Conventions should include trans speakers

  • Wednesday July 6, 2016
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Conventions should include trans speakers

It's finally time for the Republican and Democratic national conventions. The Republicans, barring some crazy last-minute upset, are poised to nominate racist businessman Donald Trump, whose approval numbers are in the toilet. The Democrats, saddled with an equally unlikeable candidate, but one who is experienced and competent, will nominate Hillary Clinton. If nothing else, both conventions promise to be more than the usual staid, scripted affairs and might actually be worth watching, and maybe even interesting if convention planners schedule trans people as prime time speakers.



According to trans advocates, an out trans person has never addressed the Democratic convention on the floor. Trans people have introduced speakers, but even then, it's been at an LGBT Caucus meeting or other session, not on the convention floor, which the networks televise nightly. In 2012, the Democrats had the most out trans delegates ever, 14, and that is likely to hold steady or increase this year. We learned last week that California will have its first out trans delegates to this year's convention " Bay Area health advocate Tiffany Woods and San Diegan April Spilker were selected as at-large delegates last month and will soon head to Philadelphia.

The Democrats are overdue for a major address by a trans person " the first gay person to address the convention was San Francisco activist Jim Foster in 1972. The nation is confronting the growing fight for equal rights for trans people. The horrendous bathroom law in North Carolina has shone a bright light on trans people's experiences as they have begun to tell their stories. Since North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2 this spring " it prevents cities from enacting their own non-discrimination laws and forces trans people to use public restrooms that correspond to their gender assigned at birth " reaction from LGBT organizations, the business community, fair-minded politicians, parents of trans kids, and the LGBT community has been largely outrage.

Meantime, trans people have discovered they have powerful allies as they come out in greater numbers, putting a human face on what's shaping up to be a civil rights touchstone. Harvard swimmer Schuyler Bailar spoke on CBS' 60 Minutes and provided an honest portrayal of his struggles switching from a top performer on the women's team to the men's swim team after he transitioned, where he's not doing as well. But now he is living his life authentically. In Virginia, trans high school student Gavin Grimm won a court victory a few months ago when the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that public schools must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

Political history was made in June when two trans women won their respective primaries for Congress. In Utah, Misty K. Snow won the Senate Democratic primary and will face off in November against incumbent Senator Mike Lee (R). In Colorado, Misty Plowright will challenge incumbent Congressman Doug Lamborn (R). Politico reported that both women have uphill fights; Snow is running in a Republican- (and Mormon-) heavy state, and Plowright's district is the most conservative in the Centennial State. But both won their primary races convincingly; Snow in particular ran to the left of her fellow Democrat, criticizing him for supporting limitations on abortion rights, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune.

Democratic convention planners should reach out to either of these women as they embark on potentially groundbreaking campaigns. An address by Snow or Plowright would show Americans watching at home that trans people are indeed everywhere, and that they bring their perspectives to the party. After the bruising primary season, Democrats need to unify. But let us be clear: Snow, Plowright, or some other trans person needs to take the convention stage in prime time. It's not enough to be shunted off to a convention caucus meeting in a side room. We need the "T" in LGBT to be fully represented this year at the Democratic convention.



It'll be harder for the Republicans, but we'll call on the GOP to meet the same standard: an out trans person speaking from the stage in prime time, giving his or her own address, not merely introducing another speaker.

We'll admit that the bench is pretty thin. In fact, Caitlyn Jenner is probably the only person who could fit the bill, and she is as media savvy as the presumptive nominee and even stars in her own reality TV show, like Trump used to do. Since she came out, Jenner has unapologetically spoken about her conservative politics. At one point she mused about being Ted Cruz's "trans ambassador," but after he flamed out in the primaries, Jenner threw her support behind Trump. Like The Donald, she even manages to make conflicting statements in one sitting. ENews has reported that she wasn't a big fan because of Trump's "macho attitude," yet she said he'd be "very good" on women's issues. More recently, she confirmed her support for Trump and doubled down on his support of women and the LGBT community.

We disagree wholeheartedly with her political positions, but it would be heartening to see Jenner on stage to let conservatives know that they, too, have trans constituents; the LGBT community is not monolithic. Besides, Republican planners are having difficulty filling their speaker slots, as more and more party leaders opt to stay away from the convention in Cleveland.

A report last week by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law estimates there are about 1.4 million adults who identify as transgender in the U.S. That doubles estimates from a decade ago. The new findings are "critical to current policy discussions that impact transgender people," Jody Herman, one of the study authors, said in a news release.

In the face of so much division and hatred that seems to pervade much of our world lately, both conventions would do well to showcase our country's diversity. The time to include out trans speakers is now.