By Aron Cobbs, BYP 100 New York City
Transgender Day of Remembrance Flag
Throughout our country’s ongoing experiment with democracy, we’ve seen historically oppressed groups struggle for basic legal rights and the recognition of their humanity. The women’s suffrage movement won women the rights to vote and hold public office. The abolitionist and civil rights movements ended Blacks’ legal status as “property” and prohibited de jure racial segregation. The immigrants’ rights movement, arguably the oldest social movement in our nation’s history, is still building momentum and has influenced reforms such as the DREAM Act, which has been adopted in 12 states thus far. The so-called gay liberation movement has succeeded in invalidating sodomy laws, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. And while there have been recent significant legal victories in the trans community, the reality of lived equality for this community is that it largely does not exist.
It makes sense that the communities responsible for the aforementioned victories observe their accomplishments with Black History Month in February, Women’s Herstory Month in March or Gay Pride Month in June. These months aren’t just times to celebrate, but also to reflect on the difference between a community’s legal and lived equality. One need only consider wage disparities between men and women, the failing school systems and high incarceration rates among Blacks and Latinos, or the fact that we have yet to pass the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act to appreciate the unfinished work of these movements.
Many social movements are negotiating how to close the gap between legal and lived equality; whether through additional legal challenges or public education campaigns to change hearts and minds. In this respect, the transgender rights movement is unique. There are no existing laws that have sufficiently humanized the transgender community. And even with positive developments in the law, nothing takes the place of an educated and informed public. The general public is woefully misinformed of the struggles and difficulties facing the transgender community. Thus, transgender people do not have the privilege of working to close the gap between their legal and lived reality. Rather than navigate between these two worlds, an unacceptable number of transgender people inhabit only one world filled with vast despair.
Ignorance, misunderstanding, fear and hatred prevents transgender people from accessing nonjudgmental, quality healthcare and public accommodations. This world does not protect transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, from disproportionately high rates of unemployment, homelessness, HIV transmission, school bullying, domestic violence, police brutality, incarceration, suicide and homicide.
Perhaps more revealing than any statistic on the perils facing the transgender community is National Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th. This day recognizes those who’ve lost their lives to transphobia and transprejudice. While other historically marginalized groups can reflect on how far they’ve come in 2013, transgender people are encumbered by death and hope for a society that values their lives. I dream of a November 20th where the transgender community and its allies do more than just remember those we’ve lost, but also celebrate the resilience of those who fought the good fight and won! Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Project works to pave the way for legal equality and it is up to all of us to help ensure a lived equality. Check out our Know Your Rights: Transgender resource and share it with your friends.
*In dedication to Islan Nettles, her family, friends and loved ones