Many thanks to Kai Russo for permission to publish this speech.
Speech at Rally to Support Trans Youth, State Supreme Court, Hartford, CT
1 April 2017
by Kai Russo
Trans and gender nonconforming people are beautiful. We are beautiful because we all have a unique story, a personal identity and a collective struggle. There is not one trans story or one way of trans people look, even though we are still encouraged to ascribe and conform to white, cis norms of beauty in order to be accepted and feel safe in public. Yesterday was trans day of visibility, which is our designated day where we are supposed to celebrate who we are and how far we’ve come – because the other 364 days our problems, our issues and our beings are supposed to be invisible. As trans writer, entertainer and performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon wrote on their facebook page yesterday, “visibility is not the same thing as justice. What has become increasingly evident is that the system is, in fact, more willing to give trans people visibility that it is to give us compensation, resources [and] safety.”
When I was 16, I was one of 75% of trans people who felt unsafe at school. It is estimated that about a third of LGBTQ students will drop out of school due to reasons such as bullying, being denied access to public spaces and bathrooms. Black and Brown LGBTQ youth are constantly being funneled into our broken so-called criminal justice system through the school to prison pipeline. Halfway through my junior year I dropped out of high school because I was unable to cope with the loss of friends and treatment from my peers as I has started to transition. I am privileged to say that I was able to continue my education and I graduated with my Associates degree in January this year. Yes, high school drop-outs can have college degrees.
There has been outrage over the recent executive orders and rightfully so. But do not let us be surprised by what has happened as it is far too predictable. As much as we would like to deny it, exclusion and discrimination, racism and xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia have been built into our society from the beginning. In the past, our country has not been welcoming to immigrants and refugees who do not hail from the West. We would like to believe that we have come farther than we have, that time is able to heal, but do not be fooled by time. Time does not mark change. Time only allows for the same systems of hate to reconstruct themselves. We are the ones who need to be actively fighting against these systems. My favorite professor told me the only good thing to come of this mess is that finally, finally, people are starting to realize that we don’t live in a post-racial society where everyone is equal. Finally more and more people are starting to understand the injustices of our society now that we have a president who sexually assaults women and is supported by the KKK.
When we speak about trans issues, we should not be limiting our conversation to bathrooms. I can tell your from personal experience that trans people are probably more afraid to use the bathroom with cis people that the other way around. It is even harder for trans people who are gender non-conforming or are not able to pass as cis. Bathrooms are not the real issue – bathroom access is the excuse for people who are uncomfortable by the very existence of trans people in the first place. We must come to understand that deportation, incarceration and health care are all inherently trans issues. We must know that Black Lives Matter and the brutalization of Black and Brown people at the hands of police is a trans issue. Refugees and the displacement of people due to violence perpetuated by the United States abroad are trans issues. Flint Michigan and the denial of access to clean water in an area where there is a majority Black population is a trans issue. This has not been fixed since April 2014. Standing Rock and constant discrimination against Indigenous people is a trans issue. The murder of more than eight trans women in 2017, most who were women of color, is a trans issue. We must protect and work towards supporting and liberating those among us who are the most at risk for violence. As trans lawyer and activist Dean Spade explains: in our activism, we must work towards improving the conditions of those who are the most disadvantaged, or what he has coined as “trickle up social justice.” We cannot expect the liberation of upper middle class white able-bodied LGBTQ citizens to reach those among us who are not afforded the same privileges.
All that being said, we have all gathered here today to support and uplift trans people. To come together and celebrate our beauty both inside and out. As Angela Davis said, “Freedom is a constant struggle, but it is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.” Thank you.