twenty-three-year-old transgender activist. She works at the TransJustice program at Audre Lorde Project, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, two-spirit, trans and gender non-conforming people of color community organizing center in New York.
Today is the fourth annual Trans Day of Action for Social and Economic Justice. A rally to the Stonewall Inn is planned for this afternoon to "let the world know, that on the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, the rebellion is not over." We speak with transgender activist, Mya Leilani Vazquez. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Four decades after Stonewall, where is the transgender community? Well, earlier this week, the New York Times reported the Obama administration has begun drafting guidelines that would for the first time protect transgender federal employees from workplace discrimination.
Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank has also just reintroduced a bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The inclusion of gender identity in this version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, is seen as an important step by transgender activists. ENDA was introduced in 1994 and first included protections for the transgender community in 2007. It did not pass then, and a subsequent version that lacked the protections based on gender identity passed the House but was not taken up by the Senate.
Well, here in New York, today is the fourth annual Trans Day of Action for Social and Economic Justice. A rally at the Stonewall Inn is planned for this afternoon to, quote, “let the world know, that on the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, the rebellion is not over.”
I’m joined now by transgender activist Mya Leilani Vazquez. She works with the TransJustice program at the Audre Lorde Project, one of the groups organizing today’s march.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
MYA LEILANI VAZQUEZ: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain trans.
MYA LEILANI VAZQUEZ: Well, transgender — I’m going to stay on the I statement. Transgender, to me, is basically a gender identity, basically living, being born biologically who you are, either male or female, but physically or mentally — I mean, mentally feeling, you know, the opposite gender. And so, then you tend to try to find what trans is, because it really is an umbrella term.
AMY GOODMAN: So you’re born as a man, but you live your life as a woman.
MYA LEILANI VAZQUEZ: I was born a boy. I don’t know what it was to be a man. I transitioned at the age of sixteen.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was it like to transition?
MYA LEILANI VAZQUEZ: Well, it was very hard. I was very feminine at a very young age. I had to deal with discrimination at the hands of ACS in the foster care system. It was in the ’90s, so I was subjected to psycho treatment. And then, down the line, understanding and coming to terms with myself, I finally understood that I was trans and had to basically become who I was in order to survive and feel that I could make it within society.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you find the strength to live out your identity?
MYA LEILANI VAZQUEZ: My mom was always around, and is still around, and always told me to be proud and keep my head up and keep smiling and that being who I am is, you know, the best thing and keep it moving.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this day, this Transgender Day of Action. What does it mean? What are you doing?
MYA LEILANI VAZQUEZ: Well, this is our fifth annual Trans Day of Action, and we’re actually — we’re very proud, because we have been trying to contact the Human Resources Administration, which is our welfare agency. And we’ve contacted them for three years straight. Last year was our fourth annual, and we were marching. We sent out a letter three months prior, and in a week before, they asked us not to protest or do any type of demonstration. And we told them that we couldn’t stop it and that we would continue, but would love to continue talking. So right now we’re demanding, you know, a policy revision for, you know, trans clients who are accessing HRA who are currently like just being discriminated, calling “sir,” calling them out of their gender-preferred pronoun, and it’s just not what they’re, you know, looking at. You know, if you see a woman in front of you or you see someone representing a woman in front of you, then you should say "she," because that’s the respectable thing to do.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your focus when it comes to police and educating police? What are the issues you have with police?
MYA LEILANI VAZQUEZ: Personally, it’s searching. You know, I prefer a female to search me, because I do prefer — like I am a woman. That’s how I feel. You know, as long as you talk to me in a proper tone and ask me questions, you’ll get something out of me. If you’re coming to me in a nasty attitude, then you’re possibly going to get, you know, me ignoring you or like, you know, running — whatever you have to do, you know. And you tend to be profiled when you’re out in the Village, you know, just for being trans. You know, I constantly get stopped and asked if I’m loitering with the intent of prostitution, you know.
AMY GOODMAN: LGBT — “T” is the “trans.” Where do you fit into the gay community?
MYA LEILANI VAZQUEZ: I don’t feel that I do, honestly. I feel that — I just feel that they’re — it’s a family, it’s a comfort area, it’s outside the box. And because the trans community is outside the box or in a different, you know, world to folks, that we’re just thrown into the LGBT community. But I think we have different issues.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting that the trans community was so pivotal in Stonewall forty years ago. It’s not talked about as much.
MYA LEILANI VAZQUEZ: Mm-hmm. I mean, when I think of Stonewall, I really think of all the great things that the trans and gender non-conforming community has done. And where we are today is so far behind. You know, you have so many different movements and laws that are passed, and we were just so left behind.
AMY GOODMAN: And ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — we hear a lot about DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, you know, anti-gay marriage bill, but what about ENDA, which we don’t hear as much about?
MYA LEILANI VAZQUEZ: And you say and you continue to say “ENDA.” And ENDA, it was sent up actually first with GENDA, so which included the gender identity piece. And they told — they felt that because it was transgender, a piece of it, that it didn’t — it would have not been passed. So they had said — and they do this all the time with the transgender community — “We’ll get back to them. We’ll pass it this way for the sexual orientation, the gays, the lesbians, the bisexuals, and we’ll get back to the transgenders.” So now it’s actually gone back, and they’re submitting it as GENDA. So it’s a Gender Employment Non-Discrimination Act, just not ENDA anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: So you’ll be out today in New York outside of Stonewall at 4:00?
MYA LEILANI VAZQUEZ: Actually, we’ll be starting at Union Square at 3:00 p.m. We’ll have a program, and we’ll be marching off and ending in front of Stonewall. I am so excited.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mya Leilani Vazquez, I want to thank you for being with us, a transgender activist, works at TransJustice program at the Audre Lorde Project, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, two-spirit, trans and gender non-conforming people of color community organizing center in New York. This is the fifth annual Trans Day of Action for Social and Economic Justice.