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Brynn Tannehill Headshot

Why 'LGB' and 'T' Belong Together

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As an analyst, historical data is often important because it helps answer the question, "How did we get here?" However, this eventually becomes less important than determining "where are we going, and how do we get there?" This is exactly the mindset of most LGBT millennials when it comes to civil rights and advocacy.

Unfortunately, some transgender leaders keep trying to revive old grievances, like 18-year-old articles from The New York Times. However, people like Jim Fouratt haven't been relevant in decades. Janice Raymond and her ilk are a poorly regarded footnote in the annals of second-wave lesbian feminism. Things cited as proof that LGB leadership has it in for the transgender community may or may not have actually been said. Barney Frank has retired. So has Joe Solmonese. The historical reasons typically cited for the division between the LGB and T have become just that: history.

While many pundits have piled onto the Republicans for failing to recognize the effects of a generational shift in attitudes, leadership in the LGB and T communities also need to recognize the same. Millennials will soon, if not already, constitute the majority of the people represented by LGBT organizations. To the younger folks these divisions look like a Monty Python sketch about the Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea "bickering and arguing about who killed who."

I certainly do not speak for everyone, but from the perspective of millennials who are educated, diverse, and looking for the "BLUF" (Bottom Line Up Front), LGB and T have more experiences, goals and obstacles in common than not.

  1. We all violate gender norms. LGB people break one of the most fundamental stereotypes and expectations of gender, namely women should fall in love with men, and vice versa. Transgender people violate other gender stereotypes, sometimes including who we are supposed to fall in love with and marry. At some point in their lives, many transgender people will either be seen as LGB by others, or see themselves as LGB.
  2. Sociologists categorize all of us as sexual minorities. One of the consequences of this is a phenomenon known as minority stress, which affects the LGB and T communities. Minority stress includes both external (rejection, prejudice, and discrimination) and internal (concealment of one's minority identity, vigilance and anxiety about prejudice) stressors which lead to a lower quality of life along multiple axes.
  3. Familial rejection is a common theme, and the number of trans foster kids in Dayton PFLAG is a stark testament to it. LGBT youth constitute 40 percent of America's homeless teens. The same reasons that underlie LGB kids being homeless are the same ones making trans kids homeless.
  4. As part of coming to a point of self acceptance, LGB and T people usually go through similar processes of denial, awakening, and eventually, hopefully, self acceptance.
  5. Coming out is a rite of passage for virtually everyone within the communities. We all experience fear, the pain, the isolation, the good and bad surprises along the way. These are stories that we share and empathize with. When I described coming out to my wife to a gay man, it affected him deeply, because he has done the same thing with his wife several years earlier. In the end, most of us lose people along the way, and carry those scars as a mutual burden.
  6. We're still locked in a struggle with the psychiatric community. While DSM-5 is a step in the right direction for the transgender community, and the LGB community fought a lot of these battles 40 years ago, the truth is we're still fighting. NARTH is still out there. There are still people advocating reparative therapy, including some who are on the board at the American Psychiatric Association.
  7. Marriage equality is an issue that belongs to all of us. The laws pertaining to the legality of transgender marriages are still an incoherent hodge-podge that leaves many trans people subject to having their marriages nullified with no warning. The only way past this is with marriage equality and ending DOMA.
  8. We still face discrimination and lack of protection at work. While recent court cases help provide greater protections for transgender people at work, very few enjoy legislative protections or inclusive corporate EO policies. LGB people, while having more favorable EO policies, enjoy very little legal protection in the form of case law. In the end, we still have a long way to go, and a comprehensive ENDA is the only way to solve both problems at once.
  9. Millennials, even those who identify as LGB, are much more comfortable with the idea of gender fluidity, and a "big tent" with LGBTTQQIA.
  10. We must all hang together, or we shall assuredly hang separately. The religious groups spreading hate towards us don't discriminate between LGB and T. We are all on the wrong side of God in their eyes. When a trans man friend of mine was assaulted last weekend, the people doing it didn't really care whether he was technically classified as a lesbian or a trans man. Morally we all have an obligation to oppose oppression, regardless of labels.

We are on the leading edge of a cultural shift. The demographics and values of the Millennial Generation is the driving force behind it. Leaders, of all stripes, need to recognize that this generation will be their base for a very long time. The old mental calculus that trans inclusion is divisive does not hold true any longer for the 30-and-under crowd. Indeed, creating a wedge where there was none is counter-productive. It slows the pace of progress, and dilutes the message of inclusion and acceptance. Most of all, it risks losing the very people you need to represent going forward.