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News :: Gender
Unprecedented Week of Transgender Activism in Nation’s Capital
25 May 2004
A bit of history occurred the end of April and early May. Three national transgender or gender-diverse civil rights organizations lobbied Capitol Hill simultaneously and, for the first time, all lobbied for the same issues. In addition, yet another rejuvenated national group conducted its first organized protest in years, and still another organization conducted a march to the Viet Nam Veterans’ Memorial, and conducted a historic wreath laying ceremony.
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The National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC) scheduled an organized transgender lobbying effort on April 29 – 30 that drew participants from the four corners of the country. In addition, GenderPAC convened its own organized gender lobbying event, and the National Center for Transgender Equality joined in with members of both groups to make visits as well.

NTAC alone visited over 340 offices during its week on Capitol Hill.

News from Capitol Hill Lobby Days was mixed. On the plus side, the majority of those few GOP sponsors of ENDA and Hate Crimes that were reportedly reluctant to support transgender-inclusive legislation, now appear to be supportive of the additional language.

On the negative side, the perennial gatekeepers to transgender rights still need more “time” and “education.” As one Senate staffer said, it would be “immensely helpful” for us to get the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) on board, and a House staffer bolstered it, saying their office would “be there in a minute – but it’s not our bill. You need Barney [Frank D-MA], you need HRC.”

“All of the hard-sell the transgender community was given about Barney Frank and HRC championing our cause from their own press and from those they enlisted to pass along have been nothing more than illusion,” said a markedly disappointed Vanessa Edwards Foster. “We’re now faithless in these self-appointed conservators of our rights.”

This discovery on Capitol Hill happened coincidentally as a protest by Transsexual Menace was preparing to take place. Transsexual Menace, a national activist group begun by Denise Norris and Riki Wilchins in 1994, fell into inaction during the early years of the new millennium. Recently resurrected by Gwen Smith, the group organized a protest of the Human Rights Campaign – its first demonstration in years.

The protest, brainchild of TS Menace co-organizer Ethan St. Pierre, drew 15 to the organization’s national headquarters, including members of NTAC and GenderPAC, as well as unaffiliated protesters. “I am also very proud to have stood there in front of HRC's office building with other folks from around the community who are angry enough to take action against the largest group in [the] country who professes to advocate for GLB as well as T people,” St. Pierre said of the demonstration.

“I was shocked that HRC would be surprised that Transsexual Menace would protest their office,” he added. “This angered me almost as much as why we were protesting!”

Capping the week of unprecedented activity, transgendered military veterans also conducted a historic first march to various military shrines. The Transgender American Veterans’ Association (TAVA) organized a march to the Viet Nam Veterans’ Memorial Wall, a visit to the Iwo Jima monument, and finishing with a historic wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“Transgender people who had made history before in the heat of battles fought in foreign lands, were very aware that this was another historic moment that they were a part of,” said Angela Brightfeather, organizer for the TAVA march. “[T]his time, they were doing it with total honesty and pride, not having to hide who they really were.” Brightfeather added that everyone who participated felt the “historic impact” of the event.

The solemn wreath-laying ceremony was notable; being the first wreath ever laid that publicly acknowledged transgendered veterans.

Overall, the week of activity and coordination was a significant advance in the Transgender movement. As the groups take a second look at their findings following the watershed week, the community is in the process of assessing where the movement goes next.

- 30 -

Founded in 1999, NTAC - the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition - is a §501(c)(4) civil rights organization working to establish and maintain the right of all transgendered, intersexed, and gender-variant people to live and work without fear of violence or discrimination.
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