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So often within our community we find ourselves acting like warring factions, each trying to get our voices heard, each scrambling for what little piece of equality we can gain for our people. We know of the long fight for transgender inclusion in legislation like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or debates over the amount of importance put on high-profile fights like same-gender marriage or repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Caught between Republican administrations that are often openly hostile, and Democratic administrations that pay us lip service, we find ourselves up against each other in our struggles.
We live in a country where our rights should not be left to the whim of an increasingly narrow-minded majority, where our basic needs and desires end up bargained away by gun-shy politicians who quite simply don't care enough about the needs of their LGBT constituents to stand up to the shouts of a shrill right wing.
We also don't always understand each other. Many gay and lesbian individuals don't understand what it is to be transgender. Some don't see it as their issue, while others misunderstand it as if all transgender identity is akin to performance. Meanwhile, transgender people have their own set of issues. We don't always understand what it is to be gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, and we sometimes have our own phobias to overcome. Our lack of understanding and good faith is sometimes our undoing, causing all of us to remain without. Indeed, we are often our own worst enemies, and the unwitting participants in the old strategy of "divide and conquer" that leave us all a little more powerless than we should be.
It does not have to be this way.
We are all too aware of the recent suicides of Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Raymond Chase, Justin Aaberg, Asher Brown, and Billy Lucas. Those of us in the transgender community, too, are aware of how prevalent suicide and murder is within our own numbers. From data taken from Archives of Sexual Behavior, December 1988, over half of transsexuals attempt suicide by their 20th birthday. Regardless of whether one is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, we all feel the losses, and it is highly probable that we, too, have felt just as hopeless as the young men named above.
I've chronicled hundreds of anti-transgender murders, at a rate of one every two weeks. Indeed, it may be much worse than this, up to one every couple days, given some data. The larger LGBT community, of course, has had its own instances of horrific murders, perhaps most notably in the death of Matthew Shepard. That said, many anti-transgender murders have homophobic roots.
Indeed, when we are bullied for being different, when we are beaten, when we are killed, our tormentors don't stop to ask where we might fit in the LGBT spectrum. This is irrelevant to them. Our divisions do not help us, nor do they make us any stronger. They only serve to weaken our ability to work as one when we need to – and we need to.
I'm not saying there aren't times when our issues may not mesh, or that there aren't issues within our communities that still need a lot of work. Transgender people are still barred from the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival and the Human Rights Campaign still seems to have troubles really holding firm on its commitment to transgender people when the chips are down. There are still battles to be fought within our own backyards, and things that our communities need to work out between ourselves. In any family there will be fights, and we will always have a bump or two along the road.
Yet we have a strength in numbers that we really need to consider, and we all bring something to the table. We need each other, and we need to stand as one to fight our fights. Now is quite simply not the time to fracture off into our own subsets. We need to truly consider that we each have value, and we can – and must – help each other in spite of whatever differences and misunderstandings have kept us apart. There are, quite literally, lives on the line.
For that matter, we may even wish to look beyond just the LGBT community, and seek out other alliances where we can. Ours is so often a fight for social justice and protecting our rights beyond just our borders – and the issue of suicide and murder is a human issue, not simply one of our communities.
We all can make a difference. It isn't just about organizations and projects, big rallies and high-profile celebs making good videos. Just being yourself, being a good, visible role model makes a difference. Telling people of your experiences, and educating when you can is vital. Standing up for yourself and others is – as they say in the commercial – priceless. If we all did this for ourselves and others, we'd make that much more of a difference for all.
Now take that individual energy and apply it to this whole network of LGBT people – and our allies beyond the borders of our community. Imagine what can be done with all that. That is strength that can move mountains – and that is where we need to be.
We're a harmony of voices – and together we can make music that can shake the heavens.
Gwen Smith can be found online at www.gwensmith.com.