Calpernia Addams and I have been
playing email tag for about two weeks. So when my cell phone rings
while at dinner on a recent Monday I excuse myself, grab a pad and
pen, and hop over to a counter overlooking Detroit Ave. on
Cleveland's west side.
On the phone, Addams is quick to
apologize for any inconvenience. But there is no need to apologize,
for Calpernia Addams is very busy these days.
Addams first drew national attention in
the summer of 1999 when her boyfriend, Pfc. Barry Winchell, was
murdered in a vicious homophobic attack. Pvt. Calvin Glover bashed
Winchell's head with a baseball bat while he slept, crushing his
skull. A second soldier, Justin Fisher, had taunted Glover into the
killing and later would clean Winchell's blood off the bat. Glover
was sentenced to life in prison and Fisher received 12 years. The
incident occurred while Calpernia Addams celebrated her biggest
pageant win, Tennessee Entertainer of the Year Contest – and
America freedom – on the fourth of July at Fort Campbell Army Base
near Nashville, TN.
Winchell's murder, a blatant failure of
President Clinton's Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue, Don't
Harass policy, made national headlines. And Addams reluctantly
stepped into the national spotlight.
Addams told David France in a 2000 New
York Times Magazine cover story that she was devastated, even
blamed herself for Winchell's murder. “The reason he was killed
was because he was dating me. That makes it even more devastating,
to think that I had played some role in it.”
The events of how Addams and Winchell
met -- at Connections, a Nashville gay bar which included drag shows
where she performed -- his murder and subsequent trial were
dramatized in Showtime's Soldier's Girl.
But today Addams is bright and only
makes a passing aside to her past as we discuss her current projects.
These include a new acting career, working as a transgender rights
activist, and searching for love.
Last year, gay cable channel Logo asked
Addams to play a bachelorette in their groundbreaking dating show
Trans American Love Story. While she says that love can never
be a prize to be won on a show, she remains proud of what the show
accomplished. “[Transamerican Love Story] tackled super
complicated things. We talked about the issues surrounding finding
love as a transsexual woman,” she said. “We attempted to show
what it was like for the men who decide to date us.”
On the show, Shawn remained the final
contestant. Calpernia confesses they are still seeing each other –
if only casually.
She is also currently working on a
short comedy called Trans Proofed with best friend and
business partner Andrea James. The film, a hopeful GLBT film
festival entrant, stars Addams as actress and musical performer.
Yet, Addams is not acting when it comes
to her activism. She proudly tells me about the PSA she recorded for
Logo on Lawrence King, a 15-year-old boy who was shot in the head
after he told another boy he liked him. And now she is preparing to
become a national spokesperson for transgender rights.
Pro-gay group Parents, Families and
Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is set to feature Calpernia
Addams in a new national campaign titled This Is Our Love Story.
The campaign will first appear during GLBT Pride season (June-July)
this summer. A PFLAG website, titled Transform The Movement,
will come online later this summer. The site will highlight PFLAG's
work in the transgender community and showcase the stories of
transgender people who have worked with the organization on equality
In an email to On Top Magazine,
PFLAG Director of Communications Steve Ralls said of Addams as
spokesperson, “Calpernia was the perfect choice for our campaign.
In addition to her work on the stage, Calpernia has been a long-time
advocate for transgender equality, and an eloquent spokesperson on
transgender issues. We are enormously proud, and excited, to be
partnering with her for the 'Love Story' campaign.”
Calpernia Addams' story from
“devastated” girlfriend to transgender rights advocate grew from
a monstrous Fourth of July homophobic killing. It was, however, her
own brave love story that makes her a transgender role model.
“I hope This Is Our Love Story
will help young transgender people as they come out. By seeing the
happy, confident woman I've become, I hope I can act as a role model
for these young people at a critical moment in their development,”
Calpernia Addams can be reached via her
website at www.Calpernia.com.
PFLAG's national website is located at www.pflag.org.