HRC is dishonoring our dead by not honoring Drag and Cross Dressers authentically

HRC not equal
HRC probably we were seeking to elevate ourselves to their stature. To Vanessa Foster and I it meant quite the opposite.
Jaheim Pugh
R.I.P. Jaheim Bella Pugh

Kudos to HRC for honoring Jaheim Bella Pugh, a murdered cisgender gay man on their TDoR page.

The trouble is that HRC identifies Jaheim Bella Pugh as a Gender Non-Conforming‘ person. While technically correct this term is easily conflated and misunderstood as it describes gender, not sex.

Jaheim Bella Pugh, according to his mother, was a 19-year-old cisgender gay man just beginning to learn who he was. Bella was the name of his new puppy which he adopted as his drag name.

After thorough research, I could not find anywhere that he self-identified as a gender non-conforming or transgender person. There was one person who posted a tribute identifying Bella as transgender but that has since been refuted by multiple sources.

The whole idea behind the TDoR project which honors our dead is to investigate with integrity each individual and how they died. This is critical so that we may know who they were. Prior to the first TDoR, a trans-peer-led initiative, those who murdered us were arrested but never served jail time for their crimes.

However, there is no honor in superimposing a narrative that fits your needs while intentionally disregarding facts about a person’s life and death.

Earlier this year quite unexpectedly Planet Trans was cited by HRC in an article that truthfully honored one of our dead.

I was understandably ecstatic. Not too many years ago a few of us brought HRC down to their knees protesting their obvious deception and greed. And it seemed to me with all that water passed under the bridge bygones could be bygones and with the new year, we could be allies.

I’m am easy touch when it comes to saving black lives vis-à-vis our shared history. So I published an article that I knew HRC would need to read to the middle of it to appreciate it for an olive branch extended.

Afterward, I reached out on Facebook and befriended Tori Cooper, HRC Director of Community Engagement for Transgender Justice Initiatives. She accepted my friend invite immediately but never responded to multiple attempts to communicate. This frustrated me so badly that I blocked them and later sent a friend request again which they accepted. They knew who I am but again no response to my messages.

*I have noticed since this all went down that Tori Cooper put a notice on her profile saying that she doesn’t respond to Facebook messages.

I was at the time working in cooperation with Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents (PGH) at their invite to ascertain an LGBTQI murder victim’s gender identity.
After emails went unanswered I called the LGBT center near the deceased house and spoke with a number of people at length, including the president, none of whom said that they had met or knew the deceased. The deceased was a well-known character in the area so I took their response as a request for privacy.

Since I couldn’t verify how this LGBTQI soul identified I didn’t run a story but, PGH lesbian Correspondents did.

PGH identified a dead LGBTQI person as a transgender woman without having verified that information. I felt that by doing so that they were outing the deceased for all we knew, incorrectly. I convened my concerns to PGH who basically told me to mind my own business. That article and many since have since gone viral.

I am relieved to see that neither HRC nor the TDoR has a transgender memorial page for Peaches.

But HRC did misidentify a murdered gay man. Jaheim Bella Pugh as “gender non-non conforming”. Despite my best efforts, HRC sourced planet transgender in that post.

What really infuriates me is that HRC did not mention in that article that his mother told us that he was a gay man, who just started to do drag. His sex and gender was male when he died, that is what we know. We learned about this after we published and had to rewrite the planet trans article a bit to honor him correctly.

However, as I said before, HRC did the right thing by including Jaheim Bella Pugh page in their transgender section.


Drag queens and cross-dressers regardless of whether they are cis or trans-self-identifying belong under our trans umbrella. The problem is the world does not accept them as they are. Some trans people in my community think including them under our umbrella is oxymoronic.

Trans Umbrella
There are cisgender people under our trans umbrella.

When I first saw that visualization years ago I couldn’t have agreed with them more.

It is a very difficult concept to understand which is why we must have this conversation about it.

Transgender people on a whole need to live in our authentic gender 24 hours a day.

Drag artists and cross-dressers express their gender as they need, temporarily, but that doesn’t make their lives any less precious or their gender any less viable.

Some folks will be quick to point out the multitude of trans lives in Brazil that hasn’t met the same scrutiny that I demand in our country. And they are correct. There are many places in the world where patriarchal authorism rules with an iron fist making observations problematic at best. But we do what we can.

Monica Roberts, god bless her soul, 2007 Transgriot article Why Trans people Hate HRC explains a lot. Monica was a forgiving soul and in her later years helped national gay rights groups understand our plight. But with Monica’s passing, there are few trans sources left on the web. Especially few that would let bygones be bygones as Monica and I did. Monica wrote:

“In 1995 Elizabeth Birch took over as Executive Director of HRC at a time when there was an epidemic of gays and lesbians cutting trans people out of civil rights legislation.”

“In many cases, gay people who sat on various HRC boards either nationally or regionally led the efforts. In 1999 Dianne Hardy-Garcia, who was the executive director of the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby (now Equality Texas) at the time and an HRC board member, led the successful effort to cut trans people out of the James Byrd Hate Crime Bill (to Monica’s and TGAIN”s vehement opposition). That bill was eventually killed in the GOP-controlled Texas Senate but passed in 2001 as a GLB only bill and was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.”

Elizabeth Birch for a while eclipsed Janice Raymond as Transgender Public Enemy Number One when she was quoted at a Chicago GLBT event as stating that transinclusion in ENDA (the Employment and Non Discrimination Act) a top legislative priority of transgender leaders would happen ‘over her dead body’.

I talked briefly with HRC’s TDoR content producer about their monetization of our dead so obvious in the popup when accessing HRC’s website.

That and why we hate the reviled Elizabeth Birch award, which she vaguely remembered. I made it clear to her that in the eyes of trans people nothing had changed. She said that it was out of their control as a millennial new hire. In any case, she has since blocked me on Facebook and deleted all of her comments.

HRC is no more likely to be gently nudged to full inclusion than they were 20 years ago.

And it just occurred to me why HRC used this young trans intermediary. She was born before our struggle with HRC began. I described what we did but she lacked the passion as a person of lived experiences did. My conclusion? HRC tried to pawn me and leave my contemporaries’ trans struggles behind.

HRC New Orleans Protest
Kelli Busey protesting HRC at their million-dollar fundraiser at the Easy “No Enda No Peace.”

Reading Transgriot 2007: Big Plans For Big Easy And The Little Equal I recalled going down to the dome to pick up Vanessa Edwards Foster on our way to meet up with Courtney Sharp to protest at the New Orleans HRC fundraiser.

I either organized or participated in protests and educational events INSIDE and OUTSIDE of HRC fundraisers in Dallas, Austin, Houston, and New Orleans.

Related: Protest ROCKS Human Rights Campaign Nationwide

In addition, there were protests in Chicago, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia,  San Francisco, and New York City.

HRC should have come to me first and laid their cards on the table.

Shame on you HRC.

You hurt your new hire and put in jeopardy your relationship with the whole trans community.

And sent me spiraling into depression.

But hey, you did get another cisgender web platform to shill for you.

It is more than evident you will never consider trans people your equal.

I call on HRC to amend their article so that it identifies Jaheim Bella Pugh not as “gender nonbinary or gender non-conforming” but as a cross-dressing cisgender drag queen.

I demand the HRC report responsibly about all trans deaths.

I demand that HRC in concert with Trans Individuals from the protest era compile a shared history and publish it here and on HRC’s website.

And finally, I demand that HRC remove all mentions and links to planet transgender from their website until such a time that I give them permission to do so.

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Kelli, Busey is managing editor at Planet Transgender