Bruce Parker

Be a Trans Ally

Filed By Bruce Parker | March 18, 2008 1:15 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Dean Spade, gender neutral, out, out magazine, straight allies, sylvia rivera law project, trans ally, transgender, transgender bathrooms

In the Out Magazine April 2008 Transgender Issue, hidden at the bottom of page 25 is a really strong list of five ways to be a trans ally, by Dean Spade. Dean is a Harvard Law teaching fellow and founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. Below is his list of ways to be a trans ally.

1. Work with transpeople to push your city's homeless shelter system to place residents according to their gender identity and safety, rather than birth gender.

An important component of this point is that it emphasizes working with transpeople. Oftentimes, as lesbian or gay folks try to work on transgender-related issues, they forget to include transgender people in the conversations and actions. This ends up being damaging, and reflects a paternalistic approach to being an ally that I experienced a lot while working with Indiana's lesbian and gay communities.

The other four ways and my thoughts are after the jump.

2. Establish gender-neutral bathrooms at the places where you work, go to school, shop, eat, or get essential services. Trans and gender-nonconforming people face harassment--sometimes even arrest--when using gendered bathrooms.

3. Fight for inclusion of trans health coverage in the employee benefits package at your job, school, or in your state's Medicare program.

4. Support a prisoner. Transpeople in U.S. prisons face violence and isolation, and something as simple as a pen pal can help enormously with making post-release plans, locating helpful resources, and coping with the stress of incarceration.

5. Donate to Trans organizations, which struggle to keep their doors open.

I had the privilege of seeing Dean Spade speak about how the non-profit industrial complex has changed the way that we think of activism for the worse, and have read much of his writing. What I value about this list is that it is about action, and not just basic politeness. Too often, allies are framed in terms of just being respectful of transpeople, whereas this list asks us to put our actions where our words are.

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I'd like to add a crucial sixth way. This one is in the duh category, so I'm surprised that the Out writer didn't think of it. GIVE A JOB TO A TRANS OR INTERSEX PERSON.

We've seen the shocking statistic quoted right here on Bilerico. Reportedly 75 percent of trans and intersex persons in the U.S. are unemployed. If this statistic is accurate, it should be cause for extreme shame in the LGBT world.

After all the cost and challenge of realigning your gender, what happens if you can't earn enough to feed yourself and keep a roof over your head and live your new life with minimum dignity?

The "gay community" ought to be doing more to help find jobs for these unemployed. Indeed, the visible discomfort that some gay men and lesbians feel for people who have realigned their gender isn't just political and ENDA-oriented. It translates baldly into not wanting "one of them around our office."

Here, as in other areas, we have to stop pointing fingers at what the heterosexual homophobes do, and start cleaning up our own back yard.

Good post, Bruce, and good point Patricia. That would really be walking the walk.

Bruce, I'm surprised you didn't mention the post you did a while back about what it means to be an ally. I thought that it was a springboard for some pretty interesting comments.

In regards to Patrica, offering a job is extremely important. I would add a 7th after that. Invite a transperson to join you the next time you have an outing. Loneliness is quite common after coming out and beginning transition. Often friends and family leave you and want nothing to do with you.

Cerise is correct, though sometimes, if you are in a diverse enough city, there are trans support groups and the like that can help.

It can get pretty lonely though, when friends do not know how to act around you, and stop even trying to. It is also hard to make new friends, especially early in transition.

Being one of the unemployed, after getting RIF'd from Dell, I wholeheartedly support Patricia's sixth way. I am not sure, with the possible exception of one place, of how my being trans has affected my job search, but so far it has been unsuccessful. It is not like getting a vagina has affected my brain, wrong end of the body you konw, I still have the knowledge and skills that I had before surgery.

The worst thing is just how few GLBT organisations employ anyone who's TS or IS. We're rare, but not that rare. You'd think that before claiming to speak *for* those labelled "Transgendered" they might actually speak *with* one of them first.

When Fortune 500 companies have a greater proportion of a minority group as employees than the activist groups who have self-appointed themselves as that minority's champions, then there's a problem. And when the activist group has zero such employees, and in fact has even driven them out because of their policies being so repugnant to the employees they used to have that they couldn't continue working there, then the problem requires a drastic solution.


Buster Smith | March 19, 2008 12:58 AM

Dean is great, but not that great. For a lawyer he sure does seem to ignore essential starting places like inclusive ordinances and laws with a startling consistency.

Personally, I find him to be fairly heady and aggressive in a less than positive way. He may be effective in the left-bending Northeast, but otherwise frustrating and ineffective anywhere else other than say maybe the Pacific Northwest.

Not to imply that I find either Dean or SRLP ineffective, because I don't. But I do find that his messaging and tactics are only effective on a micro level- which ultimately frustrate the heck out of me because Dean himself comes across as highminded and a pedantic.

Sure bathrooms are important, but I think that finding a safe apartment to rent or the ability to safely walk into a county hospitals a little higher on the priority list.

Your list seems to peck away more at symptoms of a broken system than the system itself, and a place to start would be public policy that includes trans people in a meaningful way.

Reportedly 75 percent of trans and intersex persons in the U.S. are unemployed. If this statistic is accurate...

I wonder how accurate some of these statistics are? Where the data came from? How the data was gathered? What the definition of "trans" was and who was included? What the sample size was? Often, when reading some of the statistics, the results are often seen to include such wording as it was reported... or has been estimated at... or as high as... and other subjective qualifications.

Granted, the obstacle is how to access the "database": seriously transitioning transsexuals. Though it would not include everyone who might identify as "trans", it would seem the GRS surgeons could provide access to those transsexuals who either have already had, or anticipate having, surgery. In fact, it would seem logical it would be in the GRS surgeon's best interest to conduct such a poll as almost certainly these professionals have the e-mail addresses of their patients, as well as having their patient's trust to conduct such a survey and receive an honest response. The same could be said of the gender therapists.

Perhaps once such a scientific survey is undertaken the statistics could be much lower...or higher. The point is, until accurate statistics are gathered, the numbers are just a guess.

Thank you, Bruce, for this important article.

The five items you mentioned are very important, but some of the commenters added more of them. One of the issues facing our community is that there are really no reliable statistics out there concerning the gender variant community. All of it is guesswork, perhaps educated guesswork, but guesswork nevertheless. Perhaps the census in 2010 could attempt to capture this but there would still be a significant margin of error.

When some in our community are forced to work the streets just to survive, this is wrong. It's why we need an inclusive ENDA, and if you can offer a job to a trans person, it would help.

I agree that the issue of lonliness is a major one for many of us. The solution is an obvious one - involvement - but sometimes that takes some measure of courage to do this. There are some churches that welcome trans folks with open arms. Seek them out. Political groups need your help. Seek them out.

While working, I stayed pretty much to myself, yet when I retired, more than 100 attended my retirement party. Good people will love you if you let them.

Lastly, we in the trans community, need to be allies to one another. If someone had the time and money, one could go to a difference trans conference almost every month of the year. For those who would find the expense too much, many of them offer scholarships for the event fee, and you would just have to pay for your room and your travel expenses. These are wonderful ways to meet people, and to learn. After all, education works both ways - we need to learn, and we need to teach.
Lastly, whenever there is violence against our community, we need to speak out.

I think the 5 tips they had listed are good ones, but so are the extra recommendations - especially Patricia's.

Shakay, I think the last is the most important of all, and I would go further to include All LGBT people.

Any time you hear of a gay bashing or violence against the gender varient, get involved in showing the general community that it is not okay. Make certain the police follow up, get the media involved, make sure the message gets out loud and clear that we will not put up with it quietly.

A point of clarification: When I say "our community," I am inclusive of the GLB folks, too.
As a volunteer at a high school for LGBT students, I saw a lesbian beaten so badly, she required hospitalization.

Unfortunately, this even includes the domestic
violence that all too often rears its ugly head in the LGBT community. That needs to end, too, but it isn't as often discussed as it should be.

Apparently it is fairly common for transsexuals to lose their jobs during transition. The example that I know of best is that of the top psychiatrist in the US who lost her position two weeks before surgery, likely due to objections to paying her sick leave, and was then blackballed in her field for nearly a year before making an amazing come back and rising to the top.

If someone with her skills can end up unemployed for reasons directly related to her transition, it is likely that the figures are accurate if nt undertstated.

If your associate was a "top psychiatrist in the US" how did she find herself working for someone else?

"Likely" is not fact. Perhaps the figures are understated. Then again, they could just as easily be overstated. I just think that without adequate statistics, anything else is speculation.