The rocky relationship between same-sex marriage & trans civil rights

By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist-

Do you think the national debate over same-sex marriage helps or hurts the fight for civil rights for trans people?
 — Micah Schneider

Excellent question Micah and considering the recent passage of same-sex marriage in New York, particularly timely as well. Also, it’s ragingly controversial. And, I do so love answering questions that increase the likelihood of my inbox filling up with angry emails!

First of all though, I don’t think it’s necessarily an either/or question. I believe there are definite ways in which the national debate over same-sex marriage helps and hurts the fight for civil rights for trans people.

It helps by energizing the larger LGBT base with a single coherent issue that many people can agree upon. It brings us together in a way that allows us to build bridges and strengthen relationships between some of our otherwise more disparate factions.

It also helps to focus national attention on our existence as viable and unavoidable members of our communities. It reminds the general public that we are their neighbors and co-workers and family members and that the things we are fighting for are not so very different from their own concerns and desires. The debate over same-sex marriage makes us relatable. The desires to get married, settle down and raise a family are a standard issue part of “The American Dream.”

The fight for marriage rights represents a relatively simple and clearly framed issue, easily understandable by the average person. It’s a fight that other minority groups have in very recent history fought and won.

Can you imagine how absurd and bigoted someone would sound if they went on the news and tried to seriously argue that Black people or Asian people have no place marrying a white person? That the Bible clearly forbids such a thing?

That sort of thing wouldn’t even fly on Fox News! And yet it was not so very long ago that people were arguing just that. That the news was filled with arguments for and against inter-racial marriage! Guess which side is still trying to wipe the egg off its face?

Is there really any good reason why any reasonably law-abiding person in this country shouldn’t be able to marry the person they love? I think not and I truly believe that in just a few years people will look back and cringe when reminded that the arguments against same-sex marriage were actually something that anyone took seriously. They’ll post “hilarious” old clips of right-wing religious nuts saying crazy things about gay people to “BrainBook” (“The World’s Most Popular Telepathic Social Networking Site!”)!

So, it brings us together, it gives us a popular issue, and it creates an energetic momentum in the fight for civil rights generally. All that said, here are the reasons why I believe that the national debate over same-sex marriage hurts our fight for Trans Civil Rights.

Despite my support of same-sex marriage on the grounds that if a basic right is allotted to one group of Americans it should therefore be one which is granted to all. I also believe that the struggle for same-sex marriage is a very dangerously mainstreaming issue.

As a Queer Trans Woman, I fear that the underlying message in this push for marriage rights is: “Sure, you can come play in our sandbox and enjoy the rights and privileges of the Average American Club, just so long as you’re willing to cut out all that ‘sex can be fun’ and ‘alternative lifestyle’ business and start toeing the hetero-normative, puritan repression line.”

This is bad for transpeople because we don’t always fit in so well. Sure, a great number of us may vote Republican, live in the suburbs and “pass” perfectly well in nearly every sense of that word. But almost all of us have to go through an awkward, early transition stage where we stick out like sore thumbs. And our very existence is automatically threatening to strongly held beliefs about the inherent nature of a gender binary. Whether we intend to or not we make people question things they never thought they’d have to. Things they thought were settled, checked off and shoved in the attic to pass on to their kids.

We are, and have always been, the ugly stepsister of the broader LGBT movement. Though we have often been trailblazers and front-line fighters in the struggle for LGBT Civil Rights, we are also often the first to be pushed aside when we become inconvenient. Just look at how Sylvia Rivera, a transwoman who was right up front at Stonewall and in the early days of the Gay Liberation movement was marginalized as the struggle went more mainstream. Or, how we were cut out of ENDA (The Employment Non-Discrimination Act) in 2007.

The danger, in short, is that in the effort to pass same-sex marriage laws, the very real and basic struggles of transpeople to gain employment, housing, services, and hate crime protections will be ignored or pushed aside as distractions. That instead of the badly needed support of the larger, wealthier, and more well-connected Gay and Lesbian communities, people who should be our close allies, we will be left to fend for ourselves-to fight alone.

While I have no doubt that a strong and cohesive trans movement needs to take the tiller of our own ship. We must have the support and solidarity of our allies, in the LGBT community, in order to win our fight and win it soon.

What we are fighting for is not simply a part of The American Dream. We are fighting for the ability to be able to pursue that dream at all.


*Lorelei Erisis, former Miss Trans New England, can be contacted at:



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