Gay marriage ruling a win for LGB, but transgender woes persist

The battle for the rights of transgender people has been neglected by the mainstream gay-rights movement, some say. But a better day is coming, an optimist says.

‘It’s not just the LGB. There’s a T that we should care about,’ activist says

Marchers supporting rights of transgender people demonstrate in Greenwich Village on Friday. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing marriage rights to the LGBT community are an advancement, activists say, the trans community is still fighting for basic protections from discrimination. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

For marriage-equality activists, Friday's U.S. Supreme Court decision guaranteeing marriage rights for LGBT couples was an occasion for good cheer.

But even as the pink-label Champagne flowed and the sounds of a long-sought victory throbbed inside New York's historic Stonewall Inn, their transgender brothers and sisters marched on, chanting in the sun just blocks away.

Marriage equality is all well and good, Elliott Fukui said, but it was no time to party for dozens of trans activists. Not even close, he said.

"The battle for trans rights has been neglected by the mainstream LGB movement," said Fukui, program co-ordinator for the advocacy group TransJustice.
Elliott Fukui, program co-ordinator for the advocacy group TransJustice, said it's important for gay, lesbian and bisexual people to fight alongside the trans community for trans rights. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

He noted that transgender people still face disproportionate amounts of violence, incarceration, discrimination and lack of access to affordable housing and good health care, compared to the rest of the LGB community.

Happy as he is for people in a position to have legally recognized same-sex unions, he said it's time to focus on the next rights battle — transgender equality and transphobia.

"Now that marriage equality is out of the way, we need to start looking at how we can better utilize our resources to lift up the work being done on the ground by trans leaders over the years," Fukui said shortly before a Trans Day of Action rally through Greenwich Village.

He said it is crucial for everyone in the gay and lesbian community "to work with us to make sure we all have better access. There's more to do."

The struggle for such simple rights was embodied by Katrina Rodriguez, a 25-year-old trans person living in one of New York's homeless shelters. Wiping tears, she described being denied access to women's restrooms.

"It's just basic things," she said. "Trans people have rights also. It's not just the LGB. There's a T that we should care about."

Indeed, marriage has never been a priority for the trans community, said Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Project director for Lambda Legal.
Katrina Rodriguez, right, a transgender person, has been living in a New York homeless shelter. She says being a trans person of colour has been especially difficult when it comes to being discriminated against. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

The majority of the U.S. victims of hate-violence homicides in 2013 were transgender women, accounting for 72 per cent of victims, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.

Treatment of transgender women in correctional facilities is also worrying, as they are often detained along with men and are vulnerable to physical, mental and sexual abuse.

While LGB couples involved in the gay-marriage movement have "moved on living their lives," Levasseur said, their trans counterparts are not enjoying the same aspects of life.

"We're talking about survival issues. Getting basic health care. Finding a job. Walking down the street without being harassed by the police or experiencing violence," said Levasseur.

While the nation moves forward with accepting gay marriage, other legislative setbacks persist.

Last week, for example, the New York State Senate failed to pass GENDA (the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act), a bill that would have added transgender people to the state's hate-crimes law. The act would have included language protecting trans people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

"It's depressing because it's the same trans activists each year coming to the table, fighting for their lives, and not much has happened," Levasseur said. "We absolutely need our LGB counterparts to fight with us to get to the Supreme Court."

Shannon Minter was more optimistic.

Minter, a transgender person and an attorney with the National Centre for Lesbian rights, believes a watershed moment is imminent within the next decade.
Gay-marriage supporters celebrate Friday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which guaranteed marriage rights to same-sex couples, outside New York's Stonewall Inn, widely considered the birthplace of the modern gay-rights movement. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

"It could be five years or 10 years, but those next years are going to be a critical turning point for transgender equality and justice, and I think the momentum from the marriage decision today has only amplified that momentum," Minter said.

"I think people are going to respond in a very positive way, the same way we responded over time to gay people."

Levasseur points to the jubilation by the gay and lesbian community at the Stonewall as a fitting symbol for how trans issues have been somewhat sidelined. The gay club became a focal point of celebrations following the gay-marriage ruling on Friday.

Levasseur lamented that few seem to recall, however, that the June 28, 1969, Stonewall rebellion that led to the modern gay-rights movement was sparked by transgender patrons fed up with the police raids.

"And yet you don't read about that," said Octavia Lewis, a trans demonstrator at the Trans Day of Action rally. "Nobody remembers it was trans people who birthed this movement."

Lewis, 33, said she counted at least a dozen news media vans parked outside Stonewall Inn as she was walking towards the trans march.

"It was just a few yards away from us. People are celebrating the fact that they can get married. And that it's their choice. And it should be their right," she said.

"But when it is going to be our right to be able to live freely? Why aren't they here to talk to us?"


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