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Jessica Xavier and Riki Ann Wilchins Are Taking Heat They Don’t Deserve (1998)

Jessica Xavier and Riki Ann Wilchins Are Taking Heat They Don’t Deserve (1998)

©1998, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1998). Jessica Xavier and Riki Ann Wilchins are Taking Heat They Don’t Deserve. Transgender Forum.





Jessica Xavier and Riki Ann Wilchins

Are Taking Heat They Don’t Deserve

By Dallas Denny


Gentle reader, if you’ve been tracking JoAnn Robert’s columns here on TG Forum or are otherwise connected to the rumor mills, you’ll know there have been problems within It’s Time, America! Soon to be Ex-Director Jessica Xavier has been taking heat from some ITA! functionaries for her recent actions, both real and imaginary. You’ll also know that Gender Public Advocacy Coalition Executive Director Riki Ann Wilchins has been accused of selling out to the Human Rights Campaign, conspiring with HRC to keep transgender protection out of ENDA, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.

Jessy and Riki Ann are taking heat they don’t deserve.


ITA! Mess #1

One of the allegations made against Jessy is that she is not in favor of transgender inclusion in ENDA. That of course is nonsense. What Jessy has consistently said is she believes our community’s limited time, money, and energy would be better spent in activism on state and local levels than futilely tilting at the HRC windmill. I happen to agree with her. Those who interpret this as pro-HRC need to take their Thorazine.

Some five years ago, when the transgender political turf was carved up, it fell to GenderPAC to work on the national level. The purpose of It’s Time, America! was to work at state and local levels. That’s pretty much how it’s been. While GenderPAC has been coordinating Transgender Lobby Day, spinning press releases, and strategically placing pro-transgender articles in magazines and newspapers, ITA! has been successful in obtaining transgender inclusion in hate crime and employment discrimination ordinances in a number of cities and several states. By my accounting, we are currently protected as follows: California (hate crimes), Minnesota (discrimination), Missouri (hate crimes), and Vermont (hate crimes), and have either hate crime or anti-discrimination protections in Ann Arbor, MI; Cambridge, MA; Cedar Rapids, IA; Evanston, IL; Iowa City, IA; Lexington, KY; Louisville, KY; Minneapolis, MN; New Orleans, LA; New York, NY; Pittsburgh, PA; Portland, OR; San Francisco, CA; Santa Cruz, CA; Seattle, WA; St. Paul, MN; Toledo, OH; West Hollywood, CA; and Ypsilanti, MI. State chapters, affiliated organizations, and board members of It’s Time, America! have been instrumental in obtaining many of these protections.

It’s not surprising the director of a grassroots political organization has suggested that organizing efforts remain at the grassroots level. What is surprising is the vigor with which Jessy has been attacked for suggesting it and the eagerness of her attackers to abandon ITA!’s successful history of grassroots activism in favor of kicking HRC in the shins.


ITA! Mess #2

Another bone of contention within ITA! is the issue of individuals with “flip-flopping” gender presentions. Should they be protected under the law? And more importantly, should we cut them loose in order to promote employment protection for transsexuals and transgenderists who cross-live full time?

An employment webpage posted by Mary Ann Horton at the ITA! website broaches the issue of employment protection for crossdressers, even those who might choose to dress differently from day to day. The Kentucky chapter of ITA! (which has changed its name and by this time may be officially disaffilated) has cited Mary Ann’s web page, claiming it very nearly killed the employment protection ordinance recently passed in Louisville. The ITA! board is under pressure to remove the page, but as I write this it is still up. I visited the site and found it to contain a sane and logical discussion of the crossdressing-at-work issue. Certainly the topic is controversial, but there was certainly nothing offensive, other than the very topic, which seems to set some transpeople off much like, much like, I’m searching for a comparison here, oh, yes!—very much like the thought of transgender inclusion in ENDA offends some gay and lesbian people.

It’s more than ironic that the people who wish to slam the door on crossdressers are those who are angriest at HRC for doing the same thing to us. Sadly, they don’t seem to see the inconsistency.

The leaders of the transgender community tend to get a great deal of flack from the rank and file. Some of this is justified, but I will say this in their defense: Riki Ann, Jessica, and most of the other leaders, myself included, staunchly believe it is wrong for a minority which has achieved its liberation to slam the door in the face of the next group to come along, even if that minority is perceived to be a liability. At some point, we say, the door must be left open. Therefore it is wrong for HRC to work to exclude us from ENDA—but it is even more wrong for members of our community to work to deny rights to another part of the community. And it’s doubly wrong to get all hateful about these differences of opinion and turn them into personal attacks, as has been happening with Jessica and Riki Ann.


The Employment Nondiscrimination Act and HRC

ENDA has become a symbol for many in the transgender community. Certainly a federal act which protects the employment rights of transgendered people would be a major victory. Certainly HRC has played politics, working to keep us out of the bill. But ENDA’s chance of passing, at least in the immediate future, is slim. Some of us are investing ‘way too much time and energy and funds in fighting HRC while things go undone at state and local levels, when our national organizations and support groups are withering for lack of leadership and money.

What is HRC, anyway, but a bloated bureaucracy that soaks up a disproportionate amount of queer money and gives almost nothing in return? HRC has been successfully shooting itself in the foot anyway, what with its embarrassing endorsement of right wing senatorial candidate Alphonse D’Amato and its promotion of the controversial Millennium March on Washington. As other queer organizations line up to take a stand in favor of transgender inclusion in ENDA (as NGLTF recently did), HRC will look more and more reactionary. Even so, HRC is not our enemy; it just doesn’t consider transpeople to be their constituency. What is needed is education. HRC will not be toppled by our efforts. It will change only from within, as its members and state and local chapters agitate for transgender inclusion in ENDA. This has already begun; HRC national recently received a letter from its New Orleans chapter, arguing for transgender inclusion.

Our limited resources will be far better spent at state and local levels than in playing Don Quixote. Yes, we should continue to let HRC know how we feel and we should certainly refuse to give them money or otherwise support them until they change their ways, but we don’t need to be obsessed with them, and we certainly don’t need to invest energy in hating HRC.

Unfortunately, it’s generally more convenient to lash out at those who are pretty much on our side than at our real enemies. This is the famous “horizontal hostility” Jessica talks about from time to time. Horizontal hostility has become a real problem in our community, and it needs to stop.


The GenderPAC Mess

A segment of the community has come to believe GenderPAC Executive Director Riki Anne Wilchins has sold out the transgender community for favors from HRC. Recent rumor has Riki and GenderPAC attorney Dana Priesing visiting congressional offices just before lobby day, convincing staffers to ignore the transpeople who will shortly be showing up, then leaning against the walls of the U.S. Capitol, laughing at how successfully they’ve duped the unsuspecting gender folk. Do some people really believe this? Unfortunately, yes, they do.

Has Riki Ann agreed to be less hard on HRC in exchange for their help in teaching us how to be more effective in our lobbying? Perhaps, but it’s more about Riki understanding that transgender inclusion in ENDA is a dead horse. Did Riki make the down payment on her condo in Florida with blood money received from HRC? Certainly not. Has she sold us out? Of course not. She works more tirelessly for transgender rights than anyone I know. What’s more, despite her well-known propensity for being irritating and her tendency to ignore the directives of GenderPAC’s board, she’s amazingly effective at what she does. She hasn’t sold us down the river.