Taking the ‘T’ out of LGBT

Why sexual orientation and gender identity need to be separate but equal in the LGBT movement

Tyler

Tyler Curry

Tyler Curry  |  Contributing Writer

In the fight for civil rights, the battles have typically been fought between two parties. Whether it was blacks vs. whites, men vs. women or Meryl Streep vs. actresses everywhere, there never has been a need to identify a third party. And in the tradition of the haves versus the have-nots, the ruling party gets to choose how their opponents are defined.

In the battle for same-sex rights, who was a part of our demographic was decided for us long ago, and we didn’t know we could question it. We were LGBT, and our opponents, the moral majority, knocked us out round after round.

But we are no longer the wimpy kids in the corner, vastly outmatched by our foes. Over the last several decades, we’ve grown to become a worthy opponent and are winning state and federal policy battles. As we continue to progress in the fight for equal rights, it has become apparent that the ‘T’ in LGBT is being neglected as gay men and women continue to take precedence.

By being part of the same-sex acronym, trans individuals are rarely recognized as a unique group that requires its own specific agenda to obtain equality. Instead, they are often considered an obscure and misunderstood subgroup of the gay community.

In the beginning of the gay rights movement, the battle against violence, outright discrimination and blatant intolerance was one that gays, bisexuals and transgender men and women were equally invested in.

But now, the concerns of gay men and lesbians have shifted to such things as marriage equality and employment discrimination. Although transgender men and women also share in these inequalities, they are subjected to many more injustices that fail to gain hardly any mainstream support.

According to a report in the Center for Transgender Equality, trans people experience three times as much police violence as non-transgender people. Trans people are often inappropriately sexualized in the media and are subjected to derogatory comments about their genitalia, which rarely are corrected.

The report also shows that trans people are more likely to be poor and homeless because of their inability to obtain employment and a lack of protection in employment rights.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the highest percentage of HIV infections occurs among transgender women, yet this statistic is rarely discussed in mainstream media.

The issues of transgender men and women are often brushed to the side as the preoccupations of an overly sensitive group of people. People often justify their intolerance of the trans community while expressing support for same-sex rights.

Just last week, actress Gabourey Sidibe repeatedly used the slur, “tranny,” while on the Arsenio Hall show. Sidibe, an outspoken supporter of gay rights, was stunned to find out that the slur was considered offensive, and she quickly apologized for her error.

But then, something interesting happened. Stories published on several media forums, including the Advocate Magazine online and Instinct Magazine online, posed the question of whether we are being too sensitive about a word that is commonly used in the gay community.

Numerous gay men and women then weighed in on whether the trans slur was, in fact, a slur. A large percentage of the commenters agreed that the media and the gay community were being too harsh on the popular TV actress. One commenter even said it could not be considered a negative term if popular shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race used the term in a comedic and even an affectionate way.

These comments are evidence that even the gay community does not understand and are often the cause of discrimination against transgender people. In case you weren’t aware, the drag queens on RuPaul’s drag race are the reason people like Sidibe are clueless about trans slurs. Those drag queens are gay men who continually abuse a term that damages trans people. Just like “that’s so gay” is often meant to be humorous, comically calling someone a ‘tranny’ may garner a few laughs, but it unintentionally demeans a group of people.

When drag queens remove the trappings of their dramatized personas, they become once again a part of the gay rights movement and leave real transgender people to suffer the consequences.

Although the discrimination against trans people by the gay community is unintentional, it is the reason the ‘T’ should be removed from the LGBT. Gay men often use the slur because they believe it’s a part of their collective community vocabulary. Just as we take liberties by using our own gay slurs as we chose, we mistakenly use the slurs aimed at trans people and whose objections are brushed off as political sensitivity.

There is a difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, and it can’t be expected that one movement will equally serve both groups. However, gays and transgender individuals both share in the effects of being misunderstood. So, as gay men and women, we don’t fully need to understand being transgender to be able to whole-heartedly support that cause.

The public opinion of same-sex orientation and gay rights has changed drastically over the past several decades. The majority of Americans now support the civil rights of gay men and women, giving our fight for equality some much needed muscle.

Now we have the chance to throw our strength behind a group who continues to be marginalized just as we were not too long ago.

Transgender people still suffer from the bullying, discrimination and injustice from which many gays and lesbians have long since moved on. Now, more than ever, it’s time for the LGB to start championing the ‘T’.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 7, 2014.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

PHOTOS: Creating Change 2014 in Houston

Nona Hendryx performs Sunday at Creating Change in Houston. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Nona Hendryx performs Sunday at Creating Change in Houston. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

 HOUSTON — Thousands of LGBT advocates departed from Houston Sunday as the 26th annual National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change came to a close.

The annual five-day conference set records for the amount of attendees and workshops in its first year in Houston. And the inspiration of the weekend was all around during the conference, from Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s welcome to trans actress Laverne Cox’s keynote speech and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey’s State of the Movement address. (If you missed any of the speeches, you can watch them here.)

And, like any celebration in the LGBT community, it ended with a bang as bisexual singer Nona Hendryx rocked out on stage on Sunday after brunch.

More photos below.

—  Anna Waugh

Texas jails confront safety of LGBT inmates

imagesBlack eyeliner rings Tyniesha Stephens’ large brown eyes. Her long, dark hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and she excitedly shares pictures of herself in the blonde wig and skirts she dons when she’s not in orange jail garb.

Yet Stephens lives among men in a Texas jail where she is serving a sentence for prostitution. And she knows she is nothing like them.

“I am feminine, a feminine person, a transgender woman, and some guys look at me, you know, with that eye,” Stephens, 28, said. “I feel very uncomfortable.”

Stephens, whose legal first name is Marques, has been taking hormones for 10 years and is partly transformed into a woman. She’s hopeful that soon, she can serve out her time in a women’s jail. But how soon — or if — that can happen is in question.

The Harris County Jail in Houston, the third-largest in the country which processes some 125,000 inmates annually, is one of many nationwide implementing changes to the way it treats its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population. The changes stem from a law passed by Congress under former President George W. Bush that requires federal, state and local lockups to eliminate rape in part by adjusting regulations about how the population lives behind bars.

It’s not easy. As jails sort out how to put the law into place, conflicts are arising between existing state laws and the federal rules, making the implementation process slow and difficult.

Housing is one of the most difficult questions. Until now, gays, lesbians and transgender inmates were often housed separately, but based on their biological gender. Stephens lives with gay men. The new rules say it is discriminatory, as well as potentially unsafe, to house people based on sexual orientation and gender, and so now they hope to house inmates based on where they will be safest, and consider gender identity when making that decision.

“Transgender women have to be eligible for women’s housing. That is where they will be safest,” said Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality. “These are women who are psychologically women.”

—  Steve Ramos

Laverne Cox: Love for trans community will end injustices she, others face

Trans actress Laverne Cox addresses the crowd at Creating Change Thursday evening in Houston. (Jessica Borges/Dallas Voice)

Trans actress Laverne Cox addresses the crowd at Creating Change 2014 Thursday evening in Houston. (Jessica Borges/Dallas Voice) 

HOUSTON — Transgender actress and advocate Laverne Cox has learned to love herself and is pleased to see the rest of the country learning to love trans people.

Cox gave the keynote address Thursday evening at this year’s national Creating Change conference at the Hilton Americas–Houston.

She walked onstage to a standing ovation and loud cheers from the 4,000 people in the audience. But she admitted to them  she was “not used to receiving this kind of love.”

“I have to say that a black transgender woman from a working-class background raised by a single mother getting all this love tonight; this feels like the change I need to see more of in the country,” Cox said.

—  Anna Waugh

HRC endorses ‘champion for equality’ Wendy Davis for governor

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The nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, is endorsing state Sen. Wendy Davis in her gubernatorial bid, the organization announced Wednesday.

“Wendy Davis has been a champion for equality for all, whether it is the working poor or LGBT Texans,” HRC President Chad Griffin said. “Her dedication to the underdog and commitment to fairness for all Texas families make her the right choice for Governor.”

Davis has a proven record on LGBT issues in the state Legislature.

She authored the only LGBT-inclusive version of anti-bullying legislation in 2011. That same year she co-sponsored youth suicide prevention legislation and lobbied to kill an anti-transgender marriage bill.

Last year’s session was just as impressive with her co-authoring the Senate version of a statewide workplace nondiscrimination bill and co-authoring inclusive insurance nondiscrimination legislation. And when a different version of the anti-trans marriage bill came up, she was one of only two senators to vote against it.

HRC endorsed Davis because of her “stellar record on LGBT equality” and ” history of putting Texas’ families first,” compared to anti-gay Greg Abbott, her likely opponent in November.

“Wendy Davis’ energy and courage are needed in Austin,” said Julie Johnson, a Texas attorney and HRC board member emeritus. “I’m proud to be one of the tens of thousands of HRC members in Texas, and I know that Wendy will fight for all our families when elected. Wendy has proven herself an effective leader — and that’s exactly what the people of Texas need.”

But, surprisingly, she wasn’t connected to any of the three pieces of legislation dealing with marriage equality last year, HJR 77, HJR 78 and HB 1300. Davis has never made a public statement in support of marriage equality, and when asked by Dallas Voice during a press conference about how she would approach it as governor, she replied that she would leave it in the Legislature’s hands.

Since filing for governor, Davis has publicly applauded San Antonio’s nondiscrimination ordinance. Davis supported a similar ordinance in 2000 when she served on the Fort Worth City Council. But her campaign has since been silent on LGBT issues. Davis was a surprise speaker at HRC’s Black Tie Dinner in November, and she’ll be attending a Dallas LGBT fundraiser at a lesbian couple’s home this Friday, which is closed to media. Despite showing up at fundraisers and events where she appeals to LGBT voters, her campaign has refused several requests for an interview with Dallas Voice for the reason that she is too busy.

—  Anna Waugh

S. Texas school says it will allow trans teen’s tuxedo photo to run in yearbook

Jeydon Loredo

Jeydon Loredo

Trans student Jeydon Loredo will now be remembered in his senior yearbook for the way he wants to be remembered after his school district consented late last week to allow his photo to run in the book.

The La Feria Independent School District  previously told Loredo his photo wouldn’t run because he needed to be pictured wearing feminine clothing. He appealed the decision to the school board last Monday. And the Southern Poverty Law Center, joined by the Human Rights Campaign, intervened on his behalf, threatening legal action if the district didn’t run the photo.

The decision was reversed on Friday when attorneys with the district and SPLC met to ensure Loredo would be included in the yearbook. In addition to agreeing to run the picture, the district will have the superintendent apologize to Loredo for the treatment he received and have the school board discuss adding gender expression to its nondiscrimination policies.

“We are very pleased that the school district has recognized Jeydon for who he is and will allow his photo in the yearbook along with all his classmates,” SPLC staff attorney Alesdair Ittelson said in a statement. “This is as a signal to other school districts that transgender students should be recognized as important members of their communities rather than ostracized and subjected to discrimination. We applaud Jeydon’s courage in standing up for his rights.”

HRC President Chad Griffin applauded the decision.

“We’re thrilled Jeydon will be getting the justice he deserves,” Griffin said in a statement. “It’s a shame that it took a threat of legal action for the school board to make the right decision, but we’re grateful that, in the end, Jeydon’s photo will be included in the yearbook. Discrimination has no place in our society — especially our schools.”

—  Anna Waugh

New Orleans police looking for Dallas drag queen Armani Nicole Davenport

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Armani Nicole Davenport

New Orleans police are trying to reach Armani Nicole Davenport as a person of interest in a case involving negligent injuring of a person and accusations of practicing medicine without a license.

Davenport, who is from Louisiana but lives in Dallas, according to Facebook, is “said to administer ‘silicone’ injections to clients as travel is undertaken throughout the southern United States,” police said in a statement.

She’s participated in the Miss Gay Texas 2014 and the Miss Gay Dallas Metroplex contest in 2013.

Anyone with information on Davenport’s location should call New Orleans police Detective Ed Johnson at 504-658-6060.

—  Anna Waugh

After 2 months, no suspects but some details in Denton trans murder

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Artegus Madden

Some details of the Artegus Madden murder have been revealed to The Dallas Morning News while the Denton County’s Sheriff’s Department continues to refuse to speak to Dallas Voice or the LGBT community about the case.

The Morning News ran a salacious story about the Madden murder over the weekend. While Denton County investigators have refused to return calls from Dallas Voice, Dallas Morning News apparently saw our story because two months after the murder, they’re suddenly interested. To their credit, the newspaper was able to get certain facts and even an appeal for information.

Madden met someone on the Internet the night of her death. There was no sign of breaking and entering and unnamed items were missing from her home.

So the main suspect is likely the person she met online. But investigators apparently don’t know who that person is.

“The problem with this case is that there are so many unknowns,” Denton County Sheriff’s Sgt. Larry Kish told the Morning News. “We’re just going back and redoing everything to make sure we didn’t miss anything.”

One of the unknowns is why the sheriff’s department refused to talk to the LGBT community to ask for help in solving the case.

“It’s a very complicated case, and the transgender part is a very important part of this case because it is what it is,” the Morning News quotes Kish awkwardly saying.

Or maybe not so awkward. It’s a murder. If she picked up someone online, there’s history in her computer or phone. Trace it.

Two months after the murder, we have a new contact for anyone with information. People can contact investigator Donn Britt in the Denton County Sheriff’s Office at 940-349-1667.

—  David Taffet

TENT seeks trans military veterans for Texas Outserve-SLDN conference

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Oliver Blumer

The Transgender Education Network of Texas is looking for trans veterans to serve on a panel at the 2013 Outserve -SLDN leadership conference.

TENT needs those who can attend the Oct. 25–27 conference in San Antonio and are comfortable telling their stories but is also looking for people who are not comfortable speaking in public to privately share their stories to collect for a “public narrative.”

Although “don’t ask, don’t tell” ended for gay and lesbian service members, trans personnel may still be thrown out of the military.

The Saturday afternoon panel is entitled “Transgender Veterans: Stories to Move the DADT Transgender Service Members Forward.” Those interested in participating should contact Oliver Blumer. Those interested in participating in the public narrative should contact TENT’s Katy Stewart.

Among the other presenters at the conference are the American Military Partner Assocation that has been following the Texas National Guard’s refusal to register same-sex partners of military personnel so they can receive an ID and federal benefits.

The 2013 Outserve-SLDN leadership conference will be held in San Antonio on Oct. 25–27 at the Marriott Rivercenter. Tickets are available online.

—  David Taffet

HUD files lawsuit on behalf of Seven Points trans woman and partner

Joganik

Darlina Anthony, left, and Roxanne Joganik

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Roxanne Joganik and Darlina Anthony against George Toone, the owner of an RV park in Athens.

The couple said they were advised not to comment but confirmed that the suit had been filed.

Dallas Voice reported in August about the case that could be a landmark in establishing discrimination based on gender identity, which is already covered under U.S. law as sex discrimination.

HUD gives these reasons as the legal basis for the suit in the court document:

1. It is unlawful to discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of sex.

2. It is unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his having exercised or enjoyed, or on account of his having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right granted or protected by section 804 of the Act.

HUD alleges a number of housing discrimination charges but some are specific to the transgender community:

• prohibiting someone from dressing as a female in the park violates federal fair housing laws.

• requests that the park rules be amended to include protections against sex discrimination were denied.

• park rules included a rule that “Management reserves the right to refuse entrance to the R.V. park to any person for any reason other than for reasons based on race, religion, handicapped, color or national origin.” This rule should include sex or familial status, protected classes under the Fair Housing Act.

• park owner did not want complainant to wear female clothing in the park because there are children around the pool and it is “not the type of atmosphere we want to promote on private property.” Mr. Toone would rather not have transgender persons in the common areas of the park.

—  David Taffet