Building Alliances: An Interview with Kris Hayashi of the Transgender Law Center – Feminist Frequency

Building Alliances: An Interview with Kris Hayashi of the Transgender Law Center

March 2, 2017

Art by Bishakh Som
Interview by Laura Hudson

Kris Hayashi has spent the last thirteen years advocating for the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people like himself, and as the executive director of the Transgender Law Center at the dawn of the Trump administration, he has his work cut out for him.

Although the Transgender Law Center has provided legal services and advocated for the transgender community since 2003, the recent legislative attacks on transgender rights have brought the organization’s work—and Hayashi’s work—into the national spotlight. Over the last four months, it’s helped file a lawsuit against former Indiana Governor (and now Vice President) Mike Pence, launched an emergency response group to defend transgender immigrants, created state-by-state resources about changing gender markers on birth certificates, and released a 2017 Plan of Resistance. Hayashi spoke with Feminist Frequency about the impact of Trump’s election, how cis people can become better allies, and why trans visibility doesn’t equal trans justice.

Read the full article…

Art by Bishakh Som
Interview by Laura Hudson

Kris Hayashi has spent the last thirteen years advocating for the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people like himself, and as the executive director of the Transgender Law Center at the dawn of the Trump administration, he has his work cut out for him.

Although the Transgender Law Center has provided legal services and advocated for the transgender community since 2003, the recent legislative attacks on transgender rights have brought the organization’s work—and Hayashi’s work—into the national spotlight. Over the last four months, it’s helped file a lawsuit against former Indiana Governor (and now Vice President) Mike Pence, launched an emergency response group to defend transgender immigrants, created state-by-state resources about changing gender markers on birth certificates, and released a 2017 Plan of Resistance. Hayashi spoke with Feminist Frequency about the impact of Trump’s election, how cis people can become better allies, and why trans visibility doesn’t equal trans justice.

kris-1

 

FREQ: Tell me a little about the Transgender Law Center. What sort of work do you do there?

Kris Hayashi: The Transgender Law Center started fourteen years ago in California as a state-based organization advancing the rights of trans and gender non-conforming people, but has since expanded to a national organization. We do litigation and policy advocacy to advance rights and justice for trans and gender non-conforming people. Our main office is here in Oakland, and about a year ago we opened a southern regional office in Atlanta, Georgia. We have a national helpline transgender people and their families can call for legal information and support. We receive somewhere between 2,500 to 3,000 calls a year. The top needs we get calls about are around employment, healthcare access and name and gender changes. Since the election, the number of requests for information we’ve received has increased drastically.

FREQ: Are you the largest advocacy group that focuses on transgender rights specifically?

Hayashi: Yes, we are the largest trans organization in the country, possibly the world. I’ve been with the TLC for nearly three years, and I’ve been involved in the LGBT movement and the movement for racial and economic justice for probably about twenty years. I was looking for an organization that prioritized addressing the needs of trans and gender non-conforming people, that would really center the needs of more vulnerable communities, particularly communities of color and low-income people. That was really what brought me to TLC.

FREQ: Do poverty and racism intersect with transgender issues in ways that aren’t always recognized?

Hayashi: Definitely. Issues of racial justice are transgender issues. Issues of poverty and economic justice are transgender issues. It’s critical for those of us in the transgender movement to build alliances with those movements. Because whether it’s immigrant rights or police brutality or economic justice—those are all issues that affect transgender people, particularly transgender people of color.

 

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FREQ: There’s been a lot more mainstream visibility for trans people over the last several years. What sort of impact, if any, has that had on your work?

Hayashi: No question, there’s been an incredible increase in visibility. Five years ago, I would never have thought that we’d have the level of visibility that we have now. Through popular media and incredible trans celebrities like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock—all of that has [created] a historic level of visibility. Unfortunately, visibility has not led to increased justice or increased safety for trans communities. The reality is that the majority of transgender and gender non-conforming people in this country continue to struggle to survive on a daily basis. They experience high rates of unemployment, homelessness, lack of access to health care, and incredibly high rates of violence and harassment.

FREQ: What media have you found the most inspiring in the last several years, in terms of trans representation both on the screen and behind the camera?

Hayashi: There’s a film out right now called Major. It’s a documentary film about the life of Miss Major, who has been a leader in movements for racial and social justice and LGBT rights her entire life. She’s incredibly inspiring. The film was created by trans and NGC filmmakers, and the majority of the people interviewed in it are trans and NGC as well. It centers the experiences of a black trans woman leader, and I think it’s a really good example of the type of media it’s important to support. The film has been touring the country and raising awareness about the transgender community and the incredible history of our movement.

FREQ: What are some good resources for cis people who want to educate themselves further?

Hayashi: People should definitely go to our website. We have a lot of information there that could be useful. There’s also TRUTH, a national trans youth leadership and storytelling project that has really good resources and videos about transgender youth and their families and the issues they face. That’s helpful given that a lot of the legislative attacks we’ve seen have been against trans youth and students. Another good resource is the National Center for Transgender Equality, which released the second version of their national trans survey with a ton of information and data about trans and gender non-conforming people.

 

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FREQ: Feminism has a pretty checkered history when it comes to transgender rights. How can feminists and feminist organizations do better when it comes to supporting trans people and including trans women?

Hayashi: There are a number of things that can be done. There are more and more women’s organizations who are modeling this, but be very clear in language and mission about being open to transgender women and transfeminine people. Flank and support work that transgender women, particularly women of color, are leading across the country. It was critical before the election and it will be even more critical moving forward. Transgender women of color have faced incredible rates of violence in the country, and we should anticipate that this will get worse under the Trump administration.

FREQ: How do you think Trump’s presidency will affect the transgender community, and the issues it’s already facing?

Hayashi: There was an onslaught of anti-transgender legislation across the country in 2016, and a lot of it resulted in anti-trans attacks and campaigns throughout the country. Transgender people were already facing ongoing harassment, violence and discrimination. Trump’s election has brought that to a whole other level. Since the election, we’ve heard reports of transgender people facing increased hate and violence. Trump ran on a clear platform of intolerance and hate towards LGBT people, towards immigrants, towards communities of color, towards women, towards people with disabilities… The likelihood of impacts on the more vulnerable members of the transgender community is really dire.

FREQ: What can cis people do to help support trans people, both in general and as they face new attacks on their rights?

Hayashi: That’s a really good question. There are trans and gender non-conforming leaders throughout the country who were doing amazing work even before Trump’s election to fight for the rights of transgender people, to build community, to support each other and keep each other safe—often with very few resources or without paid staff or offices. It’s even more critical in this moment to support trans-led groups and organizing efforts, whether in terms of donations or volunteering. Look for the organizations in your region led by trans people and take guidance from those groups. The groups that are often the least visible and have the fewest resources should be the priority for people who want to support the transgender movement.

Editor’s Note: After our interview, the Trump administration withdrew federal protection for the right of transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. On behalf of the Transgender Law Center, Hayashi responded:

“Once again, this administration has singled out a vulnerable group—this time, transgender youth—for attack and made clear they will not fulfill their duty to protect all students from illegal harassment and discrimination. Fortunately, the White House does not have the power to singlehandedly change federal law, and school districts across the country are still legally obligated to comply with Title IX and protect transgender students.

It is shameful and cruel that politicians and government officials would use their power to target young people who are just trying to go to school and be themselves. No matter what this administration says, the law remains on transgender students’ side and students can still take legal action when schools cross the line and discriminate against them because they are transgender.

That’s exactly what our client Ash Whitaker, a transgender boy from Wisconsin, did when his school forced him to use a separate bathroom from his peers. In September, Ash won a preliminary injunction stopping his school from singling him out for discriminatory treatment. The court found that Ash was being irreparably harmed by the discriminatory policy—including the dizziness and migraines he experienced from trying to ‘hold it’ all day—and had a likelihood of winning on his legal claims that the policy violated both Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

Ash’s case will be heard in the Seventh Circuit at the end of March, just a day after the Supreme Court of the United States hears arguments in the case of another transgender boy, Gavin Grimm, who challenged the illegal discrimination he faced at school. It will be devastating to young people like Ash to know that the federal government will not protect or support them, but they should know that Transgender Law Center and our colleagues are here to fight for them, whatever it takes.

Transgender Law Center has long worked to ensure all students can be themselves, get an education, survive, and thrive – both through our legal cases and through TRUTH, our youth leadership development program with GSA Network. Today’s news has only bolstered Transgender Law Center’s commitment to protecting and defending the rights and lives of transgender young people, and we are prepared to take the administration to court to do so.”

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