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Martinez-Wright: Want to talk about resilience? Try being trans in rural Missouri.

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LGBTQ history display

A screenshot of a couple of the banners of an LGBTQ history display that was taken down at the Missouri State Museum. 

Resilience means toughness and the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. This definition echoes across the transgender community, particularly over the last few years, as there has been a deluge of anti-transgender legislation coming from the Missouri General Assembly and elected officials accros the country. As an Afro-Puerto Rican transgender woman living in rural Missouri, the word resilience resonates. The fight for equality is bigger than ever, and the sense of hope sometimes seems to fade. Often, I remind myself of the resilience that I hold in living as an out and visible trans woman and how, when discussing what it means to be transgender in America, the existence of actual, living transgender people is often overshadowed by phantoms and bogeymen.

The pressures of being raised in a predominantly white, Christian, conservative, rural area meant that I didn’t have transgender role models to turn to; I wasn’t able to see myself being represented in a way that was uplifting, and oftentimes the notion of anything LGBTQ-related was often villainized. This was especially true in religious spaces, when faith was used as a weapon against LGBTQ people, and when discussions of race were brought up, when sentiments somehow always seemed to justify the existing structures of power.

In late February 2020, I made the decision to affirm my authenticity and say in the public and within myself that I am a transgender woman. While speaking my truth, I had to grasp the realities of being an Afro-Puerto Rican transgender woman, which placed additional barriers that most cisgender individuals within the Black and other minority communities would experience in private, social, and professional climates. Transgender women, particulary transgender women of color, are more vulnerable to increased violence, racism, misogyny, and more. Before and after late February 2020, the conversations that I would have in the Missouri state Capitol would paint a big picture in efforts of not only getting pro-LGBTQ legislation passed, but also to prevent harmful anti-LGBTQ legislation from becoming law.

During the recent regular legislative session, various state senators and representatives filed and attempted to pass a series of anti-LGBTQ bills, with half of them being directed at the transgender community, with the primary targets being transgender children. A few examples include Senate Bill 781 which would have transgender children participate in interscholastic athletic activities that are in correspondence to their gender assigned at birth, and Senate Bill 843 which would prohibit children from receiving any gender affirming care from medical professionals and would additionally create penalty provisions to any medical providers if they provided any form of medical care. During and continuing until the end of session, various lawmakers fought tooth and nail to legitimize the need for these harmful bills but, ultimately, they were defeated.

Even though the Legislature was not successful with these anti-LGBTQ bills, top statewide elected officials, including Governor Mike Parson, continue vocalizing the need of these policies. Now more than ever, I believe we need to continue to build a bigger and stronger coalition to ensure that the rights and liberties of transgender individuals are safeguarded. There is a critical need to ensure that our community’s visibility, protection and solidarity strengthen to continue fending off these blatant attacks.

But for now, the transgender community has prevailed. We should prepare for the new fights we know are just around the corner. We have always been here and we will continue to be here, no matter how much some groups object to our existence. We have, and we will continue, to persevere.

Kendall Martinez-Wright is a statewide community organizer in Missouri and resides in Palmyra.

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