‘The Supreme Court Can’t Stop Me From Fighting for the Rights of LGBT Workers’

Photo: Tim Gibson
Black trans women face an unemployment rate of 26 percent—that's the highest rate of any group in the nation. Even those of us who are lucky and privileged enough to have jobs continue to face structures of violence. Not just social violence, but structural systems that do not affirm us.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court began the process of deciding whether existing federal laws protect LGBTQIA people from discrimination in the workplace.  Every member of the transgender community, myself included, know that we have an intrinsic right to be able to take care of our families and ourselves. There are people who want to bar us from employment, and we have to let them know: we will be resilient, we will win. This court case is a battle. And as with all battles, our focus is on how we will win the war. Regardless of what happens in court, we stand strong, we have strategies, we have contingency plans that provide for all of us.

As co-founder and executive director of The New York Transgender Advocacy Group, one of the things that I know my organization will do as the arguments play out is to register people to vote. We will work with our national LGBTQIA family to get them engaged with their city council members. We need to get them to run for office so that more transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) folks run for office. This is how we win the war—by running for office ourselves. Here in Washington, D.C., we're holding a wellness space for folks who may want to talk about their feelings throughout this process. Our plan to mobilize our community and host spaces for our community doesn't change if the vote doesn't swing our way in the next coming weeks.

There are people who want to bar us from employment, and we have to let them know: we will be resilient, we will win.

If the Supreme Court votes against our human rights, we plan to create bubbles of protection throughout the United States. While some states have laws on the books that protect LGBTQIA employees from discrimination, those laws do not apply in about half the country. That's why people flood the streets of New York City or head out to the west coast—because it provides safety where other places don't. We plan to create other jurisdictions of acceptance throughout the United States. Even if a federal ruling doesn't safeguard our rights, it is the responsibility of each state to protect LGBTQIA citizens.

The responsibility of being an ally to our community cannot be overstated. There's danger when people who are not LGBTQIA think, "Oh, we're good." This system works in very intentional and strategic ways to divide this nation. To pit us against one another. We need to make sure that we are working as a national family to stand with one another in times of great distress. How you show that you're a true ally to the LGBTQIA community—and specifically to black and brown trans women—is to stand with us, to be vocal and to speak up. What I'm asking of folks who are not LGBTQIA or TGNC is to use your voice to speak up on our behalf.

As told to Kells McPhillips

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