Miriam Ben Shalom was a pioneer in the fight against the U.S. military’s policy of excluding lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, she married, had a daughter, and later converted to Judaism. After serving in the Israeli Army, she enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1974, but was dismissed in 1976 when she came out as a lesbian. Ben Shalom fought her dismissal through the courts, winning favorable decisions at the U.S. District Court (1980) and Appeals Court (1987) level. In 1988, she became the first open lesbian reinstated in the U.S. military. However, a new federal Appeals court ruling in 1989 supported the Army’s dismissal of her, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case in 1990. To keep fighting the ban, Ben Shalom founded Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Veterans of America (now known as American Veterans for Equal Rights). In recognition of her decades of activism, President Obama invited her to the White House in December 2010 when he signed the law repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Quite a pioneer. She was invited to be the Grand Marshall for Milwaukee’s Pride Parade this year. Then she wasn’t.
Amid accusations of transphobia, the grand marshal for the Milwaukee Pride Parade has been stripped of her duties.
Miriam Ben-Shalom was honored to be this year’s grand marshal, but her invitation was revoked.
“They denied me not necessarily because of my own words but because of the words of others that were on my Facebook page that I was engaging in civil dialogue with,” said Ben-Shalom.
In a letter to Ben-Shalom, the parade committee rescinded their invitation, saying in part, “It was brought to our attention that your Facebook page contains a number of posts asserting that transwomen are a danger to young girls in public bathrooms and locker rooms … it is the Board’s opinion that these posts are transphobic and as such represent an attack on an important segment of the LBGT community.”
“Yeah, there were posts like that but they weren’t my posts,” she said. “They were posts from other people. They were not my words.”
Ah but did she excoriate them with fire and holy water? If she didn’t, she’s automatically ruled transphobic. Them’s the rules, folks.
According to parade organizer Brent Holmes, it was more than one part of the post that concerned the committee.
“That was really the start of it,” Holmes said. “And then we starting looking. It was not body modification in particular. It was trans-exclusion.”
In response to the committee’s letter rescinding the invitation, Ben-Shalom wrote back in part, “I believe that gender roles ought to be abolished so that people can just be–without feeling the need to surgically change their bodies to meet binary stereotypes which are artificial and not biological.”
That’s a reasonable thing to think. (I would say that, because it’s what I think too. Nevertheless – I do say it. I can’t see that it’s unreasonable to think that people should feel free to just be, without having to make medical adjustments to match gender stereotypes.) The fact that a reasonable opinion is branded “trans-exclusion” when it’s no such thing is not a sign of a healthy politics.
That story was May 4. On May 5 Miriam wrote a public Facebook post which she asked people to share.\
Here is the original letter:
<<Dear Ms Ben-Shalom,
I am writing you today about our offering of the 2016 Grand Marshal position to you.
The Board of Directors was excited to have an opportunity to acknowledge your many contributions to the LGBT community by offering you the Grand Marshal position for this year’s parade. However, shortly after we offered you the position, it was brought to our attention that your Facebook page contains a number of posts asserting that transwomen are a danger to young girls in public bathrooms and locker rooms. After considering these posts, it is the Board’s opinion that these posts are transphobic and as such represent an attack on an important segment of the LBGT community.
While we fully support a person’s right to express their own beliefs and political opinions, we also feel it is important that our Grand Marshals publicly declared beliefs mesh with those held by the Milwaukee Pride Parade and the Board of Directors. The Grand Marshal is the public face of the Milwauee Pride Parade and thus needs to be someone whose views are compatible with our own.
The Bylaws of the Milwaukee Pride Parade include our mission statement, “To provide an outlet to the citizens of South Eastern Wisconsin in which GLBT individuals and groups can participate in a parade to show their pride.” We are an inclusive organization that seeks to be free of intolerance, and seeks to promote the equality of all members of the community. As such, we feel that we cannot have a Grand Marshal who has publically and repeatedly denigrated transwomen.
We wish to apologize for rescinding our offer of this honor. It is not a step that we take lightly, and it in no way should be considered a denial of the important work you have previously done for the LGBT community. Please understand this was never our intent to lead you on.
The Board of Directors would like to thank you for your understanding of this situation.
The Milwaukee Pride Parade Board of Directors>>
But then they changed their story:
Now they have changed their story–now it is because I am trans exclusionary instead of transphobic:
While that particular post was the initial post which directed our attention to investigate possible issues with your viewpoints it was by no means the deciding factor in the Board’s decision making process. There are numerous other posts of yours in which you personally have shared information which defend and/or endorse your stance of trans exclusion. For any other questions please see our Official Statement on this matter which I have included in this Email.
Pride Parade Coordinator
Milwaukee Pride Parade
P.O. Box 0091
Milwaukee, WI 53201
Having a different view of what gender is is not exclusion. And it certainly should not be a reason for withdrawing an invitation of this kind.
Trans people don’t own the word “gender” – and since not all trans people share the same view of gender, ownership wouldn’t establish the word’s meaning anyway. But trans people don’t own the word, and it’s not exclusionary to have a particular view of gender. We’re all trapped and bullied by gender stereotypes, so it’s just not a good idea to try to forbid radical feminists to argue for their view of gender.
Miriam did another public post the next day.
For public release. In considering the Milwaukee Pride Parade Committee’s change in reasoning about excluding me from the seat of Grand Marshal for initially insisting that I was “transphobic” to now being “Trans exclusionary” in a response sent to me yesterday via email, one must wonder if they are always so particular. In looking at their web site, it is obvious that they have had male Marshals before. Were any of these men exclusionary towards women or other men? As examples, did they belong to any Gay male only club or group? Had they every posted and ads looking for –whatever–but which included statements excluding fat men, Black men, bears, etc. from consideration as a partner or hook-up person? THIS IS EXCLUSIONARY, just as I was harshly judged because I believe that women born of women are entitled to have their events put on for themselves and like -minded women and are entitled to be safe. It seems they were very rigorous with me, but I can’t see that they were as rigorous in looking at the men who have been past Marshals–or the Drag Queens, or anyone else! I , therefore, must conclude that the Milwaukee Pride Parade Committee has a very evident double standard when it comes to how they treat with their “candidates for Parade Marshal.” What is right is right, and what is good for the goose is good for the gander. I suggest that the Milwaukee Pride Committee is exclusionary in its policies and does not even meet the objectives of its own mission. It looks like they are trying to cover their –gluteus maxima. And it surely looks like they are, by their own thinking, woman born of woman exclusionary and that they do not value women’s lives or women’s culture. Gosh. Who’d have thought?
So much of this nonsense seems to boil down to just another excuse to demonize and exclude – yes, exclude, for real this time – women. When in doubt, demonize and exclude the women, so that the real people can have their fun.