Editor's note: This guest post is by Monica Helms, an Atlanta based transgender activist. Monica is past executive director of Tran=Action and co-founder of Transgender American Veterans Association.
After ten years as an activist for the transgender community, I am seeing a rather dangerous trend in the mindset of many other activists in our community. I call it “Enron Activism,” after the failed corporation who convinced their employees to put all of their money in the company’s stock and not diversify. Many transgender people are not supporting the idea of diversifying our efforts when approaching various issues. We saw what happened to the Enron people when they didn’t diversify. Not pretty.
I’m not talking about those wonderful people who work just one issue, like homelessness, AIDS/HIV, the youth, or transgender veterans. I’m talking about those who think their approach to the broader issues facing the community is the only way we can accomplish anything. They even go as far as saying that what other people are doing has no merit.
Historical references from other rights movements show us that a multi-prong approach is always the best. Each of those movements had leaders who took one direction to achieve their goals, while others took another direction. While Gandhi was on his hunger strike, others were in the streets protesting. A similar thing happened in South Africa and here in this country. Individuals took a single approach, but they DID NOT put down those taking a different approach. That’s the difference I’m seeing today in the transgender community.
I have heard a lot of negative comments from all sides of the transgender community on what other people are doing. Most of the comments are centered on how the community should react to HRC and their supporters. I have been a target of some of those attacks for things I’ve said. Some people are saying we should ignore HRC, but when others want to do protests, educational initiatives or write extensive blogs about HRC, they are somehow “wrong.” Why? “I don’t see any benefits in that.” I can’t recall anyone becoming omnipotent all of a sudden.
Others who are planning on doing educational initiatives at HRC events are looking at those who want to ignore HRC and they say, “I don’t see how that will do any good.” For a community that prides itself on being able to think beyond binaries, it amazes me to see so many stuck with a singular viewpoint in activism. And sadly, some are stuck in a never-ending, singular hatred towards others in this community.
I get the impression that if a person didn’t come up with an idea initially, then it has to be wrong, flawed, not helpful, or has no redeeming value. Sometimes, one never sees the redeeming value of an effort until after someone makes that effort. I always say, “There is no shame in failure, but there is in failure to try.” Why are there so many in this community who don’t even want to try and want to put down those who do?
This very thing happened to TAVA when we decided to have the first Transgender Veterans March to the Wall. Other veterans dumped on us with all kinds of negative remarks, such as, “You shouldn’t be so visible at the Wall.” “People will say horrible things to you.” “The police will arrest you.” “You have to have a lot of people to make it successful.” It turned out to be one of the smoothest run events in transgender history. We had 50 people show up; we laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and even got a police escort from the hotel to the Wall. We were not afraid to try and look what happened.
It would be nice that one of these days someone will come up with a novel idea and instead of hearing from a ton of negative people in our community, we hear things like. “I may not want to participate, but I wish you luck.” Or, “Let us know how it goes.” Or even, “Just be careful.” No, we won’t hear that. Some will waste a multitude of bandwidth writing on why this person is wrong, why the effort will fail, and even put down the person on a personal level. It’s a terrible thing to witness, but I am guilty of doing it, too.
Rather than the constant horizontal in-fighting, we need to become more unified. Yes, I know I’m dreaming. Many talk a good game about wanting to unify the community, but their actions and constantly putting down of what others are doing makes that unification much harder.
A person may think that what someone else is doing will not help the community, but they need to stop verbalizing it. We are coming up on one of the most critical years in our history and the action of outside groups and people to divide us are succeeding. We are better than that . . . at least I think we are.
I can just see Ken Lay smiling because the transgender community’s attitude toward diversification mirrors his. He’s looking at us through all those flames that surround him.