Sunday, March 31, 2013

We are All Allies in Training

A speech given by Sean-Michael Gettys at Caesar Chavez Plaza for Arizona's Celebration of the International Day of Trans* Visibility:

At "Genny's" Having Comfort Food After the SB1045 Hearing
This morning I woke from yet another restless night full of dreams about the people I love being strong, resilient human beings in the face of discrimination. And that is the nice way to put it. I also woke with some very specific words in mind, and I want to share those words with you here now. "We are All Allies in Training." Today as we stand here in Caesar Chavez Plaza, a space honoring migrant workers in the center of a city which does not, I ask you to listen with your hearts and minds wide open. To put aside any fear, misgivings or defensiveness you may feel, and to realize that we who speak to you today are somebody's sibling, child, spouse, loved one, coworker. We are human and fallible and in many ways, we are just like you.

Let's Have a FeFe! (After Casa Grande Equality March 2013)
I am a white, middle-aged man. I also am a person with multiple disabilities, most of them invisible, a human being who happens to be Trans* and I could go on. But as a white (or today pink) person, I am afforded privileges that my loved ones who are people of color do not always have. As a middle age person, I am often given privileges my friends and family who are youth do not have. As a person whose disabilities are in many ways invisible, I am sometimes given privileges my Deaf friends or people with disabilities do not have. As someone sometimes taken as straight/heterosexual, I am often given privileges my gay and lesbian friends do not have even though there's nothing straight about me.

With Casey from Wingspan at Casa Grande Pride
I have walked through this world and experienced some bits of the privilege which white, middle class men have in this world. I have also experienced very real discrimination for being perceived as a woman, a freak, a girl, a boy, Queer, Gay, a person with disabilities, a hippy, a liberal, Trans* or other less savory terms. Whether I personally identify with those labels or not, does not change the words, perception and actions of others. Both my experiences as  a person with privilege and my experiences as a person who is discriminated against have opened my eyes to the fact that I am an Ally in Training and I always will be.

As someone who is often asked to speak about being Trans, I strive to include people with other barriers whenever possible. I try to find sign language interpreters, or to sign my speech if I can, to mention Trans people of color and the multiple barriers they sometimes face, to mention populations in our society who are further marginalized such as sex workers or people living on the streets. There are many things I "try" to do to be an ally for others.

Fun with Friends and my Peace Full Creations (Knitting)
I also deal with many people who are allies to the Trans* Community on a regular basis, or those who want to be. It is a very real fear that I will say something that makes someone's life more painful, difficult or challenging than it already is in my fumbling attempts to be there for people I care about. I think it is fair to say, that we are ALL Allies in Training, even some of us who do not realize it yet. And as allies, one of the most difficult things to find is trust. Trust in ourselves and trust in others. We fear saying or doing the wrong thing, and sometimes we let it paralyze us and prevent us for being there for the people we care about. Sometimes we feel put down, attacked or "othered" by the very people we are trying to stand with.

I SINCERELY apologize if I ever make you feel less than or talked down to in my efforts to empower myself, I never want to dis-empower others. Sometimes my words may be unknown to you or confusing, and I welcome questions even if they are worded in ways that you fear may offend. Together we are stronger, and we need each other no matter who we are, or what barriers we face.

This has been a difficult month. When the Non Discrimination Ordinance was before the Phoenix Commission many of us heard hard stories from our community and some ignorant, some purely hateful words from those who would seek to prevent us from having the same basic safety and protection from discrimination that they walk through the world with on a daily basis. When many of our gay and lesbian friends celebrated, those of us who have been activists in the Trans* community for some time found ourselves torn. I can only speak for myself but I know that I felt a mixture of emotions. I was glad the Non Discrimination Ordinance passed, grateful that our allies had stood so strongly on our side and clearly insisted that Gender Identity and Expression be included so that ALL humans be protected, not just those who fit gender norms. At the same time, I was filled with a horrible sense of dread and not a little fear. I feared retaliation.

Nix, Claire & Friend at AZ House of Reps, Fighting 1432
Just as I began to work on that, we received word that Representative Kavanagh had created a bill criminalizing our very existence, and ANYONE who went into a restroom which had a label other than the sex on their birth certificate. With around 24 hours notice, and a wonderful synchronicity of events, we came together and beat that bill. Again, our allies stood with us in force. People we never knew were on our side stepped up and said no to SB 1432. And Kavanagh listened to his conservative constituents who said he was overreaching. He changed his words and instead used double speak to create a new bill, SB 1045.
AZ House of Representatives Appropriations Committee
Instead of criminalizing the actions of some, SB 1045, the #NoLoo4U bill, legalizes discrimination against anyone and everyone using a public restroom, locker room, or changing room. It also specifically states that it nullifies any ordinances that have already written such protections into law and prevents protections from ever being written in. It is an insidious law, because it uses words like "private" in order to confuse our allies who believe we should all have the right to privacy and to choose for ourselves how to act. Mr. Kavanagh believes discrimination should be legal, and that the proper response is just not to use businesses owned by bigoted people. I will not go on and on about the bill, you can learn more by talking to most people at today's International Day of Trans* Visibility event if you are in Arizona, or by going to the website or by asking myself or others who are openly working to defeat the bill.

Lee, Momma Donna, at Rally day after SB1045 Hearing
What I do want to say, is thank you. Thank you to Lee Walters, Sherri Shimansky, and Alex Wagner for helping us create an impromptu community rally and information session where people could come together and ask whatever they wanted about the previous days' committee hearing and what it means for Arizona today. For a very heart felt apology given that night to the Trans* community for shushing us when we received the verdict and had to listen to Kavanagh's words of ignorance and bigotry. For those who literally held me up as my legs went out from under me unexpectedly when I sobbed hysterically at the news. I had thought I was prepared to hear that bill pass through Appropriations. We knew we probably had not won over the people we needed to.

Rev. Brad Wishon at AZ Trans* Day of Visibility
I also want to thank Brad Wishon of 1 Voice Community Center for his constant undying support and tireless work behind the scenes. Laurie Provost for her well thought out and worded speech at the House Appropriations committee and for standing up and saying the city of Phoenix does not want this. To thank Momma Donna and Casey for listening to me vent after Equality March in Casa Grande, and Kat Sinclair, Kat Crabtree and all the Kats I somehow collect in my life for helping me brainstorm and think logically when facing a bill which has reopened past traumas and brought back deep fears. Thank you to those whose name never gets mentioned, but who keep up the fight. To our partners, care givers, spouses, allies, coworkers, friends, neighbors and family.

A Symbol of True Equality Is Inclusive
To those who have asked what I need. I need a hug. I need more than one, every day. In fact humans who are hugged 10 times a day are much healthier physically, so I probably need a dozen hugs a day. I need to feel seen. Not invisible or erased. And as small a thing as it may seem to you, I need to see the words Transgender, Gender Non Conforming and Intersex used on a regular basis by people who are not living with those labels. I need to feel heard. Not just listened to, but truly heard and if that means you will ask me questions you think are crazy, ignorant, or what have you, please do so. I need to be empowered, not talked down to, or over, or even supported, but empowered. I need to be given the tools to DO SOMETHING to make this world a better place. And I want the concerns, thoughts and ideas of myself and all humans to be taken into serious consideration, not just those who are cisgender (i.e. not trans), straight, white, middle class men, and not just everyone but them. But I NEED to be heard so I thank you for this opportunity to speak.

Many of you have asked me what you can do about SB 1045. I do not have all the answers. But here are three things I would like every one here do, because we are ALL allies, not just those who are cisgender but also those of us who are allies to gender non conformists, people of color, the elderly, etc. I ask that you be honest, open, and kind. Please take the time to tell someone how you are doing and to ask how they are doing. Be honest about your own fears and the fact that you don't always know what you are doing. Be open to critique even if it is not always given in the kindest or most rational manner because even when things are poorly explained or shared, they hold a nugget of truth, and if we listen for that truth, we can grow and be better allies to each other. And be kind to yourself and others. We all are hurting in some way. Take time with and give care to yourself and others. Time to laugh, time to cry, time to scream and time to heal. We are in this together. And we need each other. Because we are *all* Allies in Training.

A Graphic Free For Use to Celebrate Trans* Day of Visibility and Show Solidarity with Arizona re the #NoLoo4U Bill

1 comment:

  1. Love you Sean-Micheal, stay strong. We will win this, one way or another, as a community united and working together, across the nation. Consider yourself cyber hugged until I give you a big one in person.