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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Hello Every One :)

NO... I'm not dead yet. I'm very much alive and more than a bit stressed as it's coming upto the end of term. Which is why I haven't been posting of late.
I have 4 assignments to finish by the 15th, so I've been a bit busy.
Normal service should resume after this date, fingers crossed.
I hope your all well and doing ok. I've missed some of you (you know who you are:).
Huggy Love, Rachel

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Nepal: ‘Sexual Cleansing’ Drive Continues

Human Rights Watch

New Arrests of Transgender People, HIV Workers

(New York, March 18, 2006) – New arrests of metis (an indigenous term for transgender people) and HIV/AIDS outreach workers in Kathmandu show that a persistent pattern of police violence and abuse has not abated, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch has learned that on the night of March 14, the eve of the Holi festival (festival of colors) – a major Hindu religious holiday – police in the Thamel and Durbar Marg areas of Kathmandu rounded up 26 metis.

According to the Blue Diamond Society, a Nepali non-governmental organization (NGO) working in the fields of sexual rights, sexual health and HIV prevention, they were taken to the Hanuman Dhoka central police station in Kathmandu. Five were later moved to Kalimati police station.

Human Rights Watch understands that as of March 16, they have still not been permitted to speak to a lawyer. All have reportedly been charged with committing a “public nuisance.” No further particulars of their alleged offence are known.

“This is the latest incident in a violent police campaign to ‘cleanse’ Kathmandu of those considered undesirable,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Police regularly assault and in some cases sexually abuse transgender people, all in the name of enforcing ‘moral values.’”

Those arrested included two staff, two outreach workers, and two peer educators working for the Blue Diamond Society. The Blue Diamond Society has repeatedly documented police abuse of transgender people, also known as hijras.

In other recent incidents, on January 3, three metis walking in the Thamel district were reportedly severely beaten by four uniformed policemen who shouted, “Metis! Kill them!” The police threatened that “these hijras pollute the society and must be cleaned out.”

On December 28, police arrested a meti, took her to the Shore Khutte police station, and forcibly stripped and mocked her while checking her genitals. They also allegedly threatened to cut her hair off as punishment for wearing women’s clothes. She was released the next day.

Previously in August 2004, police had also rounded up 39 metis from gathering places in Kathmandu. They were held for almost two weeks in the Hanuman Dhoka police station. Journalists were allegedly summoned to videotape the detainees in their cell, and when one meti complained, three policemen reportedly beat her. Another was beaten when she demanded to use a toilet.

The detainees said that police told them: “Acid should be put on the faces of the hijras: they don’t deserve to live.” The detainees were finally released amid mounting international pressure. The metis received no redress for their detention or abuses sustained.

“Arbitrary arrest, police abuse, and discrimination against any group send a message that all Nepalis’ basic rights are at the government’s mercy,” said Long. “By jailing outreach workers campaigning against the spread of HIV/AIDS, the police threaten public health as well as civil liberties.”

Not all education is on the curriculum

Bay Area Reporter

At a time when most are planning their retirement, a 71-year-old teacher, Lily McBeth, instead left her teaching position in order to manage her gender transition. When she returned, the board at Eagleswood Elementary School in Eagleswood Township, New Jersey welcomed her back.

After a contentious school board meeting, where members of the New Jersey Family Policy Council made arguments against subjecting seemingly-defenseless children to a transgender teacher, it was further reinforced that McBeth would be welcomed to the Eagleswood faculty.

The New Jersey Family Policy Council is, of course, unhappy, and is urging parents to file legal challenges against the board members. Again, the argument is that young, impressionable children should not have to be subject to the trauma of someone who used to be a man teaching classes.

The head of this group views this as just another part of the push to allow for same-sex marriage: I'm not sure exactly how he came to that conclusion – but I digress.

McBeth is hardly the first teacher to transition. The first I know of was a physical education teacher in the greater San Francisco Bay Area who transitioned from female to male a couple decades ago. Last I heard, he was still teaching. Many others have followed, from Debra Davis – a school librarian in Minnesota – to Diane Giles in California.

One of the better-known teachers to go through a gender transition is Dana Rivers, who was drummed out of a high school near Sacramento in the late 1990s. Like McBeth, Rivers faced the argument – this time from the school board itself – that the students would not be able to handle her transition.

It was her students who were some of her most vocal supporters.

I am of the firm belief that it is not the students who have the biggest issues with any of this: it is the parents who don't seem to understand what is going on. If anything, it's these same parents that make what would probably make the largely quiet transition of a member of the faculty into an issue that hits the national news. Indeed, if parents felt that they'd be uncomfortable explaining things to their children before, imagine how it must feel to do it once you have CNN news vans parked at the school.

This all seems to be part of this "think of the children" mentality that fails to address real-world issues – often, children really aren't as fragile as their overly-doting parents seem to think they are. These parents seem to forget that schools are there to prepare their tots for life in the real world – a real world where, yes, they are going to possibly come across transgender people.

That's the shame of it all. I'm not saying that kids should be exposed to all the ways of the world – I'd pass on exposing them to Fred Phelps, for example – but they should be given a full education. This includes learning about tolerance, and respect, and acceptance of all people.

In the 1970s – back when I was in the sixth grade or so – the battle was over gay and lesbian teachers. Thanks to the Briggs initiative in California, it became necessary for citizens of the Golden State to go to their polling place and decide if gay and lesbian teachers, as well as gay and lesbian sympathizing teachers, would be allowed in public schools. I fear that the voters of 2006 would not have handed John Briggs the defeat that he faced in 1978.

The Briggs initiative was an offshoot of Anita Bryant's infamous "Save The Children" campaign, which led to a number of antigay laws getting passed, including ones similar to the Briggs initiative. I should add that John Briggs, during the fight over the initiative, argued that the bill was imperative, in order to keep cross-dressed teachers out of the classroom. What old is new again.

This is not an issue that I can watch from a distance. As I write this, I am in the process of starting to work as a substitute teacher and aide at a local school. I will be dealing with developmentally disabled youth in a classroom setting. Students who, one could argue, might have an even harder time with having a transgender person in their midst.

Frankly, the ones I worked with for an all-too-brief period of observation seemed to like me just fine. I am not there to make an issue of my transgender status, nor is it anything that has come up with the students – or anyone else. Indeed, I rather hope to be just one of many wonderful, diverse folks working at the school.

Do I worry about what some parents might say? You bet I do. It is one of the issues, I suppose, with being transgender in this society. While I am not equating my entry level teaching experience with that of McBeth or any of the other fine instructors I listed above, it strikes me that some seem to prefer their kids be left without a competent teacher versus one who also happens to be transgender.

This doesn't strike me as saving any children: rather this seems like spreading ignorance – and isn't that, at heart, what teaching is supposed to combat?

Gwen Smith applauds all those who have made a commitment to teach. She's online at

Monday, March 06, 2006

Gender isn't a two way street


Being transgender provides one the unintended consequence of becoming very aware of how society reinforces and polices gender among its members. We see it as we grow up, placed into gender roles that don't speak to us. We see it, too, as we begin to shift away from such, whether moving entirely from one gender to another, or simply choosing to move into spaces beyond the typical conventions.

The first question asked when a child is born is the one that tells the world – or at least everyone in the delivery room – if a child is a girl or a boy. From the moment a blue or pink blanket is doled out, the average child is placed in a lifelong series of rigidly gender specific situations.

Some households, and some locations, are better than others. Yet even in the most gender transcendent spots, one might still find a false dichotomy in action. Such is the nature of participation in a society that requires one to walk a path – and one path only – specific to a determination about your genitals by a delivering physician.

It has not always been so rigidly defined, though such a division among the sexes has likely played a role in human society since there were humans around to have a society. Even as late as the 1920s little boys and little girls were dressed and groomed largely identically – in dresses – until males reached their breeching age, typically before age 5. Such a quaint practice fell out of favor in the era of the depression and World War II, and never returned in the post-war era.

When I was a young child in the 1970s – yes, even in those days of so-called unisex clothing and other attempts to break down the barriers between the sexes – gender was very much policed. Young girls lived in the era of Holly Hobbie, hot pants, and Easy Bake ovens in fashionable avocado green. Boys had Big Jim dolls, "Toughskin" jeans, and Evil Knievel.

I pushed every line I could, trust me. Still, even then there were lines one simply could not cross. In an era that brought the fight for equality between the sexes, some things were still treated as immutable. Women remained – as a general rule – the homemakers; men the breadwinners.

Fast forward a couple decades, as I worked on coming out in the era of grunge. The roles had 20 or so years to shift. Kurt Cobain could perform "In Bloom" while wearing a dress, but he was a rare exception. This was the era of Spice Girls, after all, and women were being signaled to be, well, girlish. Into this world I had to learn to move from one gender to another.

As I worked toward my own transition, I became acutely aware of how rigidly gender was still being enforced. I would say that it might be even more so today.

Yes, one can argue yet again that there are both trends and people defying gender roles today. Yet, like Nirvana's frontman a decade ago – or David Bowie in my youth – these were not the standard, but were, perhaps, reactions to it.

Take a moment to consider how many things one encounters in a given week that are specific to one of two specific genders. Clothing stores focus toward two roles, but so do the toy aisles at your nearby Toys 'R' Us. Even seemingly generic toys like Lego building blocks are sold with a specifically feminized version cast in pastels and focusing on home and family sets: no castles or construction sets to be found. Barbie – Web site polls to the contrary – remains aimed as a toy for young girls, and the Bratz dolls follow right along in her wake.

Fashions for women have increasingly begun to focus on low-cut jeans and midriff-baring tops. Clunky heels have had their renaissance, as have large bangles and beads. Men's fashion remains a little more toward the center, but even then the styles remain focused toward a masculine ideal.

We live in a time when the ideals of masculinity or femininity can be seen embodied by the celebrities of our era. I feel we can do so much better, though, than a female ideal that is Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson, or the male role models of Ashton Kutcher or Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. There is little room for those who might otherwise take a place outside the space of a genitals equal gender dichotomy.

In my own life over the last several years, I have tried to be mindful of gender presentation. I have even sought to make it clear that I am not going to fit myself into a stereotype simply because I identify as a woman: I would rather chart my own course than fit into someone else's arbitrary designations.

This doesn't change who I am, or what I may identify as. I know who I am, and I need not worry about trying to act as something I'm not.

I'd like to offer a challenge to each of you, though. I'm not going to ask you to go out there and march against gender – at least not today. No, rather I want you to consider, just for a moment, how gender has defined your own life, and consider for a moment if some of that might have held you back from time to time. Maybe, just maybe, you could even consider a change in your own life against these constructs, and just briefly explore a road less taken. It might be worth the trip.

Gwen Smith has little reluctance in wrecking a perfectly good set of polished nails when it comes to working on her car. She's online at

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Transsexuals in Croydon Take Significant Step Forward

UK Gay News

Police recognise, agree guidelines on a long-standing problem.

Which Loo?

Do you use the Ladies or the Gents?

It’s a problem if you’re changing gender – especially if you’re changing from male to female.

You wouldn’t use a Gents public lavatory, dressed as a woman. But if you’re taken short, and use the ladies, you may be verbally abused, assaulted and may even be breaking the law.

Well, Aurora, Croydon’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Police Focus Group has chalked up a significant success. After over two years consulting with transgender organisations and the police, they have got the police to agree to some guidelines.

Quite unexpectedly, Scotland Yard offered to endorse Croydon’s work, giving it authority across the whole of London. This is a very welcome development as the ‘Which Loo?’ issue that has never before been addressed by the police anywhere in the country.

“I'm delighted that the police have worked so closely with us on this issue” said Michelle, who received her certificate of gender recognition last year.

“It’s important that trans-people know that the police are aware of the problem and are trying to help the whole community stay safe”.

Ceri-Leigh Hawden from the self-help group Gemini said: “It’s great that it’s London-wide - but I’ll cheer louder when it’s national!”

Rachel, who has been attending Aurora since 2003, said: “I had a really bad experience when I had to use the ladies three years ago – it’s extremely humiliating. We’re really pleased the police have taken interest in this problem.”

Sandra, organiser of the local ‘trans’ group, Friends of the Firebird, said: “I came to Aurora to do something about this problem. Now Croydon is the first police division ever to do anything about it. The Met Police have formally endorsed Croydon’s work, and they’re the first in the UK.”

Chief Inspector Tom Morrell, from Croydon Division of the ‘Met’, added: “The ‘Which Loo?’ project has been developed as a result of close co-operation between police and community members within Aurora.

“We will continue to work with Aurora in order to identify and take positive action to address local issues of concern to the LGBT community”.

Aurora’s guidelines can be found at

In a statement issued by Scotland Yard, the Diversity and Citizen Focus Directorate said that they were pleased to support the partnership initiative between Aurora and Croydon Borough Police.

“[It] supports the Metropolitan Police Service vision of making London safer for all our communities.

“The MPS recognises that this particular issue is of concern to the transgender community, and is certain that ‘Which loo?’ will provide practical suggestions that will give confidence and support based on the experiences and learning of other transpeople.

“By working closely with community groups such as Aurora and the LGBT Advisory Group to the MPS, we make clear our commitment to making places safer for everyone, and will investigate incidents or crimes motivated by transphobia when they are reported to us.

“We also recognise that there are many reasons why victims of such incidents do not have the confidence to report directly to the police, and we would therefore encourage victims to report, anonymously if necessary, using one of the third party reporting options outlined on the Aurora website,” the statement concluded.

Community divided over transgender teacher

(3/03/06) - A New Jersey town is divided after the school board voted to allow a teacher to return to school after undergoing a sex change.

For the last five years, William McBeth has been a substitute teacher at Eagleswood elementary school, but it will be Lily McBeth, 71, who will fill in for sick teachers. McBeth underwent a sex change last year.

During a heated school board meeting this week, the community stood divided on the 4-1 decision to allow McBeth to return to the classroom.

"I will not allow you to put my kids in a petri dish and hope it all comes out fine," said parent Mark Schneep, who had taken out an ad in a local newspaper urging parents to attend the meeting.

Others were as passionate about their support for McBeth.

"I don't see how this is an issue, honestly, because he's a totally competent teacher and I don't see how that could have changed," said student Leandra Bourdot, 17.

From William to Lily

To the outside world, it appeared like William McBeth had grown up as a man's man. In his younger years, he was an athlete, a soldier and a surfer. In 1962, he was featured in a Sports Illustrated centerfold on "Bold Americans," the modern-day equivalent of extreme athletes.

William McBeth was married for 33 years and is the father of three children, a son and two daughters.

"My path was a very common path," McBeth said. "They're growing up male, but they're fighting with themselves. They're trying to disguise it, trying to do something to get rid of it. I engaged in macho activities like surfing. The damned thing is that you can't tell anyone. I got married and had children, raised them. It was a perfect family."

While the rest of the world was blind to McBeth's internal struggle, McBeth said she knew from the time she was 3 years old that she was different. But it wasn't until she was "free of those bonds of marriage and fatherhood," that she felt free to pursue her own happiness.

"I realized I was a person of worth who didn't have to question myself anymore," McBeth said. "I'm proud of who I am."

Going Back to Work

McBeth can understand why some have a hard time dealing with her decision. Her own children struggle with it. "At times, it's difficult," McBeth said. "You have to remember they're going through the same process everyone else has to, and I respect their right to believe whatever they want to believe."

But McBeth said the concerns of the Eagleswood parents were misdirected.

"They are projecting their thoughts into their children, their own insecurity and fears," McBeth said. "Children don't have those concerns. Their little minds are very curious and open to new ideas. It's not the children up there screaming about this."

McBeth said she was prepared to deal with any curiosity of her students, who have previously known her as a man.

"You don't discuss those things with a child in the classroom, no matter what it is & nothing [to] do with anything in your personal life," McBeth said. "You put that aside until the appropriate time. You simply say, 'I can discuss that with you at another time outside of the classroom.'"

McBeth said she was prepared to deal with any curiosity of her students, who have previously known her as a man.

"You don't discuss those things with a child in the classroom, no matter what it is & nothing [to] do with anything in your personal life," McBeth said. "You put that aside until the appropriate time. You simply say, 'I can discuss that with you at another time outside of the classroom.'"

Right now, McBeth is just waiting for the early morning call asking her to substitute teach and enjoying her new life as Lily.

"I don't really have to defend myself to other people. Their problem is not a problem for me," McBeth said. "I'm proud of who I am."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Canadian Cyclist Kristen Worley Reveals She Is A Transsexual

All Headline News
Yvonne Lee - All Headline News Staff Reporter
February 22, 2006 10:00 p.m. EST

(AHN) - Canadian cyclist and 2008 Olympic hopeful Kristen Worley reveals that she had sex-reassignment surgery to change her gender from male to female, reports

Worley has been talking about her gender change to sports organizations in Canada in the hopes of receiving permission to compete in the Beijing Olympic games.

She speaks publicly about her gender for the first time to

Worley says, “I shouldn’t be worrying about what people are going to do when they find out, but I’m so afraid."

She adds, “I'm just like any other girl there.”

International Olympic Committee rules instituted in 2004 say a transsexual athlete must wait two years after sex-change surgery before competing.

Helen Carroll, sports project coordinator for the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, says to The new IOC rule "set a precedent for other organizations.

She adds, "The U.S. Track and Field Organization has adopted rules very similar to the IOC ruling. Australia and Europe changed their professional women’s golf rules so that Mianne Bagger could compete.”

No athlete in an Olympic game has ever admitted to being transsexual. Worley says she expects a backlash from fellow cyclists now that her sex change is public.

However, she says: “This could not be a more important issue — for sports and for society.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Guatemala: Transgender People Face Deadly Attacks

Human Rights Watch

Victims Concerned That Police May Have Been Responsible for These Crimes

(New York, February 21, 2006)— The Guatemalan government must take immediate steps to stop a pattern of deadly attacks and possible police violence against transgender women and gay men, and end impunity for these crimes, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Guatemalan President Oscar Berger.

One transgender woman was murdered and another was critically wounded on December 17 when they were gunned down on a street in Guatemala City. Paulina (legal name Juan Pablo Méndez Cartagena) and Sulma (legal name Kevin Robles) were stopped by four men on motorcycles at an intersection in Guatemala City's Zone One, the center of the city.

Eyewitnesses reported that the assailants were wearing police uniforms and riding police motorcycles that identified them as members of the national police. The assailants shot Paulina twice in the head, killing her immediately. They shot Sulma three times, and she is still recuperating from her injuries.

Paulina, a former sex worker, worked for the Organización de Apoyo a una Sexualidad Integral frente al SIDA (OASIS), a nongovernmental organization that works to prevent HIV/AIDS and to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Sulma is a volunteer with OASIS and a sex worker.

Since the attack, Sulma and other transgender sex workers have reported being subject to undue police surveillance, causing them to fear for their lives. According to Sulma's report to OASIS, police warned her that, as witness to the attack, her life is in danger. OASIS said that its office and personnel have been under undue police surveillance. According to OASIS, the Office of the Public Prosecutor has made no further investigations into the attack since preliminary investigations in late December.

"These cold–blooded shootings are just the latest tragedy in Guatemala's pattern of deadly violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity," said Jessica Stern, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "The police have not done enough to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and now there is concern that they may be responsible for someone's murder."

LGBT people in Guatemala regularly face attacks and threats. In 2005, at least 13 transgender women and gay men were murdered in Guatemala. On December 21, two men in an unmarked car with tinted windows robbed two gay male sex workers at gunpoint in Guatemala City.

In the space of a single month, three gay men were murdered in Guatemala City late last year. Luis Sicán was shot to death on November 6 in Guatemala City’s Zone One. Flavio José Morales was shot to death in Zone Three of on October 12. Héctor Osmín García was shot to death by a security guard on October 7 while distributing flyers for a beauty salon. According to OASIS, there have been no prosecutions in any of these cases.

In its letter to Guatemala's president, Human Rights Watch outlined several steps that the government should take to end the violence and intimidation targeting LGBT people in Guatemala.

First, the government must ensure prompt, thorough and impartial investigations of the December 17 shootings — as well as other similar attacks reported over the past year. The authorities must also ensure that those responsible for these crimes are brought to justice.

In addition, the Guatemalan government should end any undue police surveillance of Sulma and other transgender sex workers, of OASIS and other NGOs advocating for the rights of LGBT people in Guatemala.

Human Rights Watch recommended that national police work with representatives of LGBT and sex worker communities to introduce sensitivity training in accordance with human rights principles to end discrimination against LGBT people and sex workers.

"Sulma has good reason to fear that the people who attacked her could strike again,"said Stern. "Guatemalan authorities must take immediate steps to protect LGBT people and hold their assailants accountable."

Human Rights Watch sent letters today detailing these human rights abuses to President Oscar Berger, the Office of the Minister of the Interior, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the national police, the Solicitor for Human Rights, and the Representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Is this justice?

Bay Area Reporter

Last month, three men were sentenced for their role in the Gwen Araujo murder. Two of these men, Michael Magidson and Jose Merel, were give a mandatory 15 years to life sentence. The third, Jason Cazares, was sentenced to a mere six years for voluntary manslaughter. As a further indignity, he was allowed to remain a free man until the end of March -- so he could see the birth of his third child.

Let me back up for a moment, to a night in October of 2002. My television was showing a grainy photo of a young boy and talking about the body of said youth being found. It caught my ear because they said something about the victim "dressing like a woman" or some such.

In the years that followed, we learned more. We heard about a transgender girl who fell in with a group of men -- the men who would ultimately beat and strangle her to death, then bury her in a shallow grave. We saw defense lawyers try twice to convince jurors that their reason for murdering this girl was because they "panicked" over her transgender status.

I was one of a handful of people who became close to this case, starting on that first night in 2002. I attended Gwen's viewing, and held hands in a circle of mourners outside her funeral. I went to the preliminary hearing, and helped stage a protest when Michael Magidson was attempting to get bail reinstated after that hearing. I attended court throughout both trials.

Throughout this, I asked for only one thing: justice. I find myself conflicted, with all of this over, as to whether we've achieved it.

Don't get me wrong: I'm glad that two of her murderers are going to prison, and will likely be there for many years to come. Fifteen-to-life, particularly in the case of murder, will tend to the latter end of the sentence.

At the same time, there is another man who will spend a mere six years total behind bars. This is less his time served, of course, which will make his stay seem all that shorter. He was fortunate enough to gain bail after the first trial, and has remained out.

Gwen's family gets to look at a box of ashes. They will never again see Gwen, or hear her voice, or feel her touch.

I am biased, of course, being a transgender woman who is also very involved with the issue of anti-transgender violence. I have also gotten to know Gwen's family, and feel the pain they have faced over the last three and a half years. I have a hard time finding justice, knowing that they will always have to live with this.

That said, there are things beyond the trials and sentences that I can look at. When the story first broke in the media, and for some time afterward, there was a continual fight to get the media to use Gwen's name and her preferred pronoun. Over the last three years, everyone has had to remain diligent with the media, continually reminding outlets when necessary.

Indeed, it only became common to see the correct name in use throughout the media because Gwen's family had her name posthumously changed.

That it remained in the media is another important aspect. This case has received more media attention that any anti-transgender murder before it. In my own archives -- used to create and maintain the Remembering Our Dead Project -- the folder of Gwen Araujo related material is larger than the records on all other anti-transgender murders combined. The case got heavy media coverage in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it was also covered throughout the country and in some foreign outlets. It was treated as a major news story.

The upshot of this is that the story is known outside of LGBT circles: it is a story that a great many people know at least the basics on, even if they've never knowingly met a transgender person in their life. This, if anything, increases awareness of transgender issues in ways that one could never expect.

This case has also spawned transgender civil rights bills in cities nearest the murder, has helped spur a bill to attempt to render useless the "panic" defense, and has even re-ignited efforts for a federal hate crimes bill that is inclusive of gender expression and identity.

Finally, this case has helped to bring awareness of transgender issues into schools. Last November, the Gay-Lesbian-Straight Educator's Network had me speak at a middle school not far from where Gwen Araujo used to live. I was very touched by this experience, knowing that somewhere amongst these 800 7th and 8th graders might be

Of course, I wish that could have come without Gwen Araujo's death in the first place -- but I'm glad that her death is not otherwise forgotten like so many others before and since.

So maybe this is how justice is achieved. There's no way that Gwen will come back, but maybe through her death we've seen the seeds be laid that will help prevent the same thing taking place again -- at least in her area.

Gwen is only one of hundreds, including the most recent case I've heard about -- the murder of Alexis King of Philadelphia. The local mainstream media is calling her a transvestite. The alleged killer is claiming a panic defense.

It begins again -- but, again, there is a chance for change.

Gwen Smith would do it all over again, if she had to. She's on the World Wide Web at

Trans/Forming Knowledge: A look at transgender identities, how they unsettle some basic assumptions

Chicargo Chronicle
By Jennifer Carnig
News Office
February 16

The Center for Gender Studies is sponsoring a conference this month that challenges the core of the fields of gender and sexuality studies by asking questions such as “What does it mean to be a woman?” “What does it mean to be gay or lesbian?”, and “Are those labels real or a construction imposed by a heteronormative society?”

“Trans/forming Knowledge” will focus on transgender studies, a relatively new field and one with few scholars and no established university or college department. But questions invoked by those in the field cannot be ignored, said George Chauncey, Professor in History and the College and Interim Director of the Center for Gender Studies.

“The emergence of transgender studies in recent years has raised far-reaching questions about the theoretical and empirical underpinnings of gender, women’s, queer and sexuality studies,” Chauncey said. “This symposium invites the community to consider the significance and implications of these questions by engaging in a sustained, interdisciplinary conversation with four of the field’s leading scholars.”

Included in the conference are two of the field’s founders—sociologist Aaron Devor and historian Susan Stryker—as well as Yale University women’s historian Joanne Meyerowitz and University of Southern California feminist theorist Judith Halberstam.

The contemporary transgender movement started in the early 1990s, emerging around the same time as queer studies but also intersecting with feminist theory, said Stryker, co-editor of The Transgender Studies Reader, due out from Routledge in June.

“The focus of the conference is to look at the impact of transgender studies on sexuality studies, gender studies and feminist studies,” she explained. “What’s interesting is that all of those fields in some way look at the relationship between sex, gender and sexuality—our bodies, our social roles and our desires. And each one of these fields has been productively unsettled by new work coming out in the field of transgender studies, which looks at the growing number of people who problematize what it means to be men or women. The self-identities of people that we call transgendered productively unsettle assumptions about sex, gender and sexuality for other people.”

Thinking about gay, lesbian and queer studies, Stryker explained, the whole idea of being same-sex depends on what the definition of “sex” is.

“You’re agreeing to an assumption of what a man is and what a woman is,” she said. “But how about somebody who was born female but never identified themself as a woman? Someone who had mastectomies, genital surgeries and now takes testosterone—who lives as a man—and has sex with men. Is that gay sex? That’s just one example of how transgender identities are unsettling a really basic assumption of queer studies.”

Thinking about women’s studies, Stryker asks a similar question—who is a woman? And perhaps more importantly, what is the nature of a gendered self—the nature of being a man or a woman?

While these questions may seem important only to a small segment of the population, Stryker said that the fact that such questions are being asked at all signals the start of a paradigm shift in gender studies and gay and lesbian studies that could have major repercussions.

“These questions become a critique for everyone and a launching point for a re-examination of how it is that all humans understand their bodies,” she said. “There is a whole new intellectual movement starting to happen.”

As she writes in her introduction to the forthcoming Transgender Studies Reader, “Ultimately, it is not just transgender phenomena per se that are of interest, but rather the manner in which these phenomena reveal the operations of systems and institutions that simultaneously produce various possibilities of viable personhood, and eliminate others. Thus the field of transgender studies, far from being an inconsequentially narrow specialization dealing only with a rarified population of transgender individuals É represents a significant and ongoing critical engagement with some of the most trenchant issues in contemporary humanities, social science and biomedical research.”

The conference begins at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, in the Biological Sciences Learning Center 109, 924 E. 57th St. A screening of Stryker’s public television documentary, Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, will be followed by a discussion with the director. The film uncovers a 1966 event in which transgender people physically fought back against police harassment at a restaurant in San Francisco, a full three years before the more widely known Stonewall riots that occurred in New York’s Greenwich Village.

The discussion continues from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, in Room 122 of the Social Sciences Building, 1126 E. 59th St. In the morning, Chauncey, Devor and Stryker will discuss the intersectional origins and developments of transgender studies. Meyerowitz and Halberstam will then explore the implications of transgender studies in the afternoon session.

The conference is being organized with support from the Lesbian and Gay Studies Project and is free and open to the public. For more information, call (773) 702-9936 or visit

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Fighting 'trans panic' through laws, disclosure

Southern Voice Online
Friday, February 10, 2006

When to reveal status remains tough subject in biased society, experts say.

Gwen Araujo died a brutal death.

After partying with a group of friends in September 2002, including having sexual contact with several young men, Araujo, 17, was invited to party with them again on Oct. 3, 2002.

But when the young men learned that night that Araujo had male genitalia, they beat and strangled her, leaving her body in a shallow grave. And when Araujo''''s attackers went on trial, they claimed their discovery justified their actions.

Late last month, the California Assembly approved a first-of-its-kind bill putting the state on record against the so-called "trans panic" and "gay panic" defenses used by some killers to receive lighter prison sentences.

Passed by the Assembly Jan. 26 and now pending before the state Senate, the bill is named for Araujo, and its approval came just one day before her assailants received the longest sentences allowed by law.

Michael Magidson, 25, and Jose Merel, 26, were sentenced to the mandatory terms of 15 years-to-life for second-degree murder. Jason Cazares, 26, pleaded no contest to manslaughter in a plea bargain and was sentenced to six years.

As part of their defense, the assailants said they believed Araujo to be female, had sexual contact with her, and then snapped when they found out she was biologically male. One defendant cried over and over, "I can''''t be gay, I can''''t be gay," according to court testimony.

California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D-San Jose), who authored the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act, said her bill is dedicated to leveling the judicial playing field.

"It was exclusively Gwen''''s trans status that made her a target," Lieber said in an interview Feb. 8. "This murder was something we in the Bay Area thought only happened in rural, isolated places, and this crime really stuck with me and the residents here."

Obligation to tell?

Cole Thaler, staff attorney for transgender rights with the gay litigation group Lambda Legal, said the jury''''s decision to bestow the harshest punishments in the Gwen Araujo case is a hopeful sign the tide is beginning to turn against "trans panic" and "gay panic" defenses.

"These kinds of defenses are ''''heat of passion'''' defenses," Thaler said. "And the heat of passion defense results from how we as a society expect reasonable people to react in certain ways. When these kinds of defenses are successful, they are simply confirmation of homophobia and transphobia as being part of our values — and I argue that we don''''t want these as our societal values."

Courts haven''''t found that transgender people have any legal obligation to disclose their status to potential sex partners, Thaler said, tending to side against any kind of "sexual fraud" defense made in cases involving trans victims.

Society needs to be educated that trans people are who they say they are, regardless of their genitalia, he added.

"If you meet someone at a bar and decide to go home with them, there is no obligation to reveal your racial ethnicity or your religion," Thaler said. "A trans woman is accurately representing herself as a woman … The fact Gwen Araujo was born with male genitalia did not make her any less of a woman."

Disclosure ''''really big issue''''

Rachael St. Claire, a transsexual psychologist from Colorado, has experienced disclosure issues both personally and professionally, particularly with male-to-female clients.

"Disclosure is a really big issue for them," she said. "Male-to-female transgender people who are attracted to heterosexual men have a difficult time. And generally what I counsel is for the person to identify what their values are and what their intentions are," St. Claire said.

If a trans person is going to disclose to a partner for the first time, they may want to do it in a public place or even over the telephone to be safer, she said.

And as a transsexual woman who has faced disclosure many times in dating relationships, St. Claire said it''''s often a "relationship killer" with the heterosexual men to whom she is attracted.

"I don''''t think it is very safe to be having a relationship with a heterosexual man without telling them because of the potential violence," she said.

But even if a transgender person doesn''''t disclose her status to a date, it doesn''''t justify a physical attack, St. Claire stressed.

"That''''s like equaling a woman''''s responsibility for not being raped," she said.

Randi Ettner, a Chicago therapist and transgender specialist whose books include "Gender Loving Care: A Guide to Counseling Gender-Variant Clients," said the issue of disclosure is the most frequently asked question in her practice.

"Unfortunately, there is so much ignorance and prejudice about this condition that trans people have to be very careful who and how they tell someone," she said.

There is no "universal answer" when it comes to disclosure, she added.

"This is the most personal and private information about someone. You have to have some sort of trust," she said.

Ettner said she understands transgender people often walk a fine line, but she advises not waiting very long to disclose being transgender to someone you are dating.

"You don''''t want to let too much time go by so that the other person feels blindsided," Ettner said. "But in casual dating, there''''s also not the responsibility to bring up such a personal issue. I do think for pre-operative people engaging in sex who are not honest, they may be putting themselves in unsafe situations."

Still, revealing transgender status is not a first-date conversation, either, Ettner warned. Instead, she advocates getting to know a person and having that person get to know you, as well as trusting intuition about how the partner might react.

"You want them to know you have more value than just your genitals," she said.

No ''''100 percent protection''''

Gordene MacKenzie co-hosts and produces "GenderTalk" radio with her partner, Nancy Nangeroni, a transgender woman. MacKenzie said trans women, especially trans women of color, are particularly vulnerable to violence.

Education on every level — in schools, in state legislatures, with federal lawmakers — needs to occur to make the world safer for trans people as well as for people are simply different, MacKenzie said.

"We are dealing with a human rights and civil rights issue here," she said.

"Trans panic" defenses simply shift the blame to the victim, she added. "These strategies are defending bigotry and saying that because someone is of a certain gender, their deaths don''''t matter as much. We need to change our way of thinking."

Gwen Smith, a trans activist and writer, said she still faces some fear living openly as a transgender woman, and she has had friends murdered simply because of their gender identity.

"Being trans threatens a lot of people. It''''s the most visible form of homophobia, and it frightens people," she said.

In Araujo''''s case, she was simply living her life as honestly as she knew how, Smith said. Perhaps precautions could have been made, but the truth is there is no universal way to be safe in today''''s world for trans people.

"You can take self-defense courses, you can be more forthcoming with partners and be more careful about who you are with, but that does not guarantee 100 percent protection," she said.

Balancing safety, honesty

Law student Victoria Steinberg examined the Gwen Araujo case in an article titled "Heat of Passion Offense: Emotions & Bias in ''''Trans Panic'''' Mitigation Claims," published in the 2004-2005 Boston College Third World Law Journal.

Blaming trans crime victims for not disclosing their status removes responsibility from their attackers, Steinberg wrote.

Araujo "did not wear a sign on her forehead that said, ''''I am transgender, this is what my genitalia look like,''''" Steinberg argued. "But her killers didn''''t wear a sign on their foreheads saying, ''''We might look like nice high school boys, but really, we are transphobic and are planning to kill you.'''' That would have been a helpful disclosure."

A very deep distrust of gender non-conformity pervades our society, Steinberg observed, and that distrust is often acted out through violence against transgender people.

"We do not currently live in a society that is very tolerant of transgender identities, and so the transgender community is stuck with the difficult task of balancing two essential goals: safety and honesty.

"To this tricky balancing act is added the problem that even when a transgender person feels that he or she is honestly expressing their identity, that expression might feel to someone else like a lie or a surprise," she said.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Hollywood hypocrisy

The Bay Area Reporter

Let's hear it for Felicity Huffman. To play the role of Bree in the film Transamerica, she had to be trained in how to play a transsexual learning to present as a woman, alter her voice, wear extensive makeup and a wig, and even don a phallus she nicknamed "Andy." All part of presenting her character – a pre-operative transsexual – to the masses.

As a result of her heartfelt portrayal, she won a Golden Globe Award. That's the latest in a slew of awards for this flick. There is even some Academy Award buzz around her performance. This would, of course, lead to comparisons between her and Hilary Swank, who took home an Oscar for her portrayal of Brandon Teena in the 1999 film Boys Don't Cry .

It really is great that Transamerica has done so well, and that Huffman's portrayal of a transgender woman has been so highly regarded. At the same time, I feel that the film and its accolades reveal another story, one that shows the shallowness, even hypocrisy of the world that is Hollywood.

The same week that Huffman won her Golden Globe, another story was unfolding on the small screen. On American Idol , we met Zachary Travis. Travis identifies as male, but has a look and sound that is decidedly female. He preformed Whitney Houston's "Queen of the Night" for the judges, and gave his all.

As fate would have it, I saw this performance with my sister, who just so happens to be active in music. She agreed that Travis's singing – while not the best out there by any stretch – was nonetheless better than some of the others who made the cut for American Idol 's Hollywood studios that night.

Unfortunately, Travis was not chosen. This was hardly a surprise, given that all the teasers leading up to his performance were playing up the gender issues. They made sure to save this one for last, telling us about high heels, and offering a clip of Idol judge Randy Jackson questioning said contestant's gender.

Simon Cowell – who is known as the tough judge of the trio – did indeed take Travis's gender to task, referring to him as "atrocious" and "confused." The softest of the judges – Paula Abdul – also nixed Travis, reassuring him and everyone else that she was basing her opinion purely on Travis's singing.

Also within this same week, a Rolling Stone article came out on one of the two Wachowski brothers, of The Matrix fame. It is hardly a new story that Larry Wachowski has – fairly firm rumor has it – begun to show signs of some pretty heavy feminization. There is also the issue of a name change from Laurence to Laurenca.

This Rolling Stone article – like those American Idol teasers – was plenty salacious, promising their real-life story may be "stranger than fiction." It was replete with tales of bondage clubs and pornography, and even quotes on "autogynephilia" from controversial professor J. Michael Bailey.

This is the heart of the issue. Huffman – and before her, Swank – did highly commendable portrayals of transgender people. They were showered with accolades for same. Yet the reality is that transgender people can only be portrayed: they will be hard-pressed to be accepted in Hollywood.

I am reminded of an issue several years ago, where it became obvious that Hollywood was hiring non-disabled actors and actresses to portray disabled characters. These performances also garnered those actors some acclaim.

Consider Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, Dustin Hoffman as Raymond "Rain Man" Babbitt, and Billy Bob Thornton as Karl Childers in Slingblade. One could contend that these performances gained so much notoriety because a non-disabled actor was able to "act" convincingly disabled. This is the same thing that Swank and Huffman have, perhaps, done within Transamerica and Boys Don't Cry .

Yet you would be hard-pressed to find actual, visible transgender people either in front of or behind the cameras. Huffman did indeed bring a reality toward playing the part of Bree – but why not a film featuring one of our real, actual transgender performers, written by transgender scriptwriters, and produced and directed by transgender filmmakers?

When Huffman appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, she was faced with a host focusing on "Andy" the phallus – and making disparaging comments about transgender people. Those watching got to hear Letterman say that he feels those who are gender variant might have once behaved as "normal," framing all who are transgender as being, by extension, abnormal.

The most telling moment in this interview, however, was when Letterman spoke of a former staffer of the show, now named Hope. Hope is a former staff member of the Late Show, and one who transitioned at that job.

Of course, to Letterman, Hope will always be – to paraphrase the talk show host – "Howard in a dress." Somewhere out there, Hope had to cringe through this, being both outed and disparaged in a single breath on late night television.

To her credit, Huffman corrected what she could correct, and appeared visibly pained over the things she could not. She has learned a lot from playing the part of a transsexual woman, I am certain – but there are far more people out there who would side with Letterman or Cowell before they'd side with her.

So kudos again to Huffman on her win, and for giving life to the character of Bree -- but let us not pretend that the dream factory that is Hollywood is enlightened. It remains a place of great stories, but precious little substance.

Gwen Smith wishes Hope, Laurenca, and Zachary the best out of a rough world. She's online at

Monday, February 06, 2006

Japan - Transsexual not allowed to register new gender in Gifu

GIFU — A family court in Gifu Prefecture has rejected a request filed by a male-to-female transsexual to officially register as a woman because she has two sons who were born before the sex change.

Atsuko Mizuno, 44, said Monday the Gifu Family Court rejected in a Jan 16 decision her request on the grounds that the law only allows people diagnosed with gender identity disorder to register their sex change if they do not have children. The law, implemented in July 2004, is based on the reasoning that children would be confused if a parent with such a disorder seeks to officially register a gender change.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Community: 2, Transgender Panic: 0

Araujo Defendants Sentenced, AB 1160 Advances.

January 27, 2006 – San Francisco, CA – Three defendants in the 2002 murder of Bay Area transgender teen, Gwen Araujo, were sentenced to prison one day after landmark legislation, the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victim’s Act, passed through the California Assembly. Michael Magidson and Jose Merel were in the Hayward County Superior court to be sentenced on their second-degree murder convictions. Jason Cazares was being sentenced to six years in accordance with plea to voluntary manslaughter charges.

"This is a day we have long awaited," said Transgender Law Center Deputy Director, Cecilia Chung. "While seeing anyone sentenced to prison is no reason for celebration, today marked further proof that transgender panic strategies do not have traction with Bay Area juries. Despite their attempts to blame Gwen for her own murder, these men are being held accountable for their horrific choices."

In Sacramento, Assemblymember Sally Lieber's legislation, AB 1160, passed on a party-line vote on Thursday January 26th. The bill, sponsored by Equality California, is the first in the country to offer a response to defendant’s who attempt to use societal bias against their victims as a means of getting a "get out of jail free card." The bill clearly states that bias against victims should never be a factor in determining the culpability of the people who are accused of committing crimes against them.

"The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victim’s Act is a modest effort to ensure that the same societal bias that led to the death of Gwen isn’t used against people like her to lessen the guilt of murders," said Christopher Daley, TLC’s Director. "The wholly inadequate plea bargain reached in 2005 by the Fresno County District Attorney’s office in the murder of Joel Robles is clear evidence of the need for this kind of action."

The Transgender Law Center, founded in 2002, provides legal services to transgender people and their families throughout California and promotes common-sense public policy solutions to widespread gender identity discrimination.

Ragsdale: Pastor uses faith in gender change


A transgender pastor, who came to peace about his gender identity and his faith while in seminary, will speak about his experience next month at Simpson College.

Malcolm Himschoot is a United Church of Christ pastor. He also grew up as a girl even though he felt he should have been the "third brother" in his family.

His story about trying to reconcile his self-perception and how the world viewed him, his transition from "Miriam" to "Malcolm" and his struggle with faith, love and gender identity were featured in a documentary, "Call Me Malcolm," released in 2005.

"I was in my last year of seminary at Iliff School of Theology when I was invited to tell a story nobody would have assumed I would have just by looking at me," Himschoot said. "In my life, my gender journey was about discovering and living truth, living out of a place of compassion for myself and in relationship with others."

A Colorado native, Himschoot enrolled at Iliff in Denver as "Miriam" Himschoot. Originally, she hoped to study theology to better understand Christianity and the teachings of her home church even though those teachings seemed to indicate God hated her.

During Himschoot's struggle for identity, she became estranged from her parents, family, church and friends.

In college, however, Himschoot learned about transgender individuals and began investigating the condition and alternatives open to transgendered people. Shortly thereafter Himschoot began adopting a male identity.

Transgender is a broad term that refers to people who don't conform to traditional gender identity. It includes transsexuals who may transition from male to female or female to male by presenting themselves in their preferred gender or by undergoing sex-reassignment surgery. Those who change gender don't necessarily change their sexual orientation.

Christian community

Supported by the Iliff Christian community, Himschoot began presenting himself as a man, asking people to "call me Malcolm."

Joseph Parlagreco, who directed the documentary for Filmworks and the United Church of Christ, said the film is a snapshot of Himschoot's life.

"He didn't know he was going to be a minister. He didn't attend seminary with that objective. He had no job. He was where a lot of us are, trying to figure out who we are, where we fit in, who we should love and who will we marry. These are universal questions," Parlagreco said.

Himschoot, 28, is an outreach pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis. He has a passion for urban ministry, addressing "poverty and how the faith community needs to pay attention to inner-city issues." He's proud of United Church of Christ's policies that welcomed him and gave him the opportunity to serve others.

"I've been privileged to claim my experience and be in ministry in a church that has been open and affirming for at least 20 years," Himschoot said.

His mission to promote understanding and his friendship with Jan Everhart, director of the Lilly Initiative for Vocational Exploration, brings him to preach and speak at Simpson College on Feb. 5.

Everhart and Himschoot met at Iliff, a United Methodist seminary.

"I knew Miriam, an excellent student who won the student of the year award studying for a masters of divinity," Everhart said. "Malcolm made his transition while he was a student there, something he did incredibly gracefully, with great integrity and faith."

According to statistics cited by FtM International, an education and advocacy group for female-to-male transgender, cases of transgender occur in approximately one in 50 people, at about the same frequency as birth defects such as cleft palate.

"Researcher Lynn Conway found that occurrence is stable across society, is found in all different cultures and it has been stable across time," said Rabbi Levi Alter, president of FtM International. "Some people are shocked at the frequency, but that's because you can't necessarily tell who is transgender just by looking at them. They don't go around wearing a sign."

Some are uncomfortable

Alter said he knows some people are uncomfortable with the transgender concept, but "this is a real-life issue."

"Some people prefer to have simple choices, black or white, right or wrong, my way or the highway," Alter said.

Himschoot agrees that most people think "God created things a certain way and if you change anything at all, you're going against God."

"That's just not the God I know or the God I worship," he said. "The stories Jesus told, the way he touched people's lives, I only see doors opened, not doors closed."

Everhart, a biblical scholar, believes that thinking about gender should be broader than the male-female construct.

"What I have learned over many years is that it is not that clear for some people," Everhart said. "God is creative. There are more than two ways to be."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Transsexual insurance
Chris Morgan

There are still members of the LGBT community that are discriminated against by the insurance industry. In his latest financial column Chris Morgan highlights the treatment received by one transsexual client.

Sophie is concerned about a life assurance application that she’s made recently to a life assurance company. She has applied to cover her mortgage for a sum of £42,500 over 12 years, which pays out in the event of her death or serious illness.

Sophie said:

‘The life assurance company are not treating me fairly, as they keep addressing any letters to Mister, even though my original application form was in the name of Ms Sophie. I changed my gender six years ago, and they are not recognising my new identity.’

Sophie has a right to feel aggrieved, as any person who has already undergone gender reassignment is entitled to apply for insurance in their acquired identity. This rule applies to all Life Assurance, Critical Illness, Income Protection, Pension and Investments applications.

The Association of British Insurers has issued guidance notes on this subject, which now acts as the industry standard. Where gender reassignment has already taken place prior to an application, the person should be treated in accordance with their new identity.

Sophie continued

‘My application has now been running for over 4 months, and the premium keeps going up. It appears that I’m being charged as a male, when the policy should be on rates charged to a female. What do you suggest I do?’

Here’s a summary of insurance industry rules that apply to Transsexuals

If you have already been through gender reassignment, then any financial application should be made and treated on your acquired gender. It is quite normal for any Life Assurance company to ask you for access to any medical records.

The premium that you pay should be on the basis of your new identity and any increased premiums on your policy should be for medical reasons only. Any correspondence from the insurance company should be addressed in line with your wishes.

Should your intention be to undergo gender reassignment, but you have not started the process then you should be treated under your current gender. If you already have existing insurance policies in place, then you are entitled to change these and be addressed as your new title.

And Sophie?

We arranged a Mortgage Protection policy for Ms Sophie, without any issues over identity and with premiums at normal rates. In our opinion, no matter what a persons gender, creed, colour, sexuality, health status you should be treated with respect.

Chris Morgan is Managing Director of Compass, Financial Advisers to the Gay Community and editor of Pink Finance the gay finance magazine

Friday, January 27, 2006

Life after Gwen
Sylvia Guerrero

I am not sure how I expected to feel at this point. When my daughter Gwen, a transgender teenager, was brutally murdered on Oct. 4, 2002, I was sure that I would never feel whole again. Looking back, I didn't yet know exactly what "transgender" meant or how to fully embrace my child's identity. But I knew one thing: I wanted justice for my child.

I thought that maybe I'd feel better on the day when the four suspects in her murder were brought to justice. More than three years and three months since Gwen's murder that day is finally here. On Friday, these men are being sentenced to prison terms for their actions, two of them convicted of second-degree murder and two taking plea bargains for voluntary manslaughter. I guess I hoped that once we got to the sentencing date, the pain would end and I could get back to my life. But it hasn't and I can't.

No amount of justice can return the part of me that these men took when they killed Gwen. The closure that people keep talking about hasn't come. It would be so much easier to write that it had. After all, that is what most people want to read: The system worked; my family is whole; the story is over. It would be comforting and allow us to get on with our lives. Of the many things I'm feeling, closure isn't one of them.

I'm angry. Angry that Gwen's brothers and her nieces and nephews won't get to grow up knowing her the way her aunts, uncles, older sister and I did. Angry that instead of celebrating her birthday, we get together each year to commemorate her death. Angry that, in both trials, the defendants tried to blame Gwen for her own murder. Angry that other young lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender kids continue to face the discrimination she did in our public schools and our workforce.

I'm also grateful. Grateful that my family and our friends rose to the challenge and sat through two gruesome and explicit criminal trials to make sure that everyone knew that Gwen was loved for who she was. I'm grateful for the support we've all received from perfect strangers who have told us in-person and through e-mail that we are in their thoughts and prayers. I'm grateful for the remorse that two of the defendants and some of their family members have expressed to me and my family.

And I'm sad. Sad that I'll never get to see Gwen grow into the beautiful woman she would have become. Sad that four men chose to end my daughter's life, and throw away their own simply because they thought they were acting like "real men." And sad that other transgender women have been killed since Gwen's murder and that we don't have a realistic end in sight to that violence.

Within this mix of emotions, though, the one that I hold onto most dearly is hope. Since that tragic night, my own family has grown by two beautiful grandchildren. More and more parents are supporting their transgender children. California has become the country's most protective state for transgender people. And just this month, a new law has been proposed in Sacramento, the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act, authored by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, and sponsored by Equality California, an LGBT civil-rights lobbying group, to protect people from being blamed for their own murder.

Maybe the reason I don't have closure around Gwen's death is that there is still work to do. If I've learned anything since Gwen's murder, it is that hope alone is not enough. Each of us who hopes to live in a state where our families are protected needs to work toward making California that place. For instance, boys and girls in schools throughout the Bay Area need to hear, firsthand, how important it is to be themselves and to respect each other's differences.

None of us can change the way the world was on Oct. 4, 2002. But each of us now has an important role to play in creating a state where we can celebrate more birthdays and commemorate fewer murders.

Sylvia Guerrero is the mother of Gwen Araujo and an activist for LGBT civil rights. She speaks at schools around the Bay Area through the Gwen Araujo Transgender Education Fund administered by the Horizons Foundation.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Transsexual drug dealer spared the cane

SINGAPORE -- A court has spared a Thai transsexual drug dealer from caning because Singaporean law does not allow women to be sentenced to that punishment, a newspaper reported Friday.

Thai prostitute Mongkon Pusuwan, who underwent a sex change from male to female a decade ago, was instead sentenced on Wednesday to six years in jail after a medical report concluded that she was a woman, The Straits Times reported.

District Judge Bala Reddy handed down the sentence after the long-haired Mongkon, 37, pleaded guilty to charges including trafficking in cocaine and tablets containing ketamine, the report said.

The amount of drugs in her possession was too small for her to qualify for Singapore's mandatory death penalty for some drug cases.

Mongkon, whose passport identified her as a male, was arrested in December.

Men who commit similar crimes can be sentenced to caning. Offenders are strapped to a wooden frame and lashed across the bare buttocks with a rattan rod.

The punishment drew international attention in 1994 when American teenager Michael Fay was caned for spray-painting cars, despite objections from then-U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The plastic activist

The Bay Area Reporter

Transgender activism is hard. One is often fighting a lonely, uphill battle against deeply ingrained societal norms, and oftentimes even our allies are shaky in their support.

That's why I was glad to hear about a new ally standing up for transgender people, a woman who built a $1.9 billion dollar-a-year empire. A most remarkable woman who has served in all branches of the armed forces, yet still has had the time for a successful career as a flight attendant, veterinarian, and ballerina.

Even after 50 years, she still has a killer body, though it's clear that there's a lot of plastic going on. Actually, that's all there is: injection molded plastic.

I'm speaking of Barbie Millicent Roberts. That is, Barbie, a 10-inch doll made by the Mattel toy company.

That she is such a fan of gender transgression might come as a surprise. All these years, I thought Barbie simply reinforced traditional stereotypes of women, and pushed a world that's all about dedication to your boyfriend and your dream home – which apparently should be painted in Pepto-Bismol pink.

When I was young, Barbie was still more something to hang miniature fashions off of, or pilot around the bedroom floor in a scaled down Corvette stingray. It was big news when she started to come out with attire and accessories that reflected the liberated, working woman.

Today, you can get Barbie in a plethora of professional outfits, not to mention ethnicities and abilities that go a little farther in showing a realistic portrayal of women in modern society. Granted, scaled up to life size, she's still 7-feet 2-inches – but at least she's a little closer to reality.

Into all this steps the Concerned Women of America, and the director of its Culture and Family Institute, Robert Knight. I'll avoid the usual comment about a man being the spokesperson for a women's organization, except to say that it probably just shows them to be a very old-fashioned group, having the man speak for the "little ladies."

CWA's main beef has been about a question on a poll present on the Barbie Web site. The problem the group has? This poll gave three options on gender: "Boy," "Girl," and "I Don't Know."

You can guess where it went from there. Shouts of how Mattel, through Barbie, was promoting the "homosexual activist agenda." Of course, days later, the poll response clanged to "I Don't Want To Say" – but Concerned Women of America is still not happy.

It's view, of course, is that this single, otherwise innocuous question promotes "gender confusion," and will lead young girls down the path of same-sex lovin.' It's a slippery slope argument that if a kid isn't sure of their sex, then it is that much easier to "trap" them into homosexuality.

CWA also contends that Barbie is materialistic. I can't argue with the group on that. Unfortunately, CWA places this view in opposition to Barbie "serving the Lord, getting married, having kids" and all that good stuff that Barbie used to do. All of those seem like difficult tasks for a doll to accomplish, however.

I have to admit: I didn't grow up with Barbie dolls, even though they often appeared on my holiday wish-list. The closest I got was a series of inferior "Wizard of Oz" dolls – yes, this probably should have told someone something about me – and the larger-than-Barbie Bionic Woman doll. Indeed, I didn't have my first Barbie until I was in my 30s, and it sits on a display stand collecting dust.

The dolls I had, however, were simply things I played with. They were toys with which I could pretend and imagine, playthings that could occupy my time in an enjoyable way. The Bionic Woman doll did not influence me to try bending steel bars, nor did the Glenda the Good Witch doll make me want to pilot around in a large pink soap bubble.

If I was still the kid I was then, and was faced with that poll, I don't know what answer I might have given. I doubt it would have been any more life changing that selecting my age within the same poll.

Of course, as I am a transgender woman – and had plenty of inkling of such from an early age – maybe I would have taken that third option. Yet if I had, this only proves something that already existed within me. It doesn't leave any room for saying that the poll contributed to my gender identity or expression. Heck, if I was surfing a Barbie Web site at that age, when the rest of the world considered me a boy, that would say far more about my gender than that one poll answer ever would.

My situation is, I suspect, one of few. For most kids, the issue of their gender isn't that big an issue. It is, at best, something taken for granted and, more than this, something that isn't that big a deal. Certainly not as big as the CWA wants us to believe.

The same is true of the doll itself. If anything, the doll may perpetuate issues with appearance and body image in women, but it isn't turning people away from their morality or values. To blame a piece of injection molded plastic for turning people away from church or family is the very definition of a scapegoat.

Perhaps this is the thing the Concerned Women of America doesn't understand. Sometimes, a doll is just a doll, and sometimes a kid is just a kid. Fretting over their gender when all they are doing is playing with their favorite plaything is just so much wasted energy.

Gwen Smith always lusted after the "Barbie Friend Ship" when she was a kid. She's online at

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

USA - Sex Change Doctor Dead At 82

TRINIDAD, Colorado, Jan. 18, 2006

(AP) Dr. Stanley Biber, a small-town physician who said he performed more than 4,500 sex change operations in his career, has died, a friend and funeral home owner said. He was 82.

Biber died in Pueblo, where he had been hospitalized for complications from pneumonia. The cause of death was not announced Tuesday.

"We've lost a tremendous friend in our community," said Mary Winter, owner of the Cormi Funeral Home in Trinidad, a town of 9,300 near the Colorado-New Mexico border.

Winter said Monday that Biber was her family's doctor for generations. "He was just a great man," she said. She said no public services had been scheduled.

Biber, an Iowa native, moved to Trinidad in 1954 after serving as an Army surgeon in South Korea. As the town's only general surgeon, he delivered babies, removed appendixes and performed other more routine operations.

He told The Associated Press in a 2000 interview that he performed his first sex-change operation in 1969. A social worker he had met through a welfare case asked for the surgery, and he agreed after talking to a New York physician who had done some sex reassignment operations, and getting sketches from Johns Hopkins University.

Word spread, and at one point he was performing 150 transsexual operations a year, he said.

He stopped doing surgery in 2003 and closed his practice in 2004, at age 81, saying insurers refused to renew his malpractice coverage. He said the companies gave no reason but he suspected it was because of his age.

Biber was a former Las Animas County commissioner and also had a small ranch east of Trinidad.

Residents of Trinidad have said the town was largely accepting of Biber's sex change practice. Former Trinidad Mayor Harry Sayre said in 2004 that Biber was a pillar of the community.

"I consider him probably one of the outstanding leaders in Trinidad of the last century," Sayre said. "He and I had our battles many years ago, but I consider him a real true friend."

Biber's protege, Dr. Marci Bowers, underwent a sex-change operation several years ago and now performs an average of five such operations a week in Trinidad.

"I think he put the operation on the world map," Bowers said. "He made it safe, reproducible and functional and he brought happiness to an awful lot of people. And when you wanted a voice of reason, he was always there."