Guest Blogger

Response to 'An Open Letter to Louisiana's LGBt Organization, Forum for Equality'

Filed By Guest Blogger | July 25, 2010 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Forum for Equality, guest post, Louisiana, New Orleans, transgender

Editors' Note: This guest blog comes from the Forum For Equality in response to Wesley Ware's post "An Open Letter to Louisiana's LGBt Organization, Forum for Equality."

Dear Mr. Ware,

Thank you for your open letter and expressing your concerns regarding the Baton Rouge Diversity Resolution. First, I would like to clarify that the July 15th Opinion Editorial "Not Enough, But a Start" in the Baton Rouge Advocate was that of the newspaper, and not submitted by the Forum For Equality. I hope the following will answer the points that you made in your letter. ??

Any suggestion that we have turned our back on the Transgender community is ridiculous. In 1991, Orleans Parish passed a city employment non-discrimination ordinance that included "sexual orientation" and that ordinance was revisited in 1997 to include "gender identity." These efforts were a result of hard work and dedication of a coalition of people and organizations, including the Forum.

In 2009, The Forum For Equality worked with a coalition of equality partners to obtain an Executive Order in Shreveport that specifically states both "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" in the city's public employment non-discrimination policy.

The Baton Rouge Diversity Resolution was first submitted in 2007 and failed due to the fact that the term "sexual orientation" was included.  We did not propose the language of the current resolution, but we do support all endeavors that seek to expand equality to the citizens of Louisiana. We view the Diversity Resolution as an educational tool to enhance understanding on equality issues not only in Baton Rouge, but throughout Louisiana as well. Within twelve months, we will also submit and sponsor an ordinance in Baton Rouge with our coalition partners that is all inclusive of the LGBT community with the specific language of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." ??

We know and respect the contribution and importance of the Transgender community in Louisiana. We worked with the New Orleans LGBT Community Center to remember the 160 transgender people who were murdered last year. We also had the Department of Justice Civil Rights Team here on June 10th to assist them in their investigation of discrimination and harassment of the African American transgender community.

??We realize that there is always more that we can do; we live in a state where the majority of its LGBT citizens can be terminated from their employment, refused services, denied rental properties as well as a many more rights that are denied to them based solely on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.  The Forum has been dedicated to ending discrimination since 1989 and knows the challenges that are set before us, and while we celebrate the victories we have overcome since then we realize that it is "not enough." That is why we are still here fighting.

??We would like to invite you to sit down with us for a discussion and consider joining our efforts to eventually pass legislation that will bring equality to all Louisianans. ??

Yours in Equality,

John Estrada, M.D.
Chair, Forum For Equality Foundation

John Hill
Chair, Forum For Equality Louisiana

Randy Evans
Political Director, Forum For Equality Louisiana

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I honestly don't know enough about your organization to make a fully informed judgment here, but your response strikes me as incredibly hollow. Listing all the times you didn't screw over the trans community isn't a good way to start. It's as if I tried to get out of a speeding ticked by telling the officer about all the times I wasn't breaking the speed limit. I have no doubt that you would include trans concerns within your policies when it is convenient to do so, however, the complain I've heard against you is that this recent action calls into question your willingness to include trans people when it is inconvenient.

We did not propose the language of the current resolution, but we do support [it].

Granted, you used the flower language of supporting "all endeavors that seek to expand equality to the citizens of Louisiana," but the reality is that you are offering visible support to a trans-exclusive proposition when most LGBTQ advocacy organizations have made pledges never to do exactly that.

How can trans and trans-supportive activists dedicate their volunteer time to your organization knowing that you could easily make such a betrayal and not even recognize that it's a betrayal? Point blank: Do you support a trans exclusive ENDA? Because I imagine it would fall under "all endeavors that seek to expand equality to the citizens of Louisiana." Do you understand the damage caused by trans exclusive legislation?

You were lucky to pass gender identity inclusion six years after your city passed sexual orientation protections. My city got sexual orientation in the 70's and still doesn't have gender identity. On average, passing a trans-exclusive policy pushes back trans rights at least a decade. So when I hear that you are willing to support any advancement of human rights -- including those that do so at the expense of a smaller minority of humans -- that sounds like an organization I wouldn't want to support.

You only mention your support for the trans exclusive resolution in passing, but you never offer reasoning or rationale as to why. Instead you spend most of it discussing irrelevant situations. Perhaps that's because the position you take is indefensible. And your attempt to obscure the point and use distraction leads me to wonder if you realize it is indefensible as well.

I concur with Tobi. This response seems more defensive than it does addressing real concerns. Where you add "consider joining our efforts to eventually pass legislation that will bring equality to all Louisianans" minimizes the work those who take issue with your stance do, in favor of 'your' efforts.

Its precisely that with which I would take issue. The whole movement must be supported, not just the part that you might deem politically viable at the moment.

As Tobi eloquently wrote about, I fear one of the major problems with movement is a lack of examination of history. We've seen the damage done to movements with division... why not try to see what damage the system can withstand from our unity.

I encourage your organization to take this criticism to heart- leaving trans people and communities out of the fight for justice sets all of us back.
Forum for Equality should acknowledge and respect the history and work of transpeople in fighting for LGBT rights, and should immediately shift their work to trans-inclusive resolutions and ordinances. Anything less shows a willingness to compromise some of the most vulnerable members of our community for the gain of others.

While I sympathize with the Trans community in their opinion(s), I wonder if any of you are from Louisiana, and realize how hard it is to get anything passed in our state. If so, why don't you consider joining the Forum for Equality and letting us hear your voice. I am a straight person who serves on the Forum's board and I'm fighting for LGBT rights...your rights. My brother who died of AIDS' rights and he's not even with us any more. Your voice on here is all well and good, behind a computer, but stand up and stand with us, so we can fight your fight harder and stronger...together. We don't have a single person who is Trans on our boards (and we've offered). Come join us in this fight and maybe you would see legislation more inclusive. It's easy to judge after the fact, when your time and/or money was not part of the movement. Let your voices be heard. Donate and get involved. It has to start somewhere; why not with you?

Okay, before I was saying that I didn't have enough information to pass judgement, but... wow. Now I do.

We don't have a single person who is Trans on our boards (and we've offered).
Come join us in this fight and maybe you would see legislation more inclusive.... It has to start somewhere; why not with you?

Gee, I wonder why a trans person would turn down an opportunity to donate their time and money to an organization like yours? You have such an enticing offer. If trans people work for you then maybe you'll have inclusive legislation. I can't believe you actually said that. Inclusive legislation is a baseline. If you don't have that, then many people will consider you to be an anti-trans LGb(t) organization.

You might not be aware of it, but there's a history of trans people being told to work for sexual orientation only legislation with the "promise" that we'd all come back and work on trans rights later. Sylvia Rivera writes about that happen as far back as the 70s. And in those nearly 40 years, not once has any of those promises been fulfilled. Sometimes there is organizational support, but never 100% and never with the same volunteer base. And while sticking to inclusive legislation might hold back a policy a few months and in some cases a couple years, the delay for gender identity protections is almost always measured in decades. So when your organization supports trans exclusive legislation, then you suggest the possibility of trans inclusion if more trans people volunteered, that offer rings hollow. No one with any history with the trans community has any reason to believe you or believe you have the power to commit your organization to such a path -- especially when you say maybe.

I may not be from Louisiana, but I know what it's like to spend years of my life banging my head against unpassable legislation, while watching my friends lose their jobs, be turned away from housing, turning to sex work as their only option, living on the streets, or fleeing to safer cities. And the real tragedy is that it never had to be unpassable. My city is generally progressive and while I poured my time and money into a gender identity non-discrimination policy that never got passed, I watched all our more conservative neighbors pass non-discrimination that included both sexual orientation and gender identity .

That's why inclusive legislation is a baseline. We spend years trying (and often failing) to clean up the mess left behind when selfish leaders decide to jettison trans people as an unwanted political minority. And when there is such a historical breach between LGb(t) organizations and the trans community, you're right that healing it has to start somewhere, but how about it starts with the side that hasn't faced 40 years of repeated betrayal of trust. Why not start it with you?

If you have consistently support only inclusive legislation, then maybe trans people will be willing to dedicate their time and money to your organization -- not the other way around.

Lydia Pelot-Hobbs | July 28, 2010 1:23 PM

As a New Orleans resident, I am deeply saddened with the assumption that fighting transphobia is something that is not as important for the countless Louisiana residents who are regularly targeted and discriminated against by employers, housing opportunities, and the criminal justice system (to name a few).

Also, I would hope that the Forum for Equality would take Mr. Ware's critique as a challenge to better their work and an example of his commitment for justice for all queer and trans people.

Moreover, since organizations such as Women with a Vision and INCITE! in New Orleans have centered trans justice in their organizing for several years, the Forum for Equality should recognize that it is not impossible nor unreasonable to expect that Forum of Equality with their many resources would also have the opportunity to do such work. I hope the Forum for Equality will look to the leadership of local and national organizations in formulating their strategies and practices of future work.

Kate Chandler | July 28, 2010 8:09 PM

Another Southern voice for full inclusion.
It's true legislation may be harder to pass down here but that means we have to fight for everyone and say no to compromises that repeat the painful history that Tobi so eloquently referred to.

We started fighting a long time ago and there are many organizations fighting for inclusion. I am glad to hear the Forum for Equality is part of this fight and hope to see Baton Rouge pass the proposed ordinance.