Lessons from Transgender Activists

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In March 2013, Bryan Ellicot, a bisexual transman, attended the Supreme Court rally for Marriage Equality. As Ellicot wrote in his op-ed for The New Civil Rights Movement, he did not expect to be harassed or to feel threatened at this historic event.

But that is what happened.

Ellicot had been standing by the stage holding the trans pride flag when a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) staff member, Karin Quimby, asked him to take down the flag.  Throughout the rally, Quimby and other HRC staff members repeatedly made this demand.  Furthermore, Ellicot stated that Quimby told him the rally was about marriage equality and not transgender issues.  (This wasn’t the only example of silencing at the rally.  The HRC also asked undocumented LGBT individuals who were speaking at the rally not to mention their undocumented status.)

The HRC later apologized.

People who want to be effective allies in the struggle for trans rights need to gain more understanding of the issues confronting trans individuals.  One way to educate themselves is to look at the work of transgender activists.  Whether the issue is workplace rights or transgender individuals serving openly in the military, these activists are taking action to secure equal rights for the trans community…

Allyson RobinsonExecutive Director of OutServe-SLDN

Allyson Allyson Robinson (Photo-by OutServeMagazine)

When Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed in September 2011, it opened the door to equality for LGBs in the military.  But full equality hasn’t been achieved — particularly for transgender individuals in the service who cannot be open about their gender identity.

OutServe-SLDN and Executive Director Allyson Robinson are advocates for the rights of all LGBT individuals in the military and their families.

Robinson’s appointment to this position in October 2012 made history because she is the first transgender person to direct a national LGBT organization.

“After I came out I feared I'd never be welcome in my military ‘family’ again,” shared Robinson in an interview with The Mirror.  “To have the opportunity to serve LGBT members of the military at this critical moment in our movement for equality is a tremendous honor.”

According to her biography on the OutServe-SLDN website, Robinson graduated from West Point, interned at Los Alamos National Laboratory, led army units in Europe and the Middle East, worked for NATO, and advised the armed forces of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.

In 1999, she became a preacher for eleven years.  During that time, she earned a master of divinity degree in theology.  Eventually, she became the HRC deputy director for employee programs, where she focused on LGBT cultural competence and inclusion in the workplace.

Robinson’s background uniquely qualifies her as a leader who profoundly understands LGBT issues within the military, and can motivate others to act on the movement for equality.

“I'm proud that pressure from OutServe-SLDN finally convinced former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to extend important benefits to same-sex military families,” reflected Robinson.  “We helped the nation vet his successor, Chuck Hagel, who after a history of anti-LGBT rhetoric has been more supportive of our community than anyone ever to have held the office.”

Recently, Robinson wrote an op-ed in The Huffington Post about transgender individuals serving openly in the military, making the case that the United Kingdom, Australia and Israel already have open transgender military service.  Undoubtedly, OutServe-SLDN will progress on this issue.

Yet Robinson emphasized that the real achievements belong to service members.

“I'm proudest LGBT soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen – who are leading the change in their units and on their installations every day,” she said.

For more information, visit sldn.org.

Kylar Broadus

Founder and Executive Director of the Trans People of Color Coalition

Kylar Kylar Broadus (Photo-by Trans People of Color Coalition)

In the U.S., there is absolutely no federal protection against LGBT employment discrimination.  You can lose your job for being lesbian, gay or bisexual.  Transgender individuals are in a more difficult position — they often can’t secure employment in the first place.

The Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC), founded by Executive Director Kylar Broadus, is trying to change that.

Established three years ago, TPOCC is a national social justice organization that seeks to empower transgender people of color.  On their own and in partnership with communities of color and their allies, the organization takes action against racism and transphobia.  They will soon set up an office in Washington, D.C.

“We intend to have full-time staff involved in policy and legislation that impacts all of us but especially where there needs to be more voice and visibility of transgender people of color,” said attorney, professor and activist Broadus in an interview with The Mirror. 

In June 2012, Broadus’ voice was heard on a national level.  He became the first transgender person to testify in front of the U.S. Senate, speaking in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) legislation, which prohibits employment discrimination against LGBT individuals.

During Broadus’ testimony, he shared how he had lost his job in the mid-1990s after coming out as transgender.

In his interview with The Mirror, he summarized his message to the U.S. Senate and the American public:  “It was important to convey the dehumanization of being told that you cannot do the same job you did yesterday just because you announce that you’re transgender.”

He also discussed how testifying affected him on a personal level.

“Since I was personally discriminated against, and help many others that are, it was a validation and vindication. Validation, in that I am a person — a human being — worthy of protections; vindication being pushed out of a career,” he said.

In order to pass ENDA, Broadus advocates that voters continue to educate themselves on transgender issues, lobby Congress, and elect federal and local officials who are opposed to discrimination.

For more information, visit transpoc.org.Bamby Salcedo

Founder and President of The [email protected] Coalition

Bamby Bamby Salcedo (Photo By Trans Latina Coalition)

On April 10, 2013, The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) joined with over thirty transgender organizations to release a statement on the issue of immigrant reform: “Among a population that is highly marginalized, transgender immigrants are among the most vulnerable to discrimination and violence.”

As the NCTE website summarized, an “estimated 20,000 undocumented transgender adults in the U.S.” are affected by current immigration policies, as well as “thousands of transgender youth who came to the U.S. at an early age and also lack legal status.”

One of the supporting organizations is The [email protected] Coalition.

On the NCTE website, its founder and president, Bamby Salcedo, shared her thoughts about immigration reform:

“Immigration issues are trans issues and there are many trans brothers and sisters that are in the shadows because they may be undocumented, or they may have a loved one that is undocumented or detained in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center.”

According to The [email protected] Coalition website, its mission focuses on the issues of [email protected] immigrants in the U.S., working to “increase societal acceptance by providing visibility” and “advocating for laws for protection, human and civil rights, health care, social and cultural inclusion.”

Yet, Salcedo also works on many issues within the transgender community.  In a 2010 interview with POZ, Salcedo shared how her HIV diagnosis was a catalyst for her activism:  “I became involved not only because of my personal situation, but because transgender populations are so impacted by HIV. I was introduced to a support group run by Bienestar, and then eventually I became a staff member.”

She is currently the Project Coordinator for the transgender youth program with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.  She is also a member of the Transgender Service Provider Network in Los Angeles, a board member of the National Latino LGBT Civil Rights Organization [email protected], and the publisher for the LGBTQ [email protected] online publication XQsi Magazine.

Her accomplishments have led to a documentary about her life, Transvisible: Bamby’s Storywhich will be previewed in June 2013 at the One City One Pride Festival in West Hollywood, California.

For more information, visit translatinacoalition.org




KOKUM? (pronounced “koh-koo-mah”) is a Chicago-based African-American transgender woman, entrepreneur and self-described “artivist.”  At twenty-five years old, she is also the CEO of a multimedia production company KOKUM?MEDIA, which “uses music, film, literature, and philanthropy to illuminate the experiences of TGI (Trans*, Gender Non-Conforming, Intersex) people of color.”

In an interview with The Mirror, she discussed how the company started.

“KOKUM?MEDIA INC. came from an amalgamation of my intimate relation with oppression and unwavering desire to be free. Just as I accepted the call to live as a relentless black transwoman, I too had to answer the call to be a black transwoman entrepreneur,” she said. “By creating my own art and controlling its subsequent value, I appraise my worth. Because I don't like being tokenized by ‘allies’ any more than I like being oppressed by ‘racists.’ My oppressor can never be my savior. So founding KOKUM?MEDIA INC. is my plan to save myself.”

It will also save others.  One of KOKUM?MEDIA’s subsidiaries is KOKUM? PHILANTHROPY, which last year organized the first annual T.G.I.F. (Trans*, Gender Non-Conforming, Intersex Freedom) Rally in Chicago, a gathering intended to globally mobilize the T.G.I. community.  KOKUM?MEDIA is raising funds for the second annual event scheduled for July 2013.

Another subsidiary is KOKUM? MUSIC, which recently released KOKUM?’s debut EP, There Will Come A Day, available for free download on the website.  One song, a remake of “Mad World,” is particularly powerful, considering that she grew up in poverty on Chicago’s South Side, and was given the message that her identity would only result in death or institutionalization.

“I had to make a choice: Ignore my omnipresent oppression and let it invariably ruin the quality of my life, or stand in direct opposition to it. At an early age, I chose the latter,” she said.

She renamed herself KOKUM?, which means “This one will not die” in the West African language Yoruba.

“The perception of black transwomen is that we are merely degenerates and outcasts,” she added.  “Our beauty and necessity has never been artistically conveyed on a wide barometer. Therefore, this is why I make black transwomanist art. The era of others making art about me is over. I have a new story to tell.”

For more information, visit kokumomedia.com

Ryan Sallans

Speaker, Consultant and Author

Ryan Ryan Sallans (Photo Courtesy of Author)

In 2004, Ryan Sallans had a “breakthrough” in the transgender section of a bookstore.  At the time, Sallans was known as “Kim,” a woman who had recently come out as gay.  As Sallans states on his website, Kim began to recognize, after extensive research and reflection, that “ could be the boy she always felt she was.”

Five months after browsing the bookstore, Kim had chest surgery.  Testosterone therapy and a name change followed:  Kim became Ryan Sallans.

From the start of his transition, Sallans has shared his story by appearing on the LOGO documentary Gender Rebel, and Larry King Live.  He has also spoken at college campuses.  In 2012, Sallans published his memoir — Second Son: Transitioning Toward My Destiny, Love and Life

“I often hear people describing as ‘raw’ and ‘open,’ which is great because part of what makes my speaking so powerful is that I have no walls up.  People can ask me anything,” said Sallans in an interview with The Mirror.

Sallans’ professional background include a M.A. in English and an M.A. in Educational Psychology as well as ten years of experience in the fields of sexuality and gender.

“I am seeing an increase in demand for my services, which includes my popular transition story titled, FTM: Scouting the Unknown, and my popular professional training on increasing transgender-inclusion on college campuses,” said Sallans.  “My goal is to deconstruct the stereotypes and misperceptions of the transgender community and increase support for transgender students, staff and faculty.”

In addition, Sallans works as a consultant to healthcare organizations “seeking to increase their competency around serving transgender clients.”

For employers and schools who want to be more inclusive to transgender individuals, Sallans advises them to “add gender identity and expression to their non-discrimination policy,” “evaluate their physical environment to see where they can make improvements” (such as gender neutral restrooms), and train staff to expand their perspectives on transgender issues and sexuality.

Sallans reflected on his connection to audiences:

“People who aren’t transgender are able to also explore their own personal challenges in life through listening to my story. Help people develop more faith in themselves is something I’m extremely passionate about.”

For more information, visit ryansallans.com

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