Someone on twitter asked “how can the lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities be better allies to the transgender community?”
I want to state, up front, that there are transgender people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and lots of combinations of other identities so sometimes issues overlap. But there are also needs that are faced by the transgender community that are unique to our lives and experiences. So here are some of my thoughts about how folks from the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community can better work in solidarity with the transgender community:
- Get educated about transgender issues. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to do 101 level work with LGB people or confront them when they’ve said really offensive things. If we really are going to be in solidarity with one another I need you to educate yourself. Do the work to learn the proper terms. Understand which words and comments are offensive.
- Do you work around unpacking your own issues with gender, sexism, misogyny and understand how those issues impact transgender people (especially transgender women). Along with this, don’t appropriate our lives and struggles. Drag culture is sometimes/often hostile to transgender women (especially around the use of slurs).
- Stop making anti-trans jokes, using transgender slurs, or saying that transgender people are gross and icky. When I have had articles published on LGB websites the comments are often horrific. I’ve also seen LGB people saying that transgender people shouldn’t be counted as part of the community, that they are holding back progress, that they make the LGB community look like freaks and on and on. This type of behavior isn’t just uneducated it’s hostile and violent and it needs to stop.
- Realize that often advances made for LGB people don’t necessarily trickle down to the transgender community. While gains that are made around marriage equality are lauded and while those gains do impact the members of the transgender community who are in same gender relationships (or who’s relationships are recognized, erroneously, by the state as same gender) they don’t necessarily improve the living conditions of transgender people nor are they on the top of the list of struggles facing the transgender community.
- Go to bat for us like we go to bat for you. I have seen transgender people lobby for marriage equality, rally around people who have been victims of anti-gay violence, get on board in denominations struggling to ordain LGB people and more. And then I have seen absolute silence (or worse, opposition) from LGB people when transgender related issues come up.
- Show up at Transgender Day of Remembrance services. Don’t organize them or take over; don’t center yourself as a speaker, just show up and bear witness. Be present to the grief and pain.
- Don’t lump LGBT together if you’re not actually talking about transgender people. I see this a lot, especially in the church. A church will say they are LGBT affirming but it’s clear that they haven’t actually done any work around transgender issues. This also happens in lots of high profile LGB(T) organizations. They say they are for the LGBT community but they haze zero initiatives around transgender issues. Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. I’d much rather a church or organization say they are affirming of LGB people or LGB marriage than to include my community without really meaning it.
- Understand that solidarity work benefits us all. I believe that all of our lives and struggles are intertwined: that if I work around prison abolition or rights for sex workers or immigration or any other issue, even if it doesn’t effect me, that I will still benefit (even if for no other reason than that we are all human and should care for one another. Radical concept, I know.).
- Realize that trickle down liberation never works. We saw it in the fight for a trans-inclusive Employment Non-discrimination Act: large lobbying groups eliminated transgender people from the bill because they thought it wouldn’t get passed otherwise. Then they promised to come back for us later. That kind of thing doesn’t work. We should always be trying to get protections for the most vulnerable first.
Like so many other things it comes down to this: Do you work. Unpack your issues. Be in solidarity.