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November 17, 2006

(Last week’s Carol Channing interview is here.)

 

 

Honor those who aren't victims, too

A tribute to pioneers of the transgender community

With November 20 just a few days away, organizations across the state are hosting events for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a requiem for victims of violence, targeted because they are transgender, martyred because of anti-transgender hatred.

However, in remembering those countless victims who have been violently attacked and whose only recognition might be in a brief news story somewhere, it is important to also remember transgender people who made strides for equality, or brought the transgender community to the public eye in a meaningful way.

Take, for instance, Ohio’s own Randi Barnabee.

A former member of the armed services and widely regarded as one of the most notable crusading attorneys fighting for transgender equality, as well as civil rights for the entire LGBT spectrum, Barnabee’s efforts on behalf of Jimmie Lee Smith, a firefighter in Salem, Ohio, resulted in a ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati that added transgender people to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Barnabee argued that a 1989 ruling on sexual stereotyping as a form of sexual discrimination applied to transsexuals, and the court agreed with her.

Another prominent attorney is Phyllis Randolph Frye of Houston, who has been involved in the LGBT rights struggle since the days of boycotting orange juice in protest of Anita Bryant’s 1977 anti-gay crusade.

She convened the first international transgender law conference in 1992, and worked on Christie Lee Littleton’s case. While that case turned out badly (the Texas court ruled that genitals at birth indicate sex for life), Frye continues to advocate, educate and litigate for TG people and the rest of the community, in part through her website, www.transgenderlegal.com.

Jazz pianist and saxophonist Billy Tipton was born Dorothy Lucille Tipton, but lived as a man for almost his entire life. He achieved fame for his musical skills, both in bands led by others and in his own Billy Tipton Trio.

After retiring from the road, he became an entertainment agent.

While he was married five times, none of his wives knew he was biologically female. He explained away the lack of a penis and the bandages over the breast with the tale of a horrific car crash that left him scarred.

Jamison Green, another trans man, released Becoming a Visible Man in 2004. It became a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and won the Sylvia Rivera Award for Best Book in Transgender Studies from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies.

Green led FTM International from 1991 to 1999, and is involved with almost every major LGBT organization in the country, including the Human Rights Campaign, Transgender Law and Policy Institute and the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association. He is currently the chair of Gender Education and Advocacy, whose website is www.gender.org.

Of course, for authors, the benchmark is Leslie Feinberg, whose Stone Butch Blues is required reading in gender classes at universities across the nation.

Hir latest book, Drag King Dreams, was released earlier this year.

Patrick Califia’s work spans the distance between academic essay and lesbian erotica, with stops everywhere in between.

After making a name for herself, Califia changed his name to Patrick and began the process of transitioning to male.

In addition to writing, he also is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California.

Christine Jorgensen is perhaps the most famous early transsexual, although she was not the first to have a successful male-to-female sexual reassignment surgery.

Born George Jorgensen, he was a "frail, tow-headed, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games."

After returning from service in World War II, he learned about gender reassignments and moved to Denmark to begin hormone treatments.

Jorgensen later took the first name of her surgeon, Dr. Christine Hamburger, as a sign of gratitude.

While Jorgensen is considered the be the recipient of the first successful male-to-female sexual reassignment surgery, that credit might actually go to Lili Elbe, a Danish illustrator who had her last surgery in 1931, 21 years before Jorgensen. Although she is believed to have died of complications from that surgery, some people believe she faked her death to live in peace in her new life as a woman.

Renée Richards for many years eclipsed Christine Jorgensen’s fame among the American public. Born Richard Raskind, in 1975 she became Renée Richards, ten years after first traveling to Europe. She got cold feet on the first attempt, however, and returned to the U.S., getting married and having a child.

After that, however, her troubles began, as she had to battle to return to one of her true loves: tennis. Having captained the Yale tennis team when living as a man, Richards fought to be allowed to play professional tennis as a woman.

Sylvia Rivera, after whom many an award is named, became almost mythical both in her lifetime and after her death in 2002.

One of the founders of the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance and the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, Rivera is sometimes credited with being at the Stonewall Riots that sparked the modern gay and lesbian civil rights movement. Some stories have her throwing the first stone at the cops that were raiding the Stonewall Inn.

Whether any of that was true, and she herself made no mention of it in interviews shortly after the riots, she was one of the first to stand up and say that she refused to be marginalized within the gay community.

One of the most famous transpeople, and definitely someone who ties everything back to the Transgender Day of Remembrance, is Brandon Teena, the young trans man whose 1993 murder in Falls City, Nebraska was the basis for the film Boys Don’t Cry.

After two young men discovered that Teena was biologically female, they raped him. When he reported this, the local sheriff notified his assailants of the complaint but did not arrest them. A week later, they murdered Teena and two others. The sheriff was later sued by Teena’s mother.

 

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