I recently listened to a trans activist talk around a table about the work of his trans-specific service organization. This nonprofit organization provided antidiscrimination training that complied with a particular government mandated sexual orientation and gender identity training requirement for a particular service sector. There were:
- No broader LGBT organizations in the immediate area providing that kind of training
- The gender identity training was fully integrated in with sexual orientation training
- The trans organization didn’t provide gender identity training as stand alone training
The public and private enterprises receiving the training expected the trans organization to be subject matter experts with the gender identity portions of the training, but weren’t so sure that trans people could be experts on sexual orientation training. The public and private enterprises would often ask if this trans-specific organization partnered with a broader LGBT organization in the local area, such as the local LGBT Community Center of their city. This, even though their LGBT Center didn’t have this kind of training for any public and private enterprises in that professional sector as part of their mission or vision.
In other words, it was presumed trans people couldn’t speak credibly on anything involving sexual orientation — this, even though trans people clearly are part of the LGBT community; this, even though a recent Task Force survey indicated over half of trans people don’t identify as heterosexual people. But if this trans-specific nonprofit partnered with a broader LGBT community nonprofit, then that LGBT organization would functionally be perceived as giving the trans nonprofit subject matter expert status. That, even though the LGBT nonprofit they were often asked if they’d partnered with had no subject matter expertise in this particular subject area.
Yet oddly, when one thinks about major LGBT organizations, lesbian and gay spokespeople are assumed to be credible spokespeople for trans people on trans specific issues.
Let me put it this way: do you ever see any large LGBT organization put forward a trans spokesperson as their public voice to speak about marriage equality or LGBT antidiscrimination legislation? Per that Task Force survey, it’s not as if there aren’t transgender people who are also lesbian, gay, or bisexual who could speak on issues that primarily impact LGB people. In other words, one can be trans and lesbian, trans and gay, or trans and bisexual — so why aren’t there more trans and LGBT nonprofit spokespeople?
So with that intersection of gender identity and sexual orientation in mind, could you imagine a transgender veteran having spoken for the HRC, the SLDN, or any of the LGBT military service focused organizations about repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)? If it were just veteran status that qualifies an LGBT community member to speak on LGBT veterans issues, let me note here that in 2010 when repeal of DADT was winding its way through congress the HRC’s only military veteran in their approximately one-hundred-thirty person permanent staff was a trans military veteran.
From national to local perspective, can you imagine the HRC, the Task Force, Equality California, the San Diego LGBT Community Center or San Diego Pride credibly having a trans executive director sometime within the next five years? Perhaps in the next ten years?
How would those of you who are gay, lesbian, and bisexual, aren’t trans, and live in a medium to large city, how would you feel about having a trans executive director at your local “gay center”? Would it make a difference to you if such a hypothetical trans executive director’s sexual orientation was lesbian, gay, or bisexual?
When I recently wrote about the 2012 California Transgender Advocacy Day, trans people were spokespeople for lesbian gay and bisexual community youth when lobbying for the Foster Youth: LGBT Competency bill (AB 1856). Transgender people didn’t have a representative from Equality California in the approximately fifty-person large contingent of citizen lobbyists; no broader-based, larger-sized LGBT organization was there shepherding the lobbying work by the trans people at that annual lobbying day. The world didn’t crumble.
There seems to be an unwritten rule at play where trans people can’t credibly speak for LGBT community issues: especially when trans specific community nonprofits — by identifying by one of the letters of the alphabet soup — clearly belong to the broader LGBT community; especially when LGBT community nonprofits are speaking on LGB specific issues.
And you can even broaden the concept. Bienestar is an organization at the intersection of Latino/Latina and LGBT communities; The National Black Justice Coalition is an organization at the intersection of African-American and LGBT communities: Can either of these two organizations speak credibly as a authority on the broad LGBT community, or they perceived by even people within the LGBT community to be limited to speaking about intersectional issues?
Maybe it’s time we, as a broad LGBT community, put the unwritten rules for who can credibly speak for the broad LGBT community up for public review. If we as a broad community really embrace the diversity of what the L, G, B, and T stand for in LGBT, then that true commitment to diversity would behoove us to publicly review those unwritten rules.