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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Out at CHM opens series with transgender resilience
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond

This article shared 4996 times since Thu Jan 22, 2015
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The Chicago History Museum began its 12th annual Out at CHM series on January 22 with Transmopolitan: Transgender Resilience.

Trans activist and evangelist Precious Davis led and moderated a panel which represented an ongoing dynasty of transgender history, advocacy and achievement. Speakers included beloved activist and Center on Halsted charm school principal "Mama Gloria" Allen, celebrated and former Miss Continental title holder Kelly Lauren, Executive Director, founder of TransTech Social Enterprises and rising star Angelica Ross and impassioned activist, founding member and Project Attorney of the Transformative Justice Law Project Owen Daniel-McCarter.

Their spirited and moving dialogue, deeply personal stories and opinions demonstrated the tenacious resolve of the transgender community to be a compelling and meaningful part of the conversation rather than a disregarded or reviled afterthought.

In an illustration of expanding support and awareness of that community, the Chicago Room was filled with an audience that encompassed a unified spectrum of LGBTQ and straight allies representing a vast range of age, race and gender, identity and including some of Chicago's most celebrated LGBTQ activists—all enthusiastic parishioners for an evening in "the Church of Precious Davis." Their overwhelming accord with the issues raised was demonstrated in a combination of standing ovations and finger snaps.

"I stand before you today as a representative and as a testament," Davis said, "of the tremendous and beautiful trans community of which I am a part and joyfully give testimony, by my very presence here before you, to the glorious new heights of trans visibility we are in the process of achieving."

However Davis cautioned that the recent surge in media and public interest in the transgender community was not an opportunity to be squandered. "This possibility of this moment is a gift," she said, "a legacy given to us by those whose lives which were lived with authenticity, purpose and unimaginable resilience at a time when visibility more often meant danger than empowerment. We must remind everyone, including ourselves, that this doesn't mean the trans community is something new. We still face setbacks, misrepresentations, pervasive stereotypes, inappropriate and invasive questions from even the most well-meaning allies and of course, the ever present threat of danger to our lives and livelihoods."

"Even within our own LGBT community," Davis added, "although it continues to promote itself with the acronym of inclusivity, I'm obliged to point out how quickly the 'T' is all too often forgotten in favor of mainstream agendas. It is up to us from within the trans community to be our own heralds and storytellers."

By way of example, Davis not only honored the groundbreaking achievements in courage, creation and audacity of transgender individuals such as actress and Golden Globe Winner Alexandra Billings, writer, actor and former mayoral and presidential candidate Joan Jett Black and activists Lois Bates, Channyn Parker and Bonn Wade but invited the audience into her confidence as she gave an exhaustive account of her own life that began in Omaha Nebraska when "I had no language or context to make sense of how I felt."

"Through the hurt and challenges I faced through my adolescence, I eventually became intimately familiar with the beautiful insight that helped me with my journey through gender," Davis said. "Transformation is just not possible, it is inevitable. We are always changing, blossoming anew with each passing season. It is up to us to decide [in] what form we will emerge from our individual cocoons."

About to celebrate 20 years of sobriety, Lauren said that despite being an optimist, the changes and progress made community-wide and within the art-form of female impersonation, have been not been nearly enough in three decades spent as a transgender individual. "I don't understand the weird stigma there is towards it," Lauren said. "Especially when it involves romantic endeavors."

Ross described many drag performance venues as "sweat-shops."

"They get these entertainers in and what they don't realize is that girls are competing for their lives," she said. "The girls are trying to make money to make ends meet and are just seen as 'we're your entertainment'. I've seen gay and lesbian business owners move forward and leave the trans community behind and then ask us to come and perform at their weddings."

Daniel-McCarter—who recently accepted a position as Policy and Advocacy Director of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance—noted the deluge of problems that transgender individuals face when confronted by and dealing with society's systems. "As a trans movement that is led by trans people, we really need to be thinking about how those systems interact with one another at the same time," he said. "One of the reasons why we focus on the criminal legal issue at the TJLP and as a practicing attorney my entire legal career is that it seems like an issue that's always touched our community. The cross-dressing statute was a criminal code in the city of Chicago that criminalized transgender people for existing. It was a crime to be trans. We see that legacy last until today with police profiling of particularly trans women of color in certain neighborhoods."

Daniel-McCarter also commented on Gov. Bruce Rauner's recent appointment of Rev. James Meeks as Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education. "He has been very outspoken and a leader in opposing LGBT rights," Daniel-McCarter noted. "It's very disheartening for a governor who has stated that he is not taking a position on social issues to appoint such a person who is a known figure as being very hateful. What does that show our young people about what we intend to do with our schools, what we are going to think of as bullying and violence prevention?"

Allen asserted that seeing many transgender youth in the streets is discouraging. "Education is the key to everything," she said. "They don't do that and a lot of kids are thrown out for being themselves. I love youth today and I want them to know that I'm here for them. Without love, you can't survive. I was born in the 40's and I've been through a lot. Transgender women are not all street workers. Some of them have to do it to survive."

"Some of the young people on the streets, the only hug they get is from Mama Gloria," Davis added.

The panel fielded audience questions including the media's portrayal of transgender individuals from the nefarious exploitation of shows like Maury Povich to Ru Paul's Drag Race as well as the "privilege of passing."

Among the audience was the parent of Transparent creator Jill Soloway and the inspiration for the award-winning show. She was given a standing ovation. "Because of her bold tenacity to tell her truth, we are witnessing Transparent," Davis said.

"When you show up for whatever the opportunity is, you can't predict what the outcome is going to be," Ross said. "Because the trans community has not given up, we are seeing this kind of movement. Not because the gay community finally said 'it's your turn.' I have a wallet-sized cutout of Laverne Cox's Time magazine cover so the next time somebody tells me to wait on an issue, I'm like "no bitch, it's time."

Out at CHM continues on March 26 with Secret Loves: Before We Could Ask or Tell.

For more information on Out at CHM please visit: .

For more information on TransTech Social Enterprises, please visit: .

For more information on the Transformative Justice Law Project, please visit: .

The video playlist below contains multiple videos. Choose Playlist in the top left hand corner to watch videos out of order, if preferred.

This article shared 4996 times since Thu Jan 22, 2015
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