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Lobby, Listen, and Learn: Transgender Advocates Speak to Members of Congress about Freedom, Justice, and Equality

July 12, 2017

On June 9th, 2017 the National LGBTQ Task Force joined the National Center for Trans Equality (NCTE) and transgender advocates from across the country for Transgender Lobby Day.

Transgender Lobby Day is a lobbying initiative spearheaded by the NCTE. It focuses on advancing trans-inclusive policies and opposing anti-transgender legislation across the country. Mobilizing people from all walks of life (and all degrees of lobbying experience), NCTE’s Trans Lobby Day 2017 brought together around two hundred activists from over thirty states and the District of Columbia, with the purpose of educating U.S. lawmakers on the needs of the nearly two million transgender people living in the United States. Also present at the event were speakers – including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Grace Dolan-Sandrino (a teenage transgender activist), and Raffi Freedman-Gurspan (NCTE Director of External Relations and former White House liaison).

During the day of action, I joined a group of about eight people – all Virginia residents – and met with members of Congress at Capitol Hill. The group I was with was made up mostly of transgender and gender non-conforming people. It also included some parents of transgender children, and trans allies. This group was made up of people who could speak to the trans experience across a wide spectrum of identities – and who did.

There is a massive difference between learning about trans people and learning from trans people. Storytelling, especially firsthand storytelling, can be tremendously powerful – and the people I lobbied with were more than capable of wielding that power. From the very beginning, the importance of transgender agency was clear: the event was organized by transgender people, for transgender people. There were absolutely allies present – but it was clear that trans voices were at the front and center.

Before meeting with members of Congress, we were equipped with fact sheets, statistics, business cards – all those things that one tends to associate with lobbying. At the heart of lobby day, though, was the determination of trans people to share their experiences. This was a potent persuasive tool: it’s one thing to read about discrimination, and another entirely to look someone in the eye and listen to their personal account of it. The people at that table – and the people who did the same in many offices across Capitol Hill – were making their voices heard in some of the highest offices in the land. This was a powerful statement: that the right to occupy these spaces as oneself could not be diminished or denied.

Kate Avery and other participants at Senator Tim Kaine’s office

I was truly honored to have been able to participate in this lobbying effort. Not only was it an incredible learning experience in the realm of political activism, but it has also helped me have a better grasp on the ways in which I express and understand my own gender identity. Listening to people own their identities with pride, and listening to them reclaim the sense of agency so often stripped from people whose stories are told for them – this was something special. I do not personally currently identify as transgender, but the pathway to both better allyship and to self-understanding the lobby day gave me was valuable. Lobby Day was not only about progress – it was about reclamation.

Trans voices are important. Trans voices have always been important, and will continue to be important. This isn’t a matter of opinion – this is a statement of fact. Trans Lobby Day was an incredible reminder of the power that trans voices have, and their importance within not only the LGBTQ community, but also our society. There is so much that we still need to do in order to ensure that all people have access to freedom, justice, and equality. Always, though, we must remember to center transgender voices, transgender stories, and transgender experiences in the steps that we take.

 

By Kate Avery, social media intern, National LGBTQ Task Force

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