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Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience by Housing Works CEO Charles King

Posted by Elizabeth Koke , November 16, 2016

Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience by Housing Works CEO Charles King

Guest post by Charles King, President and CEO of Housing Works

Transgender Day of remembrance is always a solemn occasion, for it honors our sisters and brothers of trans experience who have been martyred on the altar of hate, attacked, brutalized and killed for the offense of living their lives as God made them to be. It is almost incomprehensible, that the mere fact of someone’s existence is such a threat to some peoples’ sense of themselves and the world around them, that it would move them to take that person’s life, often in the most brutal manner. Yet, each year we gather to remember scores of transgender persons who died in this way over the prior year. And we know we will be compelled to come back together a year from now to do the same.

But it doesn’t stop there. One need not be murdered to have experienced the physical and emotional brutality of hate. Being pushed, shoved, told you weren’t welcome, mocked, or scorned just for having the courage to get up in the morning and leave your home are all acts of hatred. Many trans folk have lost even the sanctuary of their own homes, and lost family as well, just for being themselves. That is more than just heartbreaking. We know that these assaults, whether physical or emotional, take their toll. They can be soul-destroying, eroding one’s self worth, causing depression and anxiety, destroying hope for a meaningful future and a purposeful life.

Having said that, one thing I have learned from the transgender community is resiliency and courage.. . That courage has led to some remarkable victories over the last several years, right here in New York State, around our country, and around the world.

Two years ago, the trans community won the right to have Medicaid and other health insurance programs regulated by New York State pay for transgender-specific health services. This year that is being extended to minors. Last year, we won comprehensive state-wide protection for trans people under the New York State human rights law. Here in New York City, we have seen tremendous progress in actual implementation of policies that respect transgender rights. This has included City Health Department grants to five transgender organizations, including the New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG), to help them build capacity to serve their own communities.

Now, you will notice, I did not credit Governor Cuomo or Mayor de Blasio for these accomplishments notwithstanding the steps they have taken. That was intentional. Neither of them woke up one morning and said, “Hey, today would be a great day to respect transgender rights.” It happened because trans activists as a community have come together and fought for these things, enlisting allies such as the Ending the Epidemic coalition along the way.

This has been true, even in the face of setbacks. Last year, the North Carolina Legislature and Governor enacted a new law, that, among other things, demonized transgender people, forbidding them from going into bathrooms designated for a gender not on their birth certificate, all under the guise of protecting women and children from sexual predators. This law was considered a great victory for the Republican right wing.

But look what happened. Large corporations, including the National Basketball Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, repudiated this action, and many voted with their feet and their dollars, moving business out of the state. Even the President of the United States weighed in. The U.S. Attorney General opened an investigation and filed an enforcement action, and the U.S. Department of Education issued a guidance requiring public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom appropriate to their gender. This shaming of the government of North Carolina got the attention of the voters. So, even though they voted Republican for president, they not only elected a Democrat for governor and for attorney general, but they elected a governor and attorney general who campaigned on repealing this odious law.

This victory is very important because it says that at long last the transgender community has clout and political power even in jurisdictions that are not fully progressive. This progress is new. It is real, and it provides a foundation from which we can build.

I won’t try to minimize what else happened in the elections last Tuesday. Many Americans voted their fears, and many are taking the result as license to hate and license to act on their hate.

But this time, unlike so many times before, the transgender community is not alone. So many people feel threatened by a Trump presidency that we have collectively realized we must come together if we are going to preserve our collective interests.

There is power in the broad and deep coalitions that are now being formed. These are the kind of coalitions we need to protect ourselves collectively and to continue to make progress in the fight for justice, for transgender people, and, frankly, for all people who have been marginalized and stigmatized in our society.

It is time to show up and make your voice heard, here in New York City, in Albany, in Washington, DC, and indeed across the nation. If we are to turn our movement into one that doesn’t just fight Donald Trump, but is a true movement for justice and progressive social change, it is time for us all to follow the lead and join the ranks of the resilient, courageous, and powerful transgender community.

That undertaking will involve serious, long-term effort and engagement from all of us. And as we set out to do that necessary work, in order to truly make a difference, we also must remember to take care of ourselves. Our health, including our mental health. In the words of Audrey Lorde, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

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