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Mark Travis Rivera

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BET Isn't the Only One Policing Gender

Posted: 07/08/2013 5:18 pm

Marriage equality is not enough.

Pride celebrations were exceptional, particularly with the Supreme Court's ruling on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Proposition 8. But while some same-sex couples were marrying, another reality was playing out for African-American blogger and television personality B. Scott, who, at the just-concluded BET Awards, had his unique gender expression and appearance on the red carpet policed.

Known in many social circles and the entertainment world for his luxurious hair, beat face, and fabulous outfits, B. Scott was confronted by a situation that many who refuse to conform to society's expectation of manhood, like me, find ourselves, in a space in society where, because of our nonconforming gender expression, others who often feel threatened make us feel less-than, ashamed, and humiliated.

In an open letter, B. Scott shared the following on his website:

It's not just about the fact that BET forced me to pull my hair back, asked me to take off my makeup, made me changed my clothes and prevented me from wearing a heel. It's more so that from the mentality and environment created by BET made me feel less than and that something was wrong with who I am as a person.

Many were quick to lash out at BET, saying how wrong it was for them to hire Scott and then force him to compromise his self-identification in order to complete the job at hand.

As someone who is gender-nonconforming, I understand to some degree how Scott felt. In 2012 I was kicked out of The Shannon, located in Hoboken, N.J., because I wore a high-low skirt. Two bouncers pulled me into a hallway and informed me that the manager said I had to either change my clothes or leave. I was furious, embarrassed, and humiliated. Recently I went to a nightclub, and because of how I was dressed, the restroom attendant looked questioningly at me and insisted that I was trying to enter the wrong restroom. (I was walking into the men's room.)

Today, in society, there is a slow progression toward acceptance of those in the community who are gender-nonconforming, whether they be males appearing as females or females appearing as males. But despite the advances -- the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the passage of same-sex marriage laws in 12 states and Washington, D.C., the striking down of section 3 of DOMA and the rejection of Proposition 8 -- more work needs to be done. Congress has consistently refused to act on Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Not only would passage of ENDA and bills like New York's Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) enable those of us who struggle against society's adherence to a binary concept of gender to be recognized and accepted in our workplaces and our communities; it would give us the legal protections against intolerance, stigma and discrimination.

B. Scott's very public experience is not only shameful; it is tragic, because BET was continuing to perpetuate the myths and stereotypes about us.

While many of my fellow LGBTQA people are celebrating marriage equality, I'm left with a different reality: By daring to live my truth as I feel and identify, I have to accept the fact that I will be discriminated against. Until society and communities catch up and accept B. Scott and others like me, I will be made to feel less than equal, less than human, less than a person, and less significant. The truth is that my own community, the LGBTQA community, isn't rallying behind us, people of the trans experience or those who express their gender differently.

For me, it isn't enough to be able to get married; I want to know that as a community we are working toward a future that prevents corporations like BET from policing anyone's gender.

Perhaps when the honeymoons are over, maybe, just maybe, we can return to the reality of many in the LGBTQA community, to the core of our movement: fighting for social justice for all of everyone.


Follow Mark Travis Rivera on Twitter: www.twitter.com/markingthepath