"My Story Is Really Not Mine": an interview with Latina trans activist Ruby Bracamonte.
Bracamonte paid a lawyer to help her apply for refugee status after she arrived in 1986. A few years later, she realized she did not have legal status and was told the government never received an application for her. She received temporary immigration status, and, after the 1991 settlement of the American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh lawsuit, she obtained a green card and was granted permanent resident status under the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central Relief Act of 1997. (1)
In the Washington area, Bracamonte worked a number of low-wage jobs and focused on learning English At the time, she thought of herself as a feminine gay boy and went on dates with gay men. After meeting a transgender woman, she started to realize that she wanted to be "something more" than a feminine gay boy. She started to cross-dress and perform in drag shows, winning the Miss El Salvador pageant in 1999. Then she became known as Ruby and "just didn't go back" to being a man.
Bracamonte has been involved with local support groups for Latina/o transwomen and say men as well as the national Latina Transgender Leadership Summit. She has advocated with the Metropolitan Police Department and other Washington, D. C, agencies for better treatment of trans people. In 2003, she gained national attention speaking out against violence after the murder of her friend, Bella Evangelista. She helped build Washington's Latin@s en Accion into an established nonprofit community organization and participated in the creation of Unid@s, a national Latina/o LGBT organization. With all of her public speaking and organizing, however, the activism that means the most to Bracamonte is the personal support she provides to those who are "really marginalized" even within the trans community, those who are homeless, sex workers, addicts, or HIV positive, those she calls her "daughters." I interviewed Ruby Bracamonte in Washington, D.C., in three sessions, on October 6, 18, and 25, 2004, as part of a larger project collecting oral histories of activists who work at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, and nation.
RUBY BRACAMONTE: I was born in 1970 in a suburb of San Salvador in El Salvador. Went to school there, finished high school. I had some uncles who were politicians, and there was an incident where they kidnapped some of the members of the family, including me. After that, my family decided that it wasn't safe for us to be there. I was sixteen.
SHARON DOETSCH-KIDDER: What do you remember about the kidnapping?
R.B.: I had two uncles that were politicians, and they had some influence in the political arena. Somehow [the guerrillas] looked to me and another cousin of mine to have us go back and forth and give information. Then they kidnapped us and, unfortunately, I got the short end of the stick. I was raped by like seventeen people in that particular group. Eventually I had to admit that I wanted to be part of that group, so then, I was released, because according to them I was a member of that group. But I wasn't; I just wanted to be free. Then we left. It all happened just in about a week. I don't talk too much about it. That part is tough.
S.D.: What was your life like before that?
R.B.: It was very good. I had a good family. I had just finished high school. I was very bright. My family was very loving. My dad and my morn raised me to be independent, to do the things that i wanted to do. I remember being a leader. Then all of a sudden I was stripped of a normal life. I think the hardest part that even up to this day I haven't really rationalized is the incident of why some people raped me. I kind of blocked it. Prior to that, my life was good.
My parents paid to get me out of the country. I got a visa to Mexico. I didn't understand at that time. It was sort of a trip to Mexico. From Mexico, they cross you in a van. The next thing you know is you're in LA. My family's friend picked me up [in L.A.] and then brought me here [to Washington, D.C.]. I was a guest in their house. But that was only for about two days, and then reality started sinking in. I had to work and get a job. Here I am, sixteen, and not having worked. I spoke English; I had gone to an international school in El Salvador. But it was kind of fuzzy because people would talk, and I wouldn't understand a word. But it helped. That I could go to Safeway [grocery store] and understand what I was looking at.
Within two weeks, I was working for a cleaning company. I started working cleaning buildings, and eventually I moved up to a better job where I was working in one particular building. And then I was a dishwasher in a hotel, and then I became a bus boy, and then I became a waiter. I just kept moving up in those jobs. At some point I had four jobs. Here I am sixteen, I don't have my family, technically alone. It was very difficult, but I realize that it was sort of like a price, because had I been in El Salvador, I might have been dead. It was like, this is just a phase. Things will get better, and eventually things were getting better.
I was pretty much settled and then I had other things in mind ... to work, to better myself, to go to school, to learn. I got some education. My goal was to learn English, to be able to speak it and understand it. That was my focus for like three years. I focused on my jobs. I remember when I got my first office job in the building where I used to clean. People would come in and ask me for information. Eventually I was helping so many people, the manager said, "Do you want to work in the office?" It was a huge promotion. That was a big moment for me.
Eventually, my mom and my sister came, because the situation in E1 Salvador was not good. It was very painful. My room did get a visa, and my sister, too. Five or six years later they were able to come, and I helped them. It was a good moment in my life [when] I was reunited with my family. I had already pretty much settled. I was very young, but I had a good job and spoke the language and was involving myself in community work.
After my mom came here, there came another period, which was understanding about what was happening to me. I knew that I felt a little different. There was a period where I had to come to terms with my feelings. Pretty much I needed to call myself gay first. I started meeting [transgender] people in the local community. It helped me understand that l wasn't alone, that it was something that other people went through also. And it was pretty normal to the neighborhood or the friends that I felt more comfortable with.
I was one of the very few, in this area, Latina transgenders who sought help. (2) I knew there were terminologies; there were things that I needed to understand better. I went to support groups, but they were for gay men, and it was different, because I couldn't talk about things that I felt. Then I went to other groups that discussed transgenders, but they were in English. I couldn't relate to some of the things that people were going through.
It was around that time that I started talking to some of my friends, and we suggested having a meeting for Hispanics, and we started at La Clinica del Pueblo. (3) It was unofficial. We would meet there and just socialize pretty much. I was getting a lot of information, and I knew something was different and understanding that I was something a little more complicated than being gay. I started being a little bit more open. I started knowing people that were transgender, and I started adapting my personality and what I had inside and trying to know more about women and relate their lives to what was happening to me.
There was this African American transgender person, Ms. Willy. (4) We became very good friends. That was the first person I saw that had already gone through a transition. She had already had breast augmentation and was living as transgender. To me it was very cool, because I understood that that was sort of me, but I had not made any changes. But I started seeing how society was reacting to that particular change. I wanted to change my body, but I was seeing how family and society treated my friends, and it kept me from making the decision to seek my own changes. I did that for about five years.
Now I realize that these were the people that sort of taught me. I learned that it wasn't going to be easy. I learned that there were some obstacles. But it didn't matter. Eventually I made my decision; I was very clear. I was able to separate that these people were happy. (5) [Back then] I was young, and I was in a new country, and I was becoming a person who is getting jobs, and the decision was, do I want to get a job; or do I want to go and transition? Because of the background with my family, I had to choose to get a job and better myself as a person and later on make my own decision.
S.D.: Can you talk a little bit about the importance, back at the beginning, of having a place for Latina transgenders?
R.B.: I think that it was a natural process. There was a huge need. A lot of us were immigrants from Central America, Mexico, and a lot of us were new in this country. We were teenagers, and we needed a space. Before Escandalo we had this other place called El Faro in Adams Morgan, and that was the first place that we had for meetings, and we had our shows there. (6) But it was a little place, and it was in a neighborhood that was mainly heterosexual, and we quickly moved to a more friendly neighborhood, which was Dupont Circle, and Escandalo opened. Then we really supported that whole space. People would come there Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and there was always something going on there. We focused really big on the pageants because during the day we had opportunities to rehearse. At first we didn't see it as we need psychological support. We simply needed to be together. We couldn't be with our families, or we could be, but we couldn't be ourselves, and there was this huge need to have our own little family. And that is how it started in 1991, 1992, 1993, that we started all of us coming together. Then of course, we were so good, I guess, that we kept bringing more people.
Every month it would be Miss E1 Salvador, or Miss Washington, D.C., Miss Virginia, and we always tried to have something to keep the moment going because we felt good. Even though it was only underground, it was something that we were together, and then everybody went on to do their little thing during the daytime. That took place for a little while. The group of us had a lot of needs of belonging, and we needed to have something. Then we realized we can't be dealing with identity issues and sexual orientation issues in a bar. People were getting into drugs and alcohol. And that included myself. We had much bigger issues. That is when we started the group. Okay, we already accepted ourselves and we enjoyed it, we partied, so now what do we do? Because you get tired of living underground for so long. When we started coming to the meetings, they were good. The Acuarela [support group] meetings were good because we were dealing with issues of homophobia. At the time we were thinking that, if there is a gay movement, we're really supergay. We identify as gay, but there were differences. Why are we all dressed up? Why are we feeling so happy? Then we started learning terms, and in Mariposas [another support group], we really dealt for the first time with transgender. It sort of freaked a lot of us out, and we were trying to learn. (7)
At this point, we're meeting in support groups, and we're talking about how we feel, and we're learning terms, and we were learning the basics. We also learned that we could change our bodies. This was kind of like a process of [finding] there is hope. We can live normally. We did enhancements to our bodies, and then we got to the point where we were looking really funny during the day. We went from a mental process, then we wanted to change our bodies. Then we demanded respect. We were happy; we were already on our way to becoming what we wanted. It had taken us all this time. We realized that it was a clash of cultures, and people were not ready. Some of us said, "No, there is no way that we are going to take more abuse." We started speaking more on the daily life, the discrimination and violence. We wanted to be ourselves, and then there was the need to speak and to advocate for our own issues, and during 2000-2001, we started that. It's taken us just about the longest, because we are in a process that is much bigger. Accepting ourselves or finding ourselves first took a lot of years. And the process of having people accept us after we're so sure and happy with ourselves, that's another process, and that's where we are.
There were people in the community who really opened their doors to us. This was a time when a lot of us were dealing with HIV and infection and taking care of health. [Andromeda Transcultural Health and La Clinica del Pueblo] were some of the few places that open the doors to really marginalized communities: people who didn't have insurance, people who were sick and didn't have money to pay for a doctor. (8) That's where it all started. I think that we came there not because they wanted to educate us about transgender issues. They wanted to heal us in a way. They wanted to help us in covering some of the needs, the basic human rights, which was having a place where we could meet or having a place where we could feel safe. They didn't understand what it was to be transgender. All they knew is that they were helping people who were being hurt out in the street. The only thing that they could provide was a helping hand to say, "You're not alone." And they did, and that was really all we needed. And I remember many times when Catalina [Sol] said to me, "We can't do everything for you. You have to do it for yourself." (9) feel that's where I got a lot of my courage, because I realized that we could be the ones who solve our own problems. It's funny and very touching that, years later, I'm sitting at the same table that she is. I don't focus on what we don't have. We don't have housing, we don't have the specific issues, but we have the opportunity, and I feel sometimes that we have the opportunity that maybe in five or ten years we will have something. But we do have the ability to talk, the ability to be recognized, and it's taken a while. But I think I owe the ability that I have now and that others have to her.
If it wasn't because of the support groups, La Clinica and all the other organizations, a lot of us wouldn't be here. A lot of us would've killed ourselves. To say now that we have a transgender community in Washington, D.C., is a big thing. There's this project that I took part [in] about three years ago. We were documenting the lives of Latina transgenders in Washington, D.C. We took photos, and we documented a lot of what we were going through. We did the Latina Transgender Census. We found that, of self-identified transgenders, there were about 400 in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. I'm sure there is more. But these are the ones that we could count because we have reached [out] to them and they know who they are. Because obviously numbers matter to a lot of people--to have them in other places acknowledge us definitely counts. (10)
S.D.: When you first got here, your primary social life was going out with gay boys?
R.B.: Yes, when I got here, because I was by myself. Somebody would pick me up at work and take me to my house, and I could act on my feelings but not much. Because I didn't take much. I was very focused on surviving. At that particular time, there were other things that came into this big picture of my life, that I was Hispanic. There was a Hispanic community. I was learning terms like "discrimination." I was observing a lot of things. I pretty much focused as an immigrant on the economic life, and my life was pretty much centered around surviving and becoming someone as a person first.
When I met my friend who was transgender, I realized that, even as a boy that was feminine, that I wanted to be something more. I was more outgoing, I was going to clubs, and I would put on my little blush, starting to cross-dress. Then I remember the first time: one of my friends in the building, he was a designer, and one day he came into my office and said, "I want to show you something." I went to his house, and there were dresses and all kinds of things. I said, "I want to try on these things." Then I just felt like something I was missing in my life, and then I started dressing more, and that's when a lot of people started knowing the outgoing part of me. I was going through this whole process. I think the marking point was in 1998-1999. I went to a beauty pageant. I even adopted a name. From that moment, when I won that pageant, people would see me on the street, and they stopped calling me my other name, the one that I was born [with]. I connected with people more, and I was more outspoken. Everybody started looking at me and treating me as Ruby. For this whole year, I would do presentations, and I would go to events, and I became Miss El Salvador. Then I just didn't go back. (11)
Around the pageants in 1999 and 2000, that's when I met a lot more people that were going through this whole struggle like me. I had gone through all the life process of an immigrant, of a young person trying to have a career. I was in my mid-twenties, and I'm thinking, I can no longer be this person. It took until I was twenty-eight or twenty-nine that I said I need to transition, because then I had more information. And it became a way of life. It was this period when I became so informed, and I would go to meetings. I used to help people, and people became connected to me. They became really interested in seeing what was happening to me. They saw me get on with this whole thing of hormones. I was changing, growing hair long; I was matching the personality that I always knew to the body.
I was one of the very few who was more vocal, because a lot of my friends were underground. I always had a job. A lot of them were working in restaurants or working at night, and they lived a life that was not mainstream. Here I come being mainstream, because my life was pretty much during the day. I always had a nine-to-five job. And I started pulling other people into that scenario. With a lot of my friends, I would tell them, "Let's go to a meeting and let's come as we are." Because otherwise they were only Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; and at night they were these gorgeous people, and then during the day they hide themselves. And I was like uh-uh. I'm going to put my wig on. I'm going to get on the Metro [Washington's subway system] and on the bus, and I don't care. I'm going to my meeting. It was a good feeling. I always [thought] back to those friends that I met before. If they could do it, why not?
I was changing and I needed that support. I didn't want to do it alone, so I got all my friends, and I said, "Let's go to the park. We're going to be seen. People have to see this in our own neighborhood." I remember getting on the 42 bus, and we were so proud. My idea was let's get out of Dupont Circle. Let's go to Virginia; let's go to Maryland. Let's terrorize the community. It was hard at first, because I remember there were times they would call us names, and I'm like, "And?" And they would say things. We became very open. The biggest activism that shaped who I am today is those early days when I would get on the buses, when I would go to the store, when I would go with my friends, and people were seeing the change, and we were out. We were out and about.
Sometimes I would get the clan, five of us, and once a week, we're going to the Safeway. And every day we're taking the bus. No, we're not taking taxis. Every day we're going to walk around. We don't care if they call us names, We were having fun, too, because I was young. It was a group of six, seven. It was funny how people really started seeing. They were seeing us Friday nights, Saturday nights. We're all fabulous throughout this whole city. But to see it during the day, they were not ready for that.
Then another change came in 2002, when we changed our bodies. I remember when I had my implants. (12) It was really a big awakening for a lot of people in this city--for a lot of Hispanic people. It was like, "What have these young people done?" They're still learning, but it's a process. All of our experience that we have been living here and expressing ourselves and being who we are, it has helped a lot of other people. Because now it's a lot more. I think it has helped a lot of people come out.
I felt that I was just living my life, but I also did the talking, and I went and advocated for us to have this space, for us to have access because I realized when I did my transition in 2002, that I went from saying one day, I don't care if I look like a funny girl, but people will have to know. Then I really started seeing other things, like jobs were not easy. Then I had this huge need to change my body, and I was coming into a lot of issues, like how do I change my name? How do I change my social security card? How do I have people acknowledge me? And then I started speaking, and I started showing people what it was like and having people understand that there are people like me, and then I would have them by my side.
My mom and my sister, I knew that it was hard for them, but when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I took care of her. I remember that when my mom died, she made it very clear that she knew, and she made it very clear that she loved me, no matter what. With my relatives that are here, too. My mom also plays a big role in my activism, because she accepted me the way I was.... My mom used to take care of kids, and she always said that money was nothing, that it was how happy you were and what you did for others. When she died, I had nothing, because I had stopped working to take care of her. But I had just gotten my tax refund, and I had about $4,000, and funerals were like $15,000. When she died a lot of people came. I knew that she knew a lot of people, but I didn't know how much they loved her, and I didn't know how much she meant to a lot of people. For a long time I had this perception that I had to have money, that I had to have credit cards, that I had to have these things, and then I realized that it didn't matter. My mom was taking care of kids. She didn't speak a lot of English. When she passed away, the love and the support was there. We were able to bury her, to pay all of that money; people helped. And it was because she always did good.
A lot of people in the community that I help--they're my friends, more than anything. My activism is not only speaking. I have gone to hospitals with people to make sure that they get what they need. I have gone through the court system with people who have gotten arrested for things. I have visited people in jail. I try to do whatever I can to help them. For a long time, people used to joke about how I had the only tranny shelter in the city, because, at some point, I had ten, eleven people in my apartment.... I have some people that I know that are homeless, some people that I know that have nothing; and I keep an eye on them. I think my biggest activism is not when I have gone to City Hall or when I'm talking about how do we change the system to be more inclusive of our issues. To me the biggest activism is that I have become someone that a lot of people feel that they can count on. I speak and I am out, and I go out and advocate because I see and I speak for others. It's the part that really I enjoy. That is the part that really makes me happy. That's the part that I get really touchy.
S.D.: Tell me more about that. Why do you think it makes such a big difference?
R.B.: Number one, a lot of people are very alone. A lot of people weren't so lucky that their families accepted them. A lot of them were not lucky enough that they came to this country in a time when it was a lot easier for Hispanics, in a way. It's very difficult if, between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, when you're developing yourself as a human being, and you want to be free, and you want to be trans, and you want to be proud of yourself, then you have this whole society coming down on you telling you uh-uh and calling you names, and you have all kinds of issues that you have to deal with. And I didn't, because I was focused on other things.
I find that I'm very lucky that I have a job. I'm very lucky that I speak English and that I can talk. A lot of people don't even know how to talk. A lot of people have a lot of disadvantages. Some of them do not even have documents. (13) Even though I have lived in the United States for all this time, there is that part of me that remembers. There was one point in my life when I didn't have anything. There Was a point in my life when I didn't have food, and I didn't have a place to live, and now I do; so how can I forget? At this point, I think, in this whole community, I am the only person sometimes they have, and I can't close my doors. It doesn't bother me, but sometimes it does. I'm happy that I can do that, that I can be that person for a lot of people. But I'm not, because I'm thinking, there's a lot of people who are really good people, and they don't have a chance. There's a lot of young people that I keep an eye on, just like I took care of my own sister when she was growing up, and I still keep an eye on her. There's a lot of them who I worry about because, as we speak, I know there are people who are not lucky to have what I have, and I know what they're doing. And it is hard for me.
I always have my cell phone because when my friend [Bella Evangelista] was killed, I was the first person that they called. (14) When something happens to a transgender person, a Latina Hispanic, in this city, I'm the person who they call. It's taken me a long way to get to that point, to have a lot of people even trust me to do that. It's hard for me, because I consider myself lucky, and these are people who have really loved me. In my moments, too, when I need them, they're there for me. When I have my own needs, they're there for me. When I understand what it means to be an activist, it's, I think, I'm there for people. I don't have a lot, but I'm there.
I have people I know that are really on the low end of the scale even within my own community, the ones that nobody talks to, the really neglected ones. Those are the ones that I really care about the most. [Evangelista] who got killed last year was one of them, and I have about five more of them, and that's the hard part. It's those few that really have nothing; those are the ones that I wish I could help a lot sometimes, but I can't. I am helping because I'm there for them. It's those five people that really make me not want to quit.
Actually, they're my daughters, you know. Those are the ones that really touch me a lot. There's one particular person that I haven't seen in a while. Her name is Jennifer [a pseudonym]. I really care about her. She's very good. She doesn't have a place to live, and she has a lot of problems. She has really come a long way. She has told me sometimes that I'm the only reason why she hasn't really tried to kill herself. And I know I am. She has no place to live; she has no job; she has a drinking problem; she has a drug problem; she does sex work; and on top of that, she has been in jail so many times. I don't know what else is going to happen to her. She's been very close to me, and I want to help her. She has a lot of problems, and the only thing I know for a fact that is working for her is she takes her medications [for HIV]. I've tried so much to help her, and I know sometimes I can't because she has her own issues. (15) Those are the people that I enjoy having in my life. Right now I get emotional, because I think, where are they? But of course, I have to go on with my life, too. But it's always in the back of your mind.
S.D.: I would like to talk more about your activism: why you think you are an activist and how you first got started doing activist work.
R.B.: I think it was unconscious for me. In this area there were other activists, but I didn't see that, as Latinas, we had anyone speaking. For instance, they kept saying there was no funding, and I'm thinking, why isn't there any funding? I learned that it was because you have to apply, and you have to do all these things; and in order to do that, people have to know. Then I got involved in speaking and trying to find out where to go, to go to meetings. I remember my biggest appearance was at a community forum. It was with the mayor, and then I asked particulars about why were the police so insensitive, and why did they have transphobia, and what was the government doing to assure that people weren't being mistreated? In this community forum, they had a lot of people, and I had an opportunity to talk to schools, to the mayor, to the police chief, but I wanted to talk to them from my perspective. (16) Before [that], it was within my own community, trying to get a space for us to have a meeting.
I started going to more meetings and talking. I started looking for ways to see where can I make a difference. I participated in police community advisory and fire emergency [taskforce], the city council. Pretty much just making people aware whenever I had the opportunity to talk. It was, okay, there's the transgender community, but people at that point didn't even think there are Latinas there. If you're going to do this, you need to be particular of the needs, particularly of the language. With the police was a huge thing, because I saw so many things. Girls started telling me about how the police were really transphobic.
I'm always on the defensive, because I feel if they don't do it to me, they'll do it to somebody else. I used to be nice in the sense that, if a police officer stopped me for no reason in the world and asked me for my ID, I would give it to him. And I would be like, okay, it's not a problem. Or I would go, and I wouldn't complain, and I wouldn't say anything. The looks didn't matter. But then at one point I said no. Because I have a right just like they do.
S.D.: Do you have any idea where that comes from?
R.B.: It comes from ... being fed up with the fact that I know what's right, or at least I think I know what's right, and seeing that I don't have to deal with that kind of thing, I feel, I pay taxes just like they do; they wouldn't like it if they got the same treatment that they were giving me, that they were giving the people that I'm with. So why do they have to pick me? If I know something is wrong, I felt like I had to say, and I still do.
I live in a city where people are very divided. And they always have their little agendas. It's, okay, if I'm Black, l talk for Blacks, and if I'm White, I talk for people that are White. I was like, okay, and where am I? I felt like obviously they couldn't [speak for me], because I know what it's like to be ignored for not speaking English or for having an accent, but they don't. I know what it's like to be perceived as not having status, having someone say, "This is not your country," and they don't. So I felt that I needed to speak on those particular issues, along with the others, but I needed to be specific on those issues that were very important. That although people want to be part of this society, they don't always have the opportunity to integrate to this society because they're alienated.
Although people want to be part of something, it's like you have to be invited. In my case, it was like nobody invited me. I had to invite myself. I had to claim that little place. That's what happened with the activism, being outspoken. This has happened since 1999 to 2001 that I have been going to places. "Hello, my name is Ruby, and I speak Spanish." I'd tell them where I was from, so they could see there are trannies in the Latino community. I had to find where the meetings were, where everything was. Now, a lot of the big things, they invite me, and I go. I feel that I do have good people that I work with, and they invite me, and I support them whenever they need something, and whenever i need something, they're with me. (17)
I got connected to people through being in D.C. I never thought that I was going to be speaking on national issues. But when, for instance, national LLEGO. which was a Latina lesbian, gay, [bisexual,] and transgender organization, opened, I became sort of the spokesperson [for transwomen], because they didn't have one. (18) Whenever they needed a speaker out of this city, they would invite me, and I would go to speak on behalf of latinas. They saw that I could speak. Then I got invited through that organization and then through La Clinica, too. I helped start the support group that is there. (19)
Before I transitioned, I was active, too. I have friends in Whitman-Walker [Clinic] and a lot of different organizations, but it was more so personal friendships. (20) When I transitioned, and I was talking about trans issues, I already had people that I knew, and it was the same story: "Why aren't you including [us]?" "But there was nobody there." "I'm here now, so you need to include me." And that's how it happened. I always felt like, because I knew them before I transitioned, when I transitioned, life was a little easier for me because I already knew those people.
I feel, particularly in this city, there was this huge gap between trannies and gay men, and it was like. we're in the same community, but we're not even relating, which at some point I understood. But I'm thinking, I grew up with you all: how can you leave me behind? And I was back and forth. And then at some point, if there was something going on, they would call me. Because they're still my friends, and they learned.
S.D.: Is there anything else in your activism that really stands out as what feels like a great accomplishment or even a great disappointment, things you learned from?
R.B.: There was a moment last year: I was moderating this press conference for hate crimes that we had at La Clinica, and I told everybody. (21 A lot of people were concerned that they didn't want to be in the public eye, so I had to make that space safe. Even though it was a press conference, whoever wanted to say something about how they felt about the crime, after my friend [Evangelista] had been killed--those people that were going to speak, [the press were] not to take their pictures and not to use their real names. I wasn't expecting anybody to talk. I said, "If anybody has something to say, please stand up and say something, because there are people out there listening." There was this friend of mine who has been in this community doing [drag] shows for sixteen years in D.C. She said, "You know what, Ruby, all the stuff that you talk about, I've been through. I just want to make a plea to the human rights organizations to take an account of what happened here in D.C., that our friend got murdered, and how a lot of our needs and our issues are not being heard?' It really touched me, because she had acknowledged herself to the point that she even knew what human rights were. And she said our human rights are being violated. To me, it was like, that I was not only speaking in meetings, but I was even teaching my own people to speak. That was very hard because I was moderating a group of a lot of people, and I didn't want to get emotional. Those are the kind of things that help me to know that it's not just talking in these places, it's wherever you are, making sure that people understand you.
I feel sometimes, that particularly a lot of men, they have to make a statement. They have to do things to diminish you, and then you're not supposed to say anything. And I just didn't feel that I had to take things. Just like I don't feel that we have to take not being included in conversations or being acknowledged in certain key decisions. It also goes like, I should be able to walk wherever I want to. Those are the kind of things that help me because I'm not just sitting at home. I still go out, and if I see something, I acknowledge it. I don't stay quiet. That is the part that kind of touched me last time when I was talking to you, because I think about the difference of the everyday--is it activism to be out there taking the punches and then getting up and saying, "No more!" or is it only activism to be talking and complaining or trying to advocate for your rights? To me it's both.
S.D.: How do you think that activism has affected your life?
R.B.: It's made me much more noticeable. People do know who I am, and I have no privacy, in the sense that some people, like the Third District Police Department, some government officials, know who I am. I criticized some people just this Friday. There was the Latino AIDS Awareness Day. They had a lot of community officials in the government center speaking, and I criticized them. (22) Some people that I criticize, I let them know that I'm not criticizing them because of just me but for others. I let them know that I don't like to do that, but I have to. It affects me in the way that I should be very proud that we're sitting there, that we have a space there, and I'm sitting there with a different feeling. I'm thinking, why does it have to take all of these years when you're supposed to represent the Hispanic community, the whole community, and it takes all these years for you to just open the door?
It has taken me a lot of time to be there to have these little spaces. Sometimes it just makes me upset, because I'm thinking [someone before me] could have done a lot. We would've had all the things that I'm sometimes advocating for, had they listened to her. She's been here and saying all of this, but now they listen to me, or they listen to others, why? Because we're a little younger, maybe a little prettier, or the image that they want to portray, it's a little nicer. So it affects me because I'm thinking, what happened to people like me that maybe look a little different than met I speak maybe a little better English. I know there have been other activists that didn't speak any English, and when they spoke, they spoke broken English. It didn't mean that their activism was less valuable than mine. it affects me because I am a little bitter. I'm not so nice anymore. I am. But sometimes, I feel like I'm not. I am definitely not the person that came here in 1986. I'm not the same person.
S.D.: Why is visibility important to you? You talk about wanting people to see you.
R.B.: One of my biggest things is I advocate against violence. To me, violence is not just someone having come and hit me. Violence is someone watching me walk down the street and verbally saying things to me. Because I should be able to walk wherever I want to go and have people mind their own business and let me mind my own business: To me it's important because I am a human being. That's the way I look at it. I am a human being, and I deserve a place. And I'm a little greedy. I don't want a place in the back of the bus. I want a place where everybody is. And I have it. Sometimes it's hard. That's my message to a lot of transgenders. A lot of them are catching on to this message. Because I remember days when we would go to the store and it would be like four of us. If I saw a problem, I'd say we have to tackle this problem. There were places where they weren't really nice, and I said to them, we have to go to this place. I used to have these little riots. I call them my little riots because we would go to restaurants where I remember people getting kicked out of those places. And then all of a sudden we were thinking, they can kick one of us, but to kick eight of us: I'd make a big stink--you know, they're not going to kick us out of here. I can walk into a lot of restaurants now, and I know that they're not mean. I'm sure that they say stuff after we leave, but I don't care.
S.D.: What kinds of things would you talk about? You talked about the police earlier, but with the City Council, for example?
R.B.: There is an initiative in City Council about having a transgender shelter, and the initiative has been sitting in the City Council for a couple years now. It was to have a transgender shelter, because I think there's only one shelter in Washington, D.C., that if you're transgender you can go. The initiative was that the city create something unique for transgender. I don't call it so much transgender but supergay people. Whether they change physically or they don't, the city needs to have something where people are not victimized if they come into one of these settings. The idea is not just to give them the shelter but to give them support for mental health, substance abuse, to give them job training, to give them that little push that they need. (23)
With the police, it was my friend who had an incident when she had gotten arrested three years ago. She solicited a police officer for prostitution, and she went to jail and got out. She forgot to pay the fine. The fine was $500. She didn't have a job, and I even forgot about that. One day we went to get another license, and she got arrested. When she went to jail, they put her with the guys in this cell. Some of the work advocating was done [so that] whenever they had a transgender person, they would have a special section [for] that person so they don't get physically abused, sexually abused, really raped. It's not a big secret that there's rape in the jail, and who are they going to rape first? The one that looks very pretty, long
hair, nice breasts, or whatever, they don't care. I had to call, because I knew that it wasn't going to happen. A woman that was in jail told [the police officer] what was going on, that they were making a lot of advances, and they wanted to get fresh with her. Then the lady was very nice. She had put her in a little [cell] by herself, but it was not in a different section, it was still with the same guys. That was part of what has been done. We think that now they do that, because I have another friend who did get put in a different section of the jail. (24)
If you get convicted of a crime or something, you're going to get put with everybody. There's a case of this girl from Mexico. She was in D.C. jail, and she got raped. It started with she thought that she was being a wife. To her, she wasn't being raped. She said to me, "I thought I was living large." Then she was there for a little while, and she said it wore off, because "I don't want to have sex with them, and it's like I've got to in order to feel safe in this prison." It got to the point where she complained, and they didn't do anything. They said, "How could she complain about something that she enjoyed? Or that she was getting benefits from?" She said, "Ruby, I've had enough, because there are some days that I've got to have sex with three or four people. It's cool the first day because I'm getting favors. It's fine." She admitted that, but when you're having sex three or four times a day, it's not fun anymore. So she filed a complaint and a lawsuit, and they sent her back to Mexico. At the end, I think--because they couldn't deal with a solution--the quickest fix was deport her, send her back to Mexico.
S.D.: What do you think is the difference between doing that kind of community- level work and working with some of the national organizations?
R.B.: The difference is, on a community level, particularly for me, I can deal with issues that are real. I can go to the police department and advocate to have us separated in a different room. Other people are doing the same thing, too. We can advocate for these things to make change because we live in this city. These are things we are dealing with. And we see the change. Where transgender people are at a national level is at the point where we can say, "We got killed, and it was because we're transgender."
The only thing we have is to have the media acknowledge that some special person was murdered. The current hate crime legislation that the government has doesn't even include transgender.
S.D.: Have you worked with Transgender Equality or Transgender Advocacy Coalition? (25)
R.B.: Yes. But then I realized that even within [these organizations], the representation is not of your average transgender. Your average transgender, or at least people of color-African Americans and Latinas--our needs are completely different. A lot of us are in sex work. A lot of us are really marginalized. Transgender people of color take a big hit of what happens to transgender people. Transgender Advocacy Coalition and Transgender Equality are advocating for people who already had a life, and then they wanted to continue living their life. Maybe they already have a great career and they want to keep that career, and they want to have the equality. But when you look at the issues of young gay people, the ones that are really, really queer or supergay, those are completely different issues. You're dealing with the fact that you can't stay in school, because no matter how tough you are, there's going to come a point if you really are genderqueer, if you are transgender and you're young in the average school in America, you have to be super tough to stay in that school. (26) Then that means no school when you're young, which translates into no jobs when you're becoming an adult. When you get jobs, it's going to be the really low-paying jobs. And you're thinking, I need $50,000 to change my body? A lot of us are really faced with the only option of being in sexual work. There's this movie called Normal on HBO, and it is a reality. But it's not the reality of the people that I advocate for. (27)
That's why I like what I do, because in the leadership summit that we had-for the first time we had about fifty transgenders come from all over the United States and Puerto Rico. (28) We dealt I think for the first time with the real issues internationally, addressing alcohol and substance abuse, sex work, violence, crime. HIV, overwhelming issues. What I learned is that my story is really not mine. Whatever was happening in our own communities, it was the same picture.
If I really, really had the opportunity, I would want to lobby for people to have access to social services, to have access to services that are incredibly needed. If I'm homeless right now, my only option is to go and trick. If I didn't have this job, if I didn't have this ability that I have now, I would be prostituting somewhere. That's going to put me in many different situations. It's a lot of stuff, and it's real stuff. But overall, I think we're really happy. We're really super happy. I'm very proud of my group, of the people that I know that [are] here in D.C. Not all of them are sex workers. Some of them leave that and go back. Not all of them are drug users, but somehow they went through some phase of that. And some of them do talk.
(1.) From 1980 to 1992, El Salvador suffered from a brutal civil war in which 75,000 or more people died. People whose views differed from conservative leaders were terrorized by "extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and murders of political opponents," as well as "the wide network of illegal armed groups, known as 'death squads,' which operated both within and outside the institutional framework with complete impunity." Leftist forces responded with violence against "people who were labeled military targets, traitors or 'orejas' (informers), and even political opponents." This violence mostly took the form of "extrajudicial executions ... enforced disappearances and forcible recruitment." U.S. aid to El Salvador increased in the mid-1980s to more than $550 million in 1987 and enabled the government to survive and contain the popular insurgency. See Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, "Background Note: El Salvador," U.S. Department of State, 24 July 2010, www.state. gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2033.htm; Library of Congress Federal Research Division, "A Country Study: El Salvador," Country Studies, 27 July 2010, http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/svtoc. html; Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, "From Madness to Hope: The Twelve-Year War in El Salvador: Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador," United States Institute of Peace Library, 26 Jan. 2001 (Original Source: UN Security Council, Annex, S/25500, 1993, 5-8).
During the civil war, hundreds of thousands of people fled El Salvador and entered the United States, most of them traveling through Mexico and entering without documents. The vast majority--more than 97 percent--were denied asylum throughout the 1980s. Many of those who had emigrated from El Salvador in the 1980s were able to stay through the 1990s following the settlement in American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh, in which "a group of religious organizations and refugee advocacy organizations won its class-action lawsuit against the federal government for its discriminatory treatment of asylum claims from Salvadorans and Guatemalans." In 1997, President Bill Clinton signed the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central Relief Act, which protected immigrants from specific Central American and Soviet bloc countries from deportation. See Sarah Gammage, "El Salvador: Despite End to Civil War, Emigration Continues," Migration Information Source, July 2007, www.migrationinformation.org/Profiles/display.cfm?ID=636; Susan Gzesh, "Central Americans and Asylum Policy in the Reagan Era," Migration Information Source, April 2006, www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?id=384; "American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh (ABC) Settlement Agreement," U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 28 Oct. 2008, www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/; "NACARA," U.S. Immigration Support, 2010, www.usimmigrationsupport.org/nacara.html.
(2.) "Latina" refers to women of Latin American descent who were born in or who live in the United States. Latin American studies scholar Jose Quiroga notes that the term "Latino" emphasizes a person's location: "The term is predominantly used in the United States and not in Latin America, and in many ways the mete fact of crossing a political (though not necessarily an economic) border allows the subject to be part of the category." See his Tropics of Desire: Interventions from Queer Latino America (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 203.
(3.) Founded in 1983, La Clinica del Pueblo's mission is "to provide culturally appropriate health services to persons in the Latino community regardless of their ability to pay" (La Clinica del Pueblo, 2010, www.lcdp.org). In the late 1990s, La Clinica expanded its HIV prevention programs by reaching out to specific cultural groups and started a group for gay men that met monthly. From that group, La Clinica determined that there was a need for services that specifically targeted what they now call transwomen. In response, Omar Reyes, a staffperson at La Clinica who performed in shows and pageants as Linda Carrero, started Creando Espacios, or "Creating Space," in November 2000. Bracamonte began attending that group after St had been meeting for one or two years. Bracamonte also participated in a La Clinica program to train HIV peer educators. Catalina Sol served as director of La Clinica del Pueblo's HIV/AIDS program from 1998 to 2009. (Catalina Sol, personal communication, 11 Jan. 2011; all information attributed to Sol is from this particular communication).
(4.) Ms. Willy worked as a receptionist in a condominium building in Dupont Circle, a neighborhood in Northwest Washington, D.C. (Ruby Bracamonte, personal communication, 7 Jan. 2011).
(5.) A 2008 needs assessment of trans people in Philadelphia mentions mentors and role models such as Ms. Willy--and like Bracamonte herself became--as well as support groups and social networks as important factors in trans people's ability to cope with the challenges of daily life. See Lee Carson, Physical and Emotional Health Needs of Transgender Individuals in Philadelphia: Summary of Key Findings, 19, http://dctranscoalition.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/physical-and-behavioral- health-needs-of-transgender-individuals-in- philadelphia.pdf.
(6.) Escandalo was a popular Latino gay club located at 2122 P Street, NW, in Washington, D.C., and known for its drag shows. It operated in the mid- to late-1990s. El Faro, which operated from 1991 to 1995 at 2411 18th Street, NW, was D.C.'s first Latino gay club. See "Places and Spaces," The Rainbow History Project, August 2005, www.rainbowhistory.org/clubs.pdf.
(7.) Sol explained that Acuarela, which means "watercolor," was a community HIV/AIDS prevention program coordinated by La Clinica, Whitman-Walker Clinic, and Identity, Inc., and funded by the District of Columbia. It included a monthly meeting for gay men that started in 2001 and has continued in different places with different funding sources. Mariposas, or "butterflies," grew out of Creando Espacios al La Clinica. In 2003-2004, when the group shifted from meeting monthly to meeting semiweekly, it took on the name "Mariposas." For a discussion of terminology used in Latina/o communities to refer to what ate increasingly called transwomen, see Susana Pena, "Gender and Sexuality in Latina/o Miami: Documenting Latina Transsexual Activists," Gender and History 22 (November 2010): 755-72.
(8.) Founded in 1970, Andromeda Transcultural Health provides health services to Latina/os in Washington, D.C. See U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Andromeda Transcultural Health," 24 Sept. 2003, www.healthfinder.gov/orgs/ hr1827.htm; and "Andromeda Transcultural Health," www.andromedatranscultural health.org.
(9.) Sol is currently chief programs officer al the clinic. See Marcia Bernbaum, La Clinica del Pueblo: An Immigrant Community Health Center: Of the People, For the People, 30 Aug. 2008, 35, www.lcdp.org/doc/LCDP_Case_Study_Reference_Document.pdf; "Catalina Sol," La Clinica del Pueblo, 2010, www.lcdp.org/detail/person.cfm?person_id=21. Because the community's needs exceeded the capacity of La Clinica's health programs, Sol and other clinic staff encouraged people to organize to address their own needs. Sol comments that "Ruby really heard that message."
(10.) Sol explains that from about 2002 to 2003, Bracamonte and other volunteers worked with La Clinica del Pueblo on a project called Fotonovela, funded by the Washington AIDS Partnership, that documented the lives of Latina transwomen in the Washington, D.C, area. La Clinica staff created an instrument to do a census and documentation of major needs and set a goal of reaching fifty women. Trained volunteers went to houses, clubs, and neighborhoods such as Langley Park, Maryland, and held workshops where they collected information. The project also documented the transition of tire Latina women. The information was intended to be published as an illustrated educational pamphlet that would tell the story of a young transwoman coming to D.C. and transitioning in a healthy way, but it was not printed due to a combination of funding, staffing, logistical, and technical issues.
(11.) As the number of clubs offering drag shows in Washington increased rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s, so did the number of pageants; or drag contests. Local pageants became preliminaries for the citywide pageant, which could lead to the national Miss Gay America title. In the 1990s, Linda and Sophia Carrero formed a nonprofit organization, Carrero Productions, which organized a circuit of Latina drag pageants with performances in clubs such as Escandalo, Ardiente, and Chaos (see "Drag in DC," The Rainbow History Project, www.rainbowhistory.org/drag.htm). The Miss El Salvador pageant that Bracamonte won in 1999 was held at Escandalo in Dupont Circle.
(12.) In the Washington, D.C. Transgender Needs Assessment Survey, which collected data on 252 trans or gender-variant people in 1999-2000, only 2.4 percent of respondents had their breasts altered with surgical implants. See Jessica Xavier, Washington, D.C. Transgender Needs Assessment Survey: Final Report for Phase Two, 24 Aug. 2000, 9 (www.gender.org/resources/dge/gea0/011, pdf).
(13.) The Washington, D.C. Transgender Needs Assessment Survey (4)found that, out of 252 trans people surveyed in the area, "over 94% ate of color, with nearly 70% African- American and 22% Latino/a. Eighty-four percent are U.S. citizens, and 20% have immigrated to the U.S., mostly from Latin American countries."
(14.) Transwoman Bella Evangelista was killed on August 16, 2003. Antione Jacobs, who was later convicted of second-degree murder for the crime, told police that he was enraged to learn that she was transgender after he had paid her to perform oral sex on him. See Will O'Bryan, "Killer Sentenced in Transgender Murder Case," MetroWeekly, 22 Dec. 2005, www.metroweekly.com/news/?ak=1905. Transgender activist Jessica Xavier told Bob Moser of the Southern Poverty Law Center that she heard reports of fourteen trans people who were assaulted during the week that Evangelista was killed. Xavier points out that the "war against transgendered women" is happening across the United States. Earline Budd of D.C.s Transgender Health Empowerment, a community-based organization founded in 1996 by transgenders for transgenders; told Moser that she receives ten to fifteen reports of assaults against trans people every month. Discrimination often forces trans people out of their homes, schools, and jobs, which leaves life on the streets as the only option for many. See Bob Moser, "'Disposable People," Intelligence Report, no. 112 (Winter 2003), www;splcenter.org/getinformed/intelligence- report/browse-all-issues/2003/winter/disposable-people?page= 0,0. A recent study of 6,450 transgender and gender-non-conforming people throughout the United States confirmed that discrimination against trans- and gender- nonconforming people is pervasive (See Jaime M. Grant et al., Injustice at Every Tum: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2011), www.thetask force.org/downloads/reports/ntds_full.pdf.
(15.) Facing discrimination, harassment, and violence in housing, education, employment, and health care, trans people often turn to sex work and drug abuse as a survival strategy. Additionally, as Xavier notes, "Transgendered people who encounter barriers to accessing transgender-related care are probably less likely to take care of their bodies, to access other health care services when necessary, to practice safer sex and probably more likely engage in substance abuse." She reports that, of 252 trans people surveyed in the D.C. area:
Forty percent have not finished high school, and only 58% are employed in paid positions. Twenty-nine percent report no source of income, and another 31% report annual incomes under $10,000. Fifteen percent report losing a job due to discrimination from being transgendered. Forty-three percent of the participants have been a victim of violence of crime, with 75% attributing a motive of either transphobia of homophobia to it.... Thirty-four percent of the participants feel their drinking is a problem for them, but only 36% actually sought treatment for it. Thirty-six percent feel they have a drug problem, but only 53% sought treatment for it.... Twenty-five percent of all participants report being HIV positive, with 53% report being negative and 22% who do not know their HIV status. Thirty-two percent of the Male-to- Females (MTFs) report being HIV positive.... The most common barriers cited by those who lack housing are economic situation (38%), housing staff insensitivity of hostility to transgendered people (29%), estrangement from birth family (27%) and lack of employment (23%). [Xavier, Needs Assessment Survey. 3-5.]
See also the Welfare Warriors Research Collaborative, A Fabulous Attitude: Low-Income LGBTGNC People Surviving and Thriving on Love. Shelter, and Knowledge (New York: Queers for Economic Justice, 2010).
(16.) Here, Bracamonte discusses a community forum held to discuss treatment of trans people by Washington, D.C., emergency services after the death of transwoman Tyra Hunter. Hunter was in a car accident, and ah emergency medical technician stopped giving care, laughed, and made derogatory comments after discovering her male genitalia. She died later that evening, and evidence showed that medical care in those crucial moments might have saved her life. Hunter's mother won a lawsuit against the District of Columbia in 1998 (see Rick Rosendall, "Victory in Tyra Hunter Case," 11 Dec. 1998, www.glaa.org/archive/1998/margiehunter1211.shtml).
(17.) Before the murder of Evangelista, Bracamonte was active in the Latino/a community in various ways. She worked on the Miss Universe pageant, was a peer educator with La Clinica, and was proactive in trying to find solutions to the problems faced by Latina transwomen. Sol comments, "After the 2003 murder is where she really took the spot[light] in being an activist speaking to other communities," noting that, with her skill in speaking and understanding of the issues, Bracamonte raised the level of discourse about trans issues in the nation.
(18.) LLEGO began as the National Latino/a Lesbian and Gay Organization in 1987. It closed in 2004 "due to financial and administrative difficulties" ("National Latino/a Lesbian and Gay Organization (LLEGO) Records, 1987-2004," Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, the University of Texas at Austin, www.lib. utexas.edu/taro/utlac/00273/lac-00273.html). After LLEGO closed its doors, Bracamonte and other activists met in 2004 to start a new national Latina/o LGBT organization, Unid@s. See "Unid@s advocates for Latino/a GLBTs," MetroWeekly, 15 Feb. 2007, www.metroweekly.com/news/?ak=2544.
(19.) Bracamonte later clarified that she did not found the group but helped recruit participants. She has never held a paid position at La Clinica, but Sol describes her as a leader who was very involved and worked closely with clinic staff, providing support, bringing people to meetings, and helping to determine agendas.
(20.) The Whitman-Walker Clinic is a community health center specializing in services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and people with HIV/AIDS. It began in 1973 as the Gay Men's VD Clinic and is known around the United States and internationally for providing quality health education and patient care to diverse populations (see "About Whitman-Walker Clinic," Whitman-Walker Clinic, www.wwc.org/ about_wwc/).
(21.) After Evangelista was murdered and her memorial vandalized, La Clinica del Pueblo hosted an emergency press conference in which Ruby and other transwomen spoke about the violence and discrimination faced by trans people. Suzy Subways, "Rash of Violence Claims Lives of Two Transgender Women in D.C." The Indypendent, 9 Sept. 2003, www.indypendent.org/2003/09/09/rash-of-violence-claims-lives-of-two- transgender-women-in-dc/.
(22.) The first National Latino AIDS Awareness Day was in 2002 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "National Latino AIDS Awareness Day," www.aids.gov/ awareness-days/latino/). In 2004, a coalition of local organizations organized a breakfast at the Reeves Building at 2000 14th Street, NW, inviting the new director of D.C.'s HIV/AIDS administration. Bracamonte recruited participants and spoke at the event about transwomen's issues. The discussion led to the development of Latin@s en Accion, a D.C.-based organization that began as a way to encourage Latina/o participation in Capitol Pride and grew to do political advocacy as well as social and cultural programs within the Latina/o LGBT community. Bracamonte, personal communication, 7 Jan. 2011. See "Our Mission" (Latin@s en Accion, latinsinactiond.c..intuitwebsites, com/index.html).
(23.) When seeking shelter, trans people may be turned away, grouped with a gender that is not the one with which they identify, and/or harassed, threatened, or assaulted while staying at shelters. Because trans people are sometimes kicked out of their homes, leave school to avoid harassment, and/or have difficulty getting or keeping jobs due to discrimination, they have a particular need for access to shelters. See Lisa Mottet and John M. Ohle, "Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People" (New York: National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, 2003), 3. By 2004, groups around the country were working to improve access to safe Shelters for trans people (Lisa Mottet, "Local Efforts Underway to Open Homeless Shelters to Transgender People," Transgender Tapestry, no. 105 (Spring 2004), www.ifge.org/Article197. phtml). In 2008, Transgender Health Empowerment opened a shelter for low-income, HIV-positive trans, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. See "Supportive Housing," Transgender Health Empowerment, Inc., 2007, www.theincdc.org/housing.html; "Timeline of D.C. Trans History" (Washington, D.C.: Rainbow History Project, 2008), www.rainbowhistory.org/directory.htm.
(24.) D.C. Trans Coalition (DCTC), a community-based organization that works for trans rights, explains that the discrimination and violence that trans people face "means that trans people are at a heightened risk of being arrested for quality of life crimes like sleeping in public or for survival crimes like engaging in sex work." In jail, trans people often face violence and human rights abuses. Police or prison guards may refuse to use a trans person's chosen name or pronoun and may not provide gender appropriate clothing. Trans people may face discrimination in education and work programs or may be denied appropriate healthcare. Furthermore, trans people are "consistently subjected to verbal harassment and frequently raped or coerced into sex by fellow inmates, guards, and officials." See "Jails," DCTC (n.d.), http://dctrans coalition.wordpress.com/campaigns/department-of-corrections-campaign/.
In February 2009, after more than a year of meetings between DCTC and the District Department of Corrections (DOC), the DOC issued a policy stating that "a transgender committee, made up of a medical practitioner, a mental-health clinician, a correctional supervisor and a DOC-approved volunteer ... will determine the placement of each transgender inmate within 72 hours of intake." See Yusef Najafi, "Prison Progress," MetroWeekly, 5 Mar. 2009, www.metroweekly.com/news/?ak=4090.
(25.) Established in 2003, the National Center for Transgender Equality focuses on education, advocacy, and networking on trans issues. The National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, formed in 1999, works for civil rights for trans people. See "About NCTE," National Center for Transgender Equality, 2009, http://transequality.org/About/about.html. The National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, formed in 1999, works for civil rights for trans people. "National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC)," MetroWeekly, 16 Feb. 2008, www.metroweekly.com/community/directory/?org=347.
(26.) Authors Joseph G. Kosciw, Elizabeth M. Diaz, and Emily A. Greytak, for The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network's 2007 National School Climate Surrey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Our Nation's Schools (New York: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 2008), 80, found that "the vast majority (85.1%) of transgender students reported being verbally harassed in the past school year because of their sexual orientation and gender and/or gender expression. Nearly half (49.5%) of transgender students also reported physical harassment and a third (34.1%) reported physical assault based on all of these characteristics."
(27.) The 2003 film Normal, starring Tom Wilkinson and Jessica Lange, tells the story of a white man living in rural Illinois who declares he wants to have sex change surgery after twenty-five years of marriage to a woman (DVD, HBO Home Entertainment, 110 minutes). The National Coalition for LGBT Health report on trans health priorities in the United States notes that trans people of color suffer disproportionately from many health and social justice issues. It cites evidence of an "epidemic of violence directed against transgender people in the U.S., especially transwomen of color" and data that suggest that young male-to-female trans people of color are more likely to be affected by HIV/AIDS. See An Overview of U.S. Trans Health Priorities: A Report by the Eliminating Disparities Working Group, August 2004, www.lgbthealth.net.
(28.) Bracamonte said that the Transgender Leadership Summit was sponsored by LLEGO in April 2004 and held at a Dupont Circle hotel. LLEGO used grant money to provide travel and lodging for fifty participants from across the United States.
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|Date:||Jun 22, 2011|
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