BY ANGELA DALLARA
It’s always encouraging to see criticism and internal dialogue within movements for equality—conversations that constantly question whether activists have the best priorities, are being as inclusive as possible, and are making a positive impact. I think one of the most admirable things about the modern feminist movement is the way we are always educating ourselves and each other, remembering that feminism is about equality for everyone regardless of their sex, gender, race, ability, and other factors—and asking whether our perspectives are complete and fair.
But I wish to see more of that healthy debate in the mainstream movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality today. Dialogue among LGBT activists often takes a more tense, accusatory tone about which goals are the most important, which queer community suffers more than the others, and which organizations aren’t good enough.
One of the clearest indications of this is the classic “debate” over how transgender issues fit within the broader LGBT circle. No matter how increasingly educated and informed we become about trans people and the issues surrounding trans communities, it seems like every couple of weeks there’s a new op-ed or forum debate or Twitter fight or public service announcement about whether the “T” should really be a part of the “LGBT” acronym. It never fails: just last week openly gay news anchor Don Lemon made that question a large portion of a panel of transgender celebrities he hosted on the Joy Behar Show. (The segment was extremely problematic, as Lemon is clearly not versed in trans conversations in any way; but promising in a larger sense, as I blogged about elsewhere).
Why is the “T” part of the “LGBT”? I hope that for feminists the answer is rather obvious. The stigma surrounding transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people is the same stigma that people who aren’t straight must confront: They’re not expressing themselves according to the strict rules and rigid binaries that society has created for us, where there are men and women; men are masculine and have sex with women; and women are feminine and have sex with men. The trans community confronts these most fundamental notions of what the world tries to tell us about gender.
And this has devastating impacts. Transgender women make up 44% of all victims of violence against LGBT people. People of color make up 70% of the victims. It’s worth repeating. Transgender women of color are the single most targeted group in the LGBT community. But gay men, lesbians, and other groups are also regularly harmed—usually not for their sexual orientation, but for their expression of their gender; for “looking” gay.
“There isn’t much that compares,” said advocate Ja’briel Walthour in the Huffington Post yesterday, to living life as a transgender woman of color. “To face discrimination and biased attitudes is one thing; to stare down the barrel of a loaded weapon is another.”
Feminists are beginning to recognize the integral importance of speaking up for and protecting our trans sisters (and brothers), and why it’s relevant to them. But it remains an issue for many LGB and straight people who continue to ask “Why should I care?” The fact that they think this is even debatable is scary. The answer is glaringly obvious to me.