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LGBTQ+ Stories

Ahead of Trans Day of Visibility, Three Advocates Share What Gives Them Hope

Since 2009, International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV) has been marked on March 31. Rachel Crandall-Crocker, who created TDOV, said she “wanted a day that we can celebrate the living”—a day where trans individuals across the world could celebrate their identities and “have a moment of happiness.”

Over a decade later, TDOV is as necessary as ever, marking a moment to celebrate trans excellence as violence against the trans community continues to rise at an alarming rate. Gun violence in particular has a disproportionate impact on marginalized communitiesespecially transgender individuals and the broader queer community.

Ahead of TDOV, we asked three transgender activists to reflect on the importance of addressing gun violence against the trans community, the work needed to disarm hate in the U.S., and what brings them hope in this moment.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Everytown for Gun Safety: How did you get your start as an advocate in the movement you currently serve?

Tori Cooper (she/her)

  • Director of the Transgender Justice Initiative (TJI) at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC)

    I’ve been an HIV advocate in some capacity for over 30 years. My trans advocacy really heated up in the early 2000s thanks to Zakia Jemaceye, another fierce Black trans woman. She was the first to encourage me to use my own voice.

Fidel Gomez Jr (they/them/elle)

  • Gender Equity Justice Program Lead at QLatinx

    For me, there was a time when I was forced to slow down, and it was one of the few times I was forced to really look around and observe my community. I’ve always intentionally volunteered for causes that helped empower others, but after this moment of soaking in, I realized that there are a lot of people who walk around lost and ashamed while others are full of greed and privilege. I decided it was time for me to not gatekeep resources and information that often are withheld, and not be afraid to share them.  

Megan Kozub (she/her)

  • Associate Director of Web Content at Everytown for Gun Safety

    As a part of the now more than a generation’s worth of people who grew up with lock-down drills and regular headlines about school shootings, I was aware of our country’s gun violence crisis from a young age. When the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened when I was in high school, I remember feeling the heartache and rage that many did. My friends and I wanted to do something to help end gun violence, but we didn’t know what we could do as 14-year-olds (Students Demand Action was still years away from launching). Fast forward several years, I pursued a career in public service journalism while continuing to follow this deadly crisis, reporting on tragedies such as the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting and attending the March for Our Lives protests in 2018. Once I graduated from college, the opportunity to work at Everytown presented itself, and I jumped at it, fueled by the desire to use my skills as a writer and organizer to help end this crisis that has become the leading cause of death for children and teens across the country.

How does the organization you currently work for advocate for the trans community? Why is this work meaningful to your organization, and why is it meaningful to you?

Tori Cooper: TJI is a national program that prioritizes BIPOC trans and non-binary folks from across the country. For the first time in HRC’s history, we are prioritizing trans and gender-expansive community members by providing necessary resources through our Small Grants program, Lyft free rideshare program, leadership skills and learning opportunities through ELEVATE, ELÉVATE (in Spanish), MOTIVATE and ACTIVATE fellowships, and providing sponsorships.

These programs are meaningful to me because they are comprehensive in addressing many of the issues that most negatively impact trans lives. In addition, we see these programs as public health and safety matters as they address the social determinants of health that lead to better health outcomes.

Fidel Gomez Jr: Since its inception, QLatinx has been focused on building community, creating safe spaces, and uplifting communities of color through organizing, storytelling, and engagement. Supporting and uplifting trans and gender-nonconforming individuals is key because QLatinx creates opportunities for people to become more aware of how they can uplift their community.

This work is meaningful to me because our community deserves better and stronger leaders and being able to create space where someone can see that within themselves is always an amazing moment.

Megan Kozub: Everytown advocates for the trans community in a few different ways. One of those key ways is through our organization’s research on gun homicides of trans people, a woefully underreported area of our country’s twin crises of hate and gun violence. Additionally, Everytown has helped advocate for Disarm Hate laws that help protect trans people from violent hate crimes. Everytown has also partnered with leading trans-led organizations on the local, state, and national levels to bring awareness to anti-trans violence and advocate for concrete forms of change to help keep the trans community safe.

This work is meaningful to our organization because we will not end gun violence if our work is not focused on helping those who are most impacted by gun violence. Trans people—especially Black trans women—are disproportionately the targets of gun violence; as such, the goals of our movement necessitate that we help end this violent hate.

On a personal level, this work is meaningful to me because I see it as my way to make sure that my community has a home in this country. Being able to go about our daily lives free from the fear of gun violence is a dream shared by everyone in this movement; being a part of this movement is my antidote to despair.

Please talk about the importance of addressing gun violence in the conversation around violence against the trans community.

Tori Cooper: Guns seem to be the weapon of choice for those who inflict harm on trans and our gender-expansive family members. Gun violence is unnecessary, and it tears families and communities apart. We report on so many community members whose lives were taken in such violent ways, often at the hands of someone who was not a stranger. That makes the violence even more personal and vile. This violence is exacerbated and incited by the hateful rhetoric that permeates politics right now. Our lives shouldn’t be political. And many of those who support lax and unreasonable gun laws are the same who spew hatred against our community.

Fidel Gomez Jr: Gun violence and gun safety awareness are important conversations because we all can attest to seeing gun violence affect our lives; whether personally, constantly reading it in a headline, or even knowing there was a shooting down the street, we all are aware of its existence. With the transgender community, it’s even more vital to talk about it. Statistically, the violence inflicted on the trans community is often not reported or, in cases of murder, is often left unsolved. I think having strong group conversations about addressing gun violence against the trans community is vital for the overall knowledge, especially for people who are coming into their own identity.

Megan Kozub: Anti-trans hate is on the rise in the United States. Lawmakers are putting forward record numbers of anti-trans laws and passing them in states across the country, and gun homicides of trans people continue to happen at an alarming rate. These elected officials are trying to make it impossible for us to live our lives at a basic level. In many cases, these are the same lawmakers who have spent the last several years trying to pass dangerous gun laws that make our communities less safe. That combination of hateful rhetoric and lax gun laws creates fertile soil for gun homicides of trans people to not only continue undeterred, but also to increase even further.  

What motivates you to continue doing this work?

Tori Cooper (she/her)

  • HRC

    I am motivated because I’m old enough to have witnessed real change. I want to be a part of the liberation of my people. That sounds very high-brow, but it’s true. It’s possible to be trans and to be happy and healthy and not experience vitriol simply for being who you are. We must simply work to ensure that this dream becomes a reality.

Fidel Gomez Jr (they/them/elle)

  • QLatinx

    What motivates me is that I’m aware that I don’t know everything; I’m a forever student and always ready to share what I know.

Megan Kozub (she/her)

  • Everytown

    I continue to do this work because as a trans person in the United States, I feel like I have no choice but to do this work. My community—especially at this time—needs people advocating for them in every room, in every organization, in every movement. That’s even more true when lives are on the line. By continuing to do this work, I hope to help make this country safer for trans people, as well as for everyone in the United States, for generations to come.

What is your hope for trans youth amid everything that’s happening? What advice would you give them?

Tori Cooper: I want trans youth to have every single good thing that life has to offer. I want them first to be happy and healthy.  And I want them to achieve their goals, without having to deal with bullying and policies that seek to disregard their right to live and exist and to thrive. 

Fidel Gomez Jr: I always tell people to lead with love, compassion, and to remain hyper-aware. We have lost so many of the youth already due to the obstacles they’re facing socially, having their bodily autonomy be in the hands of politicians, and having to constantly have “drills” in school. If I could give anyone advice, it would be to remain adaptable, be okay with not knowing everything, and always help those around you.

Megan Kozub: I first want to recognize that it is hard to be a young trans person right now. It is hard to wake up and see almost daily people in positions of power railing against your very existence, calling you words like “filth.”

To trans youth: We are not filth. We are beautiful. We are magical. We are amazing.

And we will make it through this, together.

My hope is that in this moment, we rally around one another and form the communities and forms of support that make sure we keep each other safe, we keep each other going, we keep each other alive—no matter what. Let your joy, your beautiful existence, be your resistance and your victory.

For trans youth: Get involved in your community, whether that’s in your town, in your school, in person, or online. As a trans mentor of mine once told me, we must be brave enough to be visible enough for people to stand with us. Putting ourselves out there can be scary, especially given the current circumstances we find ourselves in. But by doing so, we will help light a spark in each other, a step towards the beautiful and resilient communities we long for. We are just as much a part of our communities as everyone else, and we deserve to be respected as such. Do not listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.

Trans Day of Visibility is about celebrating trans excellence. Who was the first trans person who left a positive impact on your life?

Tori Cooper: I can’t recall the very first, but without question, Zakia Jemaceye has had a positive impact on my life. She encouraged me to use my own voice in advocacy. She believed that I had something to offer and people needed to hear from me. And I haven’t stopped talking yet. She’s also a successful businesswoman, a highly respected community member in my hometown, and has achieved so many professional accomplishments that are too numerous to name. Zakia is trans excellence.

Fidel Gomez Jr: I would say one of my first interactions with a local transgender activist, Andrea Montanez, was one of the first times I wasn’t made to feel like my “being newer” in these movement spaces meant that I was invalid. She uplifts me at every opportunity she can and for that, I am so thankful. She is magic.

Megan Kozub: The first trans person who left a positive impact on my life was, by an incredible twist of fate, Delaware State Senator Sarah McBride. Years before I came out, and years before she held elected office, Sarah and I were introduced by a mutual friend utterly unaware of my feelings about my gender. While our conversation only lasted about fifteen minutes tops—during which I never came out to her—that meeting with Sarah was enough to show me that living as myself was not only possible, but that I could experience joy, be loved, and follow my dreams while being myself.

What are some things that bring you hope in this space?

Tori Cooper (she/her)

  • HRC

    I am hopeful that change has to happen. I realized years ago that every living thing and idea is in some form of transition or it’s already dead. As more people get to know the community, more people will understand that we have value and deserve respect as well as everyone else. I am hopeful that good always triumphs over evil in the end.

Fidel Gomez Jr (they/them/elle)

  • QLatinx

    What brings me hope is that we are in a time when accessibility is not the biggest obstacle anymore. We are in a time where we can make a difference without even leaving our house. I’m excited to see how much more fearless we as a society will become.

Megan Kozub (she/her)

  • Everytown

    The main things that bring me hope in this space are interacting with survivors of gun violence and working with them to create change; hearing stories from members of our movement about how we have helped create life-saving change on the local level; and seeing other trans people doing this work and thriving. The people who make up this movement are ultimately the ones that bring me hope.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that we should have, or anything you would like to add?

Tori Cooper: I believe that trans people can do anything. Many of us have simply not had the opportunity and support to achieve our dreams. That’s why I do what I do.

Fidel Gomez Jr: Trans Day of Visibility is essential, but every day should have a moment of visibility!

Megan Kozub: Trans people can be brave enough to be visible, share ourselves with the world, and demand what we need to survive and thrive—but we will not accomplish that on a societal level unless we have allies supporting us along the way. This Trans Day of Visibility, if you want to be an ally, please commit yourself to working to make sure trans people are welcome and supported in the communities you are a part of. We will only create safer communities for everyone by working together.

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