July 30, 2014

What the T?


No, really – what’s the T in LGBT? We all know the word transgender by now, but how much time do we spend really understanding all of the facets of this word and the communities of people this word represents? I’m by no means an expert when it comes to this sort of thing, but I certainly learned quite a bit from the Town Hall Meeting I attended at the Memphis LGBT Community Center on June 20, 2014, featuring Mara Keisling as the guest speaker.

Pennsylvania native Mara Keisling is a spokesperson and advocate for transgender rights, and is a founding executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality. What she described as “the coolest job in the world” includes talking with legislators, up and coming politicians, and legal experts, to find ways to forward the cause toward trans equality, as well as reaching out to transgender individuals throughout the country to hear the voice of the people she represents, and to spread the word about what’s
being done in Washington.

Attendance for the event was great, and I managed to find a seat at the last minute. For the benefit of those not trans and needing to understand the brevity of the subject matter, Mara began by saying that “these issues aren’t about snatching a trophy or becoming ‘legendary’ – it’s about living everyday life”. I think it’s obvious that people who identify as trans are looking for more than ballroom recognition (especially considering the RuPaul’s Drag Race debacle earlier this year), but I’d be lying if I said I knew, specifically, what the trans community was looking for when it comes to legislation. What’s at the forefront of general LGBT Rights these days is marriage equality, but Mara made it clear that marriage equality is only one drop in the bucket, and simply doesn’t apply to everyone – specifically trans individuals.

The first point she made was
that trans issues are not always trans specific. When it comes to equal rights for trans people, you have to attack issues like healthcare, education, and trans specific services like name changes and legal sex identification, which all in turn go back to the prevention of discrimination. One of the clearest examples of discrimination being perpetuated through the ignoring of these issues is the job interview. Let’s say “Sara” goes into a company for an interview, and has to provide documents that prove her identity. If “Sara” doesn’t have the means to visit a lawyer and change her legal name and sex, an employer can immediately dismiss her under accusations of presenting a false identity. The same can be said for “Sara” visiting the doctor to deal with chest pains she’s been having. Many doctors can still legally refuse to see a trans person because “they don’t know how to treat that person”, instead of educating themselves and learning that transgender people can be treated (medically) just like anyone else. Many other examples were presented at this meeting, and it really helped me understand the disproportionate amount of money and energy spent on gay marriage.

During the question and answer segment, I asked Mara if she blames organizations like the Human Rights Campaign for this unbalanced fight for equality. There has been over $250,000,000 spent towards gay marriage alone, after all. Being a true lady, she refused to bad mouth this organization in particular, but did urge us to understand that there are many organizations with the power to sway trans rights in the right direction, but are simply dropping the ball. The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, she noted, has an even bigger budget than the HRC, but still focuses the attention on the single issue of marriage equality. They do, however, have the largest LGBT shelter in the country, so she made sure to point out that good things are being done, and that we shouldn’t cut off our nose to spite our face, so to speak.


I urge all people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual to revisit the question we’ve been asking each other in jest for decades, and look at it from a different angle – what is the T? It’s more than a community of individuals who don’t conform to the gender they were assigned at birth. It’s more than dressing up and bucking the system we’ve been conditioned to uphold. It’s learning, sharing, and loving. We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time, especially when you consider what the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s June 21st Executive Order has done for the transgender community, but we still have to help our brothers and sisters gain the rights they are entitled to, and it starts by recognizing that there is more to LGBT Rights than marriage equality.
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