A candidate in the running to lead the North Carolina Democratic Party misidentified a transgender candidate at a forum in Gaston County on Tuesday — a problem that LGBTQ activists say is common for members of the transgender community.
Karen Turner, second vice chair of the Gaston County Democrats, said the incident occurred when Janice Covington, a transgender activist who identifies as a woman, was listing different groups she had represented in her life and Patsy Keever, first vice chair of the N.C. Democratic Party, interjected.
“Patsy Keever was trying to be helpful, and she did say ‘a man.’ She did not yell it; she was not trying to heckle her. She was properly mortified when it came out of her mouth. And Janice corrected her, and that was that for the night,” Turner said.
Dakota Powell, a UNC junior and activist for LGBTQ issues who identifies as agender, preferring gender non-specific pronouns, said the incident represents a serious problem in society.
“Keever suggested that Covington was also personally bringing male representation to the N.C. Democratic party, a statement that is indicative of the lack of understanding of the transgender experience," Powell said. "Misgendering and the use of non-preferred pronouns is harmful and demeaning."
Powell also said misgendering and using non-preferred pronouns is something that happens frequently among the college-age generation and at UNC.
“At UNC I have witnessed the use of non-preferred pronouns on several occasions, and I understand that for some it takes longer to leave their preconceived notions of sex and gender behind, but it is definitely time for people to become more respectful and open-minded about different lived experiences,” Powell said.
After Keever identified Janice as a man, Turner said the forum proceeded as planned.
“The mood went on like normal. There was no outcry. Janice, she goes, ‘Honey, there ain't no man left in me.’ And Patsy looked mortified that she said that,” Turner said.
Later that night, Keever publicly apologized to Covington on Facebook for calling her a man.
“I referred to you using an incorrect gender pronoun. That was inaccurate and offensive and not the way that I would conduct myself as chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party,” she wrote.
Covington’s public figure Facebook page later replied, saying that Keever’s apology could not be accepted on behalf of the transgender community, and that her words perpetuate stereotypes against transgender people.
Terri Phoenix, director of the UNC LGBTQ center, said transgendered people are frequently referred to by the wrong pronoun for reasons that are often unclear.
“It’s hard to say what people were thinking when they use the wrong pronoun. In some cases it’s a lack of awareness, and some cases it’s a conscious choice. It just varies,” Phoenix said.
Phoenix advises, to prevent mistakenly referring someone as the wrong gender, simply ask.
“The best thing people can do is use the right pronoun and ask, ‘I want to be respectful, what gender pronoun do you use?'” Phoenix said.
Turner said she thinks the incident at the forum reflects a lack of awareness and education, even within the Democratic Party.
“We need more education," Turner said. "The party itself needs more education."
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