Reflections on a National Media Moment for Trans People (VIDEO)

If you watch Sunday morning news shows, you may have noticed another unprecedented event for transgender people. Last Sunday MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry dedicated the second hour of her two-hour show solely to trans social and political issues, in a segment called, "Being Transgender in America." For one of the first times that I can remember, trans people got to outline to the public at least part of the trans political agenda for ourselves. From health care access, to barriers to updating identity documents, to talking about jail and detention reform and raising awareness of CeCe McDonald's story, we finally had a chance to bring trans issues to a national audience as trans people.

When I first started doing this work, despite giving a couple of soundbites for TV here and there, I never thought that I would do anything like the MHP Show. Even more remarkable was being around a table with other trans people like Kate Bornstein and N.Y.C. City Council Candidate Mel Wymore, both of whom, in very different ways, have really helped move our community forward. But that's only part of the reason that the segment was so groundbreaking.

During the show, Melissa Harris-Perry quoted Amanda Simpson on being among the first openly trans presidential appointees. Simpson said, "Being the first sucks. I'd rather not be the first, but someone has to be first, or among the first." This segment on trans politics and activism is a first. And there'll be many more firsts for transgender people in media and politics. Someday, there'll be the first openly trans anchor for a major TV network and the first openly trans host for a syndicated radio program. There'll also be a first openly trans federal agency head, member of Congress, and, indeed, maybe even a president. I commend Melissa Harris-Perry for giving trans people this media first, and for bringing us closer to a time when these firsts become seconds, thirds, and fourths. But being the first only makes it more important for us to do it right every single time.

I admit that our conversation was incomplete. I had hoped to share stories of job discrimination and describe the daily pressures that many trans people face. We asked for stories in advance of the TV appearance, and the stories trans people shared with us were heartbreaking. For instance, we heard from several people who have been discriminated against by federal contractors, making it clear that our call for an executive order banning discrimination by federal contractors can't just be about when it happens, but also about why.

And the difficulties faced aren't only about being fired, like those faced by the trans woman in New Jersey who submitted over 1,000 job applications -- yes, over 1,000 -- and experienced one rejection and humiliation after another until finally getting a job. There are many others in our community who don't even know that they lost out on a promotion or lost a job because of prejudice or hate. And when trans people lose their jobs, they almost always lose their career.

Furthermore, I wish there had been voices of trans people of color, or even a clear racial justice analysis. As Melissa Harris-Perry said on the show, "[S]imply because you are aware of one kind of inequality, it doesn't mean that you empathize with others." And despite covering the kind of assumptions and horror CeCe McDonald has faced as a black trans woman, or how the Housing and Urban Development nondiscrimination rule helps hundreds of mostly trans and gender-nonconforming homeless youth of color, it wasn't nearly enough. Everyone who gets to speak, including me, must do a better job of connecting all members of our community, especially when given opportunities like the one we just had.

Despite all this, I am still very glad for the chance to do the show this past Sunday. But I'm even more excited for the time when our uncommon courage and strength become commonly understood. I'm looking forward to the day when trans people are invited to Anderson Cooper 360, Up with Chris Hayes, and The Rachel Maddow Show to talk about Wall Street reform, getting our troops out of Afghanistan, and overturning Citizens United. Right now, trans people talking about trans issues is crucial. But I believe that our exceptional progress will ultimately be marked by the moment when who we are becomes unexceptional. Getting there is going to take more people like Melissa Harris-Perry helping us raise all our voices and tell America our stories.

Please continue sending us your experiences with employment discrimination. Your stories will aid us in our advocacy work.

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