The LGBTQ community celebrated a milestone in 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. It was an uprising born of exhaustion and fury over the NYPD’s incessant raids on the LGBTQ bar.
Almost nightly, officers harassed and arrested Stonewall Inn patrons simply for gathering at the Greenwich Village locale. Until June 28, 1969. That’s when LGBTQ patrons stood up and fought back, led by two transgender women of color: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
Not only were the riots intrepid but the protests served as a forceful sign of activism yet to come; a catalyst for the civil rights we enjoy today. The LGBTQ community now attends family-friendly parades led by mayors proudly marching through their city streets and Bank of America floats carrying LGBTQ and ally employees. Participants are adorned in rainbow boas and glitter and follow routes protected by local police departments.
LGBTQ and ally establishments are pridefully packed day and night throughout the month, celebrating our identities and the benchmarks in our social progression. While we still face oppression and discrimination in today’s political climate, acceptance for LGB people is the new overall norm.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual couples can marry across the nation, from the expansive New York City to the tiniest town in blood red Texas. A gay man can take his boyfriend to a work function and perform as a drag queen on a Saturday night, all while serving in the U.S. military, and Ellen DeGeneres is one of television’s biggest stars and a household name. For many, it’s a beautiful time to be LGB – but what about the T?
Ahead of last year’s annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors the transgender lives lost in acts of violence each year, results from the 2019 Trans Murder Monitoring research project were released. Advocacy organization Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide, which compiled and analyzed the data, found 331 cases of reported killings of transgender and gender-diverse people last year.
In the U.S., the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) found that at least 25 transgender or gender non-confirming individuals were killed. In 2018, Florida led the nation with five transgender women of color being murdered across the state – three in Jacksonville, one in Orlando and another in North Port.
Transgender people frequently experience harassment and discrimination. While one might assume the demeaning treatment comes from stereotypical transphobic individuals outside of our community, which it does, it often comes from other members of the LGBTQ community at large.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and even other transgender people have committed acts of harassment. Some examples include micro-aggressions like making fun of someone for how they walk to confrontationally asking someone about their assigned gender at birth or their hormonal changes during the early stages of their transition.
These instances are common yet rarely discussed in the public forum. That’s why Watermark is speaking with individuals in the transgender community who’ve experienced discriminatory treatment on the basis of their gender identity from within the LGBTQ community.
Maia Monet is a transgender woman and lesbian living in Orlando. She’s also a notable YouTube influencer, photographer and a Watermark columnist. She says she’s encountered negative interactions in social situations several times.
“I am a lesbian and I love our community but most of the harassment that occurs, at least for me, is from lesbians,” Monet says. “On one occasion someone asked why I transitioned if I was still into women.
“Another night I met a young lady and asked her on a date,” she continues. “After we had sex her phone went off. It was her best friend, a lesbian, warning her that I was transgender. Those moments make it seem that who you are is a ‘gotcha’ for others. It made me feel like I was different.”
Monet and her best friend, a burlesque performer and successful YouTube influencer, subsequently created a video on the platform about transgender women. According to Monet, some of its comments were grossly ill-informed, describing transgender women as predatory males grooming young girls for sexual molestation.
It’s a “typical TERF talking point,” Monet explains. “They think transgender women are biological men invading female spaces for sexual deviance.” The acronym stands for “trans exclusionary radical feminist,” and she says the comments were all from lesbians.
TERFs are mostly women who in Monet’s words “believe trans women are encroaching and erasing cis-women and are only focused on genitalia” when it comes to gender identity.
“Too many people think transphobia is binary,” she explains. “There are plenty of people who are allies but hold transphobic views. Some LGBTQ people don’t understand the trans experience and they’re unwilling to become better allies.”
A gay man who sexually assaulted Monet is one example of that. She says he dismissed her protests, citing his sexuality, and adds that some cisgender individuals “try to decide what’s transphobic because they’re a part of the community.” As such, they “use the same language straight people have used to oppress lesbians and gays.”
For members of the larger LGBTQ community to become better allies, Monet says, “listening and learning about the transgender experience is a good start.”
That isn’t always easy, St. Petersburg’s Cermet Kay says, particularly when it comes to members of the LGBTQ community. “I regularly run into small cases of harassment in online LGBTQ spaces,” the nonbinary professional says, “where my opinions are often dismissed because I’m a ‘trans-trender’ or I’m challenged to justify my identity in the name of ‘friendly debate.’”
A trans-trender is derogatory slang, defined as “a person who changes their gender identity as a fad, without experiencing any gender-related dysphoria.” Kay says the online attacks haven’t been the worst of it, however.
“I was at a drag show where my friend and I were harassed and demeaned by other members of the audience before the show even started,” Kay recalls. “Several individuals, who probably were cisgender gay men from the things they said, approached us and offered unsolicited ‘advice’ about our presentation – even going so far as to physically touch us to point things out.”
After Kay explained they were nonbinary, “one of the men told me that ‘wasn’t a real thing,’ another asked me what I ‘really was,’ and another said that I needed to ‘at least pick a side,’” they recall. “At that point my friend and I no longer felt safe and we left the venue.”
Kay has also experienced and witnessed harassment from other transgender individuals. “I like to help the people who are early in their journey and there’s always a large amount of unlearning to be done,” they explain. “I’m always careful to show them the same patience and compassion that I was given when I went through that process. However, I occasionally run into binary trans individuals who hold on to regressive ideas that the community has largely moved past.”
In grad school, Kay says, they witnessed a transgender woman destroying a Pride flag for “drawing too much attention to the trans community.” More recently, another transgender woman told them they were “pretty enough to pass as a cis woman” if they wanted and there wasn’t a “need to be nonbinary.”
“Early in my transition it impacted me very negatively,” Kay reflects. “I had imposter syndrome and frequently questioned if I was really trans, or trans enough. This fear caused me to delay some elements of my transition, like beginning Hormone Replacement Therapy. Now that I feel more established in the community and have several exclusively nonbinary spaces to take refuge in. I am not nearly as affected as I used to be.”
Kay adds that while they feel more comfortable in cisgender LGB spaces than in cisgender heterosexual ones, they aren’t yet completely at ease. “I still avoid talking to people or making eye contact unless I know for certain that I’m welcome there,” Kay says of the former. As for the latter, “I will be afraid of physical violence and harassment.”
Harassment can often come from the aforementioned TERFs, which Kay defines as “individuals who hide their anti-trans biases behind academic sounding language and thought.” Kay says the feminists are “more dangerous than your garden variety transphobe because they specifically and intentionally push for institutional discrimination against the trans community.
“These are the people who instigate online ‘debate’ over people’s identities and push for discriminatory legislation within our government,” they continue. “The only reason ‘radical’ and ‘feminist’ is in the acronym is because they chose those words themselves – in reality, there is nothing radical nor feminist about their ideas.”
Kay says in order for the LGBTQ community to become better allies, “they can proactively educate themselves using the numerous online resources that exist. They can also actively work to protect trans people even when we’re not there.” An example they give is correcting those who may use incorrect names or pronouns.
“It may feel uncomfortable, small and inconsequential but those actions build up and send strong signals that ripple through social circles,” Kay elaborates. “Transphobia is deeply rooted in our society’s unconscious assumptions, and so the most effective way to combat it is by consistently bringing them into the light where they can be corrected.”
Equality Florida, the state’s largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s LGBTQ community, offers a number of resources to combat transphobia. Through its transgender inclusion initiative TransAction Florida, it grows grassroots engagement, influences state public policy and conducts transgender inclusion workshops.
The initiative exists to create a broader base of understanding and support from societal institutions which interact with the expansive transgender community. Transgender and nonbinary individuals, as well as other members of the LGBTQ community and allies, can utilize their Transgender Resource Guide to learn about community support.
University of South Florida student Fox Hindsman, a transmasculine St. Petersburg resident, understands the need for that support. One of their first instances with transphobia from within the LGBTQ community occurred in high school after they revealed their identity to a friend.
“I told my closest friend and only her because I didn›t think it would go over well,” Hindsman recalls. “I was absolutely scared of being ex-communicated from my social circle.”
The following day, while eating lunch with their circle of friends which referred to themselves as the “Trans Lunch Squad,” tensions escalated. “The ringleader of our group, who was the reason I even discovered gender exploration was possible, brought up that being gender flux isn’t real,” Hindsman says.
It was the gender identity they were exploring at the time, and their friend asserted “that anyone who claims to identify outside of the gender binary was the real problem with the community and why we would never be fully accepted in society.”
When Hindsman didn’t chime in to agree, looking instead to the group for support, they were verbally attacked. “He told me that I was specifically what was wrong with the community and that I was fake,” they recall. “From that point on I would stay away from anywhere I could be purposefully misgendered by the very people who had welcomed me with open arms.”
Hindsman says now that it gave them an “immense amount of internalized transphobia, especially in regards to other nonbinary people.” These experiences and others made them feel “alienated, shameful, disgraceful and like an abomination of nature because I took anything anyone ever said about my gender identity very hard.”
Support and unity is critical, Equality Florida’s Nikole Parker stresses. The Orlando resident serves as TransAction Florida’s project coordinator, focusing on community building and empowerment of the transgender community.
“It’s important to understand that we’re in this fight together,” she explains. “We can’t do it alone, or siloed. There is power in numbers. Trans and nonbinary folks are the first to fight for the rights of all LGBTQ+ people and we need our lesbian, gay, bisexual & queer family to help us.”
Parker learned that early in her own transition. While meeting a friend’s boyfriend for the first time in a restaurant, she recalls noticing a visibly uncomfortable gentleman with his family. “He finally calls over the waiter and says ‘that is disgusting. I’m not subjecting my family to that’ and points at me,” she recalls.
“I was mortified. I didn’t understand what I was doing to make this gentleman uncomfortable,” she continues. “He walked over to another couple and said ‘Do you see that?!’ referring to me. When they asked him to please move away from their table he went back to his family and had them leave. I internalized that situation for many years. Transgender people sometimes internalize others’ hate.”
She adds that experiencing and witnessing harassment from another LGBTQ source baffles her. “Transgender and nonbinary people have been at the forefront fighting for our rights for decades,” Parker says. “It’s hurtful to see how we can be discriminated against and hated even among our own community. There are not many spaces trans and nonbinary individuals can go to feel safe.
“So when we are in LGBTQ+ spaces but still experiencing hate and discrimination, then it becomes a question of ‘where is safe for us?’ Our community often loves to highlight how they’ve been discriminated against by straight cis-gender individuals,” she continues, “but nobody likes to talk about the transgender hate spewed out in our own community.”
Parker believes discrimination against transgender individuals from within the LGBTQ community exists because “ignorance leads to transphobia. Humans fear the unknown. If it’s not understood, the easiest thing to do is reject and fear it.”
She believes “people need to take time to realize we’re all human. We all just want to live our happy, authentic lives. When you’re talking about marginalized communities, people are fighting for their seat at the table, their rights, their freedom. I think sometimes the natural thing to do is kick down the person running next to you, so at least you make it through the finish line.”
Parker imagines a world where the LGBTQ community collectively changes that mindset, working together to carry one another across that line. “If the enemy is against us all, why don’t we band together to fight versus being more divisive?”
“See something, say something,” she summarizes. “You hear someone talking negatively about someone who is trans or nonbinary, question their logic. Ask them why they feel that way. Help get them to better understand the experience of someone who is trans or nonbinary. Education is key to acceptance.”
Equality Florida Director of Transgender Equality Gina Duncan agrees. As the chair of TransAction Florida’s Advisory Council, she ensures transgender inclusion is woven into Equality Florida’s core mission.
“There are several nuanced transphobic issues within the LGBTQ community,” Duncan says. The activist and trainer specifically points to the Black and QLantix populations.
“We have learned from anti-trans POC violence that this segment of the trans population is underserved and underprotected as black trans murders continue to escalate across the world,” Duncan says. “While black trans women are experiencing an epidemic of violence, there is not enough being done to address and stem the tide of this violence.”
What’s more, “not enough black trans voices are being lifted to share personal experiences of harassment, discrimination and violence,” she continues. “As a community, from the Pulse tragedy, we learned that the QLatinx trans community was underrepresented and underserved by LGBTQ nondiscrimination initiatives being implemented by the community at large.”
Duncan also says that a nuanced resentment of transgender individuals being the impediment for passing LGBTQ nondiscrimination policy also exists. That was particularly evident with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA.
The legislation provides protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring and employment. It has been introduced each year since 1994, failing to pass in congress every year since.
Gender identity was added in 2007, and some sponsors believed that even with Democratic control in congress, it wouldn’t pass with transgender protections. Organizations including HRC stood by the decision at the time.
“In Florida we have passed over 40 city and county Human Rights Ordinances that include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations,” Duncan counters. “The latter equating to bathroom usage. Many within the LGB community feel that if they did not have to battle resistance to trans people using the restroom that aligns with their gender identity, more nondiscrimination laws would get passed.”
The LGB community at large can also be slow or resistant to embracing nonbinary identities, something Duncan says can be generationally influenced. “Many within the LGB community find nonbinary identities and their language of engagement to be over complicated and unnecessary,” she explains.
“Gender neutral pronouns like the singular they, bathrooms and policies are often begrudgingly embraced by our LGBTQ community or dismissed as a generational fad currently made en vogue by Millennials and Gen Y and Z,” she elaborates. “I have spoken to several LGBTQ community leaders who have expressed their reluctance to embrace nonbinary nuanced language and have resented this being forced on them as a further complication of gender inclusion.”
To create a more inclusive environment, Duncan stresses that unity is essential. We must “continue to stand shoulder to shoulder against discrimination and hatred,” she asserts, “and be open to our differences based on our personal sexual orientations or gender identities.
“As an LGBTQ community we share a common bond to have the right to live an authentic and fulfilled life,” Duncan concludes. “We are stronger together and we must continue to evolve together.”
For more information about Equality Florida, TransAction Florida or to access the organization’s Transgender Resource Guide or additional educational assets, visit EQFL.org/TransActionFL.