Tag Archive | USA

Michael / Joanna / Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark; An American Hero

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Micheal Clark, US Navy / Joanna Clark, US Army

I have been reading of one of the most remarkable people transgender people ever born; Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark, formerly Joanna Michelle Clark, formerly Michael Clark.

Michael Clark was born on 16 June 1938 in Pontiac, Michigan, USA. From 3-years-old he found he felt he was different from other boys, he preferred the company of girls, and even tried to emulate them. “I tried to talk and act like a girl instead of a boy,” said Michael in an interview, “I believed I was one of them – even though I knew I had a male anatomy. When I started going to elementary school, the other boys called me a sissy because I walked without ‘macho’ stride and carried my schoolbooks like a girl.”

By the time he reached junior high school, Michael tried to discuss his transgender feelings, but could not make them understand. Obviously there was a great deal of prejudice at the time, and Michael tried to be what he perceived as normal, joining the US Naval Cadets while in High School. When he left school in 1957, he went into the USN full-time as an avionics technician, eventually rising to Chief Petty Officer and an Instructor/Evaluator in anti-submarine warfare, scuba diving and sea survival in Hawaii, and serving on active duty in Vietnam.

Michael married his first wife in 1961, still trying to prove he was ‘normal’. However, although fathering a son, he could never satisfy his wife, and of course suffered the frustrations of not being sexually fulfilled himself, which led to him throwing himself further into his Naval career. The couple divorced in 1972, and he never saw his son again.

Still blinded by the prejudice of others, Michael married again, and this time found a partner who was not only sympathetic to his plight, was to be instrumental in changing his life.

“My new wife was a girl that I really intensely loved as a person. I still love her today. We liked the same things – hiking, concerts. But she needed more from me than I could give. And she started having a guilt trip over our situation, thinking she was at fault. Finally I said to myself: ‘My God, I’m reining this beautiful woman’s life by keeping my secret from her.’ So I broke down and told her I was a transsexual – a woman trapped in a man’s body. Instead of making me feel ashamed, she talked about what we had to do.”

Clark’s wife encouraged him to tell his parents, who far from rejecting him as he feared, all too fully understood (good parents know, dears). Thereafter he underwent psychological evaluation, which must have been groundbreaking for the 1970s, as it confirmed that Michael was a woman inside.

The downside is that someone blew the whistle about Mark’s evaluation to the US Navy. He was discharged upon the spot, and although it was an Honourable Discharge, it left Mark “angry and bitter”. And quite rightly so; Mark had often been commended, had excelled in everything he did, his work undoubtedly saved lives, and he can thereby be considered an American Naval hero.

Michael Clark underwent hormone therapy and in June 1975 underwent gender reassignment surgery, emerging under her new name of Joanna Michelle Clerk. She then divorced her wife, and moved in with her parents in San Juan, California, and got a job as a clerk-typist. In 1976 she enlisted in the US Army as a Staff training assistant, acting supervisor Fort MacArthur. She rose to Sargent First Class in the WACS, but after the authorities became aware of her background, Joanna was dismissed from the Army Reserve 18 months later. This time Joanna decided she was not going to take it lying down a second time and took the US Army to court. It was eventually settled out of court with a stipulation that details of the settlement not be made public. However, it is known that Joanna received an Honourable Discharge, with credit for time served in the Reserve.

This put Michael / Joanna Clark in the unique position of having served in the US Navy and the US Army, as both a man and a woman. The only person in history to have done so. But there was more to come…

Having realised all too painfully how transgender rights are trodden upon, Joanna Clark successfully lobbied in 1977 for replacement birth certificates and driving licenses to be made available for transgender people in California. She wrote Legal Aspects of Transsexualism, an important document which continues to be referenced by the law fraternity in the USA to this day. She founded the ACLU Transsexual Rights Committee, which she chaired for many years, working endlessly for the legal rights and status of TS persons. In the early 1980s she worked with transgender campaigner Jude Patton as a TS advisor.

By the late 1980s, Joanna’s life became more spiritual and in 1988 she took her vows as a Nun and founded the Order of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, a non-profit Episcopalian order. She transferred to the Order of St Michael of the American Catholic Church in 1997.

In 1990 Sister Mary Elizabeth founded AEGIS; AIDS Education Global Information System, the largest HIV/AIDS online information and website and BBS, which supplies reference material, information and an online meeting place for people worldwide.  Sister Mary Elizabeth has won several awards for her work fighting for LGBT+ rights, and HIV/AIDS awareness, and in 2005 was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

As Michael Clark, Joanna Michelle Clark, and as Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark, this is a truly remarkable woman, who despite giving everything she has done her utmost, often pushing the limits of endurance, and often for others with little thought for herself, remains nonetheless humble. Someone I think we can all, whatever our gender, can look up to.

“Of all the things I’ve done in my life, military-wise, or working with children, I don’t think I’ve had anything in my life that I’ve had more passion for. I really can’t put it into words. When you see letters from people and you know that you’re helping them, that’s what it’s all about.”

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Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark

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Holy Smoke! Religious Freedom Bill goes all to Pot

_0NunIndiana’s anti-gay legislation inadvertently opens door to cannabis smokers

You shouldn’t laugh, dears.  No, really, you shouldn’t.  Ohh, but how can you not?

For those of you who have been living in a box and are unaware of it, the state of Indiana in the good ol’ USA recently rushed through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a hateful piece of legislation which makes it legal for businesses to refuse service to gays (and one would imagine other LGBTQI people) on grounds of religious belief.  The backlash from this legislated bigotry has been considerable from both LGBTQI and supportive cis/het people alike.  Former Star Trek star George Takei, himself openly gay, is calling on people to boycott the entire state.

Now it seems however, that Indiana’s homophobic legislators may well have shot themselves in the foot.  Indiana attorney and commentator, Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, has pointed out that the wording of the kneejerk legislation would may well also protect those who smoke marijuana as part of their religious beliefs.

Shabazz has pointed out that owning and / or smoking marijuana remains illegal in Indiana, if a pot smoker can prove that they are performing a religious sacrament, then under the wording of the RFRA, their rights must be protected.  “I would argue that under RFRA,” says Shabazz, “as long as you can show that reefer is part of your religious practices, you got a pretty good shot of getting off scot-free.”

RFRA supporters state the Bill, “only spells out a test as to whether a government mandate would unduly burden a person’s faith and the government has to articulate a compelling interest for that rule and how it would be carried out in the least restrictive manner,”  Shabazz maintains this merely compounds problems; “So, with that said, what ‘compelling interest’ would the state of Indiana have to prohibit me from using marijuana as part of my religious practice?

Shabazz went on to point out that alcoholic wine is used in Christian sacraments and that marijuana is a far less dangerous drug than alcohol.

So, is this farcical?  Not one bit of it, dears.  On Thursday, 26 March 2014, the same day the Bill was passed, Bill Levin, founder of the First Church of Cannabis Inc, filed paperwork in Indianapolis to register his church as a non-profit, religious organisation.  Referring (should that be reefering?) to followers as “cannataerians” on the group’s Facebook page, Levin stated that they seek “love, understanding and good health.”  Colorado-based Green Faith Ministries, who use marijuana as part of their sacraments, have also reportedly voiced an interest in setting up a branch in Indiana.

And of course, these two are not alone.  There are plenty other established religions which use marijuana as part of their belief systems.  Rastafarianism regards marijuana as a sacred plant, to be used for the purposes of meditation and achieving heightened spiritual awareness (yes dear, been there, done that).  The Hawaii-based THC Ministry, founded by Roger Christie of the Religion of Jesus Christ, considers cannabis sacramental for both spiritual and healing properties.  They state that the “cultivation and enjoyment of cannabis sacrament is a fundamental human right provided by God and protected by the Constitution.”  The California-based Church of Reality, founded on the principles that some of the best ideas come from smoking pot (truth), similarly maintain that smoking cannabis is a constitutional right in the USA.  Should anyone doubt how serious the Church of Reality are, consider that the US Internal Revenue Service recognised them as a non-profit, tax-exempt church as far back as 2005.

Oh dear.  It seems the bigots of Indiana may have bitten off more than they can chew.  Before long the streets of Indianapolis and other cities may be full of dreamy-eyed people walking about in a beautiful haze – and the conservatives who made that possible won’t be able to do a damned thing about it.

Who knows, maybe that could be a good thing?  If the overbearing homophobic bigots of Indiana inhale enough secondary smoke, it may just lead them to chill out a little, get those pokers out of their arses, and actually try being nice to people.  If that happens, I’ll believe the age of miracles has not passed.

Of course, Abdul-Hakim Shabazz has pointed out that as the use and ownership of marijuana remains illegal in the state, a test case may well follow, and states “I want a front row seat at the trial that we all know is going to happen when all this goes down.” 

Oh indeed, dears, so do I, and I’ll be watching out for developments.  As any attempt to apply RFRA to the Christian faith alone would be wholly unconstitutional, then any test case under it can have only one of two outcomes; either those who smoke marijuana as a religious sacrament have their rights protected by law, or this odious piece of homophobic legislation will have to be scrapped altogether.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of a Penis

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Two little stories from across the pond which are victories for the Trans community in the USA dears.  Anti-Trans Bills defeated in both Arizona and Texas.

In April 2013 an ordnance was approved in the city of Phoenix, Arizona, prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations based on gender identity.  Needless to say this made the hackles raise on a few opponents and Republican Representative John Kavanagh introduced a bill which would make it a crime for any person to use a public restroom or washing facility associated with a sex other than that assigned at birth, as stated on a birth certificate.

Silly boy Mister Kavanagh.  Just what did he expect?  For people to produce their birth certificates along with other proof of identity at the door of a public loo?  Hmmm, seems so.  Read on.

Kavanagh’s Bill caused uproar with claims of government overreach and intrusion into privacy.  Was he deterred?  Not for one moment.  In fact Kavanagh then re-introduced his Bill with an inclusion to enlist citizens and businesses to monitor the gender of those using public restrooms.  Basically he wanted private enterprise spying on people’s privates.

However members in Kavanagh’s own caucus group have voiced concerned about his definitions and he has now shelved his Bill, he says until next year.  Frankly, I can’t see this one getting out of the starting gate (or should that be stalls dears?).

Meanwhile, deep in the heart of Texas (no dears, I’m not singing with a pair of chaps on my knees), it is law that trans people can marry if they can provide proof of a sex change.  The Texas Legislature meets every two years and in April Senator Tommy Williams (Republican – gosh, shock horror, who would have thunk it?) attempted to remove this trans-positive law.

Stating the case of Littleton vs Prange (1999), Senator Williams tried to argue that ones gender is determined by sex at birth and this can never be changed.  Headed up by former Transgender Foundation of America board member (now with Equality Texas) Daniel Williams, Senator Williams’ anti-trans Bill was roundly defeated and the pro-trans Texas legislature stands.

Silly man.  Senator Williams should have learned when he tried to table exactly the same Bill in 2011 – and lost then on exactly the same grounds he lost this year.