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Cooper Lee Bombardier talks youth and trans in the LGBT movement

June 24, 2009, 12:00 am
By SFR Staff
At the end of most interviews, I try to remember to ask my subjects what the press has gotten wrong in the past so I can avoid repeating those mistakes. Rachel Rosen, the chairwoman of Equality New Mexico's board, answered this question very specifically for this week's cover story on the marriage equality movement (Sexual Disorientation): Make sure not to forget the transgender community.

The L and G in LGBT do get a lot more media attention when it comes to domestic partnerships and same-sex marriage, even in the final form of my piece. However, Cooper Lee Bombardier, trans guy and director Gay Straight Alliance Network at the Santa Fe Mountain Center, was so, so thoughtful in his interview that it seems natural (and important) to post it online.



DM: Is it GLBT, is it LGBT? There's a Q and an A and an I maybe. From your perspective, where do we stand now with that acronym?

CB: Well I think America loves acronyms, you know? We'll make an acronym about everything. Some are really great like FUBAR and SNAFU. I love acronyms like that. I think they're really funny.

You know, I say LGBT, ladies first, whatever...One of my students, a high school student last year, did the entire acronym including every possible gender and sexual orientation variation, including questioning and queer, and it was probably 20 letters long. I couldn't even recite it for you. I think that it is a short cut. It's not the words that I would use to necessarily identify myself or my life, but it is a simplified shortcut that just makes the most amount of sense in the simplest, shortest span of time.

How do you see yourself as far as sexual orientation and gender identification? That's a really personal question, but what can you tell me?

I see myself as a guy who came to be a male through unusual circumstances, who has a really long history in the queer community. Prior to transition, I did identify, at least outwardly, as a big butch dyke. Security would get called on me when I was using women's restrooms, that kind of thing. I lived in San Francisco and I was very much part of a very active, punkish, dyke art and music scene. I hadn't met female-to-male transgender people prior to living in San Francisco and I started to think, "Well, I think that's who I am as well." When I started revealing that to my close friends about 13 years ago, I had a lot of really mixed messages. I had one really good friend be like, "Whatever, you're you and I'll love you no matter what," to a lot of pressure from within the dyke community at that time wanting to me remain this symbol of a masculine female. It was implied that if I transitioned to male, I was going to be a huge sell out, not part of the team anymore.

How did you come to be at the 2009 legislative session and what did you see happen?

To me, to be really generalizing, it seemed we moved into the session with a lot of confidence because last year was so close...It seemed like people were really confident, or at least extremely hopeful.

It is important to me, for sure, but I also was there in a work capacity. We do a youth advocacy day training and partnership. Youth in my program really get to learn hands-on lobbying skills and advocacy skills. Different folks from EQNM have done it for years and come up and the youth just totally love it. It's pretty inspiring when a 15-year-old student knows the ins and the outs of navigating the Roundhouse. It's pretty fucking cool.

You should send a kid to follow me at the next session.

You know, I think it's really important, especially when the religious extremists are there and they're talking about how if, domestic partnerships passed, then the next thing you know people are going to be marrying sheep. I think it's very important for youth to hear what the level of craziness is that they're up against. It's kind of good they get to understand the reality of how irrational people can get. I feel we create a container too, with adult mentors being around helping them see that as much as you want to throw rotten eggs when people say things like that, there's a whole way of dealing with it. Sometimes the crazy people are so against us they're for us.

When the vote failed, what did it seem like from your perspective?

I'm probably not even as political savvy as some of the youth that I worked with, but it seemed like [some legislators] chickened out...They had to take out language because even if you say it's "not marriage" that somehow makes it related to marriage, so you can't use those words. Are you fucking kidding me? It seemed like the people for the bill were really struggling just to find a way that made sense for it to be palatable to people who were kind of the fence.

When it failed, how did hard did it hit the kids you were with?

The youth were really stunned and really disappointed. They work really hard on the issue and some of the youth get their families to come and get them involved.

I also think the youth have a really different perspective in all this stuff than other folks. They're definitely reaping the benefits of generations of LGBT activism before them. They haven't had to deal with some of the same oppressions and issues that some of the elder members of the community have. With some of those roadblocks being removed, I think the youth have a much more open view of how people should be...This is just my observation and might not be how the youth would put it, but [to them] it's a no-brainer that this would be a law. It's just obvious to them that yes, this should happen.

A lot of people have said they can't wait until the day they're able to hand this off to the next generation.

Sure, that makes sense. That's the other thing: People get tired. I'm sure there's elders in the community who've been fighiting for this issue for the past 15 years and they probably feel a little like Sisyphus, just rolling that rock up a hill over and over again.

At the Summit on LGBT Equality, I saw a little bit of a philosophical divide. One side thought the community really needs to work with the Catholic Church and the other side, which I want to call the Dan Savage end of the extreme, where it's like eff the Catholic Church, "We need to go straight for gay marriage.: Where do you come down between these two extremes?

I definitely understand the emotional force behind F-U to the Catholic Church.  I get that frustration and I get that people are like why are we wasting our time with domestic partnerships, we need to press forward for full marriage equality...I think we're probably not going to get the stamp of approval from different religious quantities out there, but I think we need to build allies. It's not going to happen without a strong base of non-LGBT allies.

I used to live in San Francisco and I feel like my views were way more able to ride the crest of fringiness because I was in a place with so much abundance in resources and acceptance. New Mexico, I think, is sometimes really is a hugely accepting place, but I think it's more like a "don't ask/don't tell" kind of acceptance, you don't mess with me, I don't mess with you kind of acceptance, rather than the full level of acceptance I think people really want.

Everytime I meet someone who is trangender at one of these events, they're super positive, always super positive, and a lot more positive than say a lot the gay and lesbians I meet . Where do transgender people come into the politics of LGBT movement and why are they so positive?

[Laughing] I think for trans people to be involved on a political or social justice level really helps a lot. When I first moved here, I knew like two trans people and, God, love them, I was so happy for those two trans people. They totally helped me out and availed themselves to me as resources. I think that for anybody, whether you're trans or not, thinking outside of yourself makes your life more beautiful.

Are you worried that once the LGBT community wins full marriage equality, they won't stick around to help trans people achieve health care equality?

I'm not too worried about that right now. When the anti-hate crime legislation passed, it passed, the people working on it made sure it included transgender. That's more than I can say on the national level,...I think we have more to gain together than working separatel. Our issues are more connected than not and that makes me feel like that those allies are still going to be there when a trans-specific issue comes up. It's always been connected and the gay people have to remember that a trans black woman threw the first rock during the Stonewall Riots.

 

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