Keynote speaker Tre'Andre Valentine (left) and Lesley Director of Training, Education and Development Kay Martinez (right)
There is still a lot of work to be done to protect and support transgender people, even though “trans people have existed since the beginning of time,” said Tre’Andre Valentine. “They may make our lives a living hell but we’re not going away.”
Valentine, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, was the virtual keynote speaker at Wednesday’s celebration of International Transgender Day of Visibility, attended by more than 125 people from the Lesley community.
During an hour-long talk and Q&A moderated by Kay Martinez, Lesley’s director of training, education, and development, Valentine addressed recently proposed laws across the United States that seek to ban trans-identifying kids from playing on girls sports teams as well as legislation that restricts access to gender-affirming medical care, such as the bill the Arkansas Senate passed this week.
“These are adults making decisions about young people, and this is based on their lack of understanding about what it means to be trans or who trans people are,” Valentine said. “It’s based on this fear-mongering. Even if the bills don’t pass it is already causing harm.”
Valentine said people need to speak up for the trans community, suggesting that allies get involved by calling legislators in states with anti-trans laws on the docket, combating negative speech on social media, donating resources, and getting educated through books, podcasts, and websites.
Valentine also suggested a way to address people who fear the impact trans people have on society.
“Put it back on them. Ask them, ‘What is your understanding of a trans person? What is your actual fear?” Valentine said. “It forces people to really look at themselves. There are just going to be some people that you can have these conversations with and eventually usher in some change in the way that they think about trans people – and there are some people that it’s just not going to happen.”
Laws only go so far
Even in states such as Massachusetts where protections do exist, “laws only go so far,” said Valentine. “They don’t necessarily change people’s interpersonal experiences. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done in terms of addressing employment, housing, safety, and overall access to resources and services.”
A survey conducted by the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition found that trans people in the state feel unsafe. Although the study was incomplete due to the pandemic, of the 339 people surveyed, public harassment, suicide, and sexual violence ranked high as major safety concerns. And lockdown has only exacerbated some of the challenges faced by the trans community, but Valentine also emphasized that the intent of Transgender Day of Visibility is to celebrate the accomplishments of the trans community—from trans actors and advocates to unsung people from history.
“Yes, there absolutely has to be a focus on the violence against trans people … we’re getting murdered. We’re also doctors, lawyers, students, parents, lawmakers, actors and have contributed so much to society,” Valentine said.
Following the keynote, Martinez led a Transgender Allyship Training as part of Lesley’s International Transgender Day of Visibility activities. Martinez said a list of resources from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is forthcoming. Valentine suggested a few:
Book: “Beyond the Gender Binary” by Alok Vaid-Menon
Podcast: TransLash by Imara Jones