“While many minority groups are the target for prejudice… and discrimination… in our society, few persons face this hostility without the support and acceptance of their family as do many gay, lesbian, (transgender) and bisexual youth.”
– Virginia Uribe
and Karen Harbeck

“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
– Anaïs Nin

by Naomi Ishisaka

Despite some small moves toward progress, many struggles remain for transgender rights in the U.S. As the “T” in LGBT, often transgender issues get sidelined as basic civil rights for lesbians and gays remain elusive. Even as the landmark Employment Non-Discrimination Act to prevent discrimination against LGBT people was making its way through Congress last year, a prominent LGBT advocacy group – the Human Rights Campaign – made an agonizing decision to sacrifice protection for transgender workers for the preservation of the overall legislation.

These types of decisions that leave transgender folks vulnerable to discrimination and persecution illustrate the continued hardships faced by the transgender community. Without legal protection, transgender folks – such as Laura Calvo in this month’s cover story – can face legal discrimination and termination simply because of their gender identity.

While there have been some humanizing and sympathetic portrayals of struggles faced by transgender people in popular media – such as the landmark films “Boys Don’t Cry” in 1999 and “Transamerica” in 2005 – the prevalent attitude towards transgender folks in the media is still titillation and sideshow gawking. This was most recently evidenced with the media circus surrounding the “Pregnant Man!” from Oregon who recently attracted worldwide attention as a pregnant, female-to-male transgender person. Most often in articles and television (as in “Transamerica”) the focus and attention of the issue is on the external sex reassignment surgery instead of internal gender identity.

Consequently, the human, emotional side of gender identity gets lost in the focus on salacious details and breathless gossip. And those left to navigate these waters often find themselves faced with an uninformed public and unsympathetic families and friends. This lack of awareness is not just unfortunate, it can prove deadly, as hate crimes against LGBT increased 24 percent in 2007, with transgender folks a frequent target.

For people of color, homophobia and transphobia is often compounded with racism – creating even harder obstacles to overcome.
Hopefully as more and more people become aware of these issues, transgender civil rights will become not just an afterthought, but a core value for all.

June 2008