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How to be an ally who stands with transgender people

There are many reasons you should learn how to be an ally to trans people. First, transgender rights are human rights — it’s that simple. Trans people regularly encounter discrimination in everyday settings, such as workplaces, schools, and doctor’s offices. They face much higher risks for experiencing homelessness, developing anxiety, and being physically harassed or violently attacked.  

Especially now, in this current political moment, people need to step up in solidarity with the trans community. The Trump administration has a long record of attacking the rights of transgender people. It moved to ban transgender people from serving in the military, and now the administration wants to use federal bureaucracy to deny transgender people’s existence. 

A leaked memo from the Department of Health and Human Services, which was published by the New York Times, suggests gender should be defined as either male or female and can only be determined by genitalia at birth. Disputes would be resolved with genetic testing. This policy would erode or eliminate federal protections for LGBTQ people, such as access to emergency shelter and hospital care.

The good news is activists and allies are organizing, showing up in front of the White House, as well as online through the hashtag #WeWontBeErased. Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, wants transgender people to know they are far from alone in this fight. 

“Remember that there is an entire human rights community that not only stands with us but will always fight back — and fight hard,” Keisling said in a statement. “Thousands of us have devoted our lives to protecting you and your families, and our ability to do so is nothing short of a privilege.”

Given the leaked memo, allyship is urgent now. But even when trans people aren’t the main focus of the news cycle, it’s important to show up for them. Here are some ways you can be an ally today and in the future:

1. Be proactive in educating yourself. 

Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, says the first step to being an ally to transgender people is to educate yourself on their reality and needs. Learn about harmful myths and misconceptions that need to be debunked, the violence against trans women of color, and the needs of the trans community in your city, county, and state. It’s also important to learn about state and federal policies that can help ensure every transgender person has equal rights, such as the Equality Act. But more on that later. 

When it comes to learning about the issues and challenges common to the transgender community, do not rely on transgender people because as McBride points out, not everyone is in a place where they want to be, or are comfortable being, a source of education. You can turn instead to the internet, which has countless tools and resources for allies to educate themselves. 

If you don’t know where to start, McBride suggests following a diverse range of voices on social media, including Raquel Willis (communications associate for Transgender Law Center), Chase Strangio (staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS Project), Mara Keisling (founder and executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality), and Charlotte Clymer (press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign). Also consider following influential activists like Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and Jazz Jennings

“These are all advocates, folks who are on the front lines of this fight,” McBride told Mashable. “They are keeping their followers up to date on the issues and challenges facing the transgender community and how people can get involved and make their voices heard.”

2. Use your social media platform to share stories. 

Some people criticize social media activism, but McBride argues our platforms and our networks are some of the most powerful tools we have. 

“One of the most important things for folks to remember is that each and every one of us through social media have a unique platform to not just stand and act in solidarity with trans folks but to educate our own community and our own networks,” McBride said. 

“I encourage folks to not just follow transgender activists but to share their content, share their stories, share the articles and the issues that are coming up, particularly now with so many attacks on our community.” 

You’ve probably heard people say it’s important to center marginalized voices, which isn’t as simple as retweeting or sharing stories on social media. While social media activism certainly helps, centering voices means making trans people the focus of conversations and stepping back so they can lead those conversations.  

3. Vote for pro-equality candidates on Nov. 6. 

Election Day is on Nov. 6 and you need to vote. This is your chance to elect progressive representatives that support the LGBTQ community. 

“I think more than anything else right now in the immediate, we need people to understand this coming November’s election is the most critical in our lifetimes because we have the opportunity and the responsibility to pull the emergency brake on the Trump/Pence administration’s hateful and discriminatory policies,” McBride said. 

When considering candidates, McBride suggests researching their stance on the Equality Act, a critical piece of federal legislation that offers explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. See if your representative has either co-sponsored or plans to vote yes on the bill, and if not, find a candidate that will. 

Voting on Election Day is a great first step, but don’t stop there. It’s important to be informed and involved year-round. You can stay up-to-date on health care laws, “bathroom bills,” and other local and state policies by joining the National Center for Transgender Equality’s mailing list. 

4. Donate to transgender-rights organizations.

There are dozens of organizations you can donate to if you’d like to support transgender rights, but these are a few groups that are changing culture and policies. Erika L. Sánchez, author of , has promised to give signed copies of her novel or poetry collection to people who donate over $20 to a trans or immigrant rights organization. 

Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund is a nonprofit that seeks to end discrimination through education and The Name Change Project, a program that connects low-income trans and non-binary people who want a legal name change to pro bono attorneys. 

Transgender Law Center conducts legal and policy work, including lobbying efforts. 

The National Center for Transgender Equality advocates for transgender people through a number of projects, including Voices for Trans Equality, which provides trans people and allies with advocacy resources, such as news updates and training, and the Trans Legal Services Network, which helps trans people navigate the name and gender change process. 

If you’re looking for other ways to be an ally, you can consult tip sheets produced by GLAAD and the National Center for Transgender Equality. 

When it comes to allyship, it’s easy to focus on your actions, your words, and your education, but being an ally also involves making sure the people around you are standing with the trans community as well. When your friend, family member, or anyone in your network makes a discriminatory joke or comment, you have a responsibility to call out that injustice and fight for transgender people, regardless of whether they’re clearly in the room or not, according to McBride. 

If you’re not sure how to do that, refer to The American Friends Service Committee, which provides tips on how to safely and effectively intervene. Before anything, you’ll need to make eye contact with someone who is being harassed and ask them if they want support.

“I think too often we think that as long as we’re good people, as long as we don’t say nasty things, that’s enough,” McBride said. 

The truth is, it’s not and it never will be, so get comfortable with being uncomfortable and hold other people accountable.  

UPDATE: Oct. 23, 2018, 3 p.m. EDT This story was updated with a new photograph. 



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