Transgender rally kicks off Pride weekend

Transgender rally kicks off Pride weekend
Marchers make their way down Broadway Street as part of the Trans* Pride Seattle 2014 march and celebration on Friday, June 27, 2014. (Joshua Bessex, seattlepi.com)
SEATTLE - Gay pride is a mainstream cause in Seattle, symbolized by a glittering Sunday parade that in recent years has moved from the LGBT heartland of Capitol Hill to Fourth Avenue downtown.

TransPride, the cause of the transgender community, is newer, edgier and angrier, the product of continued discrimination abroad in society and mistreatment even at home in the LGBT community.

But a TransPride rally, on a cool Friday night, drew to Cal Anderson Park a crowd of nearly 2,000 people.

"It is amazing to see you all. What a ***damned gorgeous crowd. I could not imagine this growing up, which is not too long ago. You were lucky if you knew even one other trans person," said keynote speaker Elena Rose, a writer and religious scholar.

Kai Green, a writer-poet-filmaker from California, described twin prejudices that make for the edginess: "I think homophobia is still with us, and trans-phobia still exists in the gay community. These are two things that we have to tackle simultaneously."

Transgendered people have long been stigmatized, but Green argued that they cannot be stereotyped. "We come in all different shades of color, from all class backgrounds, from all parts of the country. There is no single 'trans background,'" he added. "It's part of the reason why the trans movement intersects all sorts of movements about social justice."

The world has come to know a few famous transgender individuals.

A World War II GI named Henry Jorgensen underwent a sex-change operation in Europe and became Christine Jorgensen, an actress and nightclub performer. She was referred to mockingly when Vice President Spiro Agnew described an anti-war GOP politician as "the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party."

A young writer from The Times of London, James Morris, scooped the world with a coded message that announced the 1953 conquest of Mount Everest. He later became Jan Morris, an acclaimed Welsh scholar, travel writer and (by appointment of Queen Elizabeth II) a Commander of the British Empire.

In the United States nowadays - or parts of the United States - there is a growing movement of support for teenage children who feel they are trapped in a gender with which they cannot identify.

California has enacted a landmark law requiring that public schools treat students as the gender with which they identify, not necessarily what they were born into.

It has spawned an ugly reaction, with right-wing groups sponsoring a so-called "bathroom initiative" to bring to the ballot a measure that would repeal the law.

(One participant in TransPride on Friday night carried a sign reading: "Let my people PEE.")

The transgender community in Washington won a big victory this week. State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler sent health insurers a directive, saying: "Transgender people are entitled to the same health care as anyone else." Such care includes gender transition services.

A half-dozen states have adopted similar policies: Oregon, Vermont, Connecticut, Colorado, California and Massachusetts, as well as the District of Columbia.

But progress for the transgender community has been slow, compared to the strides of marriage equality in the past two years.

"What we know is that there are still alarming rates of violence and discrimination, particularly in health care. For us, success has been pretty elusive historically," said Danielle Askini, advocacy director for the Gender Justice League.

The rally Friday night paid tribute to a 17-year-old Korean-American student named Sun Kim who committed suicide earlier this month. Suicide rates among transgender teenagers far exceed the national average.

But, in the words of Elena Rose, we live in "a culture that is finally changing," but after generations of pain: "We were taught that when one of us died, it was no great loss to the world. We were taught that other trans pulled us down. We were strip-mined politically and personally.

"It turns out that we are phenomenal. We are gorgeous. We are beautiful. We are more precious for our presence than our absence.

"We're saying, 'We matter,' every day, every one of us. The great validation is no longer anyone's approval but our own . . . We have been here from the beginning of human history and excluded from the human story."

The eloquence of Elena Rose and Kai Green did give way to the political. One politician, the inevitable Kshama Sawant, showed up to expound on the wares of her Socialist Alternative movement. The Seattle City Council member delivered a somewhat unusual evaluation of human worth.

"Each one of us is worth more than 100 corporate politicians put together," cried Sawant.

But the main thrust of the evening was of the worth and self-worth of people long ostracized, and that their sexual and gender identity be respected. They are still mocked by the likes of the Family Research Council. But the attitudes of the human family are changing.

If a single phrase summed up the theme of the night, Kai Green spoke it best: "We are anti-ALL oppression."