The trans community has experienced a number of political highs and lows in 2017. While politicians still attempt to pass discriminatory bathroom bills and our own President attempted to ban trans Americans from serving in the military, a number of trans politicians were also just elected to office and Trump’s military ban was blocked by a federal judge.
But what’s often lost in discussions of trans folks’ lives is the fact that they are also shaped by so many other factors than their gender identity. While being trans may certainly be an impactful, important part of their lives, trans individuals are also interested in and contribute to a variety of other causes. In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, here are just a few young activists who are part of a number of crucial movements — from climate justice to student debt — who also happen to be trans. And here's what they're doing, in their own words.
MT: 22-year-old co-coordinator of Sunrise Movement, the Twin Cities hub of climate justice
Their activism: The Sunrise Movement is a national movement of young people who are pushing to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. Our main goal is to engage young voters...in the political process so we can unseat politicians who are funded by fossil-fuel billionaires and represent the fossil-fuel industry instead of actually representing the people. Here in the Twin Cities, we also focus on local issues like the Line 3 pipeline.
We have a big event coming up this Saturday [November 18] — the Day of Dedication, which is going to be at the state capitol building. We’re gathering to fill a 50-year time capsule with letters from regular Minnesotans and our legislatures committing to personally fight climate change in their own lives.
We are also planning for the Sunrise Semester, a program where 300 young people will serve as full-time volunteer organizers to mobilize young people to elect new leaders in the 2018 election who will take action on climate change.
Why they fight: I see climate as a coming-together point for many different justice issues. We can already see that the impacts of climate change — things like flooding and natural disasters — are first affecting poor people, people of color, and other generally marginalized communities. I see that as a really massive global injustice that we in the United States have a responsibility to address because of our consumption of fossil fuels.
How their trans identity shapes their work: My trans identity has a huge impact on my activism. I think having an identity that doesn’t fit into our society’s categories forced me to constantly question all the systems that control power in our society and cause injustice in the world in general. It made it much easier for me to see all the flaws in these systems: from how our energy is produced to how our government works are flawed in the same ways that our systems of categorizing people by gender are flawed.
I also think the support of being part of the trans community — of being able to take care of each other and to take care of myself — is good not only for trans people but for anybody doing any kind of activist work. It can get very tiring and we need to be there for each other.
I think having an identity that doesn’t fit into our society’s categories forced me to constantly question all the systems that control power in our society and cause injustice in the world in general.
Advice for young trans individuals: I hope that young trans individuals out there do whatever they can to find friends and a community who sees them for who they are and are willing to support them. I hope that trans kids across the country know that there are people out there like them who can share their experiences and that there’s a big community waiting to help them and support them and love them in whatever form their transness takes.
Advice for allies: If you’re a cis person, engage with other cis people. I know people who will gender me correctly and be careful not to say transphobic things when I’m there but get more lax about that or use the wrong pronouns for me when I’m not in the room. I don’t have any power over that, which can make me feel really helpless. Having cis allies in my life who will step up for me when I’m not there and who I know will really speak up if they hear someone getting misgendered is important. And even beyond that, a cis ally who is willing to make their voice heard politically on behalf of trans people is really great too.
Amelia Marquez: 23-year-old Vice Chair of the Yellowstone County Democrats in Billings, Montana and first openly trans political candidate to run for office in the county
Their activism: In 2014, a close friend and I worked to get a College Democrats club at Montana State University Billings. We worked with our campus to help get Democratic wins in some highly conservative districts. Two out of the three Democratic-endorsed candidates were elected, and one of them was a Democratic Socialist, which was really exciting.
I decided to run myself last March when I asked my current state legislator in my district about higher education. He first asked if that “was pre-K stuff,” and when we explained we were talking about college and universities and specifically wanted to ask about tuition raises, he said, “I’m not too sure about the higher education stuff,” and pawned us off to one of his colleagues. Right then and there in our state capitol, I decided I wouldn’t accept that as an answer from one of our elected officials and planned to run for House District 52.
Why they fight: One of the biggest reason as why I decided to run for District 52 is because I have seen some of the worst out of people being in a red state, but I’ve also seen some of the best. I know it’s possible to make inclusive policy and inclusive community happen.
Danica Roem who just won an election in Virginia, also inspired me. She’s been saying, "Yes I am trans, yes I am a woman, but I have so much more to offer. I know policy, I know the issues." I want to scream that from a mountaintop because sometimes people only want to turn to you for [LGBTQ] issues and look at me as the "trans candidate," when in reality, I’ve worked a lot on different policies and issues. I want to fight for the people and give them a voice and work on issues like access to Medicare for all and bigger minimum wage increases.
How their trans identity shapes their work: Being a trans Latina definitely plays a role in everything I do. Coming out was really difficult because I grew up in a traditional, conservative Catholic family. I don’t necessarily appear feminine, so it sometimes confuses a few people. It’s kind of always the first obstacle I have to get across. I’ve also learned that it can sometimes be difficult for people to take you seriously. I’ll hear a cisgender 23-year-old male say the same exact thing that I have, but [other people] will completely agree with that person over me.
Love yourself for whoever you think you are and not who anyone else thinks you are.
Advice for young trans individuals: Whether you want to use the trans label or not, first and foremost, love yourself for whoever you think you are and not who anyone else thinks you are. After that, ask for help if you need it. No one should have to fight that battle by themselves. There are people out there who are willing to help you.
Advice for allies: Be cautious. Recognize that no matter what [identity] we’re talking about, everyone lies on a spectrum. Sometimes the best way to help is just by using the correct pronouns.
Ose Arheghan: 17-year-old reproductive rights activist and filmmaker from Cleveland, Ohio
Their activism: I’m on Advocates for Youth’s student organizing team. Advocates for Youth is an organization that educates young people about their reproductive and sexual health, and the organizing team charges us to do this work in our own communities. They’re providing me with the funding and resources to make an educational documentary series about reproductive rights through a LGBTQ lens.
Why they fight: A lot of kids in my high school have to take sex ed online, which is provided by Christian university. It assumes that everyone taking the class is cisgender/heterosexual, and you miss out on a lot of basic things you should be getting in terms of comprehensive sex ed, like consent or contraceptive use. It’s hard for any young person to get comprehensive sex education, but it’s even harder for members of the LGBT community because our identities aren’t even acknowledged.
How their trans identity shapes their work: I use the word "non-binary" a lot more than I use "trans." The ideas of masculinity and femininity have always been intertwined for me. [Identifying this way at school] has been uncomfortable — that’s the word I use more than anything else. Especially when it comes to gender-neutral pronouns, some teachers are really bothered. The idea of identifying outside the gender binary isn’t new in any way, but some people think it, is so they treat it like it is. I’ve had teachers who say gender neutral pronouns aren’t grammatically correct, so they won’t use them. They don’t have the language to identify the person I am and the way that I see and identify within the world, which makes it hard for me to get my points across. That’s why activism is important: If nobody is fighting to educate people then that barrier will never be fixed.
Fighting for space is never something you should feel selfish about.
Advice for young trans individuals: If people don’t want to like you, they’ll find a reason not to. Stay true to yourself. Fighting for space is never something you should feel selfish about.
Advice for allies: Google is your friend. There are so many resources online now. I would also say that trans issues and queer issues aren’t just about trans people or queer people. They’re human rights issues. Allyship from people who don’t identify within the trans umbrella helps give this cause legitimacy.
Lavender Hunzeker: 18-year-old trans and gender non-conforming college freshman and volunteer for New Era Colorado, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that works to get young people involved in democracy
Their activism: We’re working on student debt issues and also figuring out what millennials want out of democracy and how to achieve that. We phone banked for a project called “Get Out The Vote” to educate people about a clean energy bill and encourage them to vote. We go out and table to register people to vote, which is really rewarding because you know you’re helping that person improve their situation and improve democracy.
Why they fight: Working with New Era really opened my eyes. When I first started working there, I was struggling with what I actually wanted to do with my life and what I wanted to be and whether or not college was the right decision for me. New Era showed me that I really want to go into politics. I’m now a Political Science Major as well as a Peace and Justice major.
How their trans identity shapes their work: I came out as genderfluid on New Year’s Eve of 2016. I had thought about if I was a guy or a girl my whole life. I’ve never really identified as either. I knew I wasn’t a trans guy but I also wasn’t a girl, so it was kind of a big step in my life to be like, "I can use non-binary pronouns." Ever since I’ve come out, I’ve felt so much freedom and felt so much better about everything. And every time anybody uses they/them pronouns, my heart jumps. It makes me feel so good.
Advice for trans youth: Be yourself. Never apologize for who you are. You are uniquely you and no one else can take that away from you.
Advice for allies: It’s OK to mess up, and when you mess up, the biggest thing you can do is apologize once and move on from it. One of the biggest things allies can do is just say sorry once and move on from it. Trans people don’t want you to say sorry a million times, because that just makes them feel bad.
To learn more about issues affecting trans people, head to trans.mtv.com.