Transgender rights movement
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The transgender rights movement is a movement to promote transgender rights and to eliminate discrimination and violence against transgender people regarding housing, employment, public accommodations, education, and health care. In some jurisdictions, transgender activism seeks to allow changes to identification documents to conform with a person's current gender identity without the need for sex reassignment surgery.
- 1 History
- 2 Issues of concern
- 3 Organizations
- 4 Religions
- 5 In popular culture
- 6 Other notable figures
- 7 References
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. This publication is considered by some to be the beginning of the transgender rights movement in the United States. In 1969, transgender and transsexual people played an integral part in the Stonewall Riots, including Sylvia Rae Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, trans women who were instigators in the uprising. Rivera continued to be an advocate for transgender rights until her death in 2002. 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 known. 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.
Before Stonewall, other events had occurred and have long been forgotten and removed from the narrative. One of these events is the Cooper Do-Nuts Riot of 1959 in Downtown Los Angeles that took place nearly a decade before Stonewall. However, this incident has been erased from the public memory, “since almost no documentation appears to have survived… Nevertheless the Cooper Do-nuts event its traces remain in the archival imaginary of the transgender community as a defining moment in its existence”. This shows that it is difficult to get the history behind all the events that led up to the transgender rights movement because there are events that have been forgotten or the evidence about these events have been deleted. The only source of historical information left are personal stories that survivors from these incidents have.
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.
In 1993, Adela Vázquez, a Latina transgender woman, protested for in San Francisco in consideration of the government removing the transgender community from the workforce because they labeled the trans community as disabled. However, that situation is making some progress and is changing. In 2014, per The Nation Gay and Lesbian Task Force record, only 17 states (and the District of Columbia) in the United States of America have laws that protect individuals in the transgender community, which equals to about 45%. States that present these protections are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. Furthermore, there are organizations that are working to increase the numbers of States having these laws like: The Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project; The Transgender Law Center; and the National Center for Transgender Equality.
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.
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.
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 Ebony.com. 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.
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 Florida in March 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.
- In September 2017, the Botswana High Court ruled that the refusal of the Registrar of National Registration to change a transgender man's gender marker was "unreasonable and violated his constitutional rights to dignity, privacy, freedom of expression, equal protection of the law, freedom from discrimination and freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment". LGBT activists celebrated the ruling, describing it as a great victory. At first, the Botswana Government announced it would appeal the ruling, but decided against it in December, supplying the transman with a new identity document that reflects his gender identity.
A similar case, where a transgender woman sought to change her gender marker to female, was heard in December 2017. The High Court ruled that the Government must recognise her gender identity. She dedicated her victory to "every single trans diverse person in Botswana".
Issues of concern
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Public toilet legislation
In the United States, the "bathroom bill" issue first came to public attention in 2013 when the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled in favour of transgender six-year-old student Coy Mathis' right to use the girls' toilet at her elementary school in Fountain, Colorado. The case, along with Mathis and her family, was again brought to public attention with the 2016 release of the documentary Growing Up Coy.
In the wake of the Mathis case, numerous states have put forth or passed legislation which obligates transgender people to use the public bathroom corresponding to their biological sex at birth. As of July 2017, sixteen states had considered such bills and one state, North Carolina, passed its bill into law. The North Carolina House Bill 2, or HB2, was passed into law in February 2017. HB2 quickly garnered attention as the first law of its kind and sparked high-profile condemnation, including cancellations of concerts and sporting events by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and the NCAA. In the midst of the controversy and the inauguration of a new governor of North Carolina, the bill was repealed by the state legislature on March 30 of 2017.
The treatment of transgender people in educational environments has often been a focal point of the movement's concern. In a survey of Canadian high schools conducted between 2007 and 2009, 74% of students who identified themselves as trans reported having experienced verbal harassment over their gender expression, 37% reported physical harassment over their gender expression, and 49% of trans students reported at least one instance of sexual harassment within the last school year.
Statistics of oppression
In a survey conducted by National Center for Transgender Equality and the 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). (For more details refer to Transgender inequality).
People of color
Transgender people of color often face an identity that is under speculation, suspicion, doubt, and policing. Those within the trans 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 person and as a person of color.
Historically, this is in part due to the rejection of an individual by family members at a young age. "The majority of transgender women of color", say Juline A. Koken, David S. Bimbi, and Jeffrey T. Parsons, "experience verbal and physical abuse at the hands of their family members upon disclosing their transgender identity."
As transgender women of color face both gender and racial discrimination, their experiences may be qualitatively different from white transgender women. African-American and Latino families are deeply rooted in religious tradition, which may lead to more socially conservative and rigid ideas about gender roles, homosexuality, and traditionalism, and many transgender women of color state that their parents' negative reactions are largely due to the role religious beliefs play on their lives. In addition, parents also worry that their children will face additional hardships as members of double minorities.
Some of the ways white transgender people have more privilege than those of their non-white 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. Of the 17 homicides of trans and gender-nonconforming people in 2017 that the project has counted so far, 16 had been people of color; 15 had been transgender women; and 13 had been black transgender women. 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. Transgender/non-conforming individuals also reported over four times the national average of HIV infection (0.6% compared to 2.64%, respectively) with rates for transgender women (3.76%) and those who are unemployed (4.67%) even higher. Black transgender people were affected by HIV even more so than these averages; 20.23% of transgender individuals with HIV are black. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population with unemployment, low income, and assault (both sexual and physical) raising the risk factors.
The pure social stigma of being transgender is a root cause for poor health care, which manifests into other areas of transgender people. Social determinants of health, including violence and discrimination, may result in negative personal psychological and physiological effects. The access to proper health care is essential in both the transitioning and resilience. In a study of resilience of transgender people of color, Jay, a 41-year-old FTM POC, stated he “had no place to turn to get help in transition—and worked five jobs trying to save money for surgery that [he] never knew if [he] would be able to afford.” Another key factor to the resilience to opposition of transgender POC involved having a strong sense of pride in both ethnic and gender identities. Developing this sense of pride can be a process, which involves overcoming barriers such as transphobia and racism. However, once these barriers are in fact crossed, transgender POC can start to see themselves in a better light and use their inner strength and confidence to be more persistent, optimistic, and positivity-oriented.
In recent years, there have been several housing crises among transgender people, especially transgender people of color. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 10.052 million people in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or transgender, and millennials, or those born between 1980 and 1998, drive virtually all of all of the increases overall LGBT self-identification. As the millennial generation has entered the college age, trans individuals have seen difficulty in securing basic housing rights and needs. There is a definite predominance of sex-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms, and housing where transgender people regularly are denied access, and are harassed and challenged for their gender identity.] Most of the time, they are forced to “pick” a gender, even though they do not necessarily identify with it. Most universities operate on the premise that gender is binary and static, and this can be especially problematic with either poorer transgender individuals or transgender people of color, since 55% of college students in the United States are white and the average income for families with college students is $74,000 – 60% higher than the national average of $46,326.
Black transgender people live in extreme poverty with 34% reporting a household income of less than $10,000 a year, which is more than twice the rate for transgender people of all races (15%), four times the black population (9%), and eight times the U.S. population (4%). Transgender people of color are more likely to be poor, be homeless, or lack a college degree. Multiple factors pile up on each other that force many transgender people of color to be homeless; for instance, many individuals are involved in abusive relationships or live in crime-ridden neighborhoods because of the difficulty finding employment as a transgender person and/or experiencing job loss due to transphobia in the work place. Those with greater socioeconomic status might use their social connections to advocate for access to appropriate housing for transgender students in ways that are not possible for most lower-income families; one proposal comes from the Administration for Children and Families, which issued the largest-ever LGBT focused federal grant to develop a model program to support LGBT foster youth and prevent them from being homeless.
Trans communities also experience problems with intersectionality when it comes to traditional male and female gender roles. The experiences trans men face are vastly different than those of trans women; trans men who were raised as female were treated differently as soon as they came out as male. They gained professional experience, but lost intimacy; exuded authority, but caused fear. Cultural sexism is often more visible to trans men because it is easier to be “low-disclosure” than trans women. They are usually not recognized as trans, which is known as passing, and it avoids transphobia and discrimination by others. “Women’s appearances get more attention,” says Julie Serano, a transgender activist, “and women’s actions are commented on and critiqued more than men, so [it] just makes sense that people will focus more on trans women than trans men.”
International organizations such as GATE, and World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) work specifically towards transgender rights. Other national level organizations also work for transgender rights, such as: in the United States, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), GenderPAC, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the Transgender Law Center, and in the U.K., The Gender Trust, Trans Media Watch, and Press for Change.
In 2015, the American Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) adopted a Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People, urging clergy and synagogue attendants to actively promote tolerance and inclusion of such individuals.
In popular culture
Carey Purcell states that these moments have been key to bringing awareness to the transgender movement and fight for transgender rights.
- Renée Richards sues the US Open to play as a woman after sex reassignment surgery, 1976
- Paris is Burning is released depicting the lives of Latino, African-American, gay and transgender communities and drag ball competitions in New York, 1991
- Boys Don't Cry wins acclaim and Oscar, 1999
- Alexis Arquette appears on The Surreal Life, 2006
- Candis Cayne appears on Dirty Sexy Money, 2007
- Isis King is the first trans model on America's Next Top Model, 2008
- Chaz Bono announces he will be transitioning from female to male, 2009
- Kye Allums is the first openly transgender NCAA athlete, 2010
- Miss Universe allows transgender women to compete, 2012
- Laverne Cox is the first transgender person to appear on Time magazine, 2014
- Transparent wins a Golden Globe, 2015
- Caitlyn Jenner interviews with Diane Sawyer, shedding light on her transition experience, 2015
- Jazz Jennings is the youngest transgender person to become a pop culture icon, first interviewed by Barbra Walters at the age of six, 2017
Representation in media
Representation in pop culture has major effects on both the transgender and cisgender communities. Elizabeth Tisdell and Patricia Thompson conducted a study on the effects of representation in the media on teachers and its effect on the way they teach in the classroom. This study found that when teachers had been exposed to programming that featured diverse characters in a positive light, teachers were more open to teaching their students in a more open, accepting way. In this study, the authors found that media reinforces the values of the dominant culture, and is one of the most powerful ways to informally educate people. Tisdell and Thompson state that this representation is a way in which people construct ideas of themselves and others, and that more representation lends legitimacy to identities and movements such as the transgender movement.
In a separate study, GLAAD looked at the representation of transgender characters in the media over the last ten years. After examining many different episodes and storylines, GLAAD found that transgender characters were cast in a “victim” role in 40% of the catalogued episodes, and were cast as killers or victims in 21% of the episodes. They also found that the most common profession of transgender characters in the episodes was sex workers, seen in about 20% of the episodes. In addition to the representation of transgender characters, the authors found that anti-transgender slurs, language, and dialogue were present in at least 61% of the episodes.
Activists within the transgender rights movement argue that representation such as these set the movement back in gaining understanding within mainstream society. Jayce Montgomery is a trans man who argues that these types of representation “always displaying [transgender people] in the stereotypical way. You know, “masculine,” [or] this is the man/this is the woman role. And not really delving into their background and what they actually go through.” In the same conversation, Stacey Rice goes on in the same conversation with Bitch Media to make the point that well known transgender celebrities are not representative of the general transgender community’s experiences. Rice then goes on to say that while these celebrities are not representative of the average transgender person's experience, the visibility they bring to the transgender rights movement does nothing but help the cause.
Many celebrities have spoken out in support of transgender rights and often in conjunction with overall support for the LGBTQ community. Numerous celebrities voice such support for the Human Rights Campaign, including Archie Panjabi, Lance Bass, Tituss Burgess, Chelsea Clinton, George Clooney, Tim Cook, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Sally Field, Lady Gaga, Whoopi Goldberg, Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Hudson, Caitlyn Jenner, Jazz Jennings, Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, Jennifer Lopez, Demi Lovato, Natasha Lyonne, Ellen Page, Brad Pitt, Geena Rocero, Bruce Springsteen, Jeffrey Tambor, Charlize Theron, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Wachowski.
Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox has been particularly outspoken about the importance of transgender rights. Being transgender herself, Cox has experienced firsthand the issues that surround those who are transgender and often uses her own story to promote the movement for transgender rights. She sees her fame as an opportunity to bring awareness to causes that matter and that her unique position legitimizes the transgender rights movement. Particularly, she believes that transgender individuals have been historically overlooked and sidelined not just socially, but in the fight for civil rights as well. Cox acknowledges the progress that has been made for Gay rights, but that it is important to focus on transgender rights separately, seeing as it has historically been grouped together with other causes and used as an umbrella term. In 2014, Glamour magazine named Cox Woman of the Year in recognition of her activism.
In April 2015, Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender. The news had been speculated for months leading up to the announcement, but still shocked the public and received considerable attention. Jenner expressed the desire to transition and to be known as Caitlyn Jenner and introduced herself for the first time on the cover of Vanity Fair. Jenner's transition has been documented by the short-lived reality television series titled I am Cait. Jenner was determined to make a difference and bring awareness to transgender rights, believing that telling her story can do so. Jenner did increase transgender visibility, however, her commentary and series were criticized for misrepresenting the struggles of the majority the trans community, who are much less privileged than her and face deeper problems.
Janet Mock is an author, activist, and TV show host who advocates transgender rights, sex workers' rights, and more among marginalized communities. Mock uses storytelling as a way to diminish stigma of marginalized communities. She has authored and edited many works addressing her personal struggles as well as exploring various social issues affecting various communities. Mock acknowledged in an interview that her experience alone does not speak for all in the transgender community, but it can provide a platform for some to reflect upon. She addressed and encouraged intersectionality and inclusiveness in the feminist movement at the 2017 Women's March.
Other notable figures
Magnus Hirschfeld, a German physician and outspoken advocate for sexual minorities, probably did more than anyone else for half a century to support transgender people and their rights to live a normal life in their identity.
In the same vein, Harry Benjamin German-American sexologist, author of The Transsexual Phenomenon was a supporter of transgender rights and helped establish the medical procedures and Standards of Care for transgender persons in the United States.
Brianna Westbrook, a democratic socialist politician and social justice activist from Phoenix, Arizona. She documented her gender transition on the social network YouTube to raise social awareness for the transgender community. She is one of the leading advocates in the United States for expanding civil rights protections for transgender people. In 2018 she became the first transgender person in Arizona state history to qualify for the ballot for federal office.
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