In June, the We Exist Coalition of the Finger Lakes held a rally in support of transgender civil rights at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls. At the rally, transgender people from a variety of backgrounds shared their stories including Tabatha Elizabeth Emil. She’s a veteran and spoke of how she felt when the ban on transgender people serving in the military was lifted during the Obama administration.
“That was a rough pill for me to swallow. If it had happened a few years earlier, I wouldn’t be standing here. Well, at least not until I retired.”
A year and a month after the ban was lifted and less than five weeks after the rally, President Trump announced via Twitter that transgender people would be barred from military service in any capacity. The Pentagon is still sorting out what the abrupt reversal of the policy means to active service members.
When New York State Assembly Member Harry Bronson spoke at the rally, he noted he had observed a stark change since the November election.
“We thought we had come so far, but now we see ourselves in a country and in a state where people have a license to use hate language again. People have a license to hate again.”
The executive director of the We Exist Coalition of the Finger Lakes, Shauna Marie O’Toole, says these seeming sudden changes are especially hard since transgender people have, at best, tenuous local legal protections when there are any protections at all.
“It’s a bit of a struggle because a lot of us are afraid and I get that very, very much. In a number of states there are no protections for us, so once you are out, you are out and there are ramifications for that.”
The We Exist Coalition of the Finger Lakes had already planned a series of programs at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park following the June rally. O’Toole believes that one of the strongest tools she brings in support and defense of civil rights for transgender people is education.
“This is why the programming I am doing at the Museum are so important because it puts a face on the community. It’s a lot harder to hate somebody when you can say, ‘Oh! Yeah! I remember! Really great person! Maybe what I’m hearing isn’t necessarily so.’”
The next program of the We Exist Coalition of the Finger Lakes is LGBTQ 101. It provides an opportunity for credits for diversity training for those who stay for the both hours of the program from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. this Saturday, August 12th.
“It simply comes down to being respectful and that’s all it is. You know, nothing special, nothing extra. Simply the same rights and respects that every other American, every other human being deserves.”
The We Exist Coalition of the Finger Lakes maintains a page on Facebook. They can also be reached via email at [email protected] for more information about Saturday’s LGBTQ 101 interactive training workshop as well as future programming at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls.
An ealier version of this story stated that LGBTQ 101 would be presented in conjunction with the LGBTQ Center of the Finger Lakes. That is not the case.