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Turning Transgender 'Visibility' into Meaningful Change for Transgender People

Carl Charles,
Skadden Fellow,
LGBT & HIV Project
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March 31, 2015

Today is the Transgender Day of Visibility, which is a moment to take stock of what “visibility” actually means in the day-to-day lives of transgender people around the world. As we become more visible in society, what is also visible is how much work remains to be done to create positive change for all transgender people.

While the visibility of high-profile trans people like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock has helped to shift the narrative about our community, we must acknowledge that visibility for many of our trans brothers and sisters is still not possible because it subjects them to discrimination and violence. Thus far in 2015, the epidemic of violence against young transgender women of color has been more visible in our country than ever before. In addition to this violence, we have also seen and heard about the suicides of several transgender youth, including most recently Blake Brockington, a young trans man of color.

How can we celebrate visibility when it still leads to arrest, violence, and, too often, death?

We must continue to work to address the disparate outcomes experienced by transgender youth of color in their homes, schools, and social service programs. We must ensure that school is a refuge for trans youth, not a battle ground, as it has been for our client Gavin Grimm at his school in Glouster County, Virginia. We must ensure that when trans youth need to access social services, they can do so without fear that they their identities will be mocked, dismissed, or met with violence.

After being pushed out of their communities and into the streets, many of transgender youth engage in criminalized economies to address basic needs like housing and food. Inevitably, under these conditions just surviving makes these young people especially “visible” and vulnerable to profiling by police, street violence, and other victimization. Many of these youth who were kicked out of their homes preferred to brave the streets rather than attempt to navigate homeless shelters and other temporary housing that they knew to be transphobic and dangerous.

Today, as we acknowledge that some of us are able to be visible and safe in our homes, workplaces, and communities, let’s take the opportunity to work for those of us who cannot be visible without experiencing harm. Today, let’s work for schools that embrace and protect trans student’s right to use school facilities consistent with their gender identities. Today, let’s demand trans-affirming foster homes and homeless shelters for trans youth who are pushed out of their homes and schools.

Our community needs more than visibility; we need safety and life affirming services for the most vulnerable among us.

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