How Cis Allies Can Help The Transgender Community Right Now, According To Stars Of 'The Trans List'
HBO couldn't be airing The Trans List at a more critical time. The documentary premieres on Dec. 5 and explores the multifaceted experience of transgender people through a series of intimate interviews. Many of the individuals who share their stories in the piece were on hand for The Trans List New York City premiere at the Paley Center For Media. Donald Trump had been president elect for a little over a week, and the members of The Trans List who spoke to Bustle on the red carpet expressed their concern for the immediate future of LGBT rights in the United States under this new administration. With such high stakes, all hands are on deck, and the stars of The Trans List stars have some advice for cisgender allies who want to help the transgender community.
"I’m all about allies," says Buck Angel, a trans activist and adult film performer and producer. "The first most important thing they can be doing is continue to be part of the change. Be with us." And if cisgender allies don't know where to start, they shouldn't be afraid to ask. As a transgender person with a significant platform, Angel says that he never takes offense at questions that are asked with good intentions. "I’m a believer that if you want people to understand, you have to take that time to educate the world. That’s what this film is doing," he says. Angel talks about advocacy as a partnership. "What can we do to help allies feel more a part of this community?" he wonders. "Without allies, we can’t continue to fight, and that’s with any community."
For The Trans List presenter and producer Janet Mock, however, the weight of the responsibility is predominantly on the ally's shoulders. "I think that one of the most powerful things we can do is reserve the energy of those who are most marginalized, so that they can take care of themselves and not so much have to educate everyone about their experience," the author and host says. "So the greatest role that allies can do is take on that role of educating and being an advocate for those they are linking in arms with." Her advice is to "go get your people;" in other words, to be the ambassador to your own demographic.
Nicole Maines is the youngest interviewee in The Trans List and a proud representative of the "struggling college student" generation. She values compassion and awareness in allies. "Let the people know around you that you’re a safe space," Maines advises. "Just ask them, 'What do you need? Are you alright?' I’ve had so many friends just check in with me. It’s good to know you have people around you who care about you, especially in a really tough week."
"I think what allies can definitely do is to open their minds and their hearts and really understand the livelihood of trans people and where we are in society," says Bamby Salcedo, founder of the TransLatin@ Coalition. And the work doesn't stop when you share an article on Facebook or sign an online petition. Salcedo makes it very clear that paying lip service to the movement is only minimally helpful. "You have to mean what you say and say what you mean," she says.
Shane Ortega's request can be summed up in one word: "Empathy." A veteran of the U.S. Army and activist for racial and gender equality, Ortega recommends that allies be responsive in their support. Instead of communicating first what they can offer, allies should be asking marginalized people what they need. The alternative "doesn’t help either person in that configuration," Ortega says. "Because then there’s one person feeling unappreciated or demanded of."
Kylar Broadus is an attorney, public speaker, and the founder and Executive Director of the Trans People of Color Coalition. And he wants allies to understand that the battle for trans rights is literally a life-or-death situation. "Understand that we have not won equality," Broadus says. "We are still being killed in the streets." According to GLAAD, 2016 has already been the most deadly year for transgender individuals — 26 trans people were murdered this year, up from 21 in 2015. With this very real danger in mind, he prompts allies to begin "educating themselves on trans rights and issues" and "making friends with trans people."
Across the board, these activists agree that allies are absolutely essential to the advancement of transgender rights in this country and around the world. And if you're prepared to join and further the fight, watching and sharing The Trans List when it premieres on Dec. 5 isn't a bad start.