Transgender (In)Visibility: Ohio on the March

Transgender Invisibility

What if there was a party and nobody showed up? It certainly seemed like the mics, cameras, and headlines across the country were silent on March 31st; just another day passing, nothing special going on, no reason to unfurl the banners and dust off the song books.

For those of you who missed the memo, March 31st is International Transgender Day of Visibility, a time where our trans siblings around the world take the day and take the streets to hold their heads up high and kick out the jams.

Well it seems like every LGBT media outlet missed the memo, the event was held worldwide with marches reportedly taking place as far away as Ireland and Scotland, and there wasn’t single mention of the International Transgender Day of Visibility in any of the major American LGBT news outlets, there wasn’t a piece from the Huffington Post or LGBT Nation, not a word from the Advocate either.

That’s bullshit. There’s no nice way to put it, that’s bullshit. We’re supposed to be a community, united and strong, and here on an occasion where our trans siblings were putting on their marching boots, out on the streets, showing their neighborhoods, states, nations, and the world that they were here, they demanded to be heard, seen, and recognized, our major news outlets were silent. They turned their backs on their own siblings.

As far as myself goes, I was lighting a smoke when I got a message from H. Klote, the media person for GetEQUAL. She told me she had a story for me, but it wasn’t a local Indiana story. I told her that was fine, I covered whatever sounded interesting. She put me in contact with Zoë Lapin, an independent organizer who organized the march with strictly local sources, and told me that across the river in Cleveland, Ohio, the trans siblings were marching loud and proud.

Since I was unable to travel to Cleveland to witness this local march first hand, I got in contact with Zoë, who agreed to give me the ins and outs on this rally taking place in the heart of the Midwest.

****

Walter: Tell me a bit about this march and how it all came about. How you organized it strictly within your local community?

Zoë: The event came about primarily out of a lack of activity and awareness around the day of visibility, locally. The transgender community in Cleveland has been working tremendously to promote visibility, education, and outreach in the entire city but there was no focus on anything surrounding the day of visibility. Much like the original intention of the holiday, I felt it was extremely necessary to share the spirit of the day and join in solidarity within Cleveland and with the global trans community. I organized the event exclusively within the community because it has been the community putting in the work and reshaping the culture here. I reached out to Jacob Nash and Sue Doerfer, two community leaders whom I regularly work with in promotig efforts of trans equality and liberation. I asked them if anything was being done for visibility day and after learning there wasn’t, I simply decided to try to make it happen. Unfortunately, this was about 3 weeks ago (a valuable lesson for organizing next years event) but I took the task on with high ambition and a determination to make this event an example of solidarity, community, healing, and liberation.

Walter: You organized it in three weeks? That takes a lot of dedication, will power, and black coffee.

Zoë: Hahahaha yes.

Walter: How was the turnout? Do you have rough estimates?

Zoë: The turnout was pretty great, I felt! There were about 50 attendees, a diverse representation of identities, expressions, and all walks of life.

Walter: Fuckin’ A, I dig it! What were the events that happened during the march? Did you have any speakers or maybe a big group sing-along?

Zoë: The event consisted of speakers from members of the trans community and allies. Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson was one of the first speakers giving a powerful testimony about his own path towards understanding trans people and becoming an (unexpected) ally. The speakers were of all perspectives-students, leaders, veterans, immigrants, parents, actors, organizational directors. We had 10 speakers altogether, along with ASL and Spanish interpreters. Speeches were all of promoting awareness, education, solidarity, and community-every narrative was just powerful. Hahaha about sing-alongs, the location of the event is actually in front of the justice center, at one point in the evening I wanted to “shake the walls” of the justice center by getting the audience to repeat “TRANS LIVES MATTER” as loud as possible. We also showed a message of healing by giving a joined “we love you” to the memories of the trans and gender non-conforming people whom have lost their lives-rather by another hand or their own. It was necessary to do I felt, especially when we had 3 trans women murdered in Cleveland in 1 year (2 actually in the same week), back in 2013.

Walter: You had a local city councilman speak at the event? That’s pretty major. I don’t know how things swing in Ohio, but here in Indiana, it would usually be pretty rare to get an elected official to speak at an LGBT related event.

Zoë: I’m honestly still in shock by it, there are a number of advocates for the community on the council and more and more are becoming public about their advocacy and support for trans rights.

Walter: It sounds like your event was a smash, especially given such a short organizing time frame. How was the local media coverage? I mean I’m a freelancer working for a national rag; did any of the local TV stations or newspapers pick up on your event?

Zoë: I reached out to the local media about the event but none of the media outlets were in attendance. I was able to utilize social networking, however, and that was essential in getting awareness out about the event.

Walter: Social media is a necessary item in the tool box of any activist, be they working grassroots independent or with a state or national organization.

Zoë: I completely agree.

Walter: Given the wide array of voices present in this event, especially in such a Midwestern spot as Cleveland, Ohio, does it give you hope in the future of the trans community and the movement? To bounce off that a bit, where do you see the future of the movement? It seems that nationwide, much is still needed to be done to lift up our trans siblings.

Zoë: Absolutely! Much needs to be done, on all levels. I hope that more and more grassroots organizing efforts happen at the local level and that they are getting adequate support from national organizations. I think that national organizations are going to reach out more and more into the community and diversifying their leadership. I think the movement as a whole, will be one of complete solidarity, in which the issues are addressed with intersectionality, accountability, and full representation.

Walter: Well I don’t think I could put it any more succinctly. Any final words of wisdom for the readers?

Zoë: Yes, if you want to promote inclusion, you have to internalize inclusion. When you are speaking out for liberation, equality, and visibility-you need to represent those things. Intersectionality isn’t just another word; it’s a direction-a direction that we always need to be aware of, in any effort. You have to be willing and ready to reach out, you have to not only hold others accountable, but hold yourself accountable-and be willing to be held accountable.

****

Despite the fact that Zoë was organizing a rally of visibility, the rest of the queer press didn’t give a damn, they were apparently too occupied with toasting to the marriage victories across the country; meanwhile our trans siblings are still taking way more shit than any human being should. Brother Gavin out in Arizona said it best in a rant posted earlier;

“I know folks who still can’t take a piss without freaking out, myself included, because the education isn’t out there. I know people who live in states where they can be canned for being who they are.”

Step up your game, LGBT news media, don’t ignore our trans brothers and sisters. They deserve better than that and if you call yourselves queer journalists, you will do better.

I would like to applaud Zoë, lack of press coverage be damned, she organized her locals, went out there and was heard by all willing to listen, even a grungy looking unshaved underground journalist.

Is there a “War on Christianity?”

warart

Once again, we are being bombarded with stories and complaints about the supposed “War on christianity.”  All over, there are stories of people using “religion-based” bigotry.  When called out on this bigotry, suddenly, they complain that they are the ones being persecuted.

For example:

Memories Pizza.  This is a family run business that very blatantly said that they wouldn’t cater to same-sex weddings due to their “beliefs.”  (First question:  What self-respecting gay couple would want their wedding catered by a pizza joint?)  When called out on their hatred, they closed their doors out of fear of “retribution from the hordes of angry gays.”  Somehow, they were able to raise almost a million dollars through crowd-funding!

Tom Delay:  “I have the RIGHT not to serve gay sinners, because they undermine my “religious liberty.”  His complaint is that the “Gay Agenda” is out to squash “religious liberty.”  Ummmmmm.  does he not take into account, or does he simply choose to ignore the incredibly large number of LGBT people of faith?

An article in a publication called “Right-Wing News” by a guy named Walter Todd Huston starts out with:  “We are seeing it nearly every day. lately – Christians in our own country being attacked by radicals. and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is exactly right when he says the Christians now need legal protection for their “Religious Expression.”  In the article, he does a fairly good job of standing up for Jindal’s “defense if his state’s RFRA, but ends the piece with this gem:  “The Left’s goal is to outlaw Christianity, and they intend to do it through misusing our own laws against us.  Liberals want freedom for everyone…unless you are a Christian.”

True, I am an atheist, but I was raised in a christian family.  In fact, I held on to my faith into my late forties.  most of my family still clings to their belief, and I have some dear friends who are staunch and TRUE christians.  I’m not a idiot when it comes to knowing what christianity is supposed to be about.  What I do know is this.  Anyone who feels the need to use their faith as a weapon against ANT other person, is NOT a true christian.  You’ve take what you were taught by the person you pretend to worship, and you’ve perverted it to your own warped translation.  The :Christ” I was taught about, as a child, was a man of love, forgiveness, redemption.  Not hate, discrimination, anger.  He never said that you should force your will on anyone.  In fact, he said quite the opposite.  “If anyone will not welcome you, or hear your words, then leave that home, or twon, and shake the dust off your feet.”  Matthew 10:14

But let’s get to the “real” story here, that of this so-called “war on christianity.”  Let’s take a quick peak back through history.

The Crusades:  How many were killed by “good” christian knights simply for being born in a muslim country, and for trying to keep what they considered  THEIR Holy City out of the hands of “infidels?”  True, they fought back, and killed off countless crusaders, but, what do you expect?

The Inquisition(s):  This is a great one!  Millions, yes millions, tortured and killed while being forced to accept the “supremacy” of the church.  Forced into conversion at the point of the sword. Even after conversion, many were still “executed.”  Yup.  That’s real godly love for ya!

The first explorers of the new world.  Columbus in the Caribbean, Cortez in Mexico and Central America, the list goes on.  All used the bible to justify subjugation and murder.  In some cases, entire cultures were wiped out.

We can go through slaver, the subjugation of women, Adolph Hitler’s “I believe today, that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the almighty creator.”

But lets move ahead to what’s been called the “Civil Rights Movement of our Generation.”

This is a fight that’s been coming since the dawn of religion.  The Gay Rights Movement.  For millenia, LGBT people have been belittled, (at best) down trodden, beaten, and (at worst) murdered, simply because they were born differently from religious norms.  For most of that time, it has gone on without resistance.  Over the past few decades, a few brave souls have risen up and said “Enough.”  These heroes were followed by a growing number of people who found strength by their example.  Add in our allies, and now we’re a force to be reckoned with.  There are enough LGBT activists, that we are noticed on the world’s political stage.  Hell, when the President of the USA speaks in a positive light about you in his inauguration speech, you KNOW you’ve grown up!  In my opinion, this scares the hell out of the people who’ve been walking all over the LGBT community for ever.  More and more, we’re hearing from some more inclusive and progressive religious leaders that homosexuality is NOT a thing to be despised. We also know that the few bible verses used by right-wing religious nuts are fundamentally flawed in their translation.  But they continue to tenaciously cling to them and use them as weapons.

Now that the LGBT community is actually going toe-to-toe with the religious right, they’ve suddenly had to become defensive.  Their new rallying cry is”  “They’re using their ‘Gay Agenda’ to step on my ‘religious freedoms’.”  Grow up, it’s not happening. You still have your “freedom of religion, and I still have my “freedom FROM religion.”  Fortunately, the laws in North America are based on something call the Constitution, and not the bible.  In both Canada, and the USA, we are guaranteed HUMAN Rights.  ALL people have the right freely, openly, and in celebration of whatever defines us.

There you have it.  There is no “War on christianity.”  It’s not real, it never was.  If there is a war on anything, it’s a war on hatred, anger and discrimination, whether religiously-based or not.   Having said that, if your version of christianity  includes hatred, bigotry and discrimination, then I, for one, am a very willing soldier in the war on you!

Ken

Hollow Victory: Damage Control and the Continuing Fight Against the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Hollow Victory

Well I think my governor may have grown tired of being a national punchline for the last week. After the protests, the boycotts, and the potential loss of millions of dollars in state revenue from conventions, concerts, and job opportunities, Governor Pence signed an amendment to SB 101, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, which is designed to clarify the bill. The amendment, passed by the statehouse and signed by the governor on April 2nd, reads as follows:

“This chapter does not: (1) authorize a provider to refuse to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military services; (2) establish a defense to a civil action or criminal prosecution for refusal by a provider to offer or provide services, facilities, use of public accommodations, goods, employment, or housing to any member or members of the general public on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military Service.”

Governor Pence certainly seemed happy with himself, in a press release issued shortly after signing the amendment, he said, “Now that this is behind us, let’s move forward together with a renewed commitment to the civility and respect that make this state great.”

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma likewise patted himself on the back, saying “We’re here to announce that it’s fixed.”

But not all of Pence’s cronies were happy, Micah Clark, head of the American Family Association of Indiana, said “Our legal advisors tell us that it actually changes our law in a way that could now erode religious freedom across Indiana.”

Clark’s statement is very telling about the original intention of the bill. Even though Governor Pence and his posse in the statehouse swore up and down that this bill had absolutely nothing to with discrimination against LGBT folks, Clark is insisting that this amendment essentially guts the bill, rendering it useless for its intended purposes. Do you have a bit of a wild card in your stacked deck, Governor? Did Clark state the truth against your better judgment?

The response from our allies has been mixed as well. Noted actor and LGBT advocate George Takei was quick to claim victory, writing on his Facebook page “I am very happy to replace ‪#‎BoycottIndiana with ‪#‎IndianaForAll, with the hope that Hoosier hospitality once again can flourish. This has been a difficult and soul-searching week for many on both sides. But from here we move forward, together, towards an inclusive society where religious beliefs and individual civil rights can exist in harmony, side by side. This is a great day for Indiana, and for the entire nation.”

But Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff didn’t appear to be so fast on going back on his promise to reduce his business in Indiana due to the law. In an interview on CNN, he told the reporter that he was looking to help employees move out of the state, saying “I just got an email on the way to studio from another employee who said, ‘look I don’t feel comfortable living in this state anymore, you have to move me out,’ and I gave him a $50,000 relocation package and said, ‘great, you’re clear to go.’”

So is this amendment the fix we needed? Does it put an end to the fight here in Indiana?

Nope; first off, while the new amendment does offer a first in Indiana history, the first time LGBT people received civil rights protection on a state level, it applies exclusively and only to this bill, only to SB 101. There are still no state-wide civil rights protections for LGBT folks on a general level.

Furthermore, while it appears to limit the potential damage, it’s not as all-encompassing as it might seem. Look at another part of the governor’s press statement issued shortly after signing the amendment, “The law also enhances protection in religious liberty cases for groups of individuals and businesses in conscience decisions that do not involve provision of goods and services, employment and housing” [bolding done by the journalist]. What does that mean? What else does a business potentially cover outside of the provision of goods and services and employment? I think there’s still something extremely fishy there.

The biggest thing with this “fix” is that if it is a victory, it feels like a hollow victory to me. It feels like a cheap shuck carnival trick, a bit of political maneuvering, nothing more. We had Governor Pence on the run, he was cancelling appearances all this week, seemingly locked in his office, pulling out his hair, screeching “Holy shit, what have I done?!” It has been rumored that Pence has his eye on the White House and it felt like we had dashed those hopes for him, crippling his political career once and for all.

And now, with a quickly signed amendment and a press conference, it seems like Pence is breathing easy for the first time in a week. He thinks the media circus is over and picketers will pack up their signs, banners, and flags and go back about their business. He thinks the newspapers and television stations will quit sticking a notebook or microphone in his face, demanding to know just what the hell he was thinking.

We could give him that. We could count this as a victory, be grateful we got the half a loaf that we did and move on. But I think that would be a fatal mistake on our part.

Look, we got the amendment to explicitly add sexual orientation and gender identity under the protected classes and it’s great that we were able to do that. But why stop there? Why just be happy that our equality applies only to this bill and not to state law as a whole? Why be happy with a little PR victory and the fact that we got Micah Clark to gnash his teeth in public when he felt he lost?

Our foot is in the door and now the ball is in our court, what are you gonna do, brothers and sisters? Are you just gonna be happy with what you got and have a cocktail over it? Or are you gonna say, “You know what? Fuck half the loaf, we’ve been getting that for too long, it’s time we got a whole loaf for once, goddamn it!”

The national press can move on to another story and the Gay Inc. groups that leeched themselves onto this cause can put out their press releases and raise a glass of champagne to their “victory” in Indiana. But this is one journalist that ain’t moving an inch, this is my home, I got my foot in the door and now I’m gonna push the door wide open.

Who amongst you is gonna stand alongside me? Who else is gonna demand nothing short of full equality in the state of Indiana and the total dismantling of RFRA?

Stand up and be counted, brothers and sisters, Indiana still needs you.

Hoosier Hospitality: Notes from the Anti-RFRA Rally in Indianapolis, IN

Hoosier Hospitality

My governor, Mike Pence, managed to make our state the laughing stock of the whole damn country earlier this week when he signed SB 101, the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Celebrities and companies quickly managed to make their outrage known with calls to boycott the state and calls to remove Governor Pence from office. My Facebook wall and messages began to run hotter than hell by Thursday afternoon, mere hours after Pence signed the bill.

I had heard there was a demonstration going on downtown on Saturday at the statehouse through some activist friends and immediately made plans to attend. The first order of business was to hook a ride, then get the signs and Colors ready. Getting a ride was no problem, I called my buddy Dave who had stood the line with me when we protested against Westboro Baptist Church when they came to our fair city on the occasion of the Super Bowl (I guess God hates the NFL?). He was anxious to get on the lines again and we immediately set up a 10:30 AM rendezvous on Saturday morning to go into it and kick ass.

Unfortunately, when I called Dave as I was driving home from work on Friday, he sounded sick and was out for the weekend. It took some scrambling on my end and a few panicked phone calls, but finally I contacted Kathleen, a fellow worker from the Indiana IWW. I knew she would be going to the rally. She agreed to pick me up at 11:15 in the morning after she finished up some union business down in Bloomington.

I got up around 9:00 AM and turned on the coffee maker. After about an hour, I called Kathleen to make sure things were still on. She assured me they were, but she was running just a wee bit behind. I said that was no problem, we would still have plenty of time.

She was running a bit more behind than planned; we finally hit the road to Indianapolis at 12:30. She apologized profusely, but I assured her it was alright. We would be cutting it razor’s edge close and unfortunately for my friends who wanted to tag along they would be on their own. We lit a cigarette and sped off.

We hit the picket sight at around 1:15, we missed the opening blast; apparently the Indianapolis Gay Men’s Choir came out and sang some songs. But that was it as far as what we missed.

We hooked up with Sebastian, Cassius, and Millie. I gave them picket signs to hold as they requested. I tied my flag around me cape-style and then called Brother Tom from Ohio. He said he was gonna be there and wanted to meet up. I told him I was by the big statue with the guys. Soon he sauntered up, holding his GetEQUAL clipboard. We had known each for years online through mutual friends in the activist community and now we were meeting in the flesh on a picket line. Christ, how much more poetic can you get?

We were at the back edge of the crowd and couldn’t hear a thing; Tom said he knew a way to get closer so we followed him to a spot in the thick of the crowd. Unfortunately, we still couldn’t hear anything; the sound system wasn’t powerful enough to carry the calls for revolution through the crowd.

And Jesus, what a crowd! I’ve been doing queer related pickets throughout the state for the last twelve years and I had never seen anything like it. Here in Indiana, if you get a couple hundred folks, it’s a big event. There was probably 2,000 Hoosiers standing on the statehouse lawn, waving signs, waving flags, united in the voice that our governor sucked and this “religious freedom” bill was a load of bigoted horseshit.

It wasn’t just the size of the crowd, it was the mix; there were mothers, fathers, little children, there were stone obvious street activists like Tom and I, there were college students getting their first taste of action, there were atheists and preachers (one group held up the flag of the Episcopal Church, the local diocese had just issued a press statement against the bill). It was beautiful, a wide mix of folks who wanted to show the state and the country that the bill was a complete affront to the Hoosier Hospitality our state was famous for.

Bad sound system or not, the crowd roared, cheered, sang, and chanted. I continued to run into old friends on the picket line, college buddies, fellow union members, comrades in the Socialist Party, I even ran into Suley, an old counselor friend from the Krietenstein days. It was great to see so many buddies out on the line to stand up for equality in our home state.

The rally came to an end shortly before 3:00 with a call to keep up the fight and meet up again on Monday for another action. The news cameras got their footage and the newspapers got their photos, the message was clear, we weren’t gonna let Governor Pence get away with this bullshit without a fight.

One thing that really struck me about the rally was the lack of a counter-demonstration. If you listened to Governor Pence and his cronies, it was only a small minority that was against the bill, most people supported it. Well gee, if the RFRA had such broad support, I didn’t see it anywhere on the lawn of the statehouse that Saturday afternoon. There was supposedly one guy standing off to the side holding a sign against us, but I didn’t see him.

After the rally fizzled out, with a few stragglers still singing some songs and jawjacking about the next event; my group agreed that we needed to get some lunch. Tom said he would give me a ride home since Kathleen had to get on to Terre Haute to hash out some union related business. I waved bye to Kathleen, then myself, Tom, Tiffani, Sebastian, Cassius, and Millie walked off to get some chow.

On the way to Tom’s car to drop off the picket signs, this lady came up to us and asked if there were any signs laying around. She was with the Indianapolis Public Library and wanted some signs for a display to mark the event. We directed her towards the statehouse lawns where there were still a few stragglers, but before she left, I gave her one of my signs for her display.

We ended up at this joint called Sahm’s (pronounced “psalms”) just a block from the hotel Tiffani was staying at. We managed to find a table big enough for our group and then sat down. The waiter came around for drink orders and while everyone else stayed dry, ordering Cokes and tea, I ordered a shot of Wild Turkey. The rally was finished and the stress was starting to seep out of my head, a shot of bourbon would be the perfect toast.

Sandwiches soon arrived and we spent the next hour or so gorging ourselves and telling war stories from work and picket lines. I suppose to some it may have seemed like we were agitated, but it was a table of six militant queers, unwinding from a demonstration and letting their hair down.

After lunch, Sebastian, Cassius, and Millie went to their car to drive home and I went with Tom and Tiffani to get a ride back to Avon. On the way, Tiffani got a phone call from another coordinator in GetEQUAL. I didn’t catch the whole bit, but from the tone of it, it sounded like Tiffani was pleased with how the demonstration went. I smiled a bit inwardly, feeling pretty proud that my home state’s action against bigotry would impress somebody from Texas.

Tom and Tiffani hugged me goodbye and got on the road at around 6:00. It had been a long day and I needed desperately to unwind. My brother knocked on my door, brandishing two bottles of Thunderbird wine. We gorged on the gutter hooch and I passed out shortly before midnight.

I woke up the next morning nursing a wino headache and ABC’s This Week on the TV. George Stephanopoulos was interviewing none other than Governor Mike Pence. Pence was supposedly on the show to “clarify” SB 101, instead he ended up making a total ass out of himself on national television. Stephanopoulos asked him point blank if the law was discriminatory, if the law was designed to be used against LGBT folks and Pence kept giving him the run-around. Stephanopoulos grew increasingly flustered and said straight-up “Governor, it’s a yes or no question.” Pence still gave him the exact same run-around, accusing opponents of the bill of misreading it, of not understanding it. If Pence wanted to clarify the bill, he did a piss-poor job of it and left George Stephanopoulos even more confused.

The appearance on This Week wasn’t the only media clusterfuck the Governor caused that weekend; he was interviewed by the Indianapolis Star on Saturday and with several thousand people standing right outside the statehouse, he said he didn’t anticipate the backlash of the bill. Well gee, Governor, you signed a piece of legislation that opens the door to discrimination hardly a year after a proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality in Indiana (an amendment you supported) failed in the statehouse. You and your supporters have been looking for revenge against LGBT Hoosiers and you wonder why everybody’s so upset with you?

I love Indiana, I grew up here, my friends and family are here, my life is here; I’m proud that my state had a reputation for hospitality. Unfortunately, my governor unzipped his fly and took a long steaming piss on the legendary reputation of Hoosier Hospitality. Thanks a lot, Governor Pence; you turned our state into the laughing stock of the country.