Trans allyship within GLAAD

Ed. note: I’m off this week. The wonderful Tobias Rodriguez is filling in for me. Tobias originally hails from Texas and now lives in New York where he works in social media at a reproductive health organization.

At the GLAAD media awards last week, and again this weekend on the Melissa Harris-Perry show, GLAAD announced that they are dropping their original acronym, the “Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation,” and becoming GLAAD, an LGBT media advocacy organization. In doing so, they hope to convey that the organization is evolving to become more trans* inclusive. Recently, GLAAD has been working with trans kids like Coy Mathis and Jazz (both of whom attended the GLAAD media awards) to demonstrate that it prioritizes trans issues in its advocacy campaigns. This change is great, and GLAAD should be applauded for working towards inclusion, because gay and lesbian (and bisexual) organizations often exclude, ignore, and/or forget the concerns of transgender people (a great point that Wilson Cruz, GLAAD’s national spokesperson pointed out on the show).

On Sunday’s MHP show, Cruz, Janet Mock, a trans activist and writer, and Mel Wymore, a candidate for city council on New York’s Upper West Side (who’s also trans), spoke about what this change will mean for GLAAD. While Cruz was very well meaning, as surely all of GLAAD is, he certainly stumbled a bit in the clip below when discussing trans issues.

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(transcript not up yet)

Janet Mock and Melissa Harris-Perry did a great job of calling out Cruz when he misspoke. Most notably, when Cruz referred to “the trans community,” Mock corrected him, explaining that trans people are not a monolith, and certainly should not be seen as victims. She argued in favor of intersectional activism, saying, ”If we’re defining equality as something that is scarce and limited and for a very select few in our community, and some of us need to wait a little bit, that is not equality, that is upholding very systematic systems of oppression.” Yes yes, a million times yes. 

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(transcript is up)

These conversations will be critical for GLAAD leadership to listen to and understand. In a twitter exchange late last night, Cruz reaffirmed GLAAD’s commitment to trans issues, yet missed that when you commit to helping a community you aren’t a member of, you need to allow yourself to be educated by members of that community. As @feministgriote and others have explained, being an ally is a process rather than an identity. Allyship is something you constantly work on. It’s something you do, everyday in your life, whether in private conversations or on national talk shows. It’s about listening, questioning your assumptions, owning up to your privileges, educating yourself, allowing yourself to be educated, calling out other people in a constructive way, etc.  Mistakes are inevitable, so perhaps the most important part of being an ally is owning up to them and learning from them. That part of the process is crucial.

GLAAD has already done some work with trans communities, including their partnership in the “I AM” series, and their involvement in the campaign to help Coy Mathis use her preferred bathroom at school. Those are certainly campaigns to be proud of, and campaigns that will hopefully have a far reaching impact. But to do more, GLAAD is going to have to grasp that trans people are part a movement that has neglected them and thrown them under the LGBT bus for too long. GLAAD is going to have to go beyond simply employing trans people or putting them on stage at an awards show–GLAAD will have to listen to their voices, their varied experiences, and make all kinds of trans people visible in their campaigns (including those who don’t medically transition, those who aren’t white, and those who don’t present as gender normative).

GLAAD’s ability to jump on the trans rights bandwagon is easy enough because they’ve already shown they can and that they care. What they’ve yet to show is how they’ll do so without repeating the mistakes the cis LBG and straight people routinely make, such as othering, exotizing, and stereotyping trans people. Trans people are not a prop for cisgender LGB and straight people with savior complexes. Trans people have agency and advocate for their own concerns, as they have been doing for decades, with or without the support of cis LGB and straight people. The hope is that with GLAAD’s name change, true inclusivity and genuine allying will follow.

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One Comment

  1. Posted March 25, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Hey, I’m sorry if this question seems a bit ignorant. Is it inappropriate to refer to “the trans community” for the same reason it’s inappropriate to refer to “the black community”? As in, as bell hooks described, there are black communiTIES, as in plural, non-homogeneous, non-equal, each discrete and distinct… Is this the issue?

    It’s interesting because simple searches on feministing for “the black community”, “the gay community”, and “the lgbt community” all come up with many, many results. I think this is something that I am generally inconsistent on, as I think most of us are, so maybe it’s difficult for Cruz to establish appropriate language. In a sense, there are issues that unite all individual communities (certainly the majority of LGBT communities are benefited by specific non-discrimination laws, for example)… I can’t watch the video from where I am so I’m not sure what the correction you described refers to, but if it’s something other than what I described, would someone mind explaining it to me?

    Again, sorry if it’s obvious and I’m just totally missing the point here.

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