Transgender Warrior: The story of Birmingham’s Jody Suzanne Ford

By Julie Buckner Armstrong

Lou Reed made it seem easy. His 1972 “Walk on the Wild Side” pulled gender conversion out of the closet, on to the open road:

Holly came from Miami, Fla.,

Hitchhiked her way across the U.S.A.,

Plucked her eyebrows on the way,

Shaved her legs and then he was a she.

Jody Suzanne Ford was one of Birmingham’s first transsexuals and owned a hair salon. She was shot to death in 1977. Photo courtesy Birmingham Post-Herald.

Because Holly was a glam-rock myth, Reed didn’t cover the reality of sex change. Holly went from Miami to New York. In places like Birmingham, going from a he to a she meant more than shaving legs.

Not long after Reed’s song hit Number 16 on the Billboard charts, theBirmingham Post-Heraldprofiled Sidney McFerrin Ford’s transition to Jody Suzanne Ford. In 1977, local papers covered Ford’s death from a close-range bullet to the chest.

Details about Ford’s life are sketchy. My own memory is like that of many Birmingham residents. I got my first “big girl” haircut at Ford’s popular Five Points South salon, Ms. Sid’s Coiffures. I remember her as media sensation, not as actual person.

Mostly, I remember my mother’s nine words on the subject: “Don’t stare, it’s not polite” and “Ms. Sid looked good.” Indeed she did, as existing photographs of her show.

Salon patrons describe Ford as kind – and as a character. At 6’4” and well over 200 pounds, she commanded the rooms she walked into.

And she enjoyed doing so, says a former client named Michael.

Michael remembers a time that he and Ford ate dinner at the Social Grill after a haircut. The waitress took Michael’s drink order, gestured at Ford and asked, “What does he want?”

Ford stood up, towered over the waitress and screamed, “He, he . . . where do you see a HE?”

Ford then spent the next hour telling Michael all he wanted to know about changing from male to female.

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Landmark EEOC Decision Declares ‘I am human!’ []

by Barbara Sehr /

Unlike the vast majority of observers of last summers “Dancing with the Stars,” I had not tuned in to see this “curiosity,” of a man, who came into life as the “daughter” of one of my favorite musical teams. Chas Bono has done much in the past year to bring our community in the public eye, and he is a splendid role model. Yet, after experiencing so much employment discrimination  in my own post-transition era, I could only think of a recent song called “Are we dancer, or are we human?”

Today, that changes, at least in this administration. In a landmark decision, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,  the agency that regulates the provisions of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, says that “intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination ‘based on … sex’ and such discrimination … violates Title VII.”

In short, we are human.

Readers of this space may remember that I traveled to Washington, DC, in 2010 to fight for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).  For one week, I got to sit down with Congressional and White House leaders, and explain how my employment struggle has battered my life for nearly two decades. Even here in the State of Washington, supposedly one of the more progressive states, it is hard to deal with the elephant in the room during a job interview.  Yes, the state now has its own anti-discrimination law that was put in place just six years ago.  It took black people more than a century from the Emancipation Proclamation to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to establish certain inalienable rights.  Even in this so-called “post-racial” society, some white people “stand their ground,” for non-threatening segregation forever.

In my prepared remarks for an address in Washington in the ENDA battle, I noted, “My resume often brings smiles to a hiring manager’s face like a $20 bill found in your coat pocket. Then comes the interview, and ecstasy becomes agony. My practiced 30-second elevator speech seems to rise no further than a quick body scan at the airport.”

Yesterday’s decision means that employers — especially those in the 34 states where folks like I could be fired for simply being who we are – will have to think harder about how to ignore us. Proving discrimination is very difficult; cases like the one that brought this decision come rarely. The decision also does not have the full force of law that passage of ENDA would bring.  The EEOC is an agency of the executive branch, and its enforcement priorities could change from administration to administration. Passage of ENDA would put the full force of law up against those that feel gender identity is some sort of choice and not something to be protected.

Still, this monumental decision is a move toward hope. A new generation of young people has grown up with less need to label and trash those whose inner being is different from their own. Who knows, being as unique as I am, might one day not be unique.  Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality said as much in her remarks following a recent mainstream television program highlighting some issues specific to our community: “I’m looking forward to the day when trans people are invited to Anderson Cooper 360Up with Chris Hayes, and The Rachel Maddow Show to talk about Wall Street reform, getting our troops out of Afghanistan, and overturning Citizens United. Right now, trans people talking about trans issues is crucial. But I believe that our exceptional progress will ultimately be marked by the moment when who we are becomes unexceptional. Getting there is going to take more people like Melissa Harris-Perry helping us raise all our voices and tell America our stories.”

Gov signs transgender rights bill []

by Christine Lee, 22News State House Correspondent

BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP) – Governor Deval Patrick hosted a ceremonial signing Thursday of a civil rights bill that extends protection from discrimination to people based on their gender identity or gender expression.

“I signed this bill as a matter of conscience. No individual should face discrimination because of who they are,” said Patrick

“And we intend to enforce that bill the way it is intended to do,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Patrick formally signed the transgender rights bill quietly in his office late November, but the start-of-the-year ceremonial signing drew an overflowing crowd from the transgender community.

Legislative leaders praised the progress Massachusetts is making toward recognizing transgender rights.  “Allowing them to more easily find employment, housing, education, credit, and most importantly, a better quality of life,” said House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop)

The bill is big step for the Commonwealth, but activists note, their work isn’t over yet.

“These things are vital but we mostly need public accommodation,” said Danica Ali, an LGBT activist from Springfield.  “[It] must be added to the bill.”

Public accommodation refers to the right to stay at a hotel, ride a bus, or even use a bathroom without being discriminated against.  The bill signed by the governor falls short of extending those rights to transgendered people and activists feel their fight isn’t over until it does.

“Just because it’s such a basic right for people and the fact that it’s not protected is kind of atrocious,” said Kaylin MacNeil of Holyoke.

The governor acknowledged there’s work to be done but for today, he wants to relish in what they’ve accomplished so far.  The House Speaker said nearly 33,000 Massachusetts residents will now no longer face discrimination.

NAACP president says group supports extending rights to transgender residents in Maryland []

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said Thursday the civil rights group supports legislation in Maryland to extend rights to transgender residents.

Jealous spoke at a national conference on rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the 24th national conference on LGBT equality.

“This striving for inclusion is not new,” Jealous told a crowded convention room at the Baltimore Hilton.

Under Jealous, the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People launched an equality task force for the LGBT community. The Maryland measure would extend rights relating to employment and housing to transgender residents.

Last year, legislation that would have protected transgender people from housing and employment discrimination passed the House of Delegates, but the bill failed to pass the Senate.

About a week after the legislative session adjourned in April, an attack on 22-year-old transgender woman at a McDonald’s restaurant in Rosedale highlighted the issue again.

First Lady Katie O’Malley, who also attended the conference, told a crowd outside the convention room where Jealous spoke that “cowards” prevented same-sex marriage legislation from passing in Maryland last year. The measure cleared the Senate but stalled in the House of Delegates.

“We didn’t expect the things that happened to the House of Delegates to occur, but sadly they did, and there were some cowards that prevented it from passing,” she said.

Still, she told the crowd she and her husband, Gov. Martin O’Malley, are hoping the votes will be there this year.

The governor has made same-sex marriage legislation a priority this session.

Katie O’Malley, who is a judge in Baltimore District Court, also told the crowd that religion should not play a role in determining state laws relating to civil rights.

“We’re all very diverse and that’s what makes us so strong, but religion should never play a part in what the laws of our state are, and that’s what we’re trying to convey to religious leaders who are opponents of the bill,” she said.

Are Civil Unions For All The Wave Of The Future? []

By Anna North /

That’s the argument one journalist makes after interviewing several couples in Illinois who chose to get opposite-sex civil unions. But don’t bet on these legal arrangements edging out marriage yet.

Writing in Slate, John Culhane says his interviews with some of the 148 straight couples who have gotten civil unions in Illinois since it became legal last June “reflect a cohort prepared to take the wrecking ball to marriage itself.” According to research by the Illinois clerk’s office, most straight couples who got civil unions had “personal or religious convictions against marriage” — some specified “solidarity with the gay community and/or support of equality, fairness, and inclusiveness,” while others cited discomfort with the labels “husband,” “wife,” or “marriage.” In his interviews, Culhane found several couples who chose civil unions as a statement in favor of LGBT rights — says one man, “until marriage is an option for everyone, it shouldn’t be an option for us.” He also found people who disliked traditional marriage and its implications — one newly married partner says having a civil union “keeps me from falling into any preconditioned behavior that I might have picked up. Calling [Leah] my partner, not my wife, helps me not to have any assumptions.”

Culhane sets up these couples as a harbinger of the death of marriage and the rise of the civil union, but I’m not so sure. For one thing, many reported discrimination — several had officials question their decision not to marry, and one clerk insisted that the male partner be listed as “Partner A” even though the law has no such requirement. For another, civil unions still don’t confer the same rights as marriage, and aren’t federally recognized — discrimination against gay couples ends up affecting straight couples who choose this option. Third, despite the much-vaunted decline in marriage, our culture remains obsessed with the institution as a marker of personal success — not to mention an opportunity for a big wedding. It’s tough to go against the grain, and if you’re a straight couple who’s ready to make a lifelong commitment, it’s going to be hard to give up all the legal and social benefits of marriage in order to make a point. The idea of progressive straights giving up traditional marriage en masse in order of more egalitarian arrangements is a nice one, but extending marriage rights to gay couples still seems like the better path.

No To Nuptials [Slate]

Hillary Clinton Speech “Human Rights Must Include LGBT” []

The full text of the speech is available here at this link: New Civil Rights Movement

The MP3 audio of the speech is available at this link: Hillary Clinton Speech on Human Rights Audio Only

The US has publicly declared it will fight discrimination against gays and lesbians abroad by using foreign aid and diplomacy to encourage reform.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an audience of diplomats in Geneva that “gay rights are human rights”.

A memo from the Obama administration directs US government agencies to consider gay rights when making aid and asylum decisions.

Similar policies already exist for gender equality and ethnic violence.

“It should never be a crime to be gay” Mrs Clinton said at the United Nations in Geneva, adding that a country’s cultural or religious traditions was no excuse for discrimination.

Her audience included representatives from countries where homosexuality is a criminal offence.

Many ambassadors rushed out of the room as soon as Mrs Clinton finished speaking, the Associated Press news agency reported.

‘Human reality’

The announcement, cited by the White House as the “first US government strategy to combat human rights abuses against gays and lesbians abroad”, is also being seen as part of the Obama administration’s outreach to gays and lesbians ahead of the 2012 election.

The official memorandum does not outline consequences for countries with poor records on gay rights. But it allows US agencies working abroad to consult with international organisations on discrimination.

“Gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world,” Mrs Clinton said in Geneva. “Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality.”

The new policy could pose awkward questions for US officials formulating policy towards some regular allies and regional powers.

In 2011, the state department’s annual human rights report cited ally Saudi Arabia’s abuses against gays. The country bans homosexuality outright.

Afghanistan also prohibits homosexual activity, and the same report found that authorities “sporadically” enforced the prohibition.

In the US, Republican presidential candidates criticised the administration’s decision, with Texas Governor Rick Perry saying in a statement that “promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money”.

Mrs Clinton acknowledged the US had its own mixed record on gay rights. As late as 2003, some states had laws that made gay sex a crime.

Earlier this year President Barack Obama signed into law a bill repealing the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law and allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the US military.

More here at the BBC link: