Saturday, June 28, 2008

Congressional Blackout

This is a picture of the participants in Thursday's historic subcommittee hearing on transgender unemployment issues on Capitol Hill. Can you detect what's wrong with it?

What's wrong with this picture is that with the exception of Diego Sanchez, (second from the top) every other participant in it is white. There are no African-American transgender people testifying at this hearing.

Now, would you be happy if a historic hearing for transgender people happened on The Hill and your people weren't represented?

It is mind boggling for me to see that once again, a community that claims that we are one diverse bunch and that we're all in this together, puts together a historic hearing on unemployment discrimination, an issue that we African descended transgender people are intimately familar with and not one of us is at the table giving testimony about it.

This Congress now has 44 members of the Congressional Black Caucus who are wielding historic levels of power. It added another member earlier this month in Maryland's Donna Edwards. The majority whip is CBC member James Clyburn. Others have high seniority on various committees, or chair various committees and subcommittees. Oh yeah, there's some Illinois senator and CBC member who's the Democratic nominee for president.

Now I've read happy-happy joy-joy comments about how great this hearing was, what great work the Equal Sign org and Rep. Frank did in putting this together, how eloquent various people were, et cetera. I note these comments are all coming from peeps whose ethnic group was overwhelmingly represented at the hearing.

For those of us of African ancestry, all we experienced was a congressional blackout. There needed to be someone of African descent telling our stories, and no, Diego being the Latino transman at that table doesn't count.

While we all hope and pray for that day when we are all One America, the reality is that we aren't. Race permeates everything we do in this country. It's why the CBC, the CHC (Congressional Hispanic Caucus) and the Congressional Asian Pacific Islander Caucus exist. It's why I write and speak about race issues as part of my GLBT activist work.

I'm sure I'm going to hear the defensive spin over the next few weeks that 'the committee/Frank's office chose the speakers', 'we had a long, diverse list of speakers', 'HRC, NCTE and NGLTF didn't intentionally freeze out the African-American transgender community.'

Yeah, right.

If you were so concerned about having African-American representation on that panel, then why didn't y'all give the peeps at the National Black Justice Coalition a call? I do believe their headquarters is in Washington DC. You also had Earline Budd sitting there in DC as well. I think that transteen Rochelle Evans would have been happy to be flown in from Fort Worth to DC and tell her story about how hard its been for her to find employment and the blatant discrimination she's run into trying to find a job.

The point is that in the United States, no civil rights legislation passes without the CBC being on board with it. We have ten wavering members of the CBC getting tremendous pressure put on them by Hi Impact Leadership Coalition ministers in their districts (the negroid sellouts bankrolled by the Traditional Values Coalition).

An opportunity was lost in putting an African-American face to this problem. This also plays once again into the GLBT movement's ongoing PR problem in the African-American community that is exploited by the Hi Impact ministers and their like-minded friends. They are actively trying to split the coalition of African-Americans and the GLBT community, and trust me, this omission of our community will not only be exploited by them, but it has been noted by your African-American GLBT and non-GLBT allies(?).

While I'm happy the long rumored hearing happened and hope something positive comes out of this such as an inclusive ENDA, I'm not holding my breath based on the peeps who were behind it.

I'm also not happy about my people being dissed and ignored by the GLBT community once again.

Crossposted to The Bilerico Project


Zoe Brain said...

As I understand it... the committee were given 70 names to choose from, and they picked which 5.

But.. I'm cynical enough to believe that some hints were dropped as to which 5 to pick. Had the Congressional Black Caucus and National Black Justice Coalition been involved, or even made aware of the hearing, just maybe either you or Rochelle Evans might have been on the list, or maybe someone else of similar calibre. With a hint that there should be *some* Black involvement.

Blacks are what, 30% of the US population?

I'm glad I live in Australia, where we don't have your "peculiar institution", or rather, "peculiarly institutionalised race consideration". If a similar situation existed here, we might not have sistagirls and rae rae/fa'afahini in the "right" proportions, but they could just as easily be over- as under- represented, and no-one would really give the matter too much thought either way.

I'm sorry that sheer Bad Organisation gave you the shaft yet again. At least, I hope that's what it was. Given recent events in Tennessee, this was a screw-up in any event.

Nichole said...

African-Americans are census-ed at about 13% of the USA population, Zoe.

But the truly sad piece in all of this is that in the frican-American community trans people are census-ed at 0%. Blatantly untrue abd everyone knows that.

Monica makes an excellent point about visibility, and it's damned high-time that white TG people get it: there are lots of black TG people who are capable of having been a voice on that panel, yet, not one was chosen.

Monica or Rochelle would have been excellent choices, but they are hardly the only ones who would have been.

If African-American trans people are going to find some support in their ethnic community here, then they must start being represented in mostly white TG politcal/social groups. And the invites need to come from those orgs and the education needs to be directed at those orgs.

I'd start off on TG people from lower socio-economic statuses as well, but that would be a different topic.

As long as inclusive-orgs are not inclusive, then the movement sows the seeds of its own failure. Monica's post needs hearing, not defended against. The truth is what it is and no slick explanations by the folks at the table can change that.

Mercedes said...

Monica's right, this was a serious oversight. I'd like to think that it was unintentional, but politicos do tend to think of these things when contriving game plans. The only defensible argument I can see in favour of this is that they might have wanted to demonstrate discrimination solely on the basis of being trans, and not other factors (race, sex-trade work, etc.) Even then, I consider it seriously wrong to not have at least some acknowledgement of how discrimination can compound in this way.

Monica Roberts said...

There are plenty of African-American transpeople, and Rochelle is a prime example, who have experienced job discrimination and didn't turn tricks for a living.

As usual, the people putting it together didn't want to spend the time to do so.

I get sick of the white trans community throwing the 'prostitution' shade at African-American transpeople as a cover excuse to not include us in political events.

There are more than a few white transgender peeps who are involved in the world oldest profession as well.

The difference is, that white transpeople have balance in terms of your images. A transgender hooker is cancelled out by a white transgender lawyer or rocket scientist. You are not judged by the worst you produce, only your best.

What message did the community send to African-American transpeople Thursday by NOT having us at that table?

Mercedes said...

Whoa. I didn't mean to imply a connection between African-American transwomen and prostitution, only that there are multiple factors that compound discrimination. Being part-Native, I am sensitive to this, though I do also escape much of it.

I agree that there are many (likely a majority) of African-American transpeople who do not have current or prior experience in the sex trade, just as much as there are a significant number of white or white-looking (such as myself) women who do.

That said, I don't want to derail this conversation on this point, so I hope we can get back to the spirit of the original comment, which was meant with understanding, support and respect.

Nichole said...

I have to agree with Monica about "I get sick of the white trans community throwing the 'prostitution' shade at African-American transpeople as a cover excuse to not include us in political events.

There are more than a few white transgender peeps who are involved in the world oldest profession as well."

And the shade is thrown at all prositution in whatever form. It's especially tossed out on TS forums where there are invariably invidious comparisons made about "how respectable I am because I've never done that,"

But, it ain't simply thrown at Black TSes, So much for leaving the economic status angle alone. Sorry, but as a white woman, I have to say that most transitions I hear about are those that are conducted my well-employed, highly-insured and "respectable" white women and men in USA.

As far as "community" is concerned, Mercedes, a lot of that down here means class. Black women may be allowed into the club, but they need to have credentials often enough: high education and employment. For that matter so do white women, or Chinese or Japanese women.

I wish I had a dime for every "if you can;'t afford to go all the way you aren't really part of us" I have read and heard over the years.

Our community sorely needs to understand that "community" involves all. And if the higher-priced women and men are gonna look down their noses at those who are not so privileged, then "community" isn't gonna happen.

So, yeah, a great wake-up call, Monica. Let's hope this alarm is actually heeded.

Polar said...

I'm quite surprised you did not comment about the comments and questioning of Rep. Donald Payne near the end of the hearing. I rather enjoyed the discomfited looks on the Republican witnesses, as they fielded Payne's extremely subtle, yet leading, questioning. Well worth second and third looks.

I know you've lobbied Payne, and he certainly made his contribution to these hearing. Perhaps your past education of him was a more important part to this hearing than people realize.

Rosalyn said...

Can't say I'm surprised people of colour were not chosen to speak. After all that would have made sense because then there really would be representation of the country, let alone the community.

People of colour who are transexual or who are transgender seem to be considered negative factors for many of those, not of colour, working to get their rights.

It just seems that they believe if they paint the lily white face of the next door neighbour things will move along favourably.

I don't know maybe it's that thought people who wield the power will say, "hey look They're even more the same as us then not".

It was like they forgot that people of colour have faced discrimination before they even got to the point of accepting who they are and began their transition.

Or that they now face discrimination even more deeply then then others.

Or maybe that was the reason.

Maybe it's because there is a disproportion of people of colour in the prison system, because of the way police target one over the other.

Then of course there is the sex work theory. So many consider that's the only profession of colour people who are transexual or transgender choose to do.

And for that matter why not have a sex worker on that panel?

Is it because so many in the community have a greater hate of them then do the rest of society?

That they think others will look at the others on the panel as less people and maybe think those others too are sex workers?

Reminds me of the feminist movement in the 60s when they started to exclude women who loved women of of ignorance that others will think they too are lesbian.

I just think until all people or at least a wider range of members of the communities are included then it continues to be a shallow attempt. Incomplete.

If you want to represent the issues and why changes must be made to protect people in the transexual community and people in the transgender community then there needs to be diverse voices heard.

The issues faced by one isn't the same faced by all. People who are black, for instance, face huge discrimination within the black community at large as it is, without that extra discrimination from others.

I look at the hearings, as they are, as a positive first step but I think it could have been much better and would have been if the true diversity of the two communities could have been shown.

Monica Roberts said...

Back during the 1999 GPac Lobby Day Vanessa Edwards Foster and I were killing after the 'Meet The Congressman' breakfast for then-Rep J.C. Watts (R-OK). We were doing our post-mortem when the elevator stopped and Rep Donald Payne (D-NJ) boarded.

I greeted him, and he asked us how our lobby meeting went since he'd heard the tail end of our conversation as we boarded.

We ended up following him to his office, and got 30 uninterrupted minutes of US congressman's time.

I make it a point anytime I'm on the Hill lobbying CBC offices to stop in and say hello.

Monica Roberts said...

Mercedes, nothing personal.

But for the last ten years I have pointed out the issues that keep people of colr from participating in this movement. I've suggested solutions, pointed out how a lily-white movent looks to those of us who aren't white, and it seems like I'm talking to a fracking brick wall because they turn around and fall int6o the same old patterns of behavior.

In the wake of the GenderPac betrayal in 1999 we set up a multicultural transgender organization to represent the community called NTAC. It get trashed and criticized mercilessly and in 2003 a lily white org starts up called NCTE.

NTAC never got the honeymoon and support that NCTE has gotten, and it's probably because of the ethnic makeup of the group.

I also found it interesting that many of the people at that hearing were founding board members of NCTE.

The Roving Reporter said...

I remember when I was in college, we would have panels in which members of Lambda (the gay-straight alliance on campus) would ask questions from classes.

We had a black lesbian on the panel one time and people were so fascinated. I seriously believe that when people think of gay people, they don't think of minorities as being gay, lesbian, transgendered or even bisexual. It still amazes me to this day

Monica Roberts said...

I think that may be a part of it. There are folks that assume because of our socially conservative culture that Black GLBT people don't exist.

I remember an incident in 1986 when I was working for a check cashing place that the store next door to us hired an African-American transwoman to work there. My boss was amazed that there were African-American transwomen.

The fact is that we do have AA GLBT people. When you have events like this that have zero African-American representation, it feeds into that perception.

Since whites disproportionately hold the reins of power in this country, it is incumbent upon you to ensure that these events have representation of the ethnic diversity of our community and that as your allies, you consult with us to determine who those reps should be.

Polar said...

Monica Roberts said...

"Back during the 1999 GPac Lobby Day Vanessa Edwards Foster and I were killing after the 'Meet The Congressman' breakfast for then-Rep J.C. Watts (R-OK). We were doing our post-mortem when the elevator stopped and Rep Donald Payne (D-NJ) boarded.

I greeted him, and he asked us how our lobby meeting went since he'd heard the tail end of our conversation as we boarded.

We ended up following him to his office, and got 30 uninterrupted minutes of US congressman's time.

I make it a point anytime I'm on the Hill lobbying CBC offices to stop in and say hello."

Monica, you are being too modest, once again. It is my feeling that Donald Payne's line of questioning was based, at least in large part, on past lobbying by you. A review of last year's lobbying report bears that.

Monica Roberts said...

Vanessa and I did that. But that knowledge is being lost in the transgender community's ongoing efforts to whitewash (pardon the sarcastic pun) the fact that multicultural NTAC not only existed, but the multicultural organization hated on by much of the white transgender community laid the groundwork for much of what's happening now.

Nichole said...

Yes, we whites do indeed whitewash a lot. And as transpeople I think we can truly understand that if we simply make a very small effort.

We get 'disappeared' as well. I don't see a lot of difference, except that maybe I can give a bit more understanding to white cissexuals since most of our society really is, based on them.

Transpeople should put our whiteness aside long enough to see that we make people who are otherwise like us 'disappear as well.

It happens to me. I understand it. Why do I not only let it happen to you, but actively ignore that fact.

Zoe Brain said...

Ok, what can we do to make sure this particular screw-up doesn't happen again?

Let us at least be original in our mistakes, and not keep repeating the same old ones.

Ann Marie K said...

After reading for hours on the excerpts of the hearing, from beginning to end, I still wish I was born a citizen of Canada instead of this country. Due to the fact that I feel that the treatment of anyone of a diverse nature including trans people, no matter the ethnic background, are treated enormously better in the northern country and some others.

Alot of mistrust in some of the organizations involved in the hearings, trans representation, National Legislators and of who and how the selection of witnesses by those involved to do such, will linger on.

I also feel that there should of been more time adequately provided so that a appropriate number or more even number of voices could of been heard from several sectors of our community (The transgender Community). Such as, people like Monica R, Angela Brightfeather, Rochelle and many more. Why leave any part of our community behind?

What disturbed me most from even back in last November was the fact that once again segregation was the decision of the originators of the original bill HR2015, in many ways.

In final, I felt that, which Silvia Rivera Felt back at StoneWall, "The back lash continues on!"

Monica Roberts said...

Ann Marie,
There are Black Canadians who have posted here that have said otherwise.

I do give the Canadians major props for trying harder to clean up their problem moreso than their southern neighbor.

Check out a TransGriot post called 'Viola Desmond-Canada's Rosa Parks'

But i do agree with you i still find it disturbing they're still trying to push the separate bill.

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