In concert with the second annual Gay Rights as Human Rights Conference’s theme of “building coalitions, changing culture,” featured speaker Shannon P. Minter discussed “Do Transsexuals Dream of Gay Rights? The Struggle for an Inclusive Queer Movement.”
Minter’s Friday speech was the fifth annual Papadopoulos lecture, coordinated by QSA in memory of Nicholas Papadopoulos ’77, who died of complications due to AIDS in 1994.
Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said some people object to the term ‘LGBT community’ because disparate individuals in a range of groups should not be considered a community.
“We need to talk about the LGBT community as an aspiration, something we choose to create and build,” he said. “And building a community requires constant attention and work.”
He added that until very recently, LGB groups were reluctant to include the ‘T’ in their advocacy, suggesting that because gay people have had to fight so hard for their own humanity, it is difficult for them to embrace a group that tends to be even more vulnerable and marginalized than they are. In order to be included, he said, transgender people had to adopt an alternate way to address the issues.
“Transgender activists started arguing that gay and lesbian people are not discriminated against just because of their sexual conduct, but because they are seen as violating the rules of gender,” he said, adding that this notion of common resistance to gender stereotypes and the gender binary played a major role in uniting the movement. However, he cautioned against using this as the dominant framework.
“It’s served a purpose, but we’re in danger of losing sights of transgender in the midst of the discussion of gender nonconformity,” he said, noting that he spoke more out of concern than cynicism. “If I don’t say transgender issues are at the very center of gay identity, why should they care?”
Chair of the Transgender Task Force Eva B. Rosenberg ’10 said the talk inspired her to think more closely about TTF’s organizing premise.
“Do we consider gender nonconformity the principle that unites our community?” she asked rhetorically. “It’s important to organize in a way that represents and meets the needs of people under the trans umbrella and think about community in the most inclusive way possible without losing our sense of focus.”
The focus of TTF, she said, was less to be a part of the mainstream queer community and more dedicated to advocacy and education.
The rights conference, organized by Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Timothy P. McCarthy ’93, marked the finale of the University-wide week celebrating Gaypril, a month dedicated to LGBT pride and awareness.
—Staff writer Alice E.M. Underwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.