(Crystal A. Proxmire, 4/4/2011)
(NOTE: I was asked to sit on a panel for this event as a media ally. Because of this I am included in my own article.)
The transgender community came out in force on Saturday for the third annual Transgender Empowerment Day, held at Affirmations and organized by Transgender Detroit and Transgender Michigan. Various inclusive groups set up informational tables and presentations were done by the Department of Justice, a panel of transgender allies, and a transgender town hall meeting.
Over 75 attendees took part in the day of learning and support. Vanessa Emma Goldman of Ferndale said she was “amazed” at the number of transpeople in the room. “I’m so glad that we are able to come together like this. It makes me feel like I’m not alone.”
When Transgender Michigan founder Rachel Crandall introduced the members of the Ally Panel, her sentiments echoed those of Goldman and many of the others in the room. “I talk to a lot of transgender people who feel really lonely. They feel like they don’t have any allies, and I want you to know that I’ve been blessed to know many allies,” she said.
The panel consisted of Amy Coldren of Oakland University, Tiffany McLean of KICK, Claire Moore of Haven, Meg Gorrecci and Diane Mitchum of the US Department of Justice, and myself representing transgender-friendly media outlets Between the Lines and The Ferndale 115 News. We sat at the front of the packed community room and answered questions from transgender people about how to bridge the gaps to acceptance and equality.
Don Sidelinker, a counselor who specializes in LGBT and couples counseling, asked the Justice Department if more could be done to give transgender individuals more legal protection from discrimination and bullying. “I have a client now who cannot join choir because she is transgender,” he said. “Routinely she gets beat up and the school won’t do anything about it.”
Mitchum explained that the Federal Government learned lessons from their mandate to force integration in the schools. “We find it’s better to guide them and let them make decisions for themselves. We encourage the unification of communities and to build out the allies,” she said. She also said that when the Federal government imposes a mandate it usurps the power of the States, and then lawsuits and resistance to change are highly likely.
Sidelinker’s response was “If we left it up to the states though, there would still be places that are segregated.”
Crandall and other event organizers chose to present a panel of allies knowing that ally support is a key part of overall acceptance by society. McLean, from KICK, explained how she got involved with transgender issues, and provided a tip that anyone can use to expand their connections with others. “I made myself a personal pledge,” she said. “Each year I stop and think about my life. Who I know, and who I am missing. I realized that I didn’t know any transgender people. So I went to the bar and I asked questions and I got to know some transgender people.”
Coldren, who conducts public health research at Oakland University, had a similar experience of wanting to meet transgender people. “We do all this research and there’s information for LGBTQ… but I realized there wasn’t much information on the ‘t’. So I decided to bring more information in so there wouldn’t be this gap.”
Moore is the partner of a transwoman and the organization she works for, Haven, helps people find safety and help leaving abusive situations. “I see a lot of sexual assault and there is a disproportionate amount of abuse in the trans community,” Moore said. “I also am an ally because I can’t imagine what it’s like to walk into someplace and not feel welcome.”
I (Crystal Proxmire) talked about the importance of the media representing everyone, and how I value the idea that all individuals should have the freedom to be themselves. “I hope we can get to the point where we stop having separate compartments for news. There’s LGBT news, transgender news, and mainstream news. It shouldn’t be divided up. It should all just be about people as individuals doing whatever it is they do, not what category they fit in.”
The Justice Department was there as an ally explaining the 2009 Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which made gender identity and expression, along with sexual orientation, protected classes. This means that if a person is targeted with crimes against people because of those things, the penalty includes a harsher sentence due to the increased intimidation of a group that is also the result of a hate-based crime. The law also gives the Federal government the right to step in when States or local jurisdictions refuse to prosecute a crime.
Just few days before, on March 31, a group of eight transgender volunteers went to Greening of Detroit and helped transplant vegetables as part of Transgender Visibility Day. “How better to be visible than by helping others,” said Crandall. “We’re going to start doing community service more often, maybe monthly.”
Both Transgender Visibility Day and Transgender Day of Empowerment help to connect this growing section of our population with themselves and with allies. To find out more about Transgender Michigan go to http://www.transgendermichigan.org/. For more on Transgender Detroit go to http://www.transgenderdetroit.org/.