Embracing Trans Diversity is not a Luxury

July 8th, 2009

By Monica F. Helms

Over the 12 years of living my life as Monica, I have been privileged to learn many things about the TBLG community, but mostly about the trans community. The biggest lesson in my short life as a woman has been the diversity of our people. Trans individuals have covered every segment of human experience since the dawn of time. We span all races, all sexual orientations, all gender identities, all gender expressions, all social and economic levels, all job experiences, all education levels, all ages and all health issues. If every American trans person populated just one city in America, it would be the third largest city in the country and every job in the city would be covered.

When I moved to Atlanta in 2000, I received the most important part of my education on diversity, that of the African American community. Living in Phoenix most of my life, I received a big education on the Latino and Native cultures of our population, but not much on the African American culture. But, coming to Atlanta had been the biggest eye-opener for me in finding out about the rich history – and sometimes tragic history – of my African American brothers and sisters. Moving here has proven to be one of the best decisions in my life.


I may have come a long way in understanding diversity, but because of a recent event in the White House, it has been shown that maybe the rest of our community still has a lot to learn. I’m not going to get too much into the event, since it happened on June 29. In a nutshell, President Obama held a gathering of about 200 TBLG people to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Stonewall, of which only about eight trans people received invitations. Out of that eight, two were of Latino decent. However, they didn’t have any trans veterans of Stonewall, or any African American trans people. I don’t see that as embracing diversity in the trans community.

Several questions about the event in DC have not been answered to my satisfaction. 1.) Why wasn’t Miss Majors invited to this? 2.) Who provided the list of trans people that suggested who should go? 3.) Who picked the attendees from that list? 4.) Who didn’t make the cut and why did they not make it? 5.) Had there been extensive background checks made on these people? 6.) And, why were there not any crossdressers, intersex people and gender queer people invited?

The lack of African American people at this event speaks to a larger problem facing the transgender community in general. The most vocal and most well-known African American trans person I know, Monica Roberts, wrote about this event and the lack of African American trans people in her article on TransGriot, dated July 1, 2009. It was posted in other places.

She also posted it on The Bilerico Project, where she got over 60 comments, some of them from gay white men who attacked her. She provided a list of several people who should have been there, but the most glaring omission to the guest list had been Miss Majors. She has the distinction of being the last known African American trans person who helped to start the riots at Stonewall 40 years ago.

In the comment section of the Bilerico article, she and others pointed out that several trans African Americans could not only pass the Secret Service background check, but would have represented all trans people proudly. Yet, none of them received invitations.

Why does the transgender community find it so hard to accept diversity and admit we have a problem in race relationships? As a white trans women, I get angry and disappointed in how some of my white brothers and sister treat race issues with such a low priority. In the comment section of Monica’s article on Bilerico, only one person who attended the event at the White House cared enough to answer some of the questions by others. All of the other people who attended didn’t even make an attempt to contact Monica privately on this issue. Is it that they have too many other fancy events to attend to bother addressing one of the core issues dividing our frail community?

Yes, I’m being factitious, but since they don’t want to listen to one Monica about this problem, then maybe two Monicas in stereo might get their attention. Maybe, but I’m not holding my breath on it.

The trans community has too many things that divide us to go out of our way to make some of them worse. Indeed, some make it a point to create ways to divide us, while others divide us without realize they had done it. Too many times I have seen a newbie trans woman on a diverse discussion list start off with, “Hey, girls.” If none of the trans men say anything, I try to point it out right away. Some particular life experiences tend to give people a narrow view of our community. People need to constantly be aware of the diversity of the trans community, as they transverse through it.

When it comes to race relations, the lessons become harder to learn, but not impossible. What I saw taking place from the discussion of the DC event were people who have been made aware of a problem in race relations, but choose to ignore it. The problem will not go away. The prominent white “leaders” in the trans community need to put as much effort in healing the rift between the Black leaders in our community as they do in lobbying Congress for our rights. A summit is in order. But, I don’t see any of the white leaders making an effort.

Since the beginning of the century, we have seen massive improvements on the state and local levels protecting the rights of transgender people. However, the number of People of Color ending up on the Remembering Our Dead list has grown to over 70%. We have an African American President who has shown great pride in his heritage, but hosts an event that shuns trans people of that same heritage.

We have trans organizations (TAVA included) where the top leaders are white. We have young African American trans people living in a world with few or no known heroes to emulate. We have several African American trans people who can make ALL of the trans community proud, but they get little press or exposure from the white trans leaders. We have a major problem that many white trans people seem to ignore.

Well, I refuse to ignore this any longer and I am standing up to be counted as a white person who will fight racial indifference in the white trans community. I know many of my white brothers and sisters will be counted as well. Some people say I’m a “leader” in this community. If so, I’ll stick my neck out here, as I have done so many times in the past.

“As the President of the Transgender American Veterans Association, I call for a Race Relations Summit.”

It’s not like TAVA is doing a damn thing anyway, right? I’m sure no one will respond to this. Why should they? They’re too busy with their own issues to care and TAVA wasn’t one of the national groups invited to the White House, along with our African American brothers and sisters. We will be ignored, but not forever.

As veterans, we fought along side our Brothers and Sister of Color, counting on them to watch our backs as we watched theirs. Veterans understand the need to work together, because our lives depended on it in the trenches, the fox holes and on board ships. Well friends, our lives as trans people depend on it just as much today. It would be advisable to work toward that goal. After all, embracing diversity is not a luxury, but a necessity.

19 Responses to “Embracing Trans Diversity is not a Luxury”

  1. Fredrikka Maxwell Says:

    Thank you, Monica. Two Monicas in loud stereo ought to do it. In fact should wake the daed!

  2. Stephani Hartzell Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more about what you wrote in this article. Being a veteran myself as well as a white trans woman and living in mining country of Minnesota, I see so many others like myself hiding in fear of retaliation from society only because we are different and want to be excepted. On a person al level, I haven’t experienced any adverse treatment up here simply because I was living full time since I got here in 2006. I have recently begun communications with all of this states representatives and senators trying to gain some sort of equal rights movement. Being an elected public official myself, they seem to have more interest in hearing what I have to say.

  3. genderqueer riff raff Says:

    Maybe the Summit could dove tail with the Transgender Leadership Conference – held last yr in Berkeley. Have the conference this coming yr in a more central location perhaps..just throwing out ideas. There are so many reasons we cannot try to sweep this issue under the rug – as POC and Trans , the “whammies” society deals out are larger. Survival is at stake. So many of us have put time into larger lgbt orgs , to work along side in the hopes of being recognized..As Monica Roberts pointed out in her post on Bilerico – another historic Melentonin free event – How can she as an African American Award winning the Trinity Award from IFGE go back to the black community the conservatives who did fight Prop 8 and educate them IF its not something they can even “see” in their community. And as she said – too many to her despair shove our issues off as a “white thang” – Stereo Empowerment , and the affirmative action – I am a believer – we the white by birth have to HAVE TO as job one of any event – JOB ONE check and make sure , its inclusive. As the comments at Bilerico showed , no real efforts were made. Off the top of her head Monica Roberts could name a dozen POC who could have been invited.

    So many of us , have squandered our time energy and money giving to the larger lgbtq orgs..its time we really , upped our game and give till hurts to TRANS exclusive mission groups..and getting real diversity is the PRIZE – sorry to ramble on – good post. And a lot of do really care so lets put this into action..that always speaks louder than words

  4. Meghan Fenner Says:

    You have identified a problem that exists, not just in the trans community, but within society at large. For the part of the trans community, it doesn’t seem to be apathy or indifference, at least not from my perspective. Instead, I think to address such a ubiquitous issue at this precarious time, is to give a tune up to a car with no wheels. In other words, race relations is an issue we can’t at this time afford to confront, in lieu of the fact that we enjoy such a tenuous position within the political agenda.

    I agree completely that we could all do more to share the thrones of power and make inclusion the standard, but do we really want to challenge this administration at this moment. Or, would we be better served to simply practice inclusion and allow our actions to speak for us. That is a two way street, not only do the present leaders of our community need to put their best foot forward, but also the various minority members of our sub-culture need to step up and take their places at the tables.

    I am not trying to be contradictory, simply saying that at this time, more than ever, we need to concentrate on that which unites us. In that way, we will undoubtedly get the people most qualified to lead, not fill any quotas. As far as Obama’s crew dropping the ball, let’s face it, this isn’t the worst rule violation they have committed in this game. I don’t know to what meeting or incident you refer, but I can bet that the trans leaders invited were not who we ourselves would choose anyway.

  5. Angela Brightfeather Says:

    There are a lot of thoughts that run across my mind regarding this. What stands out to me the most, is that our community has, in recent years, decided to take on the mantle of mainstreram thinking, akin to groups like the Mattachine Society and most recently HRC in their stubborn and insecure actions of only fostering public relationships with passable, mainstream looking and acting Transgender people.

    Oh yea! Why should we be surprised about that meeting with Obama not having any Black Trans faces in the crowd, when for years we have ignored the fact that discimination has become a well practiced art in the Trans community, starting with:
    1. Discrimination by Tri-Ess of people who are gay or transsexual.
    2. Discimination by transsexuals against crossdressers.
    3. Discrimination against FtoM’s by MtoF’s when considering things like convention programs and events.

    Discrimination breeds more discrimination. When it starts it builds up to a point where it is embarassingly obvious and can only be tolerated by ignoring and denying that it even exists. The Trans community is now at that point and the big question is, what is it going to do about it?

    Here are a few points we might consider.

    Hold those responsible for this most recent inequity, namely HRC and NCTE openly responsible and demand an open and public apology to the community for their “oversight” and failure to be insistent on being inclusive. In other words, be honest about it and the fact that we need not do this again.

    Next, we should make some special efforts to support the concept that was tried by Marissa Richmond a few years ago with her attempt to have a Trans POC Convention. It failed because of attendance. If that convention had been attended by Trans POC and non POC then it would have succeeded. It also needed to address all the issues of discrimination in our community.

    I have never seen any program at SCC or IFGE or any of our major conventins, dealing with our communities racial problems or our problems with discrimination between different types of Trans people.

    We have to do something about this for one simple reason. I have always felt that the Creator made Transgender people for the purpose of helping others to heal the differences that hurt them, and our society, the most. We are unique in that we have more dimensions that are common to everyone in one package of experiences. Our lives take us to places and experiences that even if you grow up as a privileged, white, male, if you are Transgender you still get to understand things that no other such male of your type will ever have a chance to experience. As Trans people we also have a responsibility to bring the discrimination that we all feel at times, to a level of recognition that others can recognize also and the realization that no matter how priveleged you may think you are, you are still suseptable.

    The simple fact is that discrimination is the worst sin of mankind and the most frightening thing to find in ourselves and confront honestly.

  6. Polar Says:

    I’m going to agree with you, Monica H, on everything here save for the summit idea. There have been too many meetings, too many discussions, too many excuses on this point already. The cure for everything in business, political orgs, nonprofits, etc, is always to have a friggin’ useless waste-of-time meeting about it, after which nothing really happens. The challenge is this: get inclusive now, and that goes for all GLBT organizations.

    You can only control your organization, and that only according to the bylaws TAVA operates by. Also, beware of tokenism: just placing a T person of color on your board and calling it a day is not good enough, nor is calling the same half-dozen TPOCs whose names we all know already. The people named need to have a true integral leadership role in the organization and need to be recognized for the works they do. I suspect that the answer to this, if any, by many organization will be to point to a person on their board and say “here” – but do they have true responsibilities and get truly recognized for their performance? Do they?

    I know that many of the T people of color I have met long ago decided that many of the major GLBT organizations have a racist streak. Those of us who came to the T community via the support group/convention network have only met a tiny fraction of the TPOC community, that fraction mostly having come from average to favorable economic circumstances and possessing higher education and/or significant job experience. There’s a whole community out there that has very little contact with the alphabet organizations and are too busy surviving, or not, to do so. How to breach that gap, I cannot answer. It’s a question I’ve wrestled with as well. There are people I know of that do great work with tight resources in several of our major cities, and are nearly totally invisible and unknown to those who attend conventions, because they have no time or money for that. They don’t get Trinity Awards and probably couldn’t spare the time or money to travel to collect one.

    By bringing up this question, you’ve certainly raised a can of worms. i’m looking forward to the comments.

  7. Nerissa Belcher Says:

    I agree with you, Monica. However, my observation is that many, perhaps most, problems Black trans people face are a result of coming from Black communities that embrace fundamentalism flavored religions. Problems with Whites being a distant second reason for their problems.

    Atlanta area Black trans folks may wish to get involved in the program described below as a step in working towards helping themselves.

    From the Atlanta Freethought News, Volume 15, Number 7 • July 2009

    “The First Annual Conference of Black Nontheists will be in Atlanta on Friday, August 7, and Saturday, August 8, at the Atlanta Fulton Public Library, Central Downtown Branch Auditorium. Gary C. Booker will host the event. His website (http://www.garybooker.org) notes that “Even after many centuries of being disappointed and miserably failed by organized religion, Black Americans continue to be extremely devout and show blind faith in self-destructive ways. Religious fundamentalism and bigotry continue to promote sectarianism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and anti-intellectualism in Black American communities. Mental Liberation is the final frontier of the civil rights movement.” See the website for details. Norm Allen of African Americans for Humanism will also be there.”

  8. Jillian T. Weiss Says:

    Monica, I applaud your call for a summit on race relations. I think it would make a big difference in our community. If I can help in any way, please let me know.

  9. Michelle Says:

    the bigger problem for our black sisters is how their Black community ace[ts them. It is so strange that a community who struggled for their rights slap others others in the face, The opposition in DC to acceptance of us is lead by a Black minister. Why do not everyone see it is just Human rights and not a struggle to climb an artificial hill

  10. Ms. Dee Dee Chamblee Says:

    Rave Reviews Monica,
    I applaud your extradinary courage to speak out on this issue, I was raised that the things you are seeking for like equality and justice must start at home before you can present them to the world in order to be successful in what you stand for ,some of the comments i read are from people coming from a lack of information and experience, if those same people put in a another color besides the one they had they been born in as they did when they made there transitions ,i think a true heart felt revelation would enlighten their prespective on this issue, thanks Monica I thank God yes God for you in Jesus name Ms Dee Dee

  11. Allyson Robinson Says:

    I’m with Jill, Monica. Let me know how I can help.

  12. genderqueer riff raff Says:

    If we can address this systemic problem , as the systems problem it is – we might get somewhere. Its about poverty, the prison industrial complex, and also a racist streak in lgbt orgs whether intentional or not. Its something that has to be multi tasked. Saying our plate is too full is complete BS. The laws we want passed , even if they do pass are going to do little if anything to get to the root causes of poverty in the TPOC community , little to help with real employment , This is as much about class, and capitalism to me as it is about a lack of affirmative action. Lets talk on line but DO in real life. Look at the growth of Teish Green Page on FB – look at the TDLEF they are going , and tweeting ! The internet makes this easier..ONE thing i plan to do from now on is only give my money to TPOC orgs and fully integrated orgs. I live on ssdi and find a way to give something.. I think and wonder if those who are more well off, and i was once upon a time too. REALLY give to Trans exclusive orgs, …before they get that new flat screen. I just wonder about that…Also with the TPOC orgs that already exist what can be done to raise their profiles.?

    As for the homosexual rights corporation – do they also look for POC as a way of rating orgs. ? does that factor in ? I bet if it did a lot of these high rated corporations would fail. The last couple of decades we have seen an attack on affirmative action..case in point the Sotomeyer decision just got over turned.. rambling again here. But there is a part of me that agrees we have a lot of meetings , but i am a believer in declaring and doing. Put out that APB and empower the disenfranchised. Raise the level of promotion and awareness of groups that already exist.

    Not long ago Seal Press actually said they just couldn’t find POC women writers to promote/publish…IF that didn’t scream of not trying hard enough i don’t know what does..i mean srsly how they the two white gals could even say that still has me shaking my head. So in the end of this ramble i gotta say its not about talking its about doing. And we can start doing right this second !

  13. Sheila Coats Says:

    Monica, I know that there is racial tension within the trans community and like you had said we are a very diverse group. Race is something that I had to overcome, being raised in a very closed minded family, I had to overcome all and including myself.
    We must not forget all the cultures which are rich and very interesting in themselves. We are a very discriminating species and I wish that wasn’t so. No matter what we do, there will be something that we will discriminate against. I try to look at both sides of the coin.
    I’m not trying to down play our racial tensions but we are a diverse group and we all need to get along. We are all people and we need to respect any and all. No two of us are the same and not one of us thinks the same, respect that.
    We are the world.

  14. Zandra Conway Says:

    Monica, I have alway known you to be a supporter of TLGB, and the person who clearly understood the power of the Transgender community through your thoughts. As a Soul Sister Lesbian, I can alway trust your support in the black community. Is there racism in the TLGB communities? YES. Acceptance of one’s own race must always be an acceptance of all races. We as a TLGB family must illiminate racism, there is NO ifs, ands about it! I cannot miss out on knowing and respecting my friendships by using race as a factor. For everyone reading this blog – do you have true friends of other races? Do you attend events like Black Gay Pride, celebrate the black culture during the month of February? If you haven’t you should – once people start accepting others who do not share the same skin color or race, this world be a better place. Thanks again Monica, my Soul Sister with white skin for sharing yourself with others!

  15. Cheryl Courtney-Evans Says:

    Monica, I am pleased to see someone of your stature calling attention to the problem. It is tantamount, in my opinion, to the monumental efforts made by SCC to address this problem in their increased efforts to include the POC Trans community in their yearly event; and not just those few POC “of a certain income”! As a POC Trans woman of Atlanta, I have made every effort to make INCLUSION a key word in my practices, covering not only race, but my Trans brothers in my group and efforts to find equal footing in the community at large. I applaud your efforts, but it is unfortunate that there have been times, I’ve found that when we DO try to “do things for ourselves”, some would call us ‘racist’ (as when we in Atlanta made an attempt to start a “Transgender Persons Of Color” workers’ project [failed due to lack of support]; ring a bell Ms. Belcher?). Additionally, contrary to Ms. Belcher’s assertions as regards the African American Trans person’s problems with the Black Church, we have been no more maligned there than any other member of the TGBL community, and this is being recognized, challenged, and is changing. Too much of the POC Trans community is just too busy trying to SURVIVE to be able to afford to participate in more meetings, without being able to have faith that ACTION will surely follow, but would I would love to see a Summit come to fruition.

  16. Monica Roberts Says:

    Sea Monica.
    Thanks once again for you Angela, Polar, and many others who have had mine and my portion of the trans community’s back.

    We have to be BETTER than our opponents If we wish to be equal, we can’t turn around and show in our own actions to the rest of the world that we don’t treat others in the same manner.

    But once again, talking about the race issues is just a start. They are documented. Just read the Task Force 2003 Say It Loud Report. This is not something new.I’m pointing out.

    I’m warning you once again, you are dangerously close to approaching the point that feminism did in the early 90′s. Black women got so tired of dealing with the same issues of racism, erasure, and disrespect I’ve talked about that they permanently split from the movement and became womanists.

    Consistent sustained action, bold leadership and constant vigilance is what is required at this moment to overcome the race tension problem in the transgender community.

  17. Monica Helms Says:

    Reading all of these beautiful comments have made me cry. Atlanta Trans Women of Color, like Dee Dee and Cheryl, make me proud to have worked with them over the years. Zandra, I have always looked up to you and admired all of the great things you have done. When you called me, “my Soul Sister with white skin,” I felt humble, and my eyes watered. You have a beautiful soul.

    Polar’s comments are a smack of reality. A Summit is needed, and would make people feel good when it is over, but will anyone follow through? I have yet to hear from leaders in the trans community, with the exception of Jillian and Allyson. I’m sure Monica Roberts would attend a Summit and help arrange it, but we need commitment from others, especially those who were at the White House. Not one peep out of any of those people, and they have all gotten this article. Anyone care to light a fire under those people. Jillian? Allyson?

    Polar, maybe those other attempts didn’t work because we didn’t have a Drill Sgt. running the show. I just so happen to know one. “Oh, Angela!”

  18. BT Says:

    WOW! Monica, I thank you SO MUCH for being bold and brave and speaking out loud about this elephant that’s in the room. I’m blown away by how up front and honest it is, and also some of the comments and responses from some people who ‘just don’t get it”, shows that those of us who are interested in TRUE diversity and inclusion of all kinds – will have to do the work to make it happen. I already always give you a big hug whenever I see you, but this is so damn needed that I’m hugging you as I type this.

    I’m all for having the summit, it’s a good start, and we can make sure that something REAL comes out of it and that it’s just the start in making a change – I’ll gladly help in anyway that I can!

    Thanks to Monica Robert who continues to keep everyone’s feet to the fire on issues in general but especially those that effect POC.

    Respect and Love,

  19. antu Says:

    hey monica, i know maybe i’m commenting in an old post but i hope u have the chance to read this, and since my comment at bilerico project coincided with this subject i think it’s accurate to write this here.
    we have too many divisions in our community, this post confirmed my suspicions that the same is going on in the trans community, it’s good to meet new people (even if it’s virtually) that wants to fix this so we can be one when we are fighting for our rights or just enjoying the ones we already have.
    i apologize for my english since it’s my second language, hope u r doing good!

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