Karen Ocamb

Watch: Don Lemon and Ashley Love Spar Over Words

Filed By Karen Ocamb | August 23, 2011 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Ashley Love, CNN, Don Lemon, NAACP, town hall meeting, Traipsing Thru Films, trans, transgender, transsexual

AshleyLoveLGBTPOV.jpegOut CNN anchor Don Lemon was interrupted by audience member Ashley Love at the NAACP's LGBT town hall meeting on July 25 at the LA Convention Center when Love challenged Lemon. She considered Lemon's exclusion of transsexuals and transgenders an insult when he said he intended the discussion of homophobia and the "gay" community to be all-inclusive. Feminist scholar Beverly Guy-Sheftall said that people need to understand that many in the African American community don't even know the word "transgender," as she discovered just days earlier during a lecture at Spelman College. Civil rights icon and former NAACP Board president Julian Bond promised that next year the NAACP will be more inclusive on their LGBT panel.

One critical lesson from this exchange is how some LGBTs assume that non-LGBTs understand us more and better than perhaps they do. That students at the famous historically Black Spelman College didn't know the word "transgender" in 2011 is shocking and speaks volumes as to how much education the LGBT community must undertake. This is simultaneously a terrific reason why the California FAIR Education Act is needed - and a scary sign of how that lack of knowledge could lead to misunderstanding and defeat at the ballot box.

The video, after the jump, was shot and produced by Traipsing Thru Films for LGBT POV.

img Karen Ocamb

(Cross-posted at LGBT POV)


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Britney Austin | August 23, 2011 3:50 PM

Ashley Love was correct. Don Lemon referred to all of the letters in the LGBTQ acronym as "gay" which is not the case at all and demonstrated that he wasn't interested in addressing all of the issues. He then later contradicted himself to say that everyone should be included.

A lot of people seem to have to a real problem with Ashley Love but I've been reading much of her stuff for about six months now and most of it seems to be correct. She routinely points out that transsexualism (those who change physical sex) is a patients' rights issue and that it isn't necessarily the same as transgender (those who change their gender role in society). As far as I'm concerned LGBTTI should be treated similar to a venn diagram. There are areas where we share the same issues and concerns and then there are areas that are unique from the other categories. This needs to be addressed by alleged leaders who claim to speak for and represent all of the LGBTTI community. For Don Lemon to say that the word "gay" represents transgender and transsexual people is quite wrong.

As to educating the community, if someone does not know what the various words mean, then consider the words jargon and use terms that they do understand. If someone doesn't know what "transsexual" means then don't use it in that discussion with that person. Instead use "a person born in the wrong body." I'm tired of seeing excuses made as to why alleged leaders are apparently unable to educate people about the unique issues. Don Lemon's use of the word "gay" to describe transgender and transsexual people is a form of lazy intellectualism which leads to co-opting and rebranding. That is not what should be called "inclusion."

It was my understanding that Don Lemon was made a moderator at the discussion panel which made no sense to me. Just because someone recently comes out of the closet as gay does not mean they are suddenly an expert on LGBTTI issues. I find it ridiculous that people who have been activists in the community for 10-40 years are given a seat at the back (if they are even let in the door at all) and instead celebrity figures are handed the keys to the front stage.

Ashley Love is right. There is an agenda going on.

You honestly mean to tell me if Ms. Guy-Sheftall had said the word "tranny" or "he/she" at Spelman they wouldn't have known who she was talking about? I'm extremely suspicious of that story and that no one, zero at her audience knew what the term transgender meant. No one's ever watched the TYRA, Jerry Springer or Maury shows, where they've constantly had trans people on to get ratings? No young female students have ever watched America's Next Top Model and seen Isis, a trans woman contestant? Bullshit. They've never seen any trans people on VH1 reality shows? No, there are stories about trans women on the Internet all the time, including on hip hop and R&B forums and websites where a lot of young people of color post (and say a lot of snark). This falls into a meme of "there has only been a trans movement for 9 or 10 years and it's 30 year behind the gay movement." That nonsense is said every time they want to make us invisible. I don't agree with everything Ashley says, but Lemon absolutely deserved to be called out on his "gay community" garbage. And it's even more insulting that he was chosen by Joy Behar to guest-host her talk show on a night they had a panel of trans guests.

Wow, he was pretty blatantly talking out of both sides of his mouth. Be all inclusive ... But don't talk about trans or bi except in a specific panel.

Go Ashley. I don't always agree with Ms. Ashley Love, but do not mess with Ashley is all I have to say, and Don Lemon messed. At the end he denied making it about letters, and then asked if he said anything about letters, and the audience chorused in "no." Ashley said "it's on tape," and she's right, it's all there. He did say that it was about letters, because "he can't get all the letters right" (0:13), and "we shouldn't get hung up on letters" (0:57 and 5:27). That thing about "gay" including transgender and transsexual made no sense, especially his comparison with the formulation "people of color." The reason "people of color" was formulated was to include all different oppressed races, and not just Black or African-American, the same reason we formulated LGBT. And then, after saying gay includes transgender people, he said that transgender issues shouldn't be covered in the same conference that covers gay issues because it's too confusing for people. Mr. Lemon was glib and unconvincing and obviously unprepared for Love.

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While I agree with your sentiments, the misogynistic portion got the comment TOSsed, Ryan. No slurs allowed.

What do you not agree with Ashley on, Doctor Weiss?

Come on, Jillian, I don't know what's so hard to understand.

You said you "don't always agree with Ms. Ashley Love..."

My question was what issues do you not agree with her on.

Personally I take issue with her constant belittling of transgender woman by using the wrong pronoun or referring to them as "women with penises," etc. She's vulgar and mean spirited and has never seemed to have the good of the community in mind as much as her own agenda. I've been on a panel before that Ashley crashed and spouted off derogatory slurs while demeaning panelists. She saw a hot potato issue here and jumped in to make Ashley Fries.

I take anything Ashley says or does with a grain of salt so large it could be a salt lick. See Autumn Sandeen's 3 part series on Ashley for more details.

I don;t always agree with Ashley Love, either - and I don't always agree with Jill Weiss - but on the topic shown in the video - Ashley Love was right on target.

Let's take an example. When the trans-ploitation movie known as TOTWK for short was first being trailered, the director did some truely tawsteless stuff - using actual trans murder victims as if they wer schills for the low-budget film. Ashley Love was a leader of the nationwide effort to change that. I was supportie of that. After a while, though I was somewhat less supportive of the effort to boycott the movie. And then I had a chance to screen it (a friend bought the DVD). While I did not like the movie (I also do not like Quentin Tarantino movies, though I made an exception for Inglorious Basterds because of the actor who played the "Nazi Jew Hunter"), I actually did not find it terribly offensive. So on the bottom line, I don't fully agree with Ashley on that movie, though there are some points where I agree with her. We are allowed to have different opinions, after all.

Then again, I. Luna, the director of that movie did a radio show in which he and some cronies showed their true colors with regard to their lack of understanding of the trans community. I don't want anyone to assume I didn't think the movie was exploitive - it certainly was. Just not nearly as offensive as I expected it to be.

Rachel Bellum | August 24, 2011 4:54 AM

I feel like the characterizations I heard regarding Ashley's interactions at this conference and the above video don't mesh well. While I'm sure people were annoyed by having their agenda interrupted, for any reason, it seems like most of the disruption was actually the result of Lemon's persuance of his own agendas. And while it appears Ashley continued to interrupt from the floor, it also seems Don did from the podium.

Perhaps he came prepared to be defensive after hearing that the trans community was upset about being excluded. As presented in the video the panelists don't seem to be having nearly the same reaction. I was particularly happy about Bond giving his word that it would be different next year.

In general, I'm not especially offended by people using "gay" as shorthand to refer to the community, and I am under the impression that it's making a comeback. I, myself, often use "queer." But context is important and insisting on a word which hides a group which is already being marginalized while discussing that marginalization just isn't smart.

I found the suggestion that trans issues would be too much for people and should be conducted in a different room offensive. That's what happens when trans people aren't included in leadership roles.

Renee Thomas | August 24, 2011 6:21 AM

@thehawke,

For the record, I agree with Ms. Love on very little. However, kindly argue the issue and leave your abusive, sexist and misogynist character assassinations out of this discussion.

Geez, I have to ask you the same thing I asked, Jillian. What issues don't you agree with Ashley Love on?

shelleybear | August 24, 2011 10:41 AM

"Are you sure you're not just gay and in denial?" How many times do transfolk hear that one?

Well, sheesh. Was the entire transgender equation left out altogether because he didn't mention the T at the outset of the discussion? Was this panel UNSYMPATHETIC to the transgender community, or was the discussion hung up based on not including the letter in the anacronym?
Perhaps if a lot of time has passed before this was addressed at all, maybe there is a point. Or perhaps the issue would have been better served by having someone transgendered on the panel?
I don't think that anyone was unsympathetic, or willfully excluding the transgendered, I think the situation got antagonistic before anything meaningful got underway.
This is only a clip, and perhaps Ms. Love had waited patiently for something to be said for and about the transgender community.

I know however, how it feels for someone to NOT be patient, and jump down your throat before any insensitivity or lack of interest is even in evidence. And certainly no one on the panel, I don't think, would dispute the hate crimes issue or the urgency of that and the lack of support in the workplace for the transgendered.
And I doubt anyone would deny having any interest in support for the transgendered or NOT acknowledge it.
But my question is: were they given any chance before criticism was launched in their direction?
Just wondering.

“One critical lesson from this exchange is how some LGBTs assume that non-LGBTs understand us more and better than perhaps they do. “

Karen, I’m sorry, but where in the exchange does Ashley assume anything? If anything she was merely speaking for those who were otherwise voiceless because of the lack of true inclusion on the panel. Should we be mad at Ashley for refusing to reduce her minority to a single letter? Should we be mad at her for standing up for her group of people who are statistically the most discriminated against? I think not. Since when did we begin to attack people for standing up for themselves? As a self identifying gay man, I willingly admit that I will never truly understand the struggles of any of the other members of the LGBT Coalition, and so I, unlike Don Lemon, do not pretend to speak about issues which I obviously have no education about. I am not saying that each individual “letter” as it were of the coalition should not be able to fight alongside the others, but I am saying that we need to work together and admit that there are differences among us. It would be one thing if Don Lemon was willing to learn something from Ashley, but as is evident in the exchange by his continued use of the word “gay” to describe the entire coalition, he was not listening to anything. I would even go so far as to say that to use the word “gay” to describe members of the lesbian community is a disregard for the individual community members struggles for equality because individuals that identify as gay and individuals that are lesbian are not the same thing. If they were then why would we have different words? The point here is that if no one speaks out for Transsexualism then who will? Just because Spelman College doesn’t understand the vocabulary of activism, that doesn’t mean that we should leave it behind in the dust. These are the leaders of Equality and it is their responsibility to speak knowledgeable about the issues they are fighting for, because their voices have ramifications that reverberate throughout the entire Equality movement, which is why Ashley stood up in the first place. Furthermore, it seems that Don Lemon’s quasi-“celebrity” is getting the best of him, especially given that he took to his twitter and called Ashley “unstable” and accused of her setting the Trans movement back 100 years. How is this in any way professional or in any way substantiated? How does calling out inequality make you unstable? The video is there for everyone to see and if Don Lemon thinks that a passionate women who is capable of articulating a rebuttal to his remarks is unstable, then I suppose by his definition the entire LGBT coalition is full of “unstable” activists. If there is something Ashley did it was to help push forward the Trans movement because no one is willing to discuss these issues! Don Lemon needs to remember that he is not Anderson Cooper and what he should have done is issue a statement of apology to the Trans Community or at the very least maintain a certain level of academic decorum in his comments. At any rate, as a Gay man, I am ashamed by my fellow Gay community members that fail to acknowledge the existence of phobias in our very community because it is they who are pushing back the entire Equality movement 100 years, not those who fight for recognition.

-Jose (Obdulio) Romero, University of Pennsylvania Student Activist

I agree with the issue as presented, 'Gay' is not 'Trans', my thoughts beyond that I present in my own forum, I do differ in most other opinions of Ms. Love. I also see (from the video) the reference to separate panels for Bi's and Trans at the NACCP Caucus next year as marginalizing, as if we are not part of 'LGBT.'

"That students at the famous historically Black Spelman College didn't know the word "transgender" in 2011 is shocking and speaks volumes as to how much education the LGBT community must undertake. "

I'm extremely skeptical that NONE of the students in the Spelman audience didn't know what transgender meant. Did none of those students ever watch TYRA, or Oprah or Maury or Jerry Springer? All of those tv shows have regularly featured trans women on them and used the word transgender. A number of tv shows on VH1 have had trans people/story lines on them. Moreover, there are many trans-related stories on all the main hip hop and R&B Internet forums and there are hundreds of posts of them from young people who, if they don't refer to trans people as 'transgender' certainly refer to them by other names. For me her story at Spelman is akin to the tired meme which says 'oh, trans activism has only been going on for a few years, so it's way behind gay activism.' Which, btw, is inaccurate, self-serving bs. :(

Not to mention the demographics for who watches porn and the fact that trans porn is the genre with the largest growth over the past few years. Not this porn is a great litmus for who knows/does what.. but seriously to say that a group of people in a likely porn-saturated environment (college-age men) have not ever heard of "transgender" - my first thought was either she was a liar or the students were not paying attention/not particularly participating.

Ashley rocked it! Don Lemon, being transsexual or transgender does not have anything to do with gay. Stop erasing us.

Angela Brightfeather | August 24, 2011 5:02 PM

Ashley Love or Don Lemon, it makes no difference to me. I feel that both did not do justice to most of the arguments that they were making and both showed some degree of "wanting to make a statement" in their own little worlds, instead of trying to envision more than their own issues.

When I heard that the NAACP was having this panel for the first time, that shocked me, because I and many Trans activists have been exhorting people of color to come out and participate in the Trans Community in general, or at least explain why they are not, so we can help and support them more. This panel was a chance for that to happen but they blew it and it raises the question of what are POC hiding that I don't understand? Are the number of Trans people in their community present in larger numbers than we could have imagined?

When I heard about the panel it was first noted on M. Signorelli's radio show that afternoon on SeriusXM radio. So remembering that the show after him in the afternoon at 6:00 p.m. is Mark's show and the day before he announced that he was going to broadcast the panel discussion, I called into his show and got through and discussed the fact that Trans people were not on the panel. He said he was sorry also about the situation and found it insulting. Despite anyone's issue about what was said or who said it, the real issue is that we did not have adequate, educated people on that panel (and I note that after hearing Ashley Love, I don't think that she would represent the entire Trans Community of Color that well either, which may be why she was so insistent upon making her point.) There are a few Trans people who I think might have served on that panel better and they can probably be found right in LA as the Community Centers there or in NYC who can speak directly to the problems of Trans discrimination against POC and we would find it a lot more enlightening.

To some degree, I think that this panel should have been a coming out on both sides of the Trans issue, those who are Trans and those who are not Trans. I really think that is what is needed and the fact that we were not represented, indicates to me that it is the other side that might be more afraid of exposing how they really feel about Transgender POC.

As to the person who got up and said that students don't know anything at their college.....get a friggin grip on it! It sounds to me that it's not the students that don't know, it is the colleges refusal to listen or acknowledge, which also indicates to me that when it comes to POC and the Transgender issue, they are hiding something behind the door they don't want anyone to know. Perhaps it might be those who have been discriminated against the most, don't want to admit they are capable of doing the exact same thing to others????

Renee Thomas | August 24, 2011 6:23 PM

OK SA-ET . . . since you asked,

I'm sick and damn tired of her undisciplined, disrespectful and simply mean-spirited bomb-throwing. She's young, sometimes foolish and often misdirected. Whatever good she might do has been to date far overshadowed by the rhetorical brickbats she routinely swings with youthful abandon. My advice to her has consistently been; if you want to do something of lasting value than please grow up and take your place with the rest of the adults who are laboring in the trenches to build strong and lasting coalitions wherewith to more broadly increase understanding both within the gay and trans communities and without.

To paraphrase Jim Cameron’s protagonist from the film Avatar; “I’m not your enemy, your enemies are out there, and they are very powerful.”

“Personally I take issue with her constant belittling of transgender woman by using the wrong pronoun or referring to them as "women with penises," etc. She's vulgar and mean spirited and has never seemed to have the good of the community in mind as much as her own agenda. I've been on a panel before that Ashley crashed and spouted off derogatory slurs while demeaning panelists.”

“I'm sick and damn tired of her undisciplined, disrespectful and simply mean-spirited bomb-throwing. She's young, sometimes foolish and often misdirected. Whatever good she might do has been to date far overshadowed by the rhetorical brickbats she routinely swings with youthful abandon. My advice to her has consistently been; if you want to do something of lasting value than please grow up and take your place with the rest of the adults who are laboring in the trenches to build strong and lasting coalitions wherewith to more broadly increase understanding both within the gay and trans communities and without.

Ah, OK, I understand now. The issue seems not be what her actual position is, but that you guys just don’t like her personally. Bil, at least, mentions one issue he’s in disagreement with, though, of course, apparently he just doesn’t realize that there are many within the GLB and the T who absolutely agree with Ms. Love when it comes to the issue he mentions...referring to her "constant belittling of transgender people" is, of course, hyperbole; even a cursory review of her web site, her position, and activism destroys that characterization. I thought the reference to the Autumn Sandeen articles was, well, cute…considering Autumn was fairly eviscerated for writing them and overwhelmingly the comments were in support of Ms. Love…the articles, themselves, written by someone who has recently redefined castration as a SRS procedure in and of itself. It’s really the same attacks many of us hear when we don’t walk to the tune of the GLB. I mean, Bil said as much. Ashley having her own agenda, regardless of how apropos it might be, is a bad thing if it’s not the community’s agenda...which is, of course, the GLB agenda. So, Ashley stands up for her principles and says what many within the “community” believe only to be vilified for doing so. She stands up to a condescending gay man, Don Lemmon, demanding transgender be referred to as transgender and not just gay and all of a sudden she is “vulgar and mean spirited” or “foolish and often misdirected”…she needs to “grow up and take her place.” The fact that many transgender are not gay is simply besides the point.

It’s clear to me, after reading the two comments, that Ashley Love simply doesn’t know her place. Ashley definitely is not sticking to the GLBT talking points, particularly the most ridiculous of them. She obviously didn’t get the memo that prohibits her from thinking for herself.

That's right, lets bicker about Ashley and derail the discussion away from the NAACP meeting. No one has to agree with Ashley 100% (I sure don't... I disagree with her about many things) but I can still respect her challenging an organization and panel which tried to make trans people of color invisible. And having white people arguing whether Ashley represented 'all trans people of color' is just kind of absurd.

Angela Brightfeather | August 25, 2011 12:35 PM

Thank you Gina.

Unfortunately, it seems like some people just want to get off the point that Trans people were not represented on the NAACP panel discussion and therefore were not only left out, but in the process, were poorly represented by people in the audience who insisted, in a persistent and non-inclusive way, of arguing issues that could only be represented in a discussion delegated to the Transgender Community in a more in-depth discussion.

To think that speaking about Trans issues in detail could have been advocated or discussed fully within the framework of that panel that was organized is beyond belief, and I think that the only representation that could have been made by the Trans Community, had we been invited, would have tried to show the integration, acceptance and positive side of being included in the GLBT Community in general, how it works to favor Trans issues and how much it is important to progress beyond that point to individual panel discussions that delve into the real problems and discus them, wiothin the framework of the NAACP itself.

As noted previously, I also think that Trans involvement on such a panel would have tried to highlight the difficulties in Trans POC in being able to come out within their minority communities without the suffering and discrimination that occurs so much, instead of trying to force feed people into understanding the nuts and bolts of a complicated issue and turning them of or making them defensive.

Don Lemon was a bad choice to head this panel and it seems apparent that reviews indicate that there is a lot of agreement on that point. Ashley Love is also a bad choice, even if I have to admire her activism and courage in at least attempting to say something, no matter how exclusive of the general picture within the Trans Community it was.

But moving past the characters in this, the main point is that we were not invited to be represented on the panel by anyone, and that is a travesty and not to be tolerated. The other point is that this discussion should try to fathom why it is that we were not invited and why. Another point of this discussion should be who we feel could best represent Transgender POC next year instead of having to depend on shotgunning from the audience instead, and make thoughtful recommendations on who should represent our community and forward them to the NAACP for their review.

In other words, discuss, prepare and take charge of the situation instead of having to react to it instantly with a defensive attitude. That could start right here on Bilerico, by suggesting names of Trans POC who could contact each other and let them make their recommendations. They have slighlty less than a year to do that.