The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), an United States based organization which promotes the image of LGBT people in the media, recently announced it would be adding transgender equality to its mission.
“GLAAD will no longer be an acronym for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The advocacy organization announced Sunday…that it is altering its name and broadening its mission to focus more on advocating for equality for transgender people. The organization will still be called GLAAD.” –Rich Ferraro, GLAAD spokesperson
I am confused (bolded), unimpressed, and frankly—in the words of the internet—“Do. Not. Want.” Call me a bitter, jaded cynic if you must.
Of their twenty-person Board of Directors, not a single one is identifiable as a person of color. (In fact, the only people of color I have seen publicly affiliated with the organization are Latino actor/spokesperson Wilson Cruz and Black broadcaster/author Keith Boykin.) On the Board of Directors there are two women of trans experience and few, if any, lesbians. So who does GLAAD represent, exactly? This arrangement of power highlights a key issue I, a queer Black man of trans experience, have with organizations like GLAAD. Where am I in this mix?
One might argue that taking on trans issues will create more space within GLAAD for individuals in the community. The fact that GLAAD is an organization that aligns with the mainstream gay and lesbian rights movement hints otherwise. The interests and ideologies of White, able-bodied, cisgender, homonormative, and primarily male gays dominate “LGBT” spaces. Thus, the interests and ideologies of White, able-bodied, cisgender, homonormative, and primarily male gays dominate GLAAD. In a conversation about less privileged communities (i.e., the trans communty), this poses a clear issue. What is GLAAD doing to tackle my interests as a same gender loving Black man, transsexuality aside? If they are exerting minimal effort in support of the identity that most closely relates to that of their Board of Directors, how am I to believe they will do any better with an identity on the other end of the spectrum? In other words, how will apples lead kiwis?
Representing GLAAD on Melissa Harris-Perry, spokesperson and actor Wilson Cruz shared a story of his experience this past November 20th:
“On the Trans Day of Remembrance…I happened to be handed someone’s…story. I went up and read it. This person had no name. They didn’t know the person’s name. They just knew she was brutally attack and murdered and stabbed 11 times…on my birthday of that year. I think God was telling me ‘This is you. This is your story. This woman was you.’ As a gay man and a Latino man I know what it is like to be bullied and to have somebody tell me how I’m supposed to be. That’s what this woman was experiencing.”
While I’m sure the best, most empathetic of implications and intentions were meant in sharing this story, sadly Cruz missed the mark and provided a stark reminder as to why I don’t trust GLAAD to speak for nor represent me. You see, most people know what it is like to be bullied. That does not mean you have a clue what a day in the life of a trans person is like. Co-blogger and Twitter-extraordinaire Johnny Golightly worded it excellently:
There is more to trans advocacy than a mission statement alteration and an empathetic, “I was bullied too” from a handsome face.
Janet Mock did a beautiful job of unpacking the monolith by highlighting how issues facing and crimes against transgender people are primarily focused on trans women of color. As I and many other people of trans experience are doing, Mock also challenged GLAAD to walk the walk they’re talking of:
“We know that Jennifer Lopez goes by J. Lo. She’s still Jennifer Lopez. It’s going take more than a name change. It’s going to take a whole regime change in terms of hiring trans women of color to be on your staff so that they can address these issues in a more intimate spotlight.”
Given the history of trans-gay unity (or lack thereof), one can’t help but be hesitant. When, as Wilson Cruz pointed out, trans women of color started a movement that they are now shunned from, it is difficult to believe that a gay organization has the best interests of trans people in mind. With its recent history of targeting Black homophobes while simultaneously ignoring crimes against Black lesbian and gay people, can we really expect GLAAD to pay any attention to our trans sisters? Or will it just become a new space for White trans men to congregate (as tends to be the case where so-called “trans inclusion” is involved)?
Thanks for the thought, but no thanks.
Despite my criticism of GLAAD and hesitance regarding its “progressive stance,” I applaud GLAAD for at least trying to pull the trans community out of a hole many lesbians and gays helped dig. That is a motion few of the privileged think to do. Nonetheless, if GLAAD is truly committing itself to eradicating transphobia in the media, a good start would be from within. Educate lesbians and gays on how not to appropriate and colonize trans issues. Discuss the ways in which mainstream gay culture ‘others’ and shames trans people. Call out the racism, transphobia, and misogyny of drag culture. Hire more trans people to speak for themselves. Provide funding for trans people who create their own spaces. Send a trans spokesperson to discuss trans inclusion for news segments. Do not assume you know what the trans community needs. Ask us. After all, it is us you’re trying to help, right?