Transgender Allyship: Beyond Understanding to Activism

Flex your trans ally activist muscles | La Vie en Orange

Yay! You're here! And you want some ideas for being an advocate and ally to the trans community. (We're playing a game of Choose Your Own Undies Adventure... Head here for the skinny.)

As ever, I must disclaim:  I am not trans, and I'm definitely not as smart as a lot of people. But I have a couple of trans friends and even more trans acquaintances and I've done a fair amount of reading on the subject, attended a support group for trans folks and allies, and done some advocacy work too. And my goal here is just to share reliable resources that are more informed than me, rather than to be an expert.

And now, I confess that all the ideas below were first proposed by the National Center for Transgender Equality in their amazing guide for allies. Head there, and scroll to the bottom of the page, or continue reading on below for our summary.

Be loud :)

  • "Speak out in support of transgender people and transgender rights." When you hear someone make a crappy joke or misgender someone (even a trans celebrity like Caitlin Jenner, for example), you can speak out in support of transgender people (politely, of course). Education, and letting others know you support trans folks can go a long way to shifting culture.
  • "Support transgender people who experience discrimination." Trans folks might not know you're an ally. And it can be nerve-wracking to decide whether to report discrimination to people in authority whether at work, school, or law enforcement. If someone experiences discrimination, let them know you support them whether they report it or not.
  • "Think about how you use gendered language." I'm really bad about calling people "Gal" and saying "ladies and gentlemen" and "you guys." And those gendered words might work for some of the people in my life, but it's impolite to assume that everyone will be okay with it, especially since it's not necessary. I can ask! And come up with other words! (In high school, for instance, one of my favorite terms of endearment was, "Smelly." Which isn't better, but it's creative... ;) )

    And we should probably all consider the pronouns we regularly use that assume any genders. Like how "sir" and "ma'am," may seem super polite, but they're also forcefully gendered. So I'm working on avoiding their use too. And, ever trying to lead by example, this is me encouraging you (one of the lovely people in my life) to do the same. :)
  • "Learn about policies affecting transgender people." Especially locally (it'll help you better understand challenges trans folks in your area are facing), and you can even help advocate for better policies and work against stinky ones.

Changing Businesses and Organizations You Care About

  • "Rethink gender on forms and documents." Do you really need a male/female checkbox? Will you be using that information? If not, why not leave it off. If you do need it, can you include a line for folks to fill in their own gender instead? 
  • "Ensure everyone has access to bathrooms and other facilities." The coffee shop I'm working from this morning (Water Street on Oakland) just ungendered its single-user bathrooms after a recent remodel. YAAAAY gender neutral bathrooms! But it doesn't take a remodel to make facilities available and comfortable for everyone. If restrooms are just for a single user, take down the signs that say Men and Women and put up signs that say "Restroom."

    Help push to make sure people can use the bathroom that matches their gender identity rather than their ID. 

    And to take it a step further, add gender neutral restrooms to maps or make lists of gender neutral restrooms in your area for folks to refer to. Here is one for Western Michigan University, for example.
  • "Push for support and inclusivity, not simply tolerance." Does your biz, org, or school welcome speakers? Support charities? Push for including transgender speakers and non-profits that support transgender causes in the mix.
  • "Craft a transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination policy." Culture shifts take time. But creating policies that document how your org supports trans folks and responds to people that don't can go a long way.

Change the World

  • "Call your elected officials." Thank them when they're doing the right thing, whether at the local, state, or federal level, and call them out when they're blowing it. The National Center for Transgender Equality's Make Your Voice Heard page has more info.
  • "Work to pass laws" whether in your city, your state, or at the federal level "that outlaw discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and education based on gender identity/expression." It might mean making a call, or it could mean spearheading a letter-writing campaign. Or maybe you wanna collect signatures for a ballot measure?
  • "Change the curriculum of medical, health, crisis response and social work programs," and, when necessary, bring in trainers, so that these super critical service providers are better informed about the transgender experience, and better equipped to to treat transgender folks with respect and professionalism. "Include information about the rejection, discrimination and violence that transgender people face and how to provide services and support to transgender clients." YESSSSS!
  • "Work with schools to make them safe for transgender students by implementing all the recommendations in our Model School District Policy on Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students." National Center for Transgender Equality, I love you.
  • "Work with homeless shelters to make them safe for transgender people by implementing all the recommendations in Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People." This is a big deal, as transgender folks are more likely to be homeless than the general population. Here's a great flow chart from the Silvia Rivera Law Project about why. Domestic violence shelters should be a part of this transition too.
  • "Work with suicide prevention, HIV prevention and treatment, alcohol and drug abuse treatment, and anti-smoking programs to ensure that their work is trans-inclusive and their staff is knowledgeable about transgender issues."

    Domestic violence organizations and organizations that support immigrants should also be on this list. See this flow chart from the Silvia Rivera Law Project about how the rates of deportation are much higher for trans folks than the general population.
  • "Work with police departments to have fair written policies with regard to interacting with transgender members of the public, regardless if they are seeking assistance or being arrested, and make sure all police officers are trained on following the policy and treating transgender people with respect."

    See also the Silvia Rivera Law Project's flow chart about how and why transgender folks end up incarcerated at way higher levels than the rest of the population.
  • "Work with jail and prison systems to ensure the respectful and safe treatment of transgender prisoners, starting with implementing the recommendations of Standing with LGBT Prisoners."
  • "Take a step back." Transgender folks are part of every population, come from every races, and religion. They are all ages. Transgender folks are as diverse as the rest of us, and so it's important to be as inclusive as possible when working to support these communities.

Sigh. National Center for Transgender Equality, you rock.

Here's their list of 52 things you can do for transgender equality. It's even a poster you can print and hang somewhere special.

Do you have any other ideas for ways to advocate for the trans community? Please comment below.

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July 28, 2016


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