By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
What can I do if I want to work for trans* issues/rights? I’ve been thinking about trans* concerns today, especially because we have a new/old employee moving from one campaign to the one I work on, who is trans but did not present as so for most of her time with our company. But it’s something I’ve always felt strongly on—one of the social concerns I feel the most emotion/empathy about. So how does a (somewhat queer) ally person make a difference beyond getting the pronouns right? And how [does one] continue making that difference? —Trillium Rose
I so love this question, Trilli, and thank you for asking it. Though I certainly think it’s important for trans* folks to advocate for ourselves and take the lead in our own struggles, I believe the value of allies cannot be understated.
A lot of the most important work I do as an activist is quite outside the trans* community. This includes outreach to student groups, speaking at public rallies for causes I care about but which are not specifically related to trans* issues/rights, participating in academic panels, teaching improv. Even getting coffee at Starbucks or drinking at the neighbourhood dive bar can be activism. In many of these situations, I am the first trans* person lots of folks have encountered, or at least realize they have.
Basically, I make a point of getting outside my own trans* community bubbles as often as possible. All of these activities allow me to reach new allies. People who might not have thought about trans* issues, but through their interaction with me, now have a tangible, personal connection to a trans* person. The political becomes personal. Ideas have connection to reality.
Ideally, this personal connection will inspire folks (like you!) to speak up in their own communities. Hopefully the next time they hear someone saying something bigoted or misinformed about trans* people at work, at family dinner, in class, or online, they will be more likely to speak up, correct the misinformation, chastise the bigot, and stand up to the bullies.
If you think of information and acceptance in terms of a virus, then allies are the most important carriers. They spread this “virus of understanding” to their own communities. They become an inoculation, a vaccine against bigotry and ignorance.
The value of allies really proves to be useful when, inevitably, the ally translates this enlightenment and connection into their own language, the language of their peers and their community with the force of their “membership” in that community behind it. The difference this makes should not be underestimated. If you think of information and acceptance in terms of a virus, then allies are the most important carriers. They spread this “virus of understanding” to their own communities. They become an inoculation, a vaccine against bigotry and ignorance.
Let me be more specific. As an ally, there are lots of very useful ways you can directly advocate for trans* rights and issues. First and foremost, you can contact your local, state and national legislators. Tell them that you, a voter in their district, consider trans* rights to be important. Ask their position on trans* rights. Tell them about your own personal connections to these issues and why they are important to you. Ask your family and friends to do the same. If even one of them does, it is a step towards victory.
When legislators, or for that matter, employers and business people, hear from enough “regular folks” about an issue, it stops being “special interest” to them. It becomes something that impacts their positions and careers directly. In the case of legislators, they are less nervous that there will be opposition to their supporting trans* rights. Employers will be less concerned that hiring a trans* person may impact their business negatively, and businesspeople see a profit margin to be exploited!
Hopefully the next time they hear someone saying something bigoted or misinformed about trans* people at work, at family dinner, in class, or online, they will be more likely to speak up, correct the misinformation, chastise the bigot, and stand up to the bullies.
I strongly recommend that you find out what organizations exist in your area that are working on trans* advocacy, especially ones that have trans* folks in leadership positions and are working from within the trans* community. Contact them and ask how you can help. Volunteer if you have the time to give. Donate if you have the money. There are many fine organizations doing important work on shoestring budgets with limited resources that could use all the help they can get! In Massachusetts, I highly recommend contacting the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC). On a national level, there’s the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). Based in D.C., the work they are doing to support a trans* inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is vital to the future of the trans* community in the U.S. These groups do fine work and can certainly point you in the right direction if you are unable to help them out particularly.
Finally, the most important thing you can do is remember to ask yourself these questions: Are trans* people properly represented in this situation? Is this space/organization/event, etc., inclusive and welcoming of trans* people? Can I contribute to a better understanding of trans* rights and issues here? If the answer to any of these questions is no, your job as an ally is to figure out how to change the answer to yes.
* Lorelei Erisis is an activist, adventurer and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at: [email protected].