After our Victory, Our Struggle Continues

HUFFINGTON POST ALERT: Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage nationwide

It’s been 3 weeks since that email notification flashed across my iPhone’s screen. It still sits in my inbox, a daily reminder that elicits a tiny thrill as I am reminded again of the power of those words. I was in the middle of a conversation with a work colleague when I saw the alert. I broke off, mid-sentence, and rushed to my car. I wasn’t sure if I would scream, or shout, or dance, or cry. In the end, I sat in silence in my car for 30 minutes and let the joy wash over me.

I was happy for all the kids who wouldn’t have to grow up like I did, thinking that things such as marriage and children were off the table as gay men (the 80s was a MUCH simpler time, looking back, or maybe I just didn’t know where to look). I was happy because I was witness to something I never expected to see. With just a few hundred words, the Supreme Court had transformed the lives of millions of Americans like me. It was a victory, of course, but for whom?

Only 2 days prior, transgender activist Jennicet Gutiérrez had been ushered out of a White House LGBT Pride Month reception after she interrupted the President’s remarks to shine a light on the plight of LGBT immigration detainees. Her story and the public reaction to it got lost in the excitement of the gay marriage victory two days later. Let us not forget that people (including, and most dishearteningly, many gays) suggested that she was disrespectful, that she should wait her turn. It was all quite ugly to me. Oh, what short memories the gays have!

It wasn’t so long ago that gay men were doing the interrupting, disrupting meetings, marching, and staging acts of civil disobedience. Should they have waited for their turn? Were they disrespectful of the authorities? They were fighting a government, a social system, a society that did not see them, did not value them. Their backs were against the wall! What were they to do? Society expected them to sit around and wait to die. They were not supposed to rock the boat. They were the weirdos, freaks, and sexual deviants.

I submit that Ms. Gutiérrez was acting in that very same tradition. The plight of transwomen and particularly transwomen of color is terrible. Consider some facts from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey:

  • 50% of transgender people have experienced sexual violence.
  • 22-38% of trans people have been harassed by police, with upwards of 15% experiencing physical abuse and 7% being sexually assaulted by law enforcement.
  • 26% experienced physical assault and 10% lived through sexual assault at the hands of health care professionals.
  • 78% of gender non-conforming youth reported “significant abuse at school” —31% of the youth noted the abuse was from teachers.
  • 19% of respondents had experienced family violence because of their transgender identity or gender non-conformity.

Jennicet Gutiérrez lives in this world. Her letter in the alphabet soup of LGBTQIA is likely less inclined to celebrate a victory on gay marriage when she and her friends are so much more likely to live in extreme poverty or be homeless. The gays have spent the past several weeks since the announcement planning lush, expensive, and undoubtedly tacky destination weddings, while she and other trans people like her live a life where political, economic, physical, and sexual violence at the hands of the state is routine. She perceives that the world does not value the lives of transgender people. She feels the distrust from those who should be her natural allies. That might be what hurts the most.

Gay men should be standing beside her, shoulder to shoulder, in her fight, in OUR fight. That is not the case, though. Some of the loudest voices telling her to sit down and wait her turn were those of gay men. The disrespect shown to our transgender brothers and sisters is appalling. It is beyond ironic that some gays treat these men and women like the outsiders they once were. They perpetrate the violence done to them on others. They content themselves with the fantasy that all is well with the world just because you can turn on the TV and see reruns of Will and Grace or because there is a gay character on a hip-hop soap opera.

We have forgotten where we came from. Remember that it was TRANS people who rose up at Stonewall. Were it not for Sylvia Rivera, Tammy Novak, Bambi, Ivan, Marsha Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie, Allyson Allante, Maria Ritter, Kiki, Birdy Rivera, Diane Kearney, Zazu Nova, Dario Modon, Christine Hayworth, Miss Peaches, and so many more, we wouldn’t even be here at this historic moment in American history. Yet now, we expect the sons and daughters of the very people who set us on this path to wait their turn? To keep their voices silent when their very lives are at stake?

Let us not forget that we are not free until WE ARE ALL FREE. We are not truly victorious until everyone in that alphabet soup is free to pursue happiness. We cannot claim victory until women like Jennicet Gutiérrez no longer live in a world where she feels so powerless that she has to shout at the President of the United States.

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