Majority of those who attended ‘Conversations’ prior to Black Tie also participated in protest
Depending on whom you talk to, "Transgender Conversations" with openly gay Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson Saturday, Nov. 22 either provided little closure for transgender activists upset with Robinson’s previous statements or it reassured them that he is a strong trans ally.
"After the conversation with Bishop Robinson, some are attending the [Black Tie] dinner, some are holding a prayer vigil, some are protesting," the Web site of one of the event’s organizers, Kelli Busey, stated.
At issue during the event sponsored by Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies were Robinson’s September statements to Dallas Voice supporting the Human Rights Campaign’s decision to back a trans-less version of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
"It goes back to what I said about half a loaf and a whole loaf. The Human Rights Campaign has an enormous influence in Washington, and they’ve got considerable political savvy, and the fact of the matter is that a full LGBT bill simply would not have passed. And I don’t think we always have to hold out for the full loaf before moving forward. You get what you can accomplish and then continue to work for the rest of it," Robinson said.
Robinson’s position on ENDA didn’t become an issue until he agreed to accept an award at Black Tie, which lists HRC as its top beneficiary.
"We tried to focus ‘Transgender Conversations’ on being gender diverse in spiritual connections, but his response is something we struggled with addressing," Busey said.
"This is an acceptable response if you are saying, ‘Our boat is not big enough for everyone, so we are going to leave part of our population here and you’re safe and we’ll be back for you in a couple of days,’" she added. "But to us this is something we cannot understand. It’s one that results in our debt and lack of employment."
Participant Tina Seitz said she feels Robinson needed to learn more about the transgender community.
"I don’t think that he really was aware of the statistics involved, like over 50 percent of trans youth attempt suicide. Most of the violence against the transgender community is on the basis of gender expression," she said.
"After having explained that to him, looking at his reaction really indicated to me that he got it," Seitz said. "The outcome of it is that Bishop Robinson is much more of an ally now than he was before."
While things might have been smoothed over between the transgender community and Robinson, a protest outside Black Tie showed the community’s relationship with HRC is still strained.
The majority of those in attendance at "Transgender Conversations" also participated in the protest.
"HRC neglects the needs of everybody other than the affluent, white, gay male," Seitz said. "If you don’t fit into their social norms, then you are not represented.
"The only chance of rebuilding the damage would start with the HRC coming out publicly with an apology for backing down on ENDA. The trust can’t even start to be rebuilt until they do that."
But overall, organizers said the day’s events left more questions than answers.
"There was no closure," Busey said. "This is a conversation, what we consider to be a first hand shake — a very, very important one that we are grateful for — but there was no answer. This is a first step."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 28, 2008.