Transgender, Victimized and Black: Op-Ed
Another example -- in June 2006 the Ali Forney Center (AFC) in NYC, the nation’s largest LGBTQ youth homeless services center, aggressively launched an advertising campaign asking the simple question: "Would you stop loving your child if you found out they were gay or lesbian?" Carl Siciliano, Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, stated, "Our goal was to address the rising rate of LGBT youth homelessness, particularly in communities of color."
Ali Forney, for whom the center is named, was an African American transgender individual known as Luscious and was also a throwaway. And like many throwaways, Forney earned a living as a prostitute. Once stabilized with a roof over his head Forney spent his remaining years dedicating his time to helping his peers. On a cold wintry December night in 1997 at 4 a.m. Forney was murdered by a still unidentified assailant.
Black transphobia, in this present-day and in its present form, many opine, has a lot to do with the social alienation from the dominant white LGBTQ community and the cultural and religious isolation from the African American community.
Trans brothers and sisters have not been the "other." Black drag balls and then "drag houses" or "drag families," as seen in Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary film Paris Is Burning, were comprised of primarily African American and transgender Latinos who lived in their communities. Their performance at drag balls illustrate how race, class and varying ranges of gender identities and expressions, deconstructs notions of masculinity, and redefines what it is means to be a diva.
During the 1920s in Harlem, the renowned Savoy Ballroom and the Rockland Palace hosted drag ball extravaganzas with prizes awarded for the best costumes. Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes depicted the balls as "spectacles of color." George Chauncey, author of Gay New York, wrote that during this period "perhaps nowhere were more men willing to venture out in public in drag than in Harlem."
And with constant harassment by white policemen patrolling the neighborhood, making the trans community their conspicuous target along with public denouncements of them by black ministers -- like the famous Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. of Abyssinian Baptist Church -- Harlem’s trans community was, nonetheless, unrelenting with their drag balls, because they were wildly popular and growing among its working class. And those drag balls were covered in the black press:
"Of course, a costume ball can be a very tame thing, but when all the exquisitely gowned women on the floor are men and a number of the smartest men are women, ah then, we have something over which to thrill and grow round-eyed," reported the gossipy black weekly tabloid The Inter-State Tattler.
The study "Injustice at Every Turn: A Look at Black Respondents in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey" gives us just a small window into the everyday lived reality of my transgender brothers and sisters.