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21 - 25 : 52 Things You Can Do for Transgender Equality


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#21: Start a local support or education group

Support and education groups are often a vital way that trans people connect with one another. In groups, we find information, people with similar experiences and much-needed encouragement. Yet some places do not have a local group like this. So, this week’s idea is:

When considering starting a group, consider:

  • Are there existing groups that already meet this need?

  • What is the specific purpose of this new group?

  • What format or structure will best help this group thrive?

  • How can I let as many people know about this group as possible?

If you’ve never done something like this before, there are books available and a number of websites that describe how to start a group. I asked Patric Magee, founder of a group for FTMs in Orange County, California, to describe his experiences. He said: “… I’ve not felt the need for therapy since my initial transition 15 years ago, however I’ve found that the bonding experience and time spent in the company of fellow transmen was something that I was not willing to part with either. The energy and emotions of being in a room filled with people who truly understand me, that share many of my unusual life experiences, and offer support and resources was still needed in my life. We are the experts in this game, not the professionals. If you want to know what needs to be done or what something is like, you have to go talk with someone who has walked in those shoes. It was only a natural progression for me to want to return the favor of guidance and support to the new men. I had benefited so much from those who came before me.

“…in 2000 … I decided to found a group for transmen and called it OCFTM …. I wanted to make an FTM-friendly space that dealt with our issues, men’s issues. A place where transmen could be heard and not just occasionally seen. I wanted a safe place for men to go where they could access resources, networking and support. Meetings start with a trans news and community activities update and then go to an open rap, usually with a featured topic and/or guest speaker, or gender-related movie or show(s). OCFTM also hosts an annual beach party and picnic and has had some other special activities and functions. Monthly meetings are open to all including those who are questioning or curious, significant others, family, and sometimes even researchers. I want it to be about sharing and educating, not hiding or being ashamed of who we are.

“These experiences have taught me that things don’t ‘just get done’ and all the good intentions and good advice don’t cut it alone when creating a ‘community’ out of a group of people with a shared experience. It takes a lot of time, dedication, and a willingness to sit alone in an empty room wondering if anyone else is going to show up. It has involved countless hours and lots of reminders to people who already have tremendously busy lives and schedules. It requires patience and being asked over and over to provide an activity that the majority do not end up showing up to. But they seem to just feel better knowing that it exists though.

“In the end though, I must honestly admit, I’m really quite selfish. The personal gratification I receive from my efforts, the rewards of sharing or being there for another, is so much more than I could ever hope to give. Making a difference, even if only by making one person’s life a little bit better, a little bit easier, is more than enough for me.”

So, if your local community does not have a support or education group, consider starting one.

#22: Volunteer with an LGBT Advocacy group

Building bridges with our allies is an important part of our movement for equal rights. It shows our commitment to civil rights for all people and helps raise the visibility of trans people in other movements. So, this week’s idea is to volunteer with an LGBT advocacy group.

There are many groups that use the acronym LGBT to show that their mission includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Some of these groups are very inclusive of transgender people and understand the connections between our issues, while others have simply added a “T” to their name, but little else. By volunteering with an LGBT group, you can help them to honor the “T” in their name and raise awareness of the issues of gender identity and expression. For groups that truly do understand, you can affirm their stance and participate in their programs. For those that are “T” in name only, you may change that with your presence.

We can also help people understand the challenges we have in common. Some lesbian, gay and bisexual people face oppression because of their gender expression—they are seen as breaking society’s rules of what male and female “ought” to be. By participating in LGBT groups, we can raise awareness that everyone should be free to express their gender without fear of violence or discrimination.

In many places, hate crimes bills and anti-discrimination ordinances are being passed with both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression protections. Building bridges with the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities can be helpful to us in forging coalitions to be sure that we are included in civil rights bills.

Volunteering with an LGBT group can be a lot of fun and an opportunity for you to learn skills from another organization.

Two places to start:

So, whatever your sexual orientation may be, consider volunteering somewhere in your community!

#23: Start a Speakers' Bureau

An important way to educate people about our lives is to talk to them. Many of the challenges that we face exist because people have mistaken stereotypes or inaccurate information about transgender people. Presenting accurate information and real life stories can change people’s hearts and minds about who we are. Therefore, this week’s idea is:

Create a Speakers’ Bureau.

A speakers’ bureau consists of people who are prepared to go and speak with groups about transgender issues. You want to include people who are comfortable with themselves and their journey and able to speak clearly about the issues. You also want folks who are able to deal with audience members who might be uncomfortable with transgender people without getting defensive or feeling personally attacked. It is important to train speakers so that people feel confident and are effective when they go out to talk with groups.

You may have members of your community who are regularly called upon to speak to college classes, the police force and other groups. You may want to ask the people who are doing an effective job at education in your local area to be a part of training new speakers.

Transgender Michigan has the policies and procedures for their speakers' bureau available on their website. You can read it here. This is an excellent place to start to think about how you might want to structure a group in your local area.

#24: Break a Gender Rule

Liberation comes on all levels—political, social, economic—but let’s not forget the personal as well, because what we do personally does make an impact in the big picture. This week, we are encouraging you to exercise your freedom to be yourself.

In particular, this week we suggest: #24 Break a Gender Rule.

Now, some of us do this just by existing. We just can’t manage to be stereotypical boys or girls, women or men, and we don’t want to be. But for others of us, this is a little more challenging.

The rules of our society that tell us how to behave “appropriately” as women or men constrain us all. Social and cultural cues tell us that men have to dress, act, and speak in a hard, masculine way, while women are to be feminine and soft. There’s not much room for individuality there. But we as trans people, significant others, and allies know that we don’t have to play by the rules all the time. So, this week, be a little subversive; in some time or place that feels right to you, do something that messes with the rules.

Women, you might remind people that you do one heck of an oil change, rope a steer with the best of them, or know the rules of football better than your old man. Men, you might whip up a delicate soufflé, pet a cute dog or even skip a little. Or why not mix it up? Whip up that soufflé in a football jersey! Watch the game in a satin gown! After all, masculinity and femininity aren’t mutually exclusive. Those of you who don’t fit the above categories, just keep right on proudly being yourselves.

You might find you enjoy bending the rules more than you expected—by all means, then, don’t stop after this week! After all, freedom includes the right to be who we are as individuals, with the gender(s) that feels right to us. So exercise that freedom this week!

#25: Make a Restroom More Accessible to Trans People

Recently I walked into the offices of a very transgender-friendly group, and yet there was still a restroom problem. There were two single use restrooms, one labeled for men, the other for women. When I pointed it out, they said that they thought transgender people could just use whichever one they felt comfortable with. They were very flexible about restroom usage but hadn’t thought through what their signs conveyed.

The Transgender Law Center has a great resource on bathroom issues called, “Peeing in Peace: A Resource Guide for Transgender Activists and Allies.” It has a wealth of information on everything from how to handle difficult situations in restrooms to how to take action to make policy changes. 

This issue is important because we need safe places to use the restrooms and because it challenges the assumption that everyone fits neatly into a category. When agencies, schools, and groups make clear that their restrooms are safe places for transpeople, they send a message that they are genuinely welcoming to trans people, they’ve considered our needs and planned ahead for our participation.

The group I mentioned at the beginning has already started talking to the other agencies they share space with about their intentions to change the signs. This week, let’s take steps to make restrooms more accessible to trans people.

transequality.org

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