Tuesday 20 May 2014

Interview with Jeri Hughes

Jeri Hughes is a transgender activist from the USA. Since her arrest for the “crime” of being transgender in 1983, Ms. Hughes has been an outspoken advocate for all Human Rights. Although the focus of her fight has centered around the struggles faced by the transgender community, she has extended her efforts to embrace the entire LGBT community.
Ms. Hughes was among the first to promote direct action within the DC community to expand the existing Domestic Partnership laws into full-blown Marriage Equality.
She actively participated in the fight to repeal DADT.
Ms. Hughes initiated and filed the complaint against the DC Department of Corrections with the Office of Human Rights, while simultaneously engaging the collective LGBT community to participate, resulting in a shift of DOC policy respecting the rights and dignity of transgender prisoners.
Ms. Hughes participated in the effort to reform policy within the Metropolitan Police Department, resulting in a new General Order respecting gender identity and expression.
Working completely alone in 2009, Ms. Hughes initiated the effort to reform the discriminatory employment practices aimed at the transgender community that remain prevalent within the District. Her efforts, again, engaged the entire community to participate, resulting in open discussion and programs like Project Empowerment. She continues in this effort and is currently engaged with the Gray Administration to implement new and effective measures to combat the systemic discrimination faced by the community.
Over the years, Ms. Hughes has volunteered and worked for several organizations including Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (H.I.P.S), the Anacostia Watershed Society (A.W.S), Transgender Health Empowerment (T.H.E), the National Center for Transgender Equality (N.C.T.E,), and the International Foundation for Gender Education (I.F.G.E.). She is a long-time and active member of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (G.L.L.A.).
Ms. Hughes is a citizen of the District of Columbia and resides within the Petworth neighborhood of Ward 1.

Transgender Employment Discrimination 1
- Jeri Hughes. Source: YouTube.

Monika: Hello Jeri! Could you say a few words about yourself?
Jeri: Good Morning, Monika. I am a very simple person, very ordinary. Perhaps this is why I feel connected to so many others.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends?
Jeri: I was always female; understanding and accepting that was the difficult part. I transitioned twice. First in the '80s, prior to AIDS. After witnessing so much death, and the loss of my friends and support system, I went into a stage of denial. Unable to perpetuate the lie, I decided to live authentically for a second time. It was extremely frightening and cost me all that I had - the most important loss was my employability. My family and friends were supportive.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Jeri: I had no particular role models. I was inspired by Dr. Becky Allison. Dr. Aviva Nubel taught me that I had a right to live and to be good to myself.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Jeri: Everything.

On her bike.

Monika: Transgender ladies are subject to the terrible test of whether they pass as a woman or they do not. You are a lovely lady yourself but what advice you would give to ladies with the fear of not passing as a woman?
Jeri: The fear of not passing? Ladies, join the Club. Even the best of the best of us do not truly "pass". And truthfully, you shouldn't want to. You are special, you have gone through a very difficult journey. You survived.
To deny that journey, to deny your past, would be tragic. Look at Laverne Cox or Janet Mock. Being "real" is just that. No more lies, no half-truths, no secrets. You have value. Be open and true.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Jeri: Transgender women face a tremendous amount of discrimination, but on my worst day in 2014, it isn't half as bad as 20 years ago. Laws have changed, but so have hearts and minds. It has happened because transgender women have spoken up and defended their right to exist. Keep it going. Be a part of the solution.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Jeri: Human Rights encompass Transgender Rights. We are just people. We need the same things that others need. Employment, housing, hope. Even a dog gets a warm place on the sidewalk.
Monika: What is your general view on transgender stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Jeri: I tire of transition stories. I have read so many, heard so many. Transition never truly stops. There is no "final" chapter to a transition. As far as stories or characters, I don't like seeing transgender women stereotyped. At all.

With her grandchildren.

Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Jeri: No. If society cannot accept transgender individuals as equal members, we will never experience equality. Success is defined by the assistance and support of those outside our 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 the gay activism?
Jeri: Laverne Cox and Janet Mock are great examples of leaders. Their courage and authenticity change hearts and minds. They provide the ingredient that Harvey Milk espoused ... Hope.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Jeri: I have been called an activist, but do not see myself in that perspective. I just cannot tolerate injustice. When I confront it, I can't stop until I see some kind of action indicating that it will be corrected.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Jeri: Without love, there is no life. Romantic love is not part of that formula; it is probably a kind of illness or malady. A type of insanity. Just the same, I would not mind "falling in love" one more time in my life. Insanity has its appeal.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Jeri: Business conservative at work. Motorcycle casual at home.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Jeri: Yes, I have even started. It is not a life about transition; it is about foolishness, recklessness, and a world of mistakes. A lot of which I am not proud of. It has been interesting and MIGHT make a good read but the process truly leaves me feeling exposed and extremely vulnerable. I won't do it if I cannot be completely honest. And I don't have any idea about how to end it. If I can't provide a positive measure of hope or growth, it would make the effort meaningless. I haven't touched the work in two years. 

DOES testimony 2-18-11. Jeri Hughes.
Source: YouTube.

Monika: What is your next step in the present time and where do you see yourself within the next 5-7 years?
Jeri: I hope that I am still alive. I am thankful for each day. I am presently employed at the Department of Employment Services in DC. I would like to have an impact on ending employment discrimination in DC. I would like to see our girls in real jobs, and out of the underground economy. If I can be a small part of that, my life might not have been entirely misspent.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Jeri: Fix it. Being comfortable in your own body is priceless. There is no substitute.
Monika: Jeri, thank you for the interview!
Jeri: You are more than welcome. Hugz to all, and be good to yourselves. If you aren't, no one else will. Care about others. Do these two things today, and all of the tomorrows. You deserve it!

All the photos: courtesy of Jeri Hughes.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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