Equality Forward: Congressional Aide Diego Sanchez
August 5, 2009
A National Conversation about Race, Sexuality and Gender The Equality Forward essays are a collection of stories about race, sexuality and gender from some of today’s most distinct voices in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-rights movement. Read their essays. Share your own story. Join us for a national conversation on August 13. And read more about Equality Forward.
This essay in the series is submitted by Diego Sanchez, a legislative aide to Rep. Barney Frank Shortly after “9/11” – Sep. 11, 2001 – when our nation was shaken by a set of violent, tragic, life-stealing incidents that triggered what young people today will call “The War,” I stood outside the doors of the Boston Public Library in the Back Bay, awaiting the exit of my dearest friend Marie. Our leashed Black Lab/Border Collie named Campari, who gave 15 ½ incredible years to us both, was on my right. On my back was a black leather backpack. I was confronted by a library security guard who told me that he was concerned that I was “loitering” to which I replied that I was waiting for my friend. The guard asked me to open my backpack so that he could search it, and I refused, knowing that I was standing on public property and was not violating the law. Fortunately, Marie exited the library at that moment and suddenly, having a beautiful Irish woman beside me, I wasn’t the security risk that I seemed to be moments before. Later that year, Campari and I walked through a small neighborhood park near our home in Boston’s South End. I was confronted by a woman who said she owns a bed and breakfast adjacent to the park, and she asked me what I was doing in her neighborhood – which was my neighborhood, too. She asked me to produce my driver’s license to prove my residency, which I refused. While she was calling the police on her cell phone, I called Marie on mine, asking her to walk a few blocks to meet us. Once again, my blue-eyed Irish friend standing beside me humanized me. Then Marie told me that she and Campari knew the woman and that she is “family” – a lesbian. The stories go on forever, but they’re not what matter. What if I didn’t have the privileges I do? What if children from the Latino complex Villa Victoria, less than a football field away from that park, were strolling with their dog and then confronted? What if it had been, rather than Campari and me, Rita Hester, Sakia Gunn, Gwen Araujo, Sylvia Rivera or Lawrence King? Last year when I testified as a witness in a Congressional hearing on discrimination in the workplace for transgender Americans, I talked about growing up in Augusta, Georgia and being prohibited from some public pools because I am not white. Who could have known then that Black and Hispanic young adults in Creative Steps Day Camp would be refunded their $1,900 membership fee and horridly shunned by The Valley Club in Huntington Valley near Philadelphia this summer? Interestingly, that club opened in 1954, the year that Judge (and hopefully soon Supreme Court Justice) Sonia Sotomayor was born. It’s no wonder that the Human Rights Campaign’s report shows that people of color who are LGBT identify first as people of color before feeling part of the LGBT community. Reality requires it. My firm hope is that people who are not of color do not feel alienated by this research. I hope that they can feel engaged and invited to talk to we who are people of color and experience our lives with us, by standing beside us. If people stand with us long enough, something exciting will happen. There will be new understanding because something will happen that is inexplicable. Eventually, something will be needlessly challenged. Yes, as a transsexual man, I am highly concerned about workplace discrimination that affects LGBT people, and I am very excited that my boss Congressman Barney Frank introduced a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), H.R. 3017 in this, the 111th Congress. And I’m honored to be the staffer for him who is working on this issue that affects my life and others’ lives. I’m also delighted that ENDA will have a full Committee House hearing this fall and will soon be introduced in the Senate. Yes, I have been considered a highly desirable candidate for corporate jobs by executive recruiters, only to have them evaporate like mist when they cross-check my Social Security number and learn that it has had two sex markers identified with it. And yes, I was summarily dismissed by a human resources executive (who was later dismissed by the corporation) for asking to insert the word ‘transgender’ into our employer’s non-discrimination policy. And I was the global Vice President of Diversity. However, I realize that I am generally seen as transgender or transsexual only because I often disclose my gender identity. But I am always seen as “not white” and perhaps specifically Latino. It is tremendously affirming that President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Harvey Milk. The awardees that also touched my heart as personal heroes were, however, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Rev. Joseph Lowery, Billie Jean King and Chita Rivera. We live in a time when so many long-sought dreams are possible. I hope we seize them with vigor, trust and compassion. Still fresh for me is the memory of being the first transgender person (and rare Latino) keynote speaker at the Bayard Rustin Community Breakfast in May 2008 at the JFK Presidential Library & Museum. They co-sponsor the breakfast with the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts to celebrate LGBT people of color and the intersection of our lives and HIV/AIDS. To prepare for that speech, I spent six months thinking about how much Rustin’s and my life corresponded, about what I was experiencing at the time that he was helping Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. orchestrate the backdrop and forefront of non-violent pursuit of civil rights and social justice. At the podium, I wore a sign that proclaimed: “I AM A MAN,” recalling the image so emblazoned of all of the men of color whose American history said they were first property, then three-fifths of a man and finally fully human, with a struggle for equality that I believe still endures. Please, you who are not of color, let this be a time for listening without rushing to solutions on how we engage most effectively together. Let HRC’s new Equality Forward study be a launching pad for respectful, courageous dialogue, and let’s talk. I am grateful to many people who are not of color, who have stood beside us. I’m also grateful to people of color who share their access to advances with us all, who honor the richness of their roots and who know that their experiences enrich us all. So, let’s talk.
May 17, 2013