Now that I’ve settled down from most of my anger (trust me, there’s a lot still in here because her situation is so completely unjust), several other thoughts about what we can do as a community of gender non-conforming people have occurred to me. To paraphrase Leslie Feinberg from earlier this week, it is outstanding to see so many of us organized to support CeCe even against such massive institutions like criminal jurisprudence and the prison complex. For years now I’ve seen a small but growing voice articulating its concern about the annual Day of Remembrance–and it asks how we can come together to do proactive work in addition to mourning the violent losses of trans women and other trans-identified people. While we are outraged about CeCe’s forced “choice” to take a plea deal, we should also acknowledge that we’ve shown some measure of grassroots-created power against these corrupt systems. With collective power in mind, I humbly offer the following:
1. In your local community, organize a letter writing campaign for CeCe. Yes, people are writing letters to her now en masse. At some point in the next weeks or months, these will slow down to more of a trickle, in all likelihood. So schedule the letters among your group, so she is receiving mail not just this May but when autumn is approaching, through the holiday season, and at the anniversaries of her trial and sentencing. If we say we won’t forget CeCe, let’s set ourselves up for success on that promise. Next week I’m going to visit an LGBT youth group and I’ll bring along 50 blank cards and stamps. And markers. Dang, I love markers. Black and Pink has a list of LGBT prisoners who would love to have pen pals!
2. Call and email Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s office to share your unhappiness at CeCe’s situation and ask (or demand) he give her a full pardon. He’s the only one who can act at this point, since the plea bargain means there are no appeals (I’m sure someone will point out if I’m wrong). His phone numbers are:
Toll Free: 800-657-3717
Minnesota Relay 800-627-3529
3. Form a trans civil rights group in your area, or join one if there is already one in place. Once assembled, you can do a needs assessment to get some idea of where the tensions are in your community–if it’s rural, perhaps access to appropriate health care and transition support is an issue, and if it’s urban, you may find police harassment issues, homeless shelter problems, and so on. As a former member of the DC Trans Coalition–DCTC (yes, I coined the darn acronym, so there)–we hosted a number of community meetings to identify where we should focus political pressure on our elected and appointed leaders. I recognize that this is a lot of work, but it does result in material improvements for vulnerable people. For some ideas about how to go about doing a needs assessment and strategies for advocating for anti-discrimination regulations and policies, check out their web site.
4. Familiarize yourself with the state of trans rights across the country. Yes, there are loads of articles from alternative media sources, but these vary in quality depending on the source, and often they are out of date. Google searches often load an article at the top that is from 2007 because the search terms match well; that’s not a helpful way to mine for information. But several organizations release regular or comprehensive reports on trans issues, including:
- The Williams Institute at UCLA (full disclosure, my good friend Jody Herman is the lead transgender issues researcher there)
- The National Center for Transgender Equality in DC
- The transgender rights team at Task Force, also in DC–some of the folks from this team helped write the anti-discrimination regulations that protect transfolk who live and work in DC, which are still the most comprehensive set of regulations in the US
- The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund in New York City, focused on civil rights and protections–they release a quarterly newsletter on the latest developments of interest
5. Mentor a queer or trans youth, somehow, some way. If your local kid-mentoring group is LGBT friendly, consider joining as a mentor. Or maybe there’s an LGBT youth center or program in your area. I know this doesn’t help CeCe directly, but remember that people are coming out, on average, earlier than ever. In my experience adolescence sucked hard enough without all of this sexual orientation and gender identity crap piled on top–your weekly hour may be the most normalizing time your “little” or mentee gets. Study after study shows that at-risk youth who feel even one adult cares about them do much better in school and have much better outcomes for later success than kids with no support. If you’re not sure who runs a local mentoring group, contact GLSEN and they can help you.
6. If you have the means, donate money to a local group working on these issues. If they are registered as a non-profit with the IRS, great. If they aren’t, who cares? Every team of activists needs money for postage, or photocopying, or posterboard, whatever. Americans gave $300,000,000.00 last year to charitable causes, and 75 percent of that money came directly from individuals. Not foundations (13 percent), not estates (8 percent), not corporations (7 percent). People in a rough economy came up with more than two hundred billion dollars. We need to put some of that money behind the organizations that care about us.
7. Find like-minded individuals at your place of employment and make a list of the deficits in support that LGBT employees face. Take this list to HR, as well as some concrete strategies for remedying each issue. Sure, get the person with the most seniority or job security to front the list, or start small (“hey, how about we add gender identity or expression to our list of anti-discrimination groups?”), but it’s not impossible to get the ball rolling. No, not all employers are fair. It is my earnest wish that you find a place with more integrity soon in which to work.
8. Protest. I know, this list has been mostly about inside-the-box political strategizing. But I’ve been a Lesbian Avenger, and yes, I am a fan of the angry protester. Each avenue toward civil rights needs all of its counterparts. We can not afford to continue bickering over who has the golden ticket to the radical’s Valhalla. We need people occupying Wall Street, marching on Washington, standing outside courthouses where racial injustice is unfolding against our trans youth. And we need people working on changing laws, holding law makers accountable, and reporting on the treatment of our most vulnerable community members. Anyone who wants to learn how to eat fire, come on out to Walla Walla, Washington and I’ll teach you.
I acknowledge this is not an exhaustive list. That’s why this work is so important. It takes all of us to make a difference. But large community efforts have a solid history of changing the world.