Monday, November 16, 2015

A World at War and the Search for Peace

All about us we see, a world at war. Oh not massive armies in combat. Skirmishes, terrorist attacks, civil wars. Displaced persons become the other. We have at seemingly unprecedented levels found ways to divide ourselves against one another.

I cry for the people killed in Paris, in Beirut, in Kenya, in Ukraine, in Somalia, the list goes on and on. Yesterday the pastor (Elaine Tenbrink) at my church spoke to this. She related a story she heard of a young Palestinian girl, out after curfew when two IDF soldiers approached. Beneath the car she hid shaking. But then she did a remarkable thing. She began to focus on how those soldiers were feeling. Didn't they want to go home safe as well? In doing so, she tapped into that strand that connects us all. We all feel fear, suffer, etc. By opening ourselves to the universal humanity we share, by practicing deep empathy, there is healing.

You know, there is nothing new under the sun. Civilizations have been under crisis before, life has become insecure, and yes some of those societies have ultimately failed. We so often respond by building higher walls, employing more military, surrounding ourselves with a false sense of security. Then that sense vanishes when mass killings or destruction happen anyway. The responses out there have been interesting. Blame the Muslims. Not just these Muslims. All of them. Stop all immigration and try to contain them in the cesspools of death and destruction where they are currently fleeing. What a terribly NON HUMAN thing to do. Some decried that if only everyone in Paris had been armed then it might have been different. Some blamed Obama, because, well why not. Why did we make a major thing of it happening in Paris but not when it happened in Beirut or Kenya? Racism? Probably so, but yet another divide in a terribly fractured world. Take a map and mark every place where conflict currently exists. Yes, the world is at war, turning inward and eating it's own.

So where do we turn? For me, I try to remember the one common thread held by all world religions. Not the orthodoxy but the core message each one offers in it's own way. It's the law of compassion. Do unto others, phrased in countless ways. From our imperfection, from our struggles in this uncertain times grows empathy, and from that the capacity to see our common humanity, complete with fear, pain, and imperfection.

I hasten to add, I'm not talking about letting people off who commit such horrors. If you kill a theater filled with people, there's a price that must be paid. Justice is important. What I am saying is, don't blame it on Islam, a population well over a billion people. It's not the fault of the conservatives or the liberals or any other group that becomes easy to lump them into. A Christian blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City but to the blame it all on Christians is insanity. Yet I've seen that too.

Our politicians do not serve us well. They thrive on division and creating "the other." Perhaps the people will reach the point where they simply say no more. We aren't there yet. My prayer, that it happens sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, as the hymn sings, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. It's not Je suis Paris or Je suis Beirut.It's Je Suis humanite'.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Say Their Names


new update 10-16-15

updated 10-6-15

Here they are. Say their names. Remember their lives. Trans hate speech translates to trans killings. My heart is weary, but the killing must end.

2015 TransgenderDeaths per Wikipedia

Note: Counts vary according to who is counted. I’ve chosen to include all those who are not gender conforming, while others require for their count that they have declared themselves to be transgender. I’ve copied Wikipedia’s list through Tamara Dominguez. I will add them myself going forward.

Papi Edwards of Indianapolis Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky, died of a single bullet wound to the chest at Fern Valley Motel on January 9. Henry Richard Gleaves was arrested for Papi's murder and is being held on a $500,000 bond. The Advocate, among other media sources, originally reported that Papi Edwards identified as a gay man answering to Lamar and/or Goddess, who likely participated in drag.[38] It has since been confirmed by others close to Papi, and reported by various sources that Edwards identified as a female.

Lamia Beard of Norfolk, Virginia was found with life-threatening gunshot wounds on the morning of January 17. She was taken to the Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where she died.

Ty Underwood of Tyler, Texas was found in her car, dead from three gunshot wounds, on January 26. Her roommate feels she may have been targeted because she was a transgender woman.

Yazmin Vash Payne of Van Nuys, California was found stabbed and burned to death in her apartment on January 31. The following day her boyfriend confessed to the murder and surrendered to police.

Taja DeJesus was stabbed to death in San Francisco, California on February 3, 2015. She was 36 years old. The man believed to have stabbed her, James Hays 49, was found dead hanging a short distance away.

Penny Proud of New Orleans, Louisiana was fatally shot multiple times on February 10.

Bri Golec of Akron, Ohio was stabbed to death by her father, Kevin Golic on February 13, 2015. Bri was 22 years old. According to a bandmate, Brian dropped the trans identifier about a year ago. He now identified as an androgynous pansexual man. His father called 911 after the stabbing claiming it was "the cult" that had broken in and stabbed Brian. The cult he referred to is believed to be a local trans support group. Police determined that no one had broken in. Kevin Golic is being charged with murder and felony domestic violence.

Kristina Gomez Reinwald of Miami, Florida, was found dead in her apartment on February 15. She was 46 years old. The case was initially considered a suicide, but news broke on February 19 that police are now treating it as homicide.

Sumaya Ysl of Toronto, Canada, was found dead on February 22. She was 26 years old.

Keyshia Blige, a 33 year old from Mongtomery, IL, was killed March 7, 2015. Blige was shot while driving and crashed while attempting to drive herself to the hospital. "Police declined to comment on the motive for the shooting, but described it as "not random.” Though she had performed for many years under the name, Blige just started transitioning in January of 2015. "Stiff's mother said, though her [child] had begun taking the hormones in January, already she noticed a new glow to [her] skin." Blige was reported as male in the news.

Vanessa Santillan, a 33 year old from Miami, Florida, was fatally beaten on the head and neck in an apartment in Fulham, London, England on March 28, after responding to a neighbor's phone call.

Mya Hall, a twenty-seven-year-old transgender sex worker from Baltimore, Maryland, was killed by police on Monday, March 30, after taking a wrong turn in a stolen SUV and crashing into a security post on the National Security Agency's campus. Police assumed that the accident was a terrorist attack and immediately opened fire on Hall and her companion, Brittany Fleming, aged twenty. Fleming survived.

London Chanel, a 21 year old, died May 18 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania after being fatally stabbed in the back and neck by Raheam Felton, who was the boyfriend of one of her roommates.

Mercedes Williamson, a 17-year-old from Alabama was killed in George County, Mississippi by Josh Vallum. Her body was found June 2 after Vallum told his father about the murder.
India Clarke, 25 years old, was found dead in a Tampa, Florida park on July 21st. She died due to blunt force trauma and her death is being investigated as a murder.

K.C. Haggard, 66 years old, stabbed in the neck from a vehicle in Fresno, California on July 23rd.

Amber Monroe, 20 years old, shot in Detroit, MI on August 8th. This was her third time being shot, but her fear of the police kept her from reporting other times.

Shade Schuler, 22 year old woman of color, found in a field in Dallas, TX on July 29th. There are no leads on the murder as Ms. Shade's body was so badly decomposed when found that it took two weeks to identify her.

Kandis Capri, 35, was shot in Phoenix, Arizona on August 11th.

Elisha Walker's body was found in a shallow grave in Johnston County, North Carolina on August 15. She had been reported missing a year before.

Jasmine Collins aged 32 of Kansas City, Mo was stabbed to death in June in a dispute. She was first labeled as male but the record has since been corrected to reflect her female trans status.

Tamara Dominguez aged 36 of Kansas City, Missouri was run over by an SUV truck multiple times on 15th August at 3am local time.

Keisha Jenkins, age 22 from Atlanta Georgia, shot twice in the back and killed on 10-6-15.

Zella Ziona Smith, age 21, shot in the head following an altercation. Gaithersburg, Md. 10-16-15.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Flag, The School, Brown V Topeka Board of Education

It's amazing to me how sometimes the world leads to new realizations from seemingly disparate sources. In my last blog post, I wrote about how we were taught a false history, a mythology that glorified the indefensible. I talked about my former high school, Robert E. Lee and the role the Confederate Flag played in my life in those years.

So today, I watched an interesting set of interviews regarding the new novel, Go Set a Watchman, a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, where Scout visits her Dad as an adult. Though it was written before Mockingbird, Watchman is about the adult visiting her aging father. No longer the crusader for justice, he is filled with the segregationist fervor common in the 50's in the south. It was about the difference in how we see our father, one vision of perfection as a child but covered with warts in our own adulthood.

Amidst all this, we've seen the Confederate Flag removed from the capital in South Carolina. We've learned that the Confederate Flag wasn't really the Confederate Flag, but rather was the battle flag for the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee's army. The creator itself proclaimed the flag to be all about white supremacy. Robert E. Lee after the war asked that it be put away and not be flown, and that it was only resurrected in the 1950's in response to the Brown Vs Topeka Board of Education that ordered desegregation as a symbol of segregation and hate. It was in that environment where my high school, Robert E. Lee was opened in 1958. We had the second largest Confederate Battle Flag, second only to the flag flown at Old Miss where we played Dixie and were immersed in the mythology of a Confederate mythology that never really was.

My question is simple. How can we possibly hope to truly move forward as a people if so many cling to a mythology that really never was. It hearkens back to a day not of happy white folks with their "colored" help gathered around supporting their kind "massa," but rather a time when people in order to be controlled had to be whipped mercilessly until they were broken. Segregation and Jim Crow laws were designed to maintain second class citizenship and continued oppression. Then of course came the Civil Rights Movement. Robert E. Lee Rebels became the Red Raiders, and the flag after a protest was retired. Then we replaced Jim Crow with Racism where race need not say its name. It's Mass Incarceration, and while race is not mentioned, statistically it is proven that racism never went away. It just changed its name.

Perhaps in a world obscured by incessant obfuscation, asking for truth rather than myth is simply asking too much. I'm not ready to give up however on the idea that seeking the truth is a worthy goal. Recently I suggested a film idea, and am pitching it to folks like Spike Lee, Ken Burns, Henry Gates etc. We've had tons of documentaries focused on black people. We need to have a really well done documentary on the history of whiteness, race, and our (White People's) culpability in creating and perpetuating the system of race and privilege that remains with us today after all these years. How we tell ourselves lies to avoid the guilt and the culpability for our actions. How white fragility is little more than a copout. We need to face it once and for all so we can all move forward instead of finding endlessly new ways of oppressing others.

Finally, I'm looking forward to reading Harper Lee's new novel. Even as time opens Scout's eyes, perhaps it can work that way for the rest of us too. It's time for the old south, and the national disgrace around race be put to bed once and for all, never to rise again.

Friday, June 19, 2015

It Takes a Village

Photo of Tyler Lee Rebel Guard 1965 from my High School Yearbook

Last night John Stewart set aside his comedy to speak seriously about the deaths of nine innocents in Charleston, and about race and our failure to come to grips with the elephant in the room His video can be seen here:

His words moved me to respond on my church list after viewing this. I realized I should share it to a wider blog audience. Here's what I wrote:

Let me share a piece of my own history. I grew up in Tyler, Texas. There was a confederate arms plant there during the civil war. I attended Robert E. Lee High School. We were the Tyler Lee Rebels and at our football games, one of the largest confederate flags in the nation was marched out onto the field held aloft during football games and Dixie was played by the band as we all sang along at the beginning and through the games, especially after touch downs. We also had the rebel guard, dressed in confederate uniforms who fired a cannon after every touchdown.

In American History, we spent over a semester just on the Civil War. There was a distinctly southern bias to what was taught. I used to point with pride to the ancestors who had fought for the south. Our myths were about great courage, and the great tragedy when a way of life had been destroyed by the yankee invaders. I knew people older than myself who spoke with pure hate about Sherman and his scorched earth policy. Our schools back then were segregated and our lives were segregated and I knew several in my home town who were racists and some who went on to become klan members. I graduated from high school in a hospital bed, a result of a motorcycle accident, where I remained for 3 months with my leg strung up in traction while the missing bone grew back in. At my graduation, the principal and superintendent were there as was the local press to photograph this proud young person at graduation, with a confederate flag draped across my pillow. The only black person I knew growing up was the help. Underpaid of course and she came in to clean every Saturday. She would be considered "one of the good ones." Then there was Grasshopper, who I only knew one day. He planted our lawn. I was five years old and he wove the most amazing stories for this young child, and to this day I remember him if not the stories with incredible fondness. I'm sure he's long since passed on, but his presence lives in my heart.

Here's the thing. I was lucky. I went to college and met real black people and the stereotypes began to melt away. I chose a career in public service and especially when I got to Houston, many, sometimes most of my co-workers and managers were black. I'd had an entire childhood of cultural myths to unlearn but they had no qualms about telling me how it really was. Unlike Minnesota, folks there can be pretty direct. But heres my point. This guy committed these murders in South Carolina, but he did not act alone even if he was not affiliated with any group. The phrase "it takes a village" resonates with me on this. There was family, friends, the community who nurtured the mythology of a dying culture stolen from them. A belief of the immoral black villains raping their women and resting control of their perceived image of white superiority and control. It's Lyndsay Graham hastily portraying the killer as some kind of crazy person and not like the rest of them other white people. Nikki Haley says the flag remains because she hasn't had any complaints from corporations. Seriously? A comment probably true in her world as those are her bosses, but really? Never mind the really large population of Black South Carolinians who've been gerrymandered out of representation. It's two politicians defending that flag, the very symbol of white supremacy coached in the very same terms that existed when I was a young person attending Tyler Lee. Lots of winking and nodding, code to conceal a very real racism and a commitment to maintain white supremacy. We've had a civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties, yet despite all that, we really haven't moved forward far at all.

Today I read the guy who did this heinous deed said he almost didn't go through with it. Those folks had been so nice to him he said. Here he had confronted real compassion and real love. But the messages, the mythology of his own being trumped reality. So now there are nine dead. He will go to prison. He's going to find other white supremacists there and they will commiserate together. Meanwhile, the community continues to hide from the truth, and perpetuate the myth of racial superiority. Until we change the community, this will be but one in a string of the attacks on the innocents stretching well over 400 years/ It does take a village. But one filled with compassion, not racist bulls**t.

One last thought. The confederacy was about traitors, not heroes. Their symbol of the flag was a symbol of treason. Time to quit pretending otherwise. I've spent a lifetime undoing my own damage. But I'm just one. This time compassion did not succeed. But in the long term I think it will. Regardless, it's a far better mythology than the one being perpetuated.May the healing begin.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Reflections on Terror in Charleston

Ironically, day before yesterday my wife and I were having a conversation. I was thinking about the huge increase in militias, hate groups plus the increased rhetoric around hate, racism and the absurd denial by politicians who don't even recognize the racism that surrounds us every day. With a sigh, I told her that we were not dealing with it now, and things could get a lot worse if we don't.

The very next day, I hear of the terror attack in Charleston. I'd love to say I was surprised. But I wasn't. Saddened, yes. Angry? That also. But how could I be surprised in a climate of hate that surrounds us each day? A world where police continue to gun down unarmed citizens and target black and brown people as if they were somehow inherently evil by virtue of the color of their skin. A world where educational priorities go to affluent white neighborhoods at the expense of those without resources. A world where prisons operate for profit and there is an incentive to arrest and incarcerate. A world where preschool and early elementary kids are expelled from school because of the incompetence of their teachers.

Two news broadcasts stand out in my mind. One I didn't see but heard about. Fox News who as a matter of policy denies that racism even exists, decrying the very idea this was a racist attack or a hate crime. In their fantastical world that is not possible. I listened to a broadcast on so called liberal MSNBC where it was noted this was the worst mass killing in South Carolina's history. Um I suppose if you ignore the lynchings, the state sanctioned killing of 33 black folks involved in a slave revolt, mostly from this very church. Everyone acts as if this were a singular event. I suppose that's essential if you're trying to preserve the myth of white supremacy. But reality, yeah I know, uncommon these days, demands that one acknowledge the open racism, the blatant attempts by politicians to exploit that divide for their own benefit, the ongoing attacks on black and brown people around the country by a whole bevy of so called "lone wolves." Privilege demands I think, that we ignore the real role we as white people are playing in this ongoing slaughter.

Here's truth however. The population of white vs non white Americans is changing and whites are moving towards what will be a clear minority. If we persist in this evil that grants us privilege over others, and allows us to label each perpetrator of these heinous crimes as a lone wolf, a disturbed individual, but not part of a larger event, the anger of a people thus denied justice or fairness can only grow. If we scream bloody murder about a small group of New Black Panthers carrying arms while militias and white gun freaks tote their weapons openly and with abandon, that anger will grow. White people, the choice is ours to make. Confront our own racism, our own privilege and work towards healing of our humanity of which we all are a part, or sit about complacent in our advantages and face a bloody resurrection sometime in the future that will truly hurt us all. Those of us who are white must raise our heads out of the sand and confront our own evil. We must work together to end these killings by a succession of terrorists that seem to have no end. I chose the photo of the Edmond Pettus Bridge. Because the struggles of the early slaves and freedmen in America, of the Civil War, of Jim Crow laws the divide, and of Mass Incarceration that serves the wealthy seeking low wage workers are all part of one struggle.

I look at the history of this church. Good people, prayerful people, people committed to justice and fairness. The wrong people lost their lives. My prayers join that of many others for them, for their families, and for their community. My prayer also is that this will serve as an awakening within white people everywhere. We must actively join our black and brown brothers and sisters and and strike a death blow to that evil we call racism. If we can construct racism, we can take it apart. But it's going to take all of us. Listen to the black people you know. Here there stories and embrace them We've listened to our own lies for generations. Now it is time to hear their truth and to be moved by it. This killing was NOT an isolated event. It's part of an ongoing national history, a part of an ongoing national shame, and it's got to end, sooner rather than later. We need to confront media when it gets it wrong. We need to openly advocate regardless if it costs us friends. The killing and injustice must end.

May it be so.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Trans Separations

Here's a poem I wrote some years back. It tracks my feelings at the time of the separations experienced as a trans woman. It's spoken word, inspired by the killing of two beautiful transgender souls in D.C. while sitting in their car.


I am woman. My heart my being my spirit and soul seeing
Screaming from every pore for all to hear… I am woman!
Touch my soul and know the vision which after body revision
Remains the same. Taste my lips a woman’s lips softened by
Tears and years of caring and daring to be the same as that person
Who stares out through these weary eyes… So many sighs.

Tears of joy, and tears from indescribable heart break
Family torn asunder and former friends wonder and the loss
And hurt tearing away at ego but also taking pieces of my self along the way.
Is self truth always this brutal? And is it so dangerous
That we are killed and beaten and thrashed and trashed just for being who we are? Just the other day, two women like me shot over and over in their car.

Is the death of trans- cendental souls one more symbol of the fear of a privileged gender
afraid to surrender even a tiny vestige of it’s power and hold
Over the hearts and minds and possessions of fifty one percent of all of us?

In a world of patriarchy and privilege, I am woman. My state says it is so, my body says it is so.
My breasts, my skin, my vagina all proclaim I am woman.
When my beloved in sensual understanding and lips and hands ever more demanding,
She brings me confirmation, an oh so erotic demonstration of love with a woman.

My essence, my energy, my dreams, loving without bounds baring my soul …
A woman’s soul, complex and multilayered with dreams yet to be dared,
and hopes and loves and fears and scarred with loss untold
And yet still soft and yielding when heart touches heart
And becomes a piece of a larger universal woman centered moon empowered
Stream of conciousness that some call Goddess and others call Womyn’s space
And still others do not name but are empowered just the same.
Yes I am woman and I cry like a woman and my soul feels the sheer exuberance of being just exactly who I am.

But.. oh the sadness and heartbreak and heartache that comes with that word.
But… a conjunctive with repercussions in my soul and psyche that will remain always
A reminder of the price of self truth and the consequence of being.
I turn to my closest friends, those who love me the most where trust has been so freely shared.
My friends assure me.. You are so loved, so special, an energy of woman embodied.
Then the condition, the but in my life, the anguish of the soul, the difference that separates
Creates that chasm beyond which I cannot go.

Because of that abberation of birth, piece of unwanted undesired flesh
I will always be separated. My friends say meaning well I am sure
You are such a special person! I would love you no matter what or who you are!
No matter what or who you are. No matter what or who you are.
The words ring in my ear, a truth accepted but less desired than all other truths combined.

They clamor to explain. You are a woman, only different! I will never know first blood, or any menses for that matter
Never could I as a child bond with my girlfriends in the way they have done.
Until I could repair the wrong that dangled below I was the recipient of privilege… Different you know?
There was no first corsage or the date who never showed
There was no father-daughter dance or first romance… not that way anyhow.

Does it mean I am not a woman? Of course not! Just… DIFFERENT.
In a world where I was born “different” I remain now as then… different.
Oh I love my new life and the joy and love that comes from being this woman
At times makes my senses reel and my heart skip in enthusiastic glee for the woman who is me.
I find the love and strength and renewing spirit of womyn’s space Empowering, exhilarating, comforting, and transforming all at one time.

From one woman to another, we share our lives and our stories and our souls
And we do rituals and honor croning and maidenhood and motherhood as women have done
Throughout the expanse of life’s journey. Our tears and our laughter are offered before the Great Mother
Who smiles at our offerings with a gleam of delight.

But in those moments, those horrible wrenching moments when Difference rears it’s head, when the “But” comes to rule,
The arrow of despair pierces my heart and one more tear is offered from coffers that have no bottom.

My friends are excited! It's time for Michfest, a festival of women celebrating women
And being women and the ultimate in what women’s space is about.
A lover of women’s space and women’s music wishing to revel with my partner in this sacred space
I become different. I am not welcome to this space. And still another tear is shed as offering to Earth Mother.
I would not understand, I could not understand.. At Michigan I am not woman, but OTHER.

So it is in my walk of life. I am woman to most, other to some, non human to still others
Loved, hated, smiled at and reviled. Praised and hated, a source of confusion for many.
I do not understand it, some say. I do not want to understand it say others.

But life goes on and love goes on and hate and fear go on also.
To all who hope that my kind will disappear and those who revel in my difference
What we have not in common rather than what we do, I smile sweetly, and offer this simple reality:
I can only be me and you can only be you and we can be we or never
But my truth will remain, agree or complain, and from my truth you cannot sever
For in truth to self I have found truth in others and the same for love it is clear
To leave behind that which is me would leave me with nothing but fear.

My soul lives, and will beyond death and it is a beautiful soul prepared to love, prepared to live, prepared to dance .
If you dance with me, then we dance together, but if you cannot, I shall dance alone.

Jessica Wicks
Copyright August 26, 2002

Monday, April 27, 2015

Understanding Events in Baltimore

Today the news is dominated by what's going on in Baltimore. In response to still one more senseless death at the hands of police, despite the wishes of the family and local leaders, violence broke out. Police cars burned, several officers injured, businesses sacked and burned. Even as I write, it continues.

It occurs to me that it's so very easy for those of us who did not grow up in poverty, those of us not under constant scrutiny in the face of ongoing systemic racism, those of us who are not stopped regularly and often for "walking while black" or "loitering" when waiting at a bus stop, so easy for us to point and make snap judgements. I think doing that would be exactly the wrong response.

So last night, I was listening to a woman speak on a local channel about poverty. She related to her own experience. How she saw no hope herself because there was nothing in her experience to justify it. A community surrounded by poverty, people being incarcerated. She reflected how her mom never went to the PTA meetings. Not because she didn't love her children, but because she felt she couldn't tell them anything about education because she never had any herself. What changed for her was someone who intervened at the age of 26, and she completed her high school degree, then got college degree and her masters. In short, she had been offered opportunity. Not just basic assistance, but something greater that considered her larger situation. Most of our poverty programs don't do that of course.

Baltimore police have a long and tragic record in this neighborhood. Freddie Grey is not the only case of police overreach there by any stretch, and in local reporting, no one has to date among police offenders ever been held accountable. No, this sort of violence does not help, but hurts the cause, permitting the cops to carry out even more violence. But most of these offenders are in that crazy time between ages 15 and 18. I found myself reflecting back to my own teen years. Impulse control was not a strong suit, and looking back, it is by grace alone I did not get into some serious trouble back then. Toss in a sense that there is no hope and the system is stacked against you, and in the case of this neighborhood it really is. Factor in the commonly held judgment of people living in this area that they are somehow unworthy and guilty for their own poverty. Despite ample evidence of people who with opportunity have broken loose from those shackles imposed by their circumstance and the uncaring of a world outside of the hood.

Dr. King said that "a riot is the language of the unheard." I would add to that, unfelt. Where is the empathy that leads us to extend opportunity, to inform through love and compassion, and I might add, to openly listen to their own wisdom that comes from their experience for all of us have something to bring to the table. WE forget this is NOT a new story. Dr. King had to confront the tendency towards violence, especially among the young in his day. How tragic is it that the same young people disenfranchised back then, the same neighborhoods, are still feeling hopeless. We know it is not race and yet racism remains a constant contributor. We know there is nothing inherently wrong with people who are poor, no matter what the latest Republican talking points may be. We know that in study after study, crime occurs in various communities, but enforcement is overwhelmingly against communities of color. We know that studies show that children in pre-school and elementary school are disproportionately expelled in those same neighborhoods. I read an interesting report that came out here in Mpls recently where the majority of people arrested in drug buys in our poorest neighborhood (Northside) are from the wealthier suburbs. We know arrests for low level crimes like loitering etc happen in poor neighborhoods. We know that poverty in those neighborhoods are double the rest of the population.

So... Rioting is wrong. Police cannot stand by when it happens. But neither is this something new. We know why it happens and we understand that our willingness to continue ignoring the racism and poverty that surrounds us and is in fact growing at alarming rates will only ensure the violence continues. My dream and my prayer is a simple one. It's a dream of compassion, and a prayer for shared lives. Healing a society demands participation of all of us. We've got to learn to look into the eyes of our poor and see our own poverty within. Our systems often constrain entire groups, and we have to change those systems to work for all of us. It's not time for pointing fingers, but time for embracing each other. Imagine if we devoted anything near the energy that went to put people on the moon, or to fight in foreign wars like Iraq and instead worked to heal our neighborhoods and lift up our own people. I know this. As long as the hate and division is allowed to prevail, many good people will fall victim in the violence that ensues. It's time to remove our ostrich like heads from the sand and begin to heal ourselves, sooner rather than later.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tragedy: Suicides of Young Trans People

I read a post by Monica Roberts of a third young trans person of color, Blake Brockington, who had taken his life this year. I shared here post and in the conversation, I shared these words that came pouring out from within. After I was done, it seemed I needed to blog about it as well.

Trans acceptance is not a national trait it seems. So here's the thing. Many if not most of us know we are not comfortable as the gender we were told at a very early age. I knew at age 3 (though we had no name for it) but in most families there is no way to deal with something like that. So we learn to stuff it and ignore it, and in some cases over excel in the gender we've been told we were as we try to run from something we've been told repeatedly is terribly wrong.

What then does that mean? An early life lived dishonestly, a huge amount of confusion and often intense separation and loneliness because people instinctively know when you are not being "real."

So comes the day you come to face yourself and decide to be true to that self. People you were close to feel betrayed by what they perceive as your dishonesty. Some, myself included lose families, friends etc. I was lucky. I got to keep the job I had, though I caught no small amount of crap in the workplace. You learn early on that there are some people who fear you so much they will attack and even kill you. Institutions including certain churches, and cities, states etc create roadblocks to stand in your way. There is no lengths deep enough or depraved enough that some will not go to express their discomfort with your very existence. The streets are filled with trans kids kicked out of their homes, sometimes forced into sex work or begging just to survive. But even if you are lucky enough to get to keep a roof over your head, I cannot understate the level of pain that lies ahead.

Some seem to do okay for awhile, but may then suddenly encounter a barrage of hate they simply are not equipped to deal with. I know and have written about people who reached that place where death seemed the only true way out.

You know, I'm reminded of something that happened with me when Robin and I were getting married. Houston Hate Radio devoted two full hours to "discussing" the two of us, providing an open forum for those with hearts filled with hate to call in and trash us and our lives together. You know, I was older and better equipped to face this kind of hate. Plus wise enough to know better than to listen to the barrage of negativity over the air. There's a pain that never really goes away that people can muster so much hate for being who I am. On our wedding day we had protesters as well. How is a kid in high school or even college supposed to negotiate such an emotional mine field? Besides age, I had a community to fall back on. People who would listen and understand. That simply is not the case everywhere. Now there's social media to serve as another means to bully.

I weep for these young trans souls. I weep for the lives they will not be able to live. I also weep because I know I came perilously close at one point of being one of those statistics, and why I did not pull the trigger is still one of the great mysteries. We can't change the world, but I do think that each of us, myself leading the charge, can make ourselves an instrument of love, of compassion. If enough of us do so, just maybe we really can change the world.The constant loss of lives, whether by suicide or murder, simply must end.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Stop Killing My People!

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I'm transgender. It's a piece and parcel of who I am, along with gay, a writer, blonde hair, dog lover, all those traits that form who I am as a person. Frankly, there are not a lot of transgender people in our population. Most estimates for those who are transsexual number between .3% and .8% of the entire population. Yeah, not even a full percent. Toss in the broader terminology gender variant, that is, those who are not entirely comfortable with being either extreme in a fictional binary of male and female, and our numbers go up from 3% to 5% of the population. Hardly a threat no matter how you define it.

Yet today I read where the pope says people like me are comparable to nuclear weapons aimed that his (in his mind) natural order. Modern day Herods he calls us. Politicians wring their hands in consideration of some sort of transgender menace. Okay, I'm chuckling. I used to have a t-shirt with that on it, but anyone who knows me could hardly call me menacing. I'm more the "didn't even see you were here" sort of person.

Yet these shrill voices of hate are doing a huge harm. Here's why:

1-19-2015 "First name unknown" Edwards Indianapolis, Ky Died of gunshot wounds.
1-17-2015 Lamia Beard Norfolk, Va Died of gunshot wound
1-26-2015 Ty Underwood Tyler, Texas Shot three times in her car
1-31-2015 Yasmin Vash Payne Van Nuys, Ca Repeatedly stabbed, then burned
2-1-2015 Taja Gabriella d Jesus San Francisco, Ca Multiple stab wounds
2-10-2015 Penny Proud New Orleans, La Multiple gunshot wounds
2-14-2015 Bri Golec Akron, Ohio Stabbed by her own father
2-15-2015 Kristina Gomez Reihold Miami, Fla stabbed to death

These are the cases we know about, some only thanks to reporting from local trans communities. Eight souls snuffed out, most people of color. People who only wanted a good life, living with what nature has dealt them, and me. Eight souls and the second month of the year is not even over with yet. But get this. These are only the people we know about in the U.S. Worldwide the same is happening. Please stop the killing!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Thoughts about Loving Community

Okay, first to folks who read my blogs. Don't run away with this one! I am NOT going to evangelize or proselytize. Friday night I attended a program with Bishop Carlton Pearson, himself a figure who has been through a number of spiritual transformations in this life. I'll speak a bit about that, and my own experience as well. But the heart of my message here is about forming Loving Community. Through my experience of the evening, it touched the heart of something that's been stirring within me for a very long time.

So first, a bit about me, then I'll give some background on Rev. Pearson. I was raised a Methodist, but lived in a family where on my Mom's side there were evangelists and pastors galore in the Evangelical Pentecostal tradition of the Assemblies of God. My goodness at at the age of two my Uncle A.G. Calloway was carrying me in his arms preaching fire and salvation. The music was powerful and emotional as we surrendered our bodies to the beat of the music. Very similar to that found in the African American Pentecostal tradition. I had met Oral Roberts at the age of 5 and some years later Jimmy Swaggert before he became nationally known. I've drifted around a bit since those days. In the seventies a stint with UU. After getting sober, I became Catholic, finding the practice of confession useful for me. I also loved the Eucharist. One of those rituals that carries regardless of one's personal theology, at least for me.

Of course there was conflict with being gay and transgender so I wound up with MCC in Houston. It's a ministry that is inclusive, especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. It was my first insight into what community could be. We were a multi-racial congregation with people from all walks of life. We had different choirs finding something for many traditions while becoming one community together. I still treasure my time there. Later after coming to Minneapolis I wound up at First Universalist, a Unitarian Universalist congregation that is currently my spiritual home.

Note I have not spoken about my personal theology. Each one of us has our own system of beliefs, and one of the things I've often complained about is the tendency of groups to create dogmas to exclude others. Here I found common cause with Bishop Carlton Pearson.

His journey was equally filled with twists and turns. A part of the Evangelical circles of folks like Oral Roberts and the Bakers, he had a mega church in Tulsa. He's an amazing singer and preacher in his own right. Then in his own growing awareness, he came to realize that instead of coming together, we were finding ways to divide ourselves. It was rooted in fear of an angry God and at times an egotistical exercise in being saved while those other souls were certainly going to hell. In his talk, he spoke of religion which separates and divides us vs spirituality where we find our common humanity. He paid a huge price for coming out with his new found Universalist belief, free of hell and rooted in our common humanity. In place he found peace and contentment.

So here we were listening to his story and sharing song. It felt really good to me. I found immediate kinship to the music so close to that of my own childhood experience, and considerable delight that I knew the songs. We talked about spiritual search in thinking and spiritual search in feeling, an how they both had a place. Here we were in this sanctuary, singing praise and waving our arms and moving to the sound and thinking deeply, and people from different traditions laughing at ourselves, even as in this moment, we were one. He spoke of the experience back at the Tulsa UU group. A regular UU service (think NPR), a service with elements of the music and tradition more common in the tradition from which he came, and a third service for those humanists that would rather not hear any God talk at all. More important, how they went to different services, and how all of these disparate souls, gay and straight, all races, all traditions, coming together in common community. Looking around, I saw a microcosm of this in the sanctuary Friday night.

We've spent all our efforts for so many years to create separations that divide us from each other. But oh how beautiful it was to see us all under the same roof, united in our common humanity. I did not necessarily agree with all that Bishop Pearson said. I know very few people who have ever believed exactly as I do. But I felt our common humanity, a vision of what is possible in this world. Our difference, our diversity to me was a beautiful thing. For me, with my varied upbringing, I also found some of my own roots, and that was an added plus. I really do believe Beloved Community can be formed. It's a goal worth pursuing. For me, the evening was a special one. Special enough to share here.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Please Stop Taking Transgender Lives!

Today is February 6th, 2015. Not really different from this past year, or the year before ad nauseum. The ticking of the clock brings with us once again the growing number of transgender people having their lives snuffed out because of hate and fear. I will never really understand that level of hate or fear, but I've known first hand its reality. Here's where we are so far this year,watching with anger and frustration as our body count grows.

January 9th. "Goddess" Edwards. The name Goddess assigned since we have not learned her femme name to date. Indianapolis, Kentucky, She died from a gunshot wound.

January 17th. Lamie Beard. Norfolk, Virginia Shot to death. Media added insult to injury by mislabeling her gender in their coverage.

January 26th. Ty Underwood. Tyler, Texas, the town where I grew up. Died from three gunshots as she entered her car. Friends are certain it was due to hate.

January 31st. Yasmin Vash Payne. Van Nuys, California. Stabbed then burned.

February 1st. Taja Gabrielle De Jesus, San Francisco, California. Multiple stab wounds.

This story of hate and murder goes on unchecked year after year. Police often criminalize the victim in early pronouncements. Dehumanized before AND after death. It bears noting that of the people listed here, all five are to my knowledge people of color. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), 72% of all people killed in LGBTQ or HIV hate violence are Trans Women and 67% are Trans Women of Color.

Make no mistake about it. I take this extremely seriously. Two decades ago, a younger Jessica found herself while taking a walk, surrounded by a group of guys fully intent on making me a statistic. I managed to make a break and ran faster than I've ever run before the block and a half to the police substation on lower Westheimer in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston. Of course they were not apprehended. I remember with such clarity the fear in that moment. There but for grace I could have become one more statistic, one more trans life extinguished.

Here we are at an intersection of movements. Black Lives Matter. So do Transgender Lives. The majority of those lives lost are black and brown lives. I'm so grateful that Black Lives Matter In their public pronouncements include trans lives. We've reached a point where this constant assault on our lives, and the added insults to our memories when we are gone, SIMPLY MUST END!

Let me say this with clarity. I'm no damned target for your hate! I'm not the insult at your parlor parties. Yes, we even are at risk for fighting back. Look only to Cici McDonald here in Minneapolis who went to prison after she was attacked first by a woman white supremacist, then later her swastika bearing boyfriend. A bottle smashed in her face, then the boyfriend enters the fray. In the struggle, she stabbed the attacker (the guy) and Cici goes to prison. Self defense according to the law is not an option they are telling us.

We as a nation has a long history of oppression. The numbers of those oppressed are rising, and the numbers of the oppressors are decreasing. There is coming a historical "come to Jesus" moment. Either we deal peacefully to end these oppressive systems and bring true justice for us all, or we will rise up and overturn this system for one that does work. Take a glance out on the streets now. We see Black, Brown, and White, Trans, Gay, Bi, Straight and Queer folks marching arm in arm. Businesses are shut down, freeways closed, shopping hindered. Black Lives Matter and Trans Lives Matter, righteous anger is welling up, presently in peaceful non-violent but effective measures to send a message. Listen to that message carefully. Ignoring it will have a terrible price.

Beautiful people are dying. It is not acceptable and it must end. Hate must not win this time.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Owning My Heritage: Sins of the Father Part 2

In the last post, I spoke on my Mother's side of the family mostly, dating back to the 1600's and particularly the family in the following centuries. We were by no means innocent bystanders in those years where racism found the early beginnings to where we are today. For cheap labor and as a means to separate poor white and black people from each other, the stain of racism has been remarkably effective, then and now.

So let me turn to my father's side of the family. We know we were in Virginia before, but the earliest we can prove so far is James A Wicks (Weeks). He moved from Virginia with his wife to northern Alabama, then across the border into Fayetteville, Tennessee where he became a farmer, and we know he owned people as well. The old property is marked today by the Wicks Cemetery Road. He was well known apparently and in Alabama he had been a church leader we know. Then as now, we know that people and religion too often twist the bad and call it good. It's in my heart what I feel was happening here. Here's what I found in the Fayetteville Observer dated June 6, 1861, just two days before Tennessee would vote to secede from the union:

Just below that was this in the same paper:

I could not help but gasp at the audacity of that second part. They call on the people of Tennessee to choose freedom over slavery! Seriously? Freedom to you is fighting to protect your right to own human beings? What sort of moral, or perhaps immoral leap of faith can enable someone to speak these words and actually believe them? Aren't they the same sort of beliefs that allow white people today to say this was all in the past and we hold no special privilege as white people despite abundant evidence to the contrary? How are we less guilty today for our obstinate insistence upon living a lie as we were then?

In the same paper, my ancestor, James A. Wicks was named one of the representatives for the House Guards of Minute Men, appointed to help in common defense against the Yankees. Ready to stand strong in defense of his freedom to own human beings. Over time the family would spread, and my grandfather and grandmother lived in North East Texas. I remember Grandpa telling stories of the Night Riders. Not only black people were afraid of them. If they caught you out after dark and one of the members had a beef with you, you could easily disappear and never be heard from again. Still, there was clear privilege in being white. There's a story I like to tell that brings home that point.

My grandfather lost out on any inheritance, and was relegated to working as a sharecropper. White and black, they worked along side with long hours, back breaking work picking cotton, and always in debt to the boss man. One day the boss arbitrarily wanted the shack they were staying in so he could tear it down and grow on that land. So grandpa had to go look for other arrangements. Well about a week later, a wrecking crew shows up. They were supposed to have two weeks to get out, but they changed their mind. My Grandma, bless her soul, went into the house and came out with a shotgun in hand. She quietly aimed it at the crew chief and said they'd be out in another week, but if he made another move, he was a dead man. They left. So where's the privilege. They would be the first to tell you that if a black man or woman had done that, the night riders would show up soon after and the entire family would disappear. That was their reality.

My parents were a bit more progressive. Still they didn't really get the whole civil rights thing, and my Daddy talked about being a sharecropper and working as hard as they did, and after all, didn't he pull himself up by the bootstrap and become a civil engineer. Don't get me wrong. What he did was good. But in the real world, he had opportunities that others did not. I remember from my own childhood growing up in the Jim Crow East Texas, the poor shape of the schools, the lack of funding or support we took for granted. I remember sundown towns where a black person needed to be out of town by sunset. Or the separate entrances into one movie theater where black people could attend though separated from the rest of us. I have to look inside my own self. Why did it take me so long to see something was terribly wrong?

I do not think mine is a solitary journey. I am telling my own story of race, but there are others. Let the healing begin.

Owning My Heritage: Sins of the Fathers

Today we find ourselves in the midst of a new Civil Rights movement. My prayer is that we will at long last come to grips with our nation's disgraceful history around race, from Slavery to Jim Crow to Mass Incarceration. It also is abundantly clear that Four Hundred years of indoctrination stands as a massive barrier to moving forward. I think it is crucial that we people, especially we white people, face that history head on and own our past and our role in perpetuating that past. Only then can we really move forward to work towards healing. We too often are blind to our privilege and blind to the serious harm we are doing to so many others in our refusal to face this past. Here then is the first of several blog entries where I will face some of my own history.

Not all my family has been documented that well in early America, but one line has. My family on my mom's side has been faithfully documented ever since the Dedman's (Debnam's, Dudman's) arrived in Virginia as early as 1631. We see the first indications of owning slaves in the 1700's. In the will of Phillip Dedman Jr, we read in part from The Dedman Geneaology and Allied Families, Wanda Colvin, 1983:

"I give to my son Philip Dedman my Negroes, Will, Tom, and Mole, upon express condition the he suffer my wife to hold and enjoy the use of Tom during her natural life...and upon condition Mole be allowed to go and work upon my land"...(all to last until she passes.) He goes on to give to his son Samuel land purchased in Mecklenburg "my negroes named Diego, Jenny, Nanny, and Paul upon express condition that he suffer my wife to hold and enjoy the use of Nanny during her natural life." Then he proceeds to give his daughter Mary Dunn "one negro woman named Frank and two negro girls named Kabe and Edy, and Harry, a negro boy, upon express condition that my wife shall have the use of Kabe during her natural life." Daughter Susan also gets a girl named Phillis, Sarah and her child Mary, and Grace and her child Lawney.

So that's 16 human lives being passed off as property. What relationships were broken in this parceling out of human lives? Were they beaten? Are there some who never show up because they perished before the writing and probate of the will? We don't know those stories, but we know all of those things were possible. What follows in this genealogy is page after page of future generations, parceling out people like land. Later however they did not even bother itemizing the names of these souls, instead stating only "certain negroes."

So on it went. Many fought in the Civil War, defending a system of human enslavement. I found similar stories on my Father's side, though so far not so well documented. My family on Mom's side made lots of money in the lumber business, much on the backs of the hard labor of poor black and white men. I'll talk a bit more about my dad's side of the family in another post. I visited and even worked for a time in one of their sawmills. I heard the N word tossed about with such contempt.

I relate all of this, not out of any pride. No pride to be found there. Many of these people no doubt possessed good qualities. Very few are all good or all bad. But they by their action and I might by inaction as well, supported a system of inequality. They benefitted from it. Some were very well to do thanks to this system of inequality. It's hard truth by which each life must be judged.

So why drag out the dirty laundry? I think people like me have been conditioned to gloss over or relegate to the past a reality which still lives on. Look around all those who would see. Unequal education, policing and justice systems that preserve the advantages of whiteness. We cannot move forward until we own our participation in this injustice. We cannot continue to pretend the history most of us got in school is anywhere close to the truth. The truth will set you free. Only however if you face it. Our problem is NOT a black problem. It's not hoodies or naturals or any of that. Our problem is white people, and we as white people have to step forward and act. In the AIDS years of the early eighties, there was a saying. "Silence = Death." it's true here too. It's not South or North. It's right vs wrong. It's a white people thing. I've no power over what my ancestors did. I do however bear a responsibility, to make amends for the wrongs they did, but also for my own behavior as a human being in a society still structured around racist notions of inequality. Or as my church social justice arm says it, standing on the side of love. If we own it, perhaps eventually we can fix it.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Justice and Faith

Where Black Lives Matter and Faith Intersect: Some Thoughts

Tonight we met at church. Many who marched in St Paul on Reclaim MLK day. Others who were present at the Mall of America protest. Others committed to justice who for one reason or another could not attend. White voices and black voices joined in church community

We spoke honestly of where we individually are in the movement. We were asked to reflect on the role of faith community in all of this. So I had to ask myself, what exactly is the role of a faith community? Understand when I speak of faith, it does not require a particular belief, or even a Deity in the traditional sense although that may be a person’s experience. For me, the ideal of a faith community is one brought together by similar values centered in love and committed to community.

I love history. It’s a wonderful source for me to understand today by looking how people have handled it before me. This week we learned of the lifting of the convictions of the Friendship 9 in North Carolina. People so committed to liberty, they approached those lunch counters and were arrested and refused to bail out, working on the chain gang instead, giving witness to injustice and offering solutions rooted in non-violence and love. During the fifties and early sixties, people stepped forward, bravely standing non-violently in the face of dog attacks, water hoses, cattle prods, and active violence. Courageous white people came forward, like our James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, offering their very lives as the price for justice. Think about it. Voices in all communities saying they were wrong, this was not the way to bring about change. But still there they were, in individual and organized acts of audacious faith.

What resonates for me also in those stories was the amazing role played by faith communities during that time. Facing fear is never easy, but much better faced in community together than alone. How in those days, the Black Churches especially, but some of our own Unitarian Universalist churches provided support, strength and succor in very difficult times. How our own John Cummins answered the call following the death of James Reeb to march along side so many others in Selma. Black and brown and white bodies, strengthened in their own faith and communities who supported them even as so many others hurled insults, rocks, spit, and hate their way.

So what is faith? It is not having all the answers? After all, the forces for the status quo will always provide all the doubts one could ask for to remain motionless and non-threatening. No, I think faith is a conviction for justice stepping out into the unknowing uncertainty AND fear, rooted in the principles of compassion shared by virtually every religious body and ethical society. Not knowing what will happen, but firmly rooted in what is right and just. Those people that came before us in Little Rock or North Carolina or Mississippi could not know what the outcome would be. Theirs was an act of love, faith, and hope rooted in compassion. The roots spring from the very best of what we can be as people. Singing the lyrics of We Shall Overcome, each step moving us forward in the void of not knowing.

As we sat together tonight, sharing our own strength and our own fears, I thought how empowering it was to have a community to share with such intimacy. Where we could air our own fears, doubts, along with our hopes. It occurred to me that when we speak of faith, a corollary of that faith is hope. Faith and hope firmly rooted in love. My mind went back to my childhood in East Texas. I would hear the older black men and women speak the most wonderful juxtaposition of words. If one were to say to the other “I’ll help you with that,” the words spoken would be “I’ll HOPE you with that.” To my ear, I heard the prayerful hope as implicit in their help with each other. It resonated within my soul. To me, it strikes at the heart of what faith and justice is all about. Yes, I have fear, and I have trepidation. I’ve also a community that will HOPE me with that as I step forward in faith trying to do the right thing.. Perhaps today through our actions, just as then, we shall overcome. But only if I HOPE it be so.