Views & Voices

The Color Purple



“Today we see a flowering of purple, a flowering of support for LGBTQ people. This is one of the most important things for any LGBTQ youth today: it so clearly shows how many allies are around us. Spirit day is very important for the LGBTQ youth for it sends a strong message: No one in purple is alone.” ~ Graeme Taylor, LGBTQ Youth Activist, Ann Arbor, Michigan

The network broadcast morning shows — ABC’s ‘Good Morning America,’ NBC’s ‘TODAY,’ to CNN’s ‘New Day,’ CNBC, and VH1’s ‘Big Morning Buzz’ — all broadcast their support for Spirit Day Thursday as millions of LGBT people and their allies who dressed in purple to mark the fourth annual Spirit Day, a day demonstrate support for LGBTQI youth and to speak out against bullying.

Trans-Symbol-300x300There are however, a group of people within the LGBTQI community who don’t enjoy the full fruits of the today’s observance and those are transgender youth many of whom are from minority Black and Latino backgrounds.

Laverne Cox, a transgender advocate and actress who currently appears on the “Orange Is the New Black,” a comedy-drama series which airs on Netflix, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times Thursday that points out:

“Many in the trans community are fed up with L.G.B.T. organizations that continue to erase trans identity or just give lip service to trans issues. We need our cisgender allies – gay and straight – to treat transgender lives as if they matter, and trans people need multiple seats at the tables in the organizations that say they’re interested in L.G.B.T. equality; this absence has been painful since Stonewall.”

The truth is that she is 100% correct. As a working journalist who covers the LGBTQI community, I have written countless stories where bullying has negatively affected transgender youth, and yet there are either the sounds of crickets or a deafening silence from LGBTQI organizations unless the incident is a particularly egregious story that merits “national” news coverage. It shouldn’t be this way.

Ms. Cox continues:

“Everyone has a stake in ending the stigma against trans identities, but gay people may have a more personal interest. When kids are bullied and called anti-gay slurs, it’s rarely because the victim seemed to be attracted to members of the same sex. It’s because the child did not conform to gender expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. The bullies might yell ‘gay,’ but it’s about gender expression.”

Nearly everyday I walk from my office in downtown Washington to the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station where I catch a train home.  And without fail, nearly everyday I encounter the same group of black trans kids of both genders whom I have gotten to know rather well.

I stop and listen to them tell me their stories and they have told me that I’m the only “fat old white dude” who has every really cared enough to stop and not only spend time with them, but more importantly- listen. They are a minority within a minority and their stories of adversity in their lives could fill chapters in a sad novel.

For them, today I am wearing purple.

They are bullied most of the time and several have been tossed out of their homes, resorting to living on the streets and surfing couches of friends whom I’ll note, oft times “hide” them because their friend’s parents don’t approve. They are tired of being called ‘its’ or ‘he-shes,’ or other nasty things.  They’re tired of being shoved around verbally as well as physically.

They often drop out of the D.C. public schools because besides peer bullying  and almost zero acceptance, even faculty and staff members will abuse them with disparaging comments or patronise them with snarky comments that while not be outright transphobic, at the very least, make them feel less than human.

They will tell you if you listen that beyond just being black and trying to survive in the near poverty of some of Washington’s rougher wards and neighborhoods, they have almost no where to turn for help because their own community disparages their very existence.

For them, today I am wearing purple.

There are two local places for them that offer safe haven. The SMYAL youth group of Washington and David Mariner and his staff at the D. C. LGBTQI Centre. But, both of these places struggle for donations and funding for their programs.

Where are the national advocacy groups here in D.C. that throw themselves the black-tie galas? The red carpet $$$ media events? Surely they could write a check?

The two national Trans advocacy organizations that I had numerous dealings with- both of whom are outstanding in my humble opinion — Mara Keisling and her staff at the National Center for Transgender Equality, based here in Washington, D.C., and Masen Davis and his staff at the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center are overwhelmed and certainly not adequately funded and those folks have told me on more than one occasion, that the abuse and bullying that these trans kids receive nationally is damn near a pandemic, but the resources just aren’t there and many times neither are “awareness” campaigns to help these kids.

Ms. Cox goes on to point out:

“Of course, it’s also about race and class. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who are most at risk are working-class people of color. I am a fan of unity across differences, because to tackle a long list of disparities – the ones that currently benefit the straight, white, cisgender, middle- and ruling-class patriarchy – requires broad coalitions to think, live, love and make policy differently.”

I don’t pretend to have “all the answers,” and quite frankly, that’s not a part of my job description as a journalist.  But what I can do, and what I shall continue to do, is fight for these kids by covering their stories and listening to them. They are indeed the one segment of the greater LGBTQ acronym that doesn’t get enough coverage and is under-reported and I know that I can make a difference.

For them, today I am wearing purple.

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Washington obviously is not the sole metropolitan area which experiences these issues in LGBTQI minority communities across the nation, and so I would ask all of you reading in small towns and big cities across the U.S., the next time you consider giving a donation to a “national” outfit, how about instead you look up a local LGBTQI Center and see if they could use your help instead?

We need to raise the awareness for these Trans youth and young adults and we need to raise that awareness now. Abuse is bullying, unnecessary homelessness is bullying, marginalization is bullying.

For my kids like Taisha, DeMarco, Kayla, Laqueta, Taye and all the rest at Gallery Place-Chinatown, for you guys and your peers everywhere, today I am wearing purple.

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