(#15 and #14 in a series of people
who changed the course of my life)
Few people in history truly have the conviction to do whatever has to be done to advance their cause—regardless of the cost. People so passionate about their work and mission that they will spend their life, resources, influence never relenting.
In his time, Larry Kramer was [and at 80 years old, remains] outspoken—calling out a community and people in his own organization for what they were doing to contribute to the pandemic of AIDS and for what they were not doing. Kramer was on the front lines of and unabashed in his desire to find out what was killing young gay men at the outset of AIDS. Later, he led the charge against drug companies for withholding life-saving treatments from patients.
In our time, Nell Gaither is just as outspoken—holding a community and people across all letters of the LGBTQ alphabet accountable for what they are and are not doing related to awareness of and advocacy for transgender people. An authority in her field, Nell has the life experience, has done the hard, necessary work, has rolled up her sleeves and gotten things done. As a result, she is often the first line of response when tragedy strikes the transgender community and one of the most respected voices on the topic.
Each of these champions has called out government officials, provided leadership when there was none, rallied troops, challenged the beliefs and practices of other organizations and their leaders, and provided information and resources when none existed—or when they were insufficient or incorrect.
This type of conviction—this type of leadership—can be fiery and fierce; it requires a great deal of bravery and internal fortitude. We know Kramer—particularly through his writings and the autobiographical role of Ned Weeks in The Normal Heart—lost friends and lovers, made enemies, and spoke the truth regardless of the cost to advance his cause.
“Some reporter called me ‘the angriest gay man in the world’ or some such. Well, it stuck, but I realized it was very useful.”
Yet where would our movement be without people like Larry? And where would the Dallas community—the transgender community—be without people like Nell?
And here is the greater problem — trans-exclusionary policies, such as what was passed in Plano, delegitimize trans identities and dehumanize trans persons, adding to stigma that will undermine every effort to reduce discrimination. On Monday morning, a 24-year-old trans woman of color named Ty Underwood was shot and killed in Tyler, Texas. She is the third trans woman of color killed in the United States in 2015. She is the fifteenth killed, that we know of, in what appear to be hate crimes since the summer of 2014.
Hate crimes are driven by stigma, and stigma can be woven into the fabric of our society by ordinances such as the one passed by the Plano City Council. Ending this stigma requires inclusion, not the exclusion embraced by policies such as this.
Dallas Morning News LGBT blog, 1/28/15
Where would we be without people of sincere belief and conscience who arm themselves with every bit of knowledge they can acquire—becoming an expert even—and spend their lives and energies to empower the people with their knowledge and providing actionable plans toward solutions. Where would be without people who resolutely stand in the gap, advocating for the marginalized, the people who are trampled on and ignored, for those without any rights at all?
I have learned a great deal from individuals like Larry and Nell. I have also found myself called out for jumping into a cause without fully knowing everything and for at times allowing my privilege to blind me. And I am better because of it.
We all are.