We must tell our own truth,
or others will do it for us.
or others will do it for us.
By Pistol Pete
It's been forty years since the Stonewall uprising, forty-three years since the lesser known Compton Cafe Riots. It seems a lifetime removed from the era when gay bars were raided and ashamed men with covered faces were escorted to paddy wagons. All of us in the LGBT community are thankful for the courageous actions of our forefathers & mothers, but sadly most of us could not name them if we tried.
I wonder if things would be different for my particular letter, T, if the LGBT community didn't have such a clandestine history. While there were many leaders in the infancy of the gay right movement, a large number of them were transgendered men and women. In fact, some of the main players in Stonewall were transwomen and drag queens, so why are names like Sylvia Rivera so unfamiliar? These individuals were once at the forefront of public harassment and police brutality, and the first ones to stand up for their rights. Well, something funny happened after a couple of years: it became a lot easier for the movement to bargain with politicians when the T wasn't at the table.
Sylvia RiveraSince that time how much has changed? Just last year the Human Rights Campaign ditched the T's at the first sign of light for a sexual orientation-only Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would have been vetoed by President Bush anyhow. It is important to note that many LGB individuals were disheartened by the move, but it was a clear signal from the LGB"T" leadership to the trans community.
So we did what any hot mess trannies would do - we made lemonade! The great thing about HRC's cowardice is that it highlighted a realization that older generations knew all too well - the transgender community cannot readily count on LGB groups for support. As most gays are aware, sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing and often times gays and lesbians are just as confused by the transsexual phenomena as any other group. This isolation has led transpeople to unite forces to form a more visible, burgeoning and connected transgender community. People are stepping out of the shadows, risking social and professional ostracism to fight change.
Case in point is the 5th Annual Transgender Lobby Days in Washington D.C, which I attended on April 27-29th. It was inspiring to be with such a strong, intelligent, and articulate group of individuals - many of whom have thrived personally, mentally and emotionally despite experiencing social and/or employment discrimination, harassment and assault. It was wonderful to meet transpeople like Shannon Minter, who are doing amazing things with their lives.
And politicians are becoming more receptive to the cause because of organizations like the National Center for Transgender Equality, who organized the Lobby Days. I must say that when I told my Representative that I was a transgendered man, his reaction was all too normal. His eyes widened with surprise, he became quiet, and started looking for the tell tale signs that he must have missed - they weren't there. I could tell he was taken aback, but very polite and supportive of our cause. It's a process, but folks are learning fast. The day after we lobbied Congress, a transgender-inclusive hate-crimes bill passed the House, 249-175, and an inclusive ENDA will be introduced in the next few weeks.
I firmly believe that when transpeople take the leap and step out, revealing their status, equal rights will swiftly follow. Education and familiarization are the keys to fighting stigma, and all too often transfolks are afraid to stand up and be counted. Many, if not most, transgender individuals can go through life without anyone knowing - they look and act like the ordinary human beings they are. But to bridge the gap from the exotic, unusual or strange stereotypes to an accepted, integrated community, transpeople must voluntarily let go of the cold comforts of a closeted life, just as the gays have done. The main obstacle here is not a radical right-wing ideology, but preconceived notions and conventional wisdom that pegs transgender people as unstable libertines, a la Jerry Springer, transgressing gender norms for pure entertainment, shock value or misguided personal gratification. We must tell our own truth, or others will do it for us.