Tag: transgender

Children’s Book with Transgender Protagonist Tops Most-Challenged List Again, Though Challenges to Antiracist Books Rise

Children's Book with Transgender Protagonist Tops Most-Challenged List Again, Though

For the third year in a row, George, a book about a transgender girl, topped the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) annual list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books, and LGBTQ-themed books remained dominant among all the censorship attempts tracked by the ALA. Unlike in the previous few years, however, books with themes of race and racial justice, not LGBTQ themes and characters, made up the majority of books in the top 10. That’s still awful.

George - Number 1 Challenged Book of 2020

The Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020 list was released yesterday as part of the ALA’s annual “State of America’s Libraries Report.” “Challenges” are documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries, calculated from censorship reports submitted through the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) as well as from media mentions. More than 273 books were affected by censorship attempts in 2020, said the ALA, and overall, “Demands to remove books addressing racism and racial justice or those that shared the stories of Black, Indigenous, or people of color grew in number. At the same time, books addressing themes and issues of concern for LGBTQIA+ people continued to dominate the list.”

George is the only book in the top 10 to have been challenged because of LGBTQIA+ content last year. That number is down from eight ot the Top 10 in 2019, six in 2018, and five in 2017. We shouldn’t assume that the the decreased number of LGBTQ titles in the top 10 means we’ve made progress, though. LGBTQ-inclusive books are still plentiful in the full list of challenged titles, and continue to be challenged, as we saw when two school districts in Texas recently tried to ban Call Me Max, a book about a transgender boy. And LGBTQ authors still get uninvited from author talks at schools, even when they’re not talking about their LGBTQ-inclusive books. More importantly, while the number of LGBTQ books in the top 10 may be down, the number of books being challenged for dealing with race and racism is up, and that’s just as bad. This isn’t a contest anyone should want to win or see others win. Instead, we should ask ourselves why books by, for, and about marginalized communities of many types continue to be targeted for removal or restricted access, and what we can do to address this. Librarians remain vital lifelines for many marginalized youth and need the tools to do this work, which can be literally lifesaving.

While the total number of books challenged last year was down to 273 from 566 in 2019, much of that can presumably be attributed to the many library closings or restricted hours because of the pandemic. If you know of books being challenged in your community for any reason, please report the incident to the ALA through their online form or by e-mailing or phoning the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, oif@ala.org or  800.545.2433 x4226.

Book Challenges 2020

Here is the full list of top 10 titles from 2020 and the reasons they were challenged:

  1. George, by Alex Gino. Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
  2. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people.
  3. All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.  Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
  4. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint, it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity.
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author.
  6. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice, by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin. Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views.
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience.
  8. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students.
  9. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse.
  10. The Hate U Give,  by Angie Thomas. Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message.

Or in video form:

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DOJ Affirms Protections for Transgender and Other LGBTQ Youth (+ Two Other Wins for Trans Youth)

DOJ Affirms Protections for Transgender and Other LGBTQ Youth (+

While the current legislative season is seeing a horrifying record number of anti-transgender bills, there were three wins this week: the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memo affirming that Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, contrary to what the Trump administration had said; the governor of Arkansas vetoed a bill that would have prevented transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming medication or surgery; and the NCAA president has spoken in support of transgender youth in sports.

DOJ - Bostock quote

At the DOJ

The DOJ memo (PDF), written by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Civil Rights Division, says that Bostock v. Clayton County, the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibited discrimination in employment based on sex, also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This rescinds guidance from the Trump administration that had claimed it didn’t.

Let’s look a little more closely—watch the Roman numerals carefully. Back in 2016, the Obama administration issued guidance (PDF) that said discrimination against transgender students on the basis of gender identity violates Title IX, a civil rights law passed in 1972 that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives federal taxpayer money. In 2017, the Trump administration’s Department of Education withdrew that guidance, citing “significant litigation regarding school restrooms and locker rooms.” The focus on bathrooms and locker rooms was a red herring, as I explained in a post at the time.

In 2020, the Bostock ruling said that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on sex, also necessarily prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Trump administration then looked at whether Bostock applied to education as well as employment. In other words, did it impact the interpretation of Title IX, which was enacted as a follow up to the Civil Rights Act? The Trump administration concluded that the term “sex” in Title IX only includes “biological sex, male or female,” and therefore transgender students were not protected under Title IX.

The current DOJ’s memo, however, cites President Biden’s Executive Order from January that says Bostock’s reasoning applies to other laws that prohibit sex discrimination “so long as the laws do not contain sufficient indications to the contrary.” The DOJ writes, “The Executive Order directs agencies to review other laws that prohibit sex discrimination, including Title IX, to determine whether they prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. We conclude that Title IX does.” Boom.

In Arkansas

Governor Asa Hutchinson’s (R) veto of the anti-trans bill in Arkansas is welcome, albeit provisional; as the ACLU tweeted yesterday, “This isn’t over yet. We are watching closely to see whether the legislature overrides the veto.” Chase Strangio, deputy director for Transgender Justice at the ACLU, tweeted that even if the bill is overridden, however, “This moment is hugely important and a testament to so many people who put their privacy and their safety on the line to organize and defend trans lives.” Until the threat of a veto from the majority Republican legislature is past, though, this legislation remains one of the most potentially harmful anti-trans bills out there. An overwhelming medical consensus is that gender-affirming care helps, not harms, transgender students.

If you live in Arkansas, contact your legislators now and tell them not to override the veto.

[Update: 3:10 p.m. ET, 4/6/2021: The Arkansas legislature has overridden the veto, and so this heinous bill has passed. Strangio tweeted in response: “We will see you in court you cruel cruel people.”]

In the NCAA

Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, spoke out against the anti-transgender bills across the country that are aimed at banning transgender youth from participating in sports. In a letter sent to HRC President Alphonso David, Emmert said that such legislation is “harmful to transgender student-athletes” and “conflicting with NCAA’s core values.” As the “March Madness” season of NCAA basketball championships wraps up, he also reiterated the NCAA’s commitment to hosting championship games in locations “free of discrimination,” writing, “The NCAA Board of Governors policy requires championship host sites to demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination. The board policy also requires that safeguards are in place to ensure the dignity of everyone involved in the event.”

Emmert also said the NCAA was aware of President Biden’s executive order “that strengthens the enforcement power of Title IX as it relates to transgender students on campuses. This federal guidance will be another important mechanism that states consider when formulating new legislation. All NCAA schools also must follow state and federal laws, including Title IX.”

Moving Forward

Despite these positive happenings, anti-trans legislation remains a threat in the many states with pending anti-trans bills (including some states one usually thinks of as pro-LGBTQ, such as Connecticut and New Hampshire). Check to see if your state is among them, and contact your legislators to explain why they should not support these bills. Looking for explanations of why trans children and youth need access to gender-affirming care? The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (among other professional medical organizations) have statements you can wield. Want arguments for why trans athletes should be allowed to play sports? Try this series at OutSports; this report from the Center for American Progress; or my own two cents as a cisgender athlete who welcomes trans participation.

25 Recent Picture Books with Transgender and Nonbinary Characters

25 Recent Picture Books with Transgender and Nonbinary Characters

Today is the Transgender Day of Visibility, so I’m celebrating by rounding up 25 (!) picture books with transgender and/or nonbinary characters that have been published in 2020 and 2021 alone. (I’ll also show you how to find older trans-inclusive kids’ books and ones for and about trans parents.)

Picture books with transgender and/or nonbinary characters

Here’s the list of books—click through to read short (and sometimes long) reviews for each.

  1. Sam Is My Sister, by Ashley Rhodes-Courter and illustrated by MacKenzie Haley
  2. The Little Library, by Margaret McNamara and illustrated by G. Brian Karas
  3. The Bare Naked Book, by Kathy Stinson and illustrated by Melissa Cho
  4. Toby Wears a Tutu, by Lori Starling and illustrated by Anita Dufalla
  5. We Are Little Feminists: Families, by Archaa Shrivastav and illustrated by Lindsey Blakely (board book)
  6. Over the Shop, by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Qin Leng
  7. Were I Not a Girl: The Inspiring and True Story of Dr. James Barry, by Lisa Robinson and illustrated by Lauren Simkin Berke
  8. My Rainbow, by Deshanna and Trinity Neal and illustrated by Art Twink
  9. My Maddy, by Gayle E. Pitman and illustrated by Violet Tobacco
  10. Max on the Farm (Max and Friends Book 3), by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Luciano Lozano
  11. She’s My Dad!: A Story for Children Who Have a Transgender Parent or Relative, by Sarah Savage and illustrated by Joules Garcia
  12. The Name I Call Myself, by Hasan Namir and illustrated by Cathryn John
  13. Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns, by Afsaneh Moradian and illustrated by Maria Bogade
  14. A More Graceful Shaboom, by Jacinta Bunnell and illustrated by Crystal Vielula
  15. Sylvia and Marsha Start a Revolution! The Story of the Trans Women of Color Who Made LGBTQ+ History, by Joy Ellison and illustrated by Teshika Silver
  16. Love Remains: A Rosh Hashanah Story of Transformation, by Jessica Leving, Rabbi Ari Moffic and illustrated by Teddi Garson
  17. I’m Not a Girl: A Transgender Story, by Jessica Verdi and Maddox Lyons, illustrated by Dana Simpson
  18. Raven Wild (Promised Land Tales Book 3), by Adam Reynolds, Caitlin Spice, and Chaz Harris, illustrated by Bo Moore and Christine Luiten
  19. The Fighting Infantryman: The Story of Albert D. J. Cashier, Transgender Civil War Soldier, by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Nabi Ali
  20. No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Keila V. Dawson and Lindsay H. Metcalf and illustrated by Jeanette Bradley
  21. My Dad Thinks I’m a Boy?!: A Trans Positive Children’s Book, written and illustrated by Sophie Labelle
  22. Hooray, What A Day!/¡Viva, Qué Día! written and illustrated by Molly Allis
  23. Porcupine Cupid, by Jason June and illustrated by Lori Richmond
  24. Peanut Goes for the Gold, by Jonathan Van Ness and illustrated by Gillian Reid
  25. My Name Is Troy, by Christian A’Xavier Lovehall and illustrated by Chamar M. Cooper

To search for books in my database published before 2020 with trans and/or nonbinary characters (and there are some good ones!), choose the age category you want, and start typing either “trans” or “nonbinary” into the Tag field. You’ll see a number of options come up (for trans boys, trans girls, etc.). Choose the one you want. Note that if you choose multiple tags at once, the books that appear will be ones that include ALL of those types of characters. That can be useful if you want to match that tag with, say, a tag for a racial or cultural identity (e.g., to find books with Black trans boys), but may also mean that you’ll get fewer results than if you search for one tag at a time. If you’re looking for grown-up books for and about trans (or other LGBTQ) parents, try the Memoir, Anthology, and/or Parenting Guide tags, too.

Even as we celebrate trans lives and trans resilience today and mark the first-ever presidential proclamation of TDOV, let’s remember that there’s still lots of work to do before trans people, from children to elders, attain full equality and inclusion. May we all recommit to continuing the work.

Rachel Levine Becomes First Transgender Person Confirmed by Senate (and She’s a Parent, Too!)

Biden Nominates Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, a Transgender Parent, as

Dr. Rachel Levine yesterday became the first openly transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate and the country’s highest-ranking transgender official. Levine, who has two grown children, will be the assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Rachel Levine

Dr. Levine had been secretary of health for Pennsylvania and led the state’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a statement released to the New York Times, Levine said she looked forward to “promot[ing] policies that advance the health and wellbeing of all Americans”—but she also thanked the LGBTQ community, saying, “Only through your work and advocacy over many decades is my story possible.” She noted, “I will stand on the shoulders of those who came before—people we know throughout history and those whose names we will never know because they were forced to live and work in the shadows.” She looked ahead as well as back, however, observing that “As Vice President Harris said [in her election speech] I recognize that I may be the first, but am heartened by the knowledge that I will not be the last.”

Poignantly, too, she addressed transgender youth, saying:

I know that each and every day you confront many difficult challenges. Sadly, some of the challenges you face are from people who would seek to use your identity and circumstance as a weapon. It hurts. I know. I cannot promise you that these attacks will immediately cease, but I will do everything I can to support you and advocate for you. President Obama often reminded us that not all progress goes in a straight line. What I can tell you is that there is a place for you in America and in our government. Our ‘more perfect union’ includes you, too.

There are a record number of anti-transgender bills in state legislatures this year, including many that target trans youth.

Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement that Levine’s confirmation “shows how far our country has come in recognizing that being transgender has nothing to do with a person’s abilities…. Our nation will be stronger for having someone of her caliber helping to lead our national health agenda.” He added, “As a transgender person, I am encouraged by her success and proud to see so many transgender people stepping up to dedicate their experience and expertise to public service. I look forward to the day when every young person can grow up knowing that every path is open to them and that they will not be held back or limited simply because of who they are.”

Among her many accomplishments, Levine was the President of ASTHO, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, and the Academy for Eating Disorders. She joined Governor Tom Wolf’s administration in January 2015 as the physician general of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and served from 2015 to 2017. She was named acting secretary of health for the state in July 2017 and confirmed as secretary of health in March 2018. Her previous posts included vice-chair for clinical affairs for the Department of Pediatrics and chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

Dr. Levine is also an accomplished regional and international speaker, and author on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders, and LGBTQ+ medicine. She graduated from Harvard College and the Tulane University School of Medicine, completing her training in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City. She’s spoken often to LGBTQ groups, including a keynote address at Philadelphia Family Pride’s 6th Annual Family Matters Conference for LGBTQ parented-families in 2015.

(And no, she’s not the first openly LGBTQ parent to receive Senate confirmation. I believe that honor goes to Roberta Achtenberg, who was confirmed as assistant secretary for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity after being nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and was also one of the co-founders of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. After Achtenberg, the next was James Hormel, another Clinton nominee, who served as the United States Ambassador to Luxembourg after confirmation in 1999. That’s not to take anything away from Levine’s achievement, but as she herself noted, she’s standing on the shoulders of others even as she’s a welcome “first” in her own right.)

Congratulations, Dr. Levine!

Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett – The Lesbrary

Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers edited by Cat

Meanwhile, Elsewhere cover

Science fiction shows us worlds of great technological advances and sweeping social changes. It shows us worlds similar to ours where a few fundamentals have changed, or lands beyond the stars vastly different to our own. But it does not always show us what it is like to be trans or queer in those worlds.

Meanwhile, Elsewhere compiles 25 stories from trans writers in a contemporary anthology so amazing that I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I put it down.

Each story has a trans protagonist and often queer/lesbian/sapphic relationships are a significant point, though not always. Sometimes those relationships are just in the background, but they’re still as vital to the characters in making them who they are. Sometimes a character is just a lesbian in passing, but the narrator isn’t part of that relationship. This collection affirms so many ways to be queer and interact with other LGBTQIA+ people in our communities and around us. It’s a delight to read.

“What Cheer” is a soft, half-sad but half-hopeful story about being with yourself (who sort of isn’t yourself) for a day. “Delicate Bodies” is a darkly humourous take on coming to terms with one’s body and getting over your exes during a zombie outbreak. “Satan, Are You There? It’s Me, Laura” deals with its surreal events in a matter of fact way that it takes you along for the ride. “Heat Death of Western Human Arrogance” is a love story between an alien and her lover dealing with their very different paths through life.

There really is something for everyone. And it all feels incredibly thoughtful, gripping and honest, with each writer in the anthology contributing a unique voice and prose style. Nothing feels same-y and, with the massive variety of stories, there isn’t a weak link in the bunch.

Of course, queer sci fi isn’t entirely new. The lesbian vampire novel Carmilla was written in the 1800s, and Melissa Scott has been writing LGBTQ sci-fi since the 1980s. As television and movie visibility for queer characters in these genres increases, so does the variety of stories we are able to tell, experience and see ourselves in. Meanwhile, Elsewhere contributes something of excellent quality to this list.

For anyone who is some flavour of queer and is feeling underrepresented in this genre, for anyone who wants to read more work with a non-cis, non-straight, non-male protagonists, for anyone who simply wants more science fiction with a refreshing variety… read this book.

Rating: *****

School Districts in Two States Say Perfectly Appropriate Picture Book About a Transgender Boy Is Inappropriate

School Districts in Two States Say Perfectly Appropriate Picture Book

In the past month, school districts in two states have tried to ban Call Me Max, a delightful picture book about a transgender boy by a transgender author, calling it “not appropriate” for the children who heard it read to them. This would be awful at any time, but at a moment when trans youth are under threat from anti-trans bills in at least 24 states, it feels like the tip of a much bigger iceberg.

Call Me Max - Kyle Lukoff

In Utah

In February, a third-grade student in Utah brought the book into class and asked the teacher to read it at storytime, which she did. According to school district spokesperson Doug Perry, students then asked some questions that the teacher “deflected,” reported the Salt Lake Tribune. Afterwards, “A few families then called the district, angry that the book was shared with their kids without permission.”

The teacher made a “mistake,” Perry said. “That book is not appropriate at the grade level it was being shared.” In response to the complaints, the district suspended its “equity book bundles,” a program to bring more inclusive literature, particularly around race, to the classroom. Call Me Max was not part of those bundles, but the district spokesperson said they were reviewing them “to see if any are similar to Call Me Max in topic or might otherwise cause concern.”

Author Kyle Lukoff told Newsweek that he can’t believe the district is withholding whole equity book bundle while they deliberate. “I only want my career to be in conversation/solidarity/support of others, and this feels awful.”

Lukoff explained to the Tribune that his book was written for a kindergarten to third grade audience, and that he’s read it to first graders who were unfazed when he explained what “transgender” means. “I find in my experience that adults think that term unlocks a lot of confusion in children when it really doesn’t,” he said. “It’s only a problem if you think that being transgender is itself wrong. And it’s not.”

As further proof that kids get it, a number of Lukoff’s former students, from first to seventh grade, wrote a letter to the school board in support of him and his book, saying, “By pausing the program, and doing so on the basis of a children’s book about a transgender child, you are telling children who may be a bit different than others, and transgender children especially, that you do not value them, their lives, or their experiences.” (I wrote something similar back in 2007 in relation to attempts to ban books with same-sex parents.)

In Texas

Earlier this month, too, a teacher in Texas read Call Me Max to her fourth grade class. The book was on a list she had shared for the annual Read Across America observance, and included books related to Black and Women’s History Months. Some parents protested when they learned that Max had been read, reported CBS Austin. The district’s chief learning officer, Susan Fambrough, then sent a letter to parents (republished at Lukoff’s blog) stating that the list had not been “appropriately reviewed” and calling the book “not appropriate to be read aloud to an entire elementary-age class.” She added that “the subject of gender identity may be addressed instructionally—but only with proper caution and prior parent awareness.” After the book was read, she said, “Counselors were made available to support students, and the school administration worked with families to provide an explanation and reassurances.”

Lukoff, who was an elementary school librarian for eight years himself, wrote a thoughtful answer to Fambrough in which he asked her to explain the district’s actions of providing counselors and reassurances to families—a response he’d only seen before after crises like a death in the school community or the school shooting at Sandy Hook. “Do you believe that a readaloud about a transgender child is an equivalent trauma? How do you think transgender people in your community felt having their identities treated like a disaster?” he inquired. He also asked if the district provided similar support and resources after a student experiences homophobia, transphobia, racism, or ableism.

More than Books

These attempts to ban Max are infuriating but not surprising. LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books have long been among the most challenged in the country, according to the American Library Association (ALA). In 2012, the same Utah school district where there was a fuss about Max removed Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mother’s House, about a two-mom family, from elementary school shelves, making it available only with written permission from a parent. And in just the past couple of years, several other authors of LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books have been banned from talking at schools even when it wasn’t clear that they’d mention those titles.

But the baseless fury around Max comes at a time when transgender people themselves are under attack more broadly. Just this week, Mississippi enacted a law banning transgender girls in Mississippi’s public schools and colleges from competing on girls and women’s sports teams. It’s one of a slew of anti-transgender bills now before legislatures around the country. If you are in any of those states, please reach out to your legislators and tell them to vote against these bills.

If you need to report that a book is being challenged in your local school or library, you can use this form from the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.

Also, let’s show Lukoff some direct support, too. His When Aidan Became a Brother, about a transgender boy preparing for a new sibling, won the prestigious Stonewall Award last year. Call Me Max is wonderful as well, and its sequels, Max and the Talent Show and Max on the Farm, give us more adventures about the personable protagonist and his friends. The second two books are less “about” being transgender, but Max still responds to certain things in ways that reflect his transgender identity. Lukoff is one of the best at finding this balance. His first middle grade novel, Too Bright to See, comes out April 20. Stay tuned for a review—but if you want to take a chance on it (I would), it’s available for preorder at Bookshop and Amazon. You can also look up more children’s books with transgender characters in my database. (Start typing “transgender” into the Tags box and you’ll see various options.) If you aren’t in a position to buy these yourself, please recommend them to your local library, and leave online reviews—I’ve heard many authors say this helps.

Max—and real transgender children—shouldn’t have to bear this alone.

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Silence of the Lambs show Clarice casts transgender activist Jen Richards

Trans actor Jen Richards in front of a blue background at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival

Jen Richards of ‘Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen’ attends the IMDb Studio at Acura Festival Village on location at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival on 27 January 2020 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb)

CBS’ Silence of the Lambs adaptation Clarice has cast transgender actor, writer and activist Jen Richards to play a character who will discuss the “complicated legacy” of Buffalo Bill. 

Richards will portray a transgender woman who talks with the titular character about Buffalo Bill, a serial killer who appeared in the 1991 Silence of the Lambs film. 

The producers of the Silence of the Lambs TV adaptation said Richards was first recommended by GLAAD’s director of transgender representation Nick Adams to consult on the show, but now she will also appear on the screen.

During a virtual premiere event for Clarice on Monday (1 February), Richards said her character intersects with Clarice and explains Buffalo Bill’s legacy.

“All I can say is that the character intersects with Clarice’s storyline in a way that her trans-ness isn’t central to her storyline, but her identity as a transgender woman prompts her to discuss with Clarice the complicated legacy of Buffalo Bill,” Richards said.

She initially thought she would help the writers and producers “craft the character and make sure some younger, prettier trans actress had a good experience on set”. But then she ended up cast in the role itself. 

Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs.
Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. (Orion)

Silence of the Lambs‘ Buffalo Bill left a scar on the trans community

Richards said she was interested in creating discussions about Buffalo Bill, who was played by Ted Levine in the film, specifically because of how he had been a negative representation for the transgender community. 

Jame Gumb, known as “Buffalo Bill”, is a serial killer who murders overweight women and skins them so he can make a “woman suit” for himself. Both the film and novel of the same name depict Gumb as having signs of gender dysphoria. Gumb wants to become a woman and created a “woman suit” for himself to complete his “transformation”. 

Though, it’s never explicit in the novel or book that Gumb is transgender. 

“Right prior to my coming out as trans, I started to delicately tell a few friends and colleagues I was thinking about transitioning,” Richards said. “Kind of treading water to see if I could do it successfully, and one looked at me and said, ‘Do you mean like Buffalo Bill?’”

Richards said she was “crestfallen” that this woman had “no other image to counter” what trans-ness was, just this “incredibly monstrous person who literally steals the female form and tries to embody it”.

“It was really complicated to try and overcome that first perception of other people,” she said.

Not reducing trans character into a stereotype

Richards said she was thrilled that Clarice’s writing team wanted to “address the complicated, horrible legacy in a way that didn’t reduce it to that one issue” and feature a “trans character that was part of the story but didn’t reduce it to a stereotype”.

The series takes place a year after FBI agent Clarice Starling, played by Rebecca Breeds, caught Buffalo Bill. Starling then has to deal with the trauma in the wake of the complicated case and encountering cannibal Hannibal Lector. 

Clarice also stars Kal Penn, Nick Shadow, Lucca de Oliveira and Michael Cudlitz. It will debut on 11 February.

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This clip of Taraji P. Henson interviewing black, transgender women will have you choked up / Queerty

This clip of Taraji P. Henson interviewing black, transgender women

Taraji P. Henson & Tracie Jade in Peace of Mind with Taraji.

Black History Month kicks off February 1, and Oscar-nominated actress turned talk show host Taraji P. Henson honors her community by focusing on the struggle of African-American, transgender women. The conversation comes as part of Henson’s latest endeavor, the Facebook Watch talk series Peace of Mind with Taraji.

In this exclusive clip obtained by Queerty, Henson and her co-host, Tracie Jade, interview three transgender women. The ladies– Memphis, Nova , and Naki–discuss their struggles with depression, anxiety and suicide.

Related: Do NOT ask Taraji P. Henson about the Jussie Smollett scandal

The very emotional conversation, as well as the subject matter, fit with Henson’s overall focus of the show. Peace of Mind with Taraji focuses on mental health issues, particularly those affecting the African-American community, such as PTSD, depression, eating disorders and nervous exhaustion. Other guests have included Mary J. Blige, Gabrielle Union and Gabourey Sidibe.

The newest episode of Peace of Mind with Taraji streams on Facebook Watch this Monday, Feburary 1. Have a look at the clip below, and reach for the kleenex.


Removal of Transgender Military Ban Is a Victory for Trans People and Their Families and Children

Removal of Transgender Military Ban Is a Victory for Trans

President Biden’s executive order yesterday ending the ban on transgender people serving in the military is not only a victory for the many trans people in uniform, but also for the children and families they support.

Jennifer and Deborah Peace and their children - Credit: TransMilitary

Jennifer and Deborah Peace and their children – Credit: TransMilitary

The premise of the executive order is very simple: “All Americans who are qualified to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States should be able to serve.” Biden added, “The All-Volunteer Force thrives when it is composed of diverse Americans who can meet the rigorous standards for military service, and an inclusive military strengthens our national security.”

For the more than 15,000 transgender people currently serving, that’s an acknowledgment of equality. For those who are parents, it means they do not have to fear losing their jobs and being unable to feed and house their children. The U.S. military is the country’s largest employer of transgender people, according to the 2018 documentary TransMilitary. The unemployment rate for trans people is three times higher than the national average, and over one quarter (27 percent) of trans people who held or applied for a job reported being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion due to their gender identity, per the National Center for Transgender Equality‘s latest U.S. Transgender Survey. (The survey covers 2016-17, but I can’t imagine the number improved during the last four years.)

As Deborah Peace said in Transmilitary about her spouse Jennifer Peace, a captain in the U.S. Army and a trans woman, “She was the breadwinner of the family.” The Peaces have three children.

The removal of the ban will also, I imagine, positively impact service members and their spouses who are not trans themselves, but are raising transgender or gender-creative children. Consider: The Department of Defense Child Development Virtual Lab School (VLS), an online professional development system for the 33,000 child- and youth-care professionals working with children of military families on bases around the world, in 2018 launched a course on “Creating Gender Safe Spaces.” Sarah Lang, associate director of research and professional development at VLS, told me in an interview, “Part of the reason we developed this course was that people working in military childcare saw gender-expansive kids and reached out to us. We want to be supportive of children and families with gender-expansive or LGBT members, and to arm staff with tools to navigate conversations with other families.” Clearly, then, there were enough of these families that such a program was worth creating. Yet children are less likely to thrive in an environment that condemns their identities. Transgender people serving openly (and perhaps occasionally visiting on-base classrooms) may give these children important role models.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has also clarified that the new policy applies not only to transgender people currently serving, but also to those wishing to enlist. He noted, too:

The United States Armed Forces are in the business of defending our fellow citizens from our enemies, foreign and domestic. I believe we accomplish that mission more effectively when we represent all our fellow citizens. I also believe we should avail ourselves of the best possible talent in our population, regardless of gender identity. We would be rendering ourselves less fit to the task if we excluded from our ranks people who meet our standards and who have the skills and the devotion to serve in uniform.

This is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do.

Darn right.

As we move forward, however, let us not forget how we got here. TransMilitary, which profiles not only the Peace family, but also several other transgender service members, is available on several of the major streaming services. I encourage you to watch. It’s a reminder that not only did transgender service members and their families feel the negative impact of the ban, but that many put their careers on the line by sharing their stories and speaking out against it. It is in large part because of their efforts, along with research (and more research) and the work of many other advocates, that Biden put pen to paper and signed yesterday’s order, affirming transgender people’s right to serve their country on equal terms.

Corporal Laila Villanueva, Captain Jennifer Peace, and Senior Airman Logan Ireland - Credit: TransMilitary

Corporal Laila Villanueva, Captain Jennifer Peace, and Senior Airman Logan Ireland – Credit: TransMilitary

If reading’s more your thing, check out the 2019 NPR profile of U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bree “B” Fram, her spouse Peg, and their two kids; this piece by Alli Alexander, an Army veteran, mother, and now military spouse, about her husband’s transition while in the Army; or this InStyle profile of Capt. Peace.

This executive order is personal for me—I have a friend who is a transgender man, a parent, and a serving member of the Armed Forces. I’m delighted for him and his family, and for all transgender service members. Thanks to them for their service to us all.

Biden Nominates Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, a Transgender Parent, as Assistant Secretary for Health

Biden Nominates Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, a Transgender Parent, as

President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, who has led the state’s COVID-19 response, as assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services. Levine, a transgender woman, is also the parent of two grown children. Her nomination comes days after President Trump’s HHS finalized a rule that would allow schools to misgender and discriminate against transgender students. Do you sense change?

Dr. Rachel Levine

Dr. Levine currently serves as Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is leading the state’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Levine was confirmed three times by the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania state senate as secretary of health and the state’s physician general. She would become the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

She is the President of ASTHO, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, and the Academy for Eating Disorders. She joined Governor Tom Wolf’s administration in January 2015 as the physician general of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and served from 2015 to 2017. She was named acting secretary of health in July 2017 and confirmed as secretary of health in March 2018. Her previous posts included: vice-chair for clinical affairs for the Department of Pediatrics and chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

Dr. Levine is also an accomplished regional and international speaker, and author on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders, and LGBTQ+ medicine. She graduated from Harvard College and the Tulane University School of Medicine, completing her training in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

She’s spoken often to LGBTQ groups, including a keynote address at Philadelphia Family Pride’s 6th Annual Family Matters Conference for LGBTQ parented-families in 2015.

A 2016 Washington Post profile of her related, “Levine said her children, who are now in college, were very accepting of her transition.” And of her own mother, Levine told the Post, “She said ‘I love you unconditionally and so I accept you,’ and I started to cry.” Levine’s mother “moved to Pennsylvania about seven years ago to be closer to Rachel and her children. The two dine out together multiple times a week and have a standing date for Sunday brunch.”

The Advocate reported last March that Levine was working more than 10 hours a day, seven days a week, in response to the pandemic, and told them, “I want to be judged upon my work in medicine and in public health and in this difficult time, in my work to help to protect the public health in the face of this global pandemic. It doesn’t make any difference what someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation is. We’re really all in this together.”

President-elect Joe Biden said in a statement, “Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic—no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability—and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond. She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris added, “Dr. Rachel Levine is a remarkable public servant with the knowledge and experience to help us contain this pandemic, and protect and improve the health and well-being of the American people. President-elect Biden and I look forward to working with her to meet the unprecedented challenges facing Americans and rebuild our country in a way that lifts everyone up.”