Longtime trans activist angry over interrupted panel discussion at Creating Change


Monica Roberts

DAVID TAFFET    |  Senior Staff Writer

A panel discussion featuring trans-attracted men was shut down by protesters at the Jan. 20-23 Creating Change conference in Chicago, the same conference at which protesters shouting anti-Semitic slurs and chants disrupted a reception for Jerusalem Open House.

Monica Roberts, a longtime trans activist from Houston, was at the panel discussion when a group of about 20 people entered the room and disrupted the event. She said this year’s conference should have been called ‘Creating drama.’

Roberts said a group of younger transgender attendees at this year’s conference — and at other recent conferences she’s attended — “think direct action protest is the only way to go,” and that they’ve forgotten Martin Luther King’s model. While protests were going on in the civil rights movement, Roberts pointed out, so was discussion and behind-the-scenes work needed to pass laws.

The panel discussion, put together by the National Black Justice Coalition, featured men discussing pressures and difficulties they face because they are attracted to trans women.

Roberts noted that if you look on Craigslist, one of the most popular categories is men looking for pre-operative trans women.

Because many of the murders of trans women have been a result of intimate partner violence, Roberts said, she hoped to hear a discussion about how to remain safe during the panel. “But we didn’t get to have that conversation,” she said.

She also said she had hoped to learn “what goes on in the mind of folks who claim to love us” and that it would be nice to hear men say publicly, “I love trans women.”

The protest was instigated by a trans woman who claimed one of the panelists was an abuser. That man doesn’t have any such charges pending against him, and he is about to file a suit for defamation.

Roberts said the divide was not just between older and younger trans activists. Many hoping to attend the panel live in cities without protections in place based on gender identity and expression. Protesters, she said, came from places with laws protecting the trans community from discrimination.

While Creating Change is about diverse LGBT groups coming together to discuss how to work together, Roberts said one protester summed it up: When the executive director of NBJC tried to say something, a protester simply demanded, “Sit down and shut up.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 29, 2016.