In a historic first, the Democratic National Convention will see transgender participation like never before. For the first time ever, there will be more than a solitary transgendered delegate in national political process. No less than five delegates, and two committee members will be attending the Convention on July 26-29, 2004 in Boston - four of whom are current or former board members of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC).Over 4,353 delegates and alternates from every state and territory to
nominate the next President of the United States. While five delegates works out to
only 0.11% of the total delegation, the transgender community sees this as a
momentous accomplishment, and an exciting milestone.
The first publicized transgender delegate to attend a national convention was
Jane Fee, a Minnesota delegate who attended the 2000 Democratic National
Convention in Los Angeles. Karen Keren was the very first transgender delegate,
attending the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston. Curiously, the
press avoided reporting on this.
Keisling and Helms were not available to comment, but the other delegation
members offered their thoughts on the upcoming event:
This year will see five delegates from four states: Kathy Padilla from
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Barbra 'Babs' Casbar from suburban northern New Jersey,
and Monica Helms from Atlanta, Georgia will join the two transgendered
delegates from Texas, Christina Ocasio from Austin and Vanessa Edwards Foster from
Joining the delegation will be two national committee members: Melissa Sklarz
from New York City, who will sit on the Rules Committee, and Mara Keisling,
Exec. Dir. of the National Center for Transgender Equality, who will serve on
the LGBT Steering Committee.
"This is a watershed event, openly transgender people being accepted as
leaders in the largest and oldest political party in the country," said Kathy
Padilla, a former charter board member of NTAC. "It's an affirmation of the value
of a very disadvantaged people and will effect inclusion in proposed federal
civil rights legislation."
Christina Ocasio, a board officer of the Travis County Stonewall Democrats in
Austin, and a self-described "young transwoman, commented, "it is important
that we start to show our faces in politics and activism." She added
"transgendered people can be professionals with stable jobs, mortgage payments, car
notes, paying taxes and children. In other words normal in most aspects of life."
One of the key issues that Ocasio hopes to ensure is "the ability to keep
working and being a productive member of our great society.
DNC Rules Committee member, Melissa Sklarz, said that the transgender
community "ponder[s] our place in an uncaring cultural environment that know us only
from tabloid news and television and wonder how many more deaths we will
suffer until our needs are taken seriously. [In] spite of insurmountable obstacles
put in our [way], our numbers only grow larger, and we will not go away."
Babs Casbar, an NTAC board member, noted the "honor" of being selected a
delegate to the convention, and the "singular significance that I am part of the
first transgender caucus of the Democratic Convention, ever!" She added, "our
first goal is to be recognized as our own community by the Democratic National
Committee. We must be our own advocates!" Casbar also commented that in this
election season, "being recognized as an American Veteran is an additional
honor and responsibility that I also carry with Pride."
"We are not simply a rare anomaly this year, we're taking a more
proportionately representative part of the political process," said NTAC Chair,
Edwards Foster. "This is the beginning of a political coming-of-age for the
transgender community - and one that was long overdue. We're finally doing what
other segments of American society have done before us." Foster, a co-founder of
NTAC, noted that "there is still a quite a way to go before we can say we're
considered equals. But we've taken the next step, a very important step, in
affecting our community's destiny for the better."