -- led him to write and co-produce Jamie Foxx’s NBC special, “Unpredictable: A Musical Journey.” Perry is producing “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” a half-hour syndicated sitcom about a multi-generational black family living under one roof.

However, neither man has abandoned the stage. “Love in the Nick of Tyme,” Talbert’s 12th play, is currently touring and features the stage debut of film heartthrob Morris Chestnut, of “Boyz N’ the Hood” fame, who plays an unfaithful father.

Perry’s new show, “What’s Done in the Dark,” is also crisscrossing the country. It’s a rollicking multi-layered story of infidelity and inspiration set in a two-story medical center.

The shows are tinged with morality, music, comedy and drama and are playing to full houses of folks who are looking to be entertained and spiritually uplifted at the same time, according to Duke University professor Mark Anthony Neal. Going to the shows can feel like going to church, with audience members shouting “Amen” or “Go ahead, now” to the characters on stage, he says.

“The money the plays and movies are making speaks to the spending power of the black Bible Belt -- a metaphor for the new generation of middle class, black church goers who support mega-churches and telepreachers like T.D. Jakes,” Neal, an associate professor of black popular culture, told “Hollywood and Madison Avenue is discovering this.”

Traveling black stage productions aren’t new. Their roots go back to the Jim Crow era when most blacks weren’t allowed in big-city theaters, and black actors could not perform with whites.

To fill the void, plays were produced to appeal to black audiences -- mixing song, dance and message -- and taken on the road. The genre morphed in the 1970s and 1980s with an infusion of gospel found in shows like Vy Higginsen’s “Mama, I Want to Sing.”

The success of “Mama’ and shows like Shelly Garrett’s “Beauty Shop” inspired a new synergistic generation of playwrights/producers/performers like Talbert and Perry, who also found their creative inspiration in the black church.

“I’m a third-generation baby of a preacher. There’s not better place to learn about the impact of love and inspiration and music than in a black church,” Talbert told “From there, I understood the whole call and response, this whole interactive kind of theater that we do. But in actuality, this was the same thing William Shakespeare was doing when he got started.”

However, some theatrical purists -- black and white -- dismiss the plays as lowbrow “chitlin circuit” productions with over-the-top, overly simplistic, stereotypical portrayal of black characters.

“It’s buffoonish,” Larry Leon Hamlin, producer and artistic director of the National Black Theater Festival in Winston Salem, N.C., told the Detroit News in 2005. “It almost takes us back to Amos and Andy, and we don’t really need that. It’s a degradation of the images of black people.”

The late August Wilson, the black playwright who won Pulitzer Prizes for “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson,” lamented that the “chitlin circuit” could fill theaters across the country with blacks but blacks, for the most part, didn’t attend the theater.

“You know, I hear what people are saying and I understand it, and I'm a huge fan of August Wilson and wonderful people -- Lorraine Hansberry -- who've written incredible plays,” Perry told National Public Radio’s Michel Martin last April. “The important thing for me is, and what I'd like people to know is that, one particular genre does not make it whole. There are many, many different genres, and if you ever gave it an opportunity open mindedly, I think you'd find some pretty interesting things there.”

Talbert says there’s little that separates his shows from top-shelf Broadway productions.

“The only difference is I choose to tour my plays across the country and allow urban audiences that we target to come in and patronize them,” said Talbert, a Morgan State University graduate, “whereas the plays that are presented on Broadway are performed on Broadway, and economically, they make it difficult for the urban audience to come there to attend. I price my tickets so that my audience can see it. I bring the theater to the people, as opposed to making the people then come to the theater.”

Talbert says the traveling black plays do something else that the major Broadway shows don’t: Hire black actors. Over the years, the shows have provided steady gigs to actors on their way up, on their way down, or for performers looking to try something new.

Television stars like Sherman Hemsley of “The Jeffersons,” Lawrence Hilton Jacobs from “Welcome Back, Kotter,” and movie icons like Billy Dee Williams and Richard Roundtree have all worked in black stage shows. Musical artists like Brian McKnight, Morris Day, Ginuwine, Kirk Franklin and the late Gerald Lavert all got their theatrical chops on the black stage.

“Unless you want to play a kangaroo in 'The Lion King,' then you can be a black actor working, or, if occasionally, there’s a wonderful production like 'The Color Purple,' but they are few and far between,” Talbert said. “Black actors don’t work on Broadway.”

For Chestnut, joining the cast of “Love in the Nick of Tyme” offered a change of pace from the sexy leading man movie roles and an opportunity to recharge his batteries.

“I’d gotten into somewhat of a rut. I’ve done a lot of projects in similar type themes and playing the same type of characters,” he told “I wanted to get excited about the art of acting again, and this does that for me. Approaching theater -- something I’ve never done -- hones your skills, and you’re in front of a live audience and can’t make mistakes. All those elements combine to excite me. It’s a feeling I haven’t had in years.”

Chestnut politely sidestepped questions about critical complaints about the black shows, allowing Talbert to tackle them head-on. The playwright/producer says he and other black theatrical producers are giving the people what they want, just like Shakespeare did way back when.

“Shakespeare, who we hold in such high regard as the premiere playwright, performed his plays in front of people called ‘The Groundlings’ that would sit there in the theater and throw bottles, yell, and cuss and fuss at the stage so much so that they would then change the storylines to make it different,” Talbert said. “Theater was alive, it was interactive. That’s what we do. Theater that is alive and for the people.”

Monday, March 12, 2007

Apologies Become the Latest Legacy of Slavery

Thursday, March 08, 2007
By: Erin Texeira, AP National Writer

America is once again struggling to atone for slavery and its aftermath.

In a nation with an unquenchable need to analyze its racial past, there is now a fresh flow of contrition from public officials for the many wrongs of U.S. history.

Inspired by a resolution apologizing for slavery that Virginia legislators passed last month, Black lawmakers in Georgia said Thursday they plan to introduce a similar measure there. Maryland and Missouri also are discussing an apology. And so far, a white Memphis congressman has gathered 36 co-sponsors for a bill that, if passed, would bring an apology to the federal level.

The FBI announced last week it is actively reinvestigating about a dozen cases of blacks slain in the 1950s and '60s as possible civil rights violations. As many as 100 more cases are being considered for similar treatment.

"Much time has passed on these crimes," Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez told a news conference in Washington. "The wounds they left are deep, and many of them still have not healed."

It's been decades since these crimes were committed. And nearly 142 years since the Civil War ended and Congress ratified the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

Why are public officials making amends now?

Because revelations about the past are pushing some people to think about race in America in new ways. Plus, echoes of racial bias remain all too obvious, and politicians may be grasping for new ways to show concern.

Generations after the civil rights movement began, blacks generally remain poorer, less educated and more likely to be in prison than whites.

Many historians, political scientists and public policy experts argue that this is rooted in blacks' unhealed wounds from slavery, combined with widespread tactics during the century or so that followed to keep blacks from equal education, jobs and housing.

"This country is built on their (blacks') backs, so when you talk about some of the ills that we face now in society, I'm sure that some of it's got to trace back to that," said Maryland Sen. Nathaniel Exum, sponsor of his state's resolution, which will likely be voted on this month.

Sometimes a here-and-now incident casts a long shadow.

Since white comedian Michael Richards repeatedly used the n-word and referred to lynching in a rant last November, lawmakers in several cities have passed symbolic moratoriums on the racial slur once used by slave owners. New York City joined the group last week.

Sometimes an anniversary revives the past. On Tuesday, a ceremony in St. Louis marked the 150th anniversary of the Dred Scott case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a slave's attempt to sue for his freedom.

Modern research techniques also mean that history can come alive in a way that once was not possible.

Take the issue of personal ancestry, a particularly painful one for those blacks whose family ties to Africa were erased during slavery. Sophisticated research efforts, including DNA testing that can trace Americans' African roots, are reviving bonds to the continent - and, in some ways, keeping fresh the painful reminders of slavery.

When the Rev. Al Sharpton, a major civil rights activist, learned that his ancestors once were owned by the forebears of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, a staunch defender of racial segregation, he was clearly moved. He visited the graves of his slave ancestors in South Carolina on Monday, urging all blacks to explore their personal history despite "the ugly things it might reveal."

Now he's seeking DNA tests to see if he and Thurmond were blood relatives.

"When someone is handing you the actual papers of your blood relatives -- indentured servants' papers and the tax rolls of where they were property -- then it's no longer some objective, nebulous knowledge," Sharpton said.

Another factor driving the recent public displays of contrition is that, with much of the nation's racial history still being written, fresh revelations come every year.

A new book about widespread post-Civil War attacks on blacks, "Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America," by journalist Elliot Jaspin, is due out this month.

Several newspapers looked into their own coverage of civil rights and then apologized last year for making racism worse. Editors at Florida's Tallahassee Democrat wrote: "It is inconceivable that a newspaper, an institution that exists freely only because of the Bill of Rights, could be so wrong on civil rights. But we were."

The research increasingly shows that slavery, Jim Crow and racism were not, as once thought, confined to the South.

They were part of all of America from day one and were kept in place by some of the nation's most powerful -- government officials, big businesses, universities. Several U.S. presidents owned slaves. Slave labor helped build the U.S. Capitol and many other structures around the country.

That includes University Hall, the oldest building at Brown University in Rhode Island, according to a yearlong probe into the school's slavery links. The report found that the Brown family itself owned ships that transported stolen Africans, and profits from slavery helped found the university.

The main reason for such official complicity: The profits - economic and political - of 250-plus years of blacks' free labor and another century of black suppression were enormous. Most found it irresistible.

Today, some question whether public officials' apology resolutions mean much.

"What would it mean to vote against a resolution like this? Would it mean you were racially insensitive?" asked David Pilgrim, a sociologist at Ferris State University in Michigan. "Conversely, I'm not sure what it would mean that you were voting for it."

Some civil rights advocates want an official, federal "I'm sorry" for slavery from the president. It has never come, perhaps because this would raise the logical -- and thorny -- next question: How to repair the damage?

Opponents say that attempts to compensate for racial crimes through reparations would deepen racial divisions.

Pilgrim, who is also curator of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, hopes the current wave of atonement does the opposite.

"If you look at American history, it wasn't that long ago that you couldn't get the most powerful people in the country talking about slavery," he said. "What is healthy is not the (apology) resolutions but the process of coming to the resolutions. All the discussions and debates get people talking honestly about race."