Mara Keisling is the founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. Since 2003, the NCTE has become one of the driving forces in the fight for trans rights.
KEISLING: It’s important to remember that in general, more momentum built over the course of this year than ever before. That’s going to help us in lots of different ways. What kind of momentum happened? One is obvious: the senate vote on ENDA. I knew we were going to win, but [during debate] nobody spoke out against LGBT people. This is a first. In fact, the only senator who voiced an opinion against the bill — Indiana Republican Dan Coats — spoke out against anti-discrimination laws, in general, on the basis of religious freedom. For the first time, the issue wasn’t LGBT people.
Another important thing to note is that there are currently 200 co-sponsors of ENDA. Yes, this is five fewer than in 2010, but there are 35 fewer Democrats in the House. So, even with [less expected support], we’re that close to the same level of sponsorship we had in 2010.
One “bad good” sign is the way the radical right wing in areas like California and Colorado have begun mounting attacks on transgender children. It’s horrible. It’s unconscionable, and they should be ashamed of themselves. We’re going to stand up, and we’re going to defend ourselves and our children. There’s a quote that’s often attributed to Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” We were ignored, then laughed at, and now they’re finally fighting us. They see us as a valid target to go after. We’re just people trying to be people.
Another “bad good” sign of progress is how over the top [the radical right] has been in attacking our kids. These attacks against children will show them for who they are. In turn, they’re making it much easier for us to educate the public about our agenda — which is simply about living lives. Their agenda is just hating people who are different. This is going to be hard, and it’s going to be ugly, but we’re going to win because they are wrong and we are right. They’re doing all of this in such an unconscionable, messed up way, that it shines a light on all of us. This is a sign of progress.
Now we have a president who says the word “transgender” all the time. We have a president who stood up to Russia and their anti-LGBT laws. Talking about LGBT people, the president got in the face of Russia over the Olympics, and has been using American foreign policy to make the world a better place for all LGBT people.
In the past year, we’ve seen really great strides in anti discrimination laws, healthcare, housing, employment, and education. We’re going to win more next year. We keep getting closer to full equality. Our theme for this year — which was our 10th anniversary — was “Our Moment.” This really is our moment, and I believe we are at a tipping point.
As for what I’d hope for in 2014, the dream would be to pass ENDA. We think we have the votes. It’s just that we don’t know if Speaker Boehner will bring it up in the House.
Another huge thing is immigration reform. There are somewhere between 35,000 and 50,000 transgender undocumented immigrants in the United States. They weren’t physically or economically safe where they were. They came here because they were trans. They’re mistreated here because they’re trans, and often times sent back to their former country for this reason.
Beginning next year, it’ll be illegal to deny someone health insurance on the basis of having a pre-existing condition. Previously, it was near-impossible for a trans person to buy any individual policy, as many insurance companies considered being transgender a pre-existing condition. This is absolutely huge for us.
Finally, one of the most interesting things are the conversations about income inequality. As that picks up over the next few years, I hope trans people understand that when that conversation is about marginalized people, that disproportionately affects trans people. We should be in that fight because it’s right, and because it’s important for trans people.