Ft. Lauderdale: Come bash in the sun

My partner, The Activist, has been working for the a national organization that builds grassroots LGBT political power. She has been organizing communities in Florida for the past couple of months. She occasionally flies home for the weekend. We go grocery shopping, then she disappears via car service to the airport before I even wake up on Monday mornings. A couple of weeks ago she called me in a fright. She was about to do her first decline to sign action. Now, this is a young, black and first nation's, queer woman who has taken on major white elitist corporations like Walmart and ExxonMobile with questionably-illicit direct actions and a camera. But, in Florida, perhaps for the first time, she cried at the prospect of confronting people with her beliefs. A decline to sign is an action where you go to the areas where your political opposition is trying to get signatures for a petition or ballot measure. When you see a person trying to collect a signature, you walk straight up to the would be signee and you say something like, "Please do not sign that petition. It would hurt thousands of people, like me, who may just want to see our partner in a hospital room as they are dying." This particular ballot measure, which unfortunately DID get enough signatures to go to a state-wide vote is a proposed Florida State Constitution gay-marriage-ban. It will be on the ballot during the next presidential election (as will likely measures in a few other states) to ensure the Republican Party gets enough neo-facists at the polls to win the Florida's electoral votes. At the time we talked through it. I asked The Activist what she would do if she was on the other side of the fence and a dissenting group showed up to disrupt her signature gathering, she said she would have her team walk away. I asked her if she thought the people who volunteer to collect signatures (or in many cases do it for a living) were likely to be looking for a fight. She said of course not. I asked her what her worst case scenario was and how she would handle it. She said, worst case they would try to argue, and she would walk away. I told her to trust her gut and to follow her instincts when it came to her personal safety. Through all of this I honestly believed she was not in any real danger. She was part of a group, there would be people around. She was well within her legal rights. Yeah, I am sometimes a naive idiot. You will be happy to know that nothing bad happened to The Activist that day, but I am less and less confident about her safety in Florida in general. Here is why:Two weeks ago Broward County, the home of Ft. Lauderdale, passed a transgender-inclusive Employment and Housing Non-Discrimmination Act (ENDA). The previous act, which passed 15 YEARS ago, was LGB-inclusive. At that time they had decided to leave transfolk off to make it easier to pass. This probably sounds familiar to those of you who followed the recent federal ENDA debacle. The passing of Broward's ENDA was heralded in the local paper, [The Sun Sentinal][1]:"This is a great county to live in, a very progressive county, and is following what the rest of the country is doing," said Jacqui Charvet, a transgender activist who lives in North Lauderdale.10 DAYS after the Broward ENDA passed Simmie/Beyonce Williams, a 17-year-old local teen was murdered while presenting as female in a popular area for transgender folks. The headline read, "[Gay teen shot dead while dressed as woman in Fort Lauderdale.][2]" Simmie/Beyonce's murder happened about a mile from where another Ft. Lauderdale young person, 21-year-old Cinnamon Broadus, also a trans person was violently murdered one year earlier. Among several really disappointing choices by the reporters and editors contributing to this story was the decision to call Simmie/Beyonce only "gay" instead of "transgender and gay," because the mother didn't know Simmie/Beyonce was dressing in women's clothes at night or on the weekends, the decision to refer to Simmie/Beyonce as only Simmie and to put the female surname in quotes, "Beyonce," as if it were less valid than say, P Diddy or Stonewall Jackson or Prince. The same is true of Cinnamon, who despite living as a woman was referred to as "he" and "Timothy" and whose chosen name was always put in quotes as well. The Sun-Sentinal even went so far as to suggest, without any evidence, that Simmie/Beyonce was doing sex work at the time of the violent encounter with two adult men that led to Simmie/Beyonce's murder. I wrote to the Sun-Sentinal about their coverage, I sent them a copy of [GLAAD's Media Reference Guide][3] for covering transgender stories, one of the lead reporters wrote me back:"That's a great guide, thank you so much. It's made some things extremely clear. And I'm actually glad we didn't use the term "transgender." From the GLAAD guide, he was actually a "cross-dresser" because he had clearly not "transitioned to live full-time as the other sex" and we had no evidence he "intend(ed) to do so in the future." Even still, if we learn otherwise, I imagine we will change our terminology in future stories."He clearly missed the over-arching point of the word transgender from GLAAD's guide:"Transgender An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers, and other gender-variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term (transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not choose to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically."3 DAYS after Simmie/Beyonce was killed another local person, Melborne Brunner, was attacked in public while dining with his partner and friend at a local Ft. Lauderdale restaurant. The headline this time, "[Gay man attacked outside popular Lauderdale eatery.][4]" His attacker, a self-proclaimed fag-killer, was another patron at the restaurant who threatened to break Brunner and his partner's necks. When Brunner complained to the wait staff they did nothing. Brunner was attacked by the man while entering his car. The Sun-Sentinal made it clear that these three crimes were "not related." I feel that is like saying three lynchings in a given city in the Jim Crow south aren't related. Sure, it may have been a different group of people that hurt or killed someone, but it is the same system, the same tolerance of hatred, the same structural injustices that allow and even create an environment conducive for these crimes to continue to go on being uncared about and unpunished year-in and year-out. All three of these attacks have no suspects, despite all three of them having eye witnesses and being immediately reported. So, I will be direct here. I place a large portion of the burden of guilt on the state of violence against LGBT people in Ft. Lauderdale on the repeated attacks against LGBT people from the Right in Florida. I am here by pointing my finger at the hate mongers who hide behind Christ's message of love, who invoke the followers of the Prince of Peace to wage war both legislatively and physically on LGBT bodies. I blame the ridiculous talking heads and political pundits who knowingly and carelessly parade false portrayals of LGBT folks in front of their viewers, then say "see, see, abominations, deviants, predators, perverts abound." I blame the news industry for not doing a better job of looking beyond right-wing spin and reporting the facts of the situation. I blame entertainment media for making a regular mockery of LGBT bodies, values, families and lives. I blame the neo-conservative bigots who have no qualms about toying with the lives of thousands of people and their families to get a few more bodies to the polls. Your hate-filled rhetoric is nothing short of a death sentence.Finally, I blame the LGB people who are too selfish or chickenshit to stand up for transgender rights. Because ultimtely, 99 percent of the time, gay-bashing is not gay-bashing at all, but attacking folks who do not live up to gender norms. This is trans bashing. The blood of our people is on your hands, too. Yes, this post is radical, it is extremist, and it is timely in its truth. [1]: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/southflorida/sfl-flbtransgender0213sbfeb13,0,1512200.story?track=rss [2]: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/broward/sfl-flbteenmurder0223sbfeb23,0,6177964.story?track=rss [3]: http://www.glaad.org/media/guide/transfocus.php [4]: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/sfl-226floridian,0,1325731.story?track=rss

Comments

betwixt 6 years, 5 months ago

At our youth party last Saturday I was struck by the Fort Lauderdale/Miami youth and just how outside the gender binary they were.
One black youth in particular dressed in women's boots and performed to Beyonce. This youth has yet to decide which gender they wanted to identify as. If this youth were killed tomorrow they would identify them as a gay black male, never touching on this bigger part of their identity and the right to not choose a gender.

As my colleague and I watched the party I was overcome with sadness, as I do not think the youth often get the opportunity of safety to be themselves.

Within my work I must always check myself as I feel there are so many things we could be working on as a movement. I feel like I need to be on the ground working with the trans community in Fort Lauderdale instead of only working in Miami with wealthy gay men.
Its not that I feel that working in Miami is unimportant I just worry that people with the highest need are being left behind.

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billy 6 years, 5 months ago

@ Betwixt: I think the thing I am overwhelmed by both in the conversations I have had with members of the press and with other LGBT folks via avenues like Bilerico.com, is the unwillingness on the part of some people to speak clearly and honestly about the FACT that these young people are by definition transgender. Whether or not they use that term, whether or not they have talked to their parents about it, whether or not they ever plan on changing their name or their legal sex - their gender EXPRESSION (regardless of their feelings of identity) is transgender. IE, they read to the outside world as gender-variant in some way. I can't help but feel that the unwillingness on many people's part to label someone is trans comes from a deep misunderstanding of the term, and from a deep and systemic disgust with what the term stands for. The reporter I spoke with did not want to mislabel Williams as transgender not because it was inaccurate, but rather because it might be insulting to William's mother. I mean, the reporters felt more comfortable insinuating the kid was a sex worker than a trans person. Why? Because we live in a misogynist society that has real disdain for men who actively give up their male privilege and purposefully take on feminine characteristics. So, in the face of extreme evidence supporting a persons membership in the transgender umbrella (see the above picture of Williams, plucked eye brows, glossy lips, long hair) people who wield the power of the pen or microphone refuse to call it like it is.

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DOTDOT 6 years, 4 months ago

"Yes, this post is radical, it is extremist, and it is timely in its truth."

Well, now, I will have to stake my claim to the ultimate timely truth by saying that as a species we suck. Kind of loses its radical extremism with it's sweeping shrug of the entire human race, doesn't it? You know what? That's my point.

Billy, you expect a lot from people. While expectations are healthy, they identify you as an optimist. This is your compliment to the human race. Your frustration seems to be based on the idea that basic attitudes can change, and people can be educated on gender issues, and it isn't happening fast enough, or that it could possibly happen faster. I envy that optimism at the same time I worry (we don't know each other, and I have no place to, but there it is) about the toll it takes on you.

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billy 6 years, 4 months ago

I understand your concern DOTDOT, believe me. But in order for me to care less, or expect less, I will also have to admit that it might not be possible for me to be my whole self and at the same time enjoy the full rights of being a citizen and a human being in my own lifetime.

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Terry Bush 6 years, 4 months ago

As Fannie Lou Hamer is reported to have said when asked why she chose to risk losing her life (and she did lose her job, among other things) in registering to vote in Mississippi during the 60's, [paraphrasing] "What was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do to me was kill me and it seemed like they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time ever since I could remember." And if I do get to vote, it might get some of them mean white folks out of office!" She eventually got to vote. And went on to help change this country. But..and here is a big key I think...it was not easy nor did change come fast. However, Fannie never lost her keen sense of humor about life, and herself. Gotta love it. And her. So don't lose heart, but do not expect it to be easy! Change rarely is! Especially worthwhile change!

More Fannie quotes:

"I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." (This quote was later employed as her epitaph.)

"Nobody's free until everybody's dead"

"All of this is on account we want to register [sic], to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings - in America?"

  "There is one thing you have got to learn about our movement. Three people are better than no people."
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