Raw Story has spoken to Mara Keisling before, but our first face-to-fact meeting happened on Thursday morning at the DNC. Kiesling, who is the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), but insisted that she was appearing at the DNC “just as a Democrat,” not in an official capacity as a representative of NCTE.
“I’m just here supporting the delegates and being a Democrat,” she said, smiling, as she tucked into a vegetable sandwich.
Raw Story: Tell us about the transgender delegation.
Keisling: There are, as far as we know, 14 “out” trans people. The reason I say “as far as we know” is because when we got here, we thought there were twelve, but then we found a thirteenth, and then we found a fourteenth, and there’s probably more.
I think is says wonderful things that there’s trans people everywhere, and they’re making it on their own. In the case, here, they’re good Democrats, that’s why they get to be here. We don’t know of any that were at the RNC convention, but they may have been, and it would be because they were good Republicans.
The delegation is surprisingly diverse. It’s not perfectly diverse, but there are four trans men and ten trans women. They come from all over the country, from California to North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin, Maryland and Massachusetts.
Raw Story: Who put all of this together?
Keisling: Really, the individual delegates, you know they have to run or they have to be very involved with their local and state party to get selected to go, so this was all on them. This was 14 people who did the work and got here, so it’s not like anybody put it together.
Now, it is true that the DNC is very good at encouraging diversity. They’ve been very supportive of trans delegates, they’ve expressed to the states that they look on it favorably if there’s lots of LGBT delegates and LGBT means LGB and T. I have to give kudos to the LGBT folks at the DNC and in the campaign, because they’ve worked really hard.
Raw Story: How did the delegation connect?
Keisling: There’s a new effort that started a couple of months ago called Trans United for Obama. There’s a website, there’s a Twitter feed, there’s a Facebook page and everybody’s been networked through that.
There’s a member of the DNC steering committee who is trans, Babs Siperstein, and Babs has sort of become the den mother, and has largely been the organizing agent. They’ve been communicating via email for weeks.
Raw Story: Who inspires you as an activist?
Keisling: The trans movement has these amazing people, I don’t want to call them “elders,” but they’re all people who were doing it before me. They’re phenomenal role models. The trans movement has gone at light speed compared to any other social justice movement in history, and it’s because of people you’ve never heard of, like Phyllis Frye, who is an attorney and a judge now in Texas.
Shannon Minter, who you may have heard of, is the legal director at the National Center for Lesbian rights. Lisa Mottet is a transgender civil rights lawyer for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
These are folks who have been working for decades. Lisa’s been doing this since college and she’s now an attorney in her mid-30s and her entire career so far has been dedicated to trans rights. You don’t hear about her, but Lisa and Shannon and Jennifer Levi at GLAAD, I could go on and on.
These are people who most people have never heard of because they work incredibly hard, they don’t take any credit. They get the work done and they move on to the next thing, and that’s why the trans movement is going so well. There’s a lot of people like that.
Raw Story: What single thing would you say to a young transgender person about how the world has changed and how to live in it as a transgender person?
Keisling: You know, I get to do a lot of college speaking and I always try to include, every time I speak, a line from Audrey Lorde. I have it on a plaque in my office. It’s so important to me and it’s really my guide star on how to fit into all of this work we’re doing.
It says, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” There’s a lot to be afraid of when you’re trans, coming out to your parents, coming out in school, coming out in the world, and it makes sense to be a little bit afraid.
But, when you dare to be powerful, to use your strength in the service of your vision, it’s less and less important whether you’re afraid, because you will be powerful, you will be fierce and you will get things done.
And I would just say to anyone, not just in their activism but in their lives, “Use your power.”