The Transgender Community Needs More than Visibility
I was fired from my job as funeral director of a Detroit-area funeral home in 2013. I always received good reviews and had recently been promoted. The reason I was fired: I am a transgender woman.
What happened to me wasn’t right, and I know it happens to many other people. So I contacted the ACLU. Firing someone because of who they are is discrimination, and it’s against the law.
Right now, my case is before the U.S. Supreme Court and I am waiting for a decision that could come at any moment. The question is whether transgender people have the same protections from discrimination on the basis of sex as everyone else.
No matter what the court decides, transgender people will still be here and we will still be fighting for the opportunity to work, go to school, and see a doctor — just like everyone else.
This journey has given me lots of time to think about the importance of transgender people being visible. On Transgender Day of Visibility, which happens annually on March 31, I’m sharing some of what visibility means to me.
One of the first things that happened after my case was filed was a media story that used a photo that wasn’t of me. At that moment, I started to realize how important it was for me to be seen as myself, not just at home, not just at work, but everywhere.
As more people learned my story, countless transgender people have told me how much my story has meant to them. In my own life, being able to meet other transgender people — from my neighbors in Michigan to Laverne Cox — there’s no doubt that meeting transgender people makes a difference.
When people ask me what they can do to support transgender people, I say that you must start by being accepting and supportive of the transgender people in your life, and then start to support the transgender community.
It’s not that hard to see that we exist. It’s not that hard to support us. So here are a few things I suggest you consider.
If you hear someone making a joke about transgender people, say something. I am not a joke. I am a person. If you work for a business that wants to support transgender people, consider making a donation to an organization led by transgender people and make your support known to elected officials, not just your customers. If you care about transgender people and are eligible to vote, make sure you are registered and tell candidates that you support transgender people and expect them to as well.
Many transgender people have experienced discrimination on the job, in school, in housing, at the doctor’s office — even at home with their family. That can make it difficult to have a job that allows you to care for yourself, let alone cover your health insurance. Transgender people often have a lot to be concerned about, and with so many people concerned about their jobs and their health at this very moment, it can be a scary time.
After checking on our transgender friends, we should all be saying to elected officials that we support laws the federal Equality Act and want to see laws right here in Michigan to say that it’s wrong to discriminate against transgender people.
Visibility matters. And so does action to support transgender people.
For my transgender siblings: It took me many years of life to be ok with being me. And I’m happy being me. I hope you will be who you are. Speak up for yourself. Don’t hang your head in shame because somebody else doesn’t believe in what you are doing. No matter if everyone or no one knows you are transgender, you are perfect and you are as visible as you need to be.
I wasn’t sure how much support I was going to receive when I filed my lawsuit. In October 2019, years after this journey began, I became the first person to have a case about the civil rights of transgender people argued before our nation’s highest court. And then when we left the courtroom to hear people chanting my name outside of the Supreme Court steps, telling me that they love me, that had a big effect on me.
I hope all transgender people can feel that love and support. Not just today, but every day.