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Trans Activists Band Together to Share Resources

by Dan Meyer

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday December 16, 2012

As the transgender community pushes forward to achieve equal rights, it's important that the larger LGBT community not forget about local and state support. That's why the Trans Advocacy Network (TAN), a consortium of grassroots organizations aimed at promoting the rights of this oft-excluded part of the LGBT community, has been created.

"The Trans Advocacy Network is incredibly important to help connect organizations around the country and help organizations share all of the resources they have," said Jesse Begenyi, part-time coordinator of TAN. The resources that Begenyi refers to include fundraising and advocacy, such as legislation and ways to pass an equal-rights bill.

A recent summit held in Berkeley, Calif., allowed the steering committee to meet for a second time, the first since TAN was founded two years ago. "We are always trying to figure out how to be more sustainable ... and build the movement," said Begenyi of the goals brought up during the event.

"It was powerful to have trans leaders from across the country sitting in the same room," said Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. "Each state or local organization has a lot to offer the rest of the trans movement, and I'm excited to see where this momentum takes us."

According to TAN's website, members include state, local and campus-based trans groups that "work on advocacy, training and education to help change the climate for trans people in their communities." Other member groups include LGBT at-large organizations that directly participate in the advocacy of transgender equal rights.

Why TAN?

Marisa Richmond, president of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition and co-founder of TAN, said that the group got started after talks with organizers.

"We've been doing work together," said Richmond, "and through various conversations we decided that we needed to have an organization to coordinate the work that's being done at the state level by trans groups."

Richmond stressed that there is already a national group based in Washington, D.C., the National Center for Transgender Equality, but its focus is on federal legislation. The goal of TAN is to assist groups achieve equality at the state and local levels.

"While the Equality Federation is a coalition of state groups, a lot of times the trans issues are overlooked by some," said Richmond. "We felt that we needed to come together and put together our own organization to help facilitate the development of trans groups and focusing on [their] issues."

"While the Equality Federation is a coalition of state groups, a lot of times the trans issues are overlooked. We needed to come together and put together our own organization to help facilitate the development of trans groups and their issues."

The issues these trans group face are not new. Discrimination and violence, the two most recognizable threats, are constantly driving organizers to pass equality legislation at all levels of government.

Systematically, however, drafting bills to pass in any Congress is difficult. Legal terminology and strategies are studied by hundreds of thousands every year but understood by even fewer. That's why TAN has started discussions involving the passage of bills like Massachusetts' Transgender Equal Rights Bill, officially titled "The Act Relative to Gender Identity."

Richmond admitted that it's not just influencing laws that promote equality, however. A lot of groups need help fighting against negative legislation. "A lot of times ... someone will say, 'We're working on homeless policy,' or 'A bill has come up, do you have strategies dealing with this legislation?' especially if it's negative legislation," she said. "The sharing of ideas and information is really critical." The same is true for fundraising, she added.

Making Sure the 'T' is Included in LGBT

When asked in what ways the entire community can help TAN, both Richmond and Begenyi said support is key.

"When discussions come up, [group organizers] need to make sure we're at the table," Richmond said referring to the frequent lack of trans inclusion. "We are quite capable of speaking for ourselves, but we need to be there in the room, at the table, to do so."

Begenyi stressed that fundraising is another way to show support. "Giving to TAN gives a lot to the country," she said. "Things are not OK here, especially in the middle of the country."

Giving to TAN will ensure that these groups who constantly fight against prejudice and violence every day will be given not only a voice in the community but also the funds to continue operating.

Richmond said her parents' activism in Tennessee during the height of the civil rights era was a huge influence on her, though she was too young to be on the front lines then.

"I was raised in a very political environment, and as trans activism began to emerge, I realized this was the next big issue," Richmond said.

"This is our movement, as Joe Biden noted," she said. "It's the civil rights issue of our time."

Dan Meyer is a young professional whose stories have appeared in publications such as The Advocate online and UCLA's LGBT magazine entitled "OutWrite." He is also a part-time ESL teacher in Boston.