The Canary In The Coal Mine – Why The LGBTQ Movement Needs The “T”


This weekend many in our town will be celebrating at our Pride in the Park event and many transgender people will be in attendance. I know I will be there with hundreds of my LGBTQ friends and we will be celebrating our accomplishments and our diversity. But, from the media coverage that you are likely to see it is unlikely that you will hear much about the “T” in LGBT.

In fact there is an ongoing debate within the LGB community that focuses on “should the “T” be dropped from the LGBT movement. After all, the argument goes, LGB is about sexual orientation and the T is about gender identity - these are completely different issues and there is no commonality between the two (By the way, it should be noted that there are trans people who make the same argument). Plus the current controversy about bathroom laws, open military service and other issues regarding gender serves as a distraction from the important efforts that need to be put in to LGB rights.

These are easy arguments to make, but I would like to take a few moments to refute them.

The Historical Argument – Despite the blatant rewriting of history by the 2015 film “Stonewall,” it is widely acknowledged trans people – particularly trans people of color like Marsha P Johnson and Silvia Rivera – played an active role in the Stonewall riots and many other protests during the founding of the LGBT movement. From the beginning of the movement, there were people in the movement who have sought to exclude trans people, but we have persevered and supported the goals for the movement as a whole. Shouldn’t trans people expect the same from LGB folk?

The Inclusive Argument – It can be argued that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is really about being different from the so-called societal norm of sexuality. In other words, it is about embracing sexual queerness as acceptable and, frankly, normal. Well queerness can happen with regard to gender as well. Being trans is about being a trans-woman, a trans-man, agender, bigender and so much more. So when you think of it, shouldn’t the LGBTQ movement really be about embracing the “Q” in all of its forms?

The We Are Stronger Together Argument – While there has never been a good national census taken regarding the number of LGBTQ people in the USA, there have been many estimates. The Gallup Organization estimates that 4% of the US population – 10 million people - identifies as LGBT. The Williams Institute at UCLA estimates that .6% of the US population identifies as trans (they also acknowledge that this number is likely under reported). That equates to 1.9 million individuals. Does it make sense for the LGBTQ movement to alienate 20% of its base?

The Mutual Self Interest Argument – After the validation of the right to gay marriage by the Supreme Court and the many other victories on behalf of LGB folk over the past few years it is easy to assume that LGB people are safe. But if the events of the past Presidential election, the refusal of state/county officials to obey the law regarding gay marriage, and so many other anti LGBT activities teach us anything there is still plenty of prejudice that must be overcome. The truth is that people and organizations on the right wing love to go after the weakest of us and if they are able to take away trans rights they will be emboldened to go after LGB rights to. Just think about the following:

  • LGB people could be banned from bathrooms and locker rooms

  • Don’t Ask Don’t Tell could be brought back in the military

  • LGB people can lose their hard-won and still not fully-recognized job protections

  • LGB people could lose the right to marry

  • LGB people could be banned from schools and places of business

  • LGB people could be subject to even more conversion therapies

The Canary In The Coal Mine

Back in the 19th and 20th centuries many people owned canary birds. In fact, there was a common (if barbaric) practice of dying them pretty colors like pink, blue and even purple. Coal miners used to take canary birds into the mines. They did so because while these birds would fight to survive, their constitutions were not as strong as those of the majority miners around them. When a canary bird would become ill or die the miners knew that they were in danger.

If recent political events teach us anything, it is that trans people are the purple canary in the coal mine and I would say that if the altruistic arguments don’t persuade those LGB folks who feel trans people should be abandoned, perhaps the ones that speak to their self-interest will. Because if the purple canary dies the other colors won't be far behind.

A Thank You To Our Allies - We Are Stronger Together

So many of my LGBTQ friends understand that we are stronger together and I look forward to celebrating our pride and our accomplishments with them. To them, I am eternally grateful. I also look forward to working with a broader coalition of people going forward so that we can advance the LGBTQ cause... together!

About Lehigh Valley Transgender Renaissance

The leading organization for support and education around transgender issues in Eastern PA and Western NJ, our focus is on supporting transgender individuals as they work through their journey to become their authentic selves while helping the community at large learn more about what it means to be transgender.

If you would like to learn more about our Lehigh Valley transgender support group or to write an article for our blog please contact Lehigh Valley Renaissance or better yet join us at one of our monthly transgender support meetings!

Note: The opinions in this article are those of the author and not necessarily that of Lehigh Valley Renaissance or the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center.

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