Last fall in my hometown an agender teen named Sasha’s skirt was set on fire while they rode home on the bus. Victim of a cruel assault just because of their gender expression, Sasha suffered severe burns and was hospitalized. The bus Sasha was riding on, the 7, was the bus that I took to school every day, and Sasha went to the same high school as my older sister, who is lesbian.
This incident was felt deeply in my community. As the former president of my high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, I had worked hard to create a supportive and safe community for LGBTQIA students. This violent act damaged many of my close friends’ sense of safety and acceptance. This shocking event was a harsh reminder of the work to be done in the fight for LGBTQIA rights.
This story is why I chose to participate in Transgender Lobby Day, along with other NOW interns, trans folk, and allies from all across the country, all of whom came with their own powerful stories.
We lobbied our representatives to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit employment discrimination due to gender identity or sexual orientation, and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which would give LGBTQIA students in K-12 public schools federal protection from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
(NOW has always taken the principled stand that the religious exemption in ENDA was too broad, thus NOW has been unable to support ENDA. Recently, a number of organizations dedicated to LGBTQIA rights withdrew their support of ENDA. Part of Transgender Lobby Day was asking representatives to work on eliminating the religious exemption.)
Both are important. In 29 states, there is no legal protection from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 80 percent of transgender students say they feel unsafe at school due to their gender identity.
In our meetings on the hill the main focus was not on numbers or statistics, but the personal stories we had to share about the real impact of discrimination.
Sharing personal stories is a powerful tool. When people begin to realize that they have friends, family members, coworkers and neighbors who are LGBTQIA, many hearts and minds can be changed.
In our lobbying visits, one young trans man of color spoke about the difficulty of legally changing his name and gender on official forms (such as his high school diploma), which he needed to present to an employer to get a job.
Another young transman who flew out from California to participate in the event said before he transitioned, he couldn’t imagine even wanting to live. Now, he is a happy young person full of hope and dreams for the future.
One woman spoke about her four-year-old transgender son. He is incredibly happy living as a boy, but has already faced discrimination and was not allowed to enroll in a preschool because of his gender identity. She shared a photo of her son, beaming, and began to choke up as she recounted her fear and sadness about the discrimination and legal hurdles her son is already beginning to face and her desire to protect him.
As a Californian, the day wasn’t too difficult, as Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein already supported these bills. Their staffers were supportive, glad to listen and encouraging.
Participants from other, more conservative states had more challenging conversations. Katherine, a NOW field intern, went to lobby Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. While they both oppose ENDA, the staffers were polite and professional and seemed open to learning more about SNDA.
Even in cases where representatives wouldn’t budge on their official position on ENDA and SNDA, Transgender Lobby Day still made an impact.
While I was leaving the office of Representative Barbara Lee (my home district), I overheard a young man passing me in the hallway say to his colleagues “I had never met a trans person before today.”
Amplifying the voices and stories of transgender people puts a human face to these issues, and reveals the true impact of discrimination and the urgent need to afford LGBTQIA people federal protections.
This event was put together by a coalition of transgender advocacy groups including the National Center for Transgender Equality, the TransLatin@ Coalition, Black Transwomen Inc, Black Transmen, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, the Trans People of Color Coalition and PFLAG.