The goal of this year's Aspen Ideas Festival was to focus on the future and envision the year 2024. I ended the festival by attending a panel of women who were asked to present their big idea for women and girls over the next 10 years. The ideas presented were bold and inspiring. It encouraged me to think on a larger scale and articulate one big idea for our world in 2024.
So, here it is. I want to see a large and vocal movement of allies who are standing alongside transgender people and helping to create a just world where members of trans and gender non-conforming communities no longer face stigma and violence and have the same opportunities as everyone else.
We have done a pretty good job of advancing public attitudes on gay and lesbian issues, in large part due to enlisting allies. Think David Boise, Madonna and President Obama. But I would argue we have not done the same for our trans brothers and sisters. There are 32 states where gender non-conforming people can legally be fired from their jobs. Transgender people face much higher rates of poverty, violence, unemployment and homelessness than their straight, or even gay, counterparts. Transgender women are often uninsured, and nearly one in two transgender women of color in New York City can expect to test HIV positive in her lifetime.
Let me start by saying that I am an ally. As a lesbian, this may sound strange because in the LGBT community, "ally" usually refers to a person who is heterosexual but supports LGBT rights. I am an ally because I am a cisgender woman (i.e. my experience of my own gender matches my assigned gender at birth) who presents feminine, and I support transgender justice. My partner is transgender. I see the stark difference between the way the world treats me and the way the world treats her. That treatment is wrong and must stop.
The trans community knows this and has been demanding justice for years. Janet Mock, Laverne Cox and others have reached large numbers of people through the media with this message, but where are the high profile, vocal allies? It is our turn to step up and join this fight, raising our voices to demand equality and justice for people who defy the gender binaries and sometimes risk everything, including their lives, to simply be who they are.
As the Executive Director of The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City, I work with and on behalf of trans individuals of all demographics. I feel privileged to know them and am inspired by their authenticity. But I hear far too many stories of trans people struggling with poverty, being discriminated against, or even being murdered.
We need to honor these courageous individuals, and ask them what they want from us as allies. Then we need to really listen and then act. I am sure there are many others who have had their lives touched in some way by a transgender or gender non-conforming person, as I have. If you are one of these people, I urge you to come out of the closet, so to speak, and share your love, your stories and your passionate support of the trans community and their right to thrive. Who's with me?