It was a very different world for the national trans equality movement when I came out in 1997, and it wasn’t just about media or politics. Trans people of my generation who were politically active understood that socially, politically, and culturally, we were virtually invisible as a minority interest. The disadvantages of that reality were obvious, but there were advantages as well. Bob Dylan was right: When you’ve got nothing, you’ve nothing got to lose.
Our political organizations and activists struggled to be heard in a cultural and political environment that really didn’t consider us relevant or worth fighting for. Pretty much everything was organized online, with only the end results of that organizing taking place in the offline world.
Sometimes, I really miss those days.
Today, it’s not so easy. We can’t operate like that anymore, and for good reason. It’s now almost a generation later, and after a lot of hard work the trans community is in a different place. We’re political players now. Politicians legislate with us in mind. When trans people speak, at least some people who matter actually listen. When we’re attacked and mistreated, at least some people care and even take action.
Of course, there’s a dark side to all this progress, too. We’ve become political targets. With same-sex marriage now the law of the land, a significant portion of those who once formed the LGBT community donor base have abandoned the working class, with trans people in particular left behind to take the brunt of bigoted right-wing attacks.
Despite all that progress, in some ways very little has changed. Many wealthy cisgender gays and lesbians who feel they now have what they need and can buy their way out of any remaining discrimination they may face apparently feel little or no inclination to support those in our community’s working class who are still fighting for fair and equal treatment. Even before Obergefell, it’s a story we’ve seen play out over and over in states like New Hampshire, Connecticut, and even New York.
Finally, a new national organization has surfaced to help break this cycle. Enter the Trans United Fund, a new 501(c)(4), formed in the wake of the passage of the virulently anti-trans Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act which is now the law in North Carolina, aims to get trans people involved in the political process as well as endorse candidates who support the equality and fair treatment of trans people and initiatives of importance to trans people dealing with issues such as homelessness, anti-trans violence, HIV-AIDS, and the treatment of trans people in immigrant detention.
This organization will be staffed and run entirely by trans people, and focused exclusively on trans people and relevant issues, setting it apart from the vast majority of previous transgender advocacy efforts. With the singular exception of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, which focuses on federal issues and public education, the Trans United Fund is the only organization of national scope that focuses exclusively on the trans community and the only one run exclusively by trans people, by our community for our community.
While that last point may seem a bit petty to some, it matters. Too often in the past, efforts at promoting the interests of trans people by organizations with a broader LGBT focus like the Human Rights Campaign or the Empire State Pride Agenda have ended up underserved and underfunded as issues on the wish list of wealthy gay donors have been given precedence over those of the trans community.
Hayden Mora, one of the leaders of the Trans United Fund, told us “Trans United Fund includes one of the most diverse arrays of Trans leaders assembled for any national organization including the likes of NTAC veteran Monica Roberts, CEO and President of the Trans Latina Coalition Bamby Salcedo, longtime political operative Andrea Jenkins, military veteran Brynn Tannehill and others.” “More and more, we've heard from major organizations that they care about our lives, as we step into this new moment, now is the time we need them to make good on that commitment.” added trans immigration activist Bamby Salcedo.
A new organization, created to help lead a new generation of trans advocacy. The cause is right, the people are right, and the timing is downright perfect. It’s time to put aside the acrimony of the past, unite as a community, and finally get the job done.