09/11/2013 02:06 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Speaking the Silent 'T'


It is amazing how often the "LGBT" acronym is used in blog posts, on webpages, and in news stories without any mention of the transgender community (except to explain the meaning of the acronym, if that). A quick Google search for "sexual orientation LGBT transgender" yields more than 3 million hits.

At the top of the page in my Google search was a webpage on the American Psychiatric Association website entitled "LGBT Sexual Orientation." This couldn't be more misleading. There is no one sexual orientation among transgender people. Transgender people may have one of several sexual orientations (just like everyone else).

What is it about writing (or saying) "LGBT" that creates this misunderstanding? Is it the way the letters sound? Does it send a message that we can write "LGBT," and that by writing that we have now included everyone? Does it mean that too many people who write about LGBT issues don't realize that the reason these letter are lumped together is only because we all, in our own ways, face the same oppression and inequality?

Far too many L, G, B and T people have experienced sounds and images similar to the ones President Obama described when he talked about hearing the click of car door locks and being followed in stores. For me, it is seeing a person in my workplace who is smiling and laughing before they set their eyes on me. The moment they see me, the smile turns to a frown and the gaze is quickly diverted, undeniably telling me that there are people who are not even able to look at me.

My Google search turned up an article from the Yale Law Journal that uses "LGBT" 25 times. It does not include the words "transgender" or "gender identity," but it does include "sexual orientation" seven times, and "homosexual" or "homosexuality" 36 times.

I am not able to discern the intent of these writers, but I am most able to tell you how I feel when I see it. I feel the same way I felt when the Human Rights Campaign supported an Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would have protected lesbians, gays and bisexuals but not the transgender community. Equality for some is not equality. It is just a different version of inequality.

It is the same way I felt when the National Organization for Women released a "Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign" pledge that asks employers to commit to providing a workplace free of discrimination based on sex, race, sexual orientation, age, marital or family status, pregnancy, parenthood, disability or size. How hard would it have been to just include the words "gender identity"? I wonder if there was a discussion about this, or if they just didn't think about transgender people.

And I felt the same way when "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) was repealed. I celebrated. The repeal of DADT was a great step forward for the LGB community. It is a step forward upon which work is happening to allow openly transgender people serve our country as well. But please don't describe it as a victory for the LGBT community. It is not a victory for transgender people.

An article published recently in The New York Times regarding LGBT inclusion on the campus of Georgetown University only mentions transgender persons one time, and only in explaining the meaning of the "LGBT" acronym. Indeed, the Georgetown campus is inclusive of LGBT students and staff. But the article fails to include transgender students and staff. It trots us out, shows the big "T" at the end of the string of letters, and then proceeds to pretend that we don't exist.

I try to look at the world philosophically. I know that including transgender persons in LGBT activism creates additional obstacles along the path to achieving the end of legalized discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans. But it also sends a message that this is a battle of civil rights. Not gay rights, not special rights, but human rights.

I am indescribably grateful that the transgender community is nearly always included in today's battles for equality for LGBT people. It is a battle for everyone, and leaving anyone behind is an unacceptable strategy.