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Letter to Cincinnati City Beat: Got it Backwards (1997)

Letter to Cincinnati City Beat: Got it Backwards (1997)

©1997, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (1997, 8 September). Letter to the editor: Got it backwards. CityBeat (Atlanta, 3(44).

I wrote this in response to a column by the poorly-informed Eric Hunter. I’m unsure of the date of his column, but it would have appeared some time in August or early September.



Eric Hunter's CityBeat Column

I reproduce Mr. Hunter’s column here to provide context.


Transgendered Agenda Rides Gay-Rights Coattails

By Eric Hunter


For quite some time now, I have been wondering why the word “transgendered” is showing up in the mission statements and media materials of so many local and national gay and lesbian organizations. Over the past few years, it has become increasingly common for gay and lesbian groups to become what I have started terming “hyperinclusive.” I don’t know about you, but it has gotten to the point where I feel very self conscious when I write or say only gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Make no mistake. I believe in equal rights for all. But I am not sure I agree with the method the transgendered community is using to work toward securing its rights. My question is why is it appropriate to lump together two communities whose issues hinge on fundamentally different facts?

If I as a gay man suffer discrimination, I have been discriminated upon on the basis of my sexual orientation. If a transgendered person is discriminated against, she or he has been discriminated upon on the basis of his or her gender. Taking this distinction one step further, it is interesting to note that Jennifer Marquette, director of operations for Cincinnati’s gender support group CrossPort, says most transgendered people are straight, not gay as many people assume.

Unfortunately, society often fails to see this important distinction. It seems to me that when gay and lesbian organizations include the word transgender in their mission statements, both the gay and lesbian community and the transgendered community loose the power of their messages and their opportunities to educate.

Diane Torrance, who happens to be a member of the board of Stonewall Cincinnati and a postoperative transsexual, says transgender is an umbrella term. The term transgendered refers to intersexed people or hermaphrodites who are people born with ambiguous genitalia, drag queens and drag kings, and transsexuals in all stages of sex reassignment.

That said, I decided to get the perspective of Stonewall Cincinnati’s Acting Executive Director Barry Grossheim considering the group’s March 1997 decision to add the word transgender to its mission statement.

“We thought it was time to acknowledge publicly that the transgendered community faces the same issues as the gay and lesbian community,” Grossheim says.

But doesn’t the act of including the term transgender in the mission statement of a gay and lesbian organization dilute our message?

“It is rarely important to focus on our differences,” Grossheim says. “There is a great danger in trying to narrowly define our community and our message. … We are the victims of being excluded ourselves. We remember that there are other groups that try to exclude us, which makes it especially important that we do not do the same thing.”

The movement for transgender rights is fairly new, five or so years old, Torrance says. Her involvement in Stonewall Cincinnati, as well as groups like Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is a good example of what is happening on the local, state and national level with transgender inclusion.

“I started volunteering at Stonewall because I wanted inclusion,” Torrance says. “I am as committed to gay and lesbian rights as I am to transgender rights.”

As more transgendered people get involved in gay and lesbian organizations, and consequently gay and lesbian issues, they are making the push for transgender inclusion. Torrance characterizes it like this. The gay-rights movement learned from the black civil-rights movement. In turn, the transgendered-rights movement is trying to learn from the gay-rights movement. To me it looks like they are actually working to attach themselves to the gay-rights movement. And the big debate here is whether the inclusion of transgender in gay and lesbian legislation will slow or even derail the effort. As much as transgender activists try to convince us otherwise, I unfortunately think it will.

While national transgender activists work for inclusion in the Employment Non-Discrimination and Hate Crime Statistics Acts, local issues such as inclusion in the city of Cincinnati’s Human Rights Ordinance and hate-crime legislation have the potential to become hotly debated.

Now that the Stonewall mission is “trans-inclusive,” Grossheim says that any work the group does around the Human Rights Ordinance will include transgender issues.

“It will be difficult enough to get gay, lesbian and bisexual back into the Human Rights Ordinance without muddying the issue,” says Scott Greenwood, lawyer of record for the group that challenged Issue 3 in court. “Putting gay, lesbian and bisexual into the Human Rights Ordinance caused an expensive issue campaign.”

Getting transgendered into the ordinance Greenwood says is, “politically impossible in this current climate. The real fight is educating people about the tremendous diversity in our society so they accept and understand it.”

Greenwood’s position primarily is based on two facts. First he points out that transgendered people do not make up a very large political constituency in Cincinnati.

“City council does not give a damn if you don’t represent a large chunk of votes,” Greenwood says.

Secondly, he says, “In brute political terms there isn’t the political necessity even if in fact it is the right thing to do.”

Marquette says, “Yes there is a distinction, but the bottom line is everyone is entitled to justice and equal rights. I am an all-for-one person.”

I am not as much of an all-for-one person as I thought or wish I were. As a gay person, am I willing to give up legal protection in the Human Rights Ordinance for myself because of transgender inclusion? No.

As a group, the gay, lesbian and transgendered communities should work together for equal rights. But, I think we should do it side-by-side rather than intertwined. By intertwining ourselves, we loose the strength of our individual messages. And as any media-savvy activist will tell you, the simple, strong, clear message is the one that hits its target.


Dear Editor:

I have composed the following in reply to Eric Hunter’s editorial,

“Transgendered Agenda Rides Gay-Right Coattails” for consideration for

printing in CityBeat.



Dear sirs:

In response to Eric Hunter’s “Transgendered Agenda Rides Gay-Right Coattails” (CityBeat), I would like to say that he got it just backward. In actuality, the gay and lesbian community has been riding the coattails of gender nonconforming individuals certainly ever since Stonewall (it was drag queens and butches who started the riot), and even before. Certainly Mr. Hunter is right in his statement that only in recent years has the transgendered community become visible, but we have been around since forever, providing most of the entertainment and fashion sense for the queer community, M/Cing at Pride events, and standing in the front lines in the fight for queer equality.


When gay men or lesbians are bashed, their sexual orientation may be on the minds of their attackers— but most often, it is their gender-nonconforming appearance or behavior that causes them to be selected as targets. Laws and statutes which protect gay men or lesbians from discrimination will mean nothing if they can be fired from their jobs or beaten on the streets because they are not sufficiently butch or femme. After all, sexual orientation is a form of gender transgression in itself, and many gay men and lesbians are owning themselves in their entirety, which means much more than who they sleep with and extends to their appearance and behavior. One need only attend a large Pride celebation such as Atlanta’s so see just how diverse we really are. Not until the queerest of us are safe in our beds and on the street will any of us have any real acceptance or relief.


Mr. Hunter shows his true colors when he writes, early in his article, ” I believe in equal rights for all. But…” There is no such thing “equal but.” Either we are all equal, or a privileged elite looks down on and exploits the rest of us. Perhaps Mr. Hunter should just ‘fess up to wanting to be part of that elite.




Dallas Denny