Monday, September 20, 2010

Sex, Lies, Politics, Transpeeps and Polygraphs

As I constantly remind people, trans folks are part of the diverse mosaic of human life.

That means we'll find ourselves intertwined with and across a wide variety of human activity. We sometimes end up as actors playing a role in the great stage play we call life.

During this election cycle we have transpeople who are running for public office and have excellent chances to win. But in 1983 three African descended transwomen found themselves inserted as an issue in the middle of a heated Mississippi gubernatorial race between the state's attorney general Bill Allain and Republican candidate Leon Bramlett.

The 'Southern Strategy' was now over a decade old, but at the time in state and local level races denizens of the Deep South were still voting for Democratic candidates. In 1983 Mississippi's divorced popular attorney general Bill Allain was running to become the state's governor. Republicans were eager to break the century old Democratic hold on the Mississippi governor's mansion and show they were the new 'moral' political kids on the block with momentum in the state. They wanted Leon Bramlett to win and would do so by any mens necessary to help him.

So enter into this Southern fried political drama Devia Ross Holliday, 24 year old Nicole Toy Arrington, and 22 year old Donna Johnson.

Devia was an illusionist at an local Jackson GLBT club who when she wasn't at her primary job at the Walthall hotel. Nicole Toy Arrington had a dishwashing job at a local motel.

Devia and her housemates paid their bills by sometimes doing sex work on the local trans stroll, and one of their clients was alleged to be the Democratic candidate for governor. A Jackson cop named Randy Clark claimed he witnessed Allain talking to Donna Johnson in August 1983 on that Farish Street trans stroll.

GOP operatives supporting Bramlett got wind of the stories and hired detectives to investigate the rumors. It was the perfect volatile scandal mix of race and sex with a trans twist to it, and a detective with GOP ties soon got in touch with all three ladies and put them on his payroll.

Ross, Arrington, and Johnson were trotted in front of the media to make allegations that they had paid sexual relations with Allain more than 20 times. A polygraph test commissioned by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger appeared to buttress those claims. They then spent the next several weeks before Election Day 1983 being shunted between motels in Mississippi and Louisiana as their handlers sought to limit their media access.

"I'm no sexual deviate, and Leon Bramlett knows it!" Allain said as her denied the allegations. As he traveled to New Orleans to take a polygraph test to back up his denial (which he passed), his operatives went on the offensive to destroy the credibility of Holliday, Arrington and Johnson.

They went as far as to get an affidavit from the parents of Donna Johnson trashing their child by calling her a liar and thief.

On November 8 Bill Allain won the governor's race in a 55%-39% landslide anyway despite all the drama. Weary of being bounced from motel to motel, the trio returned to Jackson and recanted their stories shortly after Allain was inaugurated in January 1984.

The story receded from the headlines, and eventually got retold in two books, Mississippi Politics and Men Like That: A Southern Queer History.

Sadly, exactly ten years later on November 8, 1993 Devia Holliday was found dead in Jackson from a gunshot wound to the head in her Farish Street neighborhood.

Donna Johnson ended up in jail facing a murder charge due to an argument that unfortunately morphed into a stabbing death on January 7, 1984.

As for Nicole Toy Arrington neither book mentions what happened to her.

As for Bill Allain, he decided not to seek a second term as Mississippi governor and returned to his Jackson law practice.

But no one will forget the story of how three transwomen ended up memorably affecting a Mississippi governor's race.

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