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Transgender rights movement

A gender symbol commonly used to represent transgender people.
Pride London, 3 July 2010.

The transgender rights movement is a movement determined to eliminate discrimination against transgender people regarding housing, employment, public accommodations, education, and health care. It also seeks to eliminate violence against transgender people. In some jurisdictions, transgender activism seeks to allow changes to identification documents to conform with a person's current gender identity.


Statistics of oppressionEdit

In a survey conducted by National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called "Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey", respondents reported that 90% of them had experienced discrimination and harassment in the work place and at school. The trans community experiences rates of unemployment that are double the national average. Additionally, one out of every twelve trans women, and one out of every eight trans women of color, are violently murdered (the nature of these crimes is often perpetrated in such a way that attempts to dehumanize the victim).[1] (For more details refer to Transgender inequality).

Oppression against people of colorEdit

Transgender people of color often face an identity that is under speculation, suspicion, doubt, and policing. Those within the community are often left out from the wealthy, able-bodied, American, and white experience that those in the non-trans community often focus on, and are subject to discrimination as a transgender and as a person of color.[2]

Some of the ways White transgender people have more privilege than those of their colored counterparts include racialized violence, better pay, better representation and benefits from the mainstream media movement. According to a National Transgender Discrimination survey, the combination of anti-transgender bias and individual racism results in transgender people of color being 6 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police compared to cisgender White people, two-thirds of LGBT homicide victims being transgender women of color, and a startling 78% attempt suicide.[3][4] The NCAVP survey also found that trans survivors were 1.7 times more likely to be the victims of sexual violence than cis-gender survivors.

According to the U.S. Current Population Survey and the National Committee on Pay Equity, Caucasian-Americans earn higher wages for the same work.[5] In " Beyond Stereotypes: Poverty in the LGBT Community," Brad Sears and Lee Badgett explain that transgender people are "four times as likely to have a household income under $10,000 and twice as likely to be unemployed" as most people in the U.S. Nearly a fifth of transgender people experience homelessness in their lifetimes, and 90 percent report having been discriminated against or harassed while on the job.[6] Transgender people of color are more likely to be poor, be homeless, or lack a college degree.[7]

The focus of the realms of trans visibility in pop culture and trans organizations has mostly been on white people, especially with Caitlyn Jenner joining the trans community.[7]

History of the movementEdit

Identifying the boundaries of a trans movement has been a matter of some debate. Conventionally, evidence of a codified political identity emerges in 1952, when Virginia Prince, a male crossdresser, along with others, launched Transvestia: The Journal of the American Society for Equality in Dress.[8] This publication is considered by some to be the beginning of the transgender rights movement in the United States.[8] In 1969, transgender and transsexual people played an integral part in the Stonewall Riots, including Sylvia Rae Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, trans women who were instigators in the uprising. Rivera continued to be an advocate for transgender rights until her death in 2002.[9] After Stonewall, awareness of transsexuality grew considerably. Support groups for male cross-dressers were common in the 1970s and 80s. In the 1980s female to male (FTM) transsexuality became common.[10] Contrary to these sociohistorical boundaries, Leslie Feinberg explodes the boundaries of trans activism by extending the history of the movement back to antiquity, and broadening the community to form partnerships with all people who are oppressed by the apparatus of capitalism.[11]

In 1992 Leslie Feinberg printed and circulated a pamphlet titled "Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come". Feinberg's pamphlet begins by calling on the trans community to compose their own definitions, invoking language as a tool that unites people divided by oppression. From here, Feinberg traces the emergence of oppression imposed by the ruling class by means of institutions. These institutions, run by the elite, enforce a gender binary at the expense of communal societies that encouraged liberal gender expression. Women were devalued and effeminacy was disparaged to promote patriarchal economic privilege. According to Feinberg, the gender binary is a contrivance of Western civilization. Having acknowledged this, Feinberg encourages all humans to reclaim the natural continuum of gender expression that identifies trans individuals as sacred. Feinberg concludes by empowering the working class to liberate themselves from the ruling class, which can be achieved by directing the labor of marginalized groups towards the common goal of revolution.[12]

Key eventsEdit

Idealized illustration of "Pine Leaf", possibly identified with Woman Chief, from James Beckwourth's autobiography

In the 1820s Rocky Mountains, a raid[by whom?] on a village of the Crow Nation resulted in the death of a young man; his sibling, Pine Leaf, vowed that she would never marry until she had killed a hundred of her enemies. Pine Leaf was recognized by her tribe as two-spirit, a gender-variant individual who may have spiritual gifts and the potential for authority and leadership in the community. She served in numerous war parties, and legend has it that one man, Jim Beckwourth, a former slave, asked for her hand in marriage. She immediately declined, but upon being pressed further she responded that she would marry him just as soon as the pine leaves turn yellow.[13][14]

On December 31, 1993, a trans man named Brandon Teena was murdered in Nebraska along with two of his friends. This murder was documented in the 1999 movie Boys Don't Cry starring Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena.[10] In 2005, the movie Transamerica told the story of a male to female transsexual preparing for gender reassignment surgery and traveling across the United States with her bisexual son.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual ceremony to commemorate those who lost their lives due to their gender identity, was first held in 1999 following the murder of Rita Hester in 1998. The "Remembering our Dead" web project was also set up in 1999.[15]

In June 2012 CeCe McDonald was wrongfully imprisoned for having defended herself against neo-nazi attackers with a pair of scissors, which resulted in the death of one of her assailants. Her story was publicized by a GLAAD Media Award winning article in Laverne Cox, openly trans actress on Orange Is the New Black, launched a campaign to raise consciousness of cruel prison conditions for incarcerated trans individuals and rallied to free CeCe. After serving for 19 months, she was released January 2014.

Left OUT Party Two signs summarize the feelings of protestors.

On March 26–27, 2013, LGBT activists gathered at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. to support marriage equality, but in the midst of these demonstrations one speaker was asked to edit their proceedings to conceal their trans identity, and the trans community was asked to lower their pride flags. This incident follows years of tension between activist groups, namely Human Rights Campaign and the trans community, because the trans community is often neglected or blatantly excluded from events and political consideration. The incident resulted in a backlash and public criticism by the trans community. In response, activists groups apologized for the incident, and in 2014 HRC promised to energize efforts for promoting trans rights.

In Florida in March 2015, Representative Frank Artiles (R-Miami) proposed House Bill 583, which would ensure that individuals who enter public facilities such as bathrooms or locker rooms designated for those who are of the "other biological sex" could be jailed for up to 60 days. Artiles claims that it was proposed for the sake of public safety. Essentially, the bill would make it illegal for trans individuals to use public facilities.[16]

In pop cultureEdit

Many celebrities have spoken out in support of transgender rights and often in conjunction with overall support for the LGBTQ community. Numerous celebrities voice such support for the Human Rights Campaign, including Archie Panjabi, Lance Bass, Tituss Burgess, Chelsea Clinton, George Clooney, Tim Cook, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Sally Field, Lady Gaga, Whoopi Goldberg, Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Hudson, Caitlyn Jenner, Jazz Jennings, Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, Jennifer Lopez, Demi Lovato, Natasha Lyonne, Ellen Page, Brad Pitt, Geena Rocero, Bruce Springsteen, Jeffrey Tambor, Charlize Theron, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Wachowski.[17][18][19][20]

Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox has been particularly outspoken about the importance of transgender rights. Being transgender herself, Cox has experienced firsthand the issues that surround those who are transgender and often uses her own story to promote the movement for transgender rights.[21] She sees her fame as an opportunity to bring awareness to causes that matter and that her unique position legitimizes the transgender rights movement.[22] Particularly, she believes that transgender individuals have been historically overlooked and sidelined not just socially, but in the fight for civil rights as well.[23] Cox acknowledges the progress that has been made for Gay rights, but that it is important to focus on transgender rights separately, seeing as it has historically been grouped together with other causes and used as an umbrella term.[24] In 2014, Glamour magazine named Cox Woman of the Year in recognition of her activism.[25]

In April 2015, Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star Bruce Jenner came out as transgender.[26] The news had been speculated for months leading up to the announcement, but still shocked the public and received considerable attention.[27] Jenner expressed the desire to transition and to be known as Caitlyn Jenner and introduced herself for the first time on the cover of Vanity Fair.[28] Jenner's transition has been documented by the short-lived reality television series titled I am Cait.[29] Jenner was determined to make a difference and bring awareness to transgender rights, believing that telling her story can do so. Jenner did increase transgender visibility, however, her commentary and series were criticized for misrepresenting the struggles of the majority the trans community, who are much less privileged than her and face deeper problems.[30]

Other notable figuresEdit

Lili Elbe is noted as one of the first to undergo gender reassignment surgery.[31] Born in 1882, Elbe was a transgender painter from Denmark. Elbe had decided to commit suicide but decided against it when a doctor claimed that he could perform a gender reassignment surgery on Elbe. After undergoing four high risk experimental surgeries, Elbe died of post-op complications. Her story is depicted in the 2015 film, The Danish Girl.[32][33][34]


Terminology within the transgender community often changes and with it, connotations of certain terms can also change.

The broadest term used is "transgender," which typically refers to an individual who identifies with a gender different to the one assigned to them at birth. The term is used as an adjective and can be taken offensively if used as a noun. "Trans" is a shorthand for "transgender." The term "transgender man" refers to a transgender individual who identifies as a man and the term "transgender woman" refers to a transgender individual who identifies as a woman.[35] These are acceptable and appropriate terms to use and many variations of the terms tend to have a negative connotation and are deemed offensive and even derogatory.[36][37]

Significant backlash and controversy was generated when the term " trans* " was introduced into transgender terminology.[38] The asterisk at the end of the term stems from the online practice wherein putting an asterisk at the end of a search subject includes search results that include any variation of the part before the asterisk. For example, if "trans*" were to be typed into a search engine, the search results would include topics such as transmission, transfer, transaction, transgender, etc.[39] The "trans*" term was intended to be an umbrella term to be more inclusive and encompass more identities within the transgender community. However, the term faced significant backlash for backfiring and being fundamentally oppressive. The criticism stems from the existence of an already inclusive term "transgender," and how many viewed the new "trans*" term as unnecessary given the preexisting inclusive term. Thus, many LGBTQ and particularly transgender rights activists denounce the use of the term[40]


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