Guest Blogger

Solidarity: Calling Out a Corporate Sponsor at a Pro-LGBT Event

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 23, 2011 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Coming Out Day, Katie Burgess, presenting sponsor, Trans Youth Support Network

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Katie Burgess is a community organizer and artist living in South Minneapolis. She grew up lobbying for LGBT Equality in her small hometown in Maine, has traveled the country performing direct action-from tree sits in the old growth redwoods of the Northwest to opening squats in San Francisco, and has been working as the Executive Director of the Trans Youth Support Network for almost a year now.

I was invited, as the overcoming-oppression.jpgExecutive Director of the Trans Youth Support Network to give a speech last week at the 18th Annual National Coming Out Day Luncheon put forward by our local GLBT business bureau:

"This inspirational community luncheon gives voice to the power of living openly, honestly and with authenticity at work, in our families and in our communities of faith. The realities of living an authentic life are deeper than being 'out'. We all have many layers of identity and we must work together to create a world where people can bring their 'whole self' to everything they do."

In preparing my speech, the Executive Director of the organization that hosts the event provided these words as inspiration:

"This year we are focused on our place not only within our GLBT and Allied Community, but within the broader definition of community as a whole. The reality is that all of our identities are multi-faceted, multi-layered and complex. True authenticity is when all of these layers can be fully expressed, and hopefully embraced by those like us as well those who are different.

Think about how times in your life when you have felt included in a context broader than our LGBT friends, when allies have played a part in your ability to fully express yourself. Or what it would have meant to you to have that support and understanding. While this is a day we celebrate our diversity, it is also an opportunity to highlight the importance of inclusion. Think of all definitions of community: geographic, faith, racial, ethnic, socio economic class, cultural... this goes on forever."

The mission of the Trans Youth Support Network is to promote racial, social, and economic justice for trans youth. We are an organization rooted in holding solidarity with young trans women of color as we all struggle against overtly violent, powerful, and complex systems of oppression. I was excited at the prospect of a forum that held focus on our broader community and collective liberation.

But when I read further in this email preparing the speakers of the day I found this:

Additional information:
The program more broadly: Note that there will be a host, myself and someone from Cargill (our presenting sponsor) in the program and we will also have a vocal performance.

At seeing that Cargill was the presenting sponsor, I immediately thought of my "definitions of community: geographic, faith, racial, ethnic, socio economic class, cultural... this goes on forever." I thought of our collective liberation. I thought of the crimes against our collective community that Cargill and other massive corporations are responsible for.

I had a hard task ahead of me. Here was an audience of economically privileged people, the majority of whom work at corporations that through extensions of our capitalist economy are bound to systems that violently oppress my community. And here was a GLBT and allied audience that was also my community, my peers, and many whom I call friends. How do I ask for justice? How do I ask for solidarity? How do I applaud the work of corporate representatives working to ensure employment non-discrimination policies and effective healthcare policies-healthcare policies that can begin to change the landscape of available insurance resources for trans people-and begin discussing the appalling nature of our capitalist economy and corporatized healthcare system to oppress not only trans youth, but our global community?

To an audience full of economic privilege, do I ask for charity to pass on to trans and gender non-conforming youth, who are in much need of their resources? Or do I ask for their solidarity, with trans youth and our greater community? In asking for their charity, I must encourage a relaxed atmosphere and affinity. In asking for solidarity, I must ask us all to reflect on our privileges and place within these systems of oppression.

Because of the lack of accountable, accessible, and culturally sensitive resources for trans youth, TYSN is often asked to step forward and provide charitable services, such as shelter, mental health support, legal aid, or case management for trans and gender non-conforming youth. We navigate a difficult process of helping identify possible outside resources to meet these needs and organize trans and gender non-conforming youth to reshape the landscape of these resources so that they are not so barren and to identify what systems are responsible for sustaining the barrenness. We have chosen to not provide charity, but to provide solidarity. As the saying goes: "Spare your coins. I want real change."

TYSN is vastly under-resourced. We have one staff person, share a tiny office space with two other organizations, and are barely able to sustain an annual budget less than $50,000. We desperately need the resources of our economically privileged community. The temptation of charity is always there, but it is my job as Executive Director of the Trans Youth Support Network to ask for solidarity.

In asking for solidarity and in the process of reflection on our privileges and position within various systems of oppression, I also wanted to highlight some victories and power within our community. Such power as harnessed in the CeCe Support Committee, a community organization convened by Chrishaun McDonald (or CeCe, as her close friends and family call her) through her relationship as a young community organizer in TYSN. The CeCe Support Committee has been an invaluable tool in calling out the inherent racism and transphobia in our community and our legal system. In solidarity with CeCe, TYSN works to promote sustainable systems of community accountability to young trans women of color, and to find solutions to this epidemic of violence.

I also wanted to highlight the victorious birth of The Exchange, a community center that houses TYSN, MN Trans Health Coalition, and RARE Productions. I wanted to highlight our strengths and the approaches to end employment disparities that our own local community has begun to enact. I wanted to build our collective power and solidarity and harness people's energy towards these efforts.

Years ago, I briefly attended the National Coming Day Luncheon as a TYSN Youth Member. I hardly remember any of it. I helped out at our informational table and ate lunch. I remember feeling intimidated by the atmosphere and feeling out of place. Other than that one experience and the information in my email, I had little knowledge of the event I had agreed to speak at.

The morning of the event, I realized I didn't have the address for where the luncheon was. I looked it up and saw The Downtown Minneapolis Hilton listed. That was my first inclination that perhaps I had not researched my audience well enough. When I arrived to behold the landscape - an array of tables displaying fine food and drink, a stage equipped with state of the art sound and light equipment, and a small section for informational tables that included huge corporations and a small collection of the most economically privileged GLBT businesses and non-profits in the Twin Cities - I became scared. I knew now that my audience might not be ready for what I had to say. Perhaps there was some other more diplomatic approach I should have taken. I did not see around me our broader community. I sat at the presenters table dreading my turn to speak. The Cargill representative came on stage and came out about his wife and three children in the suburbs. Then he went on to tell a story about a trans person that transitioned in a local Cargill branch, using the persons former legal name in his story. The hostess then went on to introduce me, although was unable to remember the name of the organization I work for.

Had I known what I was walking into, I would have declined the invitation. This was not a place that TYSN's values could be heard easily. I do not regret my decision to move forward and take the stage though. I believe in TYSN's values and believe in using my voice to promote them, even when they are hard to hear.

I am disappointed to say that while my speech has stirred up some controversy about my personal and professional positions in the community, people have had little to say about the positions of corporate interests in our community. While we are busy drawing lines in the sand, Cargill is still busy turning rainforests to dust in Indonesia.

And so here is the speech that I drafted:

I came to this work through being a homeless young queer trans woman, seeking sobriety and sanity in the Twin Cities eight years ago. Having access to competent, culturally sensitive services here saved my life. Now I have taken on the job of ensuring that these services maintain a lasting foundation, and that trans youth not only can meet their basic needs, but identify the violent, racist machine works that seek to systematically slaughter us.

To do this, I need your help. I am here today to ask for solidarity - a fellowship to fight for common interests. And to identify, in reality, what our common interests are. I need you to keep fighting for workplace non-discrimination policies that are inclusive of trans and gender non-conforming people. I need you to keep fighting for corporate insurance benefits that holistically cover transgender healthcare needs (not just one type of benefit). I need you to continue your battles for the rights of all workers to collectively bargain and find footing in this capitalist economic machine that caters to rich white cisgendered straight men and creates a lower class for them to exploit, filled with young queer and trans people of color.

And I refuse to stop there. Your equality is linked strongly with my liberation as a queer trans woman. And I need your solidarity in demanding justice for my community. When you ask for non-discrimination policies in your workplace, remember to ask for non-discrimination policies in the workhouse - policies that protect the human rights of trans women of color, 30% of whom are living in prisons. Women like Chrishaun McDonald, a TYSN Youth Member fighting for justice within a legal system that defends her white supremacist hate filled attackers. Remember that when you ask for workplace equality, that trans people face twice the unemployment rates as cisgendered people, almost half of us have experienced adverse job outcomes, such as being fired because of being transgender or gender non-conforming, and 16% of us work in underground economies with pimps and drug dealers that have yet to be assessed by HRC's Corporate Equality Index.

Make the connection of all of our liberation clear in your mind, because if you achieve equality with this racist, transphobic ruling class, you have assimilated into my enemy. You have left a sea of bodies in your hurried wake. Bodies who are continuously policed by this system for existing outside of gender norms, for not being white, for being disabled, for being born in foreign countries, or for desiring and expressing their own femininity.
Let me share with you some examples:

In 2005, the International Labor Rights Fund filed suit against Cargill, Nestlé and Archer Daniels Midland in federal court on behalf of children who were trafficked from Mali into the Ivory Coast and forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day with no pay, little food and sleep, and frequent physical abuse on cocoa bean plantations.

Cargill is the leading importer of palm oil into the United States. Palm oil expansion is a leading cause of forest loss in Indonesia and has a devastating impact on biodiversity, forest-dependant peoples, and the climate.

In 1970, Cargill sold 63,000 tons of seed grain to Basra, Iraq treated with methylmercury, a practice banned in most Western countries. Though intended for agricultural use, and not for human or animal consumption, some recipients used it as food, as the only printed warnings about the poison were written in English and Spanish, intended as warnings for American dock workers. This led to the deaths of 93 people.

How many of them were LGBTQ? Were their deaths and mistreatment factored into Cargill's 100% rating in HRC's 2010 Corporate Equality Index? Our struggles are bound together. When they came for your children in Mali, I did not speak up because I am from the United States. When they came for my workplace equality, there was no one left to speak up. Our community spans more than these strung together letters of LGBTQ. Our liberation is bound with all whom struggle against these machine works of oppression.

In collaboration with the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition and RARE Productions, TYSN has opened the doors of a community center on 34th St. and Chicago Ave in South Minneapolis, called The Exchange. Attached to the community center is Café Southside. Together this meager center and café hope to provide a foundation for increased employment opportunities for trans and gender non-conforming youth. With community support and accountability, we can provide much needed job skills to young trans youth of color. Keep fighting for workplace rights. Keep fighting for the right to a place to work. Let us build a community that is racially, socially, and economically just, without the oppressive burden of corporate interests and call me next time you're in the neighborhood. Trans Youth Support Network - 3405 Chicago Avenue South.

What does liberation look like to you? What is your definition of community? What is the relationship you would like to see that community have with capitalism and corporate America? What is the relationship you would like to see that community have with TYSN and other trans youth? I reiterate my closing remarks: call me. If your definition of community includes me in it, then let's talk about how we are going move forward together. Let us find liberation together.

My intention walking into that room was to build solidarity. I want to see my life and the lives of trans and gender non-conforming youth develop with power and integrity. I want to lend my hands in carrying this power and integrity out to our community and see it shine as a beacon of leadership, guiding us towards justice. I want to do this honestly and accountably. I have seen enough violence in my life and I am not interested in picking fights. It is hard to say things that are hard to hear. If hearing something I said was hard, it is your privilege to dismiss me. In doing so, please take time to hear other voices of trans youth. And, in your dismissal, remember that I not only have a big mouth to speak with, but I also have big ears to listen with. And my big heart beats for nothing less than seeing our community foster love among ourselves. This was an act of love.

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You may be interested to know in the response to this fantastic piece of truth-telling.

Here's the response from Quorum (the event organizers):
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/puot0002/quet2011/2011/10/queer-this-quorum-response-to-katie-burgess-speech.html

(sorry, next time we'll make sure to get a speaker that won't remind you that "inclusion" doesn't mean saying nice things, it means creating a world where systemic power disparities and institutional violence don't exist)

Let them know what you think of their shameful response here
http://www.twincitiesquorum.com/board_of_directors/30

Here is TYSN's Board of Directors' response:
http://transyouthsupportnetwork.blogspot.com/2011/10/tysn-advisory-board-letter-to-quorum.html

Well Said, Ms. Burgess. Good one on you!

Yes, well stated Ms. Burgess. Your thoughts and what you are trying to accomplish in Minn. are the same as the efforts of some of us in St. Louis. The homeless, Trans of Color, and youth need our help. But do we sell out to the Machine, sell our souls to the Devil, as it were to get much needed funding? I say no! It might be slower, we might have to build alternative networks, but we will build a better world that Truly embraces diversity and values ALL life. Companies like Cargill, Monsanto, Nestle, and Hershey, while they say they support diversity are only interested in co-opting us, pulling us into their machine as employees, or consumers,using us as long as they earn a profit then discard us like the toxic waste their production leaves behind. Discard us like the Third World women and children in slave conditions who are used and replaced when their bodies give out. No, we can build a better world and I think the Trans Community can lead the way. We know what it is like to be at the bottom of the food chain of acceptance and support. We have compassion for the whole LGBT Community and beyond. Diversity and acceptance does not mean selling out, blending in. It means we can be 100% ourselves and make our unique contribution, just as Straight, or women,ethnicity, or race, Gay, or Bi make their contribution to make a bigger Whole, a more resilient society, one that supports life and growth rather than destroys. Ms. Burgess, tell Cargill to take a hike! We can do it without them!

Those of us who are invited in must continually name the members of the LGBTQ community who are not at the table. Brava, Katie. If we are truly seeking LGBTQ liberation, we can not ignore the anti-human policies of corporations or other organizations that seek out our friendship. As long as any are oppressed, none of us are free.

Katie:
I was there at the luncheon...and had mixed feelings about your speech. What you had to say was important, and importantly, it challenged the room to think. That was good, and brave -- it also made me cringe, as it was not done with savvy.

Even though I don't know you, I hope you will consider some advice.

First, be careful to not equate success with "priviledge". There were some people in that room born with the proverbial silver spoon -- but I wager there were even more people in that room who live comfortable, if not privildged lives -- who worked their buts off through adversity to get where they are. And, that same wealth affords them the ability to GIVE BACK -- to organizations like yours. Instead of waging a verbal war on privledge, use it to your advantage...that doesn't happen by offending everyone in the room with the same broad stroke.

Second, yeah, you were not prepared. You speech was up and down, soft and angry. It was a mess. I don't say that as an insult, but so you can improve.

Lastly...a word I used above -- SAVVY. Might it have been better to call out a corporation not in the room? Not the presenting sponsor? Not one that supports the very organization who invited you? That audience is smart...they would have gotten the points you were making even if they were not yelled so directly and so pin-pointedly.

With a little savvy in your approach, I wager you would see donations UP-tick to your organization...I would summize that your speeach did might have done more harm than good for TYSN (whether your young, spririted outlook may agree or not).

Generally, I would only oppose a corporate sponsor at a GLBT event if that same sponsor was singling out GLBT people for persecution or lent support to anti-GLBT organizations and causes.

Otherwise, support for GLBT people and causes from large companies is an indication that we are becoming accepted by mainstream society. Don't get me wrong -- I'm no fan of environmentally destructive companies like Cargill either, but I'd rather have them supporting a GLBT event than, say, donating to support a marriage ban.

So you are okay with murder as long as it is indiscriminate?

No, definitely not. But do you have evidence of these companies intentionally killing people?

Here's a suggestion: Try making arguments instead of red herrings.

Katie, I think you made an important statement at just the right time and place. And contrary to what Jason said on this thread, there is no "correct" tone with which to make such statement. It was about communicating something which needed to be said, not schmoozing for fundraising. Well done!

I know of one person who went to Target because they offered marked down candy.
Shows you just how cheap people sell themselves.

To Katie I would suggest that for a movement to become a revolution, you need supporters and critical mass. Alienating those you want to join you is doing you no good. Yes there are many people in the community who are, at the very least, indifferent to your cause, especially when you cast your net so wide. And when you offend those like me, to Jason's point, who have gained what you call privilege as a result of our own hard work you bite at the hand of those who might have felt solidarity with your cause. I have two questions for you: 1) what is your end game? how does this new world of social, racial, and economic justice play out? 2) you say 'If your definition of community includes me in it, then let's talk about how we are going move forward together.' I would ask you the same question about your definition of community and does it include me?

While harvesting palm oil without ensuring adequate sustainability is not a great practice, I don't see how it is discriminating on the basis of gender identity. It seems irrelevant to your cause. Attacking an ally that is going above and beyond to support and honor you is not a good idea.

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Lisa, you're going off on an incredible tangent. Katie never once mentioned communism. Just because someone wants checks in place to prevent abuses of corporate power does not mean they are died-in-the-wool marxist.

Also some of the comments you are making here are incredibly personal and way out of proportion to the argument.

Tobi when you are tied to other peoples personal views it is personal. Transgender in itself is communism with its inclusive without consent nature. I am greatful that she wrote this piece though because I will carry into many classrooms and combine it with the many other articles and comments I show.

Lisa, can you clarify something for me? Other than word choice, is there anything in this article that supports the transgender (as opposed to transsexual) borg/menace/etc? I mean, she uses the word "transgender" three times. If those had instead been replaced with the term "transsexual" would you be satisfied with the article?

Let's not go down that road. It has nothing to do with the post at all and mires down threads. /topic

You're right. I just can't fathom what the offense is beyond word choice, which certainly is not the point of this post.

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While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

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YES! I am against Capitolism too!

It is just WRONG to make little kids learn all those capitols! Plus if they know the capitols they might go there and try to influence legislation and stuff or protest something just like all those lazy hoodlums squatting in the US capitol Wall Street!

I am with you on this Lisa!

To Jason and Estaban,

It might help you to learn more about the concept of privilege. Googling "Privilege 101" turns up many good resources. The short version that is important for you to understand here is that

1- Privilege and oppression are not mutually exclusive. One can be queer and working class and still benefit from white privilege. Having worked hard for money does not negate the power that having money brings you, nor does it mean there aren't many others who worked just as hard but didn't gain the rewards due to various societal discrimination.

2- Having privilege does not make you a bad person. I would be hard pressed to find any one activist who does not benefit from some form of societal oppression. Being told that you have privilege is not a means to insult you or slam you - it is a means to encourage you to examine how you interact with these systems and how you can operate differently in a more just way. The best response to having privilege is not hiding it or willing it away, but to utilize it for the betterment of others.

3- Privilege often defends itself. It's common for those with unexamined privilege to become defensive or shift the focus of the conversation when the topic comes up - often as an unconscious reaction. By focusing on the quality of a speech and appointing yourself as a speech coach, or by framing the speech as angry and alienating, you are attempting to move the conversation away from the harmful behavior stemming from unexamined privilege onto the effectiveness of the messenger. Effectiveness can be a valid topic to discuss, but not by you and not here. This derailing tactic and many others have been studied and are well known. One source for learning more about them is www.derailingfordummies.com

To Tobi - to pull from your post: 'It is a means to encourage you to examine how you interact with these systems and how you can operate differently in a more just way. The best response to having privilege is not hiding it or willing it away, but to utilize it for the betterment of others.' You and your supporters' challenge is, in fact, to motivate me to act as described above. Katie's speech did the opposite. You can say I am derailing or defending my privilege, but there probably was no greater opportunity to gain supporters for your cause than during that luncheon and instead it had the opposite result.

Esteban, here is the awkward split that I find problematic. Either you count yourself among those opposing oppression, in which case it is your responsibility just as much as mine or anyone else's. Or you don't see this as your concern (which is more likely given that you refer to it as "your cause"), in which case, why are you offering advice to a cause you don't support? And why should that advice be taken as genuine or trusted?

Motivating people to oppose oppression is a good thing, and believe me, I do it a lot. I've done hundreds of presentations, including an assembly for a couple hundred working class "at risk" high schoolers facing active recruitment by neo-nazis. What makes a 3-5 min speech to a hilton luncheon such a greater opportunity than that?

That work can be powerful, but it's not any more the responsibility of the oppressed to take that on than anyone else. And when someone *is* doing a lot of good work, it's not fair to jump on them for failing to motivate in one case (especially if that was not the primary goal). If you weren't motivated by Katie, find your own motivation elsewhere, take responsibility for your own actions, and if you think you can do a better job, do it.

It's probably true that her speech could have been better, that it could have had a better effect on it's audience (although few speeches are immune to such criticism). However, no one needs fair-weather allies who claim they would help out if only your speech was better, if only you were less angry, if only you were more respectful, more tactful, etc. Such a claim is usually based on a lie, anyone who would forsake a moral duty to stop harming others simply because they didn't get the proper respect is someone who didn't see it as a moral duty to begin with.

"However, no one needs fair-weather allies who claim they would help out if only your speech was better, if only you were less angry, if only you were more respectful, more tactful, etc. Such a claim is usually based on a lie, anyone who would forsake a moral duty to stop harming others simply because they didn't get the proper respect is someone who didn't see it as a moral duty to begin with."

This exactly. I can't count the number of times that "potential LGB allies" who had never done anything but ignore trans people/issues have threatened to continue to ignore trans people/ issues because someone failed to rub their ego the right way or wasn't pleading enough when stating the over all issues that impact on us.

Katie-

The point you clearly fail to realize is that it is highly unlikely that the people listening to your speech had anything to do with the misdeeds of which you accused Cargill. The people in that room included many allies, including those from Cargill. There were a number of people in the room, myself included, who spent the past couple of years working hard to ensure coverage of transgender health treatments by insurance companies. (Spare me the health insurance rant. It's the system we've got.) If you think this only affects well off people at Fortune 500 companies you are sadly uniformed. The changes to health insurance policies to fully cover transition related items typically require changes in the transition guidelines by the insurers. When major corporations succeed in convincing the insurers they contract with to change guidelines, those guidelines change for everyone insured through that insurer. This goes well beyond the employees of any one company. As more insurers provide necessary trans coverage, it puts pressure on all the others to do the same. Further, Fortune 500 companies employ many blue collar workers as well. Additionally, these policies apply to the trans youth dependents of covered employees. And yes, there are many accepting families who do support their trans children. The point here is you were attacking a group of people that included those who have done much to help your cause. That group includes allies. If you want to change the world and make it better for trans people, tearing into allies for things they were not personally responsible for isn't the best strategy!

I'm sure that underprivileged trans youth in the Twin Cities need someone who will actually help them navigate through their struggles, and I hope there are caring individuals and other organizations out there doing it. Katie, and apparently TYSN, have grand plans of changing all of the major economic, political, and social systems of the world and thereby making things better for trans youth. Good luck! What's that going to do TODAY for a poor trans kid who's living on the street because her parents kicked her out? When is that global systems change going to actually help her? They don't need charity, they need solidarity? Really? It sounds to me like they do need the charity in the short term, and more importantly responsible adults who care enough to show them how to live as responsible, productive members of society. I resent underprivileged young trans women of color being used as poster children for a well-intentioned, but completely misguided and ultimately ineffective movement. I guess I didn't know much about TYSN before. I would have assumed the best. The name gives hope for some good outreach efforts. Seems like reality might not be entirely captured by the name though.

Enough of my thoughts. I need to get back to work on a product that I hope will actually help make peoples’ lives better. Sure the product will make my company money, but I bet if you use it you’ll be grateful for my contribution. It might surprise you to learn that not everyone who works at a major corporation spends their time trying to destroy the earth and all of the poor people in it. I'll try not to intentionally burn down any rainforests or force any child in another country to work for 18 hours. When I’m done with my actual job I’m going to send some offers to speak at GSAs at local schools. Represnetatives from my company visit GLBT youth groups to let them know that if they can find the strength to stick it out and do well in school they have a good chance to get a job where trans and gay people are supported. Maybe we’re not starting a worldwide social/economic/political upheaval, but if we can give hope and inspiration to even one trans or gay kid each visit then we’ve done some good.

Translation "My activism in my spare time is more important//better than yours because I don't actively intend harm in my actions .. or something.. umm.. neener... and some other dismissive stuff also!!"

(originally posted at The Trans Life

I sympathize with the writer's disappointment that Cargill was the chief corporate sponsor of the National Coming Out Day luncheon in Minneapolis. Cargill does happen to be one of the more vilified corporations in our country, and I personally would hesitate to work for them. Cargill has undoubtedly committed some corporate crimes, and a Greenpeace report even alleges that Cargill has slave laborers working in the Amazon. There is such a laundry list of criticisms of Cargill that there is even a separate wikipedia page for them.

But what does this have to with LGBT equality? Absolutely nothing. If anything, Katie Burgess set back the cause of LGBT in Minneapolis with her speech. I realize that she has notions of a global "community", but she cannot assume that the entire LGBT buys into her broad views. She actually went as far as to attack any LGBT people that have managed to be successful despite all the obstacles we face:

"Make the connection of all of our liberation clear in your mind, because if you achieve equality with this racist, transphobic ruling class, you have assimilated into my enemy. You have left a sea of bodies in your hurried wake. Bodies who are continuously policed by this system for existing outside of gender norms, for not being white, for being disabled, for being born in foreign countries, or for desiring and expressing their own femininity."

Really? If a transgendered woman became part of the 1% of richest people, or CEO of a Fortune 500 company, that person becomes an enemy? This is incredibly offensive, and she leaves no room for diversity of opinion within the LGBT community. Taken to the logical extreme, Katie Burgess actually seems to think that LGBT must stay more impoverished than the the average straight person to avoid being corrupted by the "ruling class".

Fighting against assimilation alienates LGBT youth as well. Katie's attitude just reinforces the notion that is incompatible to be LGBT and normal. I think a huge part of what LGBT youth need to know is that they are normal, and they don't have to feel like they have to be an outsider all of their lives if they don't want to be. What about young queer people that want to grow up and have a family? Someone that wants to become a scientist, an engineer, or a lawyer? Pretending as if you can't be a card carrying member of the LGBT community while working in the corporate just makes young LGBT want to identify with something else.

Katie Burgess does not speak for all transgendered people, and she certainly does not speak for me.

Om Kalthoum | October 25, 2011 3:24 AM

I guess you showed them, huh?

Om Kalthoum | October 25, 2011 4:08 AM

Wow (and I don't throw that word around lightly, but trust that I will never ever say "Wow. Just wow"). Anyway, I just looked at the announcement for that luncheon. Get this:

National Coming Out Day Luncheon

11:30am - 1:00pm

We have three terrific speakers who span the spectrum, and definition, of "community:"

Mark Gherity - Executive Director (MN) of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney

Katie Burgess - Executive Director of the Trans Youth Support Network

Richard Moody - Socialite, Fashion Authority, Philanthropist, Fashion Blogger, Event Planner, Author, Motivational Speaker, Community Servant

I believe an OMG is in order at this point. LOL. The host must never have seen it coming in a million years. Did you think you were talking Truth to Power? Talk about a skunk at a picnic.

In all seriousness, how did your rant advance the cause(s) of your tiny group? That is your job as executive director, right? I think you embarrassed yourself and your organization.

Katie, As I read through some of the comments, I'm hearing a loud and clear theme: play nice, stay in your place, we wish you would have asked for charity so we would know how to relate to you. Clearly you made people uncomfortable.
If I had been in your shoes, I might not have taken the approach you did, but that would have been because I lack the courage that you do. It's likely that many of your audience don't understand that deforestation in Indonesia and exploitation of children in W Africa are connected to the concerns of LGBTQ people. They are. To fail to recognize that is to be divided into our little camps. Rewarding little camps for good behavior by assimilation into the system in a way that hurts the other little camps. We won't have a vision of whole justice until we connect the oppressions as you did. Brava.


I like that this conversation is going on...it is important.

Quite frankly, however, the real world in the middle exists.

Let me give you an example...I have the capacity, right now, to write a $10,000 check to TYSN. You may call it capacity. You may call it privledge. I may call it loving to share the rewards for my own hard work.

However, what did the "name-calling" and "making them incomfortable" and "speaking truth to power" REALLY ACCOMPLISH by Katie in THIS INSTANCE?

It showed that Katie is brave and outspoken.
It also demonstrated that Katie is clearly not savvy and mature enough to be an ED of any organization.

It raised the profile of TYSN to a HUGE audience.
It also, dealt a possibly FATAL blow to TYSN in terms of donations in the future.

It enlightened people to the fact that some companies are not great citizens like they portray themsleves.
It also, will result in the discontinuation of funding for the host of the event and for many organizations attending the event -- through no fault of their own, by Cargill, who like it or not, WAS an ally.

And it accomplished this....
Right now, I would NEVER tell anyone to support TYSN.
If the Board of Directors (or whomever is the overseeing body of TYSN) wants TYSN to survive, they are going to have to try to save their reputation.

AND...It means that I won't write that check.

You definitional activitsts may be technically right...but you are OH SO wrong.

Too bad it is the "T" kids, those who truly need the support, who will actually suffer.

Just saying it like it REALLY is.

Jason,

I think I’ve spotted the main source of conflict here. Have you read TYSN’s mission? “…to promote racial, social, and economic justice for trans youth…” The way I see it, their ED was faced with a choice to woo large donations at the cost of straying from their mission and chose the mission. That demonstrated incredibly maturity and commitment to the organization’s values and is exactly what an ED should do. Those who support the mission will be much more likely to donate because of this. The fact that you disagree with that portion of their mission and their organization’s interpretation of it is a different matter entirely.

Dangling a hypothetical $10,000 check if only the organization did what you want instead of their mission is exactly what I was talking about regarding “fair-weather allies.” Something tells me that you wouldn’t be willing to make that donation even if they were a more traditional direct services organization that reflected your values. But please, go ahead and prove me wrong. Below is a list of more traditional direct services organizations for trans youth. I’m sure they all are much more deferential to potential donors and will make you feel good about supporting them. Research them, look for others, find a trans youth organization that you’re a good fit with, and make your $10,000 donation. Let us know about it. Otherwise it’ll be clear that your statement here is nothing more than a taunt.

Trans Youth Family Allies
Gender Spectrum
TransActive
Trans Youth Equality Foundation

Heaven forbid people point out how awful corporations will treat human beings when they're conveniently not within eyesight of the US.

This sounds an awful lot like blaming the victims, to me. Katie makes a speech that took a lot of guts, because she told the people with the power of privilege to their faces that the world is messed up, and that they are contributing to it through their direct actions or ignorance. This is in many ways just like the oppression that the trans* community suffers. Most people aren't participating in violent attacks or murders of trans* people. But a lot of people are happy to be ignorant of the hell so many people are put through.

It is not immoral or wrong to give them a verbal slap in the face to let them know that a lot of people are out there suffering, even when you are sitting in a comfortable hotel sipping cocktails and enjoying a five course dinner.

Heaven forbid people point out how awful corporations will treat human beings when they're conveniently not within eyesight of the US.

This sounds an awful lot like blaming the victims, to me. Katie makes a speech that took a lot of guts, because she told the people with the power of privilege to their faces that the world is messed up, and that they are contributing to it through their direct actions or ignorance. This is in many ways just like the oppression that the trans* community suffers. Most people aren't participating in violent attacks or murders of trans* people. But a lot of people are happy to be ignorant of the hell so many people are put through.

It is not immoral or wrong to give them a verbal slap in the face to let them know that a lot of people are out there suffering, even when you are sitting in a comfortable hotel sipping cocktails and enjoying a five course dinner.

If they didn't want her to call out corporate bullcrap, they shouldn't have suggested that speech-makers address socioeconomic class. That was their screw-up, and Katie just did what she was told.

Fascinating.

In reading several of the responses, a few things pop out at me.

First off, there is the assumption by some that the forms of privilege that Katie is referring to are earned. That they have something to do with how hard one studied in college and how many interpersonal political battles that one engaged in during their climb to a position of what they might term as comfort.

Or that this privilege she speaks of has something to do with how wealthy one's parents are -- the silver spoon.

It does not.

What she was referring to was Dominant Class Privilege. This is an honest to gosh thing, and a major element of social justice work at the real, daily, direct service and practical level.

This is a concept that is discussed daily in the work of agencies, organizations, and groups at city, county, state and federal levels, and not only isn't new, it is a foundational aspect of such work and the effort that goes into understanding the kinds of work that are done and talked about.

Now, if one is not familiar with dominant class privilege as a concept, then one literally does not understand what she is talking about.

Which isn't "bad", mind you. Unless you do this work or are in this field, you generally aren't going to be familiar with the terminology, and you most likely aren't going to recognize it for the real and actual thing that it deals in.

However, because you don't know what it is, you aren't fully understanding what she's saying, and you are taking offense at something that you don't understand.

That leads to the major point that popped out at me: Speaking truth to power is kinda worthless when the power doesn't understand what you are saying.

The next thing that pops out at me, learned through hard experience writing online, is that trying to explain this to people who don't understand after you've already put them in a defensive posture by talking about it is foolish and unwise, and inevitably results in some interesting negative stuff that, as happened here, ultimately reinforces the very thing being spoken against when one talks about privilege with people who, quite obviously, have multiple intersections thereof.

After that, I'm startled at the apparent simplicity of Katie's speech. Written words lack the fire or passion of a spoken version, and allow much of the reader's own mood to color them. But what she spoke was entirely true, and she did it in a manner that is indeed very simple, not aggressive, and also not passive -- very assertive, direct, and honest.

Lastly, it pops out at me that much of this surrounds the appearance of an attack on a company that provides a great deal of funding for many of those who attended this particular event, and also sponsored that event.

In any given month, I can see and hear countless examples of bloggers, activists, and more saying the same thing about various organizations and businesses as what she has said here.

She took some factual stuff, repeated it out loud, and noted that the job she has to do is not limited to just her locality, because we are all connected to each other.

To think that what happens in another country has no impact on us in our daily lives here is perhaps an even greater act of willful ignorance than the outright lies that are often repeated about all of us on television every day.

Katie, I have to say that you did outstandingly well, all things considered. Hold your head high.