December 12, 2012 | by Dana Beyer
Why the silence over trans victories?

A friend who edits a major gay newspaper asked me last week for my thoughts about the dearth of news reports and analysis regarding the landmark revision of the DSM, the “mental health bible,” on Dec. 1. That revision, the DSM-5, redefines Gender Identity Disorder as Gender Dysphoria, affirming that being trans is not a mental illness.

I had noticed the general silence, with the exception of good stories by Mike Lavers in the Blade and Zack Ford in ThinkProgress. The trans blogosphere was active, as expected, but when I researched the gay blogosphere, I noticed nothing from the major gay blogs, websites and listserves, and no more than brief blog and Facebook mentions from our major LGBT organizations. No banner headlines anywhere. This was before the Supreme Court accepted the Prop 8 and DOMA cases last Friday, a story that understandably grabbed all the attention, and ended up on the front page above the fold at The New York Times.

What is most striking is that this decision from the American Psychiatric Association mirrors the one 40 years earlier that sparked the gay rights movement by de-pathologizing homosexuality. So why the silence?

There’s a basic fact of business life – provide value to your consumers, or change your business model. The gay media respond to consumers just as any other business. The publishers, be they papers, magazines or blogs, fill a need. Taking that into account, I’ve come to believe that there are two reasons, somewhat intertwined, for the silence. The first is that while we call ourselves the LGBT community, the T has a small place when it comes to attention and resources (though far greater than the B). We make up only 8 percent of the community according to Professor Gary Gates, and only 11 percent of Americans know a trans person, while 60 percent know a gay person. When there is little contact, there is little commitment. That’s human nature, nothing about which we should complain. Human communities are driven by self-interest, as is our economy. Just as coming out has propelled the gay rights movement, so must more trans persons come out to be noticed by the media, and that includes the gay media.

One story my friend related was about a lesbian friend who had cared nothing about trans rights, until she was shifted at work to a department where her boss was a trans woman. It was now in her self-interest to really get to know a trans person, and because her boss, whom I happen to know, is a lovely woman and great role model, she’s become an activist. That is one example of what it takes.

Another example, recently in the LGBT press, was the story by that same Mike Lavers headlined, “Chile’s First Openly Gay Elected Official Takes Office.” I had the pleasure getting to know Jaime Parada Hoyl during a State Department visit of LGBT activists from Latin America in early September. Jaime is clearly worthy of a news story, but buried near the bottom was the notice that he was joined by a trans woman who was elected to a municipal council, as well as another trans woman re-elected as a Council woman that same day. Yet that day the trans story wasn’t the story. It had never been the story, though one might think that a country that has elected a trans person before a gay person would be worthy of note.

I also think there is a deeper issue. Yes, more gay folks should care about trans people because we’re all sexual minorities and suffer similar discrimination. What’s been missing, however, is recognition by the gay leadership, including the media, that the historic trans victories of the past 12 months have hugely positive implications for the greater gay community.

The trans community has been liberated because of a recognition that trans discrimination, and, more broadly, discrimination against gender-non-conforming individuals, is wrong, and as a result is now illegal under federal law with respect to employment, and increasingly recognized as unconstitutional. The Macy and Glenn decisions this past year have expanded the courts’ recognition that gender expression discrimination is sex discrimination, and hence, illegal and unconstitutional.

As homophobia is rooted in gender expression, publicly discussed by Suzanne Pharr back in 1988, and therefore, is, by definition, sex discrimination, it is the logical path to full gay liberation. Marriage equality is wonderful, increasing our sense of dignity and the recognition of that dignity by our fellow citizens, but gender-conforming gay men and lesbians are still subject to workplace, housing and public accommodations discrimination in many regions in America. There is much yet to be done.

Will the LGBT media recognize this, and help move us all forward? I sure hope so, as it is in their best interest, and self-interest is the best and most potent interest there is.

Dana Beyer is executive director of Gender Rights Maryland. Reach her via genderrightsmaryland.org.

7 Comments
  • Hi Dana – your correct though i see signs of progress eg the protetion bills passed in STL. On the other hand I do see a lot of infighting among trans people or groups and that needs to be rectified with a common message

    Hope your well. Discovered Caroline was living within 8 miles of me, stopped to see her and also saw her at PFLAG last nite.

  • Dana has written this very well. I also think there are two other factors in the reason for a lack of notice for transgender achievement recognition. On that is most significant is the little victories we have had in our public lives.

    Since the time Dana and I ran for public office, more transgender people have been recognized without fanfare when they run for office. During my second run the media, for the most part, covered and wrote about me as “Pam Bennett, candidate for ” , it was no longer “Pam Bennett, transgender “. That was good and less good for my campaign, I had the benefit of my name in the papers and on TV all the time during my first campaign, but it was associated with the transgender candidate. The second campaign I was treated like all the other candidates so I had only a little more media coverage but not lots of free coverage.

    We are less of a freak show and now an interesting second interview after the gay guy. With so much happening in the way of gay and lesbian progress this year I think the media did not understand what is significant for us is common place for other politicians.

    Outside of the political world very little has occurred that would bring coverage to our lives. When the DSM V changes were put out on the general media, almost none made mention of our important update, the autism changes affected millions, so that received the mention. Again, I think this is because we are no longer the strange person in the spotlight, we are no longer the story.

    Chaz had a lot of coverage, but with him settling down and doing what he likes to do there is no “Hollywood” drama for the media to concentrate on.

    In local sports, Kayley was on the receiving end of good news for being allowed to play with Roller Girls, but the attacks were very nasty. Then, we get those two jerks on ESPN going off on us. They should have had a much longer time off the show, preferably the show would be cancelled. I subject myself to reading the media comments section to get a feel for how our lives are improving. Years ago we had very few supporters, now we have great people stepping up to correct and educate.

    Our trans organizations do a fine job, and our gay and lesbian friends and organizations do much with us in our fight for equality. I do what I can in my position, which is giving a lot of people their full introduction to a transwoman. Obama has been very good for us in the federal employment.

    The major media coverage we do get is about the violence we sustain in our daily lives. The terrible, and what seems weekly, violence in the District brings attention to our plight as a most common victim of the attacks. This will never change. If it bleeds, it leads has been a constant in the media. It is how the victim is covered that counts. For the most part we are given the correct pronoun, but not always.

    I think the important way to wrap up transgender life in 2012 is we are more often considered as the man or woman next door, then as something else. We have made progress for recognition of who we are. We have made some progress for equality, but we have a long way to go. We still need more employment equality, which is our most important need.

  • Dear Dana, thank you for the thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. I would draw out the need for trans people to "come out" more, even to LGBs. I think trans people are at a stage similar to lesbians and gays were twenty or more years ago — having to explain their experience in detail, even to allies, to build understanding. Like your story about the lesbian woman who only engaged on these issues when she worked for a trans woman, I think many gays and lesbians appreciate intellectually that sexual minorities share issues of discrimination, but we don't engage viscerally because the "otherness" is qualitatively different. By coming out, perhaps our movements' marriages of convenience will grow into marriages of love.

    • Hmmmm, Stephen, Not seeing much interest on the part of the gay male community to learn more about transgenders or interact with them on any level. And do we really have to explain what we are and what we are about to the LGB community?

  • As gay rights and more recently, gay marriage, continue to advance, the public's perceptions are changing and the entire LGBT community is becoming more acceptable and anti-LGBT efforts are becoming less acceptable to the public in general. Transgenders, like myself, are being more and more accepted as people become more aware. I actually see these changing attitudes on the dating sites as more are more open to the idea of relationships with transgenders.

  • "I noticed nothing from the major gay blogs"

    So Joe My God is no longer a "major gay blog"? Interesting. I think you just ignored his "silent" coverage so you could post this rant.

    joemygod.blogspot.com/2012/12/apa-to-change-transgender-term-in.html?m=1

    • "Rant"?

      (I like Joe.My.God quite a lot, and had read about the victories there, but I think Dana's broader point is both true and thoughtfully stated. I don't think this qualifies as a "rant.")

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