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By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
On the level
This has been a big year for large, paradigm-shifting events as far as transgender issues are concerned. It’s a time to celebrate these changes – and to look for the next steps.
After a decade or so of work by transgender people and our allies, the Human Rights Campaign has finally taken a stance that they will only support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act if it includes language protecting transgender people.
In Federal politics, we’ve seen the Democratic National Convention host their first contingent of transgender delegates, showing a growing political clout for transgender people in the realm of politics.
I would be remiss, with the Summer Olympics going on in Athens, to not note this as the first Olympiad to allow transsexuals to openly compete.
It’s all big stuff and worthy of celebration.
Each of the above have gone through several levels, and each of these came with plenty of strife. The Olympic decision led to claims that transgender people would have an advantage, and “straw man” arguments that male athletes would don dresses to gain an advantage. The DNC was assailed as somehow caving to “special rights” by even having transgender delegates.
With HRC, their decision allowed for those within the community at large to get involved, claiming that HRC was somehow “trans-jacked” by actually working to protect the rights of all identified groups in the organization’s mission statement.
HRC’s change in positions has been glacial in comparison with many other organizations. GLAAD has been working on transgender issues for nearly a decade that I know of, with PFLAG and NGLTF showing themselves to be strong allies for a handful of years. These three groups in particular have gone beyond mere “acceptance” into full inclusion of transgender issues into their mission and goals.
I find it interesting that the three groups I singled out in the above never changed their name to include “transgender” in their acronym – yet at the same time I know there have been plenty of other organizations that did add the word to their name and mission, yet have never even reached HRC’s current level. They may well have added the “T” under some pressure to be inclusive, or perhaps out of good intentions – but may have never really worked to be inclusive as well as understanding of our needs and desires.
Even the three items I started this column with show many levels yet to be reached. Perhaps all three are still at a level of “acceptance,” but are not yet there when it comes to understanding the needs of transgender people.
While I salute the Olympics, I wonder how long it will be before a trans athlete gets a chance to compete. Many sports bodies do not allow transgender people an opportunity to perform, meaning that transgender athletes cannot get the level of training that others might have available. In effect, this makes the decision of the International Olympic Committee a nice gesture, but something still unobtainable.
At the DNC, while it was wonderful that so many transgender people were a part of the event, these same people ended up being little more than a “token” group, and had to bargain away a position within the party’s platform. Never mind that the candidate of choice was the only one to go on the record against transgender inclusion within ENDA. Which brings me back to HRC.
It’s great that HRC has finally come to support transgender inclusion in ENDA, but I find it frustrating that it took protests, activists picketing their booths at pride parades, and a decade of toil to get this far. The fact is that this is still a limited decision giving HRC plenty of “wiggle room.” If anything, it shows that there are still other levels to reach, and still more work to be done.
Perhaps there will come a time when HRC will not have to be “reminded” that they represent transgender people, when both political parties will not be afraid to openly support transgender issues, and when transgender athletes will have a real chance at a gold medal. That would truly be the difference between mere “acceptance,” and actually seeing transgender people as being equal to all.