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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Not Just Another Survey: What the 2015 #USTransSurvey Means to Me

Inspired by lived experiences with homelessness, poverty, and discrimination, Ignacio has been an advocate for over 20 years on economic justice, anti-racist and anti-imperialist work, and feminist and LGBTQ movements. Ignacio works with the U.S. Trans Survey team to develop and execute outreach that ensures trans people throughout the country are represented.

In the 90s I was the lead organizer in Lawrence, Massachusetts working to create the first LGBT Pride march. The effort was a huge undertaking fighting in the face of constant threats of violence. City Council members denied our parade permit. Local religious groups organized a "Save Our Children" campaign to remove over 200 children from the city. There were many obstacles but one that was especially persistent was the claim that LGBT people did not exist in Lawrence. And—our opponents believed—that even if LGBT people did live in Lawrence, that we certainly didn’t need a parade to flaunt our "chosen lifestyle." Half the battle at the City Council meetings was convincing others that we, as LGBT people, were real people who wanted nothing more than to celebrate who we were despite overwhelming discrimination. The City Council wanted proof of the discrimination we faced but, at the time, we didn’t have any. After many more rallies, boycotts, and meetings, we eventually succeeded. With the help of brave LGBT people who shared personal testimony, we put a face to the problems endured in our community. The battle was long but the Lawrence City Council granted our permit and we succeeded in hosting Lawrence’s first LGBT Pride march.

Data would have been a powerful tool for advocacy in that campaign. Today, there is no lack of data, especially in big cities, that we do in fact exist and that LGBT people face devastating levels of discrimination. But as we watch our nation turn a corner on unprecedented public awareness on trans people, how can we convey the reality of our lives to policy makers and legislators? How do we “prove” that our struggles exist and it’s not just about one queer person in Lawrence, but a shared experience by LGBTQ people everywhere? And how do we use this to highlight the complicated and varied experiences of trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary people who face layers of marginalization with other key decision-makers? In Lawrence, we achieved this by testifying in front of the City Council. But in today’s complicated fights, we also need information to “back up” the reality of our struggles.

This is why the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey is so important to me. The results of the survey will give us the information about trans lives and experiences that we need to fight for change and face challenges. I know how valuable this information is for trans people, but I also know that surveys have a long history of leaving people, especially marginalized groups, feeling used and tossed aside. Surveys can be boring, long, and feel useless. And as an extremely small population, there seems to be survey after survey about or for trans people. In a time when systemic violence against trans people in the U.S. has been increasingly exposed, many might think, “what will completing another trans survey do for me now?”

Urgency is at the forefront of addressing the increasing murders of trans women of color. Ever-present issues of bullying, homelessness, unemployment, access to healthcare, immigration and safety continues to overwhelm us as we take our struggles to the streets, storm stages and advocate for our lives. These are necessary actions to change hearts and minds. The LGBTQ movement has had a long history of in-your-face rebellions that have been game changers. At the same time, taking a survey on trans experiences is also vital to making significant changes. The process is different but the goal of working towards a life where trans people can live safe, authentic lives is a shared outcome of the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey and other kinds of advocacy and organizing. The 2015 U.S. Trans Survey is the follow-up to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS). In 2008-2009, The National Center for Transgender Equality and The National LGBTQ Task Force developed and conducted the largest study on transgender experiences ever recorded—over 6,400 people participated, and in February 2011, a report of the findings was published called Injustice at Every Turn.

For the first time, we had data to document the gross discrimination and abuses endured by trans people in the U.S. We, as trans people, are well aware of the discrimination we face on a daily basis; we didn’t need a survey to tell us what we already struggle with. However, what the NTDS did--and what its follow-up, the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey, will do--is collect data and provide information that support and illustrate our stories in a way that’s crucial for the public to understand.

As I reflect on that fight in Lawrence, I think about how far we have come. Today, there is trans visibility like never before. Advances in laws and policies are moving forward. But we also know that these advances aren’t reaching every one of us in the community, and they aren’t reaching us all quickly enough. We also know that visibility alone won’t protect us. Visibility won’t provide access to medical care, house us, or employ us. We witness television shows, movies, news reports, celebrities coming out, and everyday trans people using social media to tell their stories. And we need more of all of that. But surveys are also an important part of that solution. Personal stories, protests, lobbying, lawsuits and surveys combined make powerful tools for change. As we try to survive and craft lives for ourselves despite the ignorance that surrounds us, we must employ multi-pronged approaches in fighting for our lives. Surveys, like rallies and campaigns, are just some of the necessary mechanisms for change, and I hope you’ll join me in taking the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey.

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