The December 2008 issue of The Advocate read, "Gay Is the New Black," comparing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement to the African American Civil Rights movement. The LGBT movement has changed the world in a very short amount of time, with the legalization of gay marriage in many states and countries, gay rights supported on a global scale and the increase of visibility of gay people in media. This has all been a great success for the lesbian, gay and bisexual parts of the community but it is now time for the transgender community to take center stage.
The May 2014 cover of TIME magazine read "The Transgender Tipping Point" with actress Laverne Cox on the cover. Laverne Cox is one of the faces of the transgender rights movement, a movement that TIME calls America's next civil rights frontier.
Laverne Cox is the first transgender person to be on the cover of TIME magazine. Earlier this year she became the first transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy. Most importantly she is giving this movement power by telling her story and giving a voice to the transgender community.
The word "transgender" is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender identity is someone's internal personal sense of being a man or a woman. For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match. (Source: GLAAD)
The transgender community has many faces, faces of youth, celebrity and activism. While we often see transgender people as adults, people are transgender throughout their whole lives. Jazz is one of the many faces of transgender youth. Jazz describes herself as a having a "girl brain and a boy body." Jazz's parents knew that their daughter was different when their son wanted to wear girl clothes at age five. They knew it was more than a phase, "A phase is called a phase because it is just that it ends, this is not ending it is just getting stronger," said her mother about Jazz's gender identity. Jazz wears girl clothes, uses female restrooms and her gender on her passport is female. Jazz's parents are very supportive and understanding of their daughter, but many other people are not. Jazz knows this and deals with it on a daily basis. "People think I'm weird and that I shouldn't have the same rights as them just because of what is in between my legs," says Jazz. Jazz looks up to transgender people like Chaz Bono and looks to their success stories for confidence.
Visibility is a very important for the transgender community celebrities like Chaz Bono, Carmen Carrera and Janet Mock are helping show what it means to be transgender. Chaz Bono, the son of Sonny and Cher grew up in the spotlight and but now he is taking control of it by talking about his story. He has made a documentary about embracing his true self, Becoming Chaz, and also wrote a book called Transition: The Story of How I Became A Man. He also appeared on Dancing With the Stars, so that transgender children could turn on the TV and see someone that they relate to. Carmen Carrera is reality show contestant and model. She has appeared in W Magazine and Vogue Italia, there was also a petition for her to join the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. Janet Mock is a transgender activist and has written a New York Times' best selling memoir, Redefining Realness. She is a contributing editor at Marie Claire and has created transgender specific programs for the LGBT youth center Hetrick-Martin Institute.
All of these people are sharing their stories with the world to help show what it means to be transgender. The media often focuses on the wrong parts of the lives of transgender people. When Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera went on the Katie Couric show, Katie focused the interview on questions of transition and surgery. The same thing happened to Janet Mock on her interview with Piers Morgan. The physical transition of transgender people is a small part of a much bigger story.
A big part of the story of transgender people is the violence, unemployment and unfair incarceration that they face. In July, a 15-year-old transgender teenager was stabbed on the Green Line Metro in Washington, D.C. She was singled out because she was openly transgender. The Trans Violence Tracking Portal (TVTP) revealed that 102 transgender people were murdered in 12 countries from January to April of this year. Allison Woolbert, the founder of TVTP, says an anti-transgender stigma has led to a disproportionate rate of violence against transgender people in 2014. "The suicides, the violence, the missing persons, and the murders are all directly related to a person's gender identity," Woolbert wrote to Vox.
Transgender people also face obstacles when it comes to unemployment. The National Center for Transgender Equality released data showing that, transgender people are four times more likely to live in poverty than non-trans people. The unemployment rate for transgender people is double the rate for the general population, and four times the rate for transgender people of color. You can be fired in 32 states for simply being transgender. Also 47 percent of transgender people report they were either fired, not advanced, or not hired due to their gender identity. Studies suggest the earnings of transgender women workers fall by nearly 1/3 following transition.
In May 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona, Monica Jones, a transgender woman of color and a student activist was convicted for "manifesting" prostitution. According to the law certain behaviors are taken in to consideration in determining if somebody in public manifests an intent to commit or solicit an act of prostitution. One section of the law reads "attempting to stop or engage passersby in conversation", that is why some activists call the law "walking while trans." "[The 'manifesting prostitution' law] basically means that as a trans woman of color walking in a certain neighborhood, you can be arrested for prostitution," Laverne Cox said at 25th annual GLAAD Awards, according to Glaad.org. "There is so much work that needs to get done to make sure that never happens again."
The transgender movement is making progress with better rights for athletes by letting them choose their own locker rooms in certain leagues. Transgender actress Erika Ervin has been added to the cast of American Horror Story: Freakshow, giving the community another spokesperson and letting another story be told. Recently The New York City Council and their administrator Bill de Blasio are changing the city's gender identification policy. A bill before the City Council and a separate series proposed changes to the city's Board of Health would allow transgender people to change their birth certificates. Currently, New York City, one of 57 jurisdictions to issue birth certificates, requires proof of having a sex-change surgery before allowing a person to officially change the gender ID on his or her birth certificate. "It's going to improve the lives of transgender New Yorkers and allow them to get birth certificates that match their accurate gender," said Councilman Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, who sponsored the bill introduced Tuesday. "Gender won't be about your physicality. It won't be about your body. It's about how you identify."
The transgender movement is taking force, with more media visibility of transgender people and for the transgender movement. Katie Couric had Laverne Cox back on her show to apologize for the first interview and talk about the real issues that transgender people face. Couric said it was a "teachable moment" about how the media treats transgender people and the conversations people should having about the transgender movement. As a society we can have a teachable moment by learning about transgender people and their individual stories. We must learn more about their struggles and successes to have more intelligent conversations about a community that much more than they appear.