I’d like to share with you the Keynote Address I gave at this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance in Colorado Springs, Colorado on 11/27/13. The text is below, or if you’re more the visual type you can watch it here.
Before we begin, I’d like to share with you that, while I was writing the speech, I had a moment where I looked up from my laptop and exclaimed, “So this is what it’s like to feel inspired!” I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have been able to share what has been in my heart for some time now…
Thank you for being here tonight. I can’t begin to tell you how much of an honor it is to have been asked to speak at this event on this Transgender Day of Remembrance 2013.
I’m going to start things off with a confession. Which is that this is the first Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony I’ve ever attended.
Although I’ve been seeing transgender, transsexual, and gender variant clients for over five years now through my private practice as a mental health counselor, it wasn’t until this past spring, nine months ago, that I had what mythologist Joseph Campbell would describe as “my call to action.” In brief, the call to action is the part of the movie where the main character is given clues as to what adventure they are about to embark upon, whether they know it or not. You can accept this call, or you can chose to ignore it.
Although I am sure I’ve received many a clue over the five years that I’ve been working with transgender clients, the clues that came up this spring were finally just too obvious for me to ignore. And here they are.
One – I was awarded the Health and Wellness Champion Award from the Colorado Springs Pride Center. Two – I led a well-received workshop at the Colorado Gold Rush conference. Three – I had the realization that over half of the clients I was seeing in any given week were transgender.
Lastly, I received my final clue while standing in the middle of a 7-11 on a cold February morning of this year. I had stopped to get that day’s edition of the Colorado Springs Gazette. I had been interviewed the day before by a reporter in regards to the breaking news story about Coy Mathis, the 6-year old transgender girl from Fountain, Colorado. Remember, her parents filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division when Coy’s school district said she couldn’t use the girls restroom anymore.
My first gasp came at seeing the headline, which stretched across the entire front page: “Experts say gender awareness begins at an early age.” My second gasp came when I saw a huge photo, again, on the front page of the known-to-be conservative Colorado Springs Gazette, of Coy Mathis playing in the snow with her father. The last gasp came when I noticed that I was referred to in the first sentence of the article as a licensed professional counselor who was an expert in the area of transgender therapy.
I looked up from the paper, and I felt something rush through me that I couldn’t put into words until much later. I suddenly wasn’t Dara Hoffman-Fox, LPC standing in a 7-11. I was Indiana Jones, clutching the Holy Grail in the middle of an ancient temple. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of discovery, of knowing, of purpose. My call to action had finally arrived, after so many years of searching.
I heard the words, “I must do more.”
I didn’t know at the time what this meant. But the details have begun to fill themselves in over the last nine months, and metaphorically enough I find myself here tonight giving birth to what was conceived in that 7-11 that morning. Like a newborn baby, this public declaration to you of my commitment to do more for the transgender people of this world, is filled with curiosity, trepidation, feistiness, and hope.
Speaking of public declarations, while I was working on this speech I found it beautifully synchronistic that yesterday was the 150-year anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In the address, Lincoln referred to the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that “all men are created equal.” By placing this well-known quote into the context of what was, at the time, the ongoing barbaric treatment of Black Americans, Lincoln’s words were deemed as controversial, and risky.
And yet to this day the Gettysburg Address remains as one of the most referred to speeches in American history. Why? Because, as evidenced by this evening’s event, an event at which we are reflecting upon those who have been killed over the past year because of their gender identity or gender expression, it is obvious there is still critical work to be done to ensure equal treatment for all citizens of this country.
As long as there are those who insist on not treating transgender people as human beings, but instead as objects that they can take out their hate, ignorance, and fear on, we have not met our goal. And this goal may take generations to reach. It’s been 150 years since Lincoln gave his speech, and yet we are still a nation in which bigotry against Black Americans is far too prevalent. But progress has indeed been made. Which is why, although it may feel like we are only in the infancy stage of the Transgender Civil Rights Movement, we must endure.
And there are others who agree. In 2012 Vice President Joe Biden said that transgender discrimination is the “civil rights issue of our time.”
There are sweeping changes being made across the country as we speak. Nondiscrimination laws are being created, and even enforced. Health insurance companies are slowly but surely expanding their coverage to include transgender health care. Many media outlets, again, slowly but surely, are putting in more time and effort into reporting transgender news stories with more accuracy, as well as doing more to humanize the transgender experience for their viewers and readers. Same thing with television, in which we’re seeing a gradual increase in the number of transgender characters being seen in positive roles, as opposed to the hurtful caricatures of years past. These changes give us hope, and that is what a movement needs to keep it going.
In the Gettysburg Address Lincoln referred to “the great battlefield” on which the fight for freedom and equality was taking place in 1863. Our own 2013 battlefield is right here, and anywhere there is someone who is not being treated with equality due to their gender identity or gender expression.
Lincoln gave his speech while standing in a cemetery that was to be dedicated to those who died while fighting during the Battle of Gettysburg. He urged the country to not let their deaths nor the reason for their deaths to be forgotten, insisting, “It is for us, the living…to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried on.”
We gather here today to remember those whose “unfinished work” is their lives, which were cut short by violence. These individuals were “nobly carrying on” by just being themselves in a world where they should have been able do so, and yet they were not.
Take these words of Abraham Lincoln to heart, my friends, as we continue to lift up the transgender community through our words, our deeds, and our refusal to walk away from this battle.
“…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain.”
I must do more. We all must do more.