From her humble home in North Carolina to the doorsteps of national organizations and the halls of Congress, there’s no doubt that Angela Brightfeather has done her part this year.
If there were issues to be discussed, if the transgender community needed an advocate or if the transgender community was being ignored, Brightfeather stepped up.
The 63-year-old transgender leader and activist is a legend — she’s been involved in advocacy work since she was in her 20s; and she’s certainly not afraid of ruffling feathers.
“Anybody who challenges the establishment is going against the flow,” she told Q-Notes. “When you do that, you become the ultimate activist. You become the one that pushes too hard, that wants everybody to take a lead, the one who wants to really change things.”
Shaking up the establishment seems to have come easy to her. Since the most recent controversy over transgender inclusion in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in late 2007, Brightfeather has taken on high-profile leadership among her transgender brothers and sisters. In February 2008, she helped to organize a friendly protest — characterized as an “outreach” — to dinner guests at the Human Rights Campaign Carolinas Gala in Charlotte.
But her work isn’t just local. As vice president of the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA), Brightfeather has worked diligently to see the needs of transgender servicemembers met with dignity and equality.
TAVA’s biggest battle has been securing equal and fair healthcare treatment for transgender, former servicemembers at government-run VA hospitals.
“We’ve just been able to establish a connection at the VA that might allow us to meet with Gen. Shinseki,” Brightfeather said, referring to Obama’s new pick for VA secretary. “It’s a dream come true to think of sitting down with the director of the VA to tell him our needs and where we are being discriminated against.”
Among the group’s accomplishments this year are a highly succesful survey of transgender servicemembers and veterans and joint work with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“We’d also like to be able to work on being able to march in the veteran’s parade in Washington, D.C. next year,” Brightfeather said. “We’d be the first transgender group to march in that parade.”
Brightfeather was born in London to bi-national parents and was declared a U.S. citizen soon after birth. Just months afterward, her family moved to New York state. Her introduction to Southern living came only a few short years ago, when she moved to North Carolina. But in the time she’s been here, Brightfeather has managed to make a difference both locally and nationally, becoming a fundamental part of Carolina transgender organizing and a vital leader and activist in the greater LGBT community.
With her leadership comes a sense of urgency and toughness. Unafraid to say it just like she feels it, Brightfeather’s learned to lead and speak from the heart and from the passion that’s kept her involved for decades.
It is with great pride that the staff of Q-Notes names Angela Brightfeather our 2008 Person of the Year.
In her own words
“It just hit me, it makes more sense to think that people pick their gender before they pick their sexuality…That should be the natural flow of things.”
“Like a lot of people, I thought if I get married it would go away. But it didn’t go away. After 10 years it hadn’t gone away.”
On Prop. 8 and ENDA…
“The ENDA fight was very much like Prop. 8. You all were included and then all of a sudden someone came along and said, ‘No, you aren’t.’”
“With Prop. 8, gay people are going through exactly what we felt after being cut out of ENDA. And, you all are receiving the same backlash the gay community gave us: People are saying you are acting like terrorists. The gay and lesbian community was saying the same thing about the transgender community: You’re all hateful and aggressive.”
On Barney Frank and HRC…
“They [Barney Frank and the Human Rights Campaign] will go whichever way the wind blows politically. If it makes it easier to get legislation through without us, then they’ll do it and throw us under the bus again. There’s nothing that will stop them.”
“As long as our community has different views on inclusion, as politicians HRC and Barney Frank will make use of that division. They are the Karl Roves of the Democratic Party and our community.”
“I love Ian, he’s great. I get along great with him and he’s a tremendous person. I appreciate his work so much, but what I don’t appreciate is some of the people on the board keeping transgender people off the board for this long. I don’t appreciate them not voting unanimously that they will include transgender people in all future legislation.”