Just two months ago something momentous happened in southern California: a transgender teenager was crowned homecoming queen at her high school in Orange Country. When she won, Cassidy Lynn Campbell told the media she was “so proud to win this not just for me but for everyone out there and for every kid—transgender, gay straight, black, white, Mexican, Asian. It doesn’t matter, you can be yourself.”
Her message is one we can all appreciate. We all want to know that it is okay to just be ourselves. We all want to know that we will not be shamed or disconnected from others if we are our true selves, as explained beautifully by Brené Brown in a TedX Talk.
November is Transgender Awareness Month.
I am going to make the assumption that most people I know did not know this. I might not have known myself if I did not work for a progressive organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights.
I tracked down Drian Juarez, the Transgender Economic Empowerment Project Manager at the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, to get some of her thoughts about Transgender Awareness Month. Here’s what she said:
“Transgender people are murdered on every corner on the planet just for being who they are. They are twice as likely to have college degrees or higher and experience unemployment or poverty at twice the national average. Unemployment rates are over 18% for transgender people. Employers do not understand what transgender is. It’s the same for housing, healthcare, and things like going to the DMV and having to choose male or female on your ID card.
Transgender people are often times visibly transgender, which challenges people’s concepts of the socially constructed ideas of what a man and a woman is supposed to be and do in a relationship. We make assumptions and assign identities based on cultural norms. But you can’t make assumptions about people’s identities, pronouns, and names. You should get to know them individually. Transgender people are challenging the core concepts of the gender binary by proving that gender is not fixed. “
There have been some legislative improvements for transgender people in California in the last few years. AB887 made it easier for transgender people to change their identity documents. This year, AB1266 allowed students in middle and high school to participate in sports or gendered events in their preferred gender identity.
So…how do you act as an ally?
Last month, the entire office staff of NCJW/LA went through a mandatory training on diversity. The workshop was called “Being an Ally to the Trans Community” and it was led by Drian.
Here are a few things cisgender (non-transgender people) folks should know about being a true ally to the transgender community, as explained and written by Drian Juarez in her presentation:
- Challenge your own conceptions about gender-appropriate roles and behaviors. Do not expect people to conform to society’s beliefs about “women” and “men”.
- Do not assume that someone who is transgender is lesbian, gay or bisexual, or that the person will seek to transition to become heterosexual.
- Never ask transgender people about how they have sex or what their genitals look like. This is inappropriate in every situation.
- When you learn about someone’s transgender identity, do not assume that it is a fad or trend. While public discussions about transgender and transsexuality are a relatively recent phenomenon, most transgender people have dealt with their gender identity for many years, often at great personal and professional cost. It is important to trust that someone’s decision to present themselves as gender diverse is not made lightly or without due consideration.
- Educate yourself and others about transgender experiences and concerns.
- Validate people’s gender expression. It is important to refer to a transgender person by the pronoun appropriate to that person’s gender identity.
- Never use words such as “it” or “whatever” when referring to someone who is transgender.
- Some transgender people prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns: ”hir”=her/his, “sie” or “ze”=she/he
- Use non-gender specific language: “Are you seeing anyone”, “Are you in a committed relationship” instead of: “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend” or “husband/wife”. Use: “partner” or “significant other”.
You can be an ally this month simply by attending a Transgender Day of Remembrance. Here are few events in LA County:
West Hollywood Library on Wednesday, 11/20/13:
Beth Chayim Chadashim on Friday, 11/22/13: