TEA of Utah Directors Resign

Last week I wrote a blog post about an incident that occurred at a Utah Drivers License Division (DLD) office where a witness stood up for a transgender woman who was mocked, laughed at, and forced to scrub off her makeup before she was allowed to get her photo taken to renew her drivers license.

Transgender Education Advocates of Utah (TEA of Utah) hastily became involved. Representatives of TEA met with DLD officials and watched what has been described as a silent and grainy video of the incident. Without consulting either the witness or the victim, TEA began issuing public statements including on-camera interviews with numerous media outlets.

To the shock and amazement of many, TEA defended the DLD and discredited both the witness and the victim.

“Transgender Education Advocates of Utah” placed themselves front-and-center as representatives of the transgender community. This created a lot of public/community feedback focused around TEA. Not surprisingly, much of this feedback was highly critical of TEA’s actions and statements - my blog post included.

Feedback, supportive and critical, right or wrong, is a measure of public perception. Feedback represents the differing reactions within the community. Unfortunately, individuals in TEA responded to critical feedback as though it were personal attacks. They seem to have forgotten that they were acting as representatives of an organization and an entire community.

Their reaction to these perceived personal attacks went as far as calling and emailing critics in an attempt to intimidate them into silence; myself included.

On Saturday, April 2nd I received an email from the executive director of TEA, Christopher Scuderi. The email was sent using his official TEA of Utah e-mail account, “to formally request that [I] cease and desist, immediately, any further posting or linking to that section of [my] blog; furthermore, [I] have until Monday April 4, 2011 to permanently delete the content of that post.”, and, if I did not do so, TEA “can and will take formal action against [me].”

In response and to strongly convey the message that the trans community does not support the DLD’s discriminatory policy that allows the employees to subjectively determine if an individual looks “too male” or “too female” (selectively enforced on transwomen), a Facebook group was started calling for a change in leadership at TEA.

Both regrettably and commendably, as of yesterday, TEA issued the following statement:
On Tuesday, March 29, 2011, a statement was issued from the Executive Director of TEA in relation to the incident at the Driver’s License Division Fairpark location. At the time of this statement, Executive and Assistant Directors of our organization were invited to view unedited, color digital videotape and released a statement, both in writing and in subsequent on-air interviews, stating that it appeared no evidence of direct policy violation or alleged discrimination was witnessed.
During the subsequent days after this release, further information, including the victim’s statement which was not available to us at the time, was brought to light which clarified the videotape and put the situation into context. While the policy may appear to have been adhered to in the strictest sense of the law, we do not advocate for the mistreatment in word or deed that may have occurred as a result of such a situation. Since the videotape did not have audio, it would have been impossible to hear the words of anyone involved. Our statement was premature and inaccurate.
On behalf of TEA of Utah, we offer our sincerest apology to Regina Raye and her advocate, Amber Anderton, for any missteps taken on behalf of our organization. It is never our intention to re-victimize a member of the Transgender community and we recognize how our statements may have been viewed as non-supportive. For that, we are deeply sorry. We apologize for both our actions and for making such a statement before all information was properly received and vetted. It is our sincere hope to have an opportunity to speak to both Regina and Amber in the future, at their discretion, to personally apologize, as well.
The TEA Board of Directors has accepted the resignation of Executive Director, Christopher Scuderi and Assistant Director, Teinamarrie Scuderi. Connie Anast, Board Treasurer, has been named Interim Director and a search for new Executive Directors will begin immediately.
I say regrettably because Christopher and Teinamarrie Scuderi are hard working and tireless advocates for the transgender community. TEA exists, largely because of their hard work and they have my greatest respect.

But, this is not about individuals. TEA is an organization representing the transgender community. And as such TEA’s present action is commendable and I’m really happy about it. I’m sure that this was not an easy action to take or an easy statement to issue.

The important thing is that this statement from TEA reflects the genuine desire to correct mistakes and to move forward in a positive direction. As painful as this episode has been, I sincerely hope this indicates a willingness on the part of TEA to accept all public feedback as constructive. I look forward to a bright future for TEA and for it’s continued advocacy on behalf of the transgender community.

In fact, just yesterday I received the following message from TEA:
Thanks for your positive comments about the recent statement and change in leadership. It’s going to be challenging in the days and weeks ahead, but we are really hoping this will be a positive chapter in TEA’s existence.
Aww! Yay!


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