Seldom does there come along a truly life-changing event, but the Women’s March on Washington was just that for so many of us who attended. The excited conversation on our bus that evening and the many other people with whom I have talked since that momentous Saturday attest to the overwhelming experience the march had been. We had come together from across the country with common concerns, and experienced such profound kindness from one another as we marched through the streets of Washington (and stood trapped within the sea of pink hats). Never had I been in a crowd so large and felt so safe. As a transwoman, the event was especially transformative for me.
In early November the third annual Transgender Spectrum Conference was held at Washington University in St. Louis. The conference was a gathering of gender diversity– cis and trans, non-binary, gender-queer, educators, health professionals, families and children. It was a celebration of our movement – the acceptance of transgender people and their allies and an uplifting show of awareness and support for transgender individuals of all ages.
Ten years ago, the struggle for transgender awareness and acceptance was a struggle largely unnoticed. I had just begun my own transition and could never have imagined how much society would transition with me. Transgender people were so far off the radar that it was actually legal for a transwoman to use the ladies restroom in North Carolina. Ten years have brought profound change in our struggle for equality – some beyond anything we thought possible, and some changes that have brought renewed hate and suspicion.
This past summer marked my ten-year anniversary as Laura. It was June 12, 2006 that I stepped out of a Pennsylvania courthouse with my legal name change document in my hand. That afternoon I went to the Social Security office to change my name and then to PennDot for my updated driver’s license – new name and new photo. (It would not be until a year later that I was permitted to change the “M” to “F” on my license.)
According to a 2015 Pew research poll, 88% of Americans say they personally know someone who is gay or lesbian. That’s really good news for the gay community and likely a major cause for the social gains made in the past several years. In contrast, only 16% know a transgender person (according to a report from GLAAD in 2015) – only 9% of Americans over 45 say the same. For transgender folks, although the number has doubled in the last eight years, the challenge is clear. We have a long way to go in making ourselves more familiar, especially on a personal level. It is up to us to change things – to allow people around us to know us and to better understand us. That can be a difficult task.
REACHING OUT TO THE GAY AND LESBIAN COMMUNITY?
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