Joyce Arnold is a liberal Independent activist whose weekly column “Queer Talk” appears on Saturday.

I found out I know someone who attended the June 30, Pride Reception at the White House. Marisa Richmond, Ph.D., is one of the people I think about when considering grassroots activism. Her many years of work at the local level, in Nashville, TN, are also filled with work at the state and national levels. Sometimes I’m too quick with the “Insider & Access” generalization, applied to DC advocacy work. I know better, because I know Marisa, and others like her, whose consistent work toward LGBT equality isn’t about gaining an “elite” status, but about gaining equality.

Marisa does this work in multiple ways, including as president of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, Secretary of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and at large board member of Davidson County (TN) Democratic Women. She was a member of the Transgender Delegate Caucus at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. That’s just a sampling, but it should give one “this is what an activist looks like” picture.

Before listening to Marisa, some context.

Studies consistently show that transgender individuals are the targets of discrimination far more frequently than anyone else in the LGBT communities. For example, in February of this year, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality released “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.”


This study brings to light what is both patently obvious and far too often dismissed from the human rights agenda. Transgender and gender non-conforming people face injustice at every turn: in childhood homes, in school systems that promise to shelter and educate, in harsh and exclusionary workplaces, at the grocery store, the hotel front desk, in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, before judges and at the hands of landlords, police officers, health care workers and other service providers.

The study provides stories, not just statistics. One recent story comes by way of a June 23, 2011 article by Eliza Gray, “Transitions: What will it take for America to accept transgender people for who they really are?” :

On April 18, a transgender woman named Chrissy Lee Polis went to the women’s bathroom in a Baltimore County McDonald’s. When she came out, two teenage girls approached and spat in her face. Then they threw her to the floor and started kicking her in the head. As a crowd of customers watched, Polis tried to stand up, but the girls dragged her by her hair across the restaurant, ripping the earrings out of her ears. The last thing Polis remembers, before she had a seizure, was spitting blood on the restaurant door. The incident made national news”“not because this sort of violence against transgender people is unusual, but because a McDonald’s employee recorded the beating on his cell phone and posted the video on YouTube.

That a member of the transgender communities was at the WH Pride reception is obviously significant. That there is much more work to be done is just as obvious.

And so, from Marisa (with her permission), via a July 1 e-mailing of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition,”The Dichotomy of Transgender Lives”:

This week, two events have reminded us of the dichotomy of the lives of transgender Americans.

On Wednesday, I had the honor and privilege of being one of several hundred who attended the LGBT Pride Reception at the White House. Just prior to the public remarks made by the President of the United States, I was one of 13 attendees, and the only transgender representative, who was ushered in the Diplomatic Reception Room for a personal meeting with President Barack Obama. After our private meeting and the President’s public speech in the East Room, I also got to meet and chat briefly with Vice President Joe Biden.

While I was in the White House talking with the two highest ranking officials of the United States government on behalf of the transgender community, back in Nashville, a local transwoman named Forresta Bee was speaking up about a reported transphobic incident.

According to Ms. Bee, she was at the All-White Affair at LP Field (home of the TN Titans) on June 4, when 101.1 The Beat Jamz DJ Dolewite, of the weeknight radio show Dolewite & Scooby, requested her removal from the makeshift dance floor.

“˜Dolewite invited everyone on stage to dance (after the fashion show),’ she says. “˜Everybody was taking pictures and doing videos. The next thing you know, he was saying “˜If you don’t get your Amazon, Shaquille O’ Neal-looking (expletive) off the stage, you better now.’ Then some heavyset guy was tugging my arm and telling me to get off the stage. …’

The incident reported by Ms. Bee occurred just one day after Tracy Morgan’s highly publicized rant at the Ryman Auditorium, also in Nashville.
When several LGBT community leaders met with Mr. Morgan on June 21, I pointed out the problems of harassment and violence against transpeople. …

I concluded my remarks that day by saying that transphobia and homophobia plagues many in the African-American community, and, thus, African-American leaders and spokespeople have a responsibility to stand against bigotry, not make fun of it.

So, at a time when an African-American transgender activist from Nashville got to shake hands and talk with the nation’s first African-American President, another African-American transwoman …, also from Nashville, was standing up for respect and dignity from her own community after being insulted, and made to feel vulnerable and humiliated, at an event she paid to attend.

As we gather together this weekend to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence with those inspirational words “˜we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,’ let us not forget that not all Americans are yet truly equal.

The Transgender community is making progress, but serious challenges remain, and that is why the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition exists to do the work we do.

Marisa is among the LGBT activists who really can take a local and state, grassroots level knowledge and activism, to DC. And she, and activists like her, from across issues and concerns, help provide the much needed accountability in the fight toward making equality “evident” in fact, and not just in words.