Last week I interviewed an organizer with the “I’ll Go With You” campaign, which sells buttons trans allies can wear to show they are willing to go into a public restroom with a trans man or woman to help keep them safe.
That may seem like an extraordinary step to take, but with violence against trans people higher than ever and on the rise, it is an important role an ally of trans people can play.
As a cisgender heterosexual caucasian male, I recognize that I’m privileged to be able to use a public restroom without having to worry about being harassed, threatened, assaulted, or murdered because of my gender identity. The statistics on trans people being murdered in this country are horrifying and shameful — last year 24 people were killed nationwide, and most of them were women of color, according to an article by NBC News. It was the deadliest year on record for the trans community.
It is that reality which compelled the I’ll Go With You organizer to ask for — and the Valley Advocate to grant — anonymity. The individuals involved fear online bullying or death threats, and that fear is justified.
The organizer told me about Sophie Labelle, a trans woman who is the creator of the web comic series Assigned Male Comics about the thoughts of a transgender girl. Labelle has received numerous death threats over the Internet during the past week and her home address was posted to online forums.
“I am currently in a safe place and my roommate and I will move away before the end of the week,” Labelle said on May 17 in an email to her readers.
Wearing a button is a great first step an ally of trans people can take, but with trans individuals facing levels of harassment that force them to leave their homes, we shouldn’t stop there.
During our conversation, I asked the I’ll Go With You organizer whether people in the trans community had any issues with the buttons. Critics have said you’re not really safe with a person just because they’re wearing a button, which the organizer said was a valid concern.
“Wearing a button cannot be the beginning and the end of your advocacy and the support for this community,” she said. “Often what we do is we talk about next steps … If you’re already wearing a button here’s a call to make to your legislator. If you’re already wearing a button here’s a law we have to yell about.”
Here’s a few suggestions for taking your trans alliance to the next left after you pin that button to your shirt:
Educate yourself: There are numerous bathroom bills in the works that specifically target the trans community. Learn where they are and join your voice with the opposition. One example in Alabama is a bill that would require businesses, schools, and other public places to either segregate restrooms by gender or place attendants at each restroom to monitor them. The more you know about injustices facing the trans community, the better equipped you’ll be to help in the fight.
Don’t let up: When you hear about a new bathroom bill don’t just raise your fist in the air and curse the politicians crafting it — do something about it. Call or write senators and representatives and leave them enough messages that will get their attention.
Support social justice advocacy: The National Center for Transgender Equality is one of the leading advocacy groups for the trans community. Its mission is to end discrimination and violence against trans people and educate the public on national issues that impact the trans community. Whether it’s donating money or time, supporting institutions such as these leads to real change.
Run for office: If you really want to make change and advocate for equality, try running for a public office. It doesn’t have to be for Congress or your state Senate. Even an advocate on a city council or board of selectmen could result in positive change for the trans community.
Chris Goudreau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.