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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Angela Brightfeather, January 24, 2002. Interview K-0841. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Remaining obstacles for transgender people

Brightfeather discusses her interactions with Equality North Carolina when she first moved to the state in 1999. Brightfeather explains how Equality NC did not have any transgender people on its board, despite the fact that it had recently adopted transgender inclusive policy for the organization. Brightfeather offers this recollection as further evidence of tensions within the GLBT community. From there, Brightfeather expands her discussion to focus on the many obstacles transgender people continue to face in their struggle for equality.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Angela Brightfeather, January 24, 2002. Interview K-0841. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

The second [group of people] that I met was Equality North Carolina. Having so much experience with the gays and the lesbians in Syracuse—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
You knew where to go—
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
I knew exactly where to go. I went right to ENC where the other supposed activists are in the Gay and Lesbian Community and, I said, "What are you doing? Can I help? Anything I can do?" Of course, my reputation had proceeded me as an in your face type of activist if it need be and it was pretty scary for them and—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Yeah, because a lot of the folks there are not very in your face.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Nope, no and I understand that—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Oh, yeah—
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
There is a need for everybody.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Well, I have had the same problem as a gay activist by being "in your face".
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
There is a need for everybody to do whatever they can. The fight is on all fronts; it is not just in one on one relationships, and meeting people and convincing them. So, I am one of those people who right from the beginning of time in my community, I was a shaker and a mover. And, I still am, and I told them, I said, "Well, how many board members do you have?" The said, "Sixteen"
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Wow, that's a big board!
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
I said, "Wow, that's great, how many transgender people do you got on it?" Well, first of all, I asked them, "Do you have a transgender inclusive policy or mission statement?" And they said, "Yes, we just passed it four months ago. And I said, "Great!"
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Was this Ian Palmquist that you were speaking to?
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
It was Ian and the person before Jo Wyrick, and I forgot here name now. But, I said, "How many board members?" They said, "Sixteen" and I said, "How many TG [transgender] people are board members?" And they said, "Well, nobody, we do not know anybody and we have not found anybody." And I said, "Well, now you have." Just like that, I said, "Well, now you have. You've got no excuse now. I'm here, I came from New York. I'm here, I'm queer and I am not getting out of your face, you've got to have a board member. If you've got the 'T' in the mission statement then you've got to have a board member that is 'T'. You have got to tell these people and allow them to learn and understand. As a matter of fact," I said, "You should have 4 'T' people on the board. Because if it is a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community, and I would give up one of the seats on the board for the transgender people for an intersex person. And gladly do so."
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Okay, I as going to ask you that, I was on the net today and I was like, what in the world is intersex? That is a new group.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
It is not a new group. It is people that. It's evidence that sexually there is something, something equal to gender. There is a third sex. There is a sex that is ambiguous at times, that nobody knows what it is because it has XXX or XXY chromosomes instead of XX or XY. It has an extra chromosome in there on one side or the other. And there are millions of people in America like that.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
That is a true hermaphrodite?
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Yeah, well, there's true hermaphrodites and then there's non-true hermaphrodites indisputably cases born where—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Of both genders—
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
No, of both sexes. Indisputable cases of where males are born with totally, totally hardly any—almost inverted penises and mistaken for as females at first sight until they look closer and then they find the penis. And then there are women, girls that are born with enlarged clitorises that look actually 2-3 inches long and can grow that long that look like they would be male, but may not have a scrotum. Or their testicles are so high that they are up inside the body and they grew in a deformed place. So these things happen naturally, these things occur and the solution for that after Christine Jorgenson was that the parents made up their mind about what they were going to do. They said, "Does it look more like a boy or more like a girl?" Do they have more of one than they have of the other? Let's try that. Which lead to people like Dr. Money and the John Hopkins study that gave 27 children sex re-assignment surgeries within the first couple months of their birth, that had ambiguous genitalia, and in all of those cases, all of those cases, they were male to female. They were males with ambiguous genitalia that were transitioned into females and guaranteed by the psychiatrists by their parents, "Don't worry about it, it's the environment and the way you bring up your child that determines the gender." And yet all 27 cases, every single one of them turned back into living as a male before they got to their thirtieth birthday. Two of them committed suicide. None of them could conceive children. They were all literally castrated. Which we call, in the transgender community a perfect example that happens in one out of 20 births of ambiguous genitalia. One out of every twenty. I am sorry, one out of every 2,000 children.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
I was like, whoa!
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
No, I am sorry, one out of every 2,000 are born with ambiguous genitalia and we call that infant mutilation. Happening today.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So, the solution with the transgender community would be just to let it go, let that individual develop as they will. Don' reassign—
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Let them make up their own mind, there is plenty of time.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Which makes plenty of sense.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
But they don't do that.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
A young, twenty year old parent would think, "Oh, we have to make this decision?"
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Well, they are forced into it by the doctors—the doctors want to give more care, they have to go in deeper this and that, it's too much trouble.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
That is truly insane.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Yeah, but this is what is happening every single day in America, see. So, when you hear about things like that, it's not over. When you hear about about the Peter Oiler case it is far fro over. When you hear about my friend getting killed in Jacksonville, shot in the back of the head when she gets out of her car, it's not over. There is still so much to do than just educate gays and lesbians, to accept transgender people. The gays and lesbians have got to do a little bit of the work themselves, and it is really disheartening to see groups like the Human Rights Campaign keeping us out of legislation like ENDA. It is critical for us to be about us to be able to come out. It is critical for us to be able to live our lives and be able to keep our jobs, but they feel as though, the presence of transgender people at the national level in legislation is going to hinder gay and lesbian legislation and their freedom. And any amount of promises that they make to come back and get the transgender people in the past have never been lived up to. When legislation has been passed for gays and lesbians and their freedoms, they haven't taken the time to come back, they have always turned around and said, "Get it yourself." You know, which is okay, but hey, you could have said the same thing to the blacks during the civil war, "Hey don't let them treat you like slaves, do something about it." Well, there is a few that tried to do something about it, and look what happened to them.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
They were killed.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
They were murdered. They were slaughtered by the thousands. Well, that is exactly what would happen to transgender people too. If they tried that, they would be losing their jobs by the thousands. Families would be starving by the thousands, you know. There are all kinds of ramifications.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
It is easy to say, but much harder to put into practice.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
They need help, they need help to come out. It can't be just one on one and people like Angela Brightfeather starting groups. It has to be gays and lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, intersex people, people of color, people of other national origins and naturalized citizens and citizens by earning it and by immigration. They have to join together, and they have to understand that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA] is an important thing to all of those groups, not just one of them, and solving the problem for those groups isn't really solving the problem at all because anybody, anybody that has two common smarts that there is enough gay men out there that have a feminine image of themselves and act femininely and transgress gender norms and there is enough butch lesbians out there that transgress the gender norms for women that after the ENDA legislation passes, nobody may be able to fire anybody that is gay or lesbian, but they sure of heck can fire the gays, the gay males that act feminine and the lesbian women that act masculine. And they can use that as an excuse, and how many of them exist in the gay and lesbian community? Certainly, certainly maybe even a majority of the lesbian community.