During an “Equality Forum” on Wednesday night hosted by the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, one of the candidates repeatedly misgendered a friend of hers in answering a question about addressing violence against the trans community.
The candidates are vying to represent Ohio’s 11th District, replacing Marcia Fudge who now serves as the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. During the forum participants were asked about the high murder rates of Black trans women in the District and specifically, “what will you do to stop this violence and protect our transgender and gender-non-conforming siblings?”
In her response, Shontel Brown—Chairwoman of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party—spoke of a friend of hers “who experienced abuse living his life as a transgender woman.” She then proceeded to misgender this friend eight more times. Clips of her response were shared on social media.
Last night at the LGBTQIA+ equality forum, OH-11 candidate @ShontelMBrown used extremely hurtful language while talking about a transgender woman.
This language is hurtful and harmful to the trans community.
Trans women are women. pic.twitter.com/bmAljiIvdQ
— Ohio Warren Dems (@PersistOhio) May 28, 2021
When reached for comment, Brown shared with The Buckeye Flame a statement she provided directly to Cleveland Stonewall Democrats. At the time of this writing, this apology has not been posted to any of Brown’s social media accounts.
I appreciate the request to clarify my statement from last night’s equality forum.
I was fortunate to learn more about the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community from my friend before their passing and was able to acknowledge and use my privilege to support many of the unaddressed issues.
Out of respect for my friend I did not share their name as I discussed their tragic passing, but I did refer to them as “he.”
To be clear, my friend didn’t always present themself as a woman, but when doing so I would refer to my friend as she. When my friend presented as a man, I would address them as he. As I mentioned in the forum, I knew them since we were children and while they spent most of their life identifying as a man, I have always been respectful to refer to them how they wanted to be referred to.
Like everyone, I make mistakes – I am still learning, and sometimes I trip up. I am working every day to be better – and I sincerely apologize to everyone in the trans community for my mistake. I will always stand with the trans community – who are under attack here in Ohio from a Republican Party that is working tirelessly every day to strip their basic human rights.
Nearly every day we learn of another murdered trans woman of color. And our leaders – in Ohio, and in Washington – have done little to stop this epidemic of violence. When elected, my door will always be open. I will never stop fighting for the rights of trans people and will hold myself and others in my own party to account when they fail to speak up.
My goal last night was to be as open about my own experience losing a friend, who was a member of the trans community, when asked about violence against black trans women and how more needs to be done to address them specifically.
I am also committed to respecting any and every person’s preferred pronouns and I will continue to lead by learning and do the work as an ally and advocate for the LGBTQIA+ and other underrepresented communities.
Thank you for being a voice in this great democracy and I appreciate all of the work you do.
In response to this moment in the Forum, Dara Adkison, President of Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, shared that there is so much more work to do with elected officials who are attempting to be LGBTQIA+ allies.
Misgendering trans people, especially in death, is unacceptable and shows where we are at in combating the systemic violence that Black trans women experience. I am personally angry after last night’s forum. Upholding the dignity of trans people by using their pronouns is a very low bar of allyhood. I am sorry for all who were hurt by it. Some answers were good, but multiple candidates also answered a variety of questions with incorrect language, incorrect facts, and misgendering throughout, all from those who consider themselves our allies.
When Cleveland Stonewall Democrats was founded, the thought of candidates clamoring to be labeled our allies seemed like a pipe dream. Now we have candidates willing to be allies in name, even in voting record, but LGBTQIA+ people need more. We need representatives at all levels of government who will stick their neck out for us, fight for us, and understand that they need to lead by example. I am so tired of teachable moments, I want action.
The full Equality Forum can be watched below: