A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak at a local Pride event. At first, I hesitated. I wasn’t sure that I was the right person to speak out at this type of event. And then I realized that while I myself am not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I am a fierce advocate. Someone who will go to the grave fighting the oppressive world these beautiful souls must live in. Below are the words that I spoke at the event.
Thank you for having me here today. Tammy approached me a few weeks ago and asked if I would be willing to give a speech about hope for the future for the LGBTQIA+ community in SOMD. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to decide if I am an appropriate person to give such a speech. On the one hand I am a cis, heterosexual, white privileged person who, for my first 40 years on this earth had never been subject to homophobia, transphobia or racism. That all changed six years ago when, at the age of five, my daughter trusted me with her authenticity.
I am the very proud parent of a kind and loving little girl. She delights in jumping on the trampoline with neighbors and is a collector of books. My kind-hearted child loves animals, especially Golden Retrievers. She absolutely hates gym class, and would rather be in science. Despite my love of pretty hair, she hates it when I curl it or, in her words, make it “poofy.” Left to her own devices she would eat macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets and hot sauce exclusively. And she gives the very best hugs. Oh and she also happens to be transgender.
So when approached about speaking about hope for the future, I admittedly struggle based on our recent experiences in local schools. Misgendering by teachers, in fact marked absent if they do not answer to their deadname. Forcing students to change for gym class in the nurse’s bathroom. Harassment on busses. Our own experiences include asking our child to line up in the wrong line at gym class. In addition, having students shout that “there are only 2 genders” in a freshman health class.
Locally as well as nationally our children, families and the transgender community as a whole is under attack, sometimes even from within the LGB community. When speaking with my freshman son I shared that it makes me think back to Ruby Bridges. You see, on November 14, 1960, at the age of six, Ruby became the very first African American child to attend an all-white public elementary school. Ruby and her Mother were escorted by federal marshals to the school. Ruby was brave, she was strong, and she held her head high, even when people were hateful and dehumanized her. I reflected that it is like the transgender and non-binary community are under attack similar to Ruby in 1960.
My son asked me, Mommy, “do you think the principal and teachers supported Ruby?” My answer was no. I have no reason to believe that. Ruby was allowed to go to school that day because of a piece of legislation called Brown vs. Board of Education. A piece of legislation called Title IX protects the LGBTQIA+ community. However, in 1960 or in 2021, we can legislate until we are blue in the face, but it is the feet on the ground. THE FEET ON THE GROUND who enforce or ignore the law.
So despite the teacher sitting in silence in the back of health class that day and despite the fact that “he didn’t hear it.” “Your son is exaggerating” “You weren’t there so you don’t know what happened.” Despite the deflection and denial, we continued to push forward to ensure that Title IX is in place and updated on the County website. A transphobic health question was remedied and BOE made aware.
So I have hope. I have hope that each one of you will show up and vote to create change and dismantle hate. For hope and change to occur those with privilege must stop being passive witnesses. Each of us has the opportunity and obligation to speak up and stand up to the culture of violence created in our offices, classrooms, businesses and family gatherings. To name it- inappropriate, harmful, dehumanizing and unacceptable.
Prior to meeting my daughter, I had never met a transgender person. I am ashamed to tell you that I had very little understanding outside of the gender binary. Now, six years later, the richness of the beauty of what I like to call the gender mosaic has opened my eyes. For just as the beautiful mosaics, without each part the whole would not be complete. And dare I say the whole picture would not be as beautiful.
I was under the impression that my baby was perhaps gay. To that point I had never considered life outside of the binary. My cis-normative behavior is a great example of how seemingly supportive allies can actually confuse, discredit or discount a trans person’s lived experience.
The time has come to understand that gender and sexuality are two very different components of a person’s identity. Both important and valid but again, very different. We need to shift the focus from gender assigned at birth and instead, embrace the person for their authenticity, gender expression and identity.
It is time that we elevate the voices of our transgender and non-binary community. We offer them a seat at the table, an opportunity to speak at the podium, a hand to walk by their side and unwavering admiration for being true to themselves.
In closing, the single most important catalyst for change is in your hands. You must get out and vote!