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The Price of Inclusion (1998)

The Price of Inclusion (1998)

©1998, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (1998, April). The price of inclusion. AEGIS News, 1(13), pp. 14-15.





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The Price of Inclusion

By Dallas Denny


With transgender acceptance by the larger gay/lesbian/bisexual community now the norm, the question must be asked: can and will existing G/L/B organizations take on the support of transsexual and transgendered folks? Can they do a better job than the existing transgender organizations to meet our needs? And more importantly, should we hitch our wagon to organizations which were not interested in meeting our needs in the past and may not be interested in the future?

As the decade winds to a close, most gay and lesbian organizations profess to be transinclusive. Many sincerely try to be, but have little or no experience with actual, live transpersons. Transfolk who come for support may engender confusion at an organizational level and hostility from individual members. Programs may not address transgender needs, and there may even be problems with bathroom facilities. On the other hand, once mobilized, gay and lesbian organizations can provide an infrastructure which serves transfolks way better than underfunded trans organizations. And even one transperson can educate a G/L/B organization and open doors, leading to services for transfolk.

For an example of just what a gay and lesbian organization can do, one need only turn to the Lesbian and Gay Community Service Center in New York City. Psychologist Barbara Warren founded the Center’s Gender Identity Project in 1989. Today, Rosalyne Blumenstein is the program’s Director. The Gender Identity Project provides multiple levels of support for transfolk, including peer counseling, support groups, alcohol and substance abuse counseling, a transgender health clinic, and HIV services. The Project holds an annual Transexual and Transgender Health Conference and hosts special events such as the recent “They Lived It Out!”, which memorialized our fallen. The project serves as a model for other gay and lesbian community service centers, some of which have also begun to provide comprehensive transgender services.

Certainly, the transgender national organizations have not been able to provide this level of support. While they do a great deal, considering their level of funding, they simply do not have the staff or money to provide much-needed advocacy and support services. Certainly they try, but the resources simply aren’t there.

Recently, the Atlanta Gender Explorations support group, a stable organization nearly ten years old, was interested in providing services to transgender youth. While AGE deliberated about how to do this, OutPride, the Atlanta gay and lesbian youth group, “Just did it” when a couple of AGE members approached them with the idea  Consequently, the youth group, which is exclusively for trans youth, is part of the larger gay and lesbian community, and not affiliated in any manner with Atlanta’s transgender community. Where do you support the members’ allegiance will lie?

Inclusion dilutes the trans community in many ways. Most of the gay and lesbian conferences have begun to seriously address transgender issues. There are plenty of reasons for transgender attorneys to attend the Lavender Law Conference, for political activists to attend the NGLTF conference, for writers to attend OutWrite, the G/L/B writer’s conference. Scholars now have to debate whether to present their work to
large audience at a G/L conferences or a smaller one at a transgender conference. Which do you imagine students interested in gender issues will be more likely to attend?

There are two mind sets in the trans community: (a) our organizations should serve only those people who specifically identify as transgendered or transsexual; and (b) gender oppression is terrible, no matter what self-descriptive label someone takes, and we should fight on behalf of all gender-oppressed people. Riki Anne Wilchins espouses the latter strategy, and has steered GenderPac in that direction, but at a price: several of the member organizations dropped out of GenderPac.

So what does the future hold? Should we build new and bigger trans organizations, or should we support transinclusive G/L/B organizations? Or should we take Riki’s cue and serve as broad a base of people as possible, giving us a large enough base of membership and support to be effective and working on behalf of not only those with severe gender issues, but everyone who is gender-oppressed?

Is the price of inclusion inevitably dilution? Or does inclusion break down artificial barriers, and make us one people? I think the former — but we must all draw our own conclusions.