Ignite Talk at the Women and Girls Foundation's Crossroads Conference on Tuesday, March 10, 2015.
I wasn’t “out” at work, so there were a lot of things I went without. Without health insurance that covered my health care needs. Without the safety, security, and freedom of living unapologetically in my truth. Without the support of my identity. THE ONE THING I DIDN’T HAVE TO GO WITHOUT WAS THE SUPPORT OF MY FRIEND, IAN. In January 2013, Ian really wanted to help me raise money for a surgery I so desperately needed so he suggested I start an online crowd source fundraiser for me to have chest reconstruction surgery, which cost $6,100. When the account was created, it connected to my email address and contact list. Within hours, emails about my trans identity and need for funds to pay for my medical needs had been sent to almost 7,000 people who I had known as long as 25 years.
I was petrified. I feared what people would think about me. Would they think that I had lied to them? Was I obligated to tell folks about my gender identity? Did it really matter? I had learned that it did matter. In fact, I knew that the group experiencing the highest murder rates in the World were, and are, trans women of color. And, trans men of color occupy the highest suicidality rate in the World. I was afraid. Afraid to be out in a system that had done its best to reign me in, take away my power, and strip me of my innate identity.
In truth, White supremacy has sown seeds of violence and erasure in the lives and experiences of people of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ individuals. Policy and legislative platforms have intentionally neglected to protect and serve these same communities -- as the individuals creating these policies reap the harvest of benefits on the very back of our maimed, exploited, and pillaged bodies.
As a Black and Native American man of trans experience, it is imperative that I acknowledge my full identity and live unapologetically in my truth as a man who stands at the crossroads of 7 syllables called intersectionality. The very fibers that compose my cultural identity are the basis of everyday systemic violence for me and people who look like me. Over the past several years, I have grown to understand that the Western culture in which we live and operate was designed – designed by men who do not look like me and had the intentionality and awareness to ensure that this system, a system built on genocide and forced free labor, would not provide the tools and resources for queer and trans people of color to thrive, excel, and be affirmed in their identities.
With that in mind, I invest in community by providing tools and resources for healing and restoration to deliberately shift paradigms and design initiatives to build sustainable change and to contribute to the movement and motivation of young people. Young people are our future; our health care providers, guides, humanitarians, teachers, ministers, activists, and leaders. And, it was with this vision that Garden of Peace Project was born -- to uplift, uphold, and empower the narratives and lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals and to address the lack of education, employment, healthcare, and housing, and the violence that impacts us all. When Garden of Peace Project was founded, our focus was activism and advocacy. It didn't take long for us to see the pain and trauma that has been inflicted throughout the community.
12: The average age a trans child is thrown away from their home
30.6: The average of the 12 trans women of color murdered between June 2014 and December 2014
50: The percentage of trans patients who report having to teach their doctor how to treat them. Imagine, going to the doctor with diabetes or high blood pressure and the doctor asking you what your treatment plan should be.
For the first two years, Garden of Peace Project was self-funded -- this is not sustainable, nor a long-term plan. With contributions and actions of solidarity from our community, Garden of Peace Project will continue to celebrate and honor the lives of queer and trans people. The lesson I learned from Ian was that I don’t have to tackle life’s obstacles alone and that I cannot continue to do this work without financial resources and tools. I have to speak up and speak out about my needs and the needs of the community. The way internalized White supremacy is set up looks like internalized shame, fear, and insecurity.
As an indigenous person, it is imperative that I embark on the journey, both as an activist for the community and as a Soul in my personal life, to dismantle White supremacy as a collective and cooperative that operates with the full knowing that ten pair of hands investing in and manifesting both literal and figurative spaces where queer and trans people of color are empowered to be brave enough to live in their authentic truths and speak power to their destinies. Revolution looks like leveraging your positions of power and privilege to contribute our work. If you can financially support us, do so. If you can spread the work about Garden of Peace Project, do so. We each have a role. This is what standing in solidarity with this fight looks like.
Over two years later, I know that I made the right decision -- and I never imagined that I would feel this liberating. The decision to live as my full Self means that I live in each day organically; knowing that I am a majestic, holy, and royal King with the capacity to speak truth to power and lay claim to what I chose as the calling to my life before I came here. Fighting for liberation is the evolution of Self and majesty of Spirit.
What does your liberation look like to you?
As a soul, I always hear things literally and figuratively, meaning that I like to see the small picture and the big screen. As I was asked to think about police brutality, I can’t help but, in the small picture, think about the three times that I’ve been pulled over in the past two weeks. And, how the day after I was pulled over in Squirrel Hill and asked, “what I was even doing over there?”, I stood at the Mike Brown rally in front of the City-County building where three White male officers stood across the street and one of the officers had his hand on his gun the entire time. As a 26-year-old Black and Native man, I allowed the fear from this officer’s stare succumb me and refused to speak on the mic.
In the big screen, as a writer, I know that my pen has power. As a speaker, I know that my words are mightier than the sword and my voice is commanding. My demeanor, my skin, my walk, my stature, my perceived gender are all identifiers that increase my chance of death to 2 in 3 by a police officer. The system in which I live oppresses me and my very being. By third grade, 85% of young, Black males are reading below the third-grade level. Yes, this system wants to push you out and kill you off.
And, yes, all of these things are true, painful, and traumatic. When you live in a constant state of pain and trauma, it is imperative that you have spaces and access to spaces where you can express the pain and trauma. Where do we, as Black men, go to receive healing, restoration, and fellowship? Where can we go to express our deepest pains and traumas? Some of us go to church. Some hit the basketball court. Many of us find comfort at the bar or in a substance. For me, I find solace in my fiancée and my mother. For many of us, we find solace in our partners and our mothers.
When I zoom out, I know that we, as men, especially men of color, we find ourselves to be in roles of protection for our sisters, as they bear the brunt of oppression so that we can stand on top of patriarchy. I’ve been called somewhat a feminist. As a graduate of Chatham University, a school prided for women’s right and education, I learned that my masculine privilege had afforded me many opportunities that my sisters struggled to never receive. While White women earn $0.76 to dollar of White men, our sisters of color collectively earn $0.61 to the dollar of White men. When I say women, I acknowledge ALL women. As a queer-identified man of trans experience, I must shout from the top of the mountains for my trans sisters, your trans sisters. Our trans sisters face a 1 in 6 chance of being murdered before the age of 31 – the average age of the 6 trans sisters who were murdered in cold-blood this summer was 30.6.
We are being killed. We are being killed. We are being killed.
In the United States of America, from 2008-2013, there were 94 reported murders of trans individual – 95% were trans women of color. Where is the protection? If White women of non-trans experience were being killed at rates this high, there would be an uprising. My brothers, where are we?
We are being killed.
In 1994, my cousin David Battle III,15 years old, was killed on Federal Street in the Northside. The pain of his death swiftly hit my family. We now had a shared experience with so many of our brothers and sisters. As a community, as a racial identity, we have a collective pain and trauma of loss – loss of body, loss of agency, loss of voice, loss of power, loss of family. What spaces are you creating for the conversations about our pain?
We are being killed.
As my sister, Joy Kmt speaks, “our pain needs a witness”. We need to bear witness to our pain and trauma. Our trans sisters are queens, mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, and majestic. It is not their job to tell us about their body or make apologies for being who they are. It is our job to teach our children to do better. It is our job to instill the message that all people deserve to live.
We are being killed.
It is not my job to educate about me to simply have a right to my life. We are fighting for our survival in a system that debates whether my identity is ethical or “if God made me this way”. My life is not up for debate. My right to live my life is not up for discussion. And, as man at the center of a 5-star intersection of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, and so much more, how dare I stay silent in live in the shadows while I bear witness to my sisters perils. The same sisters who hold me, both literally and figuratively. We have a duty to stand up against domestic violence. We have an obligation to speak out against patriarchy. We have an onus to be protectors and providers.
As patriarchy has uplifted the Black males to a position of power, it is imperative that we use our positions of power to uphold the narratives of our sisters. We are being killed. For our collective survival, we have to uphold Kandy Hall, Mia Henderson, Islan Nettles, Marissa Alexander, Cece McDonald, and countless other sisters who have been impacted by the issues that are disproportionately affecting all of us in different ways.
As a man, it’s essential that use my time to speak about coming together. Queer, non-queer, trans, cis, heterosexual, etc., we have to see that if you are chains, I cannot be free. We are fighting for our lives and we cannot be silent. We cannot choose to prioritize whose life means more. We have to step up. We must do better. We must speak out.
And, in the style of my sister, Lourdes Ashley Hunter, I would like to ask everyone stand, gather in a circle, and hold hands with your neighbor, turn to your left, and one at a time tell your neighbor, “My liberation depends on your liberation.”
Get the language correct -- we choose to physically transition our bodies to match what we see because the masses are too ignorant to get it. I didn't choose to become a man and I wasn't born a female. I was told that I was a female at birth, forced to assimilate, rejected that notion, and then chose to make a physical transition to allow folks to see what I always saw. My body does not define me, I do.
.. of burying young Black bodies
.. of living with the fear that comes with walking out of my front door
.. of driving with the fear of the police
.. of watching White people cross the street when they see me
.. of White women clutching their purses a little tighter
.. of thinking that I'm going to lose my life before age 30
.. of my chest hurting and sighing to relieve the pressure
.. of living in a World that tells me I'm worthless
.. of imagining that my parents and partner will bury me
.. of being anxious
.. of living in heightened trauma
.. of feeling like my value doesn't matter to anyone who doesn't know more than my skin color
.. of wondering what people will remember most about me if I leave this Earth too soon
.. of deciding my experiences based on the level of pain I can endure on a given day
.. of the scowl the White mom gives when their White child smiles at me
.. of folks only speaking about my body
.. of ignorance and bigotry
.. of not having a space to grieve all of these losses
.. and, then being called angry when I let a little of my pain out
.. of being pushed out, cast away, and being forced to live in the margins
.. of being tired
Can you believe that it’s been almost ten years since I came out to you for the first time? I clearly remember that day. You dropped me off at school and I handed you my coming out letter. All day, I was checking my phone, hoping that you had said something. My heart felt like it was in my throat. I kept thinking, “You shouldn’t have given her the letter.” I knew that you were conservative and a Christian who had grown up in the church. At first, when you didn’t say anything for days, I became fearful. I wondered what you had been contemplating. I had seen a documentary when one guy’s parents sent him to shock therapy. I felt like I was preparing myself for the absolute worst. After a few more days, I started to get angry. “How dare she not say anything when you are revealing yourself to her?” I thought. When I marched upstairs to your room to ask you that very question, I heard myself quietly whisper, “Ma?” “MA,” I heard myself shout louder. Then, in my normal tone I asked, “Did you read my letter?” When you responded and said you had read the letter, you were a little too calm. After you talked to me and said that this may just be a phase and you weren’t going to allow me to be gay in your house, I felt disheartened. Then you told me that you would “always love me, no matter what.”
We had our struggles over the next two years as I began to rebel in a number of ways. By the end of my junior year in high school, I knew that I was going to Chatham University, in Pittsburgh, and I ran there every time I got the chance. Being surrounded by folks who were just being themselves kicked open a breadth of possibilities for my identity and I felt safe exploring myself there. When I left to begin my undergraduate studies, I thought for sure we would never have a close relationship. The first couple months of classes, I would get so angry because I so badly wanted your approval. I knew that you told me that you loved me no matter what, but I wanted you to be the parent shouting your pride from the rooftops and embracing me like only a mom can do.
At the end of my first semester, it felt like we would never make amends or see eye-to-eye. I knew for sure that we would never talk again. When I cut off contact, you gave me my space. I know that it was one of the hardest times of your life, but that space allowed me to become confident in me. You always told me that you were proud of me and that you believed in me – my coming out didn’t change your belief that I was something great. As I struggled with my identity, I didn’t have a true concept of who I was and I needed the space to figure that out. It took years for me to get to a true place of understanding and I’m so grateful that you bore the pain of my growth process.
I know you are reading this letter and thinking, “I can’t believe that he is saying all of this.” I’m saying all of this because I want you and everyone else to know how grateful I am for your unconditional love. Your unconditional love is as a raw as the words of this letter; your unconditional love for me means that you have sacrificed, given of yourself, and shed tears for me. The time that I took to uncover my true Self was the gateway to my real relationship with you. During that time, I was able to assess and understand that you are my mother and so much more. You are a strong, Black woman who grew up in a small, rural town in the segregated South – a woman who grew up in the Church of Christ Holiness U.S.A. – a woman who was the last-born child of ten – a woman who is a survivor and taught me the definition of survival – and, a woman who sacrificed time and time again for me to have a better life.
Ten years ago when I came out, I never imagined that I would have the relationship that I have with you now. As I have watched you go from talking to listening, I have seen you open your mind to all of the complexities that create each individual’s unique identity. And, now, you are giving others advice about how to support their LGBTQIA child, or loved one. Every time you come to Pittsburgh for a Garden of Peace Project event or you just tell me how proud of you are of me, I smile because I remember just how far you have come. Sometimes, I feel like the proud parent -- the one who gave you the tools and resources to open your mind and explore the World. I’m so happy to have you as my mother, my guide, and one of my best friends. Thank you for challenging your own fundamental beliefs and continuing to love me. You are truly an example of a parent’s ability to love unconditionally and selflessly.
Thank you. Thank you for always being here for me. Thank you for loving me for who I am – your first-born son. Thank you for your sacrifices and your embrace.
I love you, ma. Happy Mother’s Day!
Tune in tonight as my mother, Michele Riddick-Hamilton, talks about her journey to acceptance through love, gives advice to LGBTQIA children about coming out to their parents, and shares her perspective on the Black church of 2014.
To contact Michele Riddick-Hamilton, please email questions, comments, or concerns here!
Taken from Garden of Peace Project's Blog of Blurbs
A few weeks ago I attended the National TransFaith in Color Conference. While I was there, the Board of Directors and Executive Director, Bishop Tonyia Rawls, suggested to me that I host one of the Regional TransFaith in Color Conferences here, in my hometown of Pittsburgh. As many folks are aware, my goal is to partner and collaborate as much as possible. Together, we can make this a great conference and one to be remembered. I'm certain that as we work on this conference together, relationships will be built and networks will be created.
The Pittsburgh Regional TransFaith in Color Conference has a goal of bringing together local folks from the area, professionals from all over, faith leaders, folks of all colors, folks of all ages, students and those concerned about the trans community and all that the trans community entails. Each one of you that has been invited brings something new to the table. One of the best President Barack Obama quotes that I have heard was, "if you're not at the table, you're on the menu." President Obama said this to say that when you're not present, your importance is eaten, overshadowed and overlooked. Please, be at the table to present your groups, your passions and your issues.
At this point, there have been 32 people invited to this meeting and each one of you has much value. I'm thrilled to see where we can go when we are all at the table. It is my hope that from this meeting, folks will have the opportunity to meet new folks, learn about a new issue and begin new partnerships and collaborations, with this TransFaith in Color Conference and beyond.
As a practicing Nichiren Buddhist, it is important to me that we include folks of all spiritual practices, religious, non-religious, atheist, or agnostic. All voices are important and I want to be sure that the conference reflects that.
Come ready to present ideas, experience with the group, and learn!
(If you do not wish to be a part of the TransFaith in Color planning group and wish to share what you would like to see at the conference, please send me a private email to email@example.com.)
If interested in planning, please contact me!
Michael David Battle
Founder, Garden of Peace Project
Each year, thousands of those diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID) are denied coverage by their healthcare insurance provider for mental health services, medical services by their health care professional, prescription services or any services related to their current GID diagnosis. Four days ago, I became one of those people. Instead of allowing fear to take hold of my circumstances, I have decided to fight the companies, search for the facts and enlist all those that believe a patient with a documented disorder should not be excluded from any health insurance policy or denied medical coverage.
The American Medical Association (AMA) states that " there is no basis for the denial to any human being of equal rights, privileges, and responsibilities commensurate with his or her individual capabilities and ethical character because of an individual's sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or transgender status, race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, national origin, or age."(BOT Rep. LL, I-86; Amended by Sunset Report, I-96; Modified: Res. 410, A-03)
The current revision of World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) recommends that mental health professionals document a patient's relevant history in a letter, which should be required by medical professionals prior to physical intervention. One letter is required for hormone replacement therapy or either augmentation mammoplasty or male chest reconstruction. Two additional letters are needed for genital surgeries. ("The Mental Health Professional." The World Professional Association for Transgender Health's Standards Of Care For Gender Identity Disorders. 6th ed. 2001.)
Currently, UPMC Health Plan and GM Southwest Insurance Company have decided they are more qualified to deny a transgender or transsexual patient care despite the medical diagnosis from a licensed therapist and a medical professional. At the hands of UPMC Health Plan and GM Southwest Insurance Company, those individuals with Gender Identity Disorder are now suffering from discriminatory practices, exclusion and bigotry. UPMC Health Plan and GM Southwest Insurance Company have given a message through their discriminatory policy's that those suffering from GID are not worthy of receiving adequate health care and that although the world expects transgender and transsexual patients to follow WPATH standards of care, UMPC Health Plan and GM Southwest Insurance Company do not abide by those standards.
Michael David Battle
As a lecturer, writer and advocate, Michael David Battle’s vision is to ignite others and move them to action through courageous conversations, exploring vulnerabilities, and collectively manifesting spaces of healing and restoration.