And That's the Way It Is!

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #101, Spring 2003.

by Monica F. Helms

?OK, class. Take your seats. It?s time to begin. My name is Ms. Monica Helms. I?ll be your instructor for Transgender 101 this semester. Let me start off by asking all of you to put your hands down. I already know what your first question is, because it?s the same one I get every semester. No, I am NOT related to Senator Jesse Helms. However, I would like to meet him one day and tell him I?m his long-lost niece/nephew and watch him keel over. If he has a heart attack, he?d better not expect mouth-to-mouth from me.?
Ms. Helms pauses to look around the room. ?This will be a basic course designed to give you a working knowledge...?

She is interrupted by two women laughing in the back of the room. Ms. Helms looks at her seating chart. ?Ms. Kate Bornstein, is it??

?Yes, ma?am.?

?If you have something funny to say, then maybe you would like to share it with the whole class??

?Sure.? Bornstein stands. ?There was this traveling F-to-M salesman and he stops at this farmhouse??

?You can stop right there, Ms. Bornstein. Please sit down. I can see I?m going to have a lot trouble with you this semester.? Ms. Helms looks at her list. ?Is there a Donna Cartwright here??

?That would be me, Ms. Helms.?

?You wouldn?t happen to be related to Adam and Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright, would you??

?Yes, ma?am. I?m their sister.?

?I had all three of them in my classes some years back. Hoss was a bit slow on the uptake, but had a good heart. Adam was smart, but surly. Little Joe was a wild one. I heard he finally settled down and built himself a little house on the prairie. How are your brothers these days??

?Hoss and Little Joe are dead. Adam changed his name to Trapper John and became a doctor.?

?I?m so sorry to hear about Hoss and Little Joe.? Ms. Helms spots a hand up in the back. She looks at her list. ?Ms. Gwen Smith??

?Ms. Helms, I think I?m in the wrong class. I?m supposed to be taking Transgender History 101.?

?You want Ms. Dana Rivers? class. You can find her three doors down. She?s our history instructor.?

?Thank you.? Smith leaves. As she does, a man with a beard and moustache walks in.

?Hello. May I help you?? Ms. Helms asks.

?Yes. Is this Transgender 101??

?Yes. And you are??

?Jamison Green, but my friends call me James.?

?Then I?ll call you Mr. Green. Please take your seat. I know who you are, Mr. Green: president of the Chess Club, Student Council president, captain of the basketball team, noted lecturer and author. Let?s get one thing straight. None of that matters in here. If you?re late one more time, young man, you can forget about passing this class. Is that understood??

?Yes, Ms. Helms.? Green sits at his desk.

?Do we have a Ms. Courtney Sharp here??

?Right here.?

?Let?s see who else we have here. Mr. Peter Oiler??

?Right here, ma?am.?

?That?s a nice dress you?re wearing today. Do we have a Ms. Vanessa Foster here??

?Yes, ma?am.?

?You transferred in from Texas, didn?t you??

?I did.?

?Glad to have you here. Finally, Ms. Dallas Denny??

?Here I is, y?all.?

?Ah, yes. You?re that once-famous magazine mogul whose lavish spending sent your entire empire spinning into bankruptcy. Why are you here??

?I was told that if I needed a good laugh, I should take your class. You?ve delivered so far.?

?Who told you that lie??

Denny laughs. ?You?ll never find out from me.?

Ms. Helms looks angry. ?I?ll find out. Count on it.? She picks up a book. ?Class, open your books to the first chapter.?

The class reads: Baked beans, BBQ wings, and deep-dish pizza.

?Okay class, what do these three things have in common? No one? Transgender rights.?

?How?s that??

?Let me explain. In the last half of 2002, Boston, Buffalo, and Chicago added gender identity and expression to the anti-bias laws they already had on the books. Along with them, Decatur and Cook County, Illinois; Baltimore, Maryland; and San Jose, California followed suit, making a total of 15
jurisdictions in the U.S. to make this change in the year 2002. As of this class, there is still one month left in the year.

?Shortly after New Hope, Pennsylvania passed its anti-bias bill, Buffalo?s passed on September 17, with a near-unanimous vote. Next came Decatur, on October 8, with a 6-to-1 vote in favor of an ordinance like the Minnesota state bill. In that bill, the words gender identity are included in the definition of sexual orientation.

?Boston came next, on October 23, with a modern version of the Boston Tea Party??

Bornstein pipes up, ?The ?T? Party!? She draws a stern glance from Ms. Helms.

?The city council voted 9-1 in favor of a bill that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Eight days later, Chicago,
the third largest city in the U.S., added protection against discrimination based on gender expression or identity, with a 40-9 vote. Not to be outdone, Cook County followed Chicago, adding the same language to its Human Rights Ordinance with a 14-1 vote. This covered another 2.5 million people who live
outside of Chicago.

?In one of the sweetest victories this year, the Baltimore City Council voted 18-0 to amend the city?s human rights code to include gender identity and expression. In 2001, Maryland state
legislators had decided to pass a ?sexual orientation only? bill, dumping protection for their transgendered citizens because some in the gay community feared the bill wouldn?t pass with transgender language included. It took 14 months, but Baltimore proved them wrong.

?On November 27, the City Council of San Jose unanimously approved anti-bias protection for its transgenderedcitizens. Prompted by the slaying of Gwen Araujo in nearby Newark just two months earlier, San Jose felt this was something very necessary. On that same day, Pennsylvania state legislators passed hate crimes bill HB 1494, which included gender identity, by a 118-79 vote.

?Along with all these wonderful victories, there were some losses and near-losses as well. Tacoma dodged an attack on its new anti-bias bill by defeating a ballot initiative designed to repeal the civil rights ordinance. The religious group Help Us Take Back Tacoma Again! felt it had a chance to repeal protections for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people, but the voters of Tacoma decided otherwise.

?One of the biggest disappointments came when Mayor Jim Torrey of Eugene Oregon promised to veto a bill thatprohibited anti-bias against transgendered people because he believed it ?could put women and children in an uncomfortable and possible unsafe environment? in public restrooms. Poppycock! Faced with his veto, the City Council of Eugene buckled and removed the language from the bill, even after hearing positive testimonies to the opposite by transgendered citizens of Oregon. Even in a progressive state like Oregon, there are closed and narrow minds in government positions.

?The least surprising loss came on September 11?an interesting date?when the City Council of Topeka, Kansas voted 5-4 to reject anti-bias protection for the city?s GLBT citizens. What can one expect from the capital of the state where J?Noel Gardner was ruled to be male for purposes of marriage, and the home of Fred Phelps? Westboro Baptist Church. They would have had better luck passing an anti-bias bill in a small Georgia town run by the KKK.

?So, class, what did we learn from all of this? Yes, Ms. Cartwright??

?Is all of this going to be on a test??

Ms. Helms rolls her eyes and shakes her head. ?I wasn?t going to, but you can count on it now.?

The class groans.

?Gee thanks, Donna,? Green remarks.

It?s the Biggest

?Here?s a question for you, class. Tell me what is, or was, the largest event ever staged by the transgender community. Mr. Oiler??

?The IFGE Convention??

?Nope. Anyone else? You, Ms. Denny??

?That?s easy. Southern Comfort.?

?Not even close. Give up? It was the 2002 Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), held November 20, 2002. Actually, the event could have been called the Transgender Week of Remembrance, because there were events scheduled from Sunday, November 17 to Sunday, November 24. An event was even scheduled for December 7, 2002. Event Coordinator Gwen Smith was overwhelmed at the level of response for this year?s event. In 1999, two locations held vigils? San Francisco and Boston. There were 14 locations in 2000, and 36 in 2001.

?During the first three years, the event was held on November 28th, but because Thanksgiving Day fell on the 28th in 2002, Smith decided to move TDOR to November 20th.

?Look at the blackboard to your left. There you will see some of the statistics that came out of the Transgender Day of Remembrance for 2002:

? 27 people murdered since the last Day

of Remembrance

? 25 people murdered in 2002, as of 12/1/02
?the worst year on record

? 88 individual locations participating

? 12 international locations?4 in Italy and

3 in Canada

? 76 U.S. locations?11 in California, 7 in

Connecticut, and 5 in Georgia

? 29 universities and colleges, 2 of them

in Canada

? 4 high schools

? Between 3000 and 3500 people attended world-

wide. San Francisco had approximately 500 people

? 38 web sites were blacked out on 11/20/02

? Press coverage at most: GLBT print media,

various TV stations, and presscoverage

from various GLBT organizations

Ms. Helms clears her throat. ?The murder of seventeen-year-old Gwen Araujo in Newark, CA, on October 3, 2002 was kept a secret by those involved until October 17. When the murder and the events surrounding it became public knowledge, it created a media storm not seen since the murder of Matthew Sheppard four years earlier, at a time when preparations for TDOR were kicking into high gear across the world. The murder of this beautiful and young Latino transwoman shone a bright light on the issue of violence toward transgendered people. Araujo?s death added fuel to the growing interest in holding TDOR events across the world.

?It?s interesting to note that while the murder of Gwen Araujo and the Transgender Day of Remembrance was heavily in the news, there were no murders of transgendered people reported anywhere. We went the entire month of November without a single murder being reported, a first for any month in 2002. However, history has shown us that we learn about many transgender murders years after they happen. For example, during 2002, eight new names were added for 2001 murders. November 2002 may not pass into history without seeing names added later. I would like to think the intense media exposure on transgender murders could have contributed toa drop in killings, but that would betoo much to ask for. All we can do is continue educating the public.

?The Transgender Day of Remembrance has now reached a level that few events in the GLBT community can rival. It was heartening to see the number of places participating and the level of education we achieved. In spite of that, the goal is to have no reason to hold this event in the future. Zero deaths in a year is the ideal number, one we can hope one day to achieve.

?Any questions, class? Ms. Sharp? You had your hand up.?

?Is it break time, yet??

?NO! Let?s move on, shall we??

At that moment, a woman with silvery hair and a walking cane peered into the room. Seeing her, Ms. Helms snaps to attention. ?Ah, class, I would like you to meet the Dean of Transgender University, Ms. Merissa Sherrill Lynn.?

?Good morning, Dean Lynn,? respond the students.

?Is everything okay here, Ms. Helms??

?Yes, ma?am. Everything is okay.?

?Well, I just heard you yelling at the students. You know I don?t approve of yelling from my instructors.?

?Yes, ma?am! It won?t happen again.?

?Good. See that it doesn?t. Carry on.?

?Yes, ma?am!?

As Lynn leaves, the class snickers at Ms. Helms.

See! We Really DO Exist!

?All right, here?s a question for you. Name the single group most despised by the transgender community for years.?

?Insurance companies?? asks Ms. Bornstein.

?No, but a good guess.?

?Shriners?? Cartwright inquires.

?Not quite.?

?The Bush family!? Foster blurts out.

?Maybe, but not the answer I was looking for. Give up? How about HRC??

?Ah, yes!? shouts the class in unison.

?But, WAIT! That may soon be changing.?

?What?? The class is incredulous.

?As we all remember, nearly two years ago, The Human Rights Campaign added the words ?gender expression and identity? to its mission statement. HRC had never really accomplished anything having to do with transgender issues. Slowly?much too slowly for our liking?HRC began to add transgender issues to its work. Nevertheless, it continued to push for the passage of the non-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This inconsistency in HRC?s actions didn?t do much to win friends and influence transgendered

?The turning point in the rocky relationship between the transgender community and HRC came at the 2002 Southern Comfort Conference. In a room filled with transgender activists, HRC?s David Smith and transgender researcher Mara Keisling presented the highlights of an HRC-sponsored survey that showed what the American public thinks about transgendered people.

?The results confirmed what transgender activists had been saying all along: If language is added to legislation to protect transgendered people, it will not derail the bills. The old adage that
the words gender expression or gender identity will harm legislation can no longer be used as a club to beat us over the head. See! We really DO exist! They love us! They really, really love us!

?Look at the blackboard to your right. Here are some of the results of the survey. 800 Americans participated:

? 61 percent believe the country needs laws to protect transgendered people from discrimination.

? 57 percent incorrectly believe it is not legal to fire a person just because they are transgendered.

? 67 percent agree it is possible for a person to be born as one sex, but inside feel like another sex.

? 53 percent believe it is all right for a person to be transgendered, while 37 percent believe it is wrong.

? 77 percent believe transgendered students should be allowed to attend public schools.

? 48 percent would have no problem

working with a transgendered person, while only 8 percent claimed they would not be willing to.
?With all this good information, and with positive responses from the various activists at the presentation, Keisling was still quoted in a Washington Blade interview as saying, ?I respect these women, but I think it?s dangerous to say this survey supports our inclusion in ENDA. This is a tool to educate people on the issues. ENDA is not the end-all-be-all of our issues.?

?Excuse me, but if these numbers aren?t good enough to justify us being included in some form of ENDA, then what would be required? One hundred percent? I?m willing to bet these numbers are equivalent to the ones found insurveys done in the early 1990s when Americans were asked the samequestions about gays and lesbians. Those numbers were used to justify creating ENDA in the first place.

?Fifteen jurisdictions add gender expression and gender identity to their anti-bias bills in ten months, then this survey comes out with positive results, and they?re still saying we ?need to educate.? If we hadn?t been educating, then how can they explain all these wonderful gains? Osmosis? Little green men? El Nino? The spirits of Hoss and Little Joe? Plain and simple: HRC is afraid to admit when they are wrong.

?Okay class, that will be it for today. Your assignment, due for next class, will be to read my column in the last 10 issues of Transgender Tapestry and Leslie Feinberg?s Transgender Warriors and Stone Butch Blues.

?Then, I want a thousand-word report for my columns, and for each of Leslie Feinberg?s books. Is that understood??

The students groan. ?Ah gee, Ms. Helms! That?s too much work!?

?No one ever said being transgendered was easy. Class dismissed.?