I met activist and Gender Justice League founder Danielle Askini a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. She was then, and remains to this day, one of my favorite trans activists and educators.
1. Tell me something about how you started Gender Justice League, and why, what you do as an organization.
The idea behind Gender Justice League was really to build on what I had come to learn from other organizations I had participated in the past such as GSA Network (where I was National Program Director) and Outright, Maine – Where I was a youth activist. Really the idea is to bring the community together through community building, social and community education events, and then to recruit and train Trans and gender non-conforming folks as leaders to engage in community wide education and training and then advocacy work both on a one-to-one level and a policy level – such as removing Trans health insurance exclusions. The idea is really to start by building a community that is connected, informed, and educated and then develop our skills to organize, educate, and influence cultural change. As an organization what we have done has greatly varied, we have done things like hold Trans Pride Seattle – which brought together about 2,200 people in June – by far the largest single event by and for Trans folks in Seattle, we got King County Public Health and all HIV Prevention Providers to agree to both serve Trans women but also include images, messaging, and information about Trans women in HIV prevention materials, we also held a community gathering to discuss Fighting Trans Misogyny that was incredibly well attended. This is all outside of our internal training on grant writing, meeting facilitation, web/social media networking and advocacy training. I’m so excited for all we have yet to do in the next year or two as we launch our speaker’s bureau and education plan, partner with University of Washington for a Transgender Medicine class for medical students, social workers, and nurses, and many many more things!
2.. We were talking recently about the intersection of community and politics, specifically when it comes to trans people. Do you think one has to come before the other?
I think this is a really interesting question! As someone who transitioned in Maine — Portland specifically, a “city” of only 65,000 people — there was not a huge Trans community that was active when I fist came out. Over time, more and more trans folks and gender queer folks came out — but most identified as trans men/trans masculine which left me feeling a bit isolated. My activism in Portland was really focused on “LGBT” activism and youth in foster care activism (I spent my Junior year homeless, and my senior year in foster care) — but it was extremely isolating to be the ONLY trans woman around in many instances. There was a sense of ‘community’ to some degree — but often I didn’t really feel “seen”. Portland is a tricky example, as everyone watched me transition quite publicly (it’s a small town) and to many, I would forever be that “Gay boi / drag queen!” that they had seen in high profile shows; this often invisible my identity as a woman. That is not to say that I wasn’t deeply effective or influential, I think even though I was young, in college, and often busy — I was of a vanguard that pushed the largely L & G leaders to include Gender Identity and Expression in Maine’s 2005 non-discrimination law. I think community is vital — but I found my community online at that time! Now, I walk out my door and have dozens of friends which is amazing. I certainly think having a solid online community through livejournal was vital to my early activism — a place to vent, get resources/connect, and feel ‘seen’. For folks who are not in major cities — the internet has really revolutionized that process. So that is to say — find a community online, do online activism, find strength where you can no matter what — but doing activism everywhere is vital! I think that was the key for me, finding community online, doing activism even when I felt isolated and alone as a very young trans woman.
3. I think of you as a radical activist, and I mean that as a compliment. Tell me something about how you think of trans rights in the light of other social justice issues. More