Black and Transgender: Still on the Margins

Activist Janet Mock spoke to The Root about the transgender community's ongoing fight for equality.

Janet Mock (Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)
Janet Mock (Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)

Janet Mock: As long as marriage and families are based upon the lines of gender and sex, it will affect trans people and their families. Legal recognition of all families, regardless of gender and sex, is also heightened by [the] patchwork of laws from state to state, which prohibit or allow trans people to change their gender markers on IDs and records — which have a large effect on the recognition of their relationships, marriages and access to benefits. Marriage equality has been largely about giving couples legal protections, so we must also extend those same legal protections to all LGBT individuals, specifically trans, low-income and people-of-color communities, regardless of marital status.

TR: Are there any specific initiatives you would like to see President Obama address for trans Americans? 

JM: The president signing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would be a nice start, making it a violation of federal law to discriminate in employment against gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. But we need more than laws, and this goes beyond the president.

TR: Do you feel the “T” in “LGBT” is adequately embraced, celebrated and visible?

JM: We need coalitions fighting for social justice to ban together — coalitions that include trans voices — and recognize that LGBT people of color, the poor and youth communities are casualties in the LGBT movement’s single-lens focus on marriage. What’s sadly happening now is that trans people, specifically those of color, are falling in between the gaps of these coalitions and are ending up even more vulnerable than ever.

TR: What should be done to bring greater awareness to issues affecting trans youths and people of color in particular?

JM: First, we need to expand our idea [of] what inclusivity is and how we must address the daily access issues of those most marginalized.

How can a trans woman of color get a job if it is not safe for her to step outside her home — if she’s blessed enough to have a home? If she can’t change her gender markers on her ID because she doesn’t have access to funds that would allow her to file that paperwork, or her state doesn’t allow her to change her documents? If she doesn’t have access to affordable health care that would allow her a safe, monitored transition? If she’s stopped, questioned and frisked because she’s profiled as a sex worker?

There are systemic oppressions that our sisters, brothers and siblings are faced with that broad coalitions fighting for racial, gender, social and economic justice must begin banning together to address from an intersectional lens that truly looks beyond laws and begins addressing the lived experiences of those most marginalized.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington, Arise America and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.