News - April 1996

Transgendered youth released from jail, subject of NBC news segment

SALT LAKE CITY (Transsexual Menace press release) -- Birdy Jo Hoaks, a 25-year old transgendered person, has finally been released from jail, after serving only 2 months of an 18 month prison sentence in Salt Lake City, UT. Hoaks had been charged for Making False Statements and Theft of Services in connection with his/her presenting her/himself as a young boy to Salt Lake City social services.

Hoaks, an indigent person, has repeatedly asserted s/he had first sought shelter at a women's facility because s/he needed a bed for the night, but was turned away because a shelter worker considered her/him a young boy. Penniless and still in need of a bed, Hoaks then presented her/himself to Salt Lake City Child Services shortly before Christmas, 1995, carrying a note stating s/he was a 13 year-old boy abandoned by his parents. Hoaks was then successful in getting food and a bed and was subsequently sent to a Salt Lake City boys home.

During a routine examination at the boys home, Child Services discovered Hoaks had vaginal sex organs, and had Hoaks arrested. S/he was charged with two misdemeanor counts, Theft of Services and Making False Statements, for which s/he was sentenced to a year and a half in Utah Prison.

Hoaks story was covered by some of the national news services, and was even the subject of a determinedly hostile article in The Advocate. Headlined "Adolescent Behavior," the Advocate article took Hoaks to task for his/her history of using various poses to get food and shelter from social services systems in a number of states.

Following a psychological evaluation, a second hearing was scheduled at which the judge recommended Hoak's release to a women's shelter, exactly what s/he'd originally sought, as soon as a bed became available. In addition, the judge held Hoaks must get a job within 90 days, undergo ongoing psychotherapy, serve 2 years probation, and repay the State of Utah $580. This last represents approximately $100 per night for Hoak's 6 nights in the boy's home, apparently constituting the "theft" in which Hoaks was said to have engaged.

According to Hoaks, s/he was approached by NBC Dateline in the last months with an offer to tell the true story of what happened and redeem him/her in the eyes of the public. Instead, the Dateline segment which aired last week was themed "The Birdie Who Stole Christmas." It featured Hoaks as a scam-artist, single-handedly stealing the Salt Lake City Christmas from a do-gooding Utah public. During the segment, NBC aired information about Hoak's current employment, causing her/him to lose his/her job, and making Hoaks for all intents and purposes indigent again.

Members of the Transsexual Menace have been in touch with Hoaks since last December, trying to assist Hoaks and highlight the plight of indigent transgendered people across the country, many of whom must manipulate the system in order to receive any services or merely survive. In addition, NOW Utah had originally planned activities at their upcoming State Conference around the matter, including a speech by Leslie Feinberg, but has lately been backing away from the Hoaks incident without explanation.

Said Jess Bell, a Vermont member of The Menace who has followed the case from the beginning and spoken repeatedly with Hoaks: "Birdy Jo is a transgendered person living in a society whose social system dismisses and punishes gender variance. Birdy Jo is also a poor person living in a society whose social system dismisses and punishes the 'crime' of poverty."

Declared Riki Anne Wilchins of the NYC Menace, "It is unconscionable that both the queer and women's movements have failed to make any connections between the Birdy Jo's plight and the twin oppressions of class and gender. All those privileged people see is Birdy Jo's various 'deceptions:' well, I've lied to the system, too, when I've been without money or a job and needed both. Working every angle you can think of to get food in your mouth and a place to sleep isn't exactly insider trading. But then I guess you have to have slept on the pavement with an empty belly a night or two, to really understand that."

General information: Jeff Walsh
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