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"I am so fucking outraged at the response of mental health care and medical care for someone who is being released from prison, after doing twenty fucking years," she said. "How do you not make sure this person is okay?"
Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project and the Transgender Law Center are two of several trans-specific groups new to the East Bay. City of Refuge, a ministry that does HIV prevention and works with the trans population, also relocated from San Francisco. (The high cost of rent in San Francisco has generally prompted the moves.) At the same time, AIDS Project of the East Bay this year launched a new East Oakland-based project called the Transgender Resources and Advocacy Center for Youth, or TRACY House, which is supported in part by a federal grant for African-American transgender young people, ages 13 to 29. The community center hosts private support groups and has drop-in hours throughout the week.
Some see this influx of services in Oakland as an encouraging sign for the East Bay transgender community. These organizations bring social services to the East Bay as well as new layers of activism. But programs like TransVision still wrestle with the lack of trans-specific funding for work outside of HIV prevention and treatment — an area in which resources are already limited. TransVision currently has the only Alameda County contract specifically for transgender HIV education and prevention services. The program has generally received most of its funding from the Alameda County Office of AIDS Administration, which provided $70,000 in fiscal year 2012. (The department funds other HIV agencies that have transgender clients, but those organizations are based on specific service categories and not population). TransVision also recently secured a new federal grant through 2017 to support transgender women of color with HIV.
Advocates say increased support is much needed in the East Bay, considering that, just like the organizations themselves, transgender people priced out of San Francisco are moving across the bay. "It just seems like more and more of our clients and our community members are locally living in the East Bay," said Davis, executive director of Transgender Law Center. "This brings us closer to our mission." (Transgender Law Center, however, remains focused on impact litigation and policy, not on direct services.)
Meanwhile, positive movements have occurred on the national level — notably when the US Senate this month passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which, for the first time, included specific protections for transgender people (a sticking point in past ENDA debates). Congress also passed a new version of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year, which includes protections for gay and transgender citizens.
In California, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation into law that boosts the rights of transgender students by enhancing anti-discrimination practices. AB 1266, which goes into effect in January, ensures students can participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities, such as restrooms and locker rooms, that are consistent with the student's gender identity. The law is the first of its kind in the country.
But it has also sparked organized opposition from a coalition calling itself Privacy for All Students, which is working to repeal the measure with backing from the groups behind the anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8. This month, the coalition announced that it collected enough signatures to qualify for the November 2014 ballot. (Opponents frame the law as a danger to students, claiming male students will be able to shower with girls.)
"They have decided the sky is going to fall if we actually allow our kids who are transgender to stay in school," said Davis.
He argued that this legislation is significant in the broader fight for transgender rights, noting, "every civil rights movement ... has had a bathroom moment." He cited attempts to maintain "whites only" bathrooms, resistance to adding women's restrooms at newly co-ed universities, and the fight for bathrooms accessible to disabled people. With every victory, he said, "We actually move our culture to a more humane space."
Is the fight for transgender rights on track to be the next major civil rights movement? One of the biggest obstacles to making that happen is the lack of visibility of trans people.
"Our very existence makes people uncomfortable," said Alameda County Superior Court Judge Victoria Kolakowski, who became the first transgender person in the country to hold such a position when she was elected in 2010. Davis said that only about 10 percent of Americans personally know a transgender person, and Kolakowski could only name one other transgender elected official who currently holds office in the country.
Kolakowski said a fundamental challenge with trans visibility is that many in the community don't want to identify as transgender at all and have little incentive to do so given the risk of violence and discrimination. "I'm not transgender. I'm a woman. I'm a man. ... To them, it's a transitional phase."
She added, "Given the stigma, many people who can pass [as the gender they've transitioned to] try to do so. And the group of people that can't pass can't get work and are marginalized."
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