Simon Aronoff

Trans Youth and Color Lines

Filed By Simon Aronoff | May 27, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex

A long time ago (the 1990s), in a galaxy far, far away (Northampton, MA), I was a young trans person. This week is "National LGBTQ Awareness Week," and it's got me thinking back to the days when I qualified as "youth" (sigh), as well as what challenges are facing the young trans and gender variant people I know today.

When I was a young trans person, I had to walk two miles in the snow--uphill, both ways--to access needed trans-related health care, reliable information about my legal rights and status, and supporting educational materials for friends and family. And still, compared to trans folks who transitioned in the decades before the Internet and before LGB organizations added the T to their names, I was relatively awash in resources.

The landscape continues to improve for gay and lesbian youth, and recently exponentially for trans and gender variant youth. Where there was a complete dearth of information, now websites, support groups, and books have sprung up. The profound sense of isolation that was felt in earlier decades can be escaped--for at least a little while--by those trans youth with an Internet connection. Parents increasingly see stories of trans children like their own on television talk shows and documentaries. Advocacy and support groups like PFLAG's Transgender Network and TransYouth Family Allies connect parents and families across the country.

Because of the determined efforts of LGBT organizations and local allies, we are increasingly seeing non-discrimination policies that include both "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression" in schools. Youth and school-oriented groups like GSA Network, GLSEN and National Youth Advocacy Coalition are among the most trans-supportive major LGBT organizations. In our nation's courts, Lambda Legal continues to defend the rights of trans and gender variant youth. In a current case to watch in Indiana, Lambda is defending the right of a gender variant teen to wear a dress to his (his pronoun preference) high school prom. Impact litigation like this sets important precedent for future gender variant students.

But while amazing education and advocacy strides have been made since the early days of my personal transition, there are still too many trans and gender variant youth struggling with basic survival needs. Disproportionately, these are trans youth of color. When I visited the Ali Forney Center in New York City, one of the few homeless services and shelters for LGBT youth in the country, I met many amazing and resilient young people who left home or were kicked out because of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. They were all young people of color. A few years ago I was involved with an MSNBC documentary called "Born in the Wrong Body" which profiled the lives of five trans youth. The only two youth profiled who were living outside their homes because of rejection were trans girls of color.

As we celebrate the strides forward the LGBT community has made during this first-ever "National LGBTQ Youth Awareness Week," let's also raise our awareness around gaps in support and advocacy. Gender variant and trans youth of color are among the most vulnerable--and least served--in our community. They are paying a tremendous price living at the boundaries of gender and the intersection of oppression based on race and sexual minority status. Although the resources flowing to our advocacy organizations are tighter than ever, my hope is that leaders within the fight for equality will recognize the life-threatening gaps in resources specifically for trans youth of color and their families, and channel programming and services accordingly.

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