Op-Ed: Transgender Visibility Needs to Go Beyond Media Favorites

Brianna Titone, the first transgender lawmaker from Colorado.
Brianna Titone, the first transgender lawmaker from Colorado.
In 2021, transgender people live a life subject to debate over our existence. International Transgender Day of Visibility demands not rights, not equity, not parity, but simple acknowledgment of our contributions to society. Celebrated each year on March 31, TDoV affords trans people the unique opportunity to demand to be seen. We’re one of the few communities in the United States who still have to fight to be acknowledged, fight for the affirmation of our roles in every community.

As the first and only transgender lawmaker from Colorado, I’m proud to represent my constituents and the trans community by committing to values of equity, respect for all lives, and good government. Despite all the progress made by myself, the seven other trans lawmakers in the U.S. and trans activists, many state and federal legislators are leading the emergence of mainstream transphobia designed to undermine both trans people's accomplishments and our very right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I want to stress the real dangers that exist for trans people at every level of society, while affirming our achievements to make ourselves seen and respected. This duality encompasses our everyday, making me all the more motivated to represent our community at its best, and more committed to combating transphobia from elected leaders.

On this year’s Transgender Day of Visibility, I challenge media outlets to take some time to reflect on their representation of trans people in their stories. Media outlets need to seek out diverse perspectives, not just token representation. The trans community extends past media favorites. Positive trans visibility is necessary in mainstream media in order to humanize the trans community, highlight positive trans representation at all levels of society, and combat ugly transphobia that thrives on media amplification.

Trans people need more role models in society. We need to be able to see ourselves safely thriving while they move through the world. Prior to running for a seat in the Colorado General Assembly, I had no history of political engagement. After Danica Roem’s election to the Virginia Legislature in 2017, I saw myself in government for the first time. Danica was the first openly transgender person to hold elected office. I became the second.

I chose to run for office in 2018 when I realized Danica broke a glass ceiling for transgender candidates. My passion for public service stems from my time as a volunteer firefighter. I developed a commitment to uplifting the community as a whole. I wanted to serve my district in order to ensure the representation they truly deserve. From addressing a lack of proper health care, consumer protections and the climate crisis, my agenda genuinely reflects the needs of my constituents. I also wanted to take my LGBTQ+ advocacy to the legislature, and ensure protections for LGBTQ+ Coloradans.

After winning my first election, I found myself taking on a lot of responsibility, not just for the 80,000 people I represented, but for the countless other trans and nonbinary people across the country who need to see role models in places they had never seen them before. But the tree fell in the woods, and only a few heard it. Even after running policy on affordable housing, helping high school students run a menstrual equity bill, and reviving the ban on the gay and trans panic defense with near unanimous support, there are still few people who know who I am and why stories like mine matter.

As the transgender community reaches new heights, we see highly visible elected officials spouting transphobic rhetoric. Counter responses in the media need to address such dangerous behavior. Elected leaders whose platforms are grounded in hatred and discrimination rely on mainstream media attention to thrive. In response, I believe mainstream visibility for trans elected officials is paramount to the survival of our platforms rooted in respect, common ground and equity. Transphobia cannot permeate the media unchecked.

Globally, Transgender Day of Visibility is dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments and victories of transgender and gender non-comforming people, and to raising awareness towards the work needed to save trans lives. We should ask ourselves why we’re lacking trans representation at the center of media storytelling. We should put more pressure on our favorite media outlets to prioritize positive trans representation.

Transgender Day of Visibility is a wonderful celebration — but seeing trans people happens all year ’round. Let’s pave the way to ensure that a diverse and authentic stream of trans people’s stories are honored.

Representative Brianna Titone (HD-27) was elected in 2018 as the first openly transgender legislator in the Colorado General Assembly. She serves as the Chair of the House LGBTQ Caucus, the Vice Chair of the Joint Technology Committee, and serves on the Health and Insurance Committee and Energy and Environment Committee. Representative Titone utilizes her background in geology, software development, and LGBTQ+ advocacy to successfully legislate an agenda committed to eliminating gaps in consumer protections, health care and LGBTQ rights in Colorado.

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