It’s Up to Us (Always Has Been)

by Rev . Mykal Slack

One of the most frustrating and emotionally and spiritually damaging aspects of Transgender justice work is the persistent confrontation with silence. There is always a moment when individuals, organizations of all kinds, family members or friends, communities of faith, and government entities have an opportunity to offer care, kindness and compassion into our lives as Trans and gender nonconforming people.

And yet, far too often, what follows any threat to our personhood is nothing but silence. 

Streets don’t get flooded with righteously angry, protesting people when Trans womyn of color are murdered and then disrespected in death by the use of names and pronouns in police reports and news media that they would never have used in life. (At least seven Trans womyn of color have been murdered in the U.S. in 2017 alone. Did you know that?)

There’s no public outcry when parents and school administrators demean Trans youth by discussing their genitalia and bathroom usage in public forums. I have watched, first hand, state and local policymakers irresponsibly legislate away our humanity as Trans people without lifting a finger to understand anything about our lives.

And just yesterday, the highest court of the land, true to form, refused to give Gavin Grimm, a high school Transgender boy denied access to the boy’s bathroom, his day in court. On Monday, March 6, the Supreme Court of the United States made the decision not to rule on the matter of Glouchester County School Board v. G.G., a case that could have clarified whether federal law covers gender identity discrimination in public schools.

And not only did they decide not to hear oral arguments in the case—they also reversed a decision of the lower court in Gavin’s favor.

Both the significance of Gavin’s case and the judgment of the lower court are rendered silent.

The humanity of Transgender and gender nonconforming people is legislated, debated, called into question, invisibilized, and ignored every single day by individuals, employers, schools and faith communities of all kinds. This has got to stop!

I am a person. Who we all are as Trans and gender nonconforming people matters, whether you understand our gender identities and expressions or not. And while some of us may not need the force of law to feel like legitimate and whole people, we all certainly deserve to be treated with decency and respect, and without fear of being publicly denigrated or inequitably resourced by the very systems and people who are charged with upholding justice. It is not an unrealistic expectation in the “land of the free and home of the brave” to actually feel and be free.

And what has consistently gotten all of us into trouble is this notion that legislators and courts, otherwise disinterested in the realities of people’s lives, should have the last word on how people should be treated. It is a lie that we, particularly as people of faith and moral conscience, have a responsibility to remove from our consciousness.

The widely known legal maxim that “justice delayed is justice denied” is only true if otherwise well-intentioned people sit back and do nothing. We do have the power to change things, be better and do right by the people who are most on the margins in this country.

This is our work as human beings who believe in freedom. 

We can neither rest, nor presume that we have no say in bending the arc toward justice. As one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Ani DiFranco, says, “It’s as easy as breathing for us all to participate.”

Maybe you don’t think you know any Trans people. That’s probably not true—but that doesn’t even matter. Create spaces where you and other people you know can have conversations about gender and gender justice. If you have no idea what that means or how to hold that space, but want to, ask somebody (hint: my email address is listed below).

If you own a business, in a town big or small, where there are public restrooms, let Trans and gender nonconforming people in that town know that you and your staff care and are invested in creating restroom safety for them by signing up for campaigns like Yes, You Can Go.

If yours is a community of faith that cares about being a spiritual home to people of all genders, then connect with folks at the Transforming Hearts Collective, Many Voices, Keshet, or any number of organizations (denominationally and non-denominationally affiliated) who are called to resource people of faith for the work of collective liberation and culture shift.

And in the meantime? #StandWithGavin—no matter what the courts decide—because your faith calls you to.

Don’t be silent about the value of Gavin’s life and all our lives! Share this meme widely, make it your profile pic, and let people know you have a heart for justice. And join us on the weekend of March 24-26 to observe the National Weekend of Prayer for Transgender Justice.

The Supreme Court may have nothing to say, but let them and everyone hear from you! 

Because, in the end, it has always been up to us (in the words of Bishop Yvette Flunder of City of Refuge UCC and the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries) “to work on getting free so that we can be agents of freedom.”

It’s well past time. Let’s get to work.

Photo by Geoff Livingston