Transgender activism

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A gender symbol commonly used to represent transgender people.
Pride London, 3 July 2010.

Transgender activism is generally determined to achieve antidiscrimination regarding housing, employment, and public accommodations, full access to education, health care, and appropriate identification documents, and open military service for trans individuals. This is by no means an exhaustive list. As social conditions evolve and public consciousness is raised, other concerns and issues emerge. Not every Gay and Lesbian community recognizes the rights and needs of trans individuals.

Statistics of oppression[edit]

In a survey conducted by National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called "Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey", respondents reported that 90% of them had experienced discrimination and harassment in the work place and at school. The trans community experiences rates of unemployment that are double the national average. Additionally, one out of every twelve trans women, and one out of every eight trans women of color, are violently murdered (the nature of these crimes is often perpetrated in such a way that attempts to dehumanize the victim).[1] (For more details refer to Transgender inequality).

Oppression Against People of Color[edit]

Transgender people of color often face an identity that is under speculation, suspicion, doubt, and policing. Those within the community are often left out from the wealthy, able-bodied, American, and white experience that those in the non-trans community often focus on, and are subject to discrimination as a transgender and as a person of color.[2]

Some of the ways White transgender people have more privilege than those of their colored counterparts include racialized violence, better pay, better representation and benefits from the mainstream media movement. According to a National Transgender Discrimination survey, the combination of anti-transgender bias and individual racism results in transgender people of color being 6 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police compared to cisgender White people, two-thirds of LGBT homicide victims being transgender women of color, and a startling 78% attempt suicide.[3][4] The NCAVP survey also found that trans survivors were 1.7 times more likely to be the victims of sexual violence than cis-gender survivors.

According to the U.S. Current Population Survey and the National Committee on Pay Equity, Caucasian-Americans earn higher wages for the same work.[5] In " Beyond Stereotypes: Poverty in the LGBT Community," Brad Sears and Lee Badgett explain that transgender people are “four times as likely to have a household income under $10,000 and twice as likely to be unemployed” as most people in the U.S. Nearly a fifth of transgender people experience homelessness in their lifetimes, and 90 percent report having been discriminated against or harassed while on the job.[6] Transgender people of color are more likely to be poor, be homeless, or lack a college degree.[7]

The focus of the realms of trans visibility in pop culture and trans organizations has mostly been on white people, especially with Caitlyn Jenner joining the trans community.[7]

History of the movement[edit]

Identifying the boundaries of a trans movement has been a matter of some debate. Conventionally, evidence of a codified political identity emerges in 1952, when Virginia Prince, a male crossdresser, along with others, launched Transvestia: The Journal of the American Society for Equality in Dress.[8] This publication is considered by some to be the beginning of the transgender rights movement in the United States.[8] In 1969, transgender and transsexual people played an integral part in the Stonewall Riots, including Sylvia Rae Rivera, a transsexual who was an instigator in the uprising. Rivera continued to be an advocate for transgender rights until her death in 2002.[9] After Stonewall, awareness of transsexuality grew considerably. Support groups for male cross-dressers were common in the 1970s and 80s. In the 1980s female to male (FTM) transsexuality became common.[10] Contrary to these sociohistorical boundaries, Leslie Feinberg explodes the boundaries of trans activism by extending the history of the movement back to antiquity, and broadening the community to form partnerships with all people who are oppressed by the apparatus of capitalism.[11]

In 1992 Leslie Feinberg printed and circulated a pamphlet titled "Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come". Feinberg’s pamphlet begins by calling on the trans community to compose their own definitions, invoking language as a tool that unites people divided by oppression. From here, Feinberg traces the emergence of oppression imposed by the ruling class by means of institutions. These institutions, run by the elite, enforce a gender binary at the expense of communal societies that encouraged liberal gender expression. Women were devalued and effeminacy was disparaged to promote patriarchal economic privilege. According to Feinberg, the gender binary is a contrivance of Western civilization. Having acknowledged this, Feinberg encourages all humans to reclaim the natural continuum of gender expression that identifies trans individuals as sacred. Feinberg concludes by empowering the working class to liberate themselves from the ruling class, which can be achieved by directing the labor of marginalized groups towards the common goal of revolution.[12]

Key events[edit]

Drawn while on the Great Plains, among the Sac and Fox Indians, the sketch depicts a ceremonial dance to celebrate the two-spirit person. George Catlin (1796-1872), Dance to the Berdache.

In 1820s Rocky Mountains, a raid on a village of the Crow Indian tribe resulted in the death of a young man, and his sister, Pine Leaf, vowed that she would never marry until she had killed a hundred of her enemies. Pine Leaf was recognized by her tribe as berdache or two-spirit, a gender-variant individual who was often regarded with deep spiritual connections and tribal authority. She served on numerous war parties, and legend has it that one man, Jim Beckwourth, a former slave, asked for her hand in marriage. She immediately declined, but upon being pressed further she responded that she would marry him just as soon as the pine leaves turn yellow.[13]

On December 31, 1993, a trans man named Brandon Teena was murdered in Nebraska along with two of his friends. This murder was documented in the 1999 movie Boys Don't Cry starring Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena.[10] In 2005, the movie Transamerica told the story of a male to female transsexual preparing for gender reassignment surgery and traveling across the United States with her bisexual son.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual ceremony to commemorate those who lost their lives due to their gender identity, was first held in 1999 following the murder of Rita Hester in 1998. The "Remembering our Dead" web project was also set up in 1999.[14]

In June 2012 CeCe McDonald was wrongfully imprisoned for having defended herself against neo-nazi attackers with a pair of scissors, which resulted in the death of one of her assailants. Her story was publicized by a GLAAD Media Award winning article in Laverne Cox, openly trans actress on Orange Is the New Black, launched a campaign to raise consciousness of cruel prison conditions for incarcerated trans individuals and rallied to free CeCe. After serving for 19 months, she was released January 2014.

Left OUT Party Two signs summarize the feelings of protestors.

On March 26–27, 2013, LGBT activists gathered at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. to support marriage equality, but in the midst of these demonstrations one speaker was asked to edit their proceedings to conceal their trans identity, and the trans community was asked to lower their pride flags. This incident follows years of tension between activist groups, namely Human Rights Campaign and the trans community, because the trans community is often neglected or blatantly excluded from events and political consideration. The incident resulted in a backlash and public criticism by the trans community. In response, activists groups apologized for the incident, and in 2014 HRC promised to energize efforts for promoting trans rights.


In March 2014 RuPaul's Drag Race offended the trans community with a number of slurs, such as the phrase “You’ve got she-male” and “tranny,” as well as a segment that exploited trans issues and made a spectacle of passing. Trans activists asked RuPaul to redirect the show in a manner that is respectful of the trans community. This call for sensitivity was met with resistance as the issue was reframed as the result of people’s hypersensitivity and the unfair policing of language. Less than a decade prior to this incident, Leslie Feinberg explains in the landmark publication, which mentions RuPaul in the title, Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to RuPaul, that “being ‘politically correct’ means using language that respects other peoples’ oppressions and wounds.”[15] Two weeks later, Logo producers issued an apology.[16] Since then, past contestants, Carmen Carrera and Monica Beverly-Hills have come out publicly about their ongoing struggles for acceptance and the damage that is perpetuated by oppressive terminology and insensitive use of pronouns.

In Florida in March of 2015, Representative Frank Artiles (R-Miami) proposed House Bill 583, which would ensure that individuals who enter public facilities such as bathrooms or locker rooms designated for those who are of the “other biological sex” could be jailed for up to 60 days. Artiles claims that it was proposed for the sake of public safety. Essentially, the bill would make it illegal for trans individuals to use public facilities.[17]


  1. ^ Grant, Jaime M.; Mottet, Lisa A.; Tanis, Justin; Harrison, Jack; Herman, Jody L.; Keisling, Mara. "Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey" (PDF). National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. 
  2. ^ "What trans people of color fear after the Bruce Jenner media circus". Fusion. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  3. ^ "5 Ways White Transgender People Have Privilege Over Transgender People of Color". BGD. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  4. ^ "Bustle". Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  5. ^ "The Wage Gap by Gender & Race Timeline History (White, Black, Hispanic, Men & Women)". Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  6. ^ "Bustle". Retrieved 2015-11-25. 
  7. ^ a b "5 Ways White Transgender People Have Privilege Over Transgender People of Color". BGD. Retrieved 2015-11-25. 
  8. ^ a b ">> social sciences >> Transgender Activism". glbtq. Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  9. ^ "GLBT History Month". GLBT History Month. Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  10. ^ a b ">> social sciences >> Transgender Activism". glbtq. Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  11. ^ Feinberg, Leslie (1996). Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to RuPaul. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 128. 
  12. ^ Feinberg, Leslie (1992). Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come. World View Forum. 
  13. ^ Roscoe, Will (1988). "Strange Country This: Images of Berdaches and Warrior Women," in Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. (48-76), 67-69. 
  14. ^ "Transgender Day of Remembrance". 2005-11-20. Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  15. ^ Leslie, Feinberg (1996). Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to RuPaul. Boston: Beacon Press. p. ix. 
  16. ^ Molloy, Parker Marie. "RuPaul's Drag Race, Logo TV Apologize for Transphobic Slur". 
  17. ^ Wiesenthal, Nicole. "Controversial 'bathroom bill' leaves Florida transgender students, allies concerned". USA Today.