On Jan. 20, 2015 President Obama became the first sitting president during the annual State of the Union Address to make the socially conscious decision to distinctly recognize three communities: 'Transgender', 'Bisexual' and 'Lesbian' Americans.
The President remarked, "And there's one last pillar of our leadership, and that's the example of our values. As Americans, we respect human dignity […] . That's why we … condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We do these things not only because they are the right thing to do, but because ultimately they will make us safer."
As many trans* and bisexual advocates take issue in being mislabeled 'gay', the President's 'L, B, T' acknowledgement has further added to discussions about language, 'community' words and the right to self-identify. LGB non-profits and media professionals are being reminded that inaccurately pushing 'gay' as an umbrella term onto non-gay trans people socially engineers misperceptions which harmfully speak against their individual narratives.
Potential allies are inadvertently misled by non-trans decision-makers to misinterpret sexual orientation as being interchangeable with transgender gender identity or a transsexual medical condition, which leads to misgendering, societal miseducation and transsexualism denial. If this LGBTTIQQ coalition comprised of distinct communities is to achieve authentic harmony and trust then we must consider more cultural sensitivity and affirming messaging when educating on trans* issues. We need to value coalition democracy by raising trans* communities to have an equal seat at the alliance table.
Openly lesbian artist and activist Dr. Marie Cartier teaches Gender and Women's Studies at CSU Northridge and recently authored the book Baby You Are My Religion about pre-Stonewall lesbian women's/butch-femme social community. I first met her when I was 18 after she invited me to participate in a panel discussion ( my first time ) entitled "Being Femme".
Many lesbians of Dr. Cartier's generation unwaveringly resisted the patriarchal establishment's attempts to erase 'lesbian' from institutional usage. She sees the SOTU 'lesbian' mention as a positive gesture and is reminded of another language conflict of decades past. She tells Transcending the Blacklist, "Historically women had been subverted under the male paradigm. So the idea behind Ms. Magazine's title was to solidify the move feminists made to create a space in the English language where women could identify as themselves first, instead of married or single. Before then there was no moniker where a woman could just be herself. This same principle fostered the movement where lesbians of the '70s and'80s said 'You can't just say 'gay' and assume lesbians are included.' In the early 1980s Los Angeles feminists succeeded in having the L.A. Gay Community Services Center add 'lesbian' to their title, and last year both the transgender and bisexual communities finally won their quest for name inclusion."
Bisexual advocates are more visible in LGBT organizing spaces yet bi-phobic and bi-denial sentiments still occur in both straight and gay/ lesbian spaces, so it's understandable that many bi folks took to social media to high-five the State of the Union's 'bisexual' shout-out.
A positive shift is occurring as bisexual groups applaud monumental gains in community awareness and inclusion, such as the White House honoring 2013's annual "Celebrate Bisexuality Day" by holding their "first-ever bisexual roundtable" with many noted bisexual advocates in attendance. Then last summer BiNet USA's president Faith Cheltenham was the first openly bisexual national leader invited to stand with a president as he signed an executive order, referring to President Obama barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees.
Cheltenham tells Transcending the Blacklist, "With President Obama historically including the words 'bisexual', 'transgender' and 'lesbian' in the State of the Union he has made it very clear that we are citizens worthy of protection just like any other. This may prove a critical step in continuing a rainbow revolution, fostered on behalf of EVERYONE in our diverse LGBTQ community."
It's essential that transsexual and transgender Americans have their narratives and unique needs accurately conveyed instead of problematically gay-washed and misrepresented by non-trans decision makers, queer academia, Hollywood 'trans-face', non-profits ( with little to no trans* board members ) and media outlets.
Our LGB allies can responsibly assist our education efforts by taking the president's cue in not misusing 'gay' as an umbrella term, especially since most women of transsexual history are heterosexual. Words really do matter as they have the power to inspire enlightenment, or, if misused, they can derail public understanding.
President Obama choosing the far-reaching and influential State of the Union platform to boldly affirm the trans community's right to protections greatly uplifts the country's collective consciousness concerning trans*visibility and social inclusion.
Journalist and media advocate Ashley Love has written for or has been interviewed by The New York Times, L.A. Times, BBC, BET, NPR, Reuters TV, Guardian, Washington Blade and Advocate about feminist, transsexual and social-justice issues. From hosting and co-writing MTV/Logo's edu-tainment series 'LGB to the T', authoring the Trans Forming Media blog or organizing Black Trans* Women's Lives Matter, she's devoted to raising trans* education and inspiring cultural change.