An Interview with Earl Plante ’94

Earl Plante ’94 Interview

April 22, 2013

In December of last year, longtime DGALA member Earl Plante ’94 was named CEO of San Francisco Pride, a non-profit corporation that produces the annual San Francisco Pride Celebration and Parade, which will be marking its 43rd anniversary over the weekend of June 29th and 30th this year. Prior to joining SF Pride, Earl worked in New York City as Development Director of the Latino Commission on AIDS. Earl also has served as Executive Director of One Voice PAC, a progressive political organization; as CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, a national LGBT nonprofit organization; and as Development Director at the National Minority AIDS. Earl has also held previous senior management positions at Union Settlement Association, Gay Men of African Descent, Funders Concerned About AIDS, and the Empire State Pride Agenda. Earl recently spoke with Green Light about his work and life.(A condensed version of this interview appears in the June 2013 issue of Green Light.)

Would you tell us something about how you got involved in a career relating to LGBT social justice? What are its rewards and challenges? What advice would you give to young alums considering the field?

It’s about passion, being affiliated and believing in LGBT social justice. I wouldn’t spend my time and effort otherwise. We have a limited time on this earth and I want to make sure I’m giving my all. It’s a fundamental reward and challenge…you have to feel it at a very visceral level. So I would advise others to follow your bliss, and do whatever you can…in ways big and small to help move the larger movement forward in positive directions.

How has your Dartmouth background influenced you?

My time at Dartmouth was very instrumental in my life development. I was able to explore my mixed identity, in addition to dealing with my coming out in a very conservative environment.

How is your new job?

It is the most challenging and complex job I have had to date…on all levels it presents many opportunities for personal and professional growth.

What are some interesting and/or exciting things about San Francisco Pride?

This is an amazing time to be doing this work at the largest and most well-known pride celebration in the country. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that we would be on the precipice of obtaining marriage equality, but in June the Supreme Court will rule on Prop. 8 and DOMA (defense of marriage act) and who knows where these decisions will lead the global LGBT movement, more broadly.

How would you compare living and/or working in San Francisco with New York City?

A. San Francisco is a very tolerant and vibrant environment where everyone has an opinion and they are not shy about letting you know their viewpoints! In NYC, you can be more largely anonymous in your travels; in SF and in my role as CEO of SF Pride, I always “have to be on” as I never know what room I am traversing and what they might think of me or the organization.

What are your thoughts about Dartmouth today?

My perception from afar is that it is a far, more accepting environment. It’s now about living your own truth and that’s something we can all admire and aspire to in our daily lives. And looking back, I am also very proud of my tenure at head of DaGLO/Dartmouth Rainbow Alliance and I hope it made a difference on campus and beyond. It’s definitely a heady time to be living and doing this work. We are seeing transformational change happen right before our eyes, especially with the progress of our LGBT youth, however, that does not mean there is not more progress to be made, but our enemies must see that the writing is on the wall…a generational shift is occurring in literal and figurative terms….change is coming in the political, economic and social domains in not just America, but the world writ large….and its energizing and inspiring to play a small part in this positive overall development.

An Interview with Dana Bevan ’69

Dana Bevan ’69 Interview
May 2, 2013

Dana Bevan ’69 has just released “The Transsexual Scientist: Have you ever wondered what the experience of transsexualism or transgenderism is like or what causes these phenomena?” As the title indicates, Dana is a transgender scientist, and her work brings both a scientific and personal perspective to the origins and experience of transsexualism and transgenderism. Her book, which will be noted in an upcoming Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, is available online at Amazon. Dana recently spoke with Green Light about her book and her life. (A condensed version of this interview appears in the June 2013 issue of Green Light.)

You describe yourself as transsexual? How does that term differ from transgender?

Transgender is an umbrella word that refers to a person whose gender behavior is incongruent with the sex they were assigned at birth. The rules of most cultures require people to follow arbitrary gender behavior categories that are associated with their culturally assigned natal sex. Transgender people find that their assigned behavior category is not congruent with their innate disposition. Sex and gender are not the same thing, despite the current trend of conflating them. Conflating sex and gender perpetuates stereotyping. Sex refers to organs and gender refers to behavior.

Most transgenders (about 80-90%) move back and forth between gender behavior categories through crossdressing, but transsexuals want to remain permanently in the gender behavior category that fits their innate disposition. Transsexuals seek to permanently modify their bodies, their declared gender, their voices and their behavior. Transsexuals do this with hormones, facial electrolysis, plastic surgery, and voice lessons.

For the purposes of research I treat transgenderism and transsexuality (TSTG) as one phenomenon. Many transgendered people become transsexuals. Most important, there is no scientific evidence to distinguish between the two, other than the frequency of TG presentation.

How did being a transgender person affect your life at Dartmouth during the 1960s?

It affected my life in three ways. First, I attempted to “get over” my transsexuality by engaging in highly masculine activities including football and ROTC. This is very common for male-to-female transsexuals but it does not work in the long term. I did enjoy a course by Louie Morton in the History Department on military technology which helped me in my career. Second, I was extremely lonely because I could not tell anyone about my transsexuality. It made male friendships and dating awkward. Third, I managed to find out through coursework and library research that TSTG was a naturally occurring biological phenomena which has occurred in most all times and cultures. This made me believe that there was nothing “wrong” with me in spite of how most cultures view TSTG.

How did you come to be involved in scientific research relating to transsexualism and transgenderism?

While at Dartmouth, I was inspired to become a physiological psychologist in the hope that I could understand TSTG. But when I got to graduate school at Princeton, I found that there was no research support for TSTG issues and very previous research. This situation persists today in the US, wherein social science research is ridiculed as wasteful. The poster child for this in my day was Dr. Ellen Bersheid who was castigated by Senator Proxmire and given the “Golden Fleece” for wanting to study why people fall in love.

So for many years, I downplayed my physiological training and became a practicing human factors psychologist to help design machines for people in DOD and the intelligence community.

In 2005, I returned for a semester to teaching physiological psychology while at Georgia Tech and found that the rest of the world had not been as prudish as the US and that there was a wealth of unorganized foreign research bearing on the physiological causes of TSTG. Since 2005, I have been wading through this material and wrote the book to document what I found.

Can you give us a brief overview of the field?

The physiological psychology of TSTG touches on many disciplines including psychology, neuroscience, developmental psychology, pharmacology and, now, genetics and epigenetics.
Genetics refers to DNA inheritance while the new science of epigenetics refers to modifications of DNA itself or its expression. Epigenetics includes the effects of the prenatal environment on development.

The common wisdom of what causes TSTG is almost completely wrong. For instance it is not a “lifestyle choice” or a sexual fetish. There is good evidence that it is caused by genetic and epigenetic factors that make one “born this way”.

What are some common misconceptions regarding transsexualism and transgenderism?

The most common misconception is that TSTG is some sort of psychological or medical “disorder”. This year, for the first time, TSTG will no longer be listed as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.

The second most common misconception is that TSTG is rare. The best estimates I have found are that about 2-4% of males are TG and .1% TS. For females the estimates are about half those percentages. Most people think that they have never met a TSTG but they are wrong. Both TG and TS have become expert in hiding. TGs can easily change clothes and there are many TS living in their preferred gender category in what is termed “stealth”. There are some physical clues to TSTG and I reveal them to medical doctors in my TSTG continuing education course to help them ask the right questions of their patients. This may seem trivial but remember that TS and some TG take hormones and the possibility of drug interactions and side effects becomes more dangerous if a doctor does not know that a patient is TSTG. (For example, estrogen can cause blood clots).

The third most common misconception is that TSTG prostitutes are on the street because they want to be there. Truth is that most were thrown out of their homes by their parents. Some clergymen and cultural leaders encourage this parental rejection by pathologizing and demonizing TSTG. The result is one of the most dangerous public health problems in the US because such TSTG “street people” disproportionately harbor HIV and venereal diseases.

The fourth most common misconception is that there are no harmful effects on TSTG in hiding. There is a body of research on the psychology of secrecy and it indicates both physical and mental effects. TSTG must constantly remember their secret, so that they can carefully parse their words. These mental gymnastics interfere with work and relationships. They deprive TSTG of their “authenticity” or being true to themselves.

The fifth most common misconception is that TSTG go to the restroom to attack people. Let me assure you that we are more afraid than you are. We are just there to get our business done.

What do you think about Dartmouth today?

My current experience is limited to research contacts with scientists and medical professionals so I will confine my remarks to research activities.

IMHO basic and applied science at Dartmouth needs more funding and support in order to maintain excellence in undergraduate and graduate education. The Geisel school has been successful in maintaining excellence by raising support through grants, some of which are the “big science” type. The same approach obtains at Princeton and Georgia Tech where I have taught. They are not afraid to get grants from DOD and DHS and the infrastructure and quality of the research greatly improve the educational experience for undergraduate and graduate students. Such grants also help defray overhead costs.

What do you hope for Dartmouth and transgender people in the future?

I hope that Dartmouth can be a leader in increasing research and education of the TSTG phenomena in order to improve understanding and tolerance. DGALA seems to be doing a good job of spreading the word on diversity but courseware and research needs to be supported.

I hope that the trend continues for TSTG to be encouraged to identify themselves in childhood. This requires both cultural and parental tolerance. TSTG can now get early counseling to assure them that they are not abnormal and to help them explore an authentic life. A new option for those who believe they are TS is to block the onset of puberty until they can decide whether to transition at age 16. This is far better than waiting until after puberty or waiting until later life, with unwanted physiological and mental effects. Believe me, I know about those effects. I have had every hair on my face zapped by an electrologist and some hairs more than once.

I hope that religious, political leaders and hate mongers will stop demonizing TSTG. I hope that they will realize that the contribution of some 1-2% of the population is reduced by lack of authenticity and that TSTG sex workers represent a public health hazard that needs to be addressed through understanding and social work, rather than persecution.

SF Pride Cocktail Hour (hosted by DGALA & DAASV)

Friday, June 28th
Dartmouth/Ivy Cocktail Hour Celebrating SF Pride (hosted by DAASV and DGALA)
The University Club, SF
6pm – 9pm

Kick off the 43rd annual San Francisco Pride celebration with a night of sophistication, alumni networking, hors d’oeuvres, signature cocktails, and honors!

Hosting by the Dartmouth Alumni Association of Silicon Valley, this exclusive SF Pride Week event is designed for fellow Ivy (and Stanford & Berkeley) alumni and students, as well as guest of SF Pride.

The evening will combine fun and business networking during an extended cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres, drink specials, and low-key music conducive to making new connections and renewing old ones.

Special guests will include elected officials, community leaders, LGBT stakeholders, Grand Marshals*, and surprise celebrities.
This year’s celebrity Grand Marshals include:
•   Tabatha Coffey, host of the Bravo TV show Tabatha Takes Over
•   Kamala Harris, California’s 32nd Attorney General
•   Cheyenne Jackson, actor, singer, songwriter (Glee, Xanadu)
•   Alex Newell, actor (Glee)
•   Thomas Roberts, MSNBC anchor
•   Roger Ross Williams, Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker (Music by Prudence, God Loves Uganda)

The DAASV extends a warm Bay Area welcome to newly-minted SF Pride CEO, Earl Plante (Dartmouth ’94).
Cost: $20 for dues-paying Member, $30 for Non-Dues Paying Guest (including partners and guests). Pricing based upon membership of DAASV and/or DGALA.
RSVP here by June 24th:

A portion of the proceeds of this event will benefit SF Pride Foundation. Business casual attire required.