04/25/2013 08:18 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Tolerance, Respect and Acceptance: The Transgender Person's Daily Fight for Equality

As an African-American transgender woman, tolerance, respect and acceptance have been my quest for over 20 years. My initial coming out as a transgender woman left me friendless, jobless and eventually homeless. I was educated, with two degrees and years of work experience, but I could not find employment, simply because I was transgender and different. I was humiliated, bullied and attacked for no reason other than the fact that I looked different. The rejection and discrimination that most transgender people, especially transgender people of color, face are at epic levels in our society. The decision to transition from one sex to another takes a lot of inner courage and self-determination and can cost upwards of $20,000.

Tolerance requires that you not judge me for my difference, respect requires that you treat me with fairness, and acceptance requires that you accept that I am God's child and that my uniqueness is OK. People who discriminate always have some justification for their hate and intolerance, whether it be religion, their upbringing or ignorance. But in my memoir I Rise, I encourage every transgender brother and sister to rise above the fear, defeat, degradation and discrimination. My life has been one of many defeats, but it has also been a life of overcoming obstacles and rising to achieve my goals. We, the transgender community, are God's children and need love and acceptance, as does every other child of God.

2013 is the year for transgender rights to be recognized and acknowledged. Here are a few of the bills in California and nationwide promoting equal rights for transgender people:
  • U.S. Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) have reintroduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide a federal prohibition against discrimination against LGBT students in all public schools. The bill would prohibit schools from ignoring bullying, harassment, intimidation or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill would be enforced by a loss of federal funding. This bill is supported by over 82 organizations.
  • California's School Success and Opportunity Act (A.B. 1266), authored by State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and backed by Equality California, the Transgender Law Center, Gender Spectrum, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, addresses the exclusion of transgender students from classes and activities and clarifies existing anti-discrimination law to provide clear protections for transgender students. This bill has passed the California Assembly's Committee on Education by a vote of 5 to 2, and now it is headed toward the Assembly floor for a full vote.
  • California's A.B. 1121, authored by Assemblymember Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and backed by the Transgender Law Center and Equality California, has now passed the California Assembly Committee on Judiciary. The bill would help ensure that transgender people have access to identity documents that accurately reflect the name and gender that correspond with their gender identity. The bill will now go to the California Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Transgender equality is still very much needed in 2013, and discrimination based on sex, gender and race cannot be tolerated in our society. I am a proud African-American trans woman, and my goal, each and every day, is to show society that transgender people are intelligent, creative and hardworking individuals who need equal opportunity to succeed. We are not asking for special considerations, just equal rights in a democratic society.

I know that tolerance, respect and acceptance are achievable in our society because this past week I participated in a wonderful forum with Equality California staff members (Bella Week, Aimee Mendez, Justin Florez, Mike Gallagher, P. Venalonzo and Arturo Valencia) and students from Azusa Pacific University, California largest Christian university. We discussed Christianity, God and the fight for equality for all persons regardless of race, sex and gender. (To read the Equality California blog post about this beautiful exchange, click here.)

As always, I ask my transgender brothers and sisters to rise and educate your minds and have courage, for God has not forgotten us. You are beautiful, courageous, fearless individuals who can achieve anything, and I am honored and proud to be one amongst you.

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