Success is what we all strive for in our daily journey. I was told if I pursued my transistion there would be no love and no success for me as an African-American transwoman. I was constantly informed that my life as a transgender woman would amount to nothing and always be a struggle. I have found all those statements to be untrue and have no meaning in my life. I have found joy, happiness, love and fulfillment in my life and I thank God for that every day. I followed my heart and I have arrived on the other side of my transistion a much better and complete person.

My sister, Martine Rothblatt, a successful transwoman CEO followed her heart and passion. In 1994, Martine transistioned to become her authentic self without reservation and shame in a time when no one really knew what transgender meant. I read her first book, "The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender" in 1995 and then knew it was my time to come out of the darkness into the light. I had allowed shame and fear to cripple me most of my life but if Martine could do it so could Toni Newman.

Martine Aliana Rothblatt is an American lawyer, author, and entrepreneur. She graduated from UCLA with a MBA/JD degree in 1981, then began work in Washington, D.C. in the field of communication satellite law, and eventually in life sciences projects like the Human Genome Project. She holds a Ph.D. and is currently the founder and CEO of United Therapeutics Corp. Martine is the highest-paid female executive in the United States.

Martine and I discuss transistioning, being grateful for our lives when so many others are no longer here, and being authentic to yourself and your soul. Martine expresses a gratitude of life when so many transgenders have fallen along the way. She acknowledges her blessings and her acceptance in the business world. Martine is a profound author and has written several books in this order:

1) The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender-1995
2) Unzipped Genes (America In Transition)-1997
3) Two Stars for Peace: The Case for Using U.S. Statehood to Achieve Lasting Peace in the Middle East-2003
4) Your Life or Mine: How Geoethics Can Resolve the Conflict Between Public and Private Interests in Xenotransplantation-2004
5) Apartheid des sexes-2006
6) From Transgender to Transhuman: A Manifesto On the Freedom Of Form-2011
7) Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death ~ Essays & Debates on Immortality-2013
8) Virtually Human: The Promise---and the Peril---of Digital Immortality-2014

To listen to the full discussion between Martine Rothblatt and I go here:

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Our conversation centered around being authentic to self and authentic to your soul. There is no greater pleasure and joy until you follow your heart and soul. The word of encouragement to transgender youth are dont be afraid and dont feel shame. You were made by God and loved by God and you are beautiful.

You should wake up each morning and be your authentic self without any reservations.


I recently talked with Chef Chris Trapani for the upcoming issue of Proud to Be Out: The Digital Magazine. Chris is the first transgender person to appear on the Food Network as a chef. He appeared on the show Chopped for the Great Food Truck Race, competing for $10,000. Chris made it to the second round before getting eliminated.


Chef Chris Trapani is based in Austin, Texas, and is known as the "Urban Cowboy Chef," with a food truck and catering business. Chris Trapani is originally from Brooklyn, New York, and lived there for almost 30 years before moving to Austin a few years ago. He attended the Texas Culinary Academy and worked for several top catering companies in New York City and Austin in fine dining, corporate and casual dining. He has designed menus for celebrities, television networks, corporate facilities, film shoots and independent restaurant concepts. Chris is known for his kind and genuine approach to service and a deep love for the South and everything country. He has a diverse and passionate approach to food that is true to Texas and his urban roots.


We discussed love, transitioning and his passion for food. Chris is now a proud and happy transgender male, standing tall and pursuing his passion with his partner of over 10 years. Chris' message to the young people who are transgender is: Do not let fear and shame control your life. There is indeed happiness on the other side if only you believe in yourself and be your authentic self. Chris believes perseverance and dedication pays off if you are willing to be true to yourself. His love and passion for food has always been constant for him, and now he is on his way to being the very best chef possible. His skills showcases his love for food.



To hear the live interview and our full discussion about love, transitioning and equality, please check out the next issue of Proud to Be Out: The Digital Magazine. To find out more about Chef Chris Trapani and his food truck, please go to urbancowboyfood.com.



Acting Director Kris Hayashi of the Transgender Law Center discusses trans equality in 2014 and where we go from here. As stated on the Transgender Law Center website:

Kris Hayashi has been active in social, racial and economic justice organizing for over 20 years. For the last ten years Kris served as the Executive Director/Co-Director of the Audre Lorde Project, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color organizing center based in New York City. Previously he served as a Trainer/Organizer at Western States Center in Portland, Oregon and as Executive Director of Youth United for Community Action -- a youth organizing group in California, led by young people of color organizing for social and environmental justice.

The Transgender Law Center is one of the largest transgender advocacy groups in the country. Since 2002 their mission has been to make authentic lives possible. As stated on their website:

Transgender Law Center works to change law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression. We envision a future where gender self-determination and authentic expression are seen as basic rights and matters of common human dignity.

My discussion with Kris is centered around trans equality now and the future. We discuss the inequality still facing trans people, especially trans women of color, and how we as a community move forward to progress to full equality and being treated fairly without bias and discrimination. The conversation focuses on moving forward and gaining ground on this tremendous visibility that we have in 2014 as a community. How do we uplift a community where so many of us are still living below the poverty level and struggling every day just to survive and exist?

Here are the questions I asked Kris:

As the acting director of the Transgender Law Center, where do you see the transgender movement going in 2014?

This is an exciting time for us with all this great visibility with Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and CeCe McDonald. We are making great leaps with policy and law as well. Yes, we have a lot of visibility, and that is great, but a majority of our community is still struggling to survive on a daily basis with high rates of violence, harassment and unemployment. Trans women of color are still being attacked and murdered at a high rate, and we have to find a way to embrace that community and support them. Transgenders are now able to get health care, and that is so vital for them to remain healthy and transition safely.

With the passage of the School Success and Opportunity Act in California, what will be the next piece of legislation for trans equality and why?

California has been amazing in the passage of transgender laws and helping transgender youth in schools to succeed without discrimination. The amount of access and the rights and the policies supporting transgender rights in California has been tremendous. The incarcerated transgender population have been some of the most vulnerable in our community, and the lack of access to education and medical assistance is still something we need to fix as a community. I believe providing the medical care they need and allowing them access to education is very beneficial and needed for this population.

For transgenders having such a hard time finding employment, what would you say to help them get into the workforce?

The lack of access to employment is due to structural barriers and ongoing discrimination against our community engrained into society, culture and institutions. We have made great advancements in last years with the passage of Title 7 protecting transgender individuals from employment discrimination. However, translating Title 7 into reality is still a problem for our community. There is continued work needed targeting employers and institutions that discriminate against our community. Many members of our community cannot graduate school due to high levels of discrimination and harassment in the education system. We will continue to make sure these laws and policies are actually implemented and enforced. Support systems that assist, help, encourage transgenders in finding employment is vital in our communities as well.

Minority transgenders, especially trans women, are facing such high rates of violence and discrimination. What can we do as a community to help them?

The trans community are facing discrimination from institutions such as the police and immigration enforcement. Police brutality is still a problem, and the violence trans women of color face on the street is very high. We have to call on these institutions to stop the violence and harassment towards trans individuals. The violence trans women of color face on the streets and our communities will take a cultural< society-wide change. We have to be seen as individuals with valuable lives in our society. The local community must set up support systems by both LGBT and non-LGBT organizations that embraces issues of trans rights. These support systems should be led by people of color and representational of their group.

Now that we have transgender actors, authors and entertainers receiving national attention, do you feel America has changed its opinions of the trans community today?

With the visibility of Laverne Cox on the cover of Time magazine, this is a great time for the trans community. The visibility is leading to a conversation about the trans community, both positive and negative. Society is talking, and this can only help the trans community being understood that our lives matter.

Listen to the live interview:

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The trans community has made great strides and should be proud of the advancements made this year, but remember, we have a lot of work to do as well. We cannot stand for any of our sisters and brothers being attacked and murdered for simply being their authentic self. No one should be afraid to be who they really are and follow their own destiny. We must continue the fight for full equality and fairness. Lauren Paulk, Reproductive Justice Fellow at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, wrote an article last week called "Beyond Equality: Combating Violence Against Trans Women of Color." In the article she wrote:

We must create a culture where transgender women of color are made to feel safe being who they are. In order to do this, we must speak out against voices that seek to misgender trans women and separate them from our communities. We must be vigilant against transphobia in our social networks, in our friend groups, and in our own language and lives.

For more information on the Transgender Law Center, go to transgenderlawcenter.org.

Photo courtesy of Equality California

Recently I talked with Jack Lorenz, Deputy Director of Programs and Development at Equality California (EQCA), about transgender health care and equality in the state of California. We discussed where to go in 2014 after the passage of California Assembly Bill 1266 (the School Success and Opportunity Act) and the release of new guidance from U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights that explicitly places gender identity and expression under Title IX protection. (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program that receives federal funds.)

EQCA, which fights for the rights of LGBT persons in California, is the largest LGBT advocacy group in the state. Jack oversees all EQCA's programs -- educational, advocacy and outreach -- as well as development, fundraising, special events and sponsorships. For the 13 years prior to joining EQCA, Jack was Executive Director of the Gatekeeper Foundation, whose work focused on advocacy and programming related to the fair and appropriate treatment of immigrants and other vulnerable populations. Prior to his work with social justice and civil rights organizations, Jack was a film and television studio executive, having worked for Disney, Universal and Mandalay Entertainment. Jack holds a master's degree in humanities from California State University.

In our interview, Jack talks about the new direction and changes at EQCA in 2014. Rick Zbur, a senior partner at the law firm Latham and Watkins, is becoming the new executive director in September. Rick has served -- and will continue to serve -- as president and chair of the board of the California League of Conservation Voters, the political action arm of California's environmentalist community. He formerly served on the board of Lambda Legal and was a founding director and vice president at the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation. Jack sees the new direction for EQCA as pacts and programs for the organization, and the implementation of the laws that EQCA has helped pass. The Equality California Institute is a nonprofit advocacy institute supporting pro-LGBT-equality candidates and making sure that all the pro-LGBT bills that have been passed get implemented in California now.

"Ignorance" and "fear" are the two words that Jack used to describe the discrimination against transgender men and women in public school systems and in larger society. Jack believes that the transgender community is the most marginalized community in America, and that only with acceptance and understanding can society overcome its fear of the transgender community. For the past two years EQCA, in conjunction with the Transgender Law Center, has focused on passing pro-transgender legislation to help transgender persons get the equality they need to become successful Americans. The only way to ensure fair and equal treatment of transgender persons is through the legislative process and the passage of bills.

Jack oversees programs related to the Affordable Care Act (also known as "Obamacare") through Covered California at the Equality California Institute. Transgender persons in the state of California are now able to get full health care and surgeries associated with medical transition. Jack suggests that transgender persons find a certified enrollment counselor in their area to get full details about health care through the Affordable Care Act. For the first time in history, transgender persons can transition safely with affordable medical care and attention.

Jack also oversees EQCA's five annual Equality Awards, a series of formal galas and cocktail events held in San Francisco, San Diego, Palm Springs, Los Angeles and Sacramento. Each year the Equality Awards recognize the individuals and organizations that have made an impact on the movement to secure full and lasting equality for LGBT people. Past honorees have included Facebook, Adam Lambert, Dolores Huerta, Molly Ringwald, Debra Messing, Arianna Huffington, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and California Gov. Jerry Brown. There are two more Equality Awards this year, in Los Angeles on Sept. 20, and in Palm Springs on Oct. 18. Jack says that the awards are a major fundraiser for EQCA and the institute.

Equality is for all, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.


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To hear the full conversation with Jack Lorenz, click here.

For more information on transgender health care, Equality California and the Equality Awards, go to eqca.org, or email Jack Lorenz at jack@eqca.org.

Follow Toni Newman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tonidnewman



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Chloie Jonnson is a transgender female and CrossFit athlete fighting for her rights to compete as a female in the CrossFit Games. CrossFit has issued a statement explaining why they denied Chloie the right to compete as female but gave her the option to compete as male competitor. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has agreed that Chloie Jonsson meets all requirements to compete as a female athlete but CrossFit denies her that right as a female athlete. Chloie has filed a lawsuit for $2.5 million against CrossFit for violating her civil rights and she is represented by attorney Waukeen McCoy.

Chloie and I talk in a live conversation about transgender equality, acceptance, tolerance and respect. Our discussion is about why mainstream America continues to deny transgenders equality. The lack of understanding of the transgender people seems to be the main driving force behind the discrimination, disrespect and intolerance. One of the most important reasons I wrote the memoir, I Rise, was to enlighten and educate people about who transgenders are and to give visibility to a small community most often forgotten and lost in our society.

Chloie was very honest and candid about her desire to be treated fairly and equally without special consideration. Both the state of California and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognize Chloie as a female in all rights and privileges. So the real question becomes why does CrossFit deny her the right to compete as a female? We both agreed that mainstream America has a lack of understanding of transgenders in perspective to their day-to-day lives.

Transgenders are only being authentic to who they really are and living life in the most authentic way they can possibly do. Transgenders bleed red, cry when hurt, long for acceptance and love and only desires to be treated fairly and equally. Both Chloie and I agree if given the opportunity we are just like every other American living life the best way we can. The misconceptions about transgenders and their life causes transphobia and discrimination based off the lack of knowledge, and we all know knowledge is power.

To listen to the live conversation between Chloie Jonsson and I, go here.

Chloie and I encourage transgender youth and transgender athletes to not be afraid or scared to be who you are and we encourage and stand with you. We support you and your right to be your authentic self. Do not be controlled by the fear or shame for being the real person within your very being. We are all God's children and we (everyone of us) is equal under his eyes. Tolerance, respect and acceptance are the key to treating everyone equally (including transgenders). I leave for those who continue to hate and be transphobic against my transgender brothers and sisters, these words from my favorite poet, Dr. Maya Angelou (Reynolds Professor of Wake Forest University):

Excerpt from Dr. Angelou's poem, I Rise

"You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise."


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I met Daniel Sobieray almost a year ago through the casting of the LGBT feature film Heart of a Woman, based on my memoir I Rise. Daniel was auditioning for producer/screenwriter Alton Demore, British director Keith Holland and casting director Dea Vise for the lead male role of Derrick, a male escort for pay who is trying to achieve success as an actor in Hollywood. Daniel was selected for the role of Derrick because of his openness to be enlightened and educated about people different from himself. The cast of Heart of a Woman also includes transgender actress Angelica Ross, Rachel Sterling, Elisabeth Rohm and Leslie Jones.

Daniel was an all-American high school hockey athlete from Colorado and received a hockey scholarship at the University of Michigan, graduating with degree in finance. Daniel is a former Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss model who worked the runways in Europe from 2006 to 2009. In 2010, Daniel appeared on the soap All My Children, and he is currently on the soap Days of Our Lives.

I have been speaking to groups for the past four years about being an African-American transgender woman and what it means to have been born male and to have transitioned to the female gender. I have found that the perceptions of mainstream America stem from fear and the lack of knowledge about transgender people. Daniel shares his viewpoint as a heterosexual male athlete from the Midwest who had no knowledge of transgender people in his high school, his community or his church. His background is typical of most Americans who have no direct knowledge or interaction with transgender persons.

The T in the LGBT family is the smallest group of them all. Since the population of transgender people is low, we are rarely visible in day-to-day life, so many Americans form their perceptions out of fear and a lack of knowledge, I understand the rationale behind the fear but do not understand hatred and discrimination and violence against another human being of any kind. Transgender people across the world only seek fairness, justice and equal rights, like any other human being on the planet.

Daniel said that all human beings should be judged on character, not race, sex or gender. He stated that his parents taught him at an early age that everybody is equal and the same and should only be judged by how they treat others, not by physical characteristics. He stated that kids who are transgender should have right to use the bathroom without humiliation and have the right to play sports, if they are athletically qualified, on the teams that match their gender identity. The acceptance of all human beings regardless of race, sex and gender must begin in the home. Hatred, discrimination and violence against any transgender person has no place in an equal society of fair-minded people.

I challenge every American to give every transgender boy or girl, woman or man, a chance at fairness. Transgender people are not seeking special consideration, just equal rights, so that they can be their authentic self. I don't ask you to agree with my choice of transitioning; that was my personal journey, and it's between me and God. I just ask for fair opportunity to be who I am without violence and discrimination.

For more information on Daniel Sobieray and his career, visit his IMDb page.

2013-09-29-Dr.KortneyRZiegler.jpgDr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler is a writer, filmmaker, producer, artist and activist fighting for social justice in the trans community. In 2013 he was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Blog; he was the first African-American trans man to be nominated for a GLAAD Media Award. He is the founder of Who We Know, a paid fellowship focused on creating products and developing initiatives that economically empower the transgender community of color.

Dr. Ziegler is being honored with the Authentic Life Award by the Transgender Law Center, the largest transgender advocacy organization in the U.S., at their 2013 Spark! event on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel's Empire Ballroom in San Francisco.

My interview with Dr. Ziegler discusses race, gender, the fight for equality and the empowerment of the transgender community.

Toni Newman: What is your background?

Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler: I was born and raised in Compton, Calif., and I now live in Oakland, Calif. I am a writer, producer, filmmaker, entrepreneur and use tools and social media for social justice.

Newman: What is your educational background?

Ziegler: I completed a Ph.D. in African-American studies from Northwestern University, and I was the first graduate to complete this program, as well as the first African American. I have a master's in African-American studies, and a master's in ethnic studies, and a B.A. in film and digital media.

Newman: Why do you think education is so important to people of color, especially trans people of color?

Ziegler: Education is a way of social and cultural capital. Most people I meet are surprised that I have a Ph.D., and education gives me validity. I believe holding institutional degrees are a way to be very mobile socially, and seen as a way of being legitimate.

Newman: What is the purpose of your writings?

Ziegler: To express the humanity of people of color. I believe black trans people are so marginalized. I write to be visible as someone, as an intellectual, and show our humanity as people, to show what my experiences are as a black man and how my journey has changed in the last five years. I believe hearing other people's triumphs and struggles makes us more wholesome people. I also write to get things out of me and express my thoughts and feelings. I wrote a lot about my mother and her struggles with mental illness, and about my self-esteem when I don't feel so hot. I show people my soul with my writings and full expressions of myself.

Newman: What is your most cherished work?

Ziegler: Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen, done in 2008, is the most recognized and viewed work I have done.

Newman: Why do you think most trans people of color live below the poverty level?

Ziegler: We must figure out ways to redistribute money back to our community and empower one another and support one another. We must support others' ideals and say, "I love you, and I believe in you, and let's do this." I almost lost my home and car myself, so we should reach out for help and not be ashamed to ask for help if we need it.

Dr. Ziegler gave the keynote address at the Trans March 2013 in San Francisco, and it was truly moving. You can read it here.

To find out more about Dr. Ziegler, please go to kortneyrziegler.net.

John O'Connor, Executive Director of Equality California (EQCA), the largest statewide LGBT advocacy organization fighting for full equality for LGBT persons in California, appeared on my radio show to discuss LGBT equality after the victory for same-sex marriage in California, as well as important issues for LGBT equality in 2013 and the future.

John has been Executive Director of Equality California since January 2013. Before coming to EQCA, his experience included serving as Executive Director of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, Program Director of the David Geffen Foundation, and National Director of the Gill Foundation, and working with former California First Lady Maria Shriver at the California Museum. O'Connor is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Together with its allies, Equality California has successfully sponsored more than 91 pieces of pro-LGBT legislation. The latest focus of Equality California is on improving the lives of LGBT Californians by fighting for LGBT youth, fighting against youth suicides, bullying, and anti-transgender harassment and discrimination, and protecting LGBT elders against abuse in nursing homes. The "T" in "LGBT" has sometimes been forgotten in the fight for full LGBT equality, and as an African-American transgender woman, I know how important equality is for my transgender brothers and sisters (especially the youth) trying to survive and live in the United States.

In 2013 Equality California has co-sponsored Assembly Bill 1266, the School Success and Opportunity Act. According to the Transgender Law Center, another co-sponsor of the bill:

AB 1266 will ensure that California public schools understand their responsibility for the success and well-being of all students, including transgender students, and will allow transgender students to fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities in accordance with their gender identity. ...

California law already prohibits discrimination in education, but transgender students are often still unfairly excluded from physical education, athletic teams, and other school activities and facilities because of who they are. This exclusion negatively impacts students' ability to succeed in school and graduate with their class. For example, physical education classes help students develop healthy fitness habits and teach values like teamwork and fair competition - and P.E. credits are required, so students cannot graduate without them.

The Transgender Law Center further explains:

Co-authored by Senators Mark Leno and Ricardo Lara and Assemblymember Toni Atkins, the bill is backed by a coalition of leading organizations, including Transgender Law Center, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, Gender Spectrum, Equality California, ACLU of California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, statewide teacher and parent organizations, and dozens of other organizations.

A.B. 1266 successfully passed both houses of the California state legislature and was just signed into law today, Aug. 12, by Gov. Jerry Brown. By signing this law, Gov. Brown continues his leadership on issues of equality and support for transgender students in their efforts to succeed in school and graduate on time.

With a brand-new physical location for Equality California, John O'Connor and his new management team (Deputy Director Jack Lorentz, Chief Administrative Officer Rikimah Glymph, Chief of Staff Tony Huang, and Communications Director Jesse Melgar) are marching forward to create a strong California and defending LGBT rights and protections, especially transgender rights.

In our interview, John O'Connor talks about his vision for the future of Equality California and the continued fight for full LGBT equality. He states that the mission is full equality for all LGBT persons and nothing less.

Equality California phone team warriors (photo by Josh Steichmann)

Listen to the live interview with John O'Connor:


To all my transgender brothers and sisters: Stay encouraged, and remember that there are a lot of people fighting for your equality and rights and protections. We are God's children, created by Him, and we deserve fairness and equality, just like any other American citizen, and nothing less.

To find out more about Equality California, please go to eqca.org or contact Communications Director Jesse Melgar at jesse@eqca.org.



As Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, Masen Davis brings over two decades of leadership and activism in the movement toward LGBT equality. Since beginning this role in 2007, Davis has expanded the Transgender Law Center's annual operating budget from $385,000 to $1.4 million, thereby increasing the richness and expanding the impact of the organization's multidisciplinary programs. Masen received his B.A. from Northwestern University and his M.S.W. from UCLA.

Now that Proposition 8 and DOMA have been overturned, the LGBT community has claimed a big victory, but the fight for full LGBT equality moves forward. We have youth suicides, bullying, transgender discrimination and high rates of unemployment among transgender people, especially transgender people of color. Our fight for full equality within the LGBT community is far from over. My conversation with Masen Davis is important because we must not forget our transgender brothers and sisters trying to live authentic lives. The Transgender Law Center's motto is "making authentic lives possible."

Toni Newman: Who is Masen Davis? Where are you from? Give us a little bit of your background.

Masen Davis: Well, I'm originally from the Midwest. I grew up in a family with a Methodist minister for a father and grew up all over Missouri as we moved around to different churches, and then went off to school in Chicago before coming out to California in the mid-'90s and have been between Los Angeles and San Francisco ever since. I came out into the LGBT community about 20, 25 years ago at this point (though it's hard for me to imagine sometimes!) and then came out as transgender in my mid-20s and have been active in the community ever since. That's been about 16 years now, and it has been a real honor and joy to be able to be an activist full-time over the last six years while I've been at Transgender Law Center. I just can't imagine a better way to spend my time on this Earth, and I'm really appreciative of everybody who is able to be out as themselves as a transgender person, and those like yourself who are really bringing voice to the issues that so many of us face.

Newman: What is the Trangender Law Center, and what is your core purpose?

Davis: Well, the Transgender Law Center is a civil rights organization advocating for transgender and gender-nonconforming people throughout the United States. We started off as a project of the National Center for Lesbian Rights back in 2002, and we were focused on addressing the discrimination that transgender people faced in almost every institution in California at the time. And since then, we've been able to pass and help pass a whole slate of really strong laws in California and decided a couple of years ago to extend our work nationwide. So we now hear from about 2,500 transgender people across the country each year who are contacting us to get support for the challenges that they are facing, anywhere from issues impacting the ability to be themselves and to have the correct gender marker on their identity documents. We get a lot of calls about employment discrimination, a lot of calls about health care access, and a lot of people contacting us about issues in schools and in their families. Our motto is to "make authentic lives possible." We really believe that all of us as transgender people deserve to be fully ourselves in whatever way that manifests, and our goal is to help make it a little easier for all of us to just be who we are. We've mostly focused on creating law, so through policy work and legislation, and forcing law through our legal services, and then we also work on making laws really real in the lives of transgender people by creating groundbreaking and kind of pilot projects like the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative, a jobs program in San Francisco, and Project H.E.A.L.T.H., increasing access to community health services for low-income folks. So we've been quiet in San Francisco for a number of years. I think that we've been a lot more visible in the last few as we've been doing more public work at the national level, and we're very proud at this point, I believe, to be the largest transgender advocacy organization in the United States and continue to gear up to, you know, keep pushing things forward.

Newman: Now, what laws are you sponsoring in 2013 that you think are the most beneficial to transgender people in California as well as the nation?

Davis: In California we have three bills that we've been doing some work on that I think are really important. One is A.B. 1121, which would make it a lot easier for transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificate. To be honest, we've done a number of tweaks to this over the years, but in California you still have to get a court-ordered gender change in order to change your birth certificate, and then publish that in the newspaper. And as you know, Toni, that can be really expensive and challenging for a lot of transgender people to accomplish, so the new bill that we've put up now would create an alternate process, so people don't have to go through the court system, and to end the process where people have to pay oftentimes a lot of money to publish their name change in a newspaper. This one's been really important to me, just because I see how hard it is for low-income trans folks to go through the court process, and I really hope this makes it a lot more affordable and easier for everyone to have an ID document that matches who we really are.

The second law is one that is the first time that this kind of law has been introduced, I believe, in the United States, and it is A.B. 1266, the School Success and Opportunity Act, and this is one I'm pretty excited about at this point. We hear from transgender students around the country who say that they are having a hard time making it through high school, because they don't have a bathroom they can use safely, or they can't attend and prepare for gym class, and as a result they're getting health problems and oftentimes not getting the credits they need to graduate on time. So the School Success and Opportunity Act is designed to ensure that in California, transgender students have access to the facilities and the activities that correspond with their gender identity, so that would mean that, basically, transgender girls in school are treated like other girls, transgender boys are treated like other boys, and they'd have access to gym class and restrooms that reflect the way they're going to school in the school day. This has been the first time we've seen this kind of bill go forward in the United States. We've been really impressed by how much success it has, in large part because of the parents and the trans youth who are speaking up for themselves and sharing their stories. That's made a really big difference. Both of these bills have passed the Assembly in California, and now we're on to the Senate, and we're really hopeful that they'll be passed and signed into law by the end of the year.

So the third one is one that we are not sponsoring at this point but we're supporting and I really want to encourage people in California to really speak out for, and that is A.B. 332, which would order police and prosecutors to stop using condoms as evidence of sex work. I don't know about you, but I know especially in some areas like Los Angeles, as I talk to trans women, especially transgender women of color, so many are harassed by police and, if they're actually carrying condoms, accused of being involved in sex work, merely because they want to protect themselves. And this is, one, just part of the overpolicing of transgender people that we've got to stop to begin with, but, two, it's is just really unhealthy to create any incentive for transgender people to not practice safe sex by having condoms. So I think this is a really important [bill], to stop this practice of using condoms as evidence of sex work, so that we can actually take care of ourselves and our partners.

Newman: The Transgender Law Center has joined with Equality California and its new executive director, John O'Connor, in sponsoring several bills here in California. Equality California is the largest statewide LGBT advocacy organization in California working to secure full and lasting equality for and acceptance of LGBT people. How did that come about, these two organizations coming together to co-sponsor bills that are beneficial mainly to transgender people?

Davis: We've actually had a pretty good relationship with Equality California over the years. It's interesting: If I look at what's going on in other states, oftentimes there are challenges getting the state equality groups, which are predominantly, or at least historically have been predominantly, gay and lesbian, it's been hard to get a lot of them to really take on some bigger transgender projects. I will say I feel really fortunate in California that our state equality group here, Equality California, has been generally very receptive to introducing transgender-specific legislation. I think part of that is because they've actually had transgender people on their board, and their leadership has specifically had relationships with transgender people. That's really helped them to understand how important this issue is. So we've partnered with Equality California now for a number of years on different pieces of transgender legislation, which is one of the reasons we have really good protections now, at least on paper, when it comes to transgender people at work, at school, in housing, and even in our insurance coverage. So it's been neat to work with John as the new leadership of Equality California, and to see that they are continuing this history of support for the transgender community. I think they see that while we've had a lot of progress around gay and lesbian rights, equality for transgender people still lags behind, and that we just have to work together to change that. What I really hope is that this kind of model can be increasingly replicated in other parts of the country, because we have so many states that have almost no protection throughout the U.S., and I do think if the LGB(-and-sometimes-small-T) groups worked more intensely with the transgender-specific groups that we would move that forward a lot more quickly.

Newman: Why do you think so many trans women, especially trans women of color, live below the poverty level and have high rates of unemployment?

Davis: I think there are a lot of reasons, Toni, and I'd be interested to kind of get your own perception of that. It is interesting. You talked about coming out about 15 years ago, and I came out around that time period, and at the time, I think so many -- almost all -- of us who were transgender assumed that we would lose our jobs and might not do very well once we came out as transgender. And I do think that that's improved for a lot of transgender people. ... But we know from some of the research that's been done both in California and nationwide that while transgender people in general are twice as likely to be unemployed, twice as likely to live under the poverty line, when it comes to transgender people of color, they are four times as likely to be living under the poverty line, so that the intersection of transphobia and racism is just really deadly, and we've got to figure out, how do we make sure that all of us are able to take care of ourselves and our families? If you look at what African Americans and Latinos in general in California face because of racism, I believe there are a lot of barriers still to employment, and way-too-high poverty levels. When you add that to somebody being transgender, it can just be really challenging. I think, though, at the same time that there's a lot of resiliency I see, especially in African-American and Latino trans communities, having come up in L.A. myself, seeing how tight people are and how much support. I think that there's a lot of folks who are beating the odds and are really working to change things. And I've been really impressed by some of the work that's happened. For example, I think about some of the activists like Bamby Salcedo in L.A., who went back to school and has talked publicly about the experience of getting a bachelor's degree and what that has been like. I think it creates a new role model for other trans women to see that there are a lot of options, and that there are opportunities to get an education and to get into the workplace and to stand up and fight for all that we need as a people.

Newman: So do you believe that education could turn the poverty and high rates of employment around for transgender people?

Davis: I think there are three things that I think that are especially important, and one is family acceptance, because we know for any of our trans youth, if they have families that accept them as they are, whether or not they agree or understand, if they can actually accept their kids, and our youth are able to stay in their homes when they're young, that makes such a big difference. And then education. We did a survey on the state of transgender California a few years ago, and we found out that what seemed to make a big difference about how somebody was doing economically was whether or not they had two years of college. So they didn't necessarily need to have a bachelor's degree, but if someone had basically an AA degree or two years of community college, their financial status was so much better in the long run. So if somebody can get a GED or graduate, get into college, even a couple of years, and then get some support to get into the workforce, which is, I guess, my third thing... I do think workforce programs that help trans people navigate some of the barriers we face, whether that's just the fact that sometimes we have to come out to our employers, we have to learn what to do when somebody might harass us at work or we deal with somebody who is bigoted or biased, I think the help getting into the workforce and navigating those challenges can be really helpful. In L.A. you've got at the [L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center] the TEEP that Drian Juarez runs, the Transgender Economic Empowerment Project; I think [that] can be really be helpful once somebody gets their foot in the door. But we've got to have family support, we've got to get some education, and we need to at least get into the door to get our first job and stay there for a while so we get something on the résumé. And I think if we could do those things, things are better.

Newman: Do you have anything else to say before I let you go?

Davis: The last thing I will say is one thing that many people don't realize is that a legal case was settled last year that resulted in transgender people being covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and what that means now is that transgender people anywhere in the United States, even if they are in a state that's not very supportive, can now file a complaint with their local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office if they're discriminated against at work. We have to get the word out that we actually do have basic protections, and that employers are on the hook for treating us well.

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Equality in the LGBT community has advanced so much over the years, but our fight is not over. As long as there is discrimination in the LGBT community, the fight must move on, and we cannot forget our transgender brother and sisters. I applaud so many trans men and trans women for lifting their voices and being visible in 2013, but we must continue to fight and eradicate discrimination and transphobia.

For all the trans people of color, we are here and fighting to make things better for us all. God loves us all, and you are entitled to an authentic life full of love, peace and joy.



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