S05 E06: Trans Rights are Civil Rights
Vanessa: Welcome to Pod for the Cause, the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, where we expand the conversation on the critical civil and human rights issues of our day. I’m your host, Vanessa Gonzalez, using she/her/ae pronouns coming to you from Washington DC. And like we start off every show, “We’ve got the Pod Squad.” Yes. Where we discuss pop culture, social justice, and everything in between. All right, today, we’ve got some amazing folks on the Pod Squad. We have Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, he/him, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. Hey Rodrigo.
Rodrigo: Hey, thanks for having me.
Vanessa: Next up, we have the wonderful Diego Sanchez, he/him, director of advocacy, policy, and partnerships at PFLAG. Hey, how are you doing Diego?
Diego: I’m doing great. My pronouns are he and el.
Vanessa: He and el, yes. That’s right. Look, see, we’re bringing it in. In this episode, we are talking with transgender leaders on excellence in community organizing, and we’re gonna talk about how we need to dismantle some systems of violence and specifically how they’re impacting the transgender community. We normally start with statistics, but this week we’re gonna start with some definitions. Gender, like race, is a social construct that has tangible potentially life-threatening effects. Gender is not real, but it is made real through legislation, interpersonal interaction, and society at large, that acts as if it is real. So let’s take a quick refresher and learn a bit about what it means to be trans, thanks to our friends at the National Center for Transgender Equality. Transgender is a broad term that can be used to describe people whose gender identity is different from the gender that they were assigned at birth. Gender identity is your knowledge of your gender.
So for example, your knowledge that you’re a man, a woman, another gender, or gender non-conforming. Some people identify as neither male nor female, or as a combination of male and female, and may use terms like non-binary, gender non-conforming, or genderqueer to describe their gender identity. Those who are non-binary often prefer to be referred to as they and them. All transgender people are entitled to the same dignity and respect regardless of whether or not they have been able to take any legal or medical steps. Also, as with other people in this world, the dignity that is afforded to transgender people, it’s none of your business if they have taken legal or medical steps. So just keep that in mind. So let’s go ahead and start. First off, are those definitions pretty grounded? Am I correct?
Rodrigo: Yeah, I think that’s right. And you know, the most important part of that is I think that last part that no matter what people are worthy of respect, right? I think when you’re learning about transgender issues for the first time, it can feel like “Whoa, there’s a lot of terminology to learn, or I’m scared of messing up, or this sounds complicated,” but at the end of the day, it’s really just that there are lots of different kinds of people in the world. We’re all trying to live our lives and work a job and provide for our families and, you know, keep it moving. So, you know, we talk about these definitions so that people understand, but really the most important thing is just to respect each other, and from a policy perspective, to fix all this legislation that holds people back because ultimately, we’re just trying to move on with our lives. So I always try to encourage people to not be too worried if the definitions don’t make sense first. The values are most important and then you’ll kind of learn definitions as we go. Okay.
Vanessa: Thank you for that. And I appreciate this. I think coming from a small West Texas town, being a little bit sheltered just because of geography, right? And things like that. I have come up in the space where I also am nervous about, “Oh, no, I don’t wanna say the wrong thing. I don’t wanna insult anybody.” And it comes from, I think not only politeness drilled in, right? Like don’t be insulting, don’t offend someone, but also never wanting to mean disrespect to the person who they are, right? And so I know that I, myself, am always trying to work on how to be a better ally, how to show up better for the community, and I am 100% myself gonna mess this up on occasion. But I think to your point, right? If at the core of that, it’s like just treating people like people, right? With dignity and respect, no matter what.
Diego: Yeah. And that’s what I like. At PFLAG, we very much coach people in two ways. One is to leave room for people to make mistakes and to be forgiven and corrected politely. And the other is to have the courage to speak so that it’s okay to make mistakes and get that forgiveness.
Vanessa: Thank you for that. I appreciate that. And it’s good that people feel like they can have the grace in the room to make humble mistakes. And the key there is though learn it, learn from it, try to correct yourself next time going forward. I wanna talk about something that we can ignore. Obviously, when we talk about the trans community, we want to be celebratory and really recognize all the amazing steps forward that the community has taken, but we can ignore the reality of the violence and the hate that is also very much targeted towards the trans community. In 2021 so far, the Human Rights Campaign, HRC, tracked a total of at least 48 transgender or gender nonconforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means.
And since 2013, HRC and other advocates have tracked at least 256 cases of known fatal violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people nationwide. And what we do know is this epidemic disproportionately impacts trans women of color who comprise approximately four in five of all known violent killings of transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people. So when we think about that, it sounds like there are a lot of systems of violence coming in, right? There’s the racism, transphobia, some toxic masculinity, right? All of those types of things. We often hear, you know, it depends on who the victim is, right? That you get a lot of news coverage. How should we be better informed? Is there a way to be better informed about how to help to prevent this type of violence from taking place?
Rodrigo: Well, I think to end the violence that trans people face, especially black and Latina trans women, it’s going to take a whole series of policy and cultural change because all of these things are so interconnected. But one of the big things that we can do as everyday people is to break down the stigma against being trans. And also this might sound counterintuitive, but also break down the stigma against being gay. The reason I bring that up is that a lot of the trans women especially who were murdered are murdered by a partner or someone they’re in a relationship with. This is often not a stranger. This is often someone they know they’re in a relationship with who is a straight man. And it is unfortunately so common the specific scenario plays out where the straight man’s friends find out that his girlfriend or someone he’s hooking up with is a trans woman, as opposed to a cis woman or a non-trans woman and they accuse him of being gay and he flips out and takes it out on his girlfriend or the woman he’s in a relationship with of some kind.
In that moment, it is this mashup of toxic masculinity and homophobia, even though a man being with a trans woman is…that’s not gay at all. That is actually a straight dynamic, but that’s not how it’s being perceived in the moment. And so it’s homophobia, it’s toxic masculinity, it’s transphobia. You can put a lot of these big words to it to understand culturally what is happening, but really it’s about that hatred coming out, right? And being taken out on another person, most of these times, a trans woman. So I think as everyday people, part of what we can do is break down the stigma because if being a trans woman is no longer seen as a problem, then there won’t be these toxic men murdering her to try to prove their manhood, right? And of course there are a lot of policy things we need too, but I really start with that because that’s something all of us can do, no matter what state we live in, no matter anything about the electoral process, like we as individual people can break that stigma and really demonstrate that it’s okay to be trans and that trans people are worthy of respect. That really simple thing is really powerful.
Vanessa: That’s really interesting because I think in our collective work, and even on this podcast, we’ve talked a lot about just recognizing a person as a human and having respect and holding the value that they hold regardless of what they are, right? Or how they identify. And so again, it’s just getting to that core humanity. Diego in your work, when someone comes to you, right? We’re talking about all these conflicting systems, but these conflicting systems are made up of people themselves who are conflicted, right? So how do you talk to families and parents about let’s take these things apart?
Diego: Thanks for asking that. I want to add a word to the list that we had, which is misogyny. There is a thing that has to be recognized that trans women were born male. They were identified male at birth and they should not be punished. They’re still the human being they were ever. And the disrespect that affects women disproportionately and not just trans women, but all women is something that also needs to be recognized. At PFLAG, you know, we were founded by a mom who stuck up for her gay kid.
Diego: And did it in a, you know, a teacher who wrote a handwritten placard and marched in the Christopher Street march, you know, it was basically saying, “Love your gay kids” and it’s families uniting. And so that’s looking for PFLAG, we do three things. We have support, we have education, and we have advocacy. And it’s how we were founded and how we still are. So when we think about things like stigma and trauma and such, we want to make sure that we’re addressing, first of all, the stigma, just of the trauma and of the negative impact and that it’s okay not to be okay and it’s okay to seek professional help. It’s also okay to seek peer help, which is what a PFLAG meeting is all about. But it’s also okay to have professional guidance when there are things that need adjustment.
The education occurs when you’re teaching other people after you learn the language and learn the people. Parents and families are the most tremendous assets and allies that anyone can have because they’re talking to people who are more like them, they’re not LGBTQ+. And so that connection that they have, whether they share common thoughts, they’re going to be received better sometimes than people who are LGBTQ+ who are self advocating. And on the advocacy side, I’ll just support what Rodrigo said, which is, there are policy changes that need to occur, but starting with the support part, either professional or peer, and then getting to the education side where you’re making communities safe from this family out to the community, out to society.
Vanessa: I love that. Thank you for that. Because if you don’t talk to someone, if you’re a parent or a family member, or just a loved one, and you’re not talking to someone, it’s very hard to start really wrestling with that confliction that you have, right? It’s okay to have your moment of like, “Ooh, how do I move forward now? What am I supposed to say, right? I still love this person, but I don’t understand.” And that’s totally…that’s fine. That’s totally fine. You both have talked about how we do need to have some of that political restructuring, right? You know, when we break down the systems of violence, it begins first with anti-trans stigma, which like we just said includes a lack of family acceptance, hostile political climate, and cultural marginalization and invisibility. So we look at this and then we look at the more than 250 anti LGBTQ+ bills introduced in states across the country this year. And many of these are hateful bills, specifically targeting kids. You know, they are transgender kids, including bills that ban them from playing sports or receiving lifesaving healthcare. Like that’s just disgusting, to be honest, you know, come on. We also talk about transgender folks face higher rates of discrimination, poverty, homeless, and violence, right? So let’s get into some of the policy pieces of this. I think it might be odd to hear that someone who is transgender is at higher risk for poverty. Can you take us through a little bit of how does that happen? Like what are those cycles that have a person in poverty, their risk higher because they are transgender?
Rodrigo: Discrimination is a multifaceted thing. And in a society that still doesn’t fully accept transgender people for who we are, then that’s gonna hold us back at every stage in life. One of the big things that comes to mind when you bring up poverty, in particular, is employment discrimination. So often an employer stops them from getting a job because the person “looks trans.” So we see this all the time, especially in customer service jobs, which that’s often the first kind of job you can get if you don’t have a lot of prior experience in an office job, you’re gonna be working in…Yeah, like a restaurant…
Vanessa: A lot of us did. Yeah.
Rodrigo: Yeah, right? Retail, that’s often where you start or maybe that’s the only option you got or the only opportunity in your town where you live. But these are customer-facing jobs. And we see time and time again, employers say, well, this person is gonna make the customers uncomfortable. They use that as an excuse to not hire us. Another thing that comes up all the time is that a trans person does get offered a job but then that is rescinded when the employer looks at their ID documents or runs a background check and realizes that we’re trans. The reason this happens a lot is that our old names or the old gender marker, you know, the M or F letter for male or female on your driver’s license or things like that, those old names, those old names, those old gender markers can come back to haunt you real quick. It is actually really hard to update that stuff. It’s expensive. It’s complicated. It’s a whole patchwork. There’s one rule for social security. There’s another for driver’s license. There’s another for your school records that you might have to submit if you have to prove that you have a college degree. So oftentimes, you get outed as trans when you’re submitting these documents and then the employer goes, “Mm, I don’t know that we wanna hire you after all that.”
Vanessa: That is just bananas, that that would be okay, that I’m gonna rescind this. You have all qualifications. You’re probably overqualified in some instances, right? And this nugget of information…
Diego: Just take it to the higher level though. That is true at the rudimentary levels but I’ll tell you one that people don’t always think about, executive recruiting firms. Anybody that’s been recruited for anything or reaches out, one of the questions is always, have you ever lived under another name?
Vanessa: Wow. I took that for granted to be like your married name or… Oh wow.
Diego: And so why is it so stunning that the answer being yes, has to be so negatively impacting a certain part of the community and not the other? What’s the big deal?
Diego: So because the name, if it’s not Chris or Lee, you know… If you weren’t born like that, you’re gonna run into a conversation that often the most incredible recruiting firms still have that burden.
Rodrigo: Yeah. And real quick, another example that comes up all the time that holds people back in jobs is professional certifications. So let’s say you’re working as a hairstylist. In most states, you need a cosmetology license. You might not be able to update that old name on the cosmetology license. Or if you’re working as a security guard in a lot of states, you need a license for that. And you might have done that training under a different name. When you think about all of the jobs where your old name, your dead name, whatever you wanna call it might come up, well, that’s the majority of the jobs out there. And so if being trans or having this other name is gonna hold you back, then that’s gonna hold you back from getting a job at all.
Diego: With a high school diploma.
Rodrigo: Right? A high school diploma, school records. So then no wonder a lot of trans people can’t get work and no wonder a lot of us end up in poverty. We’re locked out of so many jobs because of these ID records or really ultimately because of the discriminatory ideas. IDs wouldn’t be such a big barrier for us if there wasn’t an assumption that being trans was wrong in the first place, right? But yeah, all of that comes together and you can’t get a decent job.
Vanessa: This is fascinating. See, I am having a moment right now of really recognizing my own privilege, right? As a cis-gendered woman, I immediately thought divorce. Have you lived under a different name? Ugh. Yes. Let me put my old divorce name, right? It just would not naturally have occurred to me in that way. Again, you wanna be a good ally, right? But you just take for granted some of these things in your day to day that don’t impact you. As a mom too, my daughter has a name that she and her father and I purposely picked that she could shorten it if she changed gender. Like we were trying to be mindful of, we don’t know who she is, you know? She could, this little person, what we envision could be totally different than the person she is, you know? And so we try to be really mindful in giving her a name that she could keep and she could change if needed, but I never thought about it this way. Thank you all so much. See, this is exactly it. I’m learning a lot.
Diego: I’ve heard you talk about your daughter. I’m a big fan of your podcast.
Vanessa: Thank you. Thank you.
Diego: But I’ve heard you talk about your daughter relative to surnames having both yours and your husband’s surnames and that when you use your name, when you use Gonzalez, that she is treated differently than she would. The experiences of that limitation are not restricted to trans people that all of our intersectionality come together in different ways.
Vanessa: Absolutely. Thank you for that. That’s totally right. Sometimes good. When she’s with, you know, community, I’m like you’re Gonzalez, don’t forget you’re Gonzalez. Cause it cuts both ways, right? So now that we’ve talked a little bit, let’s take it to a different space. How do we build a safer world? Particularly when we think about trans kids who let’s be honest, it’s the bravest thing to come out as a little kid. I mean, kids are mean. And so to be able to say as a young child, “You know what, this is who I am, and this is how I wanna live my life and that’s what I’m gonna do.” The bravery of a child to do that, I feel like we are not holding up our end in protecting them and allowing essentially a reward of that bravery. So what are some of the ways that we really need to think about how do we take care of our kiddos?
Diego: I think you’re looking at, the first part of course is family. And a lot of my peers don’t have the experience I did, which is my family. I told them when I was five that I was born wrong. I thought I was gonna get a big spanking and I didn’t. My mother brought out a magazine with Christine Jorgensen on the cover and said, “I don’t know if there are people like you who were born a girl and think they’re a boy, but this person was born a boy, grew up to be a man and then eventually became herself. So if it’s okay for her,” and that was in 1961 for me. She said. “It will probably be okay by the time you grow up.” There are still parents like that. That was pretty PFLAG, which was born in ’73 and that was in 1961. It starts with that love at home, creating that nest and that shell of trust and comfort so that that child knows that they can actually disclose that to their family. And then for the family to be able to reach out to something like PFLAG, where there are other parents who have gone through similar things.
The thing about PFLAG is that many of the parents did it right the first time and a lot of them will tell the stories of how they didn’t. And so those lessons are on both sides of the equation. How we create a better society is by starting with family then community then moving it to society. And I still think that the support education and then the advocacy parts are still the way that we build. I think we also celebrate the resiliency. When we look at the bills that happened in Texas having 55 bad ones out of the 197 anti-trans bills just in this past season, out of the 350 total anti-LGBT ones, you have to think about those families going in and speaking with their legislators. A lot of ’em were PFLAG families. They’d go and they would talk to their legislators. The parents standing holding the hands of their kids. That kind of support that occurs reflects the resilience of the whole family because they still have to go to the grocery store and they still have to go to church or synagogue or wherever. Those things starting with the family unit, one to one, and then growing it out is how we make a better society. While everyone talks about, you know, come out, come out wherever you are, we’re about safety first at PFLAG. And so are our partners at NCT. We don’t want anyone to do anything dangerous. So looking at the safety factor, us creating policies and laws and bills that help create and expand that safety is important so that more and more people can go to their families and say, I was born wrong, if that’s the case or that I don’t identify as any gender if that’s the case.
Vanessa: Well first, let’s give it up for your mom. That’s amazing. Oh, that is so sweet. I love that. And back in the day, that is fantastic. I think we do have to recognize though that’s not gonna be the response, right? From a lot of families and even for various reasons, right? And I think within communities and communities of color, we still have problems we’re still trying to work out. And so that can be even more difficult. And so oftentimes, you know, I think when we talk about kids of color, we always say, oh, well the schools might be their only safe haven, right? But then you think about trans kids and that’s not true, right? The schools kind of can just pile on. So if I am in a community, an ally, I mean, if this happened in Washington DC, if this kind of bill were… Oh, forget it. You know, but never say never, right? Trump was president, never say never. What can we do at the local level to say to school districts, to say to school boards, to say to hospital boards, right? Medical boards, stop.
Diego: We have to look at the fact that right now school boards are being invaded by people who are going in and doing very awful things. And so that whole situation where you know what we are trying to do and we’ll be doing it together is ensuring that the good families, the loving families are showing up to things that used to be boring. School board meetings, they’re not. They’re suddenly incendiary and giving people tools, giving them tool kits to use and products to take in and letting school board members meet trans families, families with trans kids or youth, or even transgender adults, education, teaching people who they’re talking about is really an important key step and not letting it be some imaginary thing that they’re assaulting and assailing. And recognizing the power of impact, what you’re doing when you say that.
Rodrigo: Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, there’s no overestimating the importance of every level of government. Most people are like, I don’t even know what my school board looks like or when it meets, right? But if you live in that neighborhood, you’re entitled to go, whether you are a parent with a child in the school or not, whether you are a citizen even of the country or not, whether you have that status, like if you live there, that is your government. Those elected officials are supposed to work for you. No matter where you live, I think another thing you can do is support the Equality Act. A lot of people… Yeah. The Equality Act is basically a non-discrimination bill for LGBTQ people and that includes trans people, right? When you ask people just in the public, most people think we already have these protections. Most people already think that gender identity or basically being trans is protected in this same kind of way as race, national origin, religion.
Vanessa: Is that because most people equate it as you’re covered under…Like gay coverage provides coverage for transgender individuals as well?
Rodrigo: Oh, good question. I think it’s even broader where they just think race, religion, all of it, like any identity is just protected under law. Like they just think it’s all kind of the same. And so, oh, they know, of course, it’s illegal to kick someone off the bus for being black. We famously know this from Rosa Park’s example, right? So they just think that that’s the case on being trans too. But actually, there’s no federal law that says you cannot kick someone off the bus for being trans. That is actually legally permissible in roughly half the country. Now, roughly half the states do already have protections. Thankfully, we’ve been fighting for that for years and we’ve won in a lot of states. A lot of the states do have their own state protections. But if you are trans and you move the next state over, you might lose your rights. It might actually be allowed in the next state over or even the next town or city over to be kicked off the bus, kicked out of the park, harassment in schools, so on and so forth. So the Equality Act would fix that. The Equality Act would fill these gaps, plug all these holes, and make it so that in all 50 states in U.S. territories, no matter where in the United States of America you live, you have the same protections and being trans is no longer allowed as an invitation for discrimination, no matter where in the U.S. you are.
Vanessa: That is just wild that… Yeah, I guess people just don’t think about it, right? Of course, you can’t do that. No, but you can, you can. You shouldn’t, right? Should and can are two very different things. And it’s another example of where your rights are dictated by your zip code and we continuously say that is not how it is supposed to be, right? You should have equal access and protection no matter where you live.
Diego: And you might wanna go visit some relative in another state. It’s not just where you live, work or play, but maybe where you visit.
Vanessa: Right, exactly. And that should pertain to everybody regardless of citizenship status. That’s a big one, right? That we get all the time. So that is wild. Let’s talk a little bit about the previous year. What the trans community experienced under Trump was traumatic, obviously. The lasting effects of legislation, including the trans military ban, cannot be swept under the rug, now that they’ve been rescinded. We also can’t ignore that those bans were not only put into place by people like a Trump. Clinton had issues. It’s not just the worst of the worst if you will. Is the trauma being repaired from those years? If so, like, how do we know? How can we see that the impacts of that trauma are not necessarily being lessened, but that we’re taking what we learned and trying to be better? Do you see that happening in institutions like the military, like some of these big institutions yet?
Diego: Yes, and not because of trans people. When you look at the military, for example, the whole issue with sexual assault that started…Well, it started, God knows when, but it was started being documented in the ’80s like the Air Force Academy and stuff where they had documented cases. Right now, looking at the suicide rate of veterans, it has all become really important for people to speak about mental wellbeing and to seek behavioral health treatments and services and that there’s no shame in that.
The trauma I think is naming it first of all and not being ashamed of it, but also making room for the celebration of the resilience. We didn’t go away at the space of something horrible happening to a lot of us but we leaned in together, not just by ourselves, but with hopefully our families, whether they’re created families or families that were given us otherwise. And also with our communities. There’s so much embrace that you see. The reason is because humans have empathy. And so if you have the capacity to feel with someone which most people do, we found that the number and just the quantity, but also the quality of allyship has grown to where people now say, ally has to be a verb. Don’t just say you’re one, do something. We’ve all heard that. But that came out of people pushing against something. And our communities, whether they be immigrants, I’m an immigrant, I’m adopted, I’ve got a lot of stuff that I watch. My intersectional communities have to step up and stand out. I see that our community expanse, but also celebrating the word and the meaning of intersectionality and not looking at ourselves as you’re over there and I’m over here and I can only address this issue. We look at it as a community on the whole. And I think that that has helped address some of the trauma, give it a name because you can’t treat what you can’t name. And then saying that it’s okay and us shouldering each other through that healing.
Vanessa: I so appreciate that because I think when you talk about intersectionality in particular, right? The leadership conference as well, right? We obviously supported the Equality Act. We support all kinds of different things, right? To get to this equity and to make sure that we’re opening space for folks. But it does, you know, on the advocacy side, it does very much still feel very siloed. So when I’m trying to create a plan for voting, I feel like, okay, I have my democracy buckets and I have my key voting constituencies and groups, right? And oftentimes that is not some of the groups because you think, well, they’re fighting this other massive fight right now, right? And it’s this kind of separating. And I don’t think it’s done maliciously by any means. If anything, it’s done more like I can’t ask them to try to join one more fight. Is that the right perspective? Should we be not doing that? And I say, we in the more progressive community, right? And people who need to be better about showing up.
Rodrigo: Well, it’s such a good question. I think it’s undeniable now that these issues and the solutions to them are all interconnected and we’re all, I think kind of learning as a broader social justice movement, how to put that into practice. You brought up voting and democracy. So the first thing that came to my mind was voting while trans. You know, voter ID laws are a trans issue, because like we were saying about how hard it is to update our driver’s licenses and state IDs. Well, you can imagine that if you’re trans you haven’t been able to update your driver’s license and now it’s election time and you live in a state with a strict voter ID law. You are now really anxious and probably freaked out about how to cast a ballot. And you might not even bother to vote because you’re so stressed at the possibility of being harassed when you have to show ID and you haven’t had opportunity maybe, or even banned from being able to update your ID. I bring that up as an example, because it’s like, oh, voting rights and trans rights are really connected there, right? But a lot of people don’t know that.
And it’s understandable that a lot of people don’t know that because we can’t all be experts on everything, right? That’s just not realistic. We are as a broader movement, learning how interconnected these things really are, but we don’t yet know how to put it into practice in a way that is just plain practical because like you said, we’re scared of burdening each other and budgets are limited and staff time is limited so we are gonna have to be more creative and kind of do some trial and error to figure out how to put this into practice. But I am encouraged that at least we are more and more of the belief and of the understanding that our faiths are twined together. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to really put it into practice.
Vanessa: Operationalize that. Yeah, absolutely. Because I think to that point, right? We understand that. And I think that is in itself a step forward.
Rodrigo: Yeah, definitely.
Vanessa: Right. There’s like this recognition and you may be like, “Ugh, I didn’t include someone on the speaking program,” right? “Ah,” right? And hopefully, you understand that that is a bad thing, right? That’s like a lesson learned. “Okay, I need to be better about it.” But yeah, I have faith we’ll get there.
Diego: I think there are lessons in parts of our community, for example, that we don’t always bravely embrace. For example, when we think about across communities of color and learning proper language, the same way with LGBTQ+ people, learning what our intersectional priorities are and lifting those up together and getting people to trust to not think you’re tokenized if you’re different and you’re invited is the other side of that.
Vanessa: Oh, that’s big.
Diego: It takes the building of trust between people to say, look, I don’t have you here because you are this but because of what you know and you are this will enrich everybody’s agenda and we need your voice. And learning to do that and then establishing trust is gonna be key because everyone’s afraid to invite someone because they’re gonna be called they’re tokenizing and they’re not. We’re trying to be inclusive. So getting people the grace of that space, I think is also…we learn that from looking at other communities and how we’ve had to do different interactions over time.
Vanessa: Yes. That is an excellent point. You can have the representation at the table, right? But you also recognize that they have expertise outside of just how they may identify, right? I’m a Latina woman. I speak about a range of issues. Now I might be able to bring a Latina perspective to it, but it’s definitely a range of issues, right? Just like I would ask a transgender activist to talk about education, healthcare, anything, not just whatever that so-called activation is about transgender issues. Right. so…
Rodrigo: And I think it’s also this distinction of when we’re thinking about organizing or activism. When is it a constituency versus when is it an issue area? And that sounds like kind of a technicality maybe, but I think it’s significant in real life to what you were saying about yourself as a Latina, that you can speak to a range of topics. So if you had a, let’s say Latina organization, it could still work on a million different issues. And so like where I am at at the National Center for Transgender Equality, we work in a variety of different policy areas, always from a transgender lens. But if we were, let’s say a voting rights group, that’s an issue, that is a topic. It’s not an identity, it’s not a constituency. So we have this topic voting rights. And then it’s our prerogative as a voting rights group to bring in people of all these different constituencies or identities.
Vanessa: Love it.
Rodrigo: Again, it’s kind of a nerdy way to think about it. I’m imagining a spreadsheet in my head. That’s how my brain works. But you know, I think it can help us think through in real life when we are actually doing this work for a living or as volunteers, how can I do it better? It’s like thinking about the issues and the constituencies as two different things and be like, okay, who am I missing? What am I missing in each?
Vanessa: Look at you, mapping it all out. I love it. I was picturing a whiteboard.
Rodrigo: Love it.
Vanessa: Mapping these two things out. So let’s talk a little bit about some of the successes and the celebratory moments. We do have a good number, growing number, of transgender elected officials. Yes. And that’s awesome. Danica I think is one of the highest-profile ones, right? Everybody is really looking out. And I remember in speaking to her, she was very clear. She’s like, “Yes, this is who I am but what my district needs is better transportation issues.” She’s like, that is my whole platform. And so finding those types of stories in elected officials is just fantastic. So we’re getting some of that in. I think when you talk about the arts and entertainment, Pose. We talked about this a little bit. It’s amazing. Can you talk about how do these cultural shifts and changes and wins, how are they impacting the community? Are you seeing growth and acceptance? What does that look like?
Rodrigo: At NCTE we do a survey called the United States Transgender Survey and it’s every five years. And we’ve seen acceptance grow. I mean, this is the largest and most comprehensive study of trans people’s experiences. And we’ve seen that, thank God, the numbers are going up of the number of trans people who say that their parents accepted them or their family accepted them when they came out or that they were treated all right at school or they’re able to be out as trans on the job. We’re seeing that go up. And I think this cultural representation is a big part of it. Most people are not activists. Most people don’t follow the news, right? And know all the policies, but they do watch TV. They do listen to podcasts and they do read blogs. So when you see trans characters on TV or openly trans actors or anything like that, it teaches you that being trans is okay. It teaches you that we are human beings. I think that then softens the ground for the next person. So absolutely I think that cultural representation makes all the rest of it that much more possible to achieve.
Diego: And I think that also you have to realize that all of this is not the first step. So things like Paris Is Burning, which you know, it was from 1990 and profiled the house ball culture out of New York. It was in 1990 on December 4th, that it first showed in the United States. Thinking where that began and the trajectory that it took for us to get to where we are to where Pose is something we can expect with let’s do a shout out to Angelica Ross. And one of my baby sisters used to sofa surf in order just to live. Always a brilliant mind with incredible ideas, started TransTech and all that. But she’s known as her a character on Pose. You know, and so thinking of the trajectory over time that we don’t have to have glad with two A’s have to call up a network because that show FX showed silicone treatments for trans women done by a backroom doctor to make a point, we’re able now to actually build on stories told by trans people and gender nonconforming and non-binary people, but also constructed by them. I mean, and let’s just say with Pose, we’ve got Janet Mock as the first…
Vanessa: Oh my gosh…
Diego: I’m sorry. But it’s just looking at the trajectory over time of where we began and we don’t have to have the only movie about us in a year to be Boys Don’t Cry. We have come a long way.
Vanessa: And Laverne Cox, if you look at her Instagram…
Diego: My other sister. Yeah.
Vanessa: Oh my gosh.
Rodrigo: And her latest job is interviewing celebrities on the red carpet for E! Network. And I love that because that is so mainstream and fabulous. It just makes my heart sing like yes, an openly trans woman being like, “Who are you wearing?”
Vanessa: I mean, her fashion is amazing. Half of the stuff, I’m like, yeah, I’ll never fit in that. That’s great. So as we do the last question we always ask our guests because we talk about some pretty heavy stuff here. But the last question we always ask is what gives you hope? And so we’ve covered a wide range of issues today, but let’s just go for it. What gives you hope?
Rodrigo: Well, I’d say for me, it’s…what gives me hope is how far we’ve come already. Kind of like Diego was saying earlier, even what we have today, we would not have been able to dream about when I was first coming out. And I came out in 2007, which wasn’t that long ago really. And so to think about how far we’ve come and how much we’ve been able to accomplish and how many more there are of us living openly and out of the shadows now, I’m like if we can get that done in whatever the math is, I always mess it up, 14 years, I don’t know.
Rodrigo: Yeah. But if we can get that much done in that amount of time, we’re gonna win. It’s just a matter of time. And yeah, we gotta double down on our efforts because every day counts, but like we are going to win. It’s just a matter of time.
Vanessa: Love it.
Diego: And what gives me hope is imagination and ingenuity. I see it in our people and those two characteristics of building from children, looking at their parents and hoping for an okay, but still willing to do it even if there isn’t one. And then the parents being able to understand that family affirmation is what keeps our kids alive and having the power to do that. And then the imagination that we had as kids before we knew there were gonna be all these barriers, as we do our job to knock away those barriers, the imagination and ingenuity that these next generations are going to be able to experience, it will make Laverne Cox being on the red carpet like, “Oh, remember way back then when that was the big deal.” And it is today. That gives me hope, the power of people and the willingness for others to love.
Vanessa: Ah, thank you all. You are knocking down so many barriers for those young generations. Thank you both for just your amazing work. So the more that we know, the more that we show up in all of our communities for our transgender, gender nonconforming, and non-binary neighbors, family members, friends, and even your acquaintances, even if you know, I don’t like them that much, you need to show up. The more that we show we care and the more that we speak up is the only way that we will really see change and life ultimately will be better for everyone, right? It’s a rise all boats kind of situation here because as we always say, when the most marginalized in our society are empowered and safe, the better we do as a whole.
If you are a trans person experiencing a crisis, please call the trans lifeline at +1 877-565-8860. One more time, that’s the trans lifeline at +1 877-565-8860 or online at translifeline.org, for confidential support from other trans individuals. Again, thank you so much to my amazing guests. You all are giants. I can’t wait to continue in this fight with you and this work with you. I can promise to be better and I’ll start rounding other people up to make sure they are better, but this has been an amazing conversation and thank you so much for all of your time. And thank you again for listening to Pod for the Cause.
Thank you for listening to Pod for the Cause, the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund. For more information, please visit civilrights.org and to connect with us, hit us up on Instagram and Twitter at Pod for the Cause. And also, you can now text us. Text civil rights. That’s two words, civil rights to 40649. To keep up with our latest updates, be sure to subscribe to our show on your favorite podcast app and leave a five-star review. Until next time, I’m Vanessa Gonzalez. Thanks for listening to Pod for the Cause.