Outrageous! Transgender people attacked in gay bar

I only first heard about this story today through a March 13th interview on Ethan St. Pierre’s podcast The Radical Guy. (perhaps you already know it).

Ethan interviewed Mitch Graffero, who with his friend Jamie, were in a gay bar in Washington, DC over a month ago.  When some of the patrons realized that Mitch and Jamie are transgender man, they physically assaulted them.

When Mitch Graffeo entered Dupont’s Fab Lounge shortly before closing on Feb. 28, he hadn’t been to a lesbian club in more than a decade. Graffeo, 40, was only stopping in to pick up a friend, 29-year-old Jamie, at the conclusion of the gay bar’s weekly lesbian night. Graffeo and Jamie, both transgender men, were two of only a handful of men in a club full of women. As the lights went up, a group of women took a sudden interest in Jamie. Slim and boyish, Jamie had only recently begun to transition from female to male, and they wanted to know what he was.

Graffeo watched the women surround Jamie. “They were grabbing him, saying, ‘What are you, a boy or a girl?’” Graffeo says. “They were very interested and excited, grabbing his crotch and his chest,” says Graffeo. When Jamie asked the women to leave him alone, they closed in tight around him. Jamie “wiggled his way out,” and the two men funneled toward the door with the rest of the last-call crowd.

The scene grew even more violent,

Once outside, one of the women refused to let her curiosity subside. “She jumped on his back a bit and put him in a headlock,” says Graffeo. Then, she reopened the line of questioning. “She was saying, ‘What are you, come on, tell me, what the fuck,’” Graffeo says. Jamie wiggled out again. The woman persisted.

When Graffeo stepped between them, the woman “tried to punch around” him. Graffeo pulled out his cell phone and announced he was calling the police. The woman grabbed the phone from his hand and used it to pound Graffeo in the head and neck. “She said, ‘You’re not calling anybody,’” Graffeo says. Meanwhile, “a second gal was just pummeling Jamie, hitting him on his head, his neck, his arms.” Soon, a car pulled up, and the women jumped inside. Jamie was left with bruises and a concussion. A week later, “he’s still purple,” says Graffeo. “He’s not black and blue, he’s purple all over.”

Read the rest of Amanda Hess’ article that appeared on March 18th in the Washington DC City Paper.

Compliated story of men in women’s spaces? Yes, some have argued this, but even if that were the case, (which sounds to me like a rationalization to blame the victims) it  that does not warrant this type of irrational and unacceptable violence.

Isolated incident? One can hope, but for years the Michigan’s Womyn’s Festival, which was created back in the mid-70’s “as a response to perceived misogyny, sexism and homophobia,” has denied access to trans women. (Creative transgender individuals responded with  their own inclusive Camp Trans held right across the street from the Womyn’s festival.)

The discrimination and oppression of trans people within the LGB community is in no way limited to women’s (or womyn’s) spaces. For years I have met non-trans gay men who have propagated misinformation about trans people and expressed shockingly negative and even violent reactions to transgender indviduals and groups within the LGBT community and particularly in LGB(T) churches.

Yes, I do meet affirming LGB non-trans folks who really want to understand and truly work toward an inclusive community (some of you read this blog.) Some folks are doing great work at educating themselves and getting involved. But we need to ramp up our efforts.

We can’t sit silently when gender identity and expression get removed from employment non-discrimiation and hate crime legislation. We need to speak out about the verbal and physical violence against trans people within our communities and exclusionary practices. We need to share these stories on our blogs. I am so surprised it took over a month for me to hear about this particular story.

It’s about justice. It’s about standing up for anyone who experiences oppression and injustice in the world around us. It’s about moving past our own fears that our needs will not be met (gay marriage, ordination, job protection, etc) to the place where we actively engage to see that everyone’s needs are met.

I think of John Henson’s Good As New, a brilliant translation of the Christian scriptures,

It’s time to stop vexing yourselves with questions like, ‘Where shall we eat tonight?’ or ‘Have we ordered the right wine to go with the meal?’ or ‘Is this dress suitable for the occasion?’ People who are bothered by such questions don’t yet know God. God loves you and knows what’s best for you. Center your minds on God’s New World. Use your energy to create a just and fair society. Then you can live it up!  (Matthew chapter six, p 133)

You can isten to Ethan’s interview with Graffeo here.

Looking for more media resources about transgender people and their stories? Check out my blog post Learning Through Listening.


This post has 17 Comments

  1. Jane on April 15, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    This makes me physically ill. I know this happens; I’ve known the anger that some lesbians have toward trans men and women. I am one who needs to know more. I have to face the places where my own biases and past are “triggered.” These things are not rectified or resolved by violence. They are resolved by asking questions, listening, praying and interacting. None of us win when we engage in zero-sum games. My liberties are only endangered by hatred.

    I don’t even know if any of this makes sense. This is just gut reaction to this story. God forgive us all.

  2. p2son on April 15, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Jane, we only just met a few months ago (at an amazingly trans inclusive church event in Seattle), and so far two of the things I appreciate about are 1. your passionate integrity and 2. your ability to express yourself well.

    Thank you. You are a gift!

  3. Immanuel Brändemo on April 15, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    That’s so tragic, though I’m not that surprised. Ok, physical abuse is probably not that common, but there’s definitely more transphobia in the LGB community than most cisgender people expect. At least it is in Sweden.

  4. p2son on April 15, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Immanuel, thanks for commenting. I have heard about transphobia in Sweden. I know of some great trans people (and you may know the same folks) in Sweden who are doing some great work to educate the population and the LGB portion of the community in particular.

  5. Jane on April 16, 2009 at 12:10 am

    Humbly, thank you. It is a blessing to meet another on the path — there are many of us here on the edge walking in the Light.

  6. Karen on April 16, 2009 at 12:28 am

    I am so sad reading this report. As a person that fully embraces everyone’s right to “BE” I forget that there are so many that have hate as a motivator against that which they do not understand. I work with an LGBT youth group in oregon that fully opens it doors to the trans youth of our community. I am so fully impressed with the accepting attitude of these young people. I am hoping that with the continued efforts of people like the ones I work with we can wipe out irrational reactivity.

  7. p2son on April 16, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Karen, thanks for you comments. Like you I feel a lot of hope with this younger generation. They seem less fixed in regards to their orientation and gender expression. They more readily embrace fluidity. If you listen to Ethan’s interview of Mitch, they mention that the attackers were surprisingly young. Efforts are being made to reach out to the local lgbtq youth groups to do some more education about trans and gender issues.

    I was at the SMYRC center in Portland, OR a few times and was so pleased by the gender diversity and the inclusion that I saw there. Lots of cool stuff happening in Oregon.

  8. Ethan on April 16, 2009 at 12:51 am

    Thanks for writing this post!
    Violence has never been the answer to questions we have about that which we do not understand.

  9. Diana on April 16, 2009 at 1:10 am

    Thank you for for all your help.

  10. p2son on April 16, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Ethan, you are welcome.
    Diana, thank you! And I will see you on Saturday 🙂

  11. Stasa Morgan-Appel on April 16, 2009 at 1:39 am

    “It’s about justice. It’s about standing up for anyone who experiences oppression and injustice in the world around us. It’s about moving past our own fears that our needs will not be met (gay marriage, ordination, job protection, etc) to the place where we actively engage to see that everyone’s needs are met.”


    One of the fears, not just in lesbian space but in other women-only space, is, “Will the admission of trans women mean the loss of dearly-bought women-only space?” Herstorically, we’ve had to fight really hard to carve out spaces that haven’t been dominated by patriarchy. So, there’s a fear both of a need not being met, and of the loss of something that meets a need and which we had to fight really hard for.

    I’ve certainly had my own fears in this regard. Being in a community that tries to live up to its own belief in “radical love and radical inclusion” has been very helpful for me, and I no longer feel that the presence of trans women threatens women-only space; now I understand much better how it is women-only space.

    It is, as Peterson points out, about justice; about really understanding, in our guts, the connection between my oppression and someone else’s. And for me, most of all, it’s about learning to understand how things that combat others’ oppression help me; how wearing down someone else’s oppression does not make mine worse. It’s not choosing between liberations; it’s choosing liberation. It’s not choosing between which oppression to fight; it’s fighting oppression.

    One might say it’s about abundance rather than scarcity. I don’t know what I think about that, yet.

    This reminds me of that Northern Sun bumper sticker: “Everyone does better when everyone does better.”

    Being in that place Peterson mentions, where we’re actively engaged in seeing that everyone’s needs get met.

    I won’t pretend I have this all worked out… but I have some of it worked out to my own satisfaction, anyway. 🙂

  12. Stasa Morgan-Appel on April 16, 2009 at 1:40 am

    p.s. What Ethan said.

  13. p2son on April 16, 2009 at 1:56 am

    Staśa, how I love you. I am busy composing songs to sing to your praise at FGC this summer. I’m shooting for a Sondheim-inspired medley with a folksy Shaker influence. I need to work on my Quaker jazz hands though…

  14. dan on April 16, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    That is so ridiculous.
    Just goes to show you, “our” community is not free of that struggles of any other community.
    There are people from every alley of life in our community, which is both good and bad.
    I read out loud every week at church “I will respect the dignity of every human being, with the Lord’s help” , it is people like these perps. in this situation that I have a HUGE challenge extending that respect to.
    I think we are gay, lesbian, bi, trans. people are all opressed, yes, but it is a tragedy when we take our opression out on others… we need to have a healthier way to deal with the opression we are challenged with. Until the opression ends! Which God knows it’s coming. We have to keep hoping and striving for it to cease.

  15. p2son on April 16, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    dan, thanks for commenting. I remember when I first emerged from the tomb-like closet that held me for nearly two decades. After years of enduring the anti-gay violence in Evangelical churches, and perpetuating the same on myself and others, I began to move in some pro-gay spaces. How shocked I was to discover so much racism and sexism among some of the white gay men I first met. Then I began to bump up against classism. I was like, “What is this all about?!?”

    It shocked me to look at the many ways I had been programmed to be racist, sexist, classist, violent, homophobic, transphobic, etc. So much to unlearn. As an oppressed person, I learned oppression. The bullied can so quickly become bullies. Stigma does strange things to people.

    Some time ago I wrote a blog post, I Can’t Embrace You; I Can’t Let You Go, which looks at the effects of stigma on the stigmatized person. EVERYONE gets victimized by these senseless oppressive acts of violence–including the perpetrators.

    Fortunately people can and do change. They renew their minds. They can learn new lessons and new ways of seeing the world. Perhaps if we raise enough of an alarm when these things happen, the perpetrators will see the horror of their actions and, to use a religious word, repent–turn around and go in a new direction.

    Often hearing the stories of those victimized by the violence, directly from those folks most directly harmed, has broken through the hardness of those perpetuating these acts. Vulnerability so often inspires the same in others. Still such vulnerability can be costly, and I completely understand when someone victimized chooses to stay out of the spotlight. It need not be their job to educate their oppressors.

  16. dan on April 16, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Ya for sure… I hear you.
    I’ve been Out for a few years, and have to admit I felt the same way when I first tried to “fit into” the gay scene here in Toronto. I saw a lot of the same things as you. And for a long time I was caught in thte middle. Not fitting into the Evangelical World, or the Gay World. resulting in my settling into an Agnlican Church, and realizing that my being a part of the local gay community does not mean I need to engage in these acts or become what the scene expects most gay men to be.
    It is tough to know how to oppose this locally.. isn’t it? Cause obviously, I think the same thing happens everyday, maybe in a slightly less “OUTRAGEOUS” way. Or maybe a less severe is the word I am looking for.

  17. Stasa Morgan-Appel on April 17, 2009 at 3:19 am

    Peterson, you make me blush, but you also warm my heart. Thank you for your unstinting praise and love. You buoy me up, you help me listen more deeply to how the Goddess is calling me to act in my own life, you help me be more faithful.

    And you’re very good for my ego. 🙂

    Much love,

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