By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
As you will know dear readers, this is a monthly publication, which often prevents me from being able to comment on current news cycles. This is not wholly bad, as it leaves me free to effectively “wait and see” on some issues and process events in a more thoughtful fashion than we often are able to in our current climate of “News Right Now!”
However, I have the opportunity this month to comment on a pair of particularly newsworthy developments of great concern to the LGBTQ Community. The most recent is the Supreme Court’s ruling of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. The other is a flurry of news items alleging that the Board of OutServe-SLDN, the organization which spearheaded the recent repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” had voted to request the resignation of newly appointed Executive Director, Allyson Robinson.
One of these, the SCOTUS ruling on DOMA, is an undoubtedly exciting victory for LGBTQ people. The other, which led to the resignation in protest of several board members and senior staff of OutServe-SLDN, is much less positive. Both of these events impact trans people pretty directly.
First of all, let me make it very clear that I am quite excited about the overturning of DOMA. I have often spoken of the need for same-sex marriage equality. Laws which dictate discrimination against same-sex marriages make no more sense now than the anti-miscegenation laws of a generation ago. I firmly believe that in this we will have the judgment of history on our side. It is a victory very clearly worth celebrating, and I can be quite sure I’m missing out on some truly epic parties as I sit here in front of my aging Mac. [pullquote]There have been organizations and people who have understood that sometimes the needs of the few go hand in hand with the needs of the many. I am very proud to say that I believe this paper has consistently been one of those organizations.[/pullquote]
So how are these related? They both spring from struggles we have been told are of primary concern to LGBTQ people. Marriage equality and open military service for gay and lesbian people have been the issues that have most dominated our community. They have taken the lion’s share of resources in terms of financial, political, legal and organizational support. Whenever trans people have said tried to interject our own, vital issues into the discussion, we have been counseled to be patient and told to wait. The movement would come back for us. We just had to realize that our needs, as well as the needs of other at risk segments of our LGBTQ community such as immigrants, the poor and sex workers were not a priority. Our concerns would be on the back burner until the gay and lesbian leadership could marry the person they love and participate openly in our nation’s military-industrial complex. No matter that these goals in and of themselves seemed to require us to tone down our more radical leanings and downplay our less than heteronormative elements.
If we could just take our flag and stand in the back, that would be great. M’kay?
Clearly, this has not been entirely across the board. There have been organizations that have seen the need to prioritize Trans issues and concerns right alongside those of gay and lesbian people. There have been organizations and people who have understood that sometimes the needs of the few go hand in hand with the needs of the many. I am very proud to say that I believe this paper has consistently been one of those organizations. However, what we as trans people have heard is that if we play along and are diligent supporters of the main agenda, then our turn would come. Well, fair enough, many of us have tried to do just that.
I understand pretty well how politics work. At its most effective, politics (and activism) require compromise. The focus is on core issues, the mobilization of allied blocs and targeted fundraising efforts.
We may not always agree on prioritization, but at some point, priorities need to be set. Often this is done by the most powerful segments of a group. In the case of the LGBTQ community, that power structure is pretty clearly laid forth in the acronym itself. If Trans, Queer or Bisexual people were the ones with the real power and clout, you can bet we’d all be reading that acronym differently. [pullquote]In the case of the LGBTQ community, that power structure is pretty clearly laid forth in the acronym itself. If Trans, Queer or Bisexual people were the ones with the real power and clout, you can bet we’d all be reading that acronym differently.[/pullquote]
So, here we are. There’s still a lot of work to be done at state levels to achieve full marriage equality, but we’ve achieved a major milestone. Those marriages that are currently legal will be recognized at the highest levels. Although the culture of our military will require more work, there is no longer any legal impediment to open service. Done and done.
Now, can we focus on improving the much more basic needs of trans people (as well as racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, the poor, sex workers, etc.)? This should be the point where the larger community says, “Okay. You were saying something about Basic Civil Rights? Let’s get on that.” But I’m not sure it’s going to be if we don’t absolutely demand it.
Here’s where the allegedly requested resignation of Allyson Robinson ties into all this. Her appointment as the Executive Director of OutServe-SLDN about nine months ago, the only openly transgender leader of a major LGBT rights organization which does not primarily focus on transgender issues, was read by many as a message to the transgender community. It was taken to mean that priorities in the wake of the DADT victory were being reorganized as long promised, and it made sense too. Although gay and lesbian folks can now serve openly, trans people are still barred from open service. Now, sadly, the rather abrupt request for her resignation is also being read as a message. Whatever the truth of this story turns out to be, whatever the details behind it, the message that has been taken by trans people is already indelible. “You are not our top concern. You will have to wait a bit longer.”
Allyson Robinson has been dealing with all this pretty admirably. She has remained remarkably on task, refusing to let her personal feelings about all of this, whatever they may be, distract from her mission to serve America’s LGBTQ servicemembers and veterans. [pullquote]We will not stand by as we are beaten and killed because of our gender identity and presentation, waiting for you to have a nice white wedding first.[/pullquote]
We, however, are under no such obligation. We have been patient. We have fought in the trenches with and for our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters. Now it is our turn. It’s time to stand up and say it loud and proud. We will no longer wait quietly for your help in achieving full civil rights for transgender people. We will not stand by as we are beaten and killed because of our gender identity and presentation, waiting for you to have a nice white wedding first.
The time is now for the TBQLG community to stand strong and united for transgender rights. We hope you will stand with us and help lift us up, but we are done waiting.
*Lorelei Erisis is an activist, adventurer and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.