San Diego has good reason to be proud. This city has paved the road for LGBTQ equality, including having the first street in the nation named after Harvey Milk. All eyes were on San Diego Pride in 2011 when the first openly gay active duty members of our military marched in the Gay Pride parade.
Because of progressive lawmakers like Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Senator Christine Kehoe, Senator Marty Block, City Council President Todd Gloria, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and former mayor Jerry Sanders, who is known for his tearful press conference in support of gay marriage, San Diego public policy has been a blueprint for the rest of the nation, if not the world.
In 2015 the transgender community has not only come to the forefront of the equality conversation, it is now being recognized as one that deserves acceptance. This year, the world met US Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, who graced the pages of Vanity Fair. We were also fortunate to have watched the poignant HRC Visibility Award acceptance speech of Matrix director Lana Wachowski. These events were opportunities for us to understand what being transgender means and why respecting the transgender community is important to all of us.
At this year's San Diego Pride Parade, I had the opportunity to meet Autumn Sandeen, a disabled veteran of the Persian Gulf War and the US Navy. Retiring from the Navy in 2000, she served during the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) era. Autumn's DADT story is one of being sexually harassed by a subordinate and an executive officer who attempted to have her discharged from the Navy because they perceived her, then presenting as male, to be a gay man. Since retiring, Autumn participated with GetEqual protesting DADT by twice handcuffing herself to a White House fence with the aim of getting DADT repealed so that LGBTQ+ service members could serve openly.
In an interview, I asked Autumn what she thought about transgender service members serving openly, this was her response:
"It was incredible for me to meet Evander Deocariza," Autumn said of the out, transgender marine who carried the Transgender Pride Flag in the parade's military contingent.
He's serving at a time when the Department of Defense policy on transgender service members is changing. When Secretary of Defense Ash Carter stated in a press release, 'DOD will create a working group to study, over the next six months, the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly,' and, 'The working group will start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness,' all I could think was that transgender service members will finally be able to serve openly with integrity.
"And, that's a huge deal when we consider there's an estimated 15,000 transgender people who've joined the military to serve their country," Autumn continued. "Many commanders desperately don't want to lose their best people just because they are transgender."
One of the 15,000 active duty service members that Autumn Sandeen mentioned is Evander Decocariza USMC, the first active duty transgender marine to serve openly. He also carried the transgender community flag in this year's parade. I asked Decocariza what that day meant for him, and about being an LGBTQ history maker. He responded, "It was honor to participate in this year's Pride parade as my true self. I'm just a marine who happens to be trans. I'm proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. It feels good not to hide that anymore."
Stephen Whitburn, the executive director of San Diego Pride, is often quoted by the media on LGBTQ+ public policy. I had the opportunity to speak with him a few days after the Pride weekend. He had this to say:
People familiar with Pride celebrations know they are a chance to celebrate the progress we've made and an opportunity to highlight the prejudices we continue to fight.
Marriage equality and the end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' are recent milestones we can rightly cheer. There is also obvious momentum toward ending discrimination against transgender service members and toward increasing awareness generally of people who are transgender. Some of that progress was reflected in the San Diego Pride Parade. This year's Community Grand Marshal was the entire transgender community; both Champion of Pride honorees were transgender, and Mr. Deocariza made history carrying the transgender flag in the parade as an active-duty Marine.
However, elsewhere in the parade, other members of the transgender community were staging die-ins. They were calling attention to the continued violence against people who are transgender, including the many murders of transgender women of color.
So within a single Pride parade, there was both celebration and outrage over the treatment of the transgender community. I think it was indicative of the mixed emotions many of us feel about where we are in the war against prejudice.
If you're truly going to fight discrimination against all members of the LGBT community, then you have to fight all forms of prejudice. The LGBT community is diverse, and many people in the community encounter multiple forms of prejudice that are interrelated.
Let's face it, fighting all forms of prejudice is going to be a never-ending battle. There will always be a need for Pride celebrations to celebrate the progress in that battle and to highlight the challenges that still exist. But I do think over time, society can become generally more accepting of individual differences, and I think greater harmony is a very worthwhile pursuit. Every year at Pride, we bring together thousands of people of all different stripes to celebrate who they are and to celebrate each other, and in doing so, I think we're creating a microcosm of the world we'd like to see.
At this year's San Diego Pride, the community also paid their respects to three local transgender teens who sadly took their own lives this year. Sage -- David, Taylor Alesana and Kyler Prescott are eternal examples of the importance of addressing the desperate need to provide transgender youths and their families support and services at every level in our community.
To that end, Kathie Moehlig founded and is the Executive Director of TransFamily Support Services in San Diego. Kathie is also the media spokesperson for Prescott family. She works with many other families who are not in the public spotlight, but rather are on a private journey that is often fraught with fear, uncertainty, misinformation and prejudice. Kathie and her organization are working hard not just to make the transitioning process the most positive experience possible for individuals and their families, but at a more systemic level is advocating for acceptance and changes in the social, medical, educational, political, media and legal communities. At this year's Pride, Kathie and I had a chance to speak and reflect on trans-equality. Here are her thoughts:
Although acceptance and support are essential to individuals and families after coming out, a deeper understanding of the process and road ahead is a critical part of the journey. Next steps are not always clear because, although many have traveled this road, the path is not yet paved.
Though the transgender community is smaller in numbers then the gay, lesbian and bisexual community it, in my opinion, has a greater role on the world stage.
For some, it is to overcome being borne in the wrong body; for others it is to break the social mold society has placed upon them.
But the gift the transgender community gives to all of us is that if society can learn to accept the trans-community for who they identify themselves as, we can apply acceptance of the individual to the rest of humanity.
What a gift that would be indeed!
"I find the best way to love someone is not to change them, but instead, help them reveal the greatest version of themselves."
― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
Blogger Note Lisa Kove, Cheri Rouse, Ashley.E.Rober MSW student contributed to this blog post, thank you ladies for your wisdom.