Monica Roberts

Congressional Blackout

Filed By Monica Roberts | June 28, 2008 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Congress, employment discrimination, Monica Roberts

This is a picture of the participants in Thursday's historic subcommittee hearing on transgender unemployment issues on Capitol Hill. Can you detect what's wrong with it?

08Congressional Transgender hearing.jpg

What's wrong with this picture is that with the exception of Diego Sanchez, every other participant in it is white.

There are no African-American transgender people testifying at this hearing.

Now, would you be happy if a historic hearing for transgender people happened on The Hill and your people weren't represented?

It is mind boggling for me to see that once again, a community that claims that we are one diverse bunch - that we're all in this together - puts together a historic hearing on unemployment discrimination, an issue that we African descended transgender people are intimately familar with and not one of us is at the table giving testimony about it.

This Congress now has 44 members of the Congressional Black Caucus who are wielding historic levels of power. It added another member earlier this month in Maryland's Donna Edwards. The majority whip is CBC member James Clyburn. Others have high seniority on various committees, or chair various committees and subcommittees. Oh yeah, there's some Illinois senator and CBC member who's the Democratic nominee for president.

Now I've read happy-happy joy-joy comments about how great this hearing was, what great work the Equal Sign org and Rep. Frank did in putting this together, how eloquent various people were, et cetera. I note these comments are all coming from peeps whose ethnic group was overwhelmingly represented at the hearing.

For those of us of African ancestry, all we experienced was a congressional blackout. There needed to be someone of African descent telling our stories, and no, Diego being the Latino transman at that table doesn't count.

While we all hope and pray for that day when we are all One America, the reality is that we aren't. Race permeates everything we do in this country. It's why the CBC, the CHC (Congressional Hispanic Caucus) and the Congressional Asian Pacific Islander Caucus exist. It's why I write and speak about race issues as part of my GLBT activist work.

I'm sure I'm going to hear the defensive spin over the next few weeks that "the committee/Frank's office chose the speakers," "we had a long, diverse list of speakers," "HRC, NCTE and NGLTF didn't intentionally freeze out the African-American transgender community."

Yeah, right.

If you were so concerned about having African-American representation on that panel, then why didn't y'all give the peeps at the National Black Justice Coalition a call? I do believe their headquarters is in Washington DC. You also had Earline Budd sitting there in DC as well. I think that transteen Rochelle Evans would have been happy to be flown in from Fort Worth to DC and tell her story about how hard its been for her to find employment and the blatant discrimination she's run into trying to find a job.

The point is that in the United States no civil rights legislation passes without the CBC being on board with it. We have ten wavering members of the CBC getting tremendous pressure put on them by Hi Impact Leadership Coalition ministers in their districts (the negroid sellouts bankrolled by the Traditional Values Coalition).

An opportunity was lost in putting an African-American face to this problem. This also plays once again into the GLBT movement's ongoing PR problem in the African-American community that is exploited by the Hi Impact ministers and their like-minded friends. They are actively trying to split the coalition of African-Americans and the GLBT communty, and trust me, this omission of our community will not only be exploited by them, but it has been noted by your African-American GLBT and non-GLBT allies.

While I'm happy the long rumored hearing happened and hope something positive comes out of this such as an inclusive ENDA, I'm not holding my breath based on the peeps who were behind it.

I'm also not happy about my people being dissed and ignored by the GLBT community once again

Crossposted to TransGriot

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Yes, an opportunity was missed, but it was not the LGBT community's miss. NCTE delivered a list with over 70 names, from which the subcommittee choose the panel. That was it. One panel.

I suggest you determine which members of the CBC are on that committee/subcommittee, and contact them directly to complain. Those Congresspersons would be more effective in getting changes made to the panel selection in the future.

One more thing -- while Donna Edwards just joined the CBC, Al Wynn just left it, so there was no change in number.

I agree, and there should be NO spin on fact, in my opinion. If you know me at all or have ever spent any time with me, you will likely have heard me say, whisper or mumble, "Look at all those white people," when it seems like the case to me. Unfortunately, it's a more regular part of what comes from my lips because it's true often in my experiences. Maybe it's not 'fair' that I immediately do a mental check on 'diversity,' in every space I'm in, as I do with gender as well as race, ethnicity, education level and class. I consciously missed having African-American and API-American compatriots on the panel. I don't have to READ that I don't 'count' to know that my experience, presence or 5-minute remarks as a mixed-race, adopted, non-US-born person doesn't merit more than it does, as one, two or three 'checks' in the box towards balance. I personally will reach out to Mandy Carter's wonderful organization, with which I feel a kinship, and she knows personally that I feel that way. I've always subscribed to their announcements, and I have co-conducted events with NBJC and with Mandy. This year, I was chosen by the Bayard Rustin Community Breakfast Committee to be the first trans (and rare non-African-American) keynote speaker at the 19th annual community honoring the role and prospect against stigma and discrimination for LGBT people of color and the intersection of HIV/AIDS for us as a community. I'm told that my remarks were powerful, and Bay Windows published them online, so they're available. The Bayard Rustin Committee members, all-volunteer and primarily of color, moved the breakfast from its traditional last Saturday in April to May 1 in order to be able to attend and be part of Mandy's and NBJC's conference in Baltimore (that would have co-occurred with the Breakfast had the Committee not moved it). In my world, there's no rationale that can restate reality. There were no Black or API people on that panel, to my knowledge and eyes, neither as individuals nor as issue experts. I only say that from my eyes' perspective, not from probing pedigrees. I can't always tell people's race from looking at them, but to my eyes, I was alone as a non-white person on the panel, and it didn't escape me in this experience as it doesn't in any other where that feels true to me. It's validating while not that this is seen as important to others, and I hope that future panels, hearings and opportunities to share our stories show the diversity of who we are, all of us, across the broad spectrum of who identifies as transgender. I can't fix the past and had no role in knowing or selecting who candidates or witnesses would be for the hearing, but I can, and do right now, promise to do what I can for future endeavors. I want the day that I can soon stop saying, "Look at all those white people," and I for SURE don't want to have to be in historic trans space and again have to ask myself, "Where's Kylar and Earline?" Nuff said, except that I'm a a man of my word. Diego

Monica, I should clarify: I agree with what you wrote in your post. Sabrina and I discussed race and ethnicity before the hearing, and I asked her if she knew if there were any Native Americans on the panel. She smiled and said that she is Native American. We need more -- more time, more people, more panels, more testimony -- oral and written -- and we need to keep up the passionate observations because it's the only way we move forward with integrity. As an adopted infant, I know that my best family is the one that self-selects. I owe myself to our community as the family we've made for ourselves, and I'm grateful for, and ALWAYS thinking of, that. Thanks. Diego

I got one word for you. "Paragraphs." Please?

Diego, when I say 'you don't count', I'm talking about the tendency for the predominately white GLBT community to claim because there was one Native American, one Latino/a, one Asian, or one African-American in a sea of whute faces that 'people of color were represented'.

That's where I was going with that comment and I should have expounded on that in the paragraph.

But it still doesn't change the fact that NO African-American was there at that table. You peeps do this crap, then after the deed is done
claim you'll do better and be more sensitive about it 'next time'

Well, I've been hearing that for ten years now when it comes to AA inclusion in the community. Maybe it's time for us to separate ourselves and form our own transgender orgs since we AA peeps always seem to be ignored, forgotten, or treated as afterthoughts by white run ones except when it's time for a 'diversity' photo op.

Ha - OK, Monica - I thought I had tabbed to make paragraphs, but reading it now, I see that I didn't.

Mmmmmm. Please. I scanned that long one.

Hopefully there will be more than one panel, Monica. You're right - it was awfully white. I agree with Dana though - if they chose the panelists, then we should contact the CBC.

NCTE delivered a list with over 70 names, from which the subcommittee choose the panel.
Hmmm... looking at the list of members of the subcommittee (scroll to the bottom of the page) it appears that only one, Yvette Clark, is a member of the CBC. I did discover that my congressman is a member of the subcommittee. Maybe I should drop him a line?
Nerissa Belcher | June 29, 2008 1:11 AM

Dana Beyer mentioned that the subcommittee was formed from a list with over 70 names that NCTE provided. Were there any Black congressional members on the list? If not, the problem was on the trans end of things and not the subcommittee end.

I'd like to see the NCTE publish their list of names used to form the subcommittee. Also, if NCTE was responsible for the witnesses provided the organization needs to explain why only Whites were seen as credible.

Monica: I've already expressed my complete agreement with you in an e-mail to you. As I explained in that e-mail, this is symptomatic of a larger issue facing the LGBT community across the country.

Many of the folks reading this belong to organizations in their home communities. At your next meeting look around you and see how integrated it is. If it isn't, what are you going to do about this?

The ugliness of racial discrimination is also in the LGBT community, and it needs to end if we are to truly form community. And, it is going to take a strong community to win the battles ahead of us. Divisions of any kind among us weaken us and make it more difficult to achieve equality. The struggles of my African-American LGBT brothers and sisters are my struggles.

The murder of an African-American transwoman hurts all of us.


i think that you are fixating on the skin color and cultural heritage aspect of this thing. it really does not apply. i am confident that this hearing was held in good faith, with the intention of educating congress of the discrimination against ALL transgender individuals regardless of the color of their skin - or even their pre-disposition for surgery. in spite of being a tiny minority, the transgender community is extremely diverse.

we now know that congressional committee picked out the members for the panel to testify. i don't know if there were any racial markers or photographs on the submissions to be considered? anyone out there with that information? frankly, the issue being discussed isn't relevant to appearance of skin color...although appearance might dictate the degree of discrimination based on an individuals ability to "pass" as their desired gender.

what does really concern me is that there were not more people of color attending the hearing. the DC transgender community is large, and could probably fill up 20 of the rooms where it was held. a large majority of that community consists of people of color. i KNOW that they were aware that the hearing was taking place, and were invited to attend - it was announced that the hearing was open to the general public. so why didn't more of the local community attend?

as i have stated previously, most were working and could not take time off. my "daughter" was at THE doing intake. a friend was at her job at the WWC. another friend was working for the municipality. yet another was working at a dry cleaners. one was just at home resting - she is a senior and couldn't deal with all of the waiting and standing in line. ALL of the women i just described are active in the community and staunch advocates of transgender rights and our right to basic human dignity. virtually every one of them is on a first name basis with the staff at the NCTE and the NGLTF. the work they do is important. they are busy doing hands on work with the local community...they are in the trenches. obviously, doing their job was more important to them than being available for a photo op or witnessing this hearing. i can respect that, but still i wonder why more are not involved with the national level issues. i mean, we live in the nation's capital. very few local people - of any shade - attended lobby day either. again, why? each individual has their own response. i cannot provide an all encompassing answer. i can tell you it is not because their involvement and participation is not considered desirable. these women are articulate, charismatic, and beautiful...their life history and experiences are compelling.

i was at the hearing because i am unemployed and available. probably - no, definitely - because of discrimination based on gender identity. even though there is a law in place banning discrimination based on gender identity here in the district, it is still commonplace. the laws aren't everything. maybe that is the reason...maybe those who didn't attend are just smarter than i am. they have managed to get themselves employed in spite of the discrimination. and they work to make life better for all of us every day., or hearing? it does not take an einstein to know which should take priority.

be well, and stay true...

Oh, Monica, I completely understood what you meant by 'Diego doesn't count.' I take no offense. I think you posting the original item is important, and I think the title is evocative and not reflective of the hearing's intent. Yet, it's fact.

My glass isn't always half full, but I need too much strength to get through each day to ignore when one is at least half full for our community, even if only in my view. NCTE and others submitted litanies of names; there were hundreds overall. The Committee had the tough job of narrowing. I want to thank them for THAT labor, too.

With only 3 individual slots, 1 issue expert slot (filled by a FINE a fine trans expert Shannon) and 1 employer slot, imbalance was inevitable. It didn't have to look precisely like it did, but it had no way of being fully 'right.' I don't see Nirvana, but maybe we can match The Netherlands.

I like kicking tires and seeing shows with multiple stages, but the headline remains that Congress, thanks to some key leaders who've already been cited, gave us voice, and our community was involved in the process through some incredible organizations and their people.

Still, I agree with what 'shakay' implied and partially stated, that an injury to, action against or dismissal of any of us merits attention and involvement by us all.

Your post gave us some platform to add even more helpful suggestions and recommendations from within our community. I consider that a rich contribution from you, among many you give. Diego (If this doesn't have paragraphs, I might have to beg for 'schoolin,' okay?)

You bring up an important and totally valid point about the lack of African-Americans among the speakers, Monica, but I'd suggest that the real issue goes even a little deeper than that.

Diego and the others who spoke were wonderful, powerful, and persuasive speakers to be sure, but there was also another important element missing from that hearing. All of the trans speakers were well-accomplished, well-established, and well-put together. All have or have held at one time, well-paying high-level positions. Certainly, these people are fine examples of the best of our best. The question is, however, is that all we want to show of ourselves to Congress, and by extension, the American people?

Congress should meet and get to know people like Diego Sanchez, Diane Shroer, and Shannon Minter, but I believe they should also get to meet people who live in the inner cities, often below the poverty line, and have to fight and scramble every day just to get through life as a transperson.

I think Congress should meet people like Duanna Johnson and hear their stories of what their lives are like in areas where there are no laws protecting us from discrimination. Congress should also meet lower and middle class transpeople for whom the loss of a job can be devastating as it often preciptates a long period of unemployment.

Congress needs to understand that because of the economic impact of the lack of anti-discrimination protections for transpeople, the average transperson's (or certainly transwoman's) economic class is probably closer to Duanna Johnson's than Diane Schroer's.

That's the real invisible minority in this community. Diego and Shannon in particular did a great job making that point, but as someone who literally lives paycheck to paycheck like many of us do, I'd have liked to have seen that experience represented among the speakers since it's reflective of the lives of so many of us.

Diego and the others who spoke were wonderful, powerful, and persuasive speakers to be sure, but there was also another important element missing from that hearing. All of the trans speakers were well-accomplished, well-established, and well-put together. All have or have held at one time, well-paying high-level positions. Certainly, these people are fine examples of the best of our best. The question is, however, is that all we want to show of ourselves to Congress, and by extension, the American people?

And once upon a time, I was a superivsor for a major airline and I'm one at my current job. Dawn Wilson is one at her current job. Marisa Richmond is a college professor.

So by your best, Rebecca, are you implying that ONLY white people with high paying positions can eloquently speak for the community?

That comment is another example of the lack of big picture and monoracial thinking that hamstrings this movement. I not 'fixated on the racial element' as someone put it. I'm expressing the point that whatever the process was in choosing who spoke at this historic hearing, it resulted in African-American transpeople being left out, and that feeds into the false impression that transpeople of color don't have major roles in this movement.

That's a problem that needs to get fixed today.

Oh come on, really think that was what I was trying to say? I was talking about economic class, or at least percieved class and of course the two are interrelated because of racial income disparities in this country.

I am implying exactly the opposite, that those voices should be heard, but they are not the ones that should, that we should hear from those who get paid by the hour as well as those who don't.

And yes I do think these folks are among the best of our best, but they are hardly the sum totality of it. I don't know where you got the idea that I was trying to imply they were.

All powerful points, and I don't recall where I made the point, but to issues of race, ethnicity and class, I am also very sensitive to representation of age. We're not all my age, thank heaven. Our community is so vast. I am glad that this one instance wasn't our only shot, nor was it actually our first.

Frankly, it felt odd to me that right after the DC trip, I headed back to Boston and met with Gunner Scott, Director of Mass. Trans Political Coalition on Sat. morning to give him some items as 'Welcome' gifts for an incredible trans youth leadership conference that MTPC, BAGLY and some other organizations (e.g. MassEquality and GLAD) provided to trans youth community members who convened here in Boston yesterday.

This book has many chapters and courses. They appear, like in a book or in a meal, one at a time. Diego

But this particular transgender stew was missing the black pepper to season it and make it less bland to the taste.

It still goes back to my original question. How the hell does a historic committee hearing on transgender discrimination convene a panel that leaves out the 13% of the US population that are intimately familiar with that discrimination?

Whatever the racial mix, it was incredible that it took place and I am grateful to the congresspeople who made it happen, particularly Representatives Frank and Baldwin.

I take and agree with the point about a broader racial mix, and in the future we certainly ought to attend to making sure that we have a representative swath of the diversity that ALL of the LGBT community components include.

I could pick about there being no gender transgressing Butch Lesbians there, as an inclusive ENDA is desperately needed for them as well, but I am still seeing this as a milestone.

Estrobutch | July 5, 2009 8:18 PM

"I could pick about there being no gender transgressing Butch Lesbians there, as an inclusive ENDA is desperately needed for them as well, but I am still seeing this as a milestone."

Well I'm transsexual female and a "gender transgressing" hard butch and I resent that your trying to cover the racist bullshit that Monica is calling out here in my name.

Its time for accountability not more "next time" excuses. You know how I know that? Cuz Monica just told us in her post.

Someone asked if there were any members of the CBC on NCTE's list. There are no trans members of Congress, yet, so the answer is, "No."

Different groups are always left out. Until we're on the inside choosing who gets to sit at the table, this will continue to happen. We don't dictate to Congress. Remember, this hearing was originally a bone thrown to us by Chairman Mitchell and Barney. That NCTE, the Task Force and HRC were able to make it as significant as it was, was testimony to the community's ability to make lemonade from lemons.

As for those from the inner city, etc., frankly I don't recall a hearing on any topic in Congress where such a panel was convened. If I'm wrong, please correct me. Call that classism, but it's not unique to a trans hearing.

Another point to consider, and I'm sure this will raise some hackles, is that we've been trying for years, no, decades, to change the perception of the public, as well as the medical/psychiatric/scientific community, including the Michael Baileys of the world, that we are not all sex workers. And that those who are may have made a rational, free choice, but many choose sex work because they have no alternative. Given that reality, I don't think it would have been productive to have a sex worker on the panel.

But I do agree that there are many in the trenches in DC, led by Earline Budd, for one, who had as much right to sit on the panel as anyone.

Myself, Dawn and Doctor Marisa Richmond happen to be the three African-American IFGE Trinity winners, awards given to us by the transgender community for our service, past present and future.

So let me get this straight. You not only have to have a melanin deficiency, be middle to upper middle class and be paid by the hour now to be considered an acceptable and eloquent speaker for this community on transgender rights issues.

It's a milestone to you, Maura because you had multiple people of your ethnic background representing you. I didn't.

No matter how the denials are flavored or spun, the fact remains that when the first subcommittee hearing held to discuss transgender discrimination was held, no transpeople of African descent were in that room.

That statement will be true five, ten, twenty-five, fifty or a hundred years from now.

That statement will be true even if other congressional hearings take place (highly unlikely and not holding my breath on that) in which the racial balance is flipped.

Too many people in this community have their heads in the sand when it comes to issues of race and how they play in this community. The people putting this together failed to appreciate that fact, nor did they consider, were indifferent to or possibly didn't care how this omission would be perceived by the people left out of a historic moment in transgender history.

personally, i would much rather be employed than attend a hearing. for that matter, given an opportunity to be gainfully employed or the opportunity to testify at the hearing, i would rather be employed. you can't pay your way with a hearing.

discrimination against ALL transgender and gender variant individuals is the issue here - not their race, culture, or whatever. did we have a catholic transgender testifying? a jew? a baptist? a unitarian? a native american? an asian? an effiminate gay man or a butch lesbian? although each may have a personal cultural perspective on gender variance and discrimination, wasn't everyone of them represented by those few who were chosen by the committee and permitted to testify? their words were not specific to any one group, but for all. why focus on the negative when the result was positive?

someone mentioned that earline budd would have been a good candidate. certainly, i agree...if the woman was catholic she would probably be canonized. but i KNOW she never asked to be part of the panel. if she had, i KNOW her application would have been submitted to the committee for consideration. monica, who do you know that wanted to testify that was denied the opportunity for consideration? did you apply? IMHO, we are brothers and sisters and the struggle is for the entire family - sibling rivalry in this instance is just a waste of energy and counterproductive. people need jobs - not blame or arguments, and certainly not divisiveness. sorry if i rambled....

My interest in this issue is one of basic fairness and the fact that inclusion of gender expression benefits many Lesbians. Aside from my moral committment to genuine equality, as a Lesbian activist I am painfully aware of the fragility of protections, if any, that many Lesbians would have under a gutted ENDA.

I honesly do not care how we get those protections provided that they are inclusive. I cannot speak to the American practice, but in Ireland and the UK Commissions or Committee witness tend to be selected for this kind of purpose on the basis of being able to evoke a sense of common ground and sameness, an "I am just like you, I deserve fairness" feeling in the members of the committee.

As for people like me being on the witness list; were there any immigrants on it? If not, then I as an immigrant was not represented. Of course, I know that it is not the same thing in degree but Lesbian immigrants get a hard time from the INS in general, butch Lesbians more so.

But, in the end, what I am concerned about are outcomes. If it would get LGBT's Gender Identity and Expression protections(and yes, it is a community-wide issue) then howsoever it gets done, whatever tactic works, is fine by me, if the outcome is COMPLETE INCLUSION!

TommyInDC | July 19, 2008 3:09 PM

With all due respect, it seems crystal clear to me that Monica Roberts is throwing a hissy fit because Congress did not drop everything and roll out a red carpet to have her testify. And it really is not becoming, Ms. Roberts, for you to disparage the witnesses who WERE asked to testify. You clearly are not upset that there were no African Americans on the panel, but that YOU, YOU, YOU were not on the panel.

Furthermore, although I am of color, I find it very offensive that you would disaparage non-Black witnesses by calling them "bland" and in need of your "pepper." I mean, come on. Is that not itself a racist reference?

This was a Congressional hearing with only 3 speaker slots (besides the experts). There are DOZENS of ethnic, racial and religious minorities in the US, with hundreds of permutations. No panel would have been perfectly diverse.

It is time to grow up as a movement. And Ms. Roberts, it is time for you to get some maturity. This is no time to pout and whine.

Tommy Jefferson

Tommy Jefferson,
Attacking me still doesn't change the fact that a congressional hearing was held WITHOUT African-American transpeople, the ones who are facing the brunt of the violence and discrimination, and we weren't represented at the table.

It time for you to take your own advice and grow up as an HRC supoorter. If HRC is going to take credit for setting up this flawed hearing, then they get to own the problems with it as well.