You may have been keeping up, via blog or email, with the ongoing debate around the local lesbian community's acceptance and inclusion of transwomen. It has been contentious and brought to light some long-standing fissures around gender identity that fall loosely along generation lines — almost a second wave v third wave debate, but not quite.
What's clear is that the “T” in our homo-alphabet soup is not valued as highly as the “L” and the “G.” The Community Center includes T and B in their mission statement, but not their name. The Gay & Lesbian Film Society changed their name, but still ignored the T and B folks. What gives with that?
The only folks who seem to be consistently affirming persons who identify as transgender or bisexual are the Queers and Lord knows that's a whole other chapter in the book of gay inclusiveness.
Even though I mock, I am concerned about these divides. As I discussed elsewhere on this blog, I just don't understand why so many lesbians refuse to allow a transwoman to define her own gender identity. When is a woman woman enough to be a lesbian? That's the heart of the matter and how on earth are we going to start a constructive dialogue among local LGBTQ leaders …I haven't seen any “leaders” step up to the plate on this debate. They are either laying low, afraid to take a public stance or they don't care. Except for Ehrrin Keenan. She has taken a stance, spoken out and she's absolutely a leader in our community. Thank Goddess.
Its not exactly a silver lining, but Pittsburgh is right in line with a large-scale national debate about trans inclusiveness. There's a national piece of legislation called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would extend federal protections in the workplace to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It had a good chance at passing which is great (even though Bush vowed to veto).
This legislation was the result of much hard work on the part of national organizations, including transgender organizations, who worked with legislators to educate them about the importance of these protections. This was a tough sell, but our national leaders worked in harmony to make it happen.
Until …the sentiment that overriding a veto would require abandoning gender discrimination began making the rounds and Congressman Barney Frank (yes, you read that right) was prepared to introduce a stripped down version of ENDA, with the support of Speaker Pelosi. Our national leaders began howling, knowing full well that there would be no “coming back” to the issue to include gender identity once it passed.
Except .. fissures have begun to appear. Pelosi and Frank agreed to postpone marking up the substitute bill to appease leaders. Then one of the big MacDaddies in the community, the Human Rights Campaign, issued a murky statement that basically reads that while they aren't signing on to sponsor the watered-down bill they aren't going to work against it.
Today, the only transgender member of the HRC Board, Donna Rose, has stepped down. Her statement is here.
Pam Spaulding writes:
To turn on one another advances nothing. HRC, no matter what opinion one holds of the org, these folks do the work on the Hill. Where did the gauging of ENDA as a do-able priority (say over DADT repeal, which seems much more do-able), gain traction?
In any case, this whole “family fight,” is undermining the long view of equality. There are no winners in this kind of a backstabbing event, where LGBs can be seen doling out horrible anti-T bigotry in the comments of blogs. I can only hope that Donna will reconsider this decision, but I have great respect for her efforts to represent the T perspective to the HRC board.
It does seem that repealing “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” would be more politically viable, so Pam asks a good question.
Can the national organizations wade through this? I'm on a national LGBT email list with some pretty heavy hitters and I have to admit I'm a little concerned.
Pam also flips the local cries of “foul” on their head. Here in da Burgh, I've experienced multiple incidents of LGB's decrying the publicity of our “family fight” or airing the dirty laundry as a few have put it. Many women are absolutely incensed, even livid, that other women are criticizing Celebrate the Night, accusing us (yep, I've been included) of hurting the lesbian community. Others, such as myself, are appalled when women insist on referring to a transwoman as “he.”
The local debate has quickly escalated into a polarizing L v T situation, even though most of the T defenders are, in fact, Ls. Confusing, no? I think there are far more women who support CTN's decision to exclude Jessi as well as their understanding of transwomen than there are those who support the views I espouse. I wish it weren't so.
There is some good news, namely that discussion and conversation continue. Emilia is organizing a podcast. Another local woman set up an email list to encourage ontological exploration of gender identity issues (I have to admit the level of discourse left me in the dust about four posts into the discussion so I stopped reading …). While some women aren't comfortable having some transwomen attend women-only spaces, they acknowledge that these same transwomen shouldn't lose their jobs because of gender identity.
I've been feeling a bit discouraged this whole situation. No one attacks me with the venom and deadly aim of local lesbians. Not the Christians, the right wing nuts, the Ice Cream twin defenders, the Santorum lovers. Not even the Anarchists with whom I am often at odds. No one does nasty condescension and disrespect like a lesbian, especially one taking the time to post a comment informing me that no one gives a shit what I have to say. 🙂 The comments don't get me down. It is the fear that most lesbians share those views about trans inclusion that is so discouraging. If they share those views about people giving a shit about me, its all good. Blog hits are blog hits.
Pam's post has me ruminating about my discouragement and I am vowing to turn my attitude around. There's good stuff happening. I'm hangin with some cool chicks on Saturday night. People are writing letters to the editor in the City Paper that will clarify the fissure described above and I gotta think that sort of exposure to the light can only help heal the wound. I'm going to rededicate myself to covering trans issues and highlighting the impact of overarching issues on transmen and transwomen.
In fact, I've been asked to submit a question or two as part of an interesting new blogger debate, focusing on the Mayoral race. Maybe that's the opportunity to put my money where my keyboard is …
As for ENDA, it would be a tragedy if we left our trans sisters and brother behind. Easy for me to say because I live in a City where employment protections exist for me and state protections may not be far behind (see earlier post about Frankel). I personally believe it is better to pull back on the legislation and educate, educate, educate on gender identity while perhaps putting some energy into passing DADT.
Hopefully, Pittsburgh and ENDA will move forward to create a community that values everyone in the alphabet soup.