Celebrating Transgender Visibility

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March 31, 2013

“One of the most important changes on the horizon for transgender people is more visibility,” says M. Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Attorney for Lambda Legal. “And for some, ‘coming out’ means putting your life at stake. But I think that’s what happened in the lesbian/gay movement, and it propelled the movement forward. Once people realize, ‘I know somebody who’s transgender,’ it changes everything…it makes it personal”

Today is Transgender Day of Visibility, and we celebrate those who have worked to make the transgender community more visible.

“Transgender people are often the most visible and therefore most marginalized part of our LGBT community, particularly those individuals who face multiple oppressions of class and race,” says Levasseur. “These individuals are on the front lines, fighting for everyone's rights—gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight—to be free from harmful gender stereotypes and to define one’s own personal sense of self and expression of that self.”

WATCH: M. Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Attorney for Lambda Legal, on the importance of transgender visibility.

Our Transgender Rights Toolkit, A Legal Guide for Trans People and their Advocates, is a valuable resource in which members of the transgender community have shared their experiences.

Nakoa Nelson & Barbara Riley
Barbara: “We finished at church and Nakoa was eating some cookies and he just started turning red and coughing non-stop. We drove to the fire station because it was five minutes away. I thought, ‘Oh, thank God, they’re going to help us.’”
Nakoa: “I’ve been living as a man for almost three years and I always wear a binder, but I took it off [that morning] because I was having trouble breathing.”
Barbara: “When we got to the fi re station, the Emergency Medical Services guys unbuttoned Nakoa’s shirt all the way [and then stopped helping when they realized he was transgender.] They said there was nothing they could do.”
Nakoa: “When I realized they were not going to help, the only thing I could think of is, ‘We have to leave.’ That’s a real sensitive situation—with a bunch of guys standing around and my shirt wide open. We were lucky and found a doctor nearby who gave me steroid shots to help me breathe.”
Barbara: “The doctor said Nakoa could have died [because of the delay]. I don’t care if you don’t like us, but to turn someone away in a life-threatening situation…I couldn’t believe it.”
Nakoa: “I filed a complaint later with the Fire Commission, but it came down to my word against five reputable firemen.”

Vandy Beth Glenn
“I lost my job as an editor for the Georgia General Assembly when I told my boss I planned to transition. He told me that that would be seen as ‘immoral’ and couldn’t ‘happen appropriately’ in the workplace. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about that moment. Every day I revisited the anger, humiliation and despair I felt.

“In August 2010 a lower court ordered me reinstated. While the case was appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, I received my full salary and benefits. My appeal was heard in December 2011 and we had a positive decision just five days later. The Eleventh Circuit upheld the lower court ruling that the Georgia General Assembly had discriminated against me. And now I’m back to work!

“I wish I could promise all similar cases will have a similar outcome. Until a federal law like ENDA is in place, the fight isn’t over. However, the more people come out and assert their identities, the better it will be for all of us.”

Transgender people suffer persistent inequalities in all aspects of life, and we will continue in the fight for their equal rights at work, in school, and in every aspect of daily life. In the words of our client Vandy Beth Glenn, “The world gets better for us every day.”

Click here to read A Legal Guide for Trans People and their Advocates, Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Toolkit.