The Center for American Progress held an event earlier today that focused in on the landscape of LGBT equality and where it stands heading into 2017. Between having a keynote speech from Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware, local elected officials from North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and an activist from Texas, they focused in on what’s taking place at the state and local level.
Since it’s now illegal to discriminate based upon gender identity in Delaware, we’re seeing the impact of HB2 in North Carolina, and Lou Weaver is a trans rights activist, it shouldn’t be too surprising that much of the discussion focused in on transgender rights.
As the panel pointed out, this isn’t just something that should be viewed as a isolated conversation. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, after all, they argue that people were looking for a new enemy and supposedly found that in the transgender community.
With that being said, there are transgender rights activists who make the decision to be out as trans but that usually isn’t the case for trans people. Many people simply just want to go about their daily business as the gender they identify with. This is especially the case when it comes to children who have come out as transgender, but simply want to go to school and lead a normal life.
This is where the education aspect of the conversation became very important. Essentially the whole panel mentioned how it’s a whole lot easier to have people support gay rights if they know somebody who’s gay or know their area has a vibrant gay community.
Governor Markell even pointed out during his speech that “you have to humanize the story” for legislators to vote in favor of gay rights. While campaigning to make it illegal to discriminate based upon gender identity, for instance, the governor didn’t quite understand the importance until he heard stories from families about their transgender children.
As more and more people have realized they know members of the gay and lesbian community, however, there’s still work that needs to be done with the transgender community. As a result, Equality Texas has started the Trans Visible Project. This takes every day transgender people and uses them to help educate the general public.
“People have a hard time relating to me because I’m an out transman, they don’t understand what that means, or they can’t take the journey with me,” Lou Weaver explained. “But taking the journey with parents as a parent is saying ‘I never thought I’d have to understand transgender or what that means and what it means to have an nonconforming child. And all of a sudden my child is telling me I feel different,’ and then doing the research” — that’s something people can understand.
According to the panel, another way of educating the public is by changing the media. With the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies having regulations that prevent discrimination, for instance, many advocates are using this to point out how there’s an economic argument to protecting the LGBT community.
We also need to focus on “shifting the narrative that all trans people are predators, or tricksters, or jokers, or up to something,” Lou pointed out. “And that’s a narrative, even though we don’t think about it, that’s a narrative that has gone through our lives over and over again since before I was born. And I’m a little bit older than I look, but still, if we look at things like Mrs. Doubtfire, the movie Tootsie, and all of these things that are showing transpeople playing a joke on somebody else, or on the community, to get away with something.”
“I’m not pretending to be trans,” Lou continued. “I’m going through this because this is who I am.”
That’s what I took away as the most important lesson from the discussion. Despite what opponents might want people to believe, this debate is about a whole lot more than a simple bathroom placard. It’s about letting a whole community of people simply be themselves and live their lives in peace.