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Transgender Rights Group Raises More Than $100,000 at NYC Fundraiser

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Tuesday May 24, 2011

A capacity crowd gathered at the Chelsea Art Museum on Monday, May 23 to celebrate the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund's sixth anniversary.

TLDEF honored former New York Gov. David A. Paterson, film director Kimberly Reed, Dr. Christine McGinn, and transgender NCAA Division I basketball player Kye Allums. The organization raised more than $100,000 through ticket sales and a silent auction.

"We have a lot of big battles ahead of us, and events like this raise critical resources that allow us to do the work that we need to do," said Michael Silverman, executive director of TLDEF. "The money we raise here funds all of our work; our litigation in places like Kansas, Tennessee, South Carolina, New York, New Jersey. We're working all over the country now, and we need support to do that."

In the speech he gave after he accepted TLDEF's award, Paterson applauded the organization for its work on behalf of trans people in New York and around the country. He drew parallels between TLDEF and the Rev. Martin Luther King. Paterson said that the leaders of the March on Washington told King that if he included Bayard Rustin, presumed to be gay, that they would not lend their support. "I guess it will be a smaller march," replied King, as told by Paterson.

The former governor also spoke about marriage equality and a bill that would add gender identity and expression to New York's anti-discrimination statute.

"The reality is that we are not really going to have a society that can live up to the principles of our Constitution or Declaration of Independence until every person feels secure, does not feel alone, feels that they are part of a community, and feels that the way that they are is just and protected," said Paterson.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn also delivered brief remarks.

"I wanted to come tonight to thank everyone at the TLDEF for your great partnership with us in the City Council over all of the recent issues around the City Clerk's office," she said, referring TLDEF's recent case on behalf of a trans couple from the Bronx who were denied a marriage license in 2009. "We have a great general counsel's office in the City Council, and they are pretty tough and high-quality lawyers... who said that every step of the way, the lawyers and folks working with TLDEF were some of the best lawyers they had ever worked with. You do an amazing job."

Quinn also noted TLDEF staff educated some of her own colleagues whom she said didn't fully understand trans issues.

"You guys not only went into the room and educated them, not only on trans issues, but also educated them on the law, and that was the really powerful thing," she said. "They learned that they didn't have a choice but to do what you wanted them to do and that is hard, particularly with people who are your adversaries, are often being ignorant, sometimes intentionally rude and unkind...and you guys were in that room, with such grace, dignity, and respect that you energized us even further to work as hard as we can to make sure that any transgender person who walks into a city agency is treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve."

The event featured a silent auction with books from Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters, signed posters from the cast of "Mamma Mia" and "Wicked", and tickets to "Priscilla Queen of the Desert", "The Lion King", "Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage", "The Awesome '80s Prom" and other Broadway shows. The auction also featured a wide selection of monotypes from the "We Will Be Free" series that artist Sica created for TLDEF.

McGinn spoke highly of the efforts of the many people who fight on behalf of trans people.

"My particular area happens to be healthcare, and my big message is we have a real public health problem: At least one in 4,500 people are transgender and 41 percent of that population attempt suicide," said McGinn. "That's a horrible litmus test, and we have a treatment that is proven to work, yet health insurance companies and hospitals refuse to work with us; not just gender reassignment surgery, but counseling and hormone therapy, and it really works. We could be helping out a lot of people."

Writer, producer, and actress Laverne Cox emceed for the event.

"Organizations like this are really essential to changing the day-to-day lives of transgender people," she said. "The legal system is a big part of that, and that's where they are doing amazing work. For me to support this is a no-brainer."

Imperial Court of New York Emperor Vanity Society and Empress Pepperica Swirl donned their glad rags to support the event.

"Every organization in the city does its part to get us further, to help us grow, get us accepted in the community, and live healthy, happy normal lives, and it's really great to be here meeting all these wonderful people that are here for each other," said Swirl. "That's what we're going to do, is lend our support, our time, and our sparkle to help make it a great event."

Paterson a "Friend to the Community"

Doctor Marjorie Hill, chief executive officer of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, also attended the TLDEF fundraiser.

"The transgender community is a very important part of LGBT, and TLDEF has done amazing work, and I am proud to be one of the many supporters here," she said, further applauding Paterson's pro-LGBT legacy. "He's always been a friend to the community and a friend to social justice, and the fact that he's here tonight is another testament to his commitment to us."

Audra Fox, also of the Imperial Court of New York, noted TLDEF's work with Ali Forney Center, the Trevor Project, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and other HIV/AIDS and homeless youth organizations. Elise Gordon, chief executive officer of Purple Genie, had her own laundry list.

"They have to pass marriage equality right now, and the next thing to work on is the GENDA (Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act) law that passed the Legislature but is stalling in the Senate. Cuomo just gave a speech on YouTube about that," said Gordon. "The transgender community is very tight knit... and TLDEF makes a difference in my world."

Reed, who produced the film "Prodigal Son", spoke of her work against initiatives in her native Montana that would have rescinded trans-specific laws. She also fought a bill that would have prohibited any anti-discrimination laws. (Silverman later talked about similar efforts underway in Tennessee and Kansas.)

"I was so impressed to see TLDEF get on board right away and shut it down, and prevent that law from going through," said Reed.

Paterson also specifically chided Tennessee lawmakers.

"We recognize that it would be rather foolish to try to believe that we have not come a long way in receiving rights for transgendered people in this country, but we would really be idiotic if we think that we're anywhere near finished with the job," said Paterson. "So there will be some difficult roads ahead, there will be some fights we have to maintain, we will have to go out of state, but sometimes right to Albany to try and find sanity in this country. But the reality is that with this kind of mobilization, spirit, and energy, with the resources that you gave tonight, nobody in the transgender community will ever have to feel alone again."

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Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.