Saturday, October 13, 2007

Stonewall wasn’t the first LGBT riot

Leaning toward justice

Historian Susan Stryker made the amazing discovery the way that many of her peers do: by pure accident.

She wasn’t looking for it, but she found evidence of a forgotten chapter in the history of LGBT community in America.

In 1995, Stryker a transgendered historian, and co-author Jim Van Buskirk were working on Gay by the Bay, their soon-to-be published, best seller capsule history of the San Francisco LGBT movement, when they came across an interesting item in the program for the 1972 Gay Pride march.

The article described an August 1966 riot at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria in the Tenderloin, a poor and working-class area of the city where many transgenders lived, and still do. The incident started after a rowdy queen refused to leave the popular hangout and management called the police.

The account of the riot from the Pride program reads like a description of a lot of the social unrest of the 1960s: “Gays began breaking out every window in the place, and as they ran outside to escape the breaking glass, the police tried to grab them and throw them into the paddy wagon, but they found this no easy task for gays began hitting them “below the belt” and drag-queens smashing them in the face with their extremely heavy purses. A police car had every window broken, a newspaper shack outside the cafeteria was burned to the ground.”

Though many positive changes occurred after the riot, including a better relationship with the local police district and the establishment of social services for the trans community, the incident didn’t give birth to the kind of national mass movement that followed a similar night of rioting in New York’s Greenwich Village after cops raided the Stonewall bar.

Nearly three years after Compton’s, the Stonewall riots were the spark that gave birth to the modern gay liberation struggle. Literally, overnight, thousands of students and others, many from the antiwar and other radical movements, came pouring out of their closets to form the in-your-face organizations that eventually replaced the existing “homophile” groups.

“Compton’s happened too early,” says Stryker. “In 1966, things were just starting to bust out all over: The Black Panthers, the anti-war movement, the kids using psychedelics. Three years later, a lot more gay people were waiting for their own moment. Stonewall happened. A lot more people were primed to take advantage of it.”

Word spread about the rebellion in New York. Eventually, the Compton story was forgotten.

Inspired by what she read, Stryker went on to make a documentary about the incident at Compton’s.

Co-produced with Victor Silverman and Jack Walsh, it’s appropriately entitled Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria. It aired on PBS stations nationally in June 2006. An official San Francisco city plaque was installed in the sidewalk near the site of the riot that same summer.

As for the contention that queens weren’t the only ones rebelling that August night, but that male hustlers and lesbians also took part, Stryker says, “I say that’s true.” However, Stryker wanted to emphasize the role queens played because they are often “pushed to the margins” in the LGBT community, even today.

“The escalating tensions (at Compton’s) were around the mistreatment of transgenders,” she said.

The response to the documentary has been positive, especially from the transgender community. “I was very leery in wanting to get involved with the East vs. West Coast thing or San Francisco did it first,” says Stryker. “I didn’t want to present Compton’s as trumping Stonewall.” . . .

Why the T in LGBT is here to stay

Transgender people are not beggars at the civil rights table set by
gay and lesbian activists. They are integral to the struggle for
gender freedom for all.

By Susan Stryker

Oct. 11, 2007 | Pity poor John Aravosis, the gay rights crusader from
AmericaBlog whose "How Did the T Get in LGBT?" essay, in reference to
the controversy over gender identity protections in the pending
Employment Non-Discrimination Act, was published on Salon a few days

To hear Aravosis tell it, he and multitudes of like-minded gay souls
have been sitting at the civil rights table for more than 30 years,
waiting to be served. Now, after many years of blood, sweat, toil and
tears, a feast in the form of federal protection against sexual
orientation discrimination in the workplace has finally been prepared.
Lips are being licked, chops smacked, saliva salivated, when -- WTF!?!
-- a gaunt figure lurches through the door.

It is a transgender person, cupped hands extended, begging for food.
Seems somebody on the guest list -- maybe a lot of somebodies -- let
this stranger in off the streets without consulting everyone else
beforehand, claiming he-she-it-or-whatever was a relative of some
sort. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a fabulous dinner party starts
surreally morphing into one of those OxFam fundraisers dramatizing
third-world hunger whose sole function is to make the "haves" feel
guilty for the plight of the "have-nots."

Maitre d' Barney Frank offers an elegant pretext for throwing the bum
out. The establishment's new management, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is
caught off-guard by the awkward turn of events, but deftly shuffles
the hubbub into the wings and starts working the room, all smiles, to
reassure the assembled guests that a somber and long-sought civil
rights victory will be celebrated in short order.

Aravosis and those who share his me-first perspective are not so sure.
Seeing half a loaf of civil rights protection on the table before
them, and sensing that the soirée might come to a premature and
unexpected denouement, they make a grab, elbows akimbo, for said
truncated loaf. This is, after all, their party.

In my line of work -- teaching history and theory of sexuality and
gender -- we've invented a polysyllabic technical term applicable to
Aravosis & Co., which is homocentric, whose definition Aravosis
supplies when he asserts, as he did in his recent essay, that gay is
the term around which the GLBT universe revolves. By gay he means gay
men like himself, to which is added (in descending order of
importance), lesbian, bisexual and transgender, beyond which lies an
even more obscure region of poorly understood and infrequently
observed identities.

Aravosis isn't questioning the place of the T in the GLBT batting
order; he's just concerned with properly marking the distinction
between "enough like me" and "too different from me" to merit
inclusion in the categories with which he identifies. His position is
a bit like those kerfuffled astronomers not too long ago, scratching
their noggins over how to define Pluto's place in the conceptual
scheme of the solar system. Sure, we've been calling it a planet for a
good number of years because it's round and orbits the sun just like
our Earth, but now it appears that if we keep doing so we'll have to
let a bunch of the bigger asteroids into the planet category, as well
as some other weird faraway stuff we only recently learned about,
which stretches the definition of "planet" into a name for things we
don't really think of as being much like good ol' Earth, so let's just
demote Pluto instead. In Aravosis' homocentric cosmology, men may not
be from Mars, nor women from Venus, but transgender people are
definitely from Pluto.

Transgender people have become this political season's version of the
unisex-toilet issue that helped scuttle passage of the Equal Rights
Amendment back in the 1970s, of Willie Horton's role in bringing the
first Bush presidency to the White House in the 1980s, and of the
"Don't bend over to pick up the soap in the barracks shower room"
argument against gays in the military in the 1990s -- a false issue
that panders to the basest and most ignorant of fears. This is
unfortunate because protecting the rights of transgender people
specifically is just one welcome byproduct of the version of ENDA that
forbids discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender
expression or identity. This full version of ENDA, rather than the
nearly introduced one that stripped away previously agreed-upon
protections against gender-based discrimination and would protect only
sexual orientation, is the one that is of potential benefit to all
Americans, and not just to a narrow demographic slice of
straight-looking, straight-acting gays and lesbians. It doesn't really
even do that much good for this group, as Lambda Legal points out,
because of a loophole big enough to drive a truck through.

Aravosis, not being one to mince words when it comes to mincing meat,
wants to know what he, as a gay man, has "in common with a man who
wants to cut off his penis, surgically construct a vagina, and become
a woman." The answer is "gender." The last time I checked my
dictionary, homosexuality had something to with people of one gender
tending to fall in love with people of the same gender. The meaning of
homosexuality thus depends on the definition of gender. However much
Aravosis might wish to cut the trannies away from the rest of his
herd, thereby preserving a place free of gender trouble for just plain
gay guys such as himself, that operation isn't conceptually possible.
Gender and sexuality are like two lines intersecting on a graph, and
trying to make them parallel undoes the very notion of homo-, hetero-
or bisexuality.

Now here's the rub -- but it requires another of those fancy words my
academic colleagues and I like to throw around: heteronormativity, the
idea that whatever straight people do is really what's what, and that
whatever anybody else does is deviant to some degree. To want to have
sex with somebody of the same gender violates heteronormative
expectations of gender behavior as much as it does heteronormative
expectations of sexual behavior. Simply put: Real men don't suck cock.
Nor do they use the word "fabulous" when describing a pair of women's
shoes. Nor do they keep a picture of their husband pinned to the wall
of their office cubicle. All of the above violates conventional or
stereotypical expectations of proper masculine gender, and as Lambda
Legal's preliminary analysis of ENDA makes clear, none would be
protected under the rubric of sexual orientation alone. It's OK to be
gay, in other words, just so long as you don't act like a fag.

Without solid theoretical ground to stand on, Aravosis resorts to
flights of rhetorical fancy in lieu of an argument against gender
protections. He characterizes the more than 300 GLBT organizations
nationwide now on record as supporting a gender-inclusive ENDA, which
collectively speak on behalf of hundreds of thousands if not millions
of people, as plotting something of a palace coup. They attempt, he
claims, to force the gay movement -- along with the country that is
poised to embrace them -- to crawl unwillingly into bed with a big
bunch of tranny whatevers. Aravosis positions himself as a man giving
voice to an oppressed silent majority, a majority too cowed by their
fear of appearing "politically incorrect" to express their true
feelings, in order to proclaim "that over the past decade the trans
revolution was imposed on the gay community from outside, or at least

This coming from an ex-Republican, former congressional aide,
Georgetown-educated, inside-the-Beltway lawyer who studied under
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and who has spent the past
decade working his political connections in order to hold corporate
America's feet to the fire on gay rights? Puh. Leeze. John Aravosis is
in the nosebleed section of the social hierarchy; if he gets any
higher up the food chain he should be issued an oxygen mask. Where,
pray tell, is this "above" whereof he speaks, peopled with radical
transgender revolutionaries? Somewhere in the vicinity of the Jewish
international bankers, or the Trilateral Commission?

Aravosis wants to know how the T came to be added to GLB. Here's how:
It started happening in the mid-1990s, in response to the queer
movement of the early 1990s, and in response to a decade of radical
AIDS activism. Fighting to end the epidemic required, from a public
health point of view, getting past the squabbles of homosexual
identity politics left over from the 1960s, '70s and '80s. The
Reaganite right wanted to label AIDS "gay-related immune deficiency,"
even though viruses are no respecters of identity. AIDS was not a gay
disease, but convincing others of that fact required a transformation
of sexual politics. It fostered political alliances between lots of
different kinds of people who all shared the common goal of ending the
epidemic -- and sometimes precious little else.

What does Aravosis, as a gay man, have in common with a little girl
whose mother gave her HIV in utero, or a heterosexual African man who
contracted HIV from a female prostitute, or a junkie living on the
streets of Bangkok, Thailand? Presumably, a common interest in ending
AIDS. And what might he have in common with transgender people? Some
sense that a person's suitability for employment had something to do
with their ability to do the job?

Transgender people have their own history of civil rights activism in
the United States, one that is in fact older, though smaller and less
consequential, than the gay civil rights movement. In 1895, a group of
self-described "androgynes" in New York organized a "little club"
called the Cercle Hermaphroditos, based on their self-perceived need
"to unite for defense against the world's bitter persecution." Half a
century later, at the same time some gay and lesbian people were
forming the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis,
transgender people were forming the Society for Equality in Dress.
When gay and lesbian people were fighting for social justice in the
militant heyday of the 1960s, transgender people were conducting
sit-in protests at Dewey's lunch counter in Philadelphia, fighting in
the streets with cops from hell outside Compton's Cafeteria in San
Francisco's Tenderloin, and mixing it up at Stonewall along with lots
of other folks.

There was a vibrant history of transgender activism and movement
building through the 1970s, when it suddenly became fashionable on the
left to think of transgender people as antigay and antifeminist. Gay
people were seen as freeing themselves from the straitjacket of
psychopathology, while transgender people were clamoring to get into
the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric
Association; feminists were seen as freeing themselves from the
oppressiveness of patriarchal gender, while transgender people were
perpetuating worn-out stereotypes of men and women. It's a familiar
refrain, even now. Transgender arguments for access to appropriate
healthcare, or observations that no one is ever free from being
gendered, fell on deaf ears.

Until the early 1990s, that is, when a new generation of queer kids,
the post-baby boomers whose political sensibilities had been forged in
the context of the AIDS crisis, started coming into adulthood. They
were receptive to transgender issues in a new way -- and that
more-inclusive understanding has been steadily building for nearly two

Aravosis and those who agree with him think that the "trans
revolution" has come from outside, or from above, the rank-and-file
gay movement. No -- it comes from below, and from within. The outrage
that many people in the queer, trans, LGBT or
whatever-you-want-to-call-it community feel over how a
gender-inclusive ENDA has been torpedoed from within is directed at
so-called leaders who are out of touch with social reality. It has to
do with a generation of effort directed toward building an inclusive
movement being pissed away by the clueless and the phobic. That's why
every single GLBT organization of any size at the national and state
levels -- with the sole exception of the spineless Human Rights
Campaign -- has unequivocally come out in support of gender
protections within ENDA, and has opposed the effort to pass
legislation protecting only sexual orientation.

What happens in Congress in the weeks ahead on this historic issue is
anybody's guess. I urge all of you who support the vision of an
inclusive ENDA to contact your representatives in government and let
your views be known.

All of us, every one of us

by Matt Foreman, NGLTF Executive Director

At this critical moment in our efforts to pass an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that includes transgender people under its protections, it is important to recall just why so many of us believe that no one can be left behind.

The last five days have been a grueling and defining moment in our movement’s history. When we learned that protections for transgender people would be stripped from ENDA, an unprecedented groundswell of anger, energy and determination rose up to reverse that decision.

This morning, a letter signed by more than 90 national and state advocacy organizations that work on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people was delivered to Congress, asking for more time to garner support for ENDA as it was originally introduced. Some 2,500 congregations were asked to activate their memberships to call Congress. Students are also calling and e-mailing Congress and launching Facebook accounts to build support, working from 120 LGBT campus resource centers. Action alerts, blog postings and opinion pieces supporting a trans-inclusive ENDA have been flying over the Internet.

We at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force are immensely proud to be part of this moment. Our staff mounts a full-court press in the halls of Congress, on the telephones and over e-mail, to convince our congressional leaders that separating transgender people from the rest of us is unacceptable and unsupportable.

Why have we all worked so hard together and in such a dramatic way over this issue? For over a decade, the Task Force, and increasingly our organizational colleagues, has re-embraced transgender friends, family and colleagues as part of our community and part of our movement for freedom and equality. We believe the social disapproval and punishment of LGBT people varies only by degree. Yes, we can be fired if we identify ourselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual. But it isn’t always about who we love; sometimes it’s about a refusal or inability to disguise ourselves — “pass” — as heterosexual.

The freedom to express ourselves and be ourselves is at stake when any one of us is punished and persecuted for stepping outside the rigid rules of gender conformity. Lesbians, gay men and bisexual people historically engage a whole range of dress and behaviors that challenge the traditional gender code. Women who are too masculine and men who are too feminine often suffer job discrimination and harassment at work, just as our transgender sisters and brothers do.

Two women loving each other, two men loving each other, men and women who may love either men or women, and people who self-define their gender identity or expression all challenge and change gender-based assumptions and expectations. Centuries of formal state-sponsored and informal cultural oppression show that none of us are intended to exist, to thrive and to enjoy good and long lives.

There is no more fundamental human right for all of us than to be free to love and live as our minds and hearts guide us. But what is the value of freedom if we can’t get and keep a job, something we all need to make for ourselves a decent life?

Discrimination at work hits transgender people particularly hard. A survey conducted in Washington, D.C., shows that 60 percent of transgender respondents report either no source of income or incomes of less than $10,000 per year, a clear indication of the desperate need for employment protections for transgender people. Employment discrimination undeniably erodes the freedoms of transgender people, and all the rest of us, to live as we know we must.

Uncounted numbers of LGBT people courageously refuse to live a lie. This basic need to live fully as the people we know we are — loving someone of the same sex or transforming one’s self to express the other long-sought gender — forms the foundation of our very movement for freedom and equality. Just as we would oppose any legislation that cut out lesbians or gay men from needed protections, we oppose the re-drafted ENDA that excludes gender identity. We dream that all of us, every one of us, will some day be able to be and tell others who we are, each minute of every day, and not face punishment, prosecution or persecution.

A groundswell of support for a trans-inclusive ENDA, resounding across this entire country, cannot be ignored. We call on congressional leaders and all people of compassion and good will to work harder to win passage of a federal law that protects LGBT people in the workplace so that every one of us can simply live. . . .

Judge: No reason to tell jurors about cross-dressing

There was no reason to tell grand jurors that Walter Hodge was a cross-dresser, even if he was accused of stealing ladies' beauty products, a Nassau judge has ruled.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Bruce Ayers made the rare move of throwing out the indictment for second-degree burglary and second-degree criminal trespass against Hodge, saying a prosecutor prejudiced the grand jury by introducing evidence that he is gay and a cross-dresser.

"Even the most generous interpretation of the evidence of the defendants' sexual orientation as relevant – that because he dresses like a woman he likely stole the woman's hair products and shoes -- is such an incredible leap of logic as to astound this court," Ayers said in his decision, released Sept. 26. . . .

On TV, shows confronting transgender stereotypes

Carmelita is beautiful. There's really no denying it. She is sultry, with long blond hair and ample cleavage. She looks fairly majestic in a ball gown. That she used to be a man is an afterthought.


But the character - played by a transgender actress named Candis Cayne - brings more than just a layer of prurient intrigue to "Dirty Sexy Money," ABC's new series about a rich and miserable clan in New York. She adds surprising poignancy to a mostly satirical soap. And she brings something new to network television in general: a transsexual character who doesn't function entirely as an oddity. Yes, she's a punch line at times, especially at the start. But she's also the very believable, surprisingly likable mistress of a troubled man in love.

Even within the inhibited boundaries of mainstream culture, transgender characters have long drawn fascination. They've figured in guest turns on medical dramas and legal shows, or wound their way into network casts in ways that strained credulity: Alexis, the transsexual on ABC's "Ugly Betty," is played by Rebecca Romijn.

Now, in the wake of movies like 2005's "Transamerica" - whose transgender character was played by "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman - transgenders are becoming even more visible. But not so three-dimensional. "Big Shots," another new ABC series about a whiny klatsch of rich men, features a transgender prostitute named Dontrelle, who has sex with Dylan McDermott's unwitting CEO. And later this month, Fox Reality will air the controversial British series "There's Something About Miriam," which put out a casting call for the "sexual adventure of a lifetime," then let six contestants vie for a woman who turned out to be transsexual.

The "Miriam" contestants, hardly amused, filed a lawsuit trying to prevent the show from airing. And some transgender activists in the United States, abuzz over the prominence of new transgender characters, are similarly concerned about what they represent.

Like "Miriam," "Big Shots" plays into old stereotypes about transgender women trying to deceive innocent men, says Jillian T. Weiss, a law professor at Remap College and a consultant on transgender workplace issues. Even "Dirty Sexy Money," she says, largely limits Carmelita's influence to the bedroom. The age of a "transgender 'Will and Grace' " - where a character's gender status could be perfunctory - isn't yet within reach, she says.

"The fact that these two television shows are on indicates that we're coming into public consciousness," Weiss says, who is herself transgender. "It doesn't mean that we're mainstream."

It's hardly surprising that TV would be a place to work out public feelings on a topic that once seemed taboo. And some of today's most compelling television explores the nuances of gender. Last spring's FX drama "The Riches" has been hailed, in transgender circles, for its realism and wincingly self-referential setup: cross-dressing actor Eddie Izzard played a man, while his character's preteen son, Sam, dressed up in girls' clothes.

"There's Something About Miriam" is far less openhearted; the show is far more sneering. Before Miriam even arrives in the premiere, the male contestants gather for bonding at a picturesque house in Spain. A few hours and a few drinks later, they've decided to shed their clothes and sit talking in the nude. The producers keep editing for maximum suggestiveness: In a confessional interview, one man says he wouldn't want to date someone with an Adam's apple, while another says that making out with a flat-chested woman would "be like kissing a boy, wouldn't it?" . . .