Wednesday 18 December 2013

Interview with Janice Covington

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Janice Covington with whom I would like to discuss the role of transgender women in US politics. Janice is an LGBTQ advocate and activist, she is also the first transgender woman to have been elected from North Carolina to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Hello Janice!
Janice: Hello Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about your career so far?
Janice: I have always loved working with my hands and I have owned my own successful business since 1983 as a building contractor, mostly doing historical and residential renovations.
Monika: What are the current issues on the transgender advocacy agenda?
Janice: Right now I feel the most important piece of political legislation concerning the transgender community is the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA]. It would give transgender people the right to work and earn a living like any other American without the fear of harassment, bigotry, and discrimination in the workplace. Transgender people have the same desires as anyone else: they want to own a home and a car and to be able to support themselves. To penalize a person because of their gender identity is just simply wrong.

With North Carolina Governor.

As the North Carolina state organizer for Get-Equal I have held two picket demonstrations this year that were very effective in advancing the ENDA agenda and Just last month the Mecklenburg County commissioners here in Charlotte NC, have voted to add gender Identity to its employment policies and I feel that constitutes another win for inclusion and equality.
Monika: You are very active in US politics, promoting the transgender cause. Could you elaborate on some of your initiatives and projects in this respect?
Janice: I have been involved with the fight for transgender rights all my life and for example the anti-hate crimes bill, employment without discrimination, and the right for a transgender person to be the person they were born to be without persecution and prejudice.
Our society is moving forward at a slow pace but we are getting there through education. I have found that people will accept us as equals if we initiate communication through interacting and educating people outside of our comfort zone, by doing this, it seems that acceptance is fairly easy once people get to know me.
Monika: How do you perceive the attitude of the administration of President Obama towards transgender Americans?
Janice: Right now I feel that we are being cared about in ways we haven’t in the past. President Barack Obama is the first and only president in history that has ever supported LGBTQ rights. Through heavy criticism, he has held fast in his beliefs that all people have the same rights regardless of how they identify. I commend this man for being true to his beliefs and I thank him for being a man of integrity.
Monika: You were following quite closely the US last presidential campaign. Was there any difference in the way the Republicans and Democrats addressed the needs and rights of the transgender community?
Janice: It was pretty simple for me to understand the difference because the Democratic Party was open and accepting of my community and when I ran for a delegate position. The Republican Party was obviously not, because of their belief in American Values that excluded the recognition and acceptance of the LGBTQ community. According to the beliefs of the Republican Party, we the LGBTQ have no rights in our own country.
Monika: American politics is based on the interaction with different interest groups that wish to pursue their specific goals. How successful is the transgender community in this respect?
Janice: Our community is moving ahead, but I have found the interest of most transgender MTF and FTM is not political, though I wish they were more involved.

NASCAR Flag girl.

Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities? Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Janice: It’s a fight every day to convince the Armani suit supreme gay male that we are here to stay. The Human Rights Campaign and other so-called LGBTQ organizations have displayed the non-acceptance of transgender persons many times over the years.
It seems they welcome us when they want our dollars but when it comes to negotiating for equal rights we get deleted from the program as soon as there is a threat to their own agenda.
I have been dubbed Mrs. Johnson of Harper Valley PTA and I hold to that reputation. I will not bend, I will not falter and I will not succumb to outside pressure of any group or people. The most important cause to me is the family and that is the entire LGBTQIA community.
Monika: Is there anyone in the US transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the 60s and 70s for gay activism?
Janice: I can only say there are many and I cannot single out one person because I feel no one has stood out like Harvey Milk. Harvey Milk was one of a kind and it was devastating to our cause to lose him at an early age. He was my inspiration and I try every day to follow in his footsteps.
I feel that there will never be another like him. I regret I left San Francisco in 1973 around the same time he came. If I would have met him I would have stayed to fight our struggle with him.
In August of 2013, I received the Harvey Milk Award; to me, it was the highest honor that a person in our community can ever receive, I was very humbled. Harvey said, today is a better day and tomorrow will be a better day because of you. I hear those words every day and I live by them.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Janice: We have a long way to go but we are getting there. Every day I see more and more of us coming out and getting involved. The key is education as we cannot live in a bubble we must educate everyone we come in contact with, family friends, co-workers, and anyone. We can change the world for the better, just by being open.

With the United States Senator Kay Hagan.

Many people that I encounter through my travels accept me for who I am. But on occasion, I do run into some who just don't understand me because of their lack of socializing with LGBT people. They are ignorant of the fact that we are no different than they are.
Many times I sit down with people who have never seen a transgender other than on the 6 o'clock news. We talk, and I give them permission to ask me anything. Some of the questions are valid and some are comical. I believe as a transgender, education is the key to eradicate hate and discrimination. I sit and talk about fishing, playing ball, and the past weekend's football game. Then like magic, they realize I am no different from them. Sometimes after our talk, when we depart, they thank me, shake my hand or hug me.
To me, that is a wonderful feeling because I have changed my mind and soul for the better. Jesus said no man shall judge another - only God can judge. If I am doing wrong for being me, then I and no one else will pay the price on judgment day.
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live until the day when a transgender lady could become the US President?
Janice: NO, unless we can come up with someone who can walk on water.
Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Janice: In 1969 I met Sunny Rae who was the love of my life, she was my role model, and she was all I knew because there were no internet or LGBTQ community centers like today. Even though today she lives in Chicago at the age of 72 in a senior citizen home we talk a couple of times a month on the phone. My connection to her will never fade as she was my inspiration.
My knowledge of transgenderism was learning as I go, like I said there was no internet, Sonny introduced me to the hormones of the times, birth control pills. We had no doctors or endocrinologists to treat us, it was trial and era. lol 
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Janice: Finding a job. When I came out in 1969 we were not known as transgender women, we were classified either as drag queens or transvestite. It was not even on the radar for someone like me to find a job as a transgender woman. Times were hard; police harassment was an everyday occurrence. I can recall one time when Sonny and I were walking to see a movie on the corner of 5th St. and Market St, in San Francisco.
We lived in the Tenderloin and had no car, so walking was how we got around. That night we were so excited because a new movie just came out, 2001 Space Odyssey. While walking the final half block, a man approached us as he did he reached for my throat, without hesitation I knocked him out. We ran into the theater before the police could come because we would have gone to jail instead of him.
Transphobia and hate towards all gays were running ramped in the Castro. I can recall when the Drag Queens and the street hustlers formed a group called the Lavender Panthers, they patrolled the streets in the Tenderloin protecting us from being assaulted and even killed. They only lasted a couple of years before the police forced them to disband, I thank them every day.

Doing a show during the Democratic
National Convention.

Also, I want to add, I was not there in 1967 during the riots at Compton’s Cafeteria but we would go by and look in the window, not daring to go in. I hear about Stonewall being the first for the community to stand up in 1969, but they were not the first. Compton’s Cafeteria deserves that recognition. The movie The Screaming Queens portrayed that event very well.
Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Janice: Yes I was married to a very loving woman for about 30 years who just 5 years ago shot herself to death because of her job. I miss her every day. She was a beautiful person who supported the LGBT community’s many events especially bingo.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Janice: I have started it many times, only to stop after about 40 pages. I hope someday I can complete a book, but being as active as I am in the community it’s hard to find the time. 
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Janice: I am very happy; just 6 months ago I joined the Democratic Women’s of North Carolina as the first transgender member, I was also was elected in 2013 as a delegate representing the 12th Congressional District. The support I get from my friends is amazing because I am accepted as an equal and that is all I ask.
Monika: Janice, thank you for the interview! Thank you, Monika. Love Y’a Janice.

All the photos: courtesy of Janice Covington.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog