It is time to recognize another part of history, June as National Pride Month
Indian-born Canadian Rupi Kaur quote, “How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.” Many of us can relate to this quote and especially in the upcoming month of June. The decision of the Saint John’s County Board of Commissioners to decline to recognize June as Pride month is a massive disappointment to many of us in the community.
There are many reasons individuals visit or relocate to Saint Augustine. Some of these reasons are not just because of the beach. Ponte Vedra, Neptune, Jacksonville, and Atlantic Beach exist among many of the other beautiful coastal beaches that run North in one direction and South in the other along A1A. Most people would agree they experience a shift in their metabolism as they draw nearer to the coastal line.
We live such busy and hurried lives that we avoid connecting most of the time, and we forget how to connect when we have the time. Saint Augustine is about connecting people to its’ city’s rich history, dating back 800 years or so ago. The city holds series of special events that locals, visitors, and tourists look forward to attending.
Saint John’s County Board of Commissioners has taken a pledge to keep the city’s history alive, interactive, and engaging. In their own words, “to provide memorable experiences for visitors, foster international economic development, and enrich the quality of life in our community.” Proceeds from the festivals and events go to charitable organizations; one of these is Flagler College’s Hospitality and Tourism Management Program.
Michael Gonchara, deputy editor and journalist for the New York Times Learning Network in a 2018 article, invited students to participate in a contest linking a topic they learned in class to a current news event. Gonchar wrote about the influential role connecting to history has in bringing current events into the classroom. In much of the same way, Saint Augustine connects people to its’ history.
It is difficult for anyone to appreciate or understand why we recognize Black Lives Matter or Constitution Day and Citizenship Day without learning about the history that led up to these events. Gonchar supports the study of history. He writes that it promotes critical thinking and connects people to share about their culture with others. He refers to this as a shared cultural literacy.
June is National Pride month, an essential part of Gay history and culture. What does this have to do with St. John’s county history? Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally, and others (LGBTQIA+) from this community didn’t just come about recently. We have been around for centuries. Learning about National Pride month connects us to the narratives of others, the history and issues affecting people today, and most importantly, sends a strong positive message showing support to the children, youth, families, and friends of the LGBTQIA+ community who live in and visit Saint Augustine.
Family and community acceptance builds healthy children, and families feel supported; ambivalent inter-generational biases burden children and youth. Worse yet, the inter-generational biases keep feeding the pipeline of negative messages and only amplify history repeating itself. It is time to revisit another part of history, recognizing June as Pride month.
Last year the HRO passed LGBT rights in Jacksonville. Last month I was invited to the Women’s Center’s Open Door celebration and given a personal tour of facilities by one of the board members who pointed out to me that they were supportive and all-inclusive of both LGBTQIA men and women despite the gendered bathrooms. She showed me two identical single-stall restrooms. One was for men, and the other was for women. They were informed that to meet the city’s code, the single stall bathrooms could not be gender neutral. It seemed odd given the fact that the HRO had passed. I took note to think about this at a later time. This afternoon, I went and reviewed the ordinances online which, by the way, was an incredibly tedious process. It seems some businesses including one I visited in downtown Jacksonville, Chamblin Bookmine, have gender-neutral single stall bathrooms. I decided to search the web instead. I came across this article.
“The law does not have any new requirements regarding bathroom usage.”
“Earlier this month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration released a set of guidelines regarding bathroom access for transgender workers. The guidelines recommend providing better access to options for transgender individuals with gender-neutral facilities.”
I’m not sure why the Women’s Center could not have single stall restrooms, but maybe this is one of those situations where the inspector was misinformed? I don’t know, but it all seems ridiculous to me. Can you imagine if we were required to have gendered single stall bathrooms at home? What about the campgrounds or art’s market? We seem to accept these gender-neutral bathrooms just fine, but we can’t or won’t allow the ones inside a building.
When we look at what other cities report throughout the U.S.A., we will see a disparity with data for LGBT murders – if it is disclosed at all.
LGBT people are often targets of organized abuse from religious extremists, paramilitary groups, neo-Nazis, extreme nationalists and others, as well as family and community violence, with lesbians and transgender women at particular risk (United Nations, 2011, December 15).
The United Nations first began collecting data – Worldwide – on trans and homicides in 2011. The United Nations gets involved when death rates of a class and subclass of people meet the definition of genocide.
In 2013, the FBI began recording hate crimes motivated by gender and gender identification biases — such as, attacks on transgender people. Crimes motivated by gender identification rose from 31 in 2013 to 114 in 2015, according to FBI reports (CNN.com, 2017, January 12).
Genocide: the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.New Oxford American Dictionary.
“the discrepancies of de jure versus de facto practices underline the need for systematic training, especially of police, correctional personnel, teachers, healthcare workers and the judiciary, to understand the rights and the situation of transgender people.” transrespect-transphobia.org
So far we have a current count of 27 trans females of color who have been reported murdered in 2016. This does not account for all the other transcides. We have barriers that skew the data. (1) The media misgendering trans-identified victims (2) Misgendering by police in homicide, coroners and health care professionals when names on the birth certificates and or driver’s licenses do not match the outer appearances of the victim (3) Family request that the person is not identified by their preferred identity.” Dani Castro, M.A., M.F.T., Project Director, Center of Excellence for Transgender Health, UCSF.
The way we use language matters a great deal when discussing the transgender and gender variant population. More importantly, the LGBT community does not exist on the JSO site, while many classes do, these demographics do not include same-sex households or LGBT standing in socioeconomics.
In a 2013 report, put out by the National Coalition of Anti Violence Programs, 72% of homicide victims in LGBT related hate crimes were transgender women of color. This risk increases with intersectionalities; race, religion, and gender. People of color, especially those, who are trans female, run the highest risk for homicide.
Remarks made by some allies that we do not include the LGBT population because they do not fall under the umbrella for hate crimes is misleading. Since when does a demographic, such as some single households, need the subordinate class to qualify for protection against hate crimes before including this class in demographics?
The focus of courts remains on isolating individual racists, determining their racist intent and punishing them, while disregarding mani-festations of systemic racial subordination such as substandard housing, education, and employment and the widespread incarceration of people of color. Chicano – Latino Law Review page 46 Volume 21:38
Dean Spade points out that Mathew Shepherd’s murder in Wyoming drew media and national attention “while historical specificities of geography, nationality, race and class were obscured.” Chicano – Latino Law Review page 48 Volume 21:38
Spade reminds us that months before Shepard’s murder, a black trans woman who was murdered in Baltimore never “garnered” the attention of media or nationally. Spade writes “The newsworthiness of “Matthew Shepherd” is testament to value placed on white life-even gay white life-and the disposability of people of color in the United States.” Chicano – Latino Law Review page 49 Volume 21:38
One of the reasons some of us have struggled with the ally campaigns is because as a class we are left in the shadows and listen to the erasure and silencing of the subordinate class censored when seeking protection. The reasons range from Not looking presentable and convincingly enough to pass as male or female. Insisting on forcing the binary presentations as a standing rule. Those in privileged classes are more likely to persuade the political agendas of those who serve our communities. The disparities affecting the intersectionalities of the LGBT class won’t disappear when institutions fail to discuss the issues within their own contexts.
In “A Critique of ‘Our Constitution is Color-Blind’ Neil Gotanda” Spade includes much of Gotanda’s writings. When women do not have access to birth control or abortion, their autonomy is erased, especially when they are women of color. The systemic regulations of gender, race, and sexuality determine social constructs and protections of various classes.
We are dealing with differences in classism. Historically we have failed to see it unfold when we have privilege as white people, but even more so, we fail to recognize this privilege as cisgender heterosexual or gay and lesbian people.
Classism determines who gets to use the bathroom.
The bathroom is a huge issue for anyone who perceives transgender people as threats.
We must change the way society immediately wants to “fix” what they perceive as a “problem” by voting against our better interests.
We are not looking for a fix. We are looking for protection. Worldwide, the trans community is most at risk for homicides and in particularly with trans females of color. What does this mean for the way society views male roles? Does society punish those who are fluid in their maleness? Do we punish the male child for being effeminate? Do we blame the parent? What do we do with blame? Where do we put the blame? Do we displace the blame back on society? Can we say that classism is at the root of these issues? What about Colonialism? Before Colonialism, indigenous groups expressed and lived with gender fluid identities in peace and harmony.
We saw we heard, we felt every word cast against us in the form of accusations at the 2012 hearings on the HRO. Pedophilia …, bestiality …
The bathroom issue has included these horrific accusations and has caused harm to people. Our fate hinges on writing public policy to include language critical to human rights, or we give up our rights to gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation. We need to stand by and address hate spewed speeches and practices or they go unfettered: and call for consequences. But, even if these rights go into law, we still have much work ahead. We will continue to receive incoming reports on trans suicides and homicides.
We heard from the Florida Family Policy Council at the hearings during the 2012 HRO.
They are against the Florida Competitive Workforce Act which would offer protections.
We must stand in solidarity and continue to educate on cultural competency and talk openly about classism and colonialism. We look at efforts put forth by others as an improvement, which can give us a false sense of security, such as, failing to recognize pinkwashing at the cost of our community. Where were these entities yesterday when we needed them? As soon as there is an opportunity to make money, there is an opportunity to get in on the action. Is it then really about our rights? Politicians and anyone with business acumen would be hard pressed to pass up bills that could potentially increase profits; hinging on through whose lens we are looking. Some would say that it is a start in the direction towards inclusivity. How inclusive is it when some of these not-for-profit organizations taut they care about LGBT people fail to put into practice what they preach?
In Jacksonville, FL downtown’s First Baptist church has influenced many of its congregants, some of whom were city council members during the 2012 Human Rights Ordinance and who flat-out voted against it. Who benefits from the economic decisions that support conservative climates vs. liberal climates? We continue to fight for rights despite the victory in 2017. We fight over if we get rights then others will lose rights in agreeing to our freedoms. Activists uncover truths, take incredible risks and sometimes at the cost of incarceration or deportation. The list of fighting for rights is endless. We are paving the way for the future to improve the lives of all generations and some of us have a different sense of how this landscape looks. The fight for fairness will always be lifelong for many people while opportunistic for others.
‘Society’ in the New Oxford dictionary lists people living in a particular country or region and having shared customs, laws, and organizations. We have biblical interpretations manipulated by those to suit their biases – stigmatizing populations. Stigma drives fear. Fear drives people to behave in irrational ways, sometimes fully supported by mainstream society or those serving in civic and corporate leadership positions, who have very little understanding outside of their own biased narratives. The passing of laws to protect LGBT people hinges on enforcing them. We know that in some parts of the country psychologists continue treatment modalities to reverse a child’s “sexual orientation” or “gender identity/expression” known as Reparative Therapy. We now know that Reparative Therapy is damaging to the psyche of people: hard to argue the statistics that include reports of suicide. California was the first State to outlaw Reparative Therapy. According to HRC, “California, New Jersey, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have passed laws to prevent licensed providers from offering conversion therapy to minors, and at least 18 states have introduced similar legislation” (http://www.equalityfederation.org/2016/02/3506/).
CNN.com (2015) published an op-ed piece titled The fascinating if unreliable, history of hate crime tracking in the US. “Since the data collection began, the FBI has published hate crime statistics from 1996 to, most recently, 2015. In 2015, there were 5,818 hate crime incidents reported, the majority of which were biased toward race and ethnicity. There were about 340 more hate crimes in 2015 than in 2014.”
Even within our own LGBT borders, we experience stigma as trans people: soundtracks familiar to anyone experiencing any type of shame. Our goal is to affect change so that individuals do not have to live in fear or seek protection. Our children and youth need opportunities to share their lived experiences without shame; live authentically as who they are in life. We need to talk about gender and sex-rearing assignments tied into the binary models of male vs. female, limiting the role models we offer young children. We also risk displacing intersex children. We need to talk about more than just male and female gender and move beyond the binary rules for gender assignments. We have a disconnect between communities of people who are different from us. We share commonalities within our communities until it is about our sexual orientation and identities and expressions outside of binary roles.
The standards by which our children live doesn’t always match our ideologies, and we freak out without clearly understanding what drives our fears.
Is it any wonder why we are hesitant to Come Out when there is a risk in doing so? It is understandable that individuals Coming Out may need specialized care and protections to spare a life.
According to the WILLIAMS INSTITUTE report, (2019) 57% of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals experience isolation from their families.
Statistics on transgender and gender non-conforming people are directly taken from the FINDINGS OF THE NATIONAL TRANSGENDER SURVEY:
50-54% are bullied at school, 63-78% encounter physical or sexual violence in school; 50-59% encounter harassment at work and discrimination; 64-65% face physical or sexual violence in the workplace while, 60% are refused care in the healthcare system; 57-61% are disrespected and harassed by law enforcement officers while 60-70% encountered physical or sexual violence, 69% are homeless.
We cannot underrate the person’s Coming Out journey, and we cannot afford to stay insensitive and closed off to information, data and research if we are ever to live in a civil society. We cannot hope to see crime rates drop in homicides until we are open to other cultures.
Children need space to figure out who they are without shame – so not one gay, trans or intersex person should have to fight for having a human right. Anything less is dehumanizing.
The type of information in getting the human rights ordinance pass at city council is critical.
Are we presenting packaged language in getting whatever we can to pass to worry about the rest later? Black Lives Matter is a compelling title. In an article by Rose Hackman, (2015, June 26) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/26/how-white-americans-can-fight-racism “‘I am not interested in white allies. What we need are co-conspirators’, Feminista Jones, a 36-year-old social worker, and writer shouted into a bullhorn” during a rally and protest on behalf of Black Lives Matter among a group of 100 mourners who gathered in solidarity over the massacre that took place in Charleston in June of 2015. Jones supports solidarity and does not advocate placing the focus of these issues on the privileged group. She is clear that co-conspirators need to stand up for the black community as much as we are clear that we need co-conspirators to stand with us and speak our language, use our preferred pronouns and break down the language, so it understood by those who must cast a vote; not tightly packaged as fully inclusive without breaking this down. As Dean Spade said in an interview “The seduction of legal equality appears to be very significant in certain strains of LGBT politics, regardless of the availability of critical understanding of its limits.”
Unfortunately, just because our rights got voted in, doesn’t mean we don’t have work ahead of us in addressing the need for an all-inclusive language.
A human rights ordinance bill with language “fully inclusive” does not guarantee protection for LGBT people. Back in 2014, during a PFLAG meeting with local candidates in Jacksonville, we learned that the language fully inclusive altered the vote once the candidates understood what this meant; They changed their vote once they realized that it meant passing rights for gender identity and expression. It was clear that they had very little understanding about gender identities and expression. We know they have very little statistical data from which they base their biased views. They are not looking at transgender and gender non-variant murder rates any more than they are paying attention to the suicide rates and attempted suicide by youth. We know that our city does not extrapolate data reports of the LGBTQIA population for homicides and death by suicides. We must expect better data collecting practices and do something with this information to reduce crime and address deaths by suicide.
Our work is to replace presumptions that stigmatize people, to continue educating on cultural competency to help people understand and respect differences so we can live in truth. We want to expand roles and move away from insisting that binary identities must match the sex assignments at birth. In closing; We need trans-inclusive spaces.
THE NEUROSCIENCE BEHIND
WHEN WE LOSE CONTROL
While some of us have expressed how we feel over the outcome of this election, others have offered support to their community, taking an active role in joining groups in solidarity. Others lash out at anyone who disagrees with their statements and actions. We have the right to feel upset, angry, and downright concerned over the welfare of many people. This election has served as a trigger for riots, gatherings for support, and rallies.
A loss of hope that feels like death can bring out the ugliness in people. This election has brought out the worst in people from both sides of the spectrum.
Our brains literally go haywire when we meet a loss of this magnitude. The neurotransmitters that control the part of our brain that operates logic misfires rapidly once stress sets in. The release of large amounts of corticosteroids (the army that fights to get us to feel better) serves as mediators to balance the stress response to grief. In the meantime, we respond with emotion and a lot of impulses, until the balance sets in overtime with the help and support of others or sometimes as the stress abates. We say things we ordinarily would never say when our hearts are well, and our heads are clear.
We have seen, heard, and read how people behave across the country, some with a sense of entitlement, others scared and uncertain of what their future holds.
Those with a sense of entitlement, feel empowered to lash out without fear of reprisal. Those who fear the worst, react because of past negative experiences. Everyone is at war. An invisible wall exists.
During grief, many things happen within us when we lose control. The loss of power causes some of us to lash out and ‘let go” as in “letting go” of all those pent-up emotions. We will resort to whatever weaponry is available to take back this loss of power and in this case, hate speech or as reported by media, physical violence against others. Our ability to reason is frozen, while our emotional warfare, such as fear, hate, and resentment, override our logic and our ability to stay grounded. Effective communication is essential if we are to remain civil during this discourse. In the world of good grief, when working with dying patients, families and friends are collectively anchored by one pivotal point, to stay rooted. This one crucial point is caring enough to stay close at hand to those dealing with loss. This means standing by to bear witness to all types of behavior as we remain connected to that person. This isn’t always possible, hinging on many kinds of circumstances, and this is when we see people disconnect and break away, while others seek support. There isn’t any right or wrong way to grieve, except when we cannot take back what we said, did or didn’t do. In the world of grief, we see some people, including the person who is dying, fall apart. We have heard the parties say some awful things to one another and about one another, we see people who are a master of stealth, wrapped in a blanket of anger, act untouched by the words and actions of others. I just hope at the end of all of this that some of us can stay friends.
Grief can bring out the ugliness in people, and sometimes we have to recognize this. I am not excusing violence, hateful speech, attacks on another human being, putting up with condescending behavior, lies, or displays of a lack of concern for our welfare. I am talking about what is occurring among ourselves, those of us in line with one another on the outcome of this election. As a post-WWII baby, who grew up in Europe, I too, as many of you, am very concerned for our welfare. I hear the slut-shaming and see the posts of Melania Trump’s modeling photos by those from within my community. They justify their outrage at the outcome of this election. Slut-shaming sends a strong message to all female-bodied people, young and mature alike, about women who pose nude for a living are of little value and non-deserving of respect. It is denigrating to girls and women and tears away at the very core of a women’s right to choose what she does with her body. Spewing this kind of hateful speech directed at Melania Trump by those from the LGBT community isn’t any better than those who attack us with statements that we practice necrophilia and bestiality. Many of us in the trans community or the LGBT community have been referred to perjoratively just for who we are. Those of us who have fought for human rights, continue to uphold the importance of human rights. I am taken back by some of the reactions of those from my community who stood up for human rights, their rights, only to turn around to behave as badly as those who denied their rights.
Grief can bring out the ugliness in people. I hope that in the end, we can stay focused and civil.
We are so bent on role assignments. Who exactly doles out these roles? Well, usually it is the doctor. Dr. Stephen Rosenthal, a Pediatric Endocrinologist at Children’s UCSF Benioff in San Francisco, stated
“We are basically given one of two sex rearing assignments when we are born. Male or female.”
Parents don’t stop to think about the fact that they choose their child’s gender based on their infant’s genitalia. Parents don’t realize that there is a difference between the gender of a child versus the sex of a child. They think of these as one and the same. Parents raise them as boys or girls as opposed to just raising children. Most of the time, parents are proud to know the sex rearing roles given to them, hence; boy vs. girl, without knowing that this is what has taken place. They often are excited, have already known for months in advance, prepared the nursery and primarily written a script for their child’s gender role. They feel relatively competent in understanding the differences between a boy and a girl and do not require any additional study or test taking, that is until their child turns out to be a trans child. The child whose brain is genuinely different. Not warped. Not sick. Not weird. Just different from the cisgender child. Parents now look for textbooks, help, and support. Parents who have raised trans kids can attest to this. At the end of the day, the child is a child and really not much different except in their identity and expression.
The parents of trans kids who choose the happy child over the sad child, win. There is nothing more heart wrenching than not feeling as if your child doesn’t belong within this shell and having to perform just for those who cannot accept your child for who they are. What is worse, is not knowing if your child will ever be happy or safe. Parents who accept their trans kids seek out other parents of trans kids, and the discussions are paramount to their family structure and practices.
The families of cisgender children certainly have their struggles, but never have to think about bathroom issues or dress code (except for those with a disability) entirely in the way families of transgender children do.
I am trans and queer. I have beautiful children and grandchildren and a partner who “gets me.” But who are we really? We are not acting. We are these very kids who grew up having to conform to societal social constructs of having to be one of the two binary ideologies and when we no longer could? Well …, everyone has their own story. Their personal experiences. Some not so good. But, when parents support their trans kids, it is the most beautiful expression of love a parent could ever impart to their child. They are not our possessions. They are gifts. There is nothing more fulfilling than to have a child who expresses themselves in the image of love. Why is it we want to shame them? It is so terribly painful. It is wrong to make someone feel less just because they are different. We get too hung up on what others think when we should really focus more on the well-being of our children.
What about our brains?
We have this magnificent organ we seem to know so little about. Most of us don’t give it much thought, and we just assume that this organ is somehow pre-programmed based on our genitalia. We forget that this organ is a muscle, and among many other exciting features, it operates as a message center delivering mail via its neurons. Now for starters, I took this information directly from article.mercola.com.
1. Just know this…, “It weighs approximately 3 lbs or so. It contains a hundred billion neurons: 1000 to 10,000 synopsis for each neuron.”
2. “Our brain is 75% water. Blood vessels cover 100,000 miles in our brain. It is the fattest organ in our bodies and contains at least 60 percent fat.” article.mercola.com
3. “Within the first year, our brains grow three times its size. This means that the developing brain never stops working.” Why? Because we continue to make neurons so long our brains are kept active. Our brains continue developing all the way into middle age. I could go on and on about our brains, but I am going to stop right here with this statement. There is a reliable connection between our brains and bodies when we are cisgender. However, when we are not, there is a disconnect. Much research has been done in this field for many different reasons that I won’t go into for the sake of keeping this related to the issue.
There are children as young as two who insist that they are not the sex they were assigned at birth. Think about this for a moment. We are given roles based on our sex assignment. According to Rosenthal, “…, we are given sex rearing assignments, but how do you assign a role?” when talking about gender variant children and transgender children.
I think most parents raise their children within the binary social structure, while a few may have children who vacillate between the two and some parents might be okay with exceptions to these rules, but may worry when these become more of the norm. Joel Baum, Senior Director of Development and Family Services at Gender Spectrum, stated: “We have too many rules and not enough roles.”
Why is it that we only offer two? We have so many more to offer.
If children turn out to be really great at something, most parents would be proud. So …, does gender dysphoria have anything to do with roles? Does gender dysphoria have more to do with fitting in and being accepted as one or the other and does this affect their gender role? Does gender dysphoria ascribe to other sets of explanations? How do these children know they are different?
4. “Psychobiologist, Antonio Guillamon in Madrid, Spain at the National Distance Education University and neuropsychologist Carme Junqué Plaja of the University of Barcelona—were able to show through MRI’s that the brain structures of the trans individuals were more aligned with respects to their innate gender than from those of their natal gender. The results were published in 2013.”
Much research is needed and remains ongoing to try to solve the many questions parents have. Some even blame themselves or each other, groping for straws in trying to come to terms with their transgender children.
5. “Scientists explain it in simple terms. “Guillamon says. ‘It is simplistic to say that a female-to-male transgender person is a female trapped in a male body. It’s not because they have a male brain but a transsexual brain.’” There are other types of research conducted in the Netherlands with the use of MRI and hormones with pheromone properties and to review this information just select the listed site included in this write-up.
What about intersex children? There are so many variances of intersex. Some overt while others are not identified until much later in life. Sometimes when the couple is unable to get pregnant, for instance. How will we treat these individuals when they don’t quite look the part?
Why do we get so sideways with the transgender issue? We have more information now than we have ever had before. Should we not be thankful for this? We are more educated now on this subject than even a decade ago. Don’t we want our children to be happy? Does it really matter? These are our upcoming stars in life who will turn out to be politicians, doctors, attorneys, brick masons, performers, teachers: the list is infinite. They will make the world a better place. A place where everyone may have a seat at the table without having their gender policed.
In an article titled Where did the phrase ‘Come out of the closet’ come from? By Arika Okrent, Editor-At-Large for The Week, Okrent covers the history of this expression. She writes, “The phrase was borrowed from the world of debutante balls, where young women ‘came out’ in being officially introduced to society. The phrase ‘coming out’ did not refer to coming out of hiding, but to joining into a society of peers.” http://arika okrent the week
I remember being interviewed for Coming Out Day: in reflecting upon the experience, I now know better than to succumb to notions, as the title implied, that I was “hidden” all these years. Coming Out was a term I used; I did not have a clear understanding during those earlier years until I embarked on a documentary of which, for the past four years, included 57 interviews: parents of trans children and trans youth; gender therapists and endocrine specialists, attorneys, and educators. I began photographing LGBT people, allies, and couples back in 2010. I came to a much more meaningful understanding of the Coming Out term over time. It is a term used in many groups, but not necessarily for the reasons we think.
Every Coming Out scenario is an announcement, anticipatory of how the receiver will react. For many, it is minus the send-off of balloons and parties. It runs the risk that people may do terrible harm to us or anyone privy to our announcement once we declare something about ourselves that falls outside of societal norms. Our sexual orientations or gender expressions and identities are not regarded by mainstream society as part of growth and development and, therefore, a natural part of life. Some cultures view us as ill suitable and of immoral character, and we are even condemned to death in certain parts of the world for not adhering to societal rules.
Every human being encounters growth and development right up through the end of life. Who we are at age ten is not who we are at age 80.
The questions some of us receive are endlessly predictive and too intrusive and often awkwardly posed by those who are curious.
It is the curious, intrusive, and awkward person who develops levels of sensitivities about trans issues and differences in each of us. In turn, their questions tell us much about them – the cisgender people in our world.
The Coming Out process for LGBT people is about our journey across our lifespan and isn’t always about our sexual orientation, while for some of us, it may start this way: it isn’t all of what makes up our fabric. For others, it is about identities and expressions, which define who we are on this journey: a self-examining journey, more about introspection and finding our place in the world as trans people.
Many of us work through a process, unfolding layers that define who we become over time due to exposure, experience, and education. For others, it is self-discovery, vacillating between two solidified points across a bar of identities and sexual orientations. Sexual orientations, gender identities, and expressions – outside of the socially ruled model – determines our struggles ahead.
It isn’t as if we awaken some morning to announce our identities or sexual orientations. It isn’t that we expect a celebratory event. Coming out is eased for some individuals by those who welcome diversities: for others, it results in a neglectful and sometimes harmful set of occurrences, forced under the guise of an invite to a dinner table – shaming us – just as if cornered on the school ground by bullies.
There is something about announcing our Coming Out that is liberating. It is why Coming Out monologues are narratives for the LGBTQIiA. It owns who we are as people as we stand in solidarity, a way of coming together on common ground. Our experiences vary; yet, we fit under this one umbrella of many types of sexual orientations, identities, and expressions.
We want parents educated and not fall under the pressures of the stigma that coerce them to rewrite their children’s scripts in the image of an insufficient binary world where they grew up. We need more role models outside of the binary ones. We need trans and intersex spaces where those who are trans-identified or intersex can politicize our positions from our experiences and perspectives. We need the support of everyone, including those within our LGBTQIiA borders, and in turn, we must support one another.
Let us celebrate the expansive landscape of those who make up this beautiful and colorful fabric. It is time we transform who we are in how we react to those who Come Out through narratives that should feel celebratory – not shameful to us, our families, friends, and communities.
To some, colleges and universities are “ivory towers” isolated from the larger society. A closer look shows that this country’s academic institutions are reflections of our broader community, struggling with the same social issues and prejudices. Lorri L. Jean, Executive Director, National Gay, and Lesbian Task Force.
The Spinnaker, a News Source from the University of North Florida, released an article reporting an incident which involved a transgender student who was assaulted and verbally threatened by a male in a campus bathroom. The report red-flagged the failure of the UNFPD to release a Clery report. The incident took place February 6 of this year and was reported to the UNFPD on February 7th.
It isn’t unusual to hear that police are poorly trained in handling cases of LGBT assaults nor rare to hear of agencies, such as Victims Advocacy and LGBT groups reporting the way these types of incidents (as what happened February 6) are often minimized or dismissed. The article stated that Chief Strudel’s response was “it is rare, and therefore, we aren’t going to do anything about it.” However, there were concerns expressed by Strudel that his statements were taken out of context when I spoke with him this afternoon. As someone who works as an advocate, activist and photojournalist on LGBT issues, my first reaction in reading this statement in the Spinnaker, was “Is this an accurately recorded statement?” My second reaction was to seek clarification since any incident involving an assault on campus would warrant a Clery report. If you aren’t aware of what a Clery report is, know that it is a set of federally mandated guidelines for universities. The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (20 USC § 1092(f))is the landmark federal law, originally known as the Campus Security Act, that requires colleges and universities across the United States to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. The law is tied to an institution’s participation in federal student financial aid programs and it applies to most institutions of higher education both public and private. The Act is enforced by the United States Department of Education. Clerycenter.org
Both Title 9 and the Clery report serve to protect students on campuses, so to have guidelines in place and not follow the protocols would be an act of non-disclosure and not help in the best interest of the population who are most at risk for hate crimes. Strudel denied that he stated that the case was not a hate crime and in fact, insisted that he kept having to correct the reporter. Strudel noted that the reporter took things out of context. A similar complaint by Kaitlin Legg, when I spoke with her earlier this afternoon, was that she had to repeatedly correct the reporter on some statements taken out of context. Legg is acting director of the LGBT Resource Center.
According to the article, the cameras were not checked by the campus PD. Strudel stated that initially when the report came in on February 7, the day after the crime, some of the details were not available, such as where the offense took place nor the name of the victim. Once the PD received this information the Communications sector on campus reviewed the footage. According to Strudel not all the cameras on UNF campus are updated; some are around 7 years old and are analogs and clarity is an issue. Dr. Thomas Serwatka, VP at UNF, emphasized the concerns he and President John Delaney had regarding the delay in releasing the Clery report and investigated the falling out with the campus procedure as soon as they learned of the article in the Spinnaker. Strudel stated that he recognized that he should have released this report immediately, regardless of not having all the information and felt he was protecting the student. Serwatka noted that UNF does not tolerate hate crimes nor non-disclosures of these incidences and are implementing protocols to ensure that procedures are followed regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity and expression of the individual. The UNFPD is now executing the process for all cases of assaults and had released the crime report later this afternoon. News coverage on First Coast News took place this evening at 11 p.m on the published crime report.
Language is everything. In its absence, expressions and body language, along with audible expressive sounds, assist us in understanding context within a framework of communicating with others. I hope to shape our opinion of words we choose, as well as labels, to which we attach ourselves. When I first heard the word “Straight Allies” my head went into a spin. I understood the good intentions behind the group who stand up for gay and lesbian rights, but I struggled with this title. Why? I struggled because it refers to sexual orientation rather than having the moral courage to state clearly the “who” or the “what.” I am not saying that anyone who is a Straight Ally is not morally courageous. In fact, I think this is the reason why some of us who have wondered about the title, do struggle with it. I know some of the Straight Allies, and I know they are courageous and do wonderful things for the LGBT community. However, their title implies that they are allies to themselves rather than allies to the LGBT community. This was a safe and full proof marketing strategy and not risky. Advocates and activists take many risks in calling out the wrong and in naming the cause.
I had a discussion not that long ago with a friend of mine who is Trans – like me – and we talked about the frustration of how we consistently are overlooked and overshadowed by those who only think of LGBT in the context of “straight” versus “gay.”
We both had a rather misfortunate experience participating as part of a coalition and just in everyday life, in coming up against individuals who have a poor understanding and generally are ignorant when it comes to gender identity. It was disappointing to realize that the Straight Allies didn’t really comprehend the significance of this label and that it was misleading to the public. If I lived in a cartoon world – which we know doesn’t really exist and I replaced the words with LGBT – then, pulled out my remote control and selected “rewind,” the group may not have been as successful. It would have been wonderful if they could have, as individuals, chosen to make more profound statements such as “I stand up for Transgender individuals because …” or “I stand up for Gays and Lesbians because of…”. Perhaps some have done this while others definitely have not named for whom they stand, which brings me around to another point, that it is imperative we continue to educate on the subject of transgender identities.
We do not live in a cartoon world. I do get it. I think the intention behind this label was for a group of straight individuals to name themselves as a collective group who stand up for the LGBT as a way to show solidarity. The problem with this label is that it comes across divisive; “Straight versus Gay” and in reality some of the transgender individuals are straight. So where do they fit in?
It is too late to really do much about it since the title has already been embraced. I am shedding light on the title and hoping to effect changes in attitudes when those of us who express differences and to educate on the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity. The correlation between sexual orientation and gender identity is individual and very separate from each another.
I recently had met over coffee with a Urologist, Dr. Judy Herring, who gives TedX talks about Gender. Her Ted Talks are insightful, and she leaves us holding one thought “Do we really need labels based on our genitalia?”
Check her out. Judy Herring “Gender Bound: Lessons from the World Between.” In the meantime, I appreciate any efforts put forward by anyone who stands up for my rights, my trans identity and simply for being a decent human being in helping in ways they are comfortable and with the willingness to learn about LGBTQIA along the way. Oh … the “A” in this acronym stands for asexual; another type of sexual orientation and not an ally.
Aristotle once said, “To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.” nptrust.org
This is a case in point for those of us who – not only do gratis work but – who also help fund work. When we speak out as Philanthropists expressing concerns that end up being dismissed, we realize that our concerns are not taken seriously. So, we ask ourselves, “do we continue to support an organization whose leadership dismisses our concerns, or do we affect change in addressing these concerns privately and when this fails, then publicly?”
As an Activist, Philanthropist, and Advocate, I can only share my experience working on a project for elderSource. The PhotoVoice project comprised of six participants. I tried to remain faithful to the participants, but this was not without challenges. I witnessed how others, who like me, expressed sentiments of not being treated with respect or whose concerns were dismissed.
The gratis work and amount of hours I and my intern put into this project to uphold the authenticity of what the LGBT elders voiced was not valued any more than the participants’ contributions, as evidenced in the end. The leadership cared about was their funding, not the profound statements made by three participants – all on film – all very compelling – rolled out in one statement (Precarious Legal System). Leadership argued that a statement such as this would place their organization at risk of losing funding.
(1) The statement “Precarious Legal System” was made and disputed by the leadership.
One of the participants (near the end of the project right before the exhibit) passed away. The participants had come to know her in all the months we worked closely with them. We suggested a postscript in her honor and as a way to celebrate her contribution as a valuable member of society. She was our one and only trans woman in the group.
(2) Postscript was initially rejected.
The reason that was given for rejecting the postscript? It would take away from all the other participants’ stories and overshadow the voices of the others, even though her voice was a part of this project.
I worked hard, helping the leadership realize in a one-on-one discussion at my studio that this participant had worked equally as hard throughout this project. To not have a postscript in her honor would be a dishonor.
The statement “Precarious Legal System” was placed on the wall of the exhibit at MOCA.
(3) Despite the rights for creative control written in my job description, the statement was shrunk down to a size that conflicted with directives I had given. I was never informed and did not know about the alteration until I arrived at the exhibit’s opening.
(4) I also received the directive, after reaching a compromise, to keep the postscript of the trans woman to one page.
The exhibit was to travel to Baker County, an oppressed area where topics such as LGBTQIA are controversial. We were initially informed that this project would not pose any problems. We were given space in their conference room and hallway right outside of the conference room.
(5) My colleague and I traveled to Baker County’s Health Department where we were informed that they were in a meeting; elderSource and the Director at the County Health Department all agreed ahead of time to remove the trans woman from the project, despite earlier emails confirming my role and time of arrival.
(6) Rather than stand by their promise to give voice to all participants – and honor terms throughout the traveling of this exhibit – they agreed to erase the trans woman from the project in favor of the organization’s self-interests. In doing so, they devalued the human being – now -deceased and unable to defend herself as one of their participants – like all the others – was informed that her voice mattered.
The act of trans erasure sent a strong message of non-acceptance and rejection to our trans community.
When we asked for a list of their board members, which was not available online, we received only one name.
(7) The President of elderSource’s Board was sent a letter addressing all of my concerns.
(8) The Board sent a response that I felt was condescending and served as a way to shut those of us up by returning the funding to the foundation.
(9) The leadership announced they would do the project themselves shortly after that dissolved their LGBT Elder Taskforce.
Cultural competency is an added value to any organization’s Best Practices. transogyny is serious and permeates our culture.
Holding organizations accountable who accept funding from those of us in the LGBTQIA community – when their leadership diminishes concerns raised by those in our society – is out of necessity and not meanness. Some of the individuals involved with the LGBT Elder Task Force throughout this project tried to reason with the leadership, but instead of listening, the administration decided to dissolve this task force comprised of individuals who wanted to improve the quality of lives within the elder LGBT community. Just for the record, I was fortunate to have a witness to the Baker County incident, and I knew I did not stand alone. There is history at this organization for blatantly disregarding the issues raised. These ranged from concerns expressed, by others familiar with the organization, over lack of materials available at Pride celebrations. Criticisms made by leadership about the LGBT community failing to support the PV project, never acknowledging that neither did the cisgender community. The need to remind that two LGBTQIA individuals from this community had funding before the Kickstarter campaign.
This experience of mine with this particular organization has me evaluating how we can affect change in a positive fashion. Continually receiving conflicted messaging was disturbing to me. Other participants also verbalized receiving conflicted messaging. What stood out even more profoundly was a letter from an LGBT Elder Task Force member, counseling the leadership to work matters out with me to save the project from collapsing. After receiving a copy of the letter from its author, the author resigned from the task force. If the project was abandoned because I chose to uphold my end of the terms and adhere to my commitment to the participants as opposed to defending the self-serving interests of the leadership, then it is not a surprise to hear others say that their concerns were dismissed. This means a lot.
When I inquired who would deny them funding, I was informed “The State.” What happens to elders who express concerns about this agency or others in not meeting their needs? Are they heard? Are they dismissed?
During one of our meetings at MOCA, there was another attempt made to revoke my creative rights. I reminded everyone that I had been working on this project for six months before completing it. To have it altered right before the event was not reasonable nor a part of the agreement. We were running out of time.
Some of us were dismissed many times, and at one point, I was called names during a phone conversation I had with one of their staff members. I was accused of being aggressive (typical of sexism when females assert themselves in business). I had insisted that the terms of my job description gave me creative rights over the project.
This organization was not interested in agreements, let alone upholding any agreements with venues for the exhibit. At one stage, the struggle became overwhelming, and I realized very quickly that my creative rights to ensure that this project would remain intact was about to fall through; I offered to revoke funding until they could live up to the terms of my job description or decide to do otherwise. I was accused of sabotaging the project. Shortly after this, I was told that I am a “bitch” in a private conversation held at late hours over a four-hour phone conversation to try to work through finalizing the marketing and brochures for the exhibit. The lack of professionalism was very telling. How the participants were selected in the first place (no men, no people of color, etc.) and why the PhotoVoice project was an interest at all remained baffling when they were not willing to use the one profound statement of the three participants who used it. It was their voice, after all.
The censoring of this statement opened Pandora’s Box for some of us. After all, what legal system is not precarious? Those who experience marginalization and discrimination have not always had the law on their side, particularly in the absence of human rights protections. The educated individuals at this organization failed to understand the terms of the job descriptions they approved for this project. As someone who worked with Best Practices in healthcare, I wondered what their understanding was of other contracts they held with service providers? The lack of cultural competency could be pulsed, and if I were ever to fund or recommend to others to support an organization’s project again, I would begin with funding a healthcare consultant trained and well versed in cultural competency.
In the end …, the leadership (prematurely) received an award for the project before it went on display at MOCA. The Board probably never really knew the other side of this story, and the participant will never know that she did not make a contribution once the exhibit traveled.
Trans erasure occurs every day. JamieAnn Meyers in The BLOG of the Huffington Post wrote a beautiful article on Trans* Invisibility. It’s up to trans* people to be proactive and make certain that our individual and collective voices are heard loud and clear by the public and the media and that we continue to be written into the record of queer history. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamieann-meyers/trans-invisibility_b_2619929.html
My perspective and expertise in Best Practices tell me that this isn’t unique to this particular organization. It raises the question that when organizations make statements, they are allies to the LGBT community. Whether they do so to try to get funding or whether they understand their ally-ship to the LGBTQIA community needs to be demonstrated through actions and not run parallel with conflicts of interests.