By Sharon Gittleman
FERNDALE – Last March, Christine Hughes finally told her parents and siblings what she had discovered about herself.
“He invited me out to breakfast,” said Hughes’ mother, Lois Hughes. “I said, ‘Are you gay?’ He said, ‘No, I’m transgendered.'”
While Hughes said her husband and sons are having a hard time dealing with that revelation, Hughes is working through what she learned from her daughter.
“I want him to have a long and happy life,” she said.
Many of the men and women at last week’s Transgender Town Hall are all too familiar with the Hughes family’s story.
Over two dozen people gathered at the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit in Ferndale to talk about the daily challenges they face as transgender individuals.
“We need to go beyond, ‘transgender people on parade,'” said Michelle Brown, a member of the board of governors of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the co-sponsors of the event, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s LGBT project and TransGender Michigan. “We need to do something for transgender people.”
A panel of transgender people – from a college student to a grandmother, spoke with the mainly transgender audience about tough issues, ranging from job discrimination to violence, to how they sometimes feel excluded by the lesbian and gay community.
“This is our last level of discrimination in our community,” Brown said. “It’s about equality. As long as you can say in your mind, ‘It’s okay for someone to be excluded for who they are,’ then there’s no equality.”
The more than half-dozen people on the panel shared their stories. Some accounts were heartrending and some were inspiring.
“When I came out, I lost everything – my wife, my house, my job,” said Rachel Crandall, executive director of TransGender Michigan. “I was a basket case.”
Crandall refused to give in to the misery she said she felt and turned her own personal tragedy into something to help others.
“I wanted to create a way so we wouldn’t have to be that way anymore,” she said. “I co-founded TransGender Michigan with Susan Crocker eight years ago. We wanted everyone in our big beautiful community to come together.”
While panel members related stories about job discrimination, battles against health insurers and government bureaucracy and troubles dealing with family members, they also spoke about the daily violence some of them face.
One woman told about the job harassment she experiences, with everything from obscene gestures and nasty comments to disgusting acts and physical confrontations.
Some confrontations can be even more brutal.
Audience members spoke of a recent incident in Pontiac, where two transgendered females were followed from a “woman-friendly” neighborhood bar. When they arrived home, two men approached them from behind and beat them bloody.
“They were jumped from behind,” said an audience member. “One gal will have to get facial reconstruction.”
One sliver of good news came out of the incident.
“The Pontiac police are not brushing them under the carpet,” said the audience member.
Incidents like the one in Pontiac – and the murder of 350 other transgendered individuals since 1970, will be commemorated at a remembrance ceremony from 7-9 p.m., Nov. 17, at the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit in Ferndale.
While some gays and lesbians may feel transgendered people’s lives have nothing in common with their own, Crandall strongly disagrees.
“Everybody who is LGBT is T,” she said. “All that transgendered means is a person with traits not specific to the gender. We are all members of the big beautiful T community.”