Time Adds Stealing Youth’s Lives in CA

The declining U.S. economy has led many to wake up to the fact that prisons are increasingly warehouses for “unwanted people” in the U.S. Whether they are people of color, immigrants (usually also people of color), poor women, trans, subsistence level or homeless youth, mentally ill, differently-abled, etc. the prison system is ready to take them on the most minor infraction. Once there, the system is designed to keep them through a combination of degradation and punishment that includes added time. The assumption that people in prison belong in prison has served to shield most N. Americans to the realities of mothers separated from nursing babies for nothing more than crossing a border or Latino youth clocking time because they were hanging out on the wrong street corner together or trans women praying they make it to prison instead of the infirmary because of “unexplained injuries” while in custody. While more information has come out about U.S. prisons becoming the largest state funded mental health facilities in some state’s, very few discussions outside of activist circles have centered on the interconnectedness of marginalization (“unwanted people”), incarceration, and income and job generation. Prisons are becoming one of the largest employers across the nation, providing jobs in food service, medicine, administration, sanitation, as well as guards and counselors. They also stimulate local economy because all of these new workers have money to spend at the local diner, coffee shop, clothing store, etc.Yet, as some small towns have argued, this stimulus restructures the entire economy toward the prison in ways that stunt alternative economic growth and econ sustaining diversification. Put another way, if the prison closes towns that were struggling before it opened would become ghost towns. So the prison must stay open. And to keep the prison open, there have to be criminals …

For those familiar with the prison-industrial-complex, or already working on the issue, this is not new information. Yet new ads inundate the local television with calls to join the ranks of border patrol (immigrant prison guards) and law enforcement careers (non-immigrant prisons) and my own uni has seen a massive increase in enrollment in the prison related degrees. It’s big business. Big business that is shielded by the national level discourses of citizenship and criminality.

Enter California.

While scandals about youth prisons are nothing new, the California prison system has one of the longest incarceration rates for youth offenders in the nation. Most of those offenders are originally arrested on misdemeanors, though there is a large percentage involved in hard core or gateway crimes. The issue is not whether or not incarcerated youth are “perfect victims”, ie completely innocent, but how they move from every day youth, to criminalized populations upon whom the prison-industrial-complex depends to generate money and jobs at the expense of lives.

Many youth in California prisons are people of color, second or third generation immigrant youth, and/or poor. 84% of youth in California prisons were people of color in 2007; while some will take this as proof people of color are more prone to criminality than white people, more than enough studies of race and racism in the legal system have proven that this overrepresenation has more to do with racism and classism than anything else. 1/3 of the youth serving time in CA prisons are there because of “time adds”. This means they have already served their original sentence and are serving time for behavioral issues ranging from talking back to guards to being involved in a fight (the application of the law has made little distinction between those who were targeted in those fights and/or defending themselves against bullying and harassment and those who intentionally caused a fight). The system is similar to that applied to people with mental health issues in prison who are often picked up on misdemeanors or petty crime and then warehoused for years based on behaviors related to their MH issues (talking back, ignoring lights out, fighting, etc.)

According to Books not Bars:

In the United States, 90,000 youth find themselves in juvenile detention centers on any given night and 2.2 million youth are arrested each year. In California, the state youth prison systems cost $216,000 per child per year while a mere $8,000 per child are allocated to Oakland public schools.

Once again, needed resources are funneled away from programs and services that help people succeed and deliberately moved into ones that require them to fail.

5 years of organizing in California against the inhumane treatment of incarcerated youth, including court cases finding the prison system or its employees guilty of beating, raping, or harassing youth prisoners, some times with the goal of goading them into time add violations, has had some positive effect on the system. According to Truthout, the number of youth arrested in 2009 was 1500 down from 5000, 5 years earlier.  Ella Baker Center introduced a bill, AB 999, in CA that would eliminate time adds all together, replacing them with incentive programs that provide time reduction or other privileges to youth who take anger management, participate in counseling or work retraining programs, or otherwise show good behavior during their sentence.  The bill has not yet passed but you can help by sending a letter to the California Legislature letting them know that intentionally incarcerating youth for years beyond their original sentence is not only inhumane it often causes irreparable damage to their education, self-esteem, and life choices.

The fight does not end with California’s youth however. As I’ve been trying to show, the problem is the system itself. The same tactics used to criminalize, round up, and retain youth in the prison system is similar to that of any other marginalized population. The correlations become all the more apparent when we map how policies about criminalizing normal behavior, like hanging out, and adding time to sentences is used on differently targeted populations, ie how these policies are used against Latin@s and immigrants in the Southwest, youth in California, black men in Chicago, and mental health patients in the U.S. Drawing connections between the groups least wanted, or in some cases least employed, in any given region and their treatment in prison to disparate least wanted populations in other regions shows a clear map of state sanctioned discrimination, violence, and economic gain on the backs of not only criminalized populations but the cities and towns that house the prisons. The problem is often worse for queer populations criminalized for their gender or sexual “transgressions” as well as the ways their identities often intersect other targeted populations. While Californians have been working to change this, Gov Schwarznegger has vetoed the the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Prisoner Safety Act and its predecessor, leaving queer people, particular trans women, extremely vulnerable to violence and murder in the prison system. According to the documentary Cruel and Unusual, trans people are incarcerated at 3 times the rate of cis people and many of them begin their time in prison as youth picked up for loitering, homelessness, or petty crime.

When we think intersectionally it is impossible to ignore how the prison system in the U.S. upholds the idea of who has a right to be considered N. American and who is part of Palin’s “other [N.] America”, the one we lock up and throw away.

Related videos

WordPress Wednesday Aug 18: The Fail Continues

Think about this as you read these stats, blogging is not only the new way of publishing it is increasingly the way to access the old way of publishing as well, it is also second only to twitter as a go to source for media pundits looking for “the pulse of the nation” or the “important story”, and it is one of two media sites that form the basis for much electronic research. When we are not included in the places that legitimate and draw attention to the voices on the internet we are in essence once again being erased and shoved out. Since blogging is a medium that so many diverse people have made their home, and wordpress among the top places to do it, doesn’t it warrant at least a question about why they choose such a narrow focus in representing both their brand and all of us?


Here are this week’s stats:


  • men of color: 18
  • women of color: 6
  • white men: 40
  • white women: 32

The number of white people pictured on chosen posts outnumbered people of color by almost 3xs as much this week. All of these images were of able-bodied cis gender people. Images of white women were 5xs more likely than images of women of color and even more were likely to be seen on the Freshly Pressed page pointing you there because images of women of color appeared in posts with images of white people and the latter were almost always chosen for the Freshly Pressed page image. White men outnumbered men of color two to one and would also have been overrepresented on the Freshly Pressed page for the reasons listed above.


  • men of color: 3
  • women of color: 2
  • white men: 12
  • white women: 30

The number of people of color featured remained constant from last week representing an average of 1.7% of the total available bloggers for highlighting. The number of people of color blogging on wordpress is unavailable but they certainly make up more than 2% of the 280,000 bloggers from which to choose. There were also three authors of unknown race, only one of whom was a woman and one author who identified as asexual gender neutral, who was white.

Gender & Sexuality

  • pictures of cis women: 37
  • pictures of cis men: 55
  • pictures of trans women: 1
  • pictures of trans men: 3
  • female authors: 33
  • male authors: 17
  • gender unknown: 1
  • gender neutral: 1
  • articles about feminism: 3
  • articles about queer rights: 1
  • articles about, related to, or otherwise assuming overt heterosexuality: 17

Interestingly, this week marked the first time since the study began where a photo of a white women used in the post was replaced by a photo of a white man not used in the post to highlight the post on the Freshly Pressed page. In other words, the blogger used an image of a woman and the wordpress staff replaced it on their page with a picture of a man.

On the plus side, this week marks the first time a post about transgender, gender queer, and transmisogyny has been highlighted during the study and in all the time I can remember glancing at the Freshly Pressed page. On the negative side, that post included 4 photos of transgender or gender queer people engaged in a photographic awareness campaign, none of whom where people of color. In looking at the source material I discovered that of the 20 photos in the exhibit the author had to choose from, there was only one person of color photographed. The failing then is both with the author of the blog post who failed to mention racially disparity or choose the only pic available of a person of color to include with the group of other images chosen and the project itself. I also noted that while this post was highlighted, there were several posts, including on this blog, about a similar project specifically highlighting the dual erasure of black trans people from mainstream society and trans communities, as well as highlighting their diversity across the African Diaspora, none of which were ever featured on Freshly Pressed.

There were an unusually high number of feminist posts this week as well given their general absence on the Freshly Pressed page. One of these posts highlighted global feminism but was actually a blog for an organization that features innovative speakers and puts the videos up on its website. The post was literally the name of an international speaker and the theme of her talk accompanied by the video. There was no analysis, no prose, nothing. Given the number of posts written by marginalized people on wordpress about global feminism this seemed like an odd choice to represent the best wordpress has to offer. Another post on feminism praised a movie that was essentially a colonial fantasy in which a white woman finds herself through a vacation in India, Brazil, and other exotic erotic places, complete with hooting at brown men, spending money to “save” poor kids, etc. The point of the post: anyone who disliked this movie was a sexist hater. The final feminist post critiqued the same film and originally questioned the classism and racism involved but was followed up by a non-featured post apologizing and claiming it was really a critique of narcissism.

While we are documenting the number of posts that reference heterosexuality outright, please do not take this to mean other posts are sexuality neutral. With few exception all of the posts highlighted on wordpress are written by or read as heterosexual posts due to their lack of queer content.

As white women continue to gain in the featured section, I wonder if this is why we cannot get any traction on this issue. Like the woman who sees critiquing colonialism as a sexist endeavor, is the fact that white women often dominate the freshly pressed section preventing them from engaging in a feminism or social justice mindset that includes the rest of us? And if so, why is this an all too familiar position for a group that would largely define themselves as socially engaged and inclusive? It should be noted that many of the people making decisions about features on wordpress are also white women who considered themselves social justice folks.

WordPress Criteria

  • grammatical errors: 11
  • copyright: 41

This category counts the items wordpress says will preclude you from being featured. Interestingly, this week wordpress published another post referencing the importance of copyright on images used on blogs at the same time that the number of copyright infringement based on freshly pressed images was at its highest.

This week also saw the largest number of blogs featured that had been featured before and/or were not actually blogs (company “blog” pages that simply pointed people back to the company and magazines that are hosted on wordpress.org) instead of looking at diverse authors who had not been highlighted prior. The number of professional journalists and photographers is also much higher in general on the freshly pressed page than people who blog as bloggers. Given the gender, race, sexuality, etc. disparities in print media, you can see how this would translate to similar disparities on the freshly pressed page.

CFP: Hip Hop Feminism

Rosa Clemente/former VP Candidate for Green Party/unattributed

There have been strong women of color at the center of Hip Hop theorizing since its inception. Many of these women have never received the recognition they deserve for their artistry or their profound critical feminist eye focused clearly on the experience of women of color at the margins and intersections of multiple identities. These artists have struggled to have their voices heard in and outside of Hip Hop even as they inspire, mentor, and help provide strength to face any number of gendered oppressions. Many of them have worked just as diligently at empowering young women and providing critical analysis of engendered experiences as they have at being the best at their craft. Often these things are inseparable. And yet, these women’s work has been overshadowed by the racist and racialized sexist discourses that only want to focus on the “video ho” until recently. (see my posts on Hip Hop for AfAm herstory and LGBT history month for more thorough posts and links to Hip Hop feminism and Hip Hop feminists.)


While this shift has been important, I think currently there is far too much mainstream attention to Hip Hop feminism as the *only* form of feminism(s) of color. On the one hand, the emphasis represents a needed intervention into mainstream discourse about the “video-ho” in which black men are seen as the most misogynist men in the world and women of color are internalized sexists needing rescue from their “culture of violence, sex, and drugs.” On the other, the slowly won recognition of feminists for whom Hip Hop and B Girls have been critical forms of expression, solidarity, and empowerment has come at the price of the recognition by mainstream of feminists of color outside of these stereotyped (tho not stereotypical) scenes. This is not the fault of Hip Hop feminists or people doing needed documenting work on their movements but rather the ongoing problem of tokenizing woc feminist contributions by mainstream academic theorists and educators. In the last few years, scholars like myself who work on race and gender have been introduced as or referred to verbally and in print as “hip hop feminists” or asked what we think or will we write an article about Hip Hop feminism in the same way we were referred to as Womanists when Alice Walker coined the term and still have to fight for the right to define ourselves and our affiliations. My concern then is that there are at least two camps here: (1) those who want to embrace, document, and explore the meaning, history, and empowerment behind Hip Hop feminism and (2) those who see it as just a new word for “black feminists over there”. One way to posit a counter-narrative to the latter is to keep writing, keep filming, keep talking about what Hip Hop feminism is and about all of the feminisms engaged in by women of color in which Hip Hop feminism is only one iteration.

La Bruja/unattributed

So I am publishing this call for papers on Hip Hop feminism to encourage the continued struggle to talk about feminisms by women of color in arena that often posits us as both singular (ie one kind of feminism) and perpetual victims (in this case the video-ho) in need of feminism. I do so out of solidarity with the project of naming, claiming, and documenting our feminisms and our activism but also with the caution to take on the task of clarity and specificity in your writing so that you lend to both the needed discussion of the specific feminism under discussion and to the larger discourse about the longstanding presence of women of color in activist, feminist, circles.

melange Lavonne/David Laffe Photography

Also I would encourage readers to consider some of the queer and/or differently-abled black and Latina Hip Hop artists highlighted on this blog or even in this post for your potential papers/presentations. Just as interventions need to be made in the way mainstream feminist academics are approaching Hip Hop feminism as the new Womanism, interventions need to be made into the ways scholars have often shied away from discussions of queer sexualities or assumed able-bodiedness or cis gender. There are sub-topics in the call specifically open to making this challenge, where you could take the advantage.

Please find the CFP below:

Black and Brown Feminisms in Hip Hop Media

University of Texas at San Antonio – March 4-5, 2011

Submission: 500 word abstract to Kinitra Brooks and/or Marco Cervantes blackandbrownfeminisms@gmail.com on or before November 15, 2010.


Black and Latina feminist scholars offer multiple ways of understanding feminist cultures that transcend ideological borders and patriarchal conventions. More recently, Black and Latina feminists have negotiated the positionality of the woman of color in the ever-changing world of Hip Hop since its inception.  The Black and Brown Feminisms in Hip Hop Media Conference situates Black and Latina feminist theory in the context of Hip Hop representation to discuss ways Hip Hop music, film, and club industries fetishize, exploit, celebrate, empower and/or disempower Black and Brown women.

This interdisciplinary conference will feature unpublished work on women in
Hip Hop to exchange ideas, share research, and initiate a sustained conversation by and about Black and Brown women in Hip Hop media.  Vital to this discussion is attention to the blurring lines between Black and Latina feminist studies and a dialogue that attempts to understand an interweaving history of objectification, struggle, and potential for agency. How do we read Black and Brown women in Hip Hop culture? What readings of Black and Brown women other than conventional black feminist readings and Latina feminist analyses are cogent? What theories enable those readings? Finally, what would an investigation into autobiographical stories of video models yield? How would those narratives differ from that of more conventional readings?

A select number of accepted papers will be included in a one-day, academic
conference at the University of Texas at San Antonio as a part of UTSA’s celebration of Women’s History Month on March 4, 2011 with a Hip Hop performance from local Texas as well as national hip hop artists on the evening of March 5, 2011.  This conference will be an opportunity for presenters to share views and concerns on the growing intersections between Black and Brown women in hip hop culture.  Possible Panel Topics Include:

  • Interdisciplinary Approaches to Gender and Race in Hip Hop
  • Colorism within Hip-Hop video culture
  • The New Female Entrepreneur
  • Negotiating Sexualities
  • Black and Latina Diasporas
  • Video Vixens or Video Models?
  • Female Rappers
  • Chicana/o Rap
  • Alternative Models of Black Femininity
  • Latinas in Video Model Culture
  • Intersections of Video Models with Youth Culture
  • Performing the Black Body/ Brown Body
  • Reggaeton
  • A Case Study of Karrine Steffans
  • Strip Club Culture
  • Confessions of Video Vixens
  • Eroticism vs. Pornography
  • Women as Exchange among a Male Economy

Race Issues Are Queer Issues

During the post-CNN/Dan Savage Prop 8 debacle, it fell to black queer people to remind the “community” that we existed and that we did not all come from offensively homophobic families just itching to burn down gayborhoods like white people did to Rosewood, Pierce City, and others in the past. It also fell to the entire queer community/ies of color to remind both gay and straight white people that they had not authored, sponsored, nor ushered in the bill and that homophobia crosses race, class, and gender lines. More than that, people of color and allies had to trot out endless evidence that they had in fact organized against Prop 8 and that many had done so with no funding or support from larger queer organizations. It was the stuff of nightmares that reminded us all that despite all sharing one identity, the intersections crossing that identity meant that we were still, sadly, on different & exploitable divides.

Richard Settle/Flickr

Enter the immigration debate. At this past week’s Netroots 10 conference, at least one panel on immigration included a discussion in which a white queer blogger argued correctly that gay rights people need to fight for immigration issues because “when one of us is not free, none of us is free.” Though I share his sentiment, the juxtaposition of one community with the other once again renders them mutually exclusive. Yet gay immigrants not only exist, they have the unique distinction of being cut out of one of the major ways to gain legal access to citizenship in the U.S.: family reunification. After all, if your family isn’t legally recognized neither is its reunification. Even if queer immigrants are able to come here legally through other means, they also run the risk of having their legal marriages abroad considered null and void in the majority of the United States. So the marriage issue is in fact an immigration issues and vice versa.

Queer immigrants are also routinely denied asylum despite the fact that homophobic harassment, especially by police or military, should clearly qualify them. These denials have often sent queer petitioners home to their deaths a distinction they share with women escaping domestic violence and government sponsored rape and torture or immigrants whose ethnic or religious affiliation is no longer of import or has never been important to the political aims of the U.S. When HIV exemptions were still on the books, many gay men were denied citizenship, even when legally petitioned for as part of a larger family unit, based on the erroneous fear they were infected. Sometimes, the HIV exemption was used to punish citizen and asylum seekers for being gay; though statistics on how many were denied for this reason is hard to comeby, anecdotal stories from lawyers and advocates exist. The list of discrimination goes on.

So whether we are talking about equal access to marriage or not, as long as gay people have limited or no rights, certain immigrants will lack certain rights and vice versa. Ultimately gay rights and immigrant rights are not just equally important because of how oppressions are linked but also because for some people they are the same thing.

Understanding these connections are fundamental to an effective and inclusive gay rights strategy. Yet, prominent gay or queer (as a verb not a noun) artists seem to understand this less than the movement(s) itself. Last week Elton John played Tuscon AZ despite massive protest. In response, he told his audience:

“We are all very pleased to be playing in Arizona. I have read that some of the artists won’t come here. They are f***wits! Let’s face it: I still play in California, and as a gay man I have no legal rights whatsoever. So what’s the f**k with these people?”

His comment stood in stark relief against his decision to play Rush Limbaugh’s wedding, which not only flew in the face of the gay marriage ban in multiple parts of the U.S. but also his own rights as Limbaugh has spoken out against them on his show and supported others who have done so. More than that Elton seemed to turn the idea of shared freedom on its head, claiming “if I am not free, who cares if you are” in place of “if one of us is not free, none of us are.” Not only is this sentiment self-interested, hypocritical, and oppressive it also shows the underlining issues with how SB1070 is perceived and likely to be applied. After all, Elton John has no more legal right to be married in AZ than he does in CA but more than that, if the judge had not put on hold the ID portion of SB1070 this week Elton would have had to carry his papers to do any future concerts in the state. He did not think about that because he is white and European and like everybody else, he assumes he will not be stopped, harassed, or “accidentally” deported because he does not “look like an illegal immigrant.” That difference and the privilege to not only exploit it but also be completely oblivious to it is one of the fundamental problems with queer organizing in the U.S. and to a lesser extent Britain. Both groups continue to articulate themselves as white, upper class, and male. While they claim to be interested in socio-political issues outside of themselves, there is very little stated or real effort to be interested in issues related to poor people and people of color (both of whom are assumed to not be queer).

Elton is not alone in his complete denial of the import of immigrants’ rights. Lady Gaga plans to play Phoenix AZ at the end of the month. Though her appeal crosses sexualities and genders, Gaga has become one of the queer icons, in every since of the word, of our time. Like Madonna she has been taken in by a community that she claims while keeping her sexuality largely out of it. Like Elton John she has also made headlines for oppressive decisions like mocking trans women. And also like Elton John she has no qualms with playing a concert in a state that most artists have refused to play until the pass law comes down. Gaga’s concert also coincides with a week long solidarity effort called for by queer organizations, immigrants rights activists, and progressive organizations across the country asking everyone to use the week to raise awareness, organize protests, and refuse to have anything to do with AZ accept boycott. So in essence, Gaga’s concert not only violates an unspoken decision to boycott but also a very clear picket line.

In both instances, artists with considerable international fame and connections have simply snubbed their nose at human rights in the name of the almighty dollar. Neither Gaga’s silence nor Elton’s tried and true tactic of “hey look at that over there it’s much worse than this” can mask the fact that in a very public way white queer performers have failed to see the connection between the struggles of people of color and their own. They have once again transformed the public face of the movement(s) into one of racial privilege and racial disdain despite the work that queer people, regardless of race, have been doing to support immigrants rights and communities of color. They have made it that much harder for coalitions to be formed in the future and for new generations of activists to see their lives and their work implicated in the lives and work of people they perceive to be different from them.

Arizona is not California. But every activist involved in ending Prop 8 learned a valuable lesson about racial exclusion and racial myopia that everyone else should take note of if we are ever going to get equal rights in the U.S. Race Issues are Queer Issues. Queer Issues are Race Issues. And anyone who does not get that needs both education on oppression and an end to ticket sales. If you can boycott AZ businesses in the name of solidarity, you can stop listening to Lady Gaga too. There are several petitions circulating to try and get Gaga to cancel her concert, the most legitimate one seems to be here.

(Update, this post was written prior to Gaga’s concert. You can read my response to her Sharpie activism during that concert here.)


images of Gaga, Elton & Eminem unattributed

A Testament to Evil

A verdict has come in, in the August murder of Roberto González Onrubia in Spain. In 2006 Onrubia reached out to two homeless cis women, Dolores de los Reyes Navarro and Ainhoa Nogales Bergantiños, in the hopes of providing them an opportunity to get back on their feet. While the potential “guilty liberal” politics of such a decision are questionable, they did not justify the violence and humiliation Reyes Navarro and Bergantiños heaped upon him for the misguided attempt to help them out. Within a few months of moving in, they took over his home and kept him prisoner in his bedroom while they sold his mother’s jewelry and his inherited stamp collection. His attempts to free himself where met with both physical violence and transphobic and cissupremacist sexual threats. On more than one occasion Reyes Navarro and Bergantiños forced Onrubia to wear women’s clothing and threatened to prostitute him for additional cash. They did it both to humiliate him as a trans man and to intimidate him sexually, relying on both transphobia and sexism in the sex industry to menace Onrubia as much as their own behavior. They also forced him to give up much of the outward markers that allowed him to live in his chosen gender while again filming the abuse.

When the two women had sold all of the furniture and possessions in Onrubia’s home, they beat him to death.

Onrubia’s was found, disfigured by physical abuse, dead in his own excrement and urine. It was clear he had been forced to spend an unknown amount of months living and sleeping on the same mattress where he was forced to go to the bathroom rather than be allowed to use the facilities in the home. He was also extremely malnurished at the time of his death; Reyes Navarro and Bergantiños took pleasure in denying him food and may have even linked the starvation to their transphobic torture by telling him his dwindling body helped him look “more like a man.”

While the abuse in this story is horrifying, one has to ask why none of his neighbors, co-workers, or friends asked what happened to him. Though he did receive calls during this time, Reyes Navarro and Bergantiños took his cellphone and screened his calls. No one seems to have done more than a preliminary inquiry about where Onrubia was and why he had allowed these two women to sell everything he owned. Was he ignored because he was trans  or did he lack an extensive support network because he had transitioned and was rebuilding his life? Either way, his vulnerability seemed to be clearly linked to cissupremacy that often requires people to start completely over when they transition.

For their crimes, Dolores de los Reyes Navarro and Ainhoa Nogales Bergantiños were fined US$180,000 and sentenced to 18 years each in prison. While it is an impressive conviction given the slap on the wrist most murderers of transgender people receive, can we really put a price on the life of any person, especially one who tried to help others survive?


This article is based on information from El Pais

Homeless for Prom?

Queer as Folk/Showtime 2000

High School Senior Derrick Martin has been thrust into the public eye for daring to want to take his boyfriend to his Senior Prom in small town Macon Georgia. Like most high school students, Martin wanted to participate in the closing rituals of his secondary education with the person whom he loves. Every year 1000s of students across the country do the same thing without even thinking about it.

However, in the shadow of the now infamous Mississippi Prom cancellation, Martin thought he should ask whether or not he had the right to bring a same sex partner. Typing that question into the search engine of his computer began a public saga, first in his own county and then across the nation.

Miami Herald/Marice Cohn Band

As attention to his request gained momentum, Martin’s parents kicked him out of the house. While it is unclear whether or not they knew about their son’s sexuality prior, his parents went on record saying that they could not continue to have him in their house now that the town knew he was gay. Apparently the town of a few thousand is extremely conservative and several of the Macon’s business owners have gone on record saying they think Martin is going to hell. Others have actively lobbied the school claiming that it is unfair for Martin and his partner to attend prom while prayer is banned. On the upside, the most vehement homophobia seems to be coming from older adults indicating a generational shift despite the overall conservative milieu.

For Martin the situation has been both heartbreaking and galvanizing. While many in his town sit in judgment of him, people around the nation have expressed their support. There are websites and Prom expense donations pouring in. Martin never expected national attention but he also never thought he’d be alone. His parents kicking him out was unexpected, but worse for him, was the handful of closeted gay friends he has at school who have kept silent. Watching Martin become a lightening rod for adult homophobia has left most of them too scared to talk.

Despite these early lessons in oppression, Martin is lucky; While he can’t go home again, his best friend’s parents have taken him in.  According to the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, 40% of homeless youth in North America are queer and homeless because their parents or primary care provider no longer wanted them in their homes once they knew. Many of them have no where to go and end up on the street. As youth, they have limited access to shelter and shelter based services and are more vulnerable in already over taxed adult drop in centers and places that like queer appropriate services.

Georgia, where Martin lives, is one of many large cities where homelessness amongst queer youth has reached epidemic proportions. At the same time, there are services available for queer youth in Atlanta, including:  The CHRIS (Creativity, Honor, Respect, Integrity, Safety) Kids Rainbow Program and the voucher program at Youth Pride. These are some of the only independent living programs in the Southeast region and as such are likely overtaxed. In other places, youth are not that lucky, there are no services or services are only funded after mainstream heterosexual communities become aware of the abuse youth suffer on the street.

Homofactus Press is shedding light on the connection between homelessness and queer identity amongst youth in an anthology entitled Kicked Out.  The anthology brings together both provider stories and statistics with the voices of current and former LGBTQ homeless youth. The stories include creative  (UPDATE: as in non-fiction written creatively END UPDATE) and regular non-fiction prose. The authors try to capture what it is like to be thrown away because of your gender or sexuality and often made into a statistic by journalists and providers alike.

chloe noble

I realize that it is prom season and that many same sex attracted teens are grappling with whether to pass or to risk everything. The decision and what it highlights about how the national conversation about desire, and the criminalization of queerness embedded within it, has created huge inequalities and potential for violence in the lives of our youth, is one we must have. Discussing the ways that school districts and parents police desire is a critical part of exposing the violence our children endure because of adults who don’t play well with others.

However, Martin’s story reminds us of another critical piece in the puzzle of oppression: how homophobia creates a huge exploitable population of homeless youth. It forces us to once again reframe the discourse of homelessness beyond that of choice or criminality. And it demands that we do more to support the growth and safety of youth in our educational system and in our homes. While people who supported prop 8 fretted over “homosexuality in the schools”, an issue was never on the table, none of them worried about what not having homosexuality in the schools would mean for the lives of LGBTQ youth. And while deep down they may not care, as we often say on the blog: oppression does not just oppress the targeted group, one needs only look at the straight kids who have committed suicide because of homophobic bullying or the relationships amongst larger community members that are destroyed over a handful of vehement conservative thinkers to know everyone suffers gay or straight. So, while I don’t want to distract from the conversations about Prom and making sure that these teens who have skyrocketed to national interest have good ones, I do think that Martin’s case provides us with the opportunity to think about and do more than help pay for his limo.


  • To draw attention to their stories, Homofactus has started a blog for the book that will be featuring each of the authors every day this month.
  • You’ll note I do not have a picture of Martin on this post; I have serious concerns about the national circulation of his image in the climate we live in, and as you know, when I have these concerns or concerns about consent we do not publish images of youth

BHM: Including Black Trans Women in the Queer Alphabet

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to structure this year’s BHM posts as I’ve said before, and I keep coming back to this idea of texts and textuality. It seems like the digital age rather than helping us archive core texts by black women and other marginalized voices, it is actually helping to hasten their demise. Think about the number of people who quote Lorde or hooks or PHC without ever once citing them? They do it on blogs, the do it in articles, and worse some academics have even got away with doing it in their books. And in the rush to process and transmit information in the blink of an eye, these omissions become more concrete than the truth of black women’s intellectual contributions. Thus I have seen gay male Latino colleagues credited with saying things my generation knows were said by famous black lesbian feminist activist-theorists all across the internet and subsequently in junior faculty’s syllabi. And as I was having about this with another colleague who teaches Intro to Black Feminisms, I began to think back to the blog posts I did 2 years ago on women of color feminisms where I included a key text in each post. So I am still not quite sure how I want this to look, but at least once a week for the rest of Black Herstory Month, I am going to try and post all or part of critical texts written by and about black women.

Today marks the inaugural attempt.

On April 7, 2006, Monica Roberts became the third black trans woman to win the International Foundation for Gender Education Trinity Award winner. Roberts is best known for her insightful/incite-ful blog on black trans women’s rights and experiences, Transgriot. Transgriot is one of the oldest and most well known blogs of its kind and has been instrumental in bringing the black female subject from a transgender perspective into the praxis and thinking of feminists, women of color, and the queer community. Her insight has been invaluable to the struggle to include the lives of ALL women in feminism and queer organizing and her unapologetic willingness to stand up for the rights of black women even within transgender communities has set the standard for how all of us need to be held accountable in the identity politics game and self-reflexive about our own roles in it.

In 2006, Roberts used her acceptance speech to question trans erasure in mainstream media, the male-centric focus in the media and queer organizing both with regards to gender and sexuality, and the need for practices and language that was both inclusive and inviting to African American transgender women. She also pointed out how past failures at both the center and the margin erase the very existence of black trans women and make it impossible for them to participate. Her fiery speech does not conclude with condemnation but instead offers a series of suggestions for how to change.

Below, please find the full text of her speech and consider the import of her words:

Giving honor to God, the leadership of IFGE, friends and family. I am humbled to be standing before you today as a representative of Transsistahs-Transbrothas, the Lone Star State, the Bluegrass State, and my hometown of Houston to officially become the third African-American transperson to be awarded a Trinity.

This day is one that I thought that I’d never see because of my outspokenness about a myriad of issues in the transgender community. But like my mentors, Phyllis Frye and Sarah DePalma and one of my leadership role models the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, I have not hesitated to call people and organizations out when I felt that they could and should do better to uphold the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. The Transgender Rights Movement is the next evolution in the ongoing struggle for human rights and we need to take that seriously.

It’s been an interesting road that I’ve traveled to get to this point in my life and ironically I have IFGE to thank for giving me the impetus for jump starting my activist career.

At the beginning of my transition in 1994 I started a subscription to Tapestry. (hold up the magazines) Inside these two issues were the Out, Proud and Trans series that pissed me off to the point that I made it my mission to attend my first GenderPAC Lobby days in 1998, a subsequent one in 1999 and become a leader in the transgender community.

What was it about these two issues that made me angry? Well, the problem for transgender people of color has always been visibility. Ever since Christine Jorgensen stepped off that flight from Denmark onto the tarmac at JFK airport in 1953 the lion’s share of the coverage of GLBT people has been of people that looked like you and her.

Out of the 50 people that these two issues honored for being “Out and Proud”, the two they found to represent me were RuPaul and Dennis Rodman. Neither are transgender people like the other two African-American Trinity winners who preceded me at this podium, Dawn Wilson and Dr. Marisa Richmond. RuPaul and Dennis Rodman both stated publicly that they didn’t want to be. So why hold them up as representatives of my community? The other problem is that it unintentionally reinforced a stereotype that the only thing that my people can do, can become or be recognized for is being an entertainer or an athlete.

Why is this important For a transkid of Euro-American descent they get to see role models that are lawyers, doctors, airline pilots, police officers, et cetera that cancel out the negative Jerry Springer images. A transkid that shares my ethnic heritage doesn?t have that balance and that concerns us. A reasonably intelligent college bound African-American transkid is left to wonder after seeing that contrast, ?Where are the people who look like me?? ?If I transition is this what my life is going to be like?? ?Do professional African-American transpeople exist??

In my era my first exposure to transgender people that looked like me besides the 1977 Jefferson’s episode was either through attending drag shows or seeing transgender sex workers plying their trade. The ones that did pass were hiding in deep stealth mode. I didn?t meet another out professional African-American transperson like myself until 1999.

Lack of media coverage hurts. I can only name two African-American transpeople that I read articles about when I was growing up and both were surprisingly published in one of the journalistic Bibles of Black America, Jet Magazine.

Justina Williams had one written about her transition and her struggles with General Motors in 1979. It’s also interesting to note that in this article the author used the proper pronouns to describe Justina 20 years before the AP changed their stylebooks.  Almost a decade later, in 1987 an article appeared about Sharon Davis which chronicled her transition and the book she was writing about it entitled “A Finer Specimen of Womanhood”.

When you’re a minority, positive role models, a connection to your history, and faith are vitally important building blocks to the maintenance of one’s pride and self-esteem. That fuels personal achievement that uplifts the entire group. IFGE has played a major role in documenting that history and honoring the people doing their part to build a transgender community and for that I applaud and support their efforts to do so. From this day forward I will be doing my part by not only writing occasional articles for Tapestry but encourage other people of color to do so.

One of the problems that we’ve had in the African-American trans community is that for various reasons we haven’t had a similar ongoing effort to organize it on a national scale until now. The late Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Toure once stated, “In order to become a part of the greater society, you must first close ranks.”

Basically that is what the African-American transgender community is doing. We’re not doing it to shut you out of the process but turning inward to build the same kind of infrastructure and support systems that you have enjoyed for two decades. We seek to not only build a community that our kids can be proud of but at the same time build and lift ourselves up in order to become a stronger partner for the entire transcommunity. We spent a few days during TSTBC 2005 hammering out a document that we call the African-American Transgender Action Plan or AA-TAP for short. It is a ten-point program rooted in the lessons that our ancestors brought here with them from Africa that will serve as the guiding organizing principles for building our community

TSTBC is a major building block in that effort. Just as the IFGE conference over the last 20 years has served to educate, inform and train our past, present and future leaders and allies the Transsistahs and Transbrothas Conference will do the same. It will also provide a way for you to reach our people that may not be comfortable coming to an IFGE conference or to SCC but will show up in Louisville to hang out with their peeps.

By the way, the second annual TSTBC is happening October 18-22 once again in Louisville.

So why aren’t African-American transpeople comfortable attending events like this? It always mystified me when I attended SCC for example why there were almost no peeps like me that were attending this event except the hotel staff and the conference was hosted in the Black gay mecca of Atlanta, GA.

Well, let me tell you a few reasons why. One of them is the cultural difference. African-Americans have always been a spiritual people with a church centered culture. I am a Christian as are many people who are African-American and transgender. I have seen every faith tradition represented and respected at GLBT events except Christianity. Granted, some people who profess to be Christians have invited this negative response but there’s a major difference between little “c” Christians and big “C” ones. Big “C” Christians believe in love, tolerance, understanding others and their differences and embracing them. Little “c” Christians are the intolerant ones who are using the faith as a white sheet to camouflage their bigotry and hatred. Christianity isn’t the private property of right-wing zealots. It?s past time for those of us in the GLBT community who are Christian to proclaim it, stand up to those thugs and take our faith back from the Pharisees who are using it as a baton to beat us down with.

Unfortunately because of the hurt and pain that’s been inflicted on GLBT people by these Bible-thumping posers, some GLBT people have begun denigrating ALL Christians in response to what has been done unto them. Bashing Christians doesn’t play well in my community. In fact one of the things that we were adamant about during the planning for TSTBC 2005 was starting a tradition of having a church service to close it. We also wanted to create an environment where not only Christianity is respected but we strive to respect TSTBC attendees whose faith traditions differ from our own.

Another thing that doesn’t play well in my community is America’s original sin, racism. As I have written, taught and said to anyone who would listen, the transgender community is a microcosm of society at large. The same problems that exist in the parent society also exist in our subset of it.

I have been called the n-word in Euro-American dominated online groups. I have been called an uppity nigger behind my back. I incredulously saw someone post last year on another list that the only reason that TSTBC was being held was because it would make it easier for us to solicit tricks. We have had activists walk into Congressional Black Caucus offices during lobby days and tell legislators that share my ethnic background that African-American transpeople don’t exist.

Yes Virginia, racism does exist in the trans community and we need to put a stop to it post haste before it creates a permanent split between the African-American transgender community and you. That is dangerously close to happening right now.

It also pisses us off when you don’t listen to us or dismiss what we have to say. I have been a minority since I was born at 10:45 PM on May 4, 1962. People of color are equipped with coping skills and mechanisms that we learned growing up that allow us to deal with the daily slights, slings and arrows that come with minority status. We have an uncanny ability to read people or organizations that say one thing and do the opposite since we?ve been historically lied to over the years. So if we tell you not to trust them, listen to us. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief in the future.

And please don’t ever in life use the words “you’re just playing the race card”. It infuriates me and other people of color when that term is used to marginalize our very real experiences with bigotry and the racism we deal with in this country by disrespectfully comparing it to a card game.

Since I’ve laid out some things that depress African-American participation in the overall transgender community, It’s only fair that I offer a few suggestions that will hopefully increase it.

The dots have to be connected in terms of the historical roles that African-American transpeople have played in shaping the transgender community. An African-American transwoman was present at the Stonewall Riots. We helped found GenderPac, NTAC, BGB and the Tennessee Vals in addition to other regional organizations that have uplifted transgender people. Unfortunately we’ve gotten very little recognition for it or have been edited out of the historical records. That needs to stop. If the historical record reflects the fact that we helped found it, then people of color will be more inclined to take ownership of the various groups and participate in them.

We have to have some media face time too. The African-American transgender community has some long term plans to help correct that imbalance. While we’re working on that, the bottom line is that media peeps will call the white transgender community first because you already have the infrastructure in place. When you get that call, make sure that you also let them know that there are people of color that need to be included in this conversation. Basically that’s how Dawn and I got the notification for the Courier-Journal article that we’re featured in. Reporter Angie Fenton called Fairness looking for help in finding transgender people who?d be willing to talk on the record and they referred her to us. When transkids of color see peeps in the media that look like them who are living their lives and telling their stories, it’s a win-win for all of us.

Second. Make events affordable and accessible. African-Americans only get 70 cents to every dollar a white person earns. When you have a conference in a hotel in which a room costs $200 dollars a day and you then have to pay conference registration fees on top of that, it creates participation barriers. The fiscal participation barrier leads to a perception that people of color aren’t wanted and that’s how you end up with an event that ends up 99% white transpeople.

I realize that middle and upper class transgender people support IFGE, other transgender conventions and our organizations. However, this fiscal access problem that shuts out TPOCs also is keeping other T people of color out including the Asian and Latino/a communities. Watching the economics of conventions and keeping hotel prices affordable will grow the community amongst all transgender people, make the convention programming resources accessible to more T people of all income levels and make this community more inclusive in general. It?s a simple formula. Make the events more affordable and eventually all colors of the transgender rainbow will appear.

The accessibility issue is also important. Too many times support group meetings are held in suburban locations with little or no access to public transportation. If your city has a GLBT Community center that is located close to public transportation consider using that as a meeting site. If you’re planning a convention ensure that your host hotel is close to public transportation and that schedules and route maps are widely available to the convention attendees.

Third. If you want us at your events, you’re gonna have to advertise in our media too. There are African-American newspapers in many cities that would love to not only get the advertising dollars but want stories about transgender issues. For example, CLIK magazine is an Atlanta-based GLBT publication that caters to the national African-American community.

I’ll close with the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King from a November 1956 speech he gave in Montgomery, AL entitled “Facing the Challenge of a New Age.?”

“Another thing we must do in speeding up the coming of the new age is to develop intelligent, courageous, and dedicated leadership. This is one of the pressing needs of the hour. In this period of transition and growing social change there is a dire need for leaders who are calm and yet positive. Leaders who avoid the extremes of ‘hot-headedness’ and ‘Uncle Tomism’. The urgency of the hour calls for leaders of wise judgment and sound integrity-leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice;
Leaders not in love with publicity but in love with humanity. Leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause.”

Dr. King continues by paraphrasing an author with the last name of Holland by saying:

God give us leaders!
A time like this demands strong minds, great hearts
True faith and ready hands
Leaders whom the lust of office does not kill
Leaders whom the spoils of life cannot buy
Leaders who possess opinions and a will
Leaders who have honor, leaders who will not lie
Leaders who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall leaders, sun crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty and private thinking.

I hope and pray that over the last 8 years that I’ve evolved into that type of leader and will continue to do so in the coming years.

BHM: Marisa Richmond – Rocking the Intersections

In 2008, Dr. Marisa Richmond made herstory as the first trans woman to win an election in the state of Tennessee. Though some have disparaged her win of 99.7% because she ran unopposed, they are ignoring the massive election based movements around the country designed to shove queer people out of politics. Dr. Richmond’s candidacy was so solid in her district that no such concerted opposition led to an oppositional candidate on the ballot. In fact, only 6 people who cast a named vote in her district voted for someone else. Her overwhelming win thus tell us a story of powerful success against an increasingly hostile national political climate.

Dr. Richmond is also the first black trans woman to be elected a delegate to a major party convention from any state in the union. She worked tirelessly to ensure increased representation of queer people at the DNC in 2008 and specifically requested that more trans people were included in the Democratic Party and its representation at the DNC and other critical caucuses. She was also an active participant in the Women’s Caucus there advocating for women’s rights. (You can read more about her impressions of the DNC in a 5 part post here – brief discussion of immigrant rights, black caucus and LGBTQ caucus meetings, here – some discussion of women’s safety at the DNC and her response to both anti-Obama hecklers and “get over it” anti-Clinton delegates, here – where she talks specifically about creating an impromptu trans women’s caucus on the DNC floor, here, and here– where she talks about the Women’s Caucus and Michelle Obama)

She has also worked tirelessly to ensure transgender equality, and equality between white and poc transgender people, in TN. As such she is President of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition and served on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Equality Project & Board of Advisors of National Center for Transgender Equality. she was also a Board member of the Nashville’s Rainbow Community Center, helping to provide leadership, publicity, and critical funding for the now defunct queer hub. Her work on the planning committee of Nashville’s Black Pride 2004 also represented a critical intervention into the whiteness of Pride events and the dominance of gay and lesbian people in leadership positions for Pride events in general.

Her work has also had an important impact on education and social discourse. She served on the Boards of American Educational Gender Information Service and the International Foundation for Gender Education working to create and support gender inclusive education at the local, national, and international levels. In 2008, she started a column for the Triangle Journal News in Memphis, an area with one of the highest rates of murder of black trans women in the nation. Like her participation in Pride, her column helped serve the dual purpose of re-inserting black and trans identities into the queer alphabet for readers. Since the column is also written in Memphis is gives voice to the plight of black trans women in the area and hopefully helps to humanize black trans women in the eyes of those who are systematically killing them and the people (both in the community and in law enforcement) who are doing nothing to stop it. When the Triangle Journal News made the decision to stop print circulation, Dr. Richmond began contributing to Out and About Today, a feature on local news.

Dr. Richmond’s tireless work to create and sustain transgender communities and equality for transgender people is an important part of black herstory. Not only has she participated in milestones in both trans and black history but has taken on the sometimes difficult task of representing black people in the queer and straight communities, trans people in the queer and straight communities, trans women and trans women of color in the trans community, and black trans people in these same spaces. More than just working on representation, she has been a strong advocate and activist for multicultural trans inclusion in education, media, government, etc.

As a black woman representing her district in local, state, and national politics she also increased the visibility and inclusion of black women’s perspectives and leadership in our government. She works actively on women’s and feminist issues at the national level as well. She was a Clinton delegate, hoping to support female leadership at the highest level of office and a strong Obama supporter. She has offered women’s and gender analysis at the structural and personal level throughout her career. And she is able to talk about “women’s issues” while actively resisting the mainstream urge to reduce those issues to white, straight, able-bodied concerns. Her ability to move across intersections from a feminist perspective is invaluable to women’s equality.

When Transphobia Hits Home

a thought piece …

At least once a year, every year, on this blog I have had to write a piece about a child who committed suicide because of transphobic-homophobic bullying in the schools. (I’ve linked these two distinct oppressions together here because the cases I am referring to have included both oppressions blurred together; however, bear in mind, they are distinct and have both caused murder or suicide individually.) After some high profile deaths on both coasts last year, there was a lot of national level talk about ending gender and sexuality based school bullying. The discussion was so mainstream that even Oprah did a special on it and longstanding organizations like GLAAD, PFLAG, and THE offered curriculum to any school willing to take the first step. All of the key secondary school pedagogy magazines carried articles on it and the web also lit up with discussion and lists and pledges on youtube. As a one time diversity trainer (you know back in the good old days when I thought that stuff might help), I even got phone calls from old contacts asking if I could go do trainings in the schools again. And yet, despite all the hoopla, gender and sexuality based school bullying, often spurred on by repeated public expression of hate in states with same sex marriage or partner benefits proposals up for vote (see report by the SPLC abt how marriage debate is increasing hate crimes), continues on.

The disconnect between public outcry and reality hit home this past weekend when my mother called me frantic about my nephew being bullied in school. My nephew is a mild to moderate autistic child who speaks very little and when he does he parses his words and phrases down to their barest available meanings. Like many autistic children, he is a genius in certain subjects, seemingly willful with regards to social interaction, and often tunnel visioned. And like most of the high functioning differently-abled people in our family, his teachers “overlook” or minimizes his disability because he is smart, in the typical ableist manner of equating disability with dumbness and ability with intelligence. Their profound failure to provide him with reasonable accommodations has led to him being placed into a regular classroom with a curriculum beneath his IQ and a social setting far above his abilities. In other words, a recipe for disaster.

One day in gym class (a class I personally believe is the source of far too many childhood traumas to be justified), my nephew’s class was asked to pick teams. When it was my nephew’s turn, the two semi-formed teams could be best described as the boys who were mean to him for being smart and different (ie ableist boys) and the girls who had always been nice to him. Parsing his words in a fashion that was typical to his particular manifestation of autism, my nephew stated “I want to be a girl.”

The tormenting began almost immediately. Even the girls laughed at him. The PE teacher failed to either explain what had happened or intervene. And when the teams were fully formed, the boys targeted my nephew, intentionally slamming him with the ball, each time yelling out “hit the girl” in a way all too close to “smear the queer.” Also in an all too familiar pattern, the PE teacher sat back and watched without comment or correction.

Since that incident, my nephew has been teased from the time he gets on the school bus to go to school until the time he gets off it on his way home. The boys shove him, rub against him and ask if he “likes that”, put pink markers on his desk, and even accosted him with lipstick, once again blurring the lines of gender and sexuality policing. And all the while, his teachers have done nothing. While much of their silence is homophobia and transphobia the ableism that makes them resent his willfullness also no doubt makes them secretly enjoy his being publicly harassed.

The intersection of ableism and hetero & cissexism are exacerbated in this case by my nephew’s father. When my nephew was born, my sister’s born again evangelical husband could not have been more proud. He practically thumped his chest and yelled “Me man, man beget man, hooha!” He went out of his way to ensure his newborn son was allowed nowhere near me and my bevy gay male friends who would “corrupt him” and lesbian friends who would “confuse him.” And then, his child was diagnosed with autism and pride flew away on angel’s wings. In my sister’s husband’s eyes, my nephew was less than a man because he was not temporarily able-bodied. Leaving him behind to play with his sister in a strictly gender segregated household had the added effect of making my nephew far more at ease with the women and girls in his life, who never made him feel less human or ungendered because he was differently-abled.

The sense of comfort he found with women as a direct result of ableism and sexism in his home, made my nephew gravitate to the girls in school as well. Thus the PE incident seemed oddly over-determined by the points of intersection on all sides. And of course, when my sister’s husband found out about it, he only looked at his son through ableist eyes and shook his head as if he had the final proof that the boy is “broken.” Further, his own phobias and ableism, like those of my nephew’s teachers, have combined to keep him and my sister from advocating for my nephew’s safety or calling me to do it for them.

The result of adult inaction both at home and at the school has been my nephew’ deteriorating ability to function. His social phobias related to his autism have increased while his burgeoning social skills have all decreased. He is having accidents in and out of school, coupled with nightmares, and if he were an able-bodied child his grades would no doubt be slipping as well. Where he once learned from his father that being autistic meant he couldn’t “be a man”, he is now learning that “being a girl” is something worse still, especially if you were born physically a boy. The only place he has ever really been at ease is being torn down by an adult pre-occupation with cissexism and homophobia that they have passed down to children. Those children and the schools that have become the place of widescale social torture for many young people, enact violence largely without any real sanction for increasing oppression.

Listening to what my nephew is suffering, my mind cannot help but wander to all of the young boys whose names and photos have ended up on this blog as a testament to a society that unofficially encourages children to behave like Lord of the Flies with queer youth playing the role of Piggie. In most of these cases, the failure and/or encouragement of teachers and administrators made schools the most unsafe places that children, gay, straight, or questioning, trans, genderqueer, or simply quiet or tomboyish, could be in.  And in many of them, the failure or silence of parents surrounding issues of gender and sexual diversity made children feel they had no allies or that they were profound disappointments. In talking about my nephew’s case, we have an added layer of disability that marked him as different, and in the eyes of his father, less, from the beginning. What my nephew is experiencing is a phenomena that is both specific to dis/ability issues and illustrative of how difference of any kind gets pushed through the mill of homophobia and transphobia in schools all the time.

While many of us, myself included, jumped on the bandwagon of parental involvement and school reform, my nephew’s case also highlights how little these reforms do when they are in reaction to sensational cases or when they fail to be intersectional in nature. The fact is, my nephew attends a school district that has an extremely strong anti-bullying policy. That policy specifically addresses best practices with queer or questioning youth. However, like much of the curriculum circulated in the last few years, the policy assumes children are queer or questioning and does very little to impact the overall climate of phobia that targets people regardless of their actual gender or sexual orientation. In other words, kids learn early that calling someone “a girl” is a bigger insult than “shy” or “quiet” or “know it all” could ever be and they are learning from huge anti-gay rights campaigns that being “gay” means being less than human and calling someone “gay” will permanently ostracize them. My nephew has not yet chosen a sexual orientation or gender preference, but he has been painted with a big pink brush by his classmates nonetheless. They did it because he is different and because his ableist teachers never bothered to provide the reasonable accommodations required by federal law that would have made those differences technically off limits.

And while we live in a culture that has become increasingly aware of sexuality and gender differences, we also live in a culture where both these identities and dis/ability are often the target of oppression based humor on television, radio, and in film. Though schools have a long history of addressing dis/ability, it is peppered with ableist, stigmatizing, and uninformed choices that have often been a detriment to differently-abled children’s development. My nephew was supposedly lucky. He attends a school district that has a mandate to serve all identified “special students.” They have a specific educational planning session for each identified student and that plan has to be followed up on by the school or the parent’s can petition to move the child to a better equipped school. Barring that, the people failing to uphold the plan can be reprimanded or fired. And yet, part of what is happening to my nephew has everything to do with the failure to provide him appropriate services. Not just in the way I have mentioned above, but also because his teachers resent having to modify their lesson plans or do not know how. In his first weeks in his new school, he was in conflict with them regularly because they did not provide enough transition time or instruction for him to follow through and when he acted out as a result (a typical behavior for autistic children asked to transition activities without warning) they punished him and he acted out more (also a typical trait). Filtering his actions through ableist eyes, his teachers judged him as a “willful, spoiled, brat” not a differently-abled child with specific needs. When they were called out for punishing him, they looked to his IQ as proof he was “faking it.” That resentment built up over time, so that when the other students in the class turned on him, the teachers simply sat back and enjoyed it instead of doing their jobs. Their lack of training and accountability with regards to dis/ability issues coupled with some of their homophobia and transphobia to allow my nephew to be repeatedly targeted without intervention. The message their inaction, and no doubt non-verbal enjoyment, sent the children in his school has lasting effects on how both differently-abled and gender non-conforming or same sex desiring students will be treated for years to come. For my nephew, the consequences could be dire.

So what does this mean for similar children trying to get through middle school especially in the post-anti-bullying hoopla? It seems to me that my nephew’s case illustrates how little we have accomplished. Like the newly formed European states that all have anti-discrimination against LGBTQ people in their constitutions but still have some of the most vehement and violent opposition to celebrations of queer culture or the presence of LGBTQ people in their towns, it seems that both anti-bullying curriculum and dis/ability ed have failed to do more than provide legal language for offenders to mask their ongoing bigotry behind. And when we buy into the fanfare without actually working daily to ensure that schools are doing more than just pay lip service, people like Larry King, Carl Joseph-Walker Hoover, and Jaheem Herrera (all pictured here) die.

When parents assume that the schools are following mandates or are simply “safe places” for youth, they often over look signs that their children are in real trouble. Bullying of all kinds goes unreported to parents by their children for fear that parents will either not understand or minimize or that they will go to the school and “make it worse.” This is a failure both on the part of society to properly aid parents in understanding the power of bullying on children’s development but also on the part of school boards to educate parents’ about their rights and schools to work cooperatively with involved parents rather than stigmatizing their kids. Worst of all, as in the case of my sister’s husband, some parents have allowed their own phobias and hetero &/or cissexism to prevent them from standing up for their children. Like the radio shock jocks in California who said they would beat their imaginary children if they were transgendered, some parents actually believe that gender policing on the school yard will be “good for their kids.” But as the parents of the dead children pictured here, some who were homophobic, some who were not aware of their rights or the extent of the abuse, and some who advocated every chance they got to no avail, prove, school based bullying has lasting detrimental effects on children not positive ones. And any church, school or other institution that teaches you to hate your own children and leave them to the mercy of unchecked violence is a place you should actively work to shut down not praise or follow.

On a personal note, as my mother’s frantic calls about my nephew’s situation burn up my phone line and the silence of my sister’s born again husband leaves my nephew out to dry, I can’t help but worry that one day I will be looking at my nephew’s photo posted all over the internet while everyone writes about how wrong transphobia and homophobia are and gnash their teeth about educational reform. And of course, there will be those who will minimize his loss because he doesn’t fit their narrow definitions of who we should and should not care about.

Dialing the phone to his school, knowing they will be able to hide behind the fact that I am not a parent but a relative despite my educational privilege, I cannot help but think there has to be a better way …



  • Lawrence King/unattributed. Killed by a fellow student after experiencing both homophobic and transphobic violence in school
  • Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester on Glee/unattributed. Character who uses her power as coach to torment students who are different
  • Pastor Rick Warren/unattirbuted. Notoriously homophobic Pastor invited to speak at Pres Obama’s inauguration
  • Carl Joseph Walkeer Hoover/photo originally provided by family. Killed himself after experiencing both homophobic and transphobic violence at his school & his mother’s advocacy failed to produce results
  • Ben Stiller as Simple Jack in Tropic Thunder/Dream Works/2008. While the Disability Rights Activist community boycotted the film & tried to raise awareness about the advertising campaign that demeaned them, temporarily able bodied people, including feminist and anti-racist bloggers minimized or rejected their efforts.
  • Ny’irah Keene writes goodbye to her brother Jaheem Herrera/Curtis Compton/AJC. Jaheem Herrera’s body was found by one of his sisters after he killed himself unable to endure anymore homophobic school bullying

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2009

Before I begin today’s post in earnest, the activist in me wants to draw your attention to a new map documenting anti-trans violence globally:

The social science methodologist in me however has to caution people passing it along.

The map above represents the level of reported incidences of murder of a transgender person around the world compiled by Transgender Europe. Because of the number of murders that are not classified as transphobic these numbers do not reflect the actual incidences of violence against transgendered people. Many transgender advocates in the U.S. have pointed to the fact that not classifying transphobia as a hate crime, or including transgender identity as a protected identity in the law, has led to the re-classification of anti-trans violence or the misidentification of transphobic murder in police records & court documents. So while this map may give some people comfort in thinking that they live in a country free of transphobia or at least transphobic murder, the reality is they may live in a country with the most abuse because they have no laws or language, or will, to track abuse against transgender communities. Documenting that abuse is one of the first steps in stopping it, so the white spaces on this map should cause as much, if not more, concern as the red ones; particularly since the red spaces are places that have some kind of language or recognized, though degraded, population of trans or genderqueer people in them or internationally known transgender communities or districts which make them both more recognizable by authorities documenting their deaths and easier to locate for people wanting to torture or kill them.

That being said, that map, like the list of names of lives lost has left me once again wondering how to move from documentation and sorrow to action. According to the Gender Education and Advocacy Group, 1+ transgendered people lose their lives every month in the United States and these are only the ones reported in the media. They die not because we don’t know people are being brutally killed but because we have not made it a priority to ensure these murders stop and the cissupremacy that allows them ends. Many in the feminist community don’t consider transgender issues part of our work, in the same way that many in the queer community include transgender as a letter in our ever growing alphabet but continue to center cis rights.

Every year on this blog I scour the internet for all of the names of transgender people who have not yet been added to the official list of lost lives and add them to the list here. And every year, there is always at least one well known (at least in the queer community) transgender person who has died so close to this day that their name rings out as a particularly tragic reminder that after 11 years of honoring transgendered lives lost, we are still no closer to ending transphobia.

This year that person is Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado who was beaten, burned, dismembered and decapitated by a man who “thought he was a woman.” Despite the obvious indication of transphobia, the reporting on Lopez Mercado’s death have often failed to identify this as a factor illustrating the problem with long term official documentation of transbashing and anti-trans murder. According to friends in PR, Lopez Mercado identified as an out gay man (hence why I am using male pronouns) but was also exploring his gender identity and many believe he was struggling with coming out as a woman; despite the fact he was wearing a dress @ the time of his murder, this part of the story is only emerging as a result of transgender advocates claiming Lopez Mercado as their own. Their voices have been instrumental in forcing people to look at Martinez Matos transpanic defense:

According to Telemundo and other local reports, Martinez Matos confessed to authorities that he picked Lopez Mercado up from the street, thinking that he was a woman.

When he realized that Lopez Mercado was a man, Martinez Matos said he regressed to an incident when he was sexually assaulted during a prison term (CNN)

Like other transphobic murder suspects, Juan A. Martinez Matos believes he is not only innocent of a hate crime but that Lopez Mercado is to blame, not only for presenting as a woman but also daring to fight back when Martinez Matos began to beat him. The story is both incredible in its level of violence and cissupremacist entitlement and all too familiar. It is that familiarity, brutality and claims of innocence based on the spectre of trans bodies, that again gives me pause about the efficacy of local and global efforts to confront transphobia in the face of Transgender Day of Rememberance. (IE, what are people doing the other 364 days of the year to prevent the list of those we mourn from getting longer each year?)

The local is on my mind as I prepare my invited statement honoring the transgender students who have lost their lives in my tenure at pov u to open our annual gathering.  As one of the only faculty willing to attend, I am again struck by the number of people afraid to speak or even to attend because of the profound transphobia and homophobia (b/c yes, some trans people are also same sex attracted for those who don’t know) of our campus. The amount of secrecy involved in putting this event together each year is its own testament to how far we have to go especially here. And the fact that I am invited to speak each year speaks less and less to me about the work I do with transgender people for equality and more and more to the relative privilege I have to be visible in these activities vis-a-vis transgender youth, students, and/or faculty here.

We have lost three transgendered people on our campus in the last 5 years, some missing and presumed dead and some clearly murdered. None of their names are amongst the documented deaths because their families re-closeted them in death or they cannot be counted because there is “no concrete evidence” that they were abducted &/or killed. We honor their truths tonight along with those taken nationally this year:

Documenting these thefts of precious life and honoring those who have passed is critical in its own right. Taking today to mourn the loss of so many is both an act of revolution ( refusing to allow anyone to forget or erase what has been done in the name of trans hatred) and needed public sorrow. Yet part of honoring the dead is speaking truth to the lives of those who live on and truth to the violence they endure to do so. Thus my words are insufficient as an opening to our local event, invited or not, insufficient in documenting the layers of pain and discrimination that lead to the ever growing list of lives lost.

In the interest of taking a backseat where I can, ie here in the space where people can talk openly and freely, unlike our campus, I invite my out transgendered readers to share their stories and I warn transphobic trolls that there is no space for them here.

The video above is actually a collaboration project between a youtube video maker and the people who responded to the call to discuss their experiences of anti-trans discrimination. You can share your story as part of new video collaborations by contacting the director directly here.

Regardless of your identity, please consider today not only a call to remember but to act WITH transgendered communities to end transphobia. Mourn today, act tomorrow and every day afterward. (You can start with the links in my posts which try to privilege links by Transgender activists and organizations or the links provided by TransgenderDOR and Remembering Our Dead)

(events in honor of Lopez Mercado will be taking place across the U.S. on Sunday, vigils for TDOR take place today)