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Their Fifteen Minutes in the Sun (1995)

Their Fifteen Minutes in the Sun (1995)

©1995, 2013 by Dallas Denny

This is my account of the disruption of the Transgender Health Symposium at the 1995 meeting of the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association in Minneapolis.





Source: Walter Bockting, Dallas Denny, Armand Hotimsky, & Martine Rothblatt. (1995, June). Transgender Health Symposium. Panel presentation at National Gay & Lesbian Medical Association National Conference, Minneapolis, MN, June, 1996.

Source: Dallas Denny. (1995, June). Their fifteen minutes in the sun (Press Release). Decatur, GA: American Educational Gender Information Service, Inc.

Source: Dallas Denny. (1995, Autumn). Their fifteen minutes in the sun. TransSisters: The Journal of Transsexual Feminism, No. 10, pp. 54-56. Also printed in Renaissance News & Views, August, 1995, V. 9, No. 8, p. 19.

Source: Activists disrupt, take over Trans Health Symposium. (1995, Summer). TransSisters: The Journal of Transsexual Feminism, No. 9, pp. 12-13

About the Disruption

In 1995 Dr. Walter Bockting of the University of Minnesota’s Program in Human Sexuality invited Martine Rothblatt, Armand Hotimsky, and myself to join him for a panel presentation at the national meeting of the Gay & Lesbian Health Association in his home city of Minneapolis.

It was a wonderful opportunity to educate gay and lesbian health professionals about the problems transgendered and transsexual people face in their everyday lives.

Armand and Martine, like myself, are transsexual. Armand founded a nonprofit to provide information about transsexualism and transgenderism. His Centre d’Aide, de Recherche et d’Information sur la Trans et l’Identité de Genre was headquartered in Paris. My own American Educational Gender Information Service was located in Atlanta. We were both especially concerned with health issues.

Martine is best known for her pioneering work in satellite communications and her recent work in robotics and transhumanism, but her book The Apartheid of Sex (Crown Publishers, 1995) had recently been published. In it, she argues against gender-based oppression and calls for free expression of gender. She was set to speak first.

When Margaret O’Hartigan learned about the panel she asked Dr. Bockting to include her. I got a phone call (and so, I presume, did Martine and Armand), asking my feelings about including her.

I’ve no idea what Armand and Martine said, but I told Walter I would prefer she not be in the panel. I’d a history with O’Hartigan, who was known in transsexual circles for her personal attacks on others in print.

That should have been the end of the story—but while I was at the Minneapolis St.-Paul International Airport I heard a page for Christine Tayleur.

Christine Tauleur was a San Francisco-based trans activist. (I say was because a Google search yields no information about her after 1996 or so. I hope she’s alive and well.) Her activism consisted primarily of angry ACT UP-like protests. I knew at that moment there was going to be an action at NGLA, and I was pretty sure it would be at our panel presentation.

I had planned a reasoned, balanced presentation about health issues faced by transsexual and transgendered people. My notes included comments about the high incidence of hate crimes and murder, discrimination in employment and housing, and yes, the medical profession, rejection by family and friends, body neglect, substance abuse, self-injurious behavior, the high incidence of homelessness caused by lack of employment and rejection by family and friends, and the dangers of injected silicone, high-risk sexual activity, and unsupervised hormonal therapy. I planned to talk about the higher incidence of all these risks faced by young people, sex workers, and transpeople of color.

I didn’t sleep well that night. I was, I figured out later, playing out assorted scenarios in my head.

The panel started well. Walter gave his introductory remarks to the perhaps 150 gay and lesbian physicians and other medical professionals in the audience. Just as he concluded, fifteen or twenty protesters noisily entered the room and began passing out leaflets. O’Hartigan demanded the microphone, and Walter was polite enough to excuse himself as moderator and take a seat.

O’Hartigan announced the microphone would be shared by the invited presenters (Armand, Martine, and myself) and the protesters.

Martine started her presentation, which consisted of a slideshow based on her book. About five minutes in she abruptly walked away, down the aisle, and out of the room. It was the last time I ever saw her.

Before any else could get to the microphone, I grabbed it and began to speak. O’Hartigan interrupted, insisting one of the protesters would speak instead.

I refused to give up the mic. When audience members began to shout “Let her speak!” O’Hartigan yielded.

I talked about everything I had planned to speak about, but I had been riled, and my tone was angry. Sounding rather like one of the protesters, I covered the waterfront on health issues, stressing especially homelessness, sex work, and increased health risk for transpeople of color.

It certainly wasn’t the talk I had planned to give, but it was good I gave it as I did, for it left the protesters with nothing new to talk about. They could only rehash and expand upon topics I had already covered. As a group they sounded like a group of angry people with lots of complaints and no ideas for solutions, attacking both those who were there to talk and those who were there to learn.

As soon as I got home I wrote this press release about the protest and distributed it widely.

Predictably, the news coverage in TransSisters and assorted trans community newsletters generated letters to the editor from O’Hartigan, Tayleur, and others.

In retrospect, several of the protesters would have been valuable additions to the panel, for they were doing important work on the streets. It’s a shame O’Hartigan didn’t propose their inclusion.


TransSisters Pages (PDF)

Renaissance News & Views Pages (PDF)

Additional Coverage in TransSisters No. 9 (PDF)



Their Fifteen Minutes in the Sun

By Dallas Denny


On Sunday, 18 June, 1995, in Minneapolis, the Transgender Health Symposium put together by Drs. Walter Bockting for the 17th National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference was taken over by transgender protesters who seized the microphone and overran the stage. The actual events are covered elsewhere in this issue of TransSisters.

The motto of the activist group Transexual Menace is “confront with love,” but there was no love in this group of protesters. Nor was there any rationality. Their claim that the panel, which consisted of myself, Martine Rothblatt, and Armand Hotimsky, were not members of “the community” was more than offensive, as all three of us live full-time in the gender not assigned to us at birth, and all have taken hormones and had surgery to modify our bodies. The claim of the protesters that the three-member panel selected by Drs. Bockting was “white, middle-class and middle-aged” was an attempt to paint us as homogenous, affluent, and unconcerned about transgender health issues, which was untrue. Well, we were all white. Martine, however, is in an interracial marriage and is raising several children from that marriage. Armand had just turned thirty, and neither Armand nor I make or have ever made enough money to be considered middle-class and would not have been there had NLGHA not been kind enough to pick up our transportation and lodging expenses and waived our registration fees. The panel was diverse in terms of its sexual orientation as well, as Armand identifies as heterosexual, I as bisexual, and Martine as lesbian. Two of us identify as women, and one as a man. All of us are long-term transgender activists. In actuality, the only oversight Walter Bockting can reasonably be said to have made was in terms of racial diversity. It would have been more than appropriate to have had a person of color on the panel. However, Drs. Bockting had brought several transgendered persons of color to Minneapolis to speak in other portions of the NLGHA conference, and to give the Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota important feedback; it was not as if he were deliberately ignoring issues of race and class.

Nor were the speakers ignoring important health issues, although Martine’s talk (what she was allowed to give of it) focused on the importance of doing away with differentiation and discrimination of people because of their genitals rather than directly upon health issues. Armand talked about HIV, the lack of legal rights of transexual and transgendered people in certain European countries, the rise of the Fascist party in France and what that means for toleration of diversity, the murder of noted sexologist Pasteur Doucé by French secret police, and other issues. I spoke about job and housing discrimination faced by transexual and transgendered people, self-injurious behavior like alcoholism and drug addiction which we develop because of our shame and guilt, and about the very real issues which force us, especially in our youth, onto the street and into sex work. I spoke of the many dangers and discriminations those on the street face. My list included the high rate of HIV infection in transgendered sex workers, silicone injections, dangers of overuse of hormones, botched surgeries, discrimination at shelters and in treatment programs, harassment by the police, and the tragically high incidence of bashings and murders of transgendered and transexual people. In fact, the protesters didn’t bring up a single health issue which I hadn’t already addressed. And I knew they would not, which was why I insisted on speaking right after Martine. I wanted to make it clear I am passionately concerned about the issues the protesters were claiming I don’t care about.

The protesters spent most of their time talking about their accomplishments and the programs they had founded and about political issues involving psychiatric gatekeeping, and got into substantive discussion of health issues only at the end of the symposium, when audience members asked specific questions about their transgendered and transexual clients: “What is the risk of breast cancer in male-to-female transexuals?” “What about testicular cancer?” “What are the dangers of injected silicone?” To their credit, the protesters did their best to answer such questions, but it was too little, too late. Many of the audience members left feeling frustrated because their pressing questions about transgendered and transexual health needs had not been addressed to their satisfaction.

Currently, the transgender community is working together as never before to protest the Human Rights Campaign Fund’s deliberate decision to fight to keep transgender-inclusive language out of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). The final straw was that HRCF lobbyists actively worked to persuade the bill’s sponsors to remove the language after transgender lobbyists had managed to get it included. HRCF steadfastly refuses to add language to protect us and is stonewalling us (nice term, that) at every turn. Executive Director Elizabeth Birch is willing to deflect our questions, gloss over them, tell us lies in response to them, or even ignore them, for HRCF does not want us included and will do its best to see that we are excluded. In such a situation, political action is both wanted and needed. But to disrupt a panel of long-term transgender activists who spend the major portions of their lives addressing transgender and transexual health issues is unconscionable—and that’s just what occurred.

Perhaps some of the protesters believed, as the result of what they were told by Margaret O’Hartigan, that their health issues wouldn’t be addressed by the original panel. However, the organizers of the protest, O’Hartigan and Christine Tayleur, knew darn well that I planned to talk about issues affecting those on the street and that I would condemn the recent action of the Minnesota State Legislature to abolish the public funding of transexual surgery.

There was no real concern shown by the protesters for the health issues of transexual and transgendered persons. There was, however, a lot of misdirected rage. I’ve felt that rage too, for despite the claims of the protesters that the panel did not contain “veterans of the decades-long struggle to advance the rights of our people, who can speak from hard-won experience,” I have been dealing with my own transexualism my entire life. I have been on the street, banned from home at age eighteen by my parents. I have been repeatedly denied medical care. I have had to fight for my right to self-definition. I have been persecuted because of my transexualism.

The takeover of the Transgender Health Symposium wasn’t born out of concern for transgender and transexual health issues. It happened because of the decades-old rage of Margaret O’Hartigan against the transexual program at the University of Minnesota. It happened because her colossal ego caused her to believe only she was capable of addressing transgender health issues. But most of all, it happened because she didn’t care enough to set up her own symposium. The National Gay and Lesbian Health Association and other health care organizations are eager to learn more about transexual and transgender health issues. Margaret O’Hartigan and Christine Tayleur are perfectly capable of setting up their own forums. But it’s so much easier to simply show up and take over someone else’s.

How ironic that the protesters didn’t include those groups they claimed the panel didn’t represent. Their age range and incomes were similar to that of the panel. The young, the old, the homeless, and female-to-males weren’t represented in their numbers. The protesters did include people of color, but that is the only conceivable way in which they could be said to represent a diversity not found on the panel. What the claim that the panel were not “members of our community” really meant was that the panel were not in the protesters’ in-group. The protesters saw a cheap and easy opportunity to get their moment of glory by walking on the backs of one of their brothers and two of their sisters, and did so.

Despite the “Silence = Death” leaflets that were distributed, the only silencing that occurred was done by the protesters. O’Hartigan shouted Drs. Bockting down. The three original panelists were unable to give the talks they had originally planned, due to time limitations placed on them by O’Hartigan. As a result of her experience in Minneapolis, Martine Rothblatt has sworn off transexual activism altogether, and Armand is reportedly feeling depressed and angry because he didn’t take action to stop the protest. I’m quite sure many members of the audience will think twice before attending another presentation about transexualism, and I know the Executive Director of the National Lesbian and Gay Health Association was unimpressed with the antics of the protesters. I haven’t spoken to Drs. Bockting since that night, but I don’t imagine he will be any to eager to subject himself to such abuse again, either.

But hey, the protesters got their fifteen minutes of fame, and that’s what it’s all about anyway, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?