Thursday, October 15, 2009

Transgender Activists Staying Home From Obama Protests, But Waiting for President to Back Up Trans-Friendly Words

Posted By and on Thu, Oct 15, 2009 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge obamaportrait_thumb_222x301.jpg
Code Pink on the left! Teabaggers on the right! Apparently, however, the transgender community still has President Obama's back.
While Michelle Obama marked an earlier San Francisco visit by getting her hands dirty volunteering at a Bayview playground, the O will be skipping any public event that could sully his appearance in town this afternoon.

The collective wisdom is that the president is unwilling to personally face the  tumult of protests and the dreaded "San Francisco moment" -- with the Chronicle quoting a former White House staffer saying Obama wouldn't want to repeat what then-presidential candidate Al Gore did at a 2000 press conference in the city where a "transvestite kept asking if he would support public funding for sex changes."

While Obama has been roundly criticized for not moving quickly enough on his campaign promises to the LGBT community, transgender activists in particular say they won't be showing up among the throngs of protestors -- from the left and right, from the Code Pinkers to the teabaggers -- descending upon Union Square today.

"I remain an Obama fan," said trangender activist Victoria Kolakowski, an administrative judge at the California Public Utilities Commission. "We all look forward to him carrying through on the things he's promised but it's far too early to give up hope."

Kolakowski pointed to the president's support, verbally at least, of a transgender inclusive hate crimes bill and Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). "We have a president who will sign things, now we need to send them to him."

While Masen Davis, director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, says he's not planning to join any protests today, he feels Obama still has room for improvement. "I would have liked to have heard the word 'transgender' more in his speech the night before the National Equality March [on Sunday], but he said it more than anyone else before him."

Then of course, there's the golden standard: "I would like to see a transgender person appointed to his administration," Davis says.

Obama ordered the office of personnel management this summer to issue guidance to every federal agency ensuring no discrimination against LGBT people. But as far as Mara Kiesling, the director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington, D.C., knows, the president himself has yet to include any transgender person in his own staff.

Not that some haven't tried. Theresa Sparks, San Francisco's Human Rights Commission director, says she applied for at least two posts in the administration, one overseeing a national cops program (Sparks is the former police commission president), and a top environmental position (she's also a former CEO of an oil recycling company). But no luck.

"Anecdotally, I found out they weren't ready for a transgender person to go through a senate confirmation hearing," Sparks says, noting her information comes from talking "to people who've talked to people."

"I was told, anecdotally: A. I'm too controversial and they don't want to put someone like me in a senate confirmation hearing, and; B. It was too risky to put someone up for a nomination who'd worked for a sex toy company." Sparks was CEO of San Francisco sex toy retailer Good Vibrations until last fall.

Kiesling says she doesn't believe that a transgender identity is being held against anyone in appointing administration posts.

"I would say, as just someone who's been kicking around Washington for awhile, that the Good Vibrations connection is probably a little tricker than the trans thing," she says. "I know [Obama] strongly believes in protecting trans people from discrimination, so I think he'd be willing to go to bat for a trans person."

Update, 8:59 a.m.: While SF Weekly's messages for a number of prominent figures in San Francisco's LGBT community have not yet been returned, National Equity March Organizer and activist Kip Williams did get back to us:
"When President Obama spoke at the HRC dinner in D.C., he said 'you should keep the pressure on your elected officials, and that includes me.' I believe he invited us to show up at every opportunity to demand our equality and to keep the pressure up. But I don't believe that we should protest him. He has reached out to us, acknowledged and respected our community. This isn't 'the gays versus Obama.' He's not our opponent, so we want to build national support for him to work with us."

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