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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Road To Transgender Equality is Long. Help Shorten It

By Nathan Tabak -

There’s no denying that the past decade has seen great strides forward in LGBT rights. We can now marry in five states, plus the District of Columbia.  Gay men and lesbians will soon be able to serve openly in the military. We have more visibility in the broader culture than ever before.  And more cities and municipalities have adopted non-discrimination policies that protect us from being fired simply for who we are.
But not all LGBT people have benefited from these advances. And thanks to the work of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, there’s new evidence that the “T” has seen the least progress of the other three letters of that oft-used acronym. “Injustice At Every Turn,” shows just how far transgender people remain from full equality.
The survey’s findings -- based on responses from 6,450 transgender and gender-nonconforming participants -- generally don’t make for uplifting reading.  Trans people, when compared to the general population, are twice as likely to be unemployed, four times as likely to live in extreme poverty, four times as likely to be HIV-positive, and perhaps most appallingly, over 25 times as likely to have attempted suicide. And for transgender people of color, especially African Americans, most of the differences are even greater.
Yet the transgender experience in America, though undoubtedly difficult and even tragic for many, is far too complex to be reduced to a series of grim statistics.  Just take a look at the stories of a few transgender individuals.
Jane Ireland, a transgender woman from Tulsa, OK, has faced her own set of challenges. She was fired from her IT job after coming out as transgender. Later, Jane lost her job as a waiter at the local Hilton when Texas-based managers would not allow her to work while presenting herself as female, on the grounds that she was hired as a man.  As if this wasn’t enough, Jane was also rejected by her church: her own ministry chose not to renew her ministerial license, forcing her to resign after nearly a decade of service.
Ja’briel Walthour, an African-American transgender woman from Hinesville, GA, hasn’t had an easy life.  The challenges of transitioning from male to female were only compounded by the rejection she faced from her church and her Bible Belt community, and she considered suicide.  She told the Associated Press: “I felt there was not an ounce of compassion or empathy for individuals who may be displaying atypical gender roles… I got into a place where I wanted to just not be here anymore.”
Yet like other transgender Americans, Jane and Ja’briel haven’t let their experiences with adversity define their lives: they have shown remarkable strength in overcoming it.  Jane has successfully worked as a fine dining waitress for nearly a year, at a job where her managers and the rest of the staff respect both her performance and her identity as a woman, and maintains a close relationship with her family.  Ja’briel has found work as a school bus driver and currently plans to pursue a degree in social work.
Thus, the story told by “Injustice at Every Turn” is not just about the discrimination endured by transgender Americans -- it’s about their ability to overcome it.  Over three-quarters of the survey’s respondents reported being more comfortable and performing better at work after transitioning, despite the harassment most experienced.  And while nearly one-fifth of respondents have been denied homes or apartments because of being trans, 94 percent of those respondents have been able to find homes.
A great deal remains to be done -– not just in winning transgender equality from straight people, but also in convincing many LGB allies of the importance of trans issues, something which I can attest remains a major problem. But all of us, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight, can learn much from the courage of transgender Americans, as we work toward a world where no one can be denied things as fundamental as housing, health care, and employment based solely on their identity.
And anyone, no matter what our own identity is, can make a stand in support of equality. Pledge to end discrimination against transgender people today.

Note: Renna Communications has handled PR for "Injustice at Every Turn."

Nathan Tabak is an LGBT rights activist who currently works for Renna Communications.  

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