Editors' Note: Masen Davis is the Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, a civil rights organization advocating for California's transgender communities.
California has been a real leader in transgender civil rights. We have legal protections in employment, housing, schools, public accommodations, insurance and government programs. Good laws are critical, but they are just a start. Even with state non-discrimination provisions, 67 percent of transgender Californians report experiencing workplace discrimination; one in five has been homeless, and we are twice as likely to live in poverty. To be meaningful, our laws must impact the real life experiences of transgender people. What's the key to further progress? We must make sure our lawmakers are hearing from us.
Earlier this month, on May 17th, nearly 100 transgender community members and allies converged on Sacramento for the first ever California Transgender Advocacy Day. Presented by the Transgender Law Center and Equality California, Transgender Advocacy Day brought seasoned community activists and emerging leaders to the halls of our State Capitol to educate our lawmakers about the realities transgender people face.
As I looked out into the sea of faces at the Advocacy Day kick-off rally that Monday morning, I felt chills. Never before had a group of transgender people and allies -- including many lesbian, gay and bisexual allies who aren't transgender and family members of transgender people -- descended on the State Capitol to educate legislators about our lives. We had spent the weekend focusing on leadership skills learning how to take the movement for transgender civil rights to the next level, both within the LGBT movement and across the state, at the 5th Annual Transgender Leadership Summit. After a full weekend of training, we were ready!
Ready to reduce unemployment among our brothers and sisters. Ready to ensure that none of us has to postpone vital health care because of discrimination. Ready for our youth to gain greater access to mental health care. And ready to improve our access to life-saving social services.
This is the message we took to our lawmakers. Armed with our own experiences, our training in doing advocacy work, and TLC's report, the State of Transgender California, we sat down and talked with nearly 40 members of the California Assembly and Senate and their staff.
Half of our advocates had never met with an elected representative before. As they came back from their legislative visits, these newly-experienced advocates were filled with energy. They were fired up from successful meetings where legislator after legislator told them how important it was to them to meet transgender people and understand more about their lives. The legislators told our advocates how critical they felt it was for transgender people and their allies to participate in advocacy efforts and be active in Sacramento.
We're hopeful that our day in Sacramento will help us to pass the Minor Mental Health Consent bill, which would allow youth ages 12 to 17 to receive mental health care without parental consent, and the Data Inclusion Act, which would require California to begin collecting information on gender identity and sexual orientation on state forms, which will in turn help us to learn how many LGBT people are accessing social services and advocate for programs that serve our community more effectively. We asked our legislators to ensure that workforce development programs are inclusive of the transgender community, and we encouraged their support in ensuring that the needs of transgender people are included in health care legislation.
Nearly every person who went on a legislative visit was eager to do it again. They wanted to continue to share their experiences with the people responsible for changing California's laws and policies. And they will! Equipped with experience, guidance on setting up in-district advocacy visits, and an expertise in their own lives, our community leaders will continue this important work both in Sacramento and back at home.
We can't wait to see everyone at the Capitol again next year at the 2011 Transgender Advocacy Day! If we keep building community leadership across the state, and if allies continue to stand strong with us, we know we'll see more and more transgender people thriving in the workplace and in their communities.