Our Voices

This Transgender Day of Visibility, we must see ourselves in others to become stronger

In recent days, Black law students descended upon the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., a statement of solidarity with, and inspiration by Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“It’s breathtaking, but it’s also very inspiring just to see another, one, female, but also a Black female who looks like myself being in such a position of honor,” Viky McDonald, who is expected to graduate from Southern University Law Center in May, told ABC News.

And many who have tuned into the highly partisan, politically-charged confirmation hearings understand the weight of Brown Jackson’s words: “it’s not easy being the first. Often, you have to be the best, in some ways, the bravest.”

It’s for this reason that Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, together with the Human Rights Campaign, created a trans rights lesson plan to showcase trans rights history breakers, celebrating and studying the lives and work of artist, advocate and producer Laverne Cox, Transgender athlete Schuyler Bailar, Minneapolis City Council Member Andrea Jenkins and author, writer, actor and producer Jacob Tobia. In this plan, students at schools around the country research and analyze stories about transgender and nonbinary people reported in the news before learning about how the rights of gender-expansive people are protected and upheld by the United Nations. Finally, students consider how cisgender people can help to support and defend the human rights of the LGBTQ+ community by talking to friends/family members, fighting against microaggressions, and educating themselves about pronouns, inclusive language, and trans and nonbinary people throughout culture and history.

A year after launching that lesson plan, we add the strengths and talents of two new RFKHR board members, Kylar Broadus and Vivienne Ming, who are leaders in their chosen fields and also activists for the trans community. Ming, a theoretical neuroscientist, entrepreneur, and author, co-founded Socos Labs, an independent institute exploring the future of human potential. Broadus, meanwhile, is an attorney, activist, lobbyist and professor known for being the first trans person to testify in front of the United States Senate in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He serves as founder and director of Trans People of Color Coalition, the only national organization dedicated specifically to the civil rights of transgender people of color.

Despite a growing number of role models for trans youth, it remains a challenging time. While recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll found that two-thirds of Americans were against laws that sought to limit transgender rights anti-trans violence in the U.S. reached a record high in 2021, and globally, it was also the deadliest year for trans people.

And just this week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law discriminatory legislation prohibiting instruction and discussion as it relates to sexual or gender identity in many elementary grades.

Discrimination, Ming has often noted “is not done by villains. It’s done by us.”

This Transgender Day of Visibility, it’s up to all of us to draw inspiration not only from these individuals, but to create a ripple effect of the simple, yet powerful lessons students can learn in the classroom and beyond. We applaud the elite athletes who during the Toyko Olympics made public statements decrying transgender youth sports bans, and earlier the ESPN broadcasters who during the NCAA Women’s Tournament held a brief moment of silence to protest Florida’s Parental Rights Notification Bill.

But more must be done so that folks need to know they’re not fighting alone.

Literally and figuratively, we must seek to be more like the young Black law students descending on Washington, using our numbers as well as our voices in reminding the nation of the transformative power of youth and community.

“When I was growing up there wasn’t the visibility we have today. It’s important to have someone that looks like you, can relate to you, and validate your existence,” Broadus said. “When we see ourselves in others, that allows us to be stronger. I always wished I had this opportunity, so I didn’t miss the pleasures of growing up like other children.”

Written by Karen Robinson and Kristopher Sharp.

Robinson is the director of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ Speak Truth to Power program. Sharp, a program officer at the organization, oversees the expansion of a university based program that teaches students how to become community organizers.