DCCCD considering transgender policy

College district would become second in state to add protections

DCCCD2

PROTECTING EVERYONE | A DCCCD student studies on a bench outside El Centro Community College in Downtown Dallas. El Centro is part of the Dallas County Community College District, which is considering adding protections for transgenders to its nondiscrimination policy. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

On Tuesday, Oct. 4, Dallas County Community College District board of trustees was briefed in closed-door session about adding gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policy.

The district already has protection based on sexual orientation.

If the board votes to approve the change, DCCCD would become only the second community college in Texas to add gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policies. San Jacinto College, with three campuses based in Pasadena, east of Houston, is currently the only two-year college in the state to offer those protections.

Resource Center Dallas Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell said he has been talking to DCCCD Trustee Diana Flores since spring about adding transgender protections, and had hope the changes would be in place for the fall semester.

But the issue was not added to the agenda at the September meeting as hoped. Staff told McDonnell they expected it to be on the consent agenda at the October meeting. Instead the board received a briefing.

McDonnell said he didn’t think the policy would have a problem passing, and that the briefing was about how to implement the change.

He said he hopes the policy would come up at next month’s meeting and be in place by the start of the spring semester.

DCCCD is the largest school in Texas, with 72,000 students in seven colleges on 13 campuses. The school employs 7,200 full- and part-time faculty, staff and administrators.

The district is governed by a board of trustees who are elected for six-year terms and serve without compensation.

McDonnell said Flores, one of the seven elected trustees, has been the champion of adding transgender protections.

The University of Texas at Austin website lists 55 community colleges or community college districts in Texas. Just six of those districts have nondiscrimination policies that specifically include sexual orientation.

In addition to DCCCD and San Jacinto College, Tarrant County College, Austin Community College, Houston Community College and Lone Star College System in North Harris and Montgomery Counties north of Houston offer protection based on sexual orientation.

Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance has approached Collin County Community College in the past about adding LGBT protections to its nondiscrimination policy, but the school has not done so.

With the growing LGBT population in the suburbs north of Dallas, McDonnell thought that school would be one of the next to add protections.

Other two-year schools in the area include Corsicana-based Navarro College with campuses in Waxahachie and Midlothian and Gainesville-based North Central Texas College with campuses in Flower Mound and Corinth. Neither has policies specifically protecting LGBT students, faculty and staff.

Among its student activities, Navarro College lists P.R.I.S.M. (GSA). That gay-straight alliance group formed last year. The listing links to no additional web page. With its active LGBT student group, McDonnell thought Navarro College might be among the next schools approached to add protections.

Out at Collin is an LGBT group at CCCC and under that organization’s membership requirements, a nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

That is the only student group that does include such a policy, however.

Although the CCCC listing links to a page, the words gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender are not found on there. Only goals of the group, such as “Empower the misunderstood and give a voice to the under-represented” and “Bring awareness and dispel stereotypes to the larger community” are listed.

NCTC has fewer student activities than the other area colleges and lists no organized LGBT group. But most of the 13 “Official Student Organizations” listed on the Corinth and

Flower Mound campuses are curriculum-related. The only social groups are Christians In Action and Latino Leadership Council.

Although a written nondiscrimination policy doesn’t insure equal treatment, it does give an employee or student some recourse.

Protections in the Tarrant County College policies were added after instructor Jackie Gill was fired because of her perceived sexual orientation. She filed a lawsuit against the school on Sept. 7. Lambda Legal is representing her in the case.

Lambda Legal staff attorney Ken Upton said that the school has retained an attorney and has another month to answer the charges. He said that they will have 90 days to six months to do discovery.

“Then I suspect they’ll order alternative dispute resolution,” he said, meaning mediation or arbitration.

Upton said Gill’s case is interesting because she was fired before TCC had sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy.

He said the school would have to show that they have a legitimate reason to dismiss faculty based on their sexual orientation. But if they did have a legitimate reason, why would they have added the category to their nondiscrimination policy?

“Private companies have great policies that are not enforceable in court,” Upton said. But a government agency that has a nondiscrimination policy covering sexual orientation would have to show a compelling interest to fire gays and lesbians.

Despite her treatment by one faculty member, Gill “wants to teach and she loves the school,” Upton said. “They have five campuses and they have a demand. They’re looking for instructors.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Investigation clears gay Fort Worth teacher

Kristopher Franks set to return to work Friday after 4-day leave stemming from allegations of improper behavior

FWISD School board member Carlos Vasquez

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Gay Western Hills High School teacher Kristopher Franks, put on paid administrative leave on Monday, Sept. 26, following allegations of improper behavior, has been cleared of all allegations and was set to return to work today (Friday, Sept. 30).

Franks is the teacher who  became the target of ire from the religious right after he sent a student in his German 1 class to the principal’s office for saying in class that as a Christian he believed “homosexuality is wrong.” The school’s assistance principal then suspended the student, setting off a controversy that made headlines around the country.

That student, freshman Dakota Ary, and his mother enlisted the assistance of Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Krause in fighting the suspension on the grounds that Franks and the school had violated Ary’s right to freedom of speech.

District officials quickly reversed their decision, lifting the suspension.

But Steven Poole, deputy executive director for the United Educators Association of Texas, a teachers union, said Tuesday, Sept. 27, that the allegations leading to Franks being put on leave were unrelated to the incident with Ary.

Franks, who had not spoken to the press previously on the advice of his union representative, said Thursday afternoon that he had just met with Fort Worth Independent School District administrators, who told him the nearly weeklong investigation had determined that the allegations against him were unfounded. He did not elaborate on the substance of those allegations.

Franks also said administrators had given him the option of returning to teach at Western Hills High or transferring to another school in the district.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet what I’m going to do,” Franks told Dallas Voice by phone Thursday afternoon. “I’m going to go back to work tomorrow, and I will talk to my boss [the district’s world languages supervisor], and see what she says and decide what’s the best thing to ­do from there.”

FWISD Board of Trustees member Dr. Carlos Vasquez told Dallas Voice in a phone call Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 28, that any time allegations are made against a teacher, those allegations have to be investigated, and it is routine for the teacher in question to be placed on paid administrative leave.

Franks said Thursday that he was pleased with the outcome of the investigation, carried out by an independent investigator, and that interim FWISD Supt. Walter Dansby was “very nice” when they spoke.

“I think they did the right thing,” Franks said. “I can go back to work, which is great. But now I just have to figure out how to fix the damage this whole thing has done to my personal life.”

Franks said since the investigation is closed, he is no longer being represented by a union attorney. He has, instead, retained the services of attorney Stephen Gordon to “represent me on any aspects of this whole thing going forward.”

He also indicated that he and Gordon would be discussing what possible actions he might take against “those people who have lied and made false allegations against me.”

While Franks had previously declined to speak to the media, Daokta Ary, his mother and Krause as their attorney went immediately to the press, telling their side of the story in several TV interviews and saying Franks and the school had violated the student’s right to freedom of speech. The case quickly became a rallying point for the religious right.

Krause this week told Dallas Voice that he and his clients are satisfied with school officials’ decision to rescind the unexcused absences the suspension left on Ary’s record, but “we would still like for them [school officials] to completely vindicate him and say that he did nothing wrong. He should never have been written up for an infraction. He should never have been sent to the office, and he should never have been suspended.”

Ary said in  media interviews that he made the comment quietly to a classmate sitting next to him in response to a discussion going on in the class at the time.

Dakota Ary

But Franks told friends shortly after the incident that there was no discussion involving homosexuality at the time, and that Ary made the comment loudly while looking directly at Franks.

Franks also told friends that the comment was only the latest in an ongoing series of incidents in which Ary and a group of three of his friends have made anti-gay comments to and about him.

Franks told friends that the harassment by Ary and his friends began several weeks ago after Franks, who also teaches sociology, posted on the “World Wall” in his classroom a photo, taken from the German news magazine Stern, of two men kissing. The photo was ripped off the wall and torn in two at some point during Ary’s class, and Franks told friends he believes that Ary or one of his friends tore up the photo.

During a later sociology class students upset that the photo had been torn up replaced it with a hand-drawn picture, and another student then covered that picture with a page bearing a hand-written biblical scripture from Leviticus calling sex between two men an abomination.

Franks told friends that since that incident, Ary and his friends had continued to make derogatory and harassing comments.

Franks’ friends also said that the teacher, a Fulbright scholar, has been the target of anti-gay harassment for at least the last two years, including having hateful messages left in his classroom and, in one case, having his car vandalized.

FWISD teacher Martin Vann, spokesman for the group LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. that was formed about a year ago to help protect students and teachers in the district from anti-gay discrimination and bullying, said that Franks told his version of the incident last week, before the current investigation was launched and Franks was required to sign a statement saying he would not discuss the incident with other teachers, administrators, parents or students. Vann said Franks denied getting angry and yelling at Ary, as Ary had said, and reiterated that Ary’s comments were not pertinent to any discussion in the class at the time.

Vann said Franks told him that another student had asked him what the German word for “Christian” was, and how, if he moved to Germany, he could find an English translation of the Bible. That’s when, Franks told Vann, Ary looked directly at him and said loudly that as a Christian, he believes homosexuality is wrong.

It was not, Franks told Vann, a simple statement of belief or opinion but rather an intentional effort to insult and harass the teacher that Ary perceived to be gay.

Krause this week again said that Ary did not direct his remark in class that day at Franks, and that Ary had nothing to do with tearing down the photo of the men kissing.

The attorney also said that Ary told him he did not know to whom Franks was referring when he talked about Ary’s “three friends.”

The Franks case comes in the wake of months of scandal over allegations by teachers that administrators routinely allowed some teachers and administrators to harass and bully students and other teachers, and that teachers who complained often faced retaliation.

Vasquez, who is openly gay, said Wednesday that he believed the Franks investigation would be fair, that he would watch the situation closely “to make sure all the proper procedures are followed,” and that he believed Dansby would handle the situation fairly.

“Considering all the problems we’ve had, I know he [Dansby] will be watching this closely,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez said it is the school district’s responsibility to make sure there is “no harassment in our schools, whether it’s from the teacher to the student, or student to student or even student to teacher. I know that happens, sometimes, too.

“There should be no harassment whatsoever in our schools,” Vasquez , himself a former teacher, said.

Fort Worth ISD has been credited with having one of the most comprehensive anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies in the state, having adopted individual policies within the last year to include prohibitions against harassment and bullying, including that based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, for both teachers and students.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

GLBT Broadway pre-show chat at ‘Hair’ tonight

‘Hair’ raising experience

How gay is the musical Hair? Find out at this special performance as the Lexus Broadway series presents GLBT Broadway in Hamon Hall. The pre-show event features Dallas Voice LifeStyle Editor Arnold Wayne Jones discussing issues of gender identity and sexuality within the counterculture musical.

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. 7 p.m.  $30–$150. ATTPAC.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Transitioning

Need some beach reads this weekend to take you from summer to fall? Try a trans memoir and E. Lynn Harris’ parting potboiler

Nina-Here-Nor-There-author-CREDIT-Melinda-Bagatelos
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS | Krieger’s memoir tracks his passage from Nina to Nick.

Maybe you’ve always hated your nose, or your ears make you look like you’re part elephant. Or your lips are too pouty, your thighs too big, your arms too fat and you hate your butt.

You can change all of that, and then some.

But would you have the courage to alter the very things that define you to the rest of society?  In Nina Here nor There, you’ll see why one young man did.

When writer-blogger Nina Krieger landed in San Francisco’s Castro district, she felt welcomed. Her lesbian friends, the “A-gays,” folded her into their circle with parties. Old pals were glad to see Krieger, and she was glad to find an apartment with roommates she could tolerate. She even found a job that allowed her to continue writing.

But Krieger wasn’t happy. For years, she’d struggled with gender identity: She was not a lesbian, not exactly a woman … but she was, at least biologically. Being in the Castro gave her hope, though, and unwittingly, she had surrounded herself with people who could give her guidance: Greg, with his newly-flat chest and eagerness for life, was willing to share his experiences with surgery and testosterone shots; Jess, one of Krieger’s roommates, was transitioning and taught Krieger about “packing” and binding; Zippy, a long-time close friend, gave optimistic support.

“Before moving to the Castro, I’d thought becoming a man was as realistic as growing wings,” Krieger writes.

But living with her community gave Krieger the courage to try. Deciding that breasts were the worst part of who she was, Krieger bought minimizers and purchased the other body parts that she lacked. Little by little, she allowed her family careful peeks into the person she knew herself to be. She convinced herself that she belonged, yet she was uneasy. What exists between girl and boy? “I didn’t fully relate to either anymore,” Krieger writes.

Despite a fear of needles, unfazed by a list of realities, and heartbroken by a paternal lack of understanding, Krieger knew she had to find out.

Nina Here nor There is a bit of a conundrum. On one side, Krieger takes his readers by the hand, allowing us to see what he sees. As he explores the gender spectrum, we do, too. At the same time he’s seeing the blurred lines of woman and not-woman, we see it as well. The journey is a good one.

But by the time I got to the latter third of the book, I was good and ready for Nina to make up her mind. By then — just before the culmination of the story — Nina Here nor There becomes a struggle, both in content and story. And it’s with great relief that you’ll find what happens.

You have 24 hours in a day. Over 1,400 minutes, around 86,000 seconds, and you still can’t do everything you need to get done. Some days, you just want to clone yourself. With two of you, maybe you’d get finished. Double you, and you might actually get ahead.

Cobi Aiden Winslow just found his doppelganger in the last place he’d ever think to look. And in No One in the World, it might be the last thing he ever does.

Cobi always had whatever he wanted … except for one thing. From the moment he was adopted, he had maid service in a mansion in the best Chicago neighborhood. He had nice clothes, a law-school education, cars and antiques, but he didn’t have his father’s acceptance. Cobi was gay, and his father hated it.

But acceptance was never going to come. Cobi’s parents were killed in a plane crash, but not before telling him that he had a twin brother… somewhere. Absent a father’s love, a newfound brother was all Cobi could think about.

Sissy Winslow learned about the family business at her father’s elbow. She thought it would be hers someday, so when her parents’ will was read and her brother got half the shares, she was stunned. Cobi didn’t know a thing about Winslow Products. He was a lawyer, not a CEO. Worse yet, the will stipulated that Cobi had to be married to a woman by his 34th birthday or his share of the stocks would be sold. A takeover is imminent: Cobi turns 34 in less than a month and there is no woman on the horizon.

Quickly thinking, Sissy devises a plan to save the business. As she searches for a stylish, smart, society-worthy woman who can be bought, Cobi searches for his twin brother. But as he is finally reconnecting with a part of him he never knew about, he is also inviting trouble. Though he’s been successful in hiding it thus far, there was suddenly too many people who know he is gay. And that knowledge is going to cost him.

E. Lynn Harris has been gone two years now, and in his preface, co-author RM Johnson says that he and Harris collaborated on this novel before Harris’ death.  So is this book reminiscent of Harris’ other books, or…?

No-One-in-the-WorldNo One in the World is spicier than Harris fans might be used to. There’s an underlying feeling of threat that’s irresistible and though you might think you know what’s going to happen, you’d be wrong. There were times when I thought the story briefly got a little silly, but I did like how it unfolded overall and how there were surprises in the creases.

If you’re looking for something quick to take to the beach for a three-day weekend, you can’t go wrong with this. No One in the World will grab you in a second, and you’ll want to read it all day.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Elmhurst College becomes 1st to ask about sexual orientation

Circle Hall at Elmhurst College

Students who identify as LGBT might qualify for scholarships, can be directed to campus groups, president says

Associated Press

ELMHURST, Ill. — Elmhurst College in suburban Chicago has become the first in the country to ask students directly on admissions applications about their gender identity and sexual orientation.

The application asks: “Would you consider yourself to be a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community?”

Students who answer “yes” may be eligible for a scholarship that will pay up to a third of tuition, said Gary Rold, the college’s dean of admissions. The information also will help officials direct incoming students to services and groups that could help them on campus, Rold added.

“Increasing diversity is part of our mission statement,” Rold told the Chicago Sun-Times. “This is simply closing the loop, in many ways, of another group who has a very strong identity. It may not be race and religion, but it’s an important part of who they are.”

The question will appear on applications for students hoping to start in the fall of 2012. Like questions about race and religion, answering is optional and will not affect admissions decisions.

Elmhurst College is a private, liberal arts college that has 3,300 undergraduate students. It is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

“It is kind of a pleasant surprise that Elmhurst College in Illinois is the first campus to ask an identity question,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a national nonprofit group. “Some of the leaders in college admissions have done similar stuff but never asked the question.”

Information from: Chicago Sun-Times, SunTimes.com.

—  John Wright

Applause: Broadgay at Winspear

Lexus series adds queer event to upcoming season of musicals

What’s gay about ‘Jersey Boys’? The GLBT Broadway subscriber series at the Winspear will tell you.

The Lexus Broadway Series offers a muscular lineup of shows that feature classic stories and contemporary rock ‘n’ roll. But they go one step further in the 2011-12 season with the stage equivalent of special edition DVDs, featuring enhanced performances and pre-show engagements for subscribers — including its gay patrons.

Dallas Voice Life+Style Editor Arnold Wayne Jones will host a conversation every second-week Tuesday about 45 minutes before each show. The series, called GLBT Broadway, will highlight the appeal for queer audiences for the shows in the series. The discussion will touch on issues of gender identity and sexuality in regards to the show and the teams behind them. Some — such as the season lead-off, Hair — might be easier to analyze from a gay perspective than, say, Jersey Boys, but that’s part of the fun of the series.

The season starts with Hair, which won the Tony in 2009 for best musical revival. Youth in 1960s America are all about peace, love and understanding — including nudity and homosexuality — in this iconic musical. Sept. 20–Oct. 2.

The epic Les Miserables follows with a new 25th anniversary production. Dec. 20–Jan. 1.

Best musical Tony winner In the Heights details the immigrant experience as characters find a new life in their new country. March 13–25.

Alt-rockers Green Day went Broadway with American Idiot, touted as a mashup of a rock concert and staged musical. May 8–20.

The season concludes with Jersey Boys and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Classic hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” tell the tale of this well-accomplished music group from the ‘50s. June 12–July 15.

Other subscriber series include Broadway University, hosted by SMU theater professor Kevin Hofeditz which will explore themes of the show and its place in theater history (every second Saturday matinee) and Broadway Uncorked (every second-week Wednesday), where an expert sommelier will host a wine tasting based on the show. We wonder what American Idiot’s wine will be.

— Rich Lopez

For more information on the Lexus Broadway Series and its enhanced performances, visit ATTPAC.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

DISD to quietly add trans protections Thursday

The latest DISD policy changes haven’t generated the media hype that an anti-bullying policy did last fall, when news crews surrounded Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell outside a board meeting.

A few weeks ago we reported that the Dallas school board is considering a series of policy changes designed to protect transgender students and employees against discrimination and harassment.

Well, it looks like the changes — in the form of amendments to six separate DISD policies — are on now the board’s Consent Agenda for its regular meeting this Thursday, meaning there’s no opposition and they’re expected to be approved without discussion.

The DISD board went over the changes during a briefing session two weeks ago.

“There was actually very little discussion of it at all,” said Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell, who attended the briefing session. “There was more time talking about the addition of ‘genetic information,’ which is a federal requirement, than there was about adding gender identity or gender expression.

“I think in this case it shows the trustees remember the discussion we had last fall when the bullying policy was passed,” McDonnell said. “They were already familiar with the concept of gender identity and expression.”

McDonnell said DISD will become the third district in the state to ban discrimination and harassment based on gender identity and expression.

“I think this is an incredibly positive step for DISD,” he said. “We’d love to see other districts follow in the footsteps of Fort Worth ISD, Houston ISD and DISD.”

Thursday’s meeting is at 5:30 p.m. at DISD headquarters, 3700 Ross Ave.

—  John Wright

Will Facebook add a gender-neutral option?

An online petition has sparked the question of whether Facebook should add a third gender option for gender-variant individuals. You can go to the petition site to sign.

On Google+, users get the option to hide their gender and have the site refer to them as the neutral ‘their’ as opposed to using male or female pronouns. On Facebook, you’ve got two options: innie or outie. If we can have gender-neutral bathrooms, why not gender-neutral Facebook pronouns?

Some have expressed a desire to have multiple gender options available to them, such as pangender, genderless and androgynous, among others. While trying to cover every label in the gender spectrum is a valiant effort, due to the fluidity and ever-changing nature of gender, it seems near impossible to cover every possible gender identity option.

Having a neutral option seems the simplest option available for those whose gender falls under “none of the above” — or perhaps “all of the above.”

—  admin

COVER STORY: Black, trans, man

Carter Brown

Carter Brown knew from personal experience that African-American transmen are among the most invisible and most under-served people in the LGBT community. So he founded a new organization in hopes of filling in the gaps

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Transitioning is never an easy process for anyone, but African-American female-to-male trans people face some special challenges, according to transman Carter Brown.

“Our lives, the path we feel we have to take is a challenge. We are voluntarily accepting the role of Public Enemy No. 1: The black man is the most feared man in America,” Brown said. “When we transition from female to male, we are accepting all the challenges that black men in this country face, from society, from our families and from ourselves. It’s a lot to bear.”

And Brown noticed early on in his own transition process that black transmen, in many instances, had to face those challenges alone. That’s why he decided to launch an organization focusing primarily on helping others like himself.

That’s when Black Transmen was born.

Brown said that, having been born biologically female, he knew from a young age that he was different. As a teenager, he came out as a lesbian and “found a place in the community as a butch lesbian.”

But still, something was missing: “I still didn’t feel complete,” he said.

Then one day, when he was 24, Brown was watching TV and saw a talk show that included a transman as a guest.

“It just turned a light on for me,” he said. “Finally the pieces started to fall into place.”

So he started going to the library, using the computers there to look for information and resources that could help in his quest to transition. He found some resources and made connections with other transmen in Yahoo groups. But few of those resources addressed the special challenges of black transmen, and few of those new friends were transmen of color. They couldn’t relate, Brown said, to the special challenges black transmen face.

“I couldn’t find people who were like me. That’s why I decided to start this organization, to reach people like me and move us forward.”

Brown said he started out by creating a page on Facebook, and he was amazed at how many people were drawn to it. The more comprehensive organization grew out of that Facebook page, and today, Brown said, Black Transmen has about 300 members nationwide and is led by a three-member board consisting of Brown and two other transmen that he chose not to name out of respect for their privacy.

Brown said he and the organization’s other leaders have worked to create a structure with programs and outreach designed to address the needs of transmen in general as well as the specific challenges that transmen of color face.

One of the greatest challenges for black transmen, Brown said, is financial, adding that “a majority of black transmen fall into the lower financial class,” and finding money for a therapist and for medications is difficult. So one of the organization’s first goals was to find a way to address that need.

So Brown and the other group leaders began compiling a list of therapists to whom they could refer newcomers, and they established the FTM Fund. Through this program, he said, transmen can earn financial assistance to help pay for medications and other costs by putting in volunteer hours.

Careers

Black Transmen also works to help transmen pull themselves out of that lower end of the financial spectrum with a program offering advice on developing their careers.

“A lot of guys feel that they are male, but they haven’t actually walked in the world as a man,” Brown said. “We have to be socialized as men, to learn how to speak as men, wear professional clothing, even how to shake hands.”

Looking again to his own experience, Brown said that when he was first beginning his transition, he communicated online with a group of other transmen, all of whom were caucasion. He said those men, as they transitioned, often found themselves with new opportunities for advancement in their careers.

“But for me, it was the opposite. As a black man, I saw my opportunities decrease,” he said.

The group also offers advice on if, when and how to come out as a transman on the job, something that Brown knows from personal experience can be problematic.

He said when he began his transition, he was fired from his job. And at another job, when he came out as a transman, he was “harassed until I finally had to quit.”

Now, he said, he stays quiet about his trans status at work.

“What I found was that I was back in the closet,” Brown said. “The people at work see me as the man I am. But I can only get so close to someone without them knowing that I am trans. And being in the closet is a hard way to live. You have to find a balance.”

Health

Providing resources to help transmen stay healthy is another primary goal for Black Transmen as an organization, Brown said. The organization works to provide resources to help transmen find the doctors, therapists and surgeons they need, and is looking now for outside funding that will allow the group to help individuals with the costs of those services.

But Black Transmen is also actively involved in HIV/AIDS and STD education and awareness, he continued, and in August will participate in the Hip Hop Summit for HIV.

“A lot of transmen are not being tested for HIV and AIDS,” Brown said. “A lot of them are not educated on how the disease is contracted and how to avoid being infected.

“A lot of guys still sleep with cis-gendered men and have unprotected sex. But they are ashamed of that, and because they are ashamed they don’t protect themselves,” he continued. “One of the things we try to do is get guys to understand there is no reason to be ashamed of who you sleep with. We try to give them a place to go where they can be comfortable talking about these things.”

And there are other health concerns that black transmen face that their white counterparts don’t, Brown added.

“For instance, African-Americans in general are more prone to have high blood pressure. We want to address those issues as well,” he said.

Black Transmen also works to help transmen balance their mental health needs as well, offering peer menoring, either online or through a 24-hour telephone hotline.

“Our goal is to provide an overall support system that will help transmen have a healthy transition and a healthy life,” Brown said.

Culture

Perhaps the most difficult challenges for black transmen, Brown said, is dealing with some of the “culturally specific issues we face not as transmen but as black men in general.

“In the African-American community, because I am a man, they expect certain things of me. They expect me to be very aggressive, to not care about getting an education, to not care about the arts,” Brown said. “Too often, we feed into those negative stereotypes people have of black men, things like sagging your pants, being a womanizer. If you don’t do these things, then you’re seen as weak.”

And then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, where black men are expected to be heavily involved in the churches that play such a big role in the African-American community — something that can be problematic for transmen who are often shunned by religious communities.

“And the African-American community depends on men to care not just for themselves and their immediate family, but for their extended families, too,” Brown said. “That can be a very heavy burden, and some of the [transmen] just are not prepared to carry that burden. We are here to help them with that.”

Although his journey has not always been an easy one, and there are still challenges he has to overcome, Brown said it has been worth the trip.

“I feel free,” he said. “I feel like now that I am no longer consumed with my transition, now I can focus on being who I am, on being a comfortable and confident man. And I want to help others like me reach that same place.

“That’s what this organization is about, helping black transmen be free within themselves, letting them see other guys who have been where they are and who can say, ‘I understand. I’m here to help,’” Brown continued. “This is a safe space, where guys can come and find encouragement, where they can find family that understands and has no judgment.”

Around the edges of the circular logo for Black Transman are the words, “One is not born a man, he becomes one.”

And that, Brown said, is the organization’s goal: to help transmen become the best men they can be.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “We are men. We are unique, exceptional men. And we are there for each other.”

—  John Wright

UN passes historic resolution in support of LGBT equality

FRANK JORDANS  |  Associated Press

GENEVA—  The United Nations endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people for the first time ever Friday, passing a resolution hailed as historic by the U.S. and other backers and decried by some African and Muslim countries.

The declaration was cautiously worded, expressing “grave concern” about abuses because of sexual orientation and commissioning a global report on discrimination against gays.

But activists called it an important shift on an issue that has divided the global body for decades, and they credited the Obama administration’s push for gay rights at home and abroad.

“This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement.

Following tense negotiations, members of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council narrowly voted in favor of the declaration put forward by South Africa, with 23 votes in favor and 19 against.

Backers included the U.S., the European Union, Brazil and other Latin American countries. Those against included Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Pakistan. China, Burkina Faso and Zambia abstained, Kyrgyzstan didn’t vote and Libya was suspended from the rights body earlier.

The resolution expressed “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

More important, activists said, it also established a formal U.N. process to document human rights abuses against gays, including discriminatory laws and acts of violence. According to Amnesty International, consensual same-sex relations are illegal in 76 countries worldwide, while harassment and discrimination are common in many more.

“Today’s resolution breaks the silence that has been maintained for far too long,” said John Fisher of the gay rights advocacy group ARC International.

The White House in a statement strongly backed the declaration.

“This marks a significant milestone in the long struggle for equality, and the beginning of a universal recognition that (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) persons are endowed with the same inalienable rights — and entitled to the same protections — as all human beings.”

The resolution calls for a panel discussion next spring with “constructive, informed and transparent dialogue on the issue of discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against” gays, lesbians and transgender people.

The prospect of having their laws scrutinized in this way went too far for many of the council’s 47-member states.

“We are seriously concerned at the attempt to introduce to the United Nations some notions that have no legal foundation,” said Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s envoy to the U.N. in Geneva, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Nigeria claimed the proposal went against the wishes of most Africans. A diplomat from the northwest African state of Mauritania called the resolution “an attempt to replace the natural rights of a human being with an unnatural right.”

Boris Dittrich of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch said it was important for the U.S. and Western Europe to persuade South Africa to take the lead on the resolution so that other non-Western countries would be less able to claim the West was imposing its values.

At the same time, he noted that the U.N. has no enforcement mechanism to back up the resolution. “It’s up to civil society to name and shame those governments that continue abuses,” Dittrich said.

The Obama administration has been pushing for gay rights both domestically and internationally.

In March, the U.S. issued a nonbinding declaration in favor of gay rights that gained the support of more than 80 countries at the U.N. In addition, Congress recently repealed the ban on gays openly serving in the military, and the Obama administration said it would no longer defend the constitutionality of the U.S. law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The vote in Geneva came at a momentous time for the gay rights debate in the U.S. Activists across the political spectrum were on edge Friday as New York legislators considered a bill that would make the state the sixth — and by far the biggest — to allow same-sex marriage.

Asked what good the U.N. resolution would do for gays and lesbians in countries that opposed the resolution, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Baer said it was a signal “that there are many people in the international community who stand with them and who support them, and that change will come.”

“It’s a historic method of tyranny to make you feel that you are alone,” he said. “One of the things that this resolution does for people everywhere, particularly LGBT people everywhere, is remind them that they are not alone.”

 

—  John Wright