Transgender Leaders in Seattle Speak Out

Transgender Leaders in Seattle Speak Out

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023During the weeklong observance of LGBT Pride in Seattle, a new event was introduced. On June 28, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Cal Anderson Park, Seattle Trans Pride, produced by Gender Justice League (GJL), was a smashing success. There was plenty of buzz around the inaugural event, GJL did a great job of promoting it, but I think the actual number of supporters, guest speakers and members of the Transgender community that showed up to the actual event was a pleasant surprise.

Gender Justice League officials asked that supporters assemble in front of Seattle Central Community College and march over to Cal Anderson Park. The march was followed by speeches and a call to action, performances, and then the official Trans Pride After Party Dance and several community organizations tabled at the event.

According to information on the GJL website: “The goal of Seattle Trans Pride is to increase the power of the Transgender community and its allies, both within and beyond Seattle, through the elevation of our visibility, breaking down barriers, increasing our connections, ending isolation, and creating a Trans celebration that is vital to our community’s social justice work. “

Seattle follows the example of cities such as Atlanta and San Francisco, which have lead by example and held Transgender pride marches. The event also positioned Seattle as a leader in promoting LGBTQ rights and visibility across the country.

“It was the start of an ever growing, annual tradition to celebrate our community and enhance Seattle’s reputation as a welcoming, diverse city,” GJL said in a statement to the Seattle Gay News.

After witnessing the success of Trans Pride mixed with the fact that Seattle is home to some of the most well-known Transgender activists, I decided to seek out and answer the question, “What is the current state of the Transgender movement?”

Marsha Botzer, 66, founder of Ingersoll Gender Center, said she first came out at 30 in 1976. She told Seattle Gay News, “I think this question is too large for any one person to fully answer today, and that is in itself part of the answer! We are still at work on basic protections and services of course, still working to understanding what it means to be fully and wholly at one with our identities, privately and in our social worlds, still fighting violence and misunderstanding, still sharing and training and educating.”
She continued, “But beyond this, we are discovering what it is to do more, to fully thrive and grow at any age, to be active as equals, to support families and children and organizations, to be political and creative. We are learning to understand how gender, identity and expression contribute to [the] human experience. There are now many thousands of people worldwide, in every nation and place, who are thinking about Trans issues – and doing more than thinking! They are changing their lives and their worlds.”

Gunner Scott, 43, Pride Foundation’s Director of Programs, and longtime Transgender activist said, “The state of the Transgender communities is that we continue to be a part of the LGB movement and that we also have a parallel Transgender movement. The Transgender movement is also becoming more visible to the public but also to anti-Gay/anti-LGBT groups as well.”

Scott added, “I would say as a Transgender movement, we are gaining more on the federal side with all the significant changes regarding identity documents such as the progressive passport policy and now with the social security policy for changing gender marker. Each of these policies reflects the reality of how a Transgender person lives and presents in their daily life.”

According to Scott, there are more states and cities passing Transgender rights and inclusive LGBT laws as well as working to implement those rights.

“There is also a growing divide between states that have basic non-discrimination laws, including Transgender protections and those that do not or have just sexual orientation and relationship recognition,” he said. “For example, there are now four marriage states, New Hampshire, New York, Delaware, and Maryland, that do not have basic Transgender non-discrimination protections. [And] up until 2011, that was also the case in Massachusetts and Connecticut. There is still a pervasive feeling that leaving out Transgender rights or putting them on the back burner is still okay with some advocates, but the reality is it takes more than 13 years, and in some cases closer to 20 years, between passing sexual orientation protections and passing stand-alone gender identity protections.”

Scott continued, “On the flip side, we are also seeing an extremely regressive response/backlash with introduction of bills or amendments trying to require Transgender people to use bathrooms of their assigned sex at birth. These bills do not take into account that this would force someone like me, a Transgender man that looks and is identified by others, including strangers, as a man into the women’s restroom. These bills and amendments are using an unfounded fear that men will use gender identity non-discrimination laws to gain access to women’s spaces to do bad things.

“The reality is that the states that have had Transgender inclusive non-discrimination laws for years have not had those laws used to excuse any criminal activity in a bathroom or anywhere else,” he added. “More often than not it is a Transgender person that faces harassment and in some cases, physical violence in a public restroom.”

Mac Scotty McGregor, 48, came out in 2009 as a man who is Transgender. McGregor, who serves on the board at Seattle Counseling Service and the City of Seattle LGBTQ Commission, as well as the Transgender and Gender non-Conforming program director at Social Outreach Seattle, told Seattle Gay News: “I think the Trans community is moving in a positive direction slowly, like the entire LGBTQ community is right now. Rights and awareness are on the rise for all of us. There is still a great deal to do and I believe now that marriage equality has passed that immigration issues and Trans issues are next up for big change. Health care and employment are what I believe to be our biggest issues at this time and rights to use the public bathroom of one’s identity or gender neutral bathrooms.”

All three leaders told me that positive changes have taken place. But the change that stood out the most was the fact that Transgender folks have the ability to change the gender markers on their ID without surgery. This change impacts passports, social security cards, and now in many states, driver’s licenses.

“Having an ID reflect your gender identity and presentation is vital to a person’s safety, security, access, and in many cases employment and housing opportunities,” Scott said. “Unlike sexual orientation, Transgender people are most often forced to disclose that they are Transgender, due to identity documents, past employment references, school transcripts, credit checks, and background checks, anything that may flag a legal name change or gender marker inconsistencies.”

Scott added, “Any time a policy puts the control of disclosing past history back into the hands of the Transgender person, this gives all of us the opportunity to decide for ourselves to disclose or not our own personal medical information about our gender transition. Transgender people should have the same reasonable expectations for medical privacy as anyone else and that includes gender transition.”

Scott also says that the other major change has been recognition of Transgender people through non-discrimination policies at the highest level, such as within the Obama ad-ministration and with the appointment of openly identified qualified Transgender candidates.

“I hope we will see this happen on local levels, with more qualified Transgender candidates being appointed, hired and/or promoted into state and local governmental positions,” he said.

Botzer, however, said that change has come far and wide and in areas that many non-Transgender people might not think about.

“A major change for me is the move from questions of pure survival in the early years to the possibility and reality of full lives today. This amazing move means we can hope to live full and equal lives as all people should be able to do, and is the result of many individuals and groups acting and working together – so many people we will never know, the activists for equality and justice,” she said.

“Another change is the move from a time when few thought they could go to school or to work, or to find partners as their true selves, to a time when these are increasingly the common rights of all,” Botzer added.

Another change Botzer noticed was the “expansion of our internal discussion in the late 1980s and early 1990s – for example, the addition of Transgender as a concept and the increasing acknowledgement that there are many forms of gendered expression – and especially the understanding that there is nothing to fear from these varied expressions of identity.”

But perhaps she put it precisely when she offered, “The growth of the Trans community and our supporters worldwide is a major historical change.”

The Transgender movement has seen recent success because of the amount of education and outreach from various state and federal organizations. Local leaders agree this is key to advancing what rights they currently do not enjoy.

“The binary gender construct is so deep in our society that this is a difficult thing for people to break and understand if we don’t fit into their neatly constructed boxes of gender,” said McGregor. “If a person has never had any feeling of their brain and body not matching according to society how are they to easily understand this? It takes patience and time. I also believe that there are more of us coming out publicly about it, which helps people better understand, because if no one talks publicly about it how will there ever be change and understanding?”

Scott, whose organization works with LGBTQ communities in five states, said, “I am meeting more and more people talking about having a Transgender relative, friend or knowing of someone who is Transgender. This is something I did not see even a few years back. There has also been an increase in media coverage of Transgender people. Just the other night I was flipping stations and on CNN [there] was an interview with Kristen Beck, the former U.S. Navy SEAL who transitioned from male to female.”

That being said, there is still so much more work to be done, according to Scott. “We continue to see that young Transgender women of color are dying from hate violence at alarming rates and this often is coupled with poor and inflammatory media coverage.”

He added, “There is also the silent epidemic of suicide, particularly among Transgender men who are community activists, that has not been addressed by our own community or by service providers. [Then} there is the issue in rural and remote communities with not much support, resources or other Transgender people to be in community with. ‘Unfortunately, the economic realities of poverty for many in our community go hand in hand with isolation.”

Botzer said the outreach and education is working, “especially as we tell our stories and share our lives. But I also believe, after many years and much effort, that we must do this work over and over again as well as reach new people and organizations. One time or one generation is not enough for such a large discussion of self and identity.”

Each one of us, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is inspired by someone. Each of the local leaders I spoke to say they are inspired by different people.
Scott said, “Transgender youth, their supportive families, and Transgender people living in rural or remote communities inspire me.”

McGregor said he is inspired by “people like Senator Ed Murray, who work for the rights of the entire community and Allena Gabosch – the executive director of the Center & Foundation for Sex Positive Culture – who has, from the day it began, made safe places for Trans and Gender non-conforming people to be. Aiden Key who started Gender Odyssey and works with Trans youth locally and, of course, Mama Kate Bornstein, who is wonderful and wrote Gender Outlaw and was out about all this a long time ago and very open about her struggles with it all and has been wonderful to me.”

Botzer told Seattle Gay News, “I am inspired by every person who has come to visit Ingersoll Gender Center’s open groups. Thousands and thousands of people: individuals, families, activists, care providers, researchers, they all have brought their voices to our weekly discussions. Many of these people have gone on to create new projects that help the Trans Community, and I am grateful that Ingersoll continues to welcome and support new voices. That will help assure a strong future.”

Botzer added, “And I am inspired by supporters, especially LGB and progressive leaders and activists who have learned about and included Trans issues in their own projects. To include Trans was not the easiest thing in years past, but organizations like the Task Force (NGLTF, my favorite, and a group on whose board I have served for some years) have shown the way to do it! And locally I am so proud of our LGB organizations, they are with us.”

The major issue that Trans leaders around the nation are working on is the passage of a Transgender inclusive Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA).

“Unemployment for Transgender people is the highest of any minority group there is. Most people have no idea the complications Transgender people face around employment,” said McGregor. “One’s IDs may not match how a person presents at this time and using former references can be challenging with a new name and gender identity, the same with college records. It goes on and on and in this job market. If it becomes too difficult, most employers just move on to someone easier to deal with and the Transgender person will never know for sure why they were not hired, but the statistics speaks for themselves.”

“ENDA needs to stay intact, with gender identity and sexual orientation,” said Scott. “We all have our part to do and that is to educate our Congress members about why this needs to happen. It is good business to hire the most qualified talent, it is good for our communities to have people working and contributing to the tax base, which in turn makes sure we have the funds to pay for schools, roads, and other infrastructure. The most qualified talent pool includes LGB and T people.”

Botzer told Seattle Gay News, “Let the world move forward, let us leave behind the fear and prejudice that has caused this nation to hold back on such a simple act as protecting employment opportunities. Madness, that one day will seem so hard to understand.”

This story originally appeared in Seattle Gay News.

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