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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Transgenders Claim FEMA Sex Change Scandal Was Fabricated, Fraudulent

Last month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified before a House Homeland Security subcommittee to spotlight $1.4 billion fraudulent waste of Emergency Assistance Funds (EAF) to Hurricane Katrina victims. The unprecedented level of Federal Emergency Management Agency fraud was blared over television newscasts and emblazoned on newspaper headlines: "FEMA funds paid for a sex change."

However, the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC) is now publicly calling the media and authorities on this claim, demanding proof that this occurred and calling the press on this claim "fabricated" and "fraudulent." In reviewing both House subcommittee testimony and the GAO report (www.gao.gov/new.items/d06844t.pdf) that uncovered the fraud there was no reference of a sex change, nor any surgery of any type being paid for by FEMA funds.

"It appears [the sex change] story was prime red meat for conservatives looking to turn attention away from the President, and onto Katrina victims and FEMA," said NTAC President Vanessa Edwards Foster. "It also appears there's no veracity to the story that EAF funds were used for gender reassignment surgery. These press claims are what's fraudulent."

House Homeland Security Investigations subcommittee chair Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) called the discovered waste "criminal" but never mentioned anything about sex changes. However Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA) did note the sex change claim shortly after the House testimony, commenting, "I don't understand how this could happen."

How the sex change allegation originated remains unclear. The June 14, 2006 story by Larry Margasak of the Associated Press noted a sex change in a laundry list of items scammed from FEMA. While outlets as diverse as Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, ABC News, MSNBC, Bloomberg Report carried the story, the more conservative news outlets such as Wall Street Journal or Fox News made no mention of the sex change accusation.

When questioned about the story, the GAO's Office of Public Affairs stated "there was no reference to that allegation … because we cannot confirm it."

"The press reported on fabricated claims of sex changes paid with FEMA funds, but no media ever mentioned $2,000 paid to a Christian Broadcast Network from EAF payments," Foster of NTAC commented. The GAO report listed $2,000 paid to Colorado-based LeSEA Broadcasting Network.

After anguishing over the initial FEMA news reports, NTAC Vice President Courtney Sharp said she "was shocked to discover that the [GAO] report didn't mention anything about anyone misusing funds to have gender reassignment surgery."

A New Orleans resident who lost nearly everything during Katrina, Sharp said she listened as co-workers and friends disparaged the person who used FEMA funds to obtain a sex change. "[It] was extremely hurtful to realize that someone had embellished the GAO report and was probably using the negative stereotypes about transgender people [for] media attention."

Sharp said she now feels the public was "bamboozled" by the news report.

"There's an inherent media bias in this story," NTAC's Foster continued. "If you have transsexuals having sex changes it's great press - even if it is uncorroborated! But a confirmed report of emergency victims' funds paid to a faith-based broadcaster is deemed not press-worthy." While acknowledging many Americans have no problem with faith-based groups receiving money, she noted that they would likely not be keen on funds intended for needy victims in an emergency being given instead to a broadcast group to spread the gospel.

"I smell a rat behind the fabrication of this news report. It's very Karl Rove," Foster commented. "It uses an unwitting transgender community to bludgeon Hurricane Katrina victims." She called the uncorroborated claim in the press "despicable."

"Ten months after Hurricane Katrina, residents of the Gulf Coast continue to struggle to rebuild their lives," NTAC's Sharp observed. "The impact has been truly unimaginable. Like the majority of residents, transgender people are responsible, productive, law abiding members of the community and they are also playing important roles in rebuilding the devastated areas.

"The media attack on the transgender community," Sharp finished, "served as my fifth personal "tidal surge" post-Katrina."

Whether originating from Congress, the press or an administration press operative, NTAC urges the responsible party to own up to, and publicly apologize for unfairly portraying the transgender community, and for deceiving the American public.

Founded in 1999, NTAC - the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition - is a civil rights organization working to establish and maintain the right of all transgendered, intersexed, and gender-variant people to live and work without fear of violence or discrimination.

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