Guest Blogger

2014: A Transgender Year in Review, Part 2

Filed By Guest Blogger | January 25, 2015 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: CeCe McDonald, Rolling Stone, TERF, year in review

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Barbra Casbar Siperstein was the first transgender member appointed and confirmed to the Democratic National Committee, and is currently a member of the DNC Executive Committee and the deputy vice chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee. In addition, she's a published author, small business owner, veteran, and a grandparent.


2014-year-in-review.jpg2014 was, on balance, a very good year for transgender people in America. As a trans activist there was much to celebrate for our movement and even the most negative events gave hope for a silver lining and future progress.

In part 1 of my year-end summary, I reviewed the many positive things that occurred on a national level, mostly thanks to actions by the Obama administration with input from our trans activists and policy people. I also mentioned the many areas where work remains, including violence, family acceptance, and suicide -- an issue highlighted by the tragic and high-profile suicide of Leelah Alcorn.

In part 2, I will focus on the enhanced recognition that I and other members of the trans community received in 2014, which I hope will be an incentive for other transgender people, especially our younger activists, to keep pushing for equality and societal respect in bold, yet measured and responsible ways.

Personal Recognition

In March, prominent New Jersey civil rights attorney and elected freeholder John Bartlett initiated an annual banquet to celebrate "champions of civil rights." Senator Loretta Weinberg (below), an LGBT equality champion and frequent MSNBC guest who I consider my political godmother, made the introduction.

babs-weinberg.jpgIn May, the New Leaders Council (NLC) a presented me with their Progressive New Jersey Equal Rights Award at the historic Trenton Barracks, adjacent to the New Jersey statehouse. The NLC recruits fellows from outside traditional power structures and equips them with the skills necessary to be civic leaders in their communities and workplaces.

Their mission is realized primarily through the NLC Institute, the nation's premiere political entrepreneurship training program. These young leaders will not have any hang-ups over trans people!

It is significant that these are not LGBT groups, and I that in my acceptance remarks I was not addressing LGBT people. Instead, these groups were diverse and impressive allies that affirm an inclusive LGBT movement -- and I had the opportunity to speak with them about the challenges that transpeople face, to further educate and promote societal change. In both events, I was the only out LGBT honoree.

In July I was honored at Newark PROUD, the Newark pride awards reception. I am very supportive of the outreach efforts being made to perhaps the largest LGBT community in New Jersey. In turn, they are reaching out to Newark's large and often hidden trans community. It is acknowledged to be a challenge engaging our sisters and brothers in the Brick City, but we must be persistent in reaching out to our folks in the inner cities, nationwide.

babs-pridenetwork.jpgIn October, the Pride Network held their LGBT Leadership Awards and Congressman Frank Pallone, who led the charge in Congress for President Obama to issue the LGBT Executive Order for Federal contractors, presented me with their "Stonewall Legends Award" and noted that he put mention of me in the Congressional Record. (Pretty cool!)

Big Stories

2014 was a huge year for trans people in the media. To its credit, Rolling Stone recognized that fact, but not necessarily in the most constructive way. Their article really demonstrated what can happen when people who have limited and superficial knowledge of the transgender community and our history have the platform to reach world audiences and spread their sophomoric knowledge of the trans community.

The article came out before Leelah Alcorn's tragic suicide in late December and the universal reaction to that "family" tragedy. That event put a very bright and blunt light on the societal stigma that transpeople face in daily life, and showed what can happen to a young transperson living in a "loving, traditional, religious" family.

Although I originally took issue with their #1 rated item, the often-replayed Golden Globes acceptance speeches from Transparent's Jill Soloway and Jeffrey Tambour were big and very positive.

I'm not going to comment on Jared Leto or RuPaul, although I will do my best to continue to expose RuPaul and his brand as transphobic -- and make sure that brand is unwelcome in any LGBT organizations with which I am affiliated. Tim Gunn's thoughts about transpeople, on the other hand, were a huge disappointment as I've met him and attended events at his NYC home. We have mutual friends. I attempted to reach out to him in a constructive manner after I found out about his transphobic remarks, but he never responded.

As one who encourages and appreciates proactive positive action over talk, I believe Rolling Stone's last item -- the CeCe McDonald documentary and increased awareness of anti-trans violence -- is the most important.

cece-mcdonald.pngMcDonald was jailed in a men's prison for what she says was an act of self-defense. In the film, producer Laverne Cox walks the walk and exposes the way our society and criminal justice system treats trans people (especially trans women of color) as less than human. McDonald's compelling story has all the elements necessary to make a global impact.

We judge our society on how it treats its most vulnerable, and trans people are like the canaries in a coal mine -- a bellwether for society at large. It is good to see a diverse population of trans people, including our most vulnerable, fighting back!

No overview of 2014 would be complete without mentioning MichFest and the TERFS (transgender-exclusionary radical feminists). The blog post I published on Bilerico exposing their hypocrisy and pettiness had many responses and put me on the TERFs' most-wanted list. But hey, I'm in great company with Martine Rothblatt and so many other positive trans role models. (Thank you, Cathy Brennan, I must be doing something right!)

I had many intelligent responses, including from women I know who attended MichFest and criticized me initially, but when we were able to carry on a reasonable conversation, they understood my points and reasoning-- and they understood Vogel's doublespeak to be just that.

One final TERF note: for those trans activists who were upset about the TERFs sending transphobic testimony to the United Nations a few years ago, you would be pleased to know that in December I got a message from an old friend who was at that time a high-ranking official at the United Nations.

Her family has a holiday tradition for their children to make a donation to a righteous cause every year. This year her daughter wanted to donate to a transgender cause and my friend asked if I knew of any trans organizations. There is hope -- we are making progress!

I'm finishing with one note for 2015 for which my enthusiasm trumps my modesty. In December, I was notified that the American Conference on Diversity had named me as one of their "Humanitarians of the Year," along with four other remarkable individuals -- including singing legend Dionne Warwick.

What is truly remarkable is that it appears that in their long history of honorees, I may be their first out LGBT person. With major corporations and institutions as sponsors and in attendance at the award ceremony, I look forward to spreading the positive (but accurate) word at the event in April, in an effort to continue tearing down barriers for transgender people.

I look forward to what the rest of 2015 has to offer!

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