Wednesday, March 7, 2012

March 7, 2012 - Why I'm Leaving St. John's Pride Inc.

So it seems on a somewhat regular basis, word gets passed on through the grapevine gossip line that folks are saying things like "Jennifer McCreath stole Pride"  and "Jennifer McCreath ruined Pride" and "Jennifer McCreath divided the LGBT community."  Well, i think folks, we need to put a little context into this.......

population of City of St John's and vicinity: 200000
LGBT people among that population: 20000
# of people who attended Pride parade 2010: 300
# of people who attended Pride flag raising 2010: 75
average attendance at 2010 pride planning meetings: 10
# of visibily out transsexual women in the city: 1

Ok folks, if i really did steal or ruin or divide the community, i'd like to see some sort of tangible demonstration to indicate what it is that i actually stole, ruined or divided.  These numbers clearly demonstrate that the LGBT community is mostly in the closet and completely hidden and that the majority of the city population at large had ignored or felt indifferent towards Pride.

Yes, it's public knowledge that on Sept 14, 2010, I and two other people filed paper work to incorporate St. John's Pride Inc.  And yes, by doing so, we technically grappled away control of a pride entity that had formerly been under the loose custody and control of 5 self-appointed individuals who seemed to have a strong sense of entitlement. While my group of 3 may not have ever had a public vote of confidence, neither did anyone else!

What my group would eventually do over the course of the next 18 months, is create an organization. An organization that has framework, structure, policies, and procedures.  An organization that has the legal responsibility to abide by the laws put in place by the governance structure of the land that we call the democratic process of Provincial Politics. We also put in place, corporate by-laws that would contractually obligate Board members to act in the best interest of an organization whose core mandate was to  provide transparent, accountible, and accessible access to products and services for the local LGBT community.

In 2011, we produced a Pride Week that would see a drastic increase in numbers, both in terms of Pride week attendees, and in local community sponsorship. Twice as many people attended the Flag Raising and Parade events, we got four times as much media engagement leading up to and during Pride Week. We secured financial and other resources from Municipal and Provincial Governments that had never been available before. We developed new partnerships with companies that carry strong international brand names, such as American Apparel and Good Life Fitness.  In the process, we created an organizational brand that brought many new folks to the table, including some key identified stakeholders who had felt alienated by the previous pride administration.

Unfortunately, the biggest mistake this organization made, was to have a transssexual woman activist, who also happens to be a non-native-Newfoundlander, who is not gay or lesbian, who does not support the Newfoundland seal hunt, who believes abortion is murder; acting as the face of the organization.

While these traits had no influence on this person's ability to develop corporate policies, to undertake research and analysis, to undertake legislative compliance, to undertake stakeholder engagement, to undertake marketing and advertising work, to act as the primary executive producer of an arts and entertainment variety show, two flag-raising media engagement exercises, and an educational panel discussion, and develop a new strong partnership with the Provincial Government's Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation; unfortunately, these traits negatively impacted this person's ability to gain respect and credibility for her work and the organization she represented.

I can only wonder if someone else had produced this work with these results, if they would be met with the same amount of hostility and negativity that i have? While I generally understand and agree that perception often equals reality, i honestly think that i have been very misunderstood. I also think that the grapevine gossip line has made me a much greater enemy than i really am.

It's sad and it's not fair, but it is a reality i can't change. Heck, i'm so bad, apparently, that it is apparently ok for someone who is perceived to be a leader in the local gay community to make public personal attacks against me and the trans community. This person was part of the former team of 5 who felt entitled to control Pride. This person hit me with several verbal low blows - including making a mockery of my status as a transsexual who does not have human rights, and as a transsexual who is inappropriately labeled mentally ill in the medical world. Heck, this person is currently employed as a social worker and apparently wants to mentor LGBT youth. Now THAT is very scary!

While folks local to St. John's may not be familiar with this, the relationship between the transwomen communities and the gay/lesbian communities, all over the world, is a very turbulant one.

There are many folks out there who seem to be under the impression that the transwomen community could be best served by accepting this umbrella label known as the LGBT community. It is assumed that LGB advocates are very suited to lead and manage the push for Trans rights. Well, quite frankly, we are talking about two very different communities who have very different issues and priorities.

First of all, the gay community has already fought some battles and have been successful, so they have moved onto other new priorities.  They fought to have Sexual Orientation added to the Human Rights Codes accross Canada, and they were successful.  They fought to have homosexuality removed from the DSM as a recognized medical mental illness. They fought for the right to have same-sex marriage.

Well, transsexuals are still looking to have gender identity added to human rights codes, and we are still stuck with the mental-illness label, even though it appears quite clear that this is a physiological issue that can only be rectified via physical intervention such as hormone replacement and surgical procedures.

Furthermore, they have never had to fight for the right to use public washrooms. They have never had to fight to be allowed on airplanes.  They have never had to fight a government that insisted on assigning them a gender based on their sex. they have never had to face a situation where staying in the closet was not an option. They have never had to risk public embarassment or humiliation by simply showing someone their ID.

Furthermore, they have never had to fight a health care system that would not recognize there needs. Never had to pay their own health care bills, never had to travel internationally to find doctors willing to provide those services.

Another major problem seems to be the advent of the "transgender umbrella". This is a ficticious community that attempts to hide transsexuality behind a cloud of gender expression by non-transsexuals.  Drag Queens are men who dress up as women to entertain others. Cross dressers are people who like to wear clothing of the opposite gender for various reasons. Transvestites are folks who get sexually arroused by wearing clothing of the opposite gender. Transgender people are those who want to adopt the gender role of the opposite sex yet do not request or require sex reassignment surgery.   I'm all for diversity and all for each and everybody in these community's rights to live a happy and discrimination-free life..... however, these are not transsexuals. Anyone who claims they are transsexuals are doing a disservice to those who need timely and affordable access to sex reassignment surgery.

Seems many organizations who were initially created with gay/lesbian agendas have attempted to adopt the perception that they now speak for and work for the Bs and the Ts.  Well, having observed their actions, I took exception to this, and i called them out publicly.  Nothing against Egale and Pflag's gay/lesbian work, but it is my opinion that these organizations hold no legal or moral right to claim that they hold exclusive rights to oversee transsexual work.

While it would be nice for organizations like these to pay equal attention to trans issues, fact of the matter, is that they don't.  Seems gay blood donation and providing social support for gay youth (via creation of gay/straight alliance groups in high schools), seems to be what Egale is primarily focused on these days. Based on what i have observed locally, Pflag has merged with a youth group who operates under the umbrella of an organization whose primary mandate is to provide birth control and abortions.

Sorry folks, but when i am sitting here with $75000 in medical needs, and nobody to provide them for me, donating blood is not high on my list of concerns. When i find myself unable to have fair access to housing and employment, blood donation is not a priority. and when i and most transwomen find themselves coming out as trans and going through the transition process at an average age range of 30-45, high school social support organizations really can't and don't offer much to us. Likewise, if you can't find housing, employment, or health care, what good is a marriage license going to do for you?  Heck, what good will any romantic situation do if you do not have the correct genitals needed in order to engage is sexual activity?  that's an issue many transsexuals face.

Ok, i get that issues like the seal hunt and abortion are ones that we can all get passionate about, but if your an organization whose primary mandate is to take on one side of these issues or another, then you can hardly be a neutral and welcoming LGBT service provider to everyone.

So, by the very nature that i point all these issues out, gets me all sorts of negative labels. How dare Jennifer question highly respected gay/lesbian organizations? Well, how would you all like it if i created the Canadian Trans Alliance Association, had a membership made up of mostly transwomen, and undertook work that was mostly specific to transwomen, yet proclaimed myself and my organization as "Canada's LGBT Human Rights organization" or "Canada's only organization that helps all Canadians who are struggling with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity."  Sorry Egale and Sorry Pflag, but i find your statements to be quite misleading, and not to mention, very arrogant.  You have not been there for the transsexual community nearly as much as you think you have, and that's why national trans-specific organizations, run by and for transpeople, are starting to pop up.

It saddens me that the gay/lesbian community can't look beyond their own blinders and recognize that the trans community needs to lead its own issues. If you'd like to support us, that is great, but you can't lead us. Sorry, but a teenage gay youth social support group is not going to solve the problems of the average 40 year old transwoman.

I look all over the world at Pride organizations, and see a sad reflection of this. even close to home in places like Halifax and Toronto, trans communities have felt isolated and excluded by the gay and lesbian Pride movements so much, that they are creating their own Trans Pride marches and trans pride events.  I see Pride organizations who have no transsexuals among their leadership. I see Pride Weeks whose idea of a trans event is to have Drag Queens.

According to statistics, a city the size of St. John's should have about 150 transsexual women. Well, other than a one week visit last summer from my friend Josie from New Brunswick, who came all the way here to be a part of a trans-inclusive Pride week that i had coordinated, I have never seen any transwomen step out publicly into the LGBT community to take part in endeavours such as Pride Week. So where were the other 149? Did they already know something that I had yet to find out? Perhaps so.  Now, i do know some of them. Over the course of my near 5 years in this city, i have heard privately from at least 6 transwomen. I have even met some of them. However, they are totally closeted.

They are pre-everything - meaning they have yet to start their transition journey. Quite frankly, they tell me they are too afraid to start it. They watched me transition here and watched me suffer so much. They saw me lose a great job, and see me still struggle to regain employment of that nature. They've watched me travel all over the continent, spending my own money, on health care. They have watched on as i fight so hard for trans rights, while facing mostly indifference and hatred from many of the prominent gay/lesbian leaders of this town. 

So where do i go and what do i do? Well, as much as i would like to spend time building better rapport and helping build stronger services for gay/lesbians in this town, i have my own issues to deal with.  I am not going to spend time and energy in the fight to donate blood. I am not going to fight for the rights of gay people in Uganda. I am not going to help organize drag queen events. I am not going to volunteer to make abortion more accessible for those who want it.  And quite frankly, i am not going to invest any more time into building this Pride. These are all worthy causes, but i trust that there are others here who will take all of these things on.

As a transsexual and a transsexual rights activist, i will focus on the issues that most-effect our community.  the trans community needs me more than ever, and I need a trans community to be there for me, more than ever.

When a federal government lawyer recently questioned the validity of same sex marriage performed in Canada on foreign visitors, there was a massive outcry. But days later when I of all people, brought to light a fairly new government policy that bans gender-varient people from flying on airplanes, hardly a peep out of anyone, other than transsexuals.

While I worry greatly that by leaving Pride, I leave it outsided the hands of people who understand the trans community, I leave at least knowing that I have left it in good shape and in at least some good hands.  My fellow business partners are very hard-working and very open-minded. I hope none of you reading this will ever judge any of them negatively, because they chose to work with me.

I certainly hope that this new era of Pride will create a Pride Week that is inviting towards transsexuals.  If you do manage to do this, you can definitely count on my attendance.  On the other hand, if it does not, then i will simply take my attention elsewhere.

While some say transsexual should be collaborating with gays and lesbians, some feel we shoul allign ourselves with other communities who are fighting the same issues - such as fight for human rights, health care, and elimination of a false mental illness label.  A perfect example of some of the partnerships I am working on has been collaborations with native Canadians and a collaboration with another minority group who is unable to secure government funding for a medically-necessary medical procedure.

I recognize that my people skills aren't the greatest. and folks, you'll have to give me some space and patience with this. transsexuals undergo a very challenging and unique social transition, just as they are going through a very challenging physical transition. Hormone replacement therapy really screws with your emotions. and going from presenting oneself as a man, to presenting oneself as a woman who used to be a man, and as a woman who is trying to gain medical access to feminization, is not easy. This world has much to learn about transsexualism. heck, even some of my closest friends and family members have turned their back on me because they don't understand what this is all about.

Learning to communicate as a woman, who is pretty much this city's only transsexual woman, has not been easy for me. if you think adjusting to my transition is hard, guess how hard it has been for me?

Anyway, whether you are among the 600 active members of the local LGBT community, or the 19400 closeted, i am one of these people who don't feel welcomed.  I am removing myself from Pride partly because i think it needs a break from me, but mostly because i need a break from it.

There is a national transsexual women community who is very much in need of my support and my advocacy, and this is where i plan to devote the majority of my free time, in the near future.

Ironically enough, while there are very few folks out there who have vocally expressed support and recognition that my contributions to St. John's Pride have been valuable, there are folks in other cities who are managing or leading Pride entities who do. I have been engaged by several other Prides who have asked me to provide advice and guidance.  Rather than stay somewhere i am not wanted, i am going to help out those Pride's who do want what I have to offer.

Anyway, they say that if you love something, set it free, and well, St. John's Pride Inc - you are free! I hope you will come back to me with open arms some day. But until then, good bye and good luck!



Myriam said...

It's a sad Day for Pride. Shame on you NFLD LBG's.

Anjasa said...

This makes me very sad.

I was at Pride 2010. I was too frightened to speak to anyone, but your speech was particularily motivating. I was very moved.

Truthfully, I support LGBT groups, though I'm one of those bi-in-hetero-relationships so I've always felt a little out of place.

I support you in your very real struggles, and I really hope you can find some community and support. All the best, Jennifer.

RKade8583 said...

I'm RKade and as you can see, I feel your pain in my own way. Please read past my insensitive beginning posts as I was ignorant at the time and, as you'll see, I grew in spite of some people who were supposed to be on the side of TGs.

Keep fighting. Never give up. I know it's hard but seriously, fuck those assholes. Kassandra was ridiculed and all of her predictions came true, didn't they?

Thank you for showing me this page, Anjasa. It's good to feel like you're not alone.

Oli said...

Im new in St. John`s and already I have notice that there is no gay bar at all, we have George street but no gay bar, its aberrant. Anyways after talking to many people and noticing how people approaches homosexuality I came to think that many of the LBGT have simply left NL for a better world, Vancouver or Toronto perhaps. The one that lives here, many of them live in the closet, and it seems that some of the values here are very very muck backward and unevolve so it is very difficult for me just to tell people that am vegan... what is vegan? You dont eat any meat, well you eat fish right? No and I find brutal hearing people talking about how good was their seal, for god sake this is just monstrous, how can people that are know by most on the mainland as friendly be living in such an environment? All I can say is that from what you say Jennifer, you did the right things, sometime it may take very long for people to accept to change their values and here well we need people like you to show that the NL way of life isnt fully correct because it rejects part of the society instead of embracing it, friendly people accept anyone whoever they are and I would suggest would have at least a bit of compassion regarding animals welfare. I think in order to see changes in NL more people has to get here and be themselves, speak the truth like Jennifer and shift the values table to a higher set one. Yes some of us are being thrown rock at and it hurts, but they must be a beginning and some may have to fall for the rest to strives being themselves.