When transgender activist, identity-affirming therapist and social work doctoral student Candice Metzler first became involved with transgender activism, one of the most central organizing events in the community was the Transgender Day of Remembrance. While she saw the importance of remembering those lost, the day was troubling to her.
“Most of the financial resources, hours spent and efforts coming to the community were being used to talk about people who had been violently cut down—despite the numbers of people who were still alive and facing dire circumstances,” said Metzler, executive director of Transgender Education Advocates of Utah and a therapist at the Utah Pride Center. “Even at that time we had tens of thousands of people living on the streets, homeless, who were gender-nonconforming. We needed to address the issues of those still living.”
Now, more than a decade later, those issues have continued to compound for many transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Loss of employment, homelessness, violence, incarceration and suicide can often be related. Homelessness can come as a direct result of unemployment. Violence comes as a direct result of homelessness and the vulnerability of being on the street. This violence can then increase criminal involvement as well as risk of suicide.
“When people are on the street, they are often pushed into ways of making money that exposes them to more violence,” said Metzler. “People are going to do what they have to in order to survive.”
Working in, living in and engaging with this community can be discouraging when the pain is ongoing. Metzler said she knows each death isn’t the last and that more suffering will come.
When asked how she keeps going, Metzler answered, “Youth suicide, in particular, is something that drives me past the personal discomfort. This is something that needs to end. The resilience of this community is worth fighting for. I do what I do because I don’t want anyone to feel like they are alone in this. I want the young people I am working with to know that I see them and I care.”
What can I do?
There’s more being done in the community than when Metzler started her activist work, but still so much more to be done. Sometimes with issues as large as transgender discrimination, it’s difficult to know where to start.
Metzler had these suggestions:
See transgender people as… people
“There is a tendency to see this as an ‘other’ group,” said Metzler. “But we’re all part of humanity, and our diversity is strength.”
“We could do so much to change the pain and suffering that we see in the world and in this community if we could accept people as they are,” said Metzler. Excluding, stigmatizing, and creating shame is destructive for everyone.
Be aware of your own bias
“Sometimes when I’m giving presentations about topics like intersex awareness, the first question I hear is, ‘how do we fix them,’” said Metzler. “Even when this sentiment is expressed with the best of intentions, it ultimately belies an attitude grounded in ‘how do I make this person fit into my reality’ instead of ‘how do I change my reality to include this person?’”
Call and meet with your government representatives. Make sure your representatives know you support transgender people’s rights, including the ability to change their gender markers on their identity documents.