By Maceo Persson, Program Manager

This month our Community Advocate, Isabella Rodriguez and I participated in the BOLD! Gathering. This powerful gathering of over 80 Queer and Transgender people of color coming from across the country was organized to connect leaders, share experiences and ask ourselves important questions about our role in larger LGBT, racial, and economic justice movements. This gathering came at a critical “movement moment” when LGBT people of color are experiencing the profound impacts of the economic crisis and the right wing’s response to it. BOLD! created a space where LGBT leaders of color could take stock of our communities, share strategies for social change, and increase our capacity to build organizations with a multi-issue agenda.

In transgender communities we know all too well how discrimination, such as being fired from our jobs, can have a detrimental impact on our lives, and often leads to living a life below the poverty line. Conversations about economic justice and poverty come naturally to a population that faces unemployment rates twice that of the general population.

Similarly, at BOLD! topics around racism and economic justice dominated the discussions as we shared the common issues that we face in our communities and shared our different approaches to advocate for ourselves.  Miss Major, the Executive Director of TGI Justice Project (an advocacy organization for transgender, gender non-conforming and intersex prisoners) reminded all of us of the compounded impact that the economic crisis, lack of resources, and discrimination have on transgender communities of color and asked us to centralize the experiences of transgender people of color in our advocacy work.

Below are some thoughts about how we approach issues around economic and racial justice in our work at Transgender Law Center…

What does centralizing economic and racial justice look like for Transgender Law Center?

For us at the Transgender Law Center, this means that we focus on issues critical to low-income transgender people and transgender people of color, with a primary focus on economic justice and healthcare access. In addition to providing free legal services, we have developed programs designed to meet some of the everyday needs that our community members have while also building our power to advocate for change on a systemic level. For example, we help individuals with MediCal appeals while working with CA’s Department of Insurance to create equal access to insurance coverage.

Meeting the needs of transgender community members:
At  Transgender Law Center we take more than 1,400 phone calls a year to help meet the legal needs of transgender people and their family members. These services are crucial since we work with community members on a variety of issues spanning from legal gender changes, to job discrimination, to helping people access medically necessary care through MediCal.

Building Power for transgender community:
This also means that we will continue to focus on our advocacy work to meet individual needs as well as  have an impact on policies that affect all of our lives. In order to build power for all transgender communities we have a three pronged approach to advocacy:

  1. To advocate for transgender specific issues that impact the breath of our communities including low-income trans communities and communities of color. These two laws that we helped pass this year are a great example:AB 887, The Gender Non-Discrimination Act
    We have learned from our statewide survey as well as from the national survey by NCTE and the Task Force, that transgender people of color and low -income transgender people face discrimination at higher rates than the general transgender population. We helped to draft the Gender Non-Discrimination Act to reduce this type of discrimination by clarifying that transgender and gender non-conforming people are protected under California’s non-discrimination laws.AB 433, Vital Statistics Modernization Act
    Mismatching ID documents make it difficult for transgender people to meet their basic needs and to be treated with dignity and respect. This is especially a pervasive issue for trans communities of color and low-income communities. Streamlining the gender change process, and making it more consistent with the federal passport standards, will make the process more accessible for low-income trans people and trans people of color.

    1. Advocating on issues that primarily impact low income and communities of color, like taking a stance on national and state wide immigrant rights issues.
    2. Advocating for issues that will specifically impact low-income trans people and trans people of color – like increasing access for medically necessary care through community clinics.

    How you can help:

    • Talk to your elected official!Elected officials make policy decisions that impact our lives on a daily basis, yet many have never even spoken to a transgender person. From your school board member all the way up to the president. Tell them about your life and what matters to you because they depend on you to keep their job.
    • Volunteer for local or statewide racial justice and economic justice organizations!      There are many local and statewide organizations that organize on racial and economic justice issues. Find an organization near you that has a mission you believe in and offer to volunteer or donate. Often these organizations are working on issues that will positively impact our transgender communities, and showing up goes a long way to building a multi-issue movement.

    Join us as we celebrate our 10 year anniversary and grow our capacity!

    Transgender Law Center has been changing laws, policies and attitudes so that we can all be our authentic selves for the past ten years and it is time to celebrate our victories and move forward. Join us in our three big events next year, our Anniversary event in the fall, the Transgender Leadership Summit taking place this summer as well as our upcoming tour of California to celebrate our victories and discuss the impact of our new laws. Look for an e-mail next year that will outline time and location for these events.