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How the Gay Community Is Complicit in Trans Violence

by Joseph Erbentraut
Contributor
Monday Oct 5, 2009
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The first article in this series took a general look at the growing problem of violence against transgendered persons, both in the U.S. and abroad. In the second part, Joe Erbentraut looks at how the media and even many gay organizations ignore or downplay these crimes and what is being done to remedy that.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) works to combat misinformation and transphobic coverage through the distribution of resources to members of the media on how to accurately and fairly cover transgender issues, in addition to working with hate crime victims to help them share their stories.

GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios said this accurate media coverage was key to educating the general public and influencing legislation. He said the media still pays "far too little attention" to violence toward the transgender community.

"When people hear media reports about the devastating impact anti-transgender violence has on real families it can influence their opinions about the vital need for inclusive hate crimes legislation in states and at the federal level," Barrios said.

"When proper terminology and respect is used in discussing the lives of transgender people," he continued, "it helps raise awareness and understanding among community members about transgender friends, family and neighbors."

Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, agreed. He noted the majority of transgender victims’ identities as both low-income and people of color is a likely contributor to the relative lack of media coverage.

Fair media coverage in the case of Lateisha Green, killed last November in Syracuse, N.Y. he said, had a positive impact. The case’s first-degree manslaughter conviction of Dwight DeLee as a hate crime was made on the basis of anti-gay, rather than anti-trans, comments.

New York State does not cover gender identity or transgender status in its current legislation. The case’s has heightened the profile for trans-inclusive policies in Syracuse and statewide.

"The victims are often viewed as not worthy of the level of attention that they deserve, and that’s where activism needs to come in," Silverman shared. "We want to make sure, if nothing else can come of these tragic circumstances, that some kind of public education happens about the violence facing transgender individuals."

Gays & lesbians hardly immune to ’transphobia’
That education clearly needs to happen within the LGBT community itself.

It’s a case of "physician, heal thyself." Several reported instances have publicized aggression by gay and lesbian people toward the transgender community.

For example, in February, there was an attack by two cisgender women toward transmen at a lesbian bar event at Washington, D.C.’s Fab Lounge. (The term "cisgender" is a newish phrase that refers to women or men who act according to conventional gender-specific mores and can refer to gay men and lesbians as well as heterosexuals.)

The women reportedly asked, "What the fuck are you? Are you a girl or a boy?" The men were then assaulted by a crowd at the bar.

Last October, a transgender woman was attacked by a gay man while attending a race at the Tucson Greyhound Park. Janey Kay was reportedly using an ATM at the track when a man asked her if she was a "drag queen." When she responded, she endured a cut lip and had clumps of her hair pulled out by the assailant, Richard Ray Young.

Young labeled the incident a "misunderstanding," referencing his own sexuality as a reason why it was not a hate crime. "I let her know that I was one of the family, that I was homosexual," he told an Arizona newspaper. Young was convicted of assault and disorderly conduct by a South Tucson municipal court in August.

Loree Cook-Daniels, a program manager for FORGE, a Milwaukee-based transgender advocacy group, commented on the attacks. She said that, though violence is rare, day-to-day discrimination and exclusion were common among the transgender community’s gay and lesbian peers.

"Of course LGB people aren’t innocent of transphobia," Cook-Daniels said. "It even makes sense that they may be more transphobic, due to gender allegiance - to be a "gay man" you have to assert both your own male gender and the male gender of those you love - and to the popular conflation of sexual orientation with gender identity."

"If you’ve spent a lot of time asserting how your gender identity is normative, you may well develop a prejudice against those whose identity is not normative," Cook-Daniels continued.

"I think so often people don’t connect the dots and realize the many, many ways that the discrimination that transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience is interconnected and rooted in things like gender nonconformity and expression," added Silverman. "We still have a lot of work to do."

Frequently, in online blog sites, gay men will refer to those who act effeminate or cross dress derogatorily. Similarly, some commenters on lesbian blog sites refer derisively to women or men who transgress conventional gender-identity roles.

The battle ahead
Despite the recognition that transgender advocates still face a long road ahead in the battle against violence in their community, all sources interviewed for this story agreed they were headed in the right direction. One big step toward a trans-inclusive society is pending hate crime legislation at all levels of government, an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act at the federal level, and perhaps even a lessened climate for trans-violence.

Sharon Stapel, executive director of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, referenced the growth of organizing through the Internet and blogging as a successful tactic for transfolk, "allowing everyone, regardless of where they live or who they know, to join in the conversation."

Above all, all sources agreed the transgender community cannot do it alone.

"Invisibility doesn’t win political rights or anti-discrimination laws," Cook-Daniels said. "It’s in the whole LGBT community’s interest to work on anti-trans violence, because it’s the same thing that’s fueling anti-LG violence: antipathy to those who don’t toe society’s gender rules."

"We’re moving to a place where people being victims of violence is no longer acceptable, but we’re not there yet," Stapel said. "We need to hold people to a legal standard of civil rights and a moral imperative to not commit violence against people for who they are and who they love."

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.

Comments

  • Abigail Jensen, 2009-10-05 12:11:30

    We at TransMentors International (http://transmentors.org/)are working to educate the LGB community about trans people and the unique issues we face, as well as those we share with the greater LGBT community through our TranForm Arizona conference on October 16-18 in Phoenix (http://transform.transmentors.org/). The theme of this conference is "Uniting the T and the LGB." Our strength lies in unity, so please come and educate yourselves to better enable us to work together.


  • Zoe Brain, 2009-10-06 06:44:37

    Remember, in the version of the Employment Non Discrimination Act passed by the house last year, trans people were deliberately omitted so it only protected gays. They were in originally, but were purposefully removed to increase its chances of success. Trans people are seen as expendable by GLBs if there’s a chance their inclusion might hurt the GLB cause. This was shown recently in New Hampshire, where in a cynical quid pro quo, a bill that would have given trans people the same rights as gays in that state was unanimously defeated, immediately after a narrow vote that OK’d gay marriage. Even the bill’s sponsors didn’t vote for it. It will be at least two years before the issue can be re-visited. That’s no guarantee, trans people have been waiting over a decade for the same rights as Gays in Mass. and NY, and for over two decades in Wisconsin.


  • Julie M., 2009-10-06 10:31:48

    One of the factors used to identify a gay or lesbian person is gender non-conformity in their presentation. An effeminate man is labeled a "fag". A masculine woman is called a "dyke". Gender non-conformity is the definition of transgender and it runs through every L G and B section of the community. Hatred, intolerance, prejudice and discrimination against trans people within the LGBT community simply makes no sense.


  • Anonymous, 2009-10-07 10:59:38

    I suppose a lot of people just ask: What exactly makes the "T" part of a gay/lesbian community, which is a group unified by non-standard sexual orientation. Transpeople aren’t necessarily non-heterosexual.. Does the gay community somehow transform into "anything except straight people" because the transgender-only advocacy base is tiny? I don’t think you can expect people to understand transgender issues, just because they’re gay and people throw around the term "LGBT" in media/advocacy, if the person hasn’t been exposed to the transgendered. The transgendered represent an unbelievably small portion of society; no one is especially concerned with the concerns of one person in a room of 10,000 or larger--whereas 1,000 of those people might demand a lot more attention, for so expediency’s sake, that 1 person joins the 1,000. The trouble is that those other 9,000 people have a lot more trouble understanding that 1 than the 1,000. Does excluding the 1--that doesn’t really share a common advocacy goal--make the 1,000 selfish? I’d say, unequivocally, no. Ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number is most important, in my book. Does that mean transgender equality is not -important-? No. Of course not. But there are priorities to consider, especially when the vast majority of the donations driving the advocacy are intended for those 1,000.


  • Anonymous, 2009-10-08 10:26:32

    I would disagree with those proportions, statistics show that LGB compromise of roughly 8 to 10 Million people in this country, while Trans people are about 1-3 million. I would hardly say one out of a 1,000 is a fair assessment. Remember a good portion of GLB people are gender variant in some form or another. Hence the phrase, the straight comunity always used the terms like "acting gay"...what does "acting gay" signify, it signfies gender variant slight or significant feminine behavior exhibited by a guy who likes other guys. Or vice versa with lesbians, who are "dikish". This doesnt apply to all GLB people, but transgender has always played a role in the gay community. These are facts.


  • Erin Armstrong, 2009-10-08 12:35:06

    It is exactly the attitude that "Ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number is most important", that continues to hold back the Transgender community. Attitudes like this only result in the use of the T in LGBT as a bargaining tool for getting what they want... "ok, we’ll drop the protection for transfolk if you agree to pass it for everyone else." If we start down that road, where does it end? Furthermore, many times when this does happen (ENDA ’08 for example), the LGB community sayd "don’t worry, we’ll get the legislation for us passed now and we’ll come back for you later", which simply isn’t the case. Assuming ENDA passed last year I have a very hard time seeing anyone trying to add the T onto the bill, nor have I ever seen any examples of this happening. There is a reason that there are only 11 states with protections for transsexuals while there are 25 with protection for Lesbians and Gays. My final point would be that the entire point of having an organized community such as the LGBT one would be to unite for a common goal. We all have a common goal and we all face very similar problems. We come together to stand united but attitudes like the ones I mentioned only serve to separate the community. If it were the opposite situation and Gay men or Lesbian women were being dropped from a bill for the sake of everyone else you bet that they would be up in arms about that... even if it was for the greater good. Don’t ask us (the T) to just sit back and take it for the good of the community... because what is the point of a community if we’re divided.


  • Anonymous, 2009-10-08 14:45:08

    @Anonymous#2: Most estimations put gays at around 10% of the population. In the US, that translates to about 30,000,000 people. Estimates of transgenderism vary, usually from 1 in 500, to all the way to 1 in 30,000 or 1 in 100,000. http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/WashPost12-28-00article.html http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/TS-II.html#anchor635615 Again, you simply haven’t addressed why transgenderism magically falls into the same category as LGB, especially since the majority (vast majority?) reject the notion that gender identity is a completely separate entity from physiological sex. The transgender activism base latches on to the gay activism base, because it’s MUCH larger (and thus commands a stronger voice), simply for the sake of advancing their own cause. Often at the -expense- of the gay community’s, which is why the "T" is often dropped from legislation, because people are pragmatic, and do want the greatest good for the greatest number. @Grishno - I’m sorry that the transgendered get the short end of the stick in the pragmatism game, but if it’s within my ability to make 1 out of every 10 people happy, and trying to make 1 out of every 500-100,000 happy along with the 1/10 jeopardizes the chances of those my original efforts.. I am not selfish in "dropping the protection for transfolk." I’m not saying that transgender issues aren’t worth fighting for. They ARE. It’s still a matter of equality and fairness, but the bottom line is that homosexuality and bisexuality are not inextricably linked with transgenderism. Transgenderism is a matter of recognizing that people are born with the asynchronous bodies--not sexualities. You said that the point of having an "organized community" is advancing the "common goal"--but what I’m saying is that there is no common goal besides "more understanding." Gays want acceptance of uncommon sexuality. The transgendered want legal recognition of their transition from male->female or vice versa. They’re two different causes, and neither cause’s efforts should be allowed to impair the other. Likewise, if you add in transgender issues as "mandatory" in arguing for equality in sexuality, why not also add in polygamy equality? I also believe polygamy should be legal; the government should not be enforcing their ideas of what relationships should be onto the populace. But it has nothing to do with the fight for gays, lesbians and bisexuals. I’m not unsympathetic to your cause. I support it. But they shouldn’t be considered, beyond the loosest sense, "linked." You can resent me for thinking so, but from what I’ve seen, my viewpoint is *extremely* common among gays (and that’s why this article was written). One of my good friends in a transwoman I met in college. I love her. I would fight for her rights. She would fight for mine. But those "rights" are different things.


  • Anonymous, 2009-10-09 10:25:59

    I have seen slightly different figures, I’m not saying gay pople dont compromise the greatest majority. And one’s gender identity and sexual identity are two different complete things, but it is common for gay people to exemplify both at the same time, this is how there is relevance. Its a complex issue, but you see it everyday. Beyond stereotypes even, facts are that many gay people are gender variant, which is what the whole gender identity/perception stuff is all about in legislation, the ts woman who no one ever knows is a ts to begin with doesnt need this help as much, as those who stick out as being somewhere in between in society, whether theyre gay, a crossdresser, pre-op ts, whatever.


  • Anonymous, 2009-10-09 10:37:18

    I don’t think some people even know what the legislation is for, its not just for transitioning transsexuals, its for anyone who expresses themselves in a manner that is outside of the gender norms. That is what gender identity is all about. The term transgender is an umbrella term for anyone, whether transitioning or not. I have many gay friends and family members, who all exemplify behaviours that ar noticeably gender variant in one way or another, whether its mannerisms or speech, or interests. Theyre not transgender in any way, theyre happy as the sex they were born in, but the gender identity issue has its connections within the gay community as well.


  • Anonymous, 2009-10-09 22:02:47

    one’s gender identity and sexual identity are two different complete things, but it is common for gay people to exemplify both at the same time, this is how there is relevance. Its a complex issue, but you see it everyday. Hot real bisexual friends http://www.FindBilover.com


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