With trans visibility on rise, we must still do more

Editor's Note

In the past year or two, it seems to me I’ve written and read more about transgender people and the issues still at the heart of their experiences than ever before. This increasing rate of discussion, debate, examination, awareness and activism can be properly credited to the brave people who are stepping out, standing up and speaking with fortitude.

And much of this credit — at least locally — can go to young people.

Taking a look back at the archives of what we’ve written here at qnotes, a substantial number of the significant news items on transgender issues over the past couple years has at its crux an individual or group of transgender youth leading the way: trans-inclusive health coverage for students at Duke University, growing attendance at annual Transgender Day of Remembrance events, students pushing for policy changes at schools like Central Piedmont Community College and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, a trans high school senior running for homecoming king, trans students asking for more inclusive policies in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

There are other stories, too: increasing attention on the plight of unemployment and violence faced by transgender people, the continued effect of the HIV epidemic on trans people and increased visibility for transgender people in civic affairs.

When I was in high school, just a mere decade ago, transgender people were nearly invisible. One was lucky to find a small group of openly gay or lesbian students, much less increasing numbers of students unafraid to be their honest, gender-affirming selves. In college, transgender folks were occasional participants in events or activities, but their presence was limited and issues important to them were even more rarely discussed or prioritized. Embarrassingly, I was among the LGB student leaders at the time that often gave short shrift to trans people and trans issues.

In the mainstream, much was the same. Mecklenburg County first passed protections for LGB workers in 2005; they didn’t come back for transgender employees until 2013. Charlotte city leaders similarly first passed protections for LGB workers in 2010, later following up for transgender folks in 2012.

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But, in just a very short, amazing time, awareness has changed. Transgender people and the issues most important to their livelihood are increasingly moving from back seat to the front.

I’m not the only one to notice. I asked over a dozen LGBT leaders and community members, both regionally and nationally, if they also thought attention to and awareness of transgender issues has been on the increase. Most all said yes.

“Dialogue is shifting from sexual orientation and more emphasis is being placed on discussing gender identity and expression,” remarked one.

Another said they’ve witnessed growing visibility and leadership from trans people in their state, particularly a significant growth over the past seven years.

But some thought more improvement was still needed. One told me they see increasing attention isolated according to region or organization, pointing to groups like Time Out Youth, where “trans issues are increasingly at the forefront and demanding center stage,” they said.

Another thought the increased attention, while positive, doesn’t necessarily translate into more advocacy, especially, they said, “when that advocacy can be perceived as at odds with ‘mainstream’ advocates.”

All of the sentiments are valid. In regions or organizations were more trans folks speak out, trans issues get more attention. And in too many cases, mainstream LGBT organizations aren’t always prioritizing trans issues (though many are trying and improving).

A step in the right direction will be intentional inclusion. Many of our local LGBT organization boards or staffs already have at least one transgender or gender non-conforming member or staffer, but certainly not all. I believe most groups without current trans representation on their boards or staffs do understand the need for improvement. I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow and change and to what extent trans leadership and visibility continues to increase.

We’re heading in the right direction. For that, I’m proud. I’m also grateful for occasional reminders that, while we’re moving forward, it might not always be fast enough for true justice. This month, trans leaders stormed the stage at Creating Change, the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual conference. It was bold. It was brave. And it was a necessary, in-our-face reminder that we need to do more.

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The activists did more than shout chants. They also included a manifesto, if you will — a list of priorities and demands for LGBTQ organizations and institutions. We’re reprinting them below. Take a look through. Read and read again. Ponder on your reactions and what you might be able to do to ensure the demands are met. Because, at the end of the day, we’re all stronger and better together.

Trans People of Color: State of Emergency

As delivered by transgender activists on Feb. 5 at Creating Change, Denver, Colo.

Purpose: To bring awareness and attention to the issues of structural violence that continues to kill trans people, particularly trans women of color.

Statement: Brothers and sisters in our community continue to lose their lives to structural, institutional, physical and relationship violence. We, the trans community, invite the LGBQ and allied institutions at this conference to join us in putting an end to the violence that our community has experienced for many years. We are demanding intentional, meaningful investment in our community’s efforts to eradicate this epidemic.

We demand:

• Funders and organizations, especially LGBT organizations to intentionally invest in the Trans Community

• Support and acknowledge trans leadership to build and foster strength in our power.

• Meaningful equity of resources in order to eradicate the economic and  health crisis our brothers and sisters face.

• LGBT and ally organizations to hire trans people for leadership positions. We demand for these organizations to be intentionally inclusive and truly provide leadership opportunities for the trans community. If you serve us, you must include us.

• Investments in new and upcoming trans specific organizations and support their works in underserved areas.

• Big tent and anchor organizations to leverage their access to policy makers and funders and use their privilege to support trans-led efforts in eradicating the ongoing structural violence that our community faces. : :

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.