November is filled with celebrations as we close in on the end of the year, including Veterans’ Day (Nov. 11) and Native American Heritage Month.
We wanted to take a moment to recognize two other events this month: Transgender Awareness Week (Nov. 13-19) and Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov. 20).
Transgender Awareness Week
This week focuses on raising the visibility of transgender people, educating the public about who they are, sharing stories, and addressing issues of prejudice, discrimination, and violence against transgender people.
Here are several resources and definitions courtesy of GLAAD, an organization that works for acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community:
- Transgender: people whose gender identity differs from the sex they are assigned at birth.
- Gender identity: a person’s internal, personal sense of being a certain gender (or sometimes, more than one gender).
- Glossary of Terms, including terms that are acceptable and not acceptable when referring to transgender people.
Currently, OYA has about 20 transgender youth in our custody. About half are in our facilities and half in the community. This only takes into account those youth who have chosen to identify publicly as transgender.
Here are some additional resources we recommend:
- Transgender FAQ
- Tips for Allies of Transgender People
- Forgotten figures who challenged gender expression and identity centuries ago
- VIDEO: Safety in Numbers: A Trans History
Transgender Day of Remembrance
This day is observed on Nov. 20 to honor those whose lives have been taken due to anti-transgender violence.
It started after the 1998 murder of Rita Hester, a Black transgender woman in Boston who was stabbed 20 times in her apartment. Today, police still have not identified or arrested anyone for her murder. One year after Rita’s murder, advocate and writer Gwendolyn Ann Smith organized a vigil to commemorate Rita and all of those who had died due to anti-transgender violence.
So far, in 2021, at least 41 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed by violent means. One was in Oregon: 17-year-old Ollie Taylor, a Gervais High School student. The vast majority were women of color, a tragic example of the compounding impacts for those facing racism, sexism, and transphobia. This data only counts the killings we know about. Many of these stories are unreported or misreported.
Seth Johnstone with Basic Rights Oregon, who is a member of OYA’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee, put it this way: “Day of Remembrance reminds us of oppressive systems trying to erase our community or eradicate us. Violence toward one of us is violence toward all of us, and Nov. 20 is about engaging the larger community around this issue.”
Perspectives from Our Community
We asked transgender youth, staff, and LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee members for their perspectives.
Phoebe, 22, youth in OYA custody
“If people understand something, then they’re less likely to fear it and hate it. The best way to prevent hate crimes and violence against transgender people is to educate people. … We’re not that much different from anyone else. I still want to feel safe in society. I still want to have friends and get along with people and live my life.”
Advice for working with transgender youth: “Judge them based on who they are, not the fact that they are transgender. Get to know them before you make a snap judgment. OYA has a lot of trainings, but it doesn’t matter how much you train someone if they aren’t willing to listen to it. Keep an open mind.”
Phoenix, 19, youth in OYA custody
“I think pronouns should be part of any introduction, no matter what your pronouns are. It’s simple and something that staff can commit to. Also, when anybody talks to me, if they have questions, feel free to ask. If someone says something that can be offensive when they don’t mean to, I’ll politely correct them, and I won’t get offended. I don’t want people to be afraid to make mistakes.”
Deven Edgerton, OYA foster care certifier
“It is important to look past the binary and understand that there is a spectrum of genders, and to educate yourself on how to be an ally — meaning that you will act with and for others to help end hate and oppression. Interrupt hate not only in your daily life but within policies and legislation. Even though there is an increased visibility of transgender people in the media, we still have a long way to go.
“One way people can be an ally is through education. When there is training, participate, learn, save, and review your resources. Be a life-long learner.”
Seth Johnstone, transgender justice trainer and organizer with Basic Rights Oregon, member of OYA’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee
“If you see discrimination happening, think about what it looks like to interrupt or check to see if someone is okay. … Seek out education on your own when you can. It’s not always going to come from your trans coworker, or that youth who is out to you, because those folks may not have the capacity or energy to educate others.”
Advice for working with transgender youth: “Believe your youth in terms of who they say they are. There’s often a lot of questioning or saying, ‘it’s a phase.’ But it’s important to support youth in making these kinds of healthy choices. One affirming provider in a young person’s life can drastically change their outcome. One person using the right pronouns can really help their mental health.”
Alex, youth in OYA custody
“People who are transgender have been around for years upon years. We’re just now starting to come out and talk about it more. … To the staff, don’t try to install what you perceive as gender roles onto (transgender) youth. I’ve had staff tell me, ‘You can do this, tough guy,’ or ‘You should like cars now.’ These are all stereotypes. My pronouns don’t have to decide how I dress, how I talk, or who I associate with. Also, I’ve been told multiple times it would be so much easier if I could just be a girl. Don’t tell us to take the easy way out.”
Jenn Burleton, program director of the TransActive Gender Project, member of OYA’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee
“Over the years, as trans people have become more visible, people have felt somewhat safer being out. … But the rise in transphobic murders, hate, and violence escalated at the same time.
“Laws against access to trans-affirming health care, against trans youth participation in sports, against discussing gender diversity in our schools — as that ramps up, the amount of courage it takes to be visible while living in your truth only increases.”
Advice for working with transgender youth: “Using people’s chosen name and pronouns is suicide prevention. Implicit bias against gender-diverse youth, as much as explicit bias against gender-diverse youth, causes trauma, so don’t do it.”
Educate Yourself and Be an Ally
Creating safe environments where everyone can engage and thrive is paramount to all that we do at OYA. It’s critically important that we extend this idea to transgender people at our agency and in our communities.
We are currently rolling out a training to staff on how to support LGBTQ+ youth in juvenile justice settings. We encourage all our staff who go to these trainings to listen with an open mind as they gain new resources to better support our youth.
Please take some extra time this month to educate yourself further on the information we’ve shared today and consider how you can be a better ally moving forward.