Several years ago, an individual couldn’t find a news article in the mainstream media that wasn’t some titillating, sensational article, a story that the media found fascinating, or something that demonized transgender people. The media seemed to feed on the most bizarre pieces they could report on, and even more so, the articles that could create a shock factor.
Today, there has been a dramatic and swiftly growing change in focus, awareness and understanding in the media towards the transgender community. Take for instance that all the major news networks; CNN, MSNBC, FOX, ABC, and CBS have featured stories on transgender children and transgender people within the past 90 days. Some are positive, some are neutral, and some are negative. It was a dynamic shift in focus where a greater understanding of gender identity and gender expression was brought to the forefront of our world with educational information and thoughtfulness. People are now pondering the lives of transgender people today in ways that were never before considered.
On the Huffington Post, under ‘Gay Voices’, ‘Transgender’ is now a link on a major internationally distributed press organization. Huffington has helped begin the conversation in talking about our Transgender Pioneers, the Hostile Climate that we live in, our Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigils, the glitter bombing of Dan Savage and more. They report on international political news, and consistently are running op-ed pieces from dozens of individuals across the Untied States.
Over the years, the transgender community has also been plagued with a constant bullying and transphobic attitudes by organizations that demonize gender identity and expression, erase our identities, and sensationalizing those moments that in no way reflect our diverse community.
A good example of the erasure by a member of the sexual orientation community appeared in the Huffington Post a week or so before Transgender Day of Remembrance. Phillip M. Miner, board member of TheCenter for Homicide Research went into depth in his article Why the GLBT Community Gets Burned to speak about the horrific and brutal ‘hate-fueled attack in which [Burke Burnett, a gay man] was beaten, stabbed and thrown into a lit, burning barrel.’ He goes on to expound about how gay men are the victim of homicides involving fire more than other groups. [I don’t think he’s read statistics concerning transgender murders]. The majority of his article details out evidences and facts and figures on the horrific and unwarranted hate crimes against gay men. He then sprinkles in the famous ‘LGBT’ alphabet soup in his article for an illusion of inclusivity. Nowhere in his article does he really deal with anything other than gay men. He erased lesbian women, bi-sexual men and women, and the transgender community. Sadly, Mr. Miner’s article arrived the same day that a 19 year old trans-woman Shelly ‘Treasure’ Moore’s burned and charred torso was identified by her mother. To Mr. Miner’s credit, he does express his dilemma while writing his piece: “As a gay man, I couldn't separate myself from my research.”
A second and more serious example of erasure is by the Huffington Post. The diverse gender identity community has been listed under ‘Gay Voices’. Each day the label of ‘Gay Voices’ is left in place; it reinforces erroneous and damaging information to the public abroad. As people learn more and more about our lives, this kind of erasure sexualizes and categorizes a transgender individual’s identity as sexual orientation and thus causes confusion and misinformation to be spread. In many of my workshops, I spend usually the first thirty minutes of any given conference explaining that gender identity isn’t sexual orientation. Surprisingly, a good amount of the questions and confusion come from our LGBQ participants and straight allies.
On the other side of that coin, we have had allies from the sexual orientation community standing up for the community. They have gone to great lengths to insure inclusion and proper representation of gender identity. A couple of advocates, Jay Morris, Tiffani Bishop, and Iana Di Bona and others of GetEQUAL TX organized a Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil for 13 hours on the steps of the San Antonio City Hall. They lined up 222 pairs of shoes that represented the 222 transgender victims of murder for Transgender Day of Remembrance. It was not an easy task for this group. Somewhere around 8:30am on after sitting vigil for eleven ours, the group encountered a very agitated man who began screaming “No….this is City Hall. This is San Antonio, not Mexico. You don’t belong here. This is America.” He continued in his rage demanding over and over again that they leave. The advocates were incredibly grateful after a long night that the San Antonio Public Works people moved their cleaning carts between this angry man and those keeping vigil and pressured the man to leave. It was a subtle reminder of the rage, hatred and transphobia that is focused towards the transgender community in the world today. Make no mistake about it, our allies are incredibly important and valued!
As the teachable moments grow, those in the transgender community and their allies have a timely opportunity to let their voices be heard. Individuals can begin to come out more safely and speak with pride to tell of their diversity and of their individual life experiences. Voices can rise up and speak with those who inadvertently do not understand the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity, correcting a perception that only hinders the LGBTQQI movement for true equality. Greater lobbying can now grow and a long marginalized community can begin to move forward with restoring their dignity and fundamental human rights to live at peace within their communities, free from the fear of hatred and violence. Places like the Huffington Post can be politely but firmly requested to correct their captions to reflect our community.
The time is upon the Transgender Community to find its voice, strong and proud speaking boldly about our lives, our children’s lives, and the hope for a better world for all.
By Allison Woolbert
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