Mike Rogers

DNC Elevates Transgender Member

Filed By Mike Rogers | September 12, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Babs Casbar Siperstein, DNC, DNC Executive Committee, transgender delegates

BabsCasbarSiperstein.jpgBlue Jersey, the Garden State's progressive political blog reports that the Democratic National Committee has broken new ground. This weekend the DNC elected Babs Caspar Siperstein to its Executive Committee - a groundbreaking election as Babs is the first out transgender member of the committee.

From Blue Jersey:

Warm congratulations and a Blue Jersey Woo Hoo! to Babs Casbar Siperstein, who broke ground again just a few minutes ago by her election to the DNC's Executive Committee. That vote came at the DNC Fall Meeting in Chicago. Babs, the first out transgender person in the DNC's history now rises to help lead the national Democrats, joining its top-most leadership committee.

Congratulations, Babs!

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This is great news. Babs is a friend, has appeared on my show several times, and always has the community's interests at heart. The questions I have though, are the same one I always have when I hear of an appointment like this:

How does this help us? What will change in the DNC and the Party's ACTIVE support for trans rights as a result of Bab's appointment? Is this true progress or is it just tokenism and more apology crumbs for fucking us over so badly in the 111th Congress?

The timing of this appointment, just before the 2012 election season kicks off full swing, when the Dems most need LGBT votes and support, not to mention just after Senate Dems and Obama are still completely ignoring ENDA but somehow found the time to hold hearings and tell the country how much they support the repeal of DOMA, just seems more than a little suspect, y'know?

If Babs is a friend, then I think it'd be a great opportunity for you invite her on your show again and ask her directly if she feels her appointment is more unhelpful tokenism and apology crumbs. I'd love to know what she thinks.

I may very well do exactly that. Stay tuned.

In short the answer to your question may lie in the fact that Babs was not appointed to the DNC Executive Committee. She was elected to the position. Maybe the difference is not as well contrasted for folks not familiar with the inner workings of the DNC or Democratic Party structure at state and local levels.

Just to mention the the timing. Babs was elected to the position after another person who held the seat resigned for reasons only known to that person for the sake of this conversation. Babs, through her work, reputation, and integrity was in a position to run for election and had the support of the vacating position holder. So not only was this not about crumbs or some atonement, but it really was based upon Babs being in a position to run for election based on her own merits. If some people really need to see a negative in this, it is most likely that Babs election had little to do with her self-identification as trans(fill-in-the blank).

On a personal level, I tend to naturally bristle a bit at the mention of tokenism when one of our own has attained a position of leadership. I understand the skepticism from the sometime paradigm that some of our very own LGB organizations seek trans people simply to have "one".

However, being somehow viewed as a token or not is similar in some ways to the whole issue of self-identification is seemingly being argued continually. Its up to the individual to determine if they're being a token and ultimately how to deal with that. They may decline or if they do suspect tokenism they may decide to see it as an opportunity to create the change so that those who follow are judged by the content of their character rather than a quota filler. It is up to the rest of us to support and respect (or not).

I think it should be made very clear that at the level of leadership that Babs is now working at is the result of her work, character, and personal integrity. She has gained the respect of her peers to the extent that they have elected her to represent them at a very high level of the DNC.

To me that's clearly not tokenism, but rather something to celebrate and support, especially by our communities that have historically been marginalized to the outer fringes of society to the point that we are all to often are erased in violent acts, commit suicide, and denied the most basic of human dignity. Our communities, whether it is those who identify as "classic transsexual", transgender, cross-dresser, gender queer, or otherwise have been frozen out of access to decision makers far too long. When one of us becomes a decision maker, we should feel, at least, a tiny bit of joy.

Of course that doesn't mean that the particular person who, among us,rises to leadership is necessarily the most effective person for the job. But that's still not a sole reason to reach for the tokenism pitch forks and torches. More often than not, IMHO, it just means they aren't the right person for the job. That's entirely another conversation.

Just to share a little story about Babs and what she can do to help create the continuing atmosphere in the DNC in regards to our communities, let me provide an albeit fluffy story about Babs.

In 2008 the Democratic National Committee Convention in Denver was by all accounts slated to likely be a historic event. The Democratic Party was going to potentially nominate Obama or Clinton. Yes, I know it was probably decided long before that, but the actual nomination had to come from the delegates to the convention.

Just an FYI, delegates to the convention are also elected from their home states. Running as a delegate to the convention is open to any registered democrat. The competition to get elected as a delegate in 2008 was fierce. Everybody who was anybody indeed ran to be a delegate.

Babs was elected in 2008, along with approximately eight other trans self-identified people from across the country in similar elections. (I may have the number wrong, someone please correct me).

Back to my little fluff story. At the convention, buttons of every sort are more than just popular. Please don't misunderstand, the convention is not all about button trading and collecting, but rather it is just one of the minutiae that is a part of the convention that one experiences.

Babs showed up at the convention with bags of buttons which read "Transgender Delegate DNCC 2008". They were larger than the average buttons and clearly stood out.

It was amazing to see just how popular those stupid buttons were. As I walked around the convention at the Pepsi Center in Denver, which by the way is an amazing experience by it self, I could not walk far before seeing one of those buttons being worn by somebody.

At first, I found it humorous that so many people were wearing the button. But then I realized that people generally wear buttons or put bumper stickers on their car only if they somehow, usually rather strongly, support or identify with the message of the sticker or button. Also, I found that button trading among delegates is rampant. I had to deliberately not wear my last button as I wanted to keep it.

At the end of the day another humorous realization, the number of self-identified trans delegates had risen from just eight to hundreds judging from the number of buttons I saw being worn.

I know this little ditty of an insignificant story is by no means the extent of what Babs can do to help influence the DNC and the party's ACTIVE support for trans rights. In my mind, as simple as it is, it goes to show the detail in which Babs does work everyday to improve that active support.

In closing, I want to mention two things.

If you don't necessarily agree with me, that's OK. I sincerely respect that option. At the end of the day, Babs is doing something positive. She's engaged in action. That's to be applauded, even if you don't agree that it is the way to go. There are a great many ways people can engage in activism. There is no one correct way for people to advocate for themselves or their communities.

Secondly, I can't stress this enough, I suggest that we as the communities we come from should assume the best of intentions of our own. Babs is not getting paid to do what she does. It is actually the other way, she pays to do what she does. As with the vast majority of us who engage in whatever form of activism, their activism comes at a price. It may be as small as the cost of poster board and some markers to make a sign or it could be much more significant. All of our contributions should be acknowledged and validated. Tearing at the loose threads, dismissive remarks/opinions, and policing of identities does zero. In fact it only serves those who oppress us.

ps: Rebecca, thank you for your comment. It gave me an opportunity to say a few things I felt needed to be said in general. If you read anything personal in my comment, that was not the intent. I know most of what I said was in reference to Babs and might seem defensive. But really the intent of my feelings comes from the constant discord, suspicion, and tension I feel in our collective communities.

As I said to Kathy, my comment wasn't intended in any way to be a reflection on Babs. I know her credentials quite well, having worked with her in GRAANJ and other avenues. We've lobbied together. I have absolutely no doubt that she is well-qualified and deserving.

My concern is not Babs' agenda but the agenda of the DNC as a whole, given their history. Babs didn't elect herself, the membership of the DNC did, and I think it's quite reasonable to be concerned that this is yet another DNC attempt to APPEAR progressive and supportive of trans rights without having to do the hard work and exhibiting the courage and fortitude to actually BE progressive and supportive in concrete ways that actually matter in people's lives.

I don't think it's at all a coincidence that this comes just as the election season is getting started and the DNC is quite well aware that we're furious with them for throwing LGBT lower and middle class workers under the bus on ENDA during the 111th Congress.

There's a reason why we don't trust HRC and it's pretty much exactly the same reason why we don't trust the DNC. Lots of inclusive flash and smoke and mirrors, but very little in terms of real support and advocacy when we really need it. If we don't give HRC a pass on their history of screwing over the little guy, why should the DNC get one?

Kathy Padilla | September 12, 2011 3:47 PM

"Is this true progress or is it just tokenism and more apology crumbs"

She wasn't appointed - she was elected to the position. No tokenism or doling out of crumbs involved - she won her position. Unless you think Tammy Baldwins' winning an election is tokenism.

I don't think the Tammy Baldwin comparison is valid. Baldwin was elected by the voters in her state, Babs was elected by DNC members, in other words, by politicians and political operatives. Very different kinds of elections with very different agendas.

The reason I say this is because I remember all too well what happened when the DNC excitedly told us that they'd appointed Mara Keisling to the DNC Steering Committee in '04. It sounded like progress at the time, but the reality was very different. Not only was no discernible progress made on trans rights, but soon afterward John Kerry came out against an inclusive ENDA and in favor of a state anti-gay marriage amendment in Massachusetts.

The reality is that DNC has a long history of saying stuff and doing minor things that look like progress on LGBT rights at election time to gain our support and votes but when the chips are down and it's actually time to deliver they run screaming in the other direction.

After seeing what I've seen from these people, I need a little more before I'm going to believe that Babs' new position is anything more than progressive window dressing but with no actual progress or support from the people with the power to back it up.

Kathy Padilla | September 12, 2011 5:11 PM

You're right - she totally didn't deserve to win the election. It was handed to her. It does beg the question of why you would want such an obvious token on your show. And why she'd like to be on your show since you clearly don't have an open mind on the question.

BTW - can more than five listeners tune in at a time yet? That was your limit for live broadcasts?

My point wasn't about Babs, it was about the DNC. These people have repeatedly demonstrated that neither they nor their candidates care about keeping their promises to our community, and in fact have a long history of throwing us and our issues under the bus the moment the going gets even slightly rough. They also have an equally long history of doing little inconsequential things like appointments and such while failing to take on the issues people really care about, like workplace rights.

If the DNC wants me and others like me to believe that things are any different now than they were in '04, or even '09-10 for that matter, they're going to have to do a lot more than just elect a single transperson to their leadership, they're going to have to actually show a little courage, take on the longstanding issues that actually matter in people's lives, and stop running away from the ideal of equal rights for all Americans.

Kathy Padilla | September 12, 2011 10:59 PM

That certainly doesn't explain why you'd want a token on your show or why she'd want to grace your show. Nor why you presume the DNC would make any moves to sway the large Juro vote. It's not as if no other talented, hard working people weren't vyieng for this position. Did they all stifle their personal ambitions to throw their support behind the trans candidate at the behest of a secret plan to throw the election to a trans candidate? You must have very different pols in Southern Jersey than we do in Philly. So noble and self effacing.

She won the election on her own merits. This can happen and you're still permitted to have a poor opinion of the DNC. Though you have to admit at least some members with sufficient good intention and purposeful action to actually vote for her in sufficient numbers to supply a plurality.

Sometimes a good thing is just a good thing. But a cigar is a smoke. Apologies to both Groucho & Frued.

Again, my concern is not about Babs, it's about the DNC and their proven track record of throwing the little guy under the bus to pander to the wealthy and powerful while running away from anything that even smells like it might be controversial.

I'm sure the RNC were feeling pretty pleased with themselves when they elected a black man as their chairman, but it certainly didn't seem to impact how they approached issues of concern to African-Americans. Similarly, Mara Keisling was appointed to a post at the DNC in '04 and at least a few trans people have served as delegates for the Democratic Party over the years, but that didn't stop John Kerry from running for President on an anti-LGBT platform. The DNC's new chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is such a spineless coward that she couldn't even bring herself to mention LGBT workplace rights in her Pride Month proclamation this year, just like our President, much less offer LGBT American workers any measure of real support from the Party.

Given this kind of track record, I think it's more than fair to question the motives of those who elected Babs to this position.

As far as my show goes, I'll have anyone on who's got something worthwhile to say to my audience and Babs is always a worthwhile guest. I've had people on who I've disagreed strongly with on some issues such as John Aravosis.

I've disagreed plenty with Babs over the years as well. I've often felt she's been much too generous in wanting to give Democrats a pass on blatantly homo-transphobic behavior. We've had some great debates and discussions about it, both in print and on the air. That doesn't mean I don't respect her or her work, it simply means we feel differently about some issues, particularly when it comes to holding Democrats accountable.

Based on the evidence, I do believe it highly likely that the DNC wants to appear as LGBT friendly as possible going into this next election in order to gain our donations and votes, but they also want to have to do as little as humanly possible to actually earn that support. We've seen this pattern repeated over and over, and it makes no sense to suddenly assume that we're not seeing the same thing again right now.

Kathy Padilla | September 13, 2011 6:46 AM

And again you confuse elected and not just appointed positions; but hiring decisions. If you deny the comparision with Tamy Baldwin - Michael Steele is far, far less apt a comparison. Compounded with a naive assessment of the value to the DNC of having a trans person win this election as a draw for lgbt voters and money - it's not were they'd get the most bang for the buck either financially nor in votes as an lgbt draw- or a general public draw - there's not even an electoral college component to consider given trans voter demographics in key states.

People win elections due to their own hard work and by proving their worth the those voting. Your opinion is akin to saying Obama won because he was black, not in spite of it. You can certainly hire or appoint a token - you can't elect one. It's almost definitional.

By what definition of "election" can elections not produce token candidates and winners? By definition, if the majority vote for the token candidate, for token reasons, the token candidate will win.

Furthermore, I don't see the difference here between hiring someone and elections. If an applicant for a job has to be voted on and/or approved by a committee, how much different is that from an election done in a small group, such as the DNC, to appoint a new member? The semantics and terminology will be different but the driving forces behind the decision making, not so much.

Kathy Padilla | September 13, 2011 10:02 AM

That's rather circular - you're a token no matter what you do.

But - hey - by these definitions:
to·ken·ism (tk-nzm)
1. The policy of making only a perfunctory effort or symbolic gesture toward the accomplishment of a goal, such as racial integration.
2. The practice of hiring or appointing a token number of people from underrepresented groups in order to deflect criticism or comply with affirmative action rules.

Tokenism in politics

In politics, allegations of tokenism may occur when a political party puts forward candidates from underrepresented groups, such as women or racial minorities, in races that the party has little or no chance of winning,

I'm not sure I made myself clear. You claimed that you almost can't elect a token candidate by the definition of elections (or did you mean definition of token candidate?).

My point simply being, there is nothing in the definition of an election that precludes a token candidates from winning.

For example, take your last definition of Token candidate of a party putting forth a minority candidate in an election they have little chances of winning anyways. But then let's assume that that midway through the election, the opposing candidate is caught up in a major scandal, thereby allowing the token candidate to win.

Kathy Padilla | September 13, 2011 10:40 AM

While that's certainly a possibility (you might enjoy watching Putney Swope)- there's no indication it applies to the case we're discussing.

Kathy Padilla | September 13, 2011 10:51 AM

Oh - and - notice the qualifier "almost definitional."

Angela Brightfeather | September 12, 2011 7:52 PM

I would like to offer my congadulations to Babs for her election to the DNC Committee. She deserves it and I hope she takes great pride in being the first Trans person to do this.
Now, as to what she might be able to do for us....how about telling us all about that "straw poll" that Barney Frank took that convinced him to stop pushing for an inclusive ENDA and giving us a few names of the Dem's who don't believe in the new DNC Denver platform enough to follow it whenit comes to including Trans people in ENDA.
That might be a really good place to start. Give us a chance to change their minds or get them out of office in a Dem. primary in their areas. Maybe even run a few Trans people against them and convince them that tere is more to us than just being able to write us off.
Wouldn't it be nice to go into this next election season, armed with the names of those Dems who think that our lives and jobs are not worth their vote on ENDA, or in Barney Franks straw poll?

Rachel Bellum | September 12, 2011 9:17 PM

Congratulations Babs!!!!!!

Congratulations to Babs! She's worked hard to win this election by being a staunch democrat who's put her money and her time where her mouth is. We should all be as smart.

Congratulations Babs! We need people on the inside and the outside. Am glad that you will be on the inside.

I would also like to congratulate Babs for this win. Some people may think she was elected to show a token gesture, and others say she fought for it, but the end result, she's there. Those who know Babs know she is not the silent type. Her voice will be heard for sure.

Also, Babs is a veteran and a member of TAVA. She wants to help us get rid of the ban of trans people in the military, and this new position will help a great deal. Babs, we'll talk after Sept 20th.

Stonewall Girl Stonewall Girl | September 13, 2011 6:44 PM

Thank you all for the supportive and positive comments. I do appreciate it, and that positive support from folks I consider my political "family" gives me the impetus to go on.

Politics is the art of the possible ... progress is achieved by doing and being in the position and having the ability and perhaps luck to do something. If I am the first, I want others to follow and pass me. I don't consider myself a token, just as a transgender person I don't consider myself disabled, even though society might make being trans a disability. I want to turn that around and make use of the enhanced ability that many transgender people have with the experience and sensitivity of living in more than one gender. I want to make lemonade!

Becky, did you lose my phone # again? It hasn't changed in over 10 years and I am always happy to talk about facts, all you have to do is call me or even e-mail me. You've had many such opportunities in the past to get facts before you form opinions.... maybe next time you might do so?

UPDATE: Babs will on my show Thursday to talk about her new position, the DNC and trans rights, and much more. Show starts at 7pm eastern, interview starts about 7:30. I just got off the phone with her and I can tell you that it's going to be worth hearing what she has to say.

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