The Long Haul

I find that it is sometimes difficult to write regularly on transgender issues as, week in and week out, there seems to be no shortage of awful news, all of which needs our attention. We’re seeing groups like the Pacific Justice Institute spearhead efforts in California to repeal rights for transgender students, complete with some very duplicitous press releases and other materials. We’re seeing this mantle taken up by other right-wing crusaders.


We’re seeing plenty of hatred and anger pointed our way. We’re seeing our community members beaten in Hercules, California. We’re seeing plenty being killed in horrible hate crimes.

But I do want to take a moment and step back from all of the hatred and anger that’s being pointed our way, and take a look at the bigger picture. Over the decades, we do have a great many things to be grateful for, and a lot of positives to consider.

First instance, it was roughly 60 years ago that transgender issues first really hit the media in a big way, with the New York Daily News’ famed “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty” article about Christine Jorgensen. It’s been about 45 years since the same paper reported on the Stonewall uprising with this appalling headline: “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad.”

The media still gets it wrong, sometimes spectacularly. Yet it is getting better. When they get it wrong, too, you can count on the transgender community and its allies to work hard to get the media to correct their mistakes.

Today, we live in a time when Laverne Cox can perform on the small screen. When a transwoman can play a transwoman and get streamed into the nation’s households in “Orange is the New Black.” Likewise “Glee,” the ersatz High School Musical for television, can also host a recurring transgender character. This is a far cry from those who may have grown up with the transsexual, then gay, then straight and married Jodie Dallas character on the TV series “Soap,” or even the horrible transgender representations on short-lived sitcoms like “Ask, Harriet.”

I must hasten to add, while talking about television and the rest of the media, that the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has recently taken a bold step forward, bringing on transgender writer Jennifer Finney Boylan as their co-chair. This is a first for the organization.

Indeed, most of the long-established GLBT organizations are making strides on behalf of transgender people. Even HRC – with a history of apathy at best towards trans issues –  has shown some effort to move forward.

Then there is the Federal government.

In decades past, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything transgender-positive from the federal government. Indeed, you’ll be hard-pressed to even see the word “transgender,” nor any other references to transgender people. We were completely off the record for the most part. You’ll be hard pressed to find much of note under Clinton, let alone either Bush, Reagan, or any Presidential Administration before. What scant information you might find, I can assure you, would not be entirely positive.

However, our current Commander-In-Chief has been on record several times in support of transgender people, and his administration has clearly been supportive of transgender people, from declaring transgender people to be protected under Title VII to the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” including transgender health care.

At the 2013 Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), both the White House and the State Department published blog entries supporting the event, and President Obama sent messages to many involved with TDOR. This is far beyond what any administration has done.

This has trickled down, somewhat, to the state and even some local politics, as transgender rights ordinances – in spite of our opponents – get passed through legislatures.

In the last few weeks, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was voted on by the United States Senate, and passed. This bill is one that has been fought for over the last two decades, and one that transgender activists spent many, many years fighting over the issue of transgender inclusion in the bill. ENDA today is full transgender-inclusive, and it does not look like that will change again.

I’m not under any illusions that we will see ENDA pass the house, as Congressman John Boehner has made it plenty clear that he intends to table it even as others have pointed out that there may be enough votes to pass the bill. Such is the nature of congressional politics today.

Still, this should tell us that we have come a long way: the continual, Sisyphean struggle of the past on ENDA – and the many times that transgender people would be excluded from the bill – seems to be fading into our history.

More than any of these, it is the transgender community itself that has changed. We have gone from a small group, meeting in back rooms and bars – that is when we did not actively try to avoid each other – to a community that organizes, that stands up for their rights, and that is active.

That we stand up for ourselves is the biggest change, and the one that keeps us going forward in spite of those who might stand in our way. This is how we shall continue to move forward into the future.

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