Kalamazoo will vote tomorrow.
Should the city reinstate and keep on the books a transgender inclusive non-discrimination ordinance? Nearly all of these local initiatives ultimately stand or fall on two issues, "reverse discrimination", leveled at L,G,B and T and the infamous "bathroom issue" singling out the transgender community for demonization.
While Kalamazoo got off to a potentially harmful start three years ago by not including a trans-person in the process of negotiating language with the city, once alerted to the oversight, Kalamazoo Alliance for Equality (KAFE) quickly embraced the transgender community and made the hard decision of choosing unity over safety. Then, with a trans-person as a co-chair, KAFE made the equally risky decision to strengthen the language of the ordinance to be much more trans-affirmative.
I clearly remember the meeting when I asked the question: "What's it going to be, all of us or none of us?" The next three or four minutes of silence were absolutely deafening.
It was a huge turning point. I think we all realized in those few moments that we had allowed ourselves to shift along with the political ground we stood on. Just as then candidate Obama was promising "an inclusive ENDA--or he would not sign it", we had laid down the basic premise from which we could not walk away. It was all of us or, potentially, none of us.
Clearly, however, disparity between our thinking, the media, and to a lesser extent, the community exists. The opposition to ordinance #1856 gleefully jumped on the "bathroom issue". Quickly the outcry of "men in dresses" invading women's privacy and endangering children went up. The media, which was somewhat less than impartial, characterized the debate as strictly moral and religious in nature. The supportive community took a "discrimination in any form is wrong" stance. What did not transpire was any effort to educate both sides of the debate about what being transgender really is.
There is some logic behind this. It is axiomatic in a campaign setting that you never give your opponent free media and furthermore, efforts to dispel myths typically backfire. While substantively this may be true, doctrine can easily slip into dogma without careful consideration of the situation at hand. In this case, it is true that facts and education are not going to convert the "true believer", they are already steeped in dogma and consequently unmovable.
We forget however that changing your opponents mind is not the aim. Providing accurate and compelling information to the uninformed voter with which to make a reasonable decision should be the goal. We didn't do it. In fact, way back in April, I was discouraged by one of our national partners from doing interviews for a feature article in the local newspaper. The reasoning for this? We don't want to give our potential opponents any ammunition.
We were making choices based on dogma before the campaign had become a campaign. I did the interview and it turned out to be a very well balanced story that was subsequently picked up by the AP and showed up in large papers nationwide.
Just a couple of nights ago the local CBS affiliate ran two stories: One about living through transition - a married couple with two delightful girls and the husband in transition along with some highly edited commentary from a local psychologist. The other; a standard "Marci Bowers" story, (Only this one features Dr. Christine McGinn from Philadelphia) following two patients through gender confirmation surgery. Pretty standard stuff, nothing offensive or too far off the mark. The problem I have is that there needs to be a ten-fold increase in coverage of trans-people, trans-issues, etc, if what we are fighting is a battle of ignorance borne fear.
Kalamazoo has done almost everything right with regard to transgender participation in the process. I sat on the committee that hired our campaign manager, Jon Hoadley, and later became Director of Operations for One Kalamazoo. A trans-man is our field director, a wonderfully energetic gender non-conforming person handles student activities coordination and the steering committee has a trans-man member.
It would be a pressing endeavor to find another campaign with as many highly placed transgender people; yet, our presence has been, largely ignored by the press and there was no organized push from One Kalamazoo to change that paradigm. The implications of this go far beyond Kalamazoo. If we, as transpersons don't lobby hard for ourselves at the local level, we risk being relegated to the back burner time and again with no control over the messaging (or lack of it) surrounding us.
This has consequences for the transgender community in the near term, particularly in an election setting such as here in Kalamazoo. More importantly, it is from the small constituent local initiatives that the national LGBT equality movement will garner most of its strength and credibility in the future. "Flyover country" is no longer a pejorative descriptor.
The internal politics of our movement can be tumultuous at best. It is far past time to put these childish things aside. All of us must insist on parity for each other. Reach out to our voters on a level playing field. Offer them accurate, timely, and compelling information. Expend our energies on breaking the establishment barriers that prevent us from disseminating that information.
If we leave our egos out of the equation and honor the process instead, constantly evaluate our motives, trust ourselves, trust one another and above all--the voters, we have a much better chance of not falling prey to our own dogma. If we can do that, then win or lose, we will know that we have lived what we say we believe.