The first step to becoming a transgender ally is to better understand trans identities.
Gender is part of a person’s internal sense of self. Most of us are assigned a gender at birth based on physical attributes such as visible sex organs. Some people are comfortable identifying with the gender they were assigned; the term we use here is cisgender, or cis, people. Transgender, or trans, people are people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Gender can be male or female, but it can also be anything in between or beyond these identities, such as non-binary.
Transitioning refers to the steps trans people to take to socially or physically feel more aligned with their gender identity. Social transitioningcan include asking people to use a different name or different set of pronouns. Physical transitioning can involve altering one’s wardrobe or seeking medical procedures to alter one’s appearance to what feels right to them. It’s important to remember that every trans person transitions in their own way for what best fits their identity and situation. Transitioning can put trans people in very vulnerable positions for harassment and marginalization, so it is very important to be supportive and open.
For more accessible information on these terms and concepts, you can check outProject Trans 101’s guide. They also have short videos explaining topics in the guide if you prefer to listen and watch.
One of the primary ways to be a trans ally is to become mindful of personal pronouns. In English, the singular pronouns “he” or “she” can carry assumptions about someone’s gender identity based on their appearance or name. It can be hurtful to refer to someone using pronouns other than their preferred ones, just as it can be hurtful to call someone the wrong name. We should then consider the practice of saying our pronouns when we introduce ourselves (e.g. “My name is __ and I use she/her pronouns”) and asking people to share theirs. Using someone’s correct pronouns is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment.
If this is still confusing or you have more questions, check out MyPronouns.orgto learn more about the value and practice of personal pronouns.
For Friends and Family
Having someone you love come out to you can be overwhelming and bring a wide range of emotions. Here are some things to keep in mind:
If your family member or friend has come out you, it means they trust you. They are expressing an important part of who they are and want to live authentically with you. It is important to check in with them if they would like you to keep their gender identity private as they may not be ready to come out to everyone.
There is no blame. There is nothing wrong with you or your loved one. If you are a parent, know that you have done nothing wrong. Being open about their trans identity allows your loved one to live more truthfully and love themselves more. We encourage you to check out TYFA’s Tips for Parents.
You are important. Friends and family play a crucial role supporting a trans person coming out, transitioning, and beyond. Be there to listen and understand. Learn more about trans identities in general and specifically how your loved one identifies. You can also be there to help them reach resources they may need. Through theVirginia Transgender Resource and Referral List, you and your trans loved one can find community organizations and legal and health services near you. You can also encourage them to check out theEV Trans Resource page.
You are not alone. There are many families who are working to support trans youth. PFLAG sponsorssupport groups for friends and family throughout the state of Virginia. Equality Virginia also hosts an annual transgender conference in Richmondwith resources for allies and a few mini-conferences around the state.
Communities from businesses to religious groups can make small changes to make their transgender members feel safe and included.
Overall, be mindful of gender expansive members in community spaces. In group settings, encourage people to share their personal pronouns (if they feel comfortable) when they introduce their name. Allow people to use the bathroom they feel most comfortable using and include gender-neutral bathroom options. Know that a community member may not want to disclose their gender identity publicly, so ask what they are comfortable with if they come out to you.
Consider scheduling a training session for your community. You can schedule a customized training program to be hosted at your workplace or community through theVirginia Center for Inclusive Communities. For youth-serving organizations and school staff, you can schedule free training and consulting throughSide by Sidethat will still come to your location.
Faithcommunities can also provide a lot of support for trans people. You can access Equality Virginia’slist of welcoming faith communities in the state. For faith community leaders, check outthis guide to new perspectives for welcoming and advocating for transgender people as well as other great resources.
If you have not already, consider enrolling inEquality Means Business: for Business Owners to take a stand against discrimination. You can check out thedirectoryto see what businesses in Virginia have already pledged to protect their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees, as well as affirm to never turn away customers or clients based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Big Picture Allyship
Learning about trans identities and making small changes to support trans people in your life is a great way to begin your journey of trans allyship. We also invite you to look at ways you can help the trans community in Virginia more broadly.
Learn about policy issues that affect the trans community in Virginia. Recently, Virginia became the first state in the South to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, employment, public spaces, and credit! We are also worked with community advocates and legislators to modernize the process of updating a gender marker on drivers licenses and state IDs (which now allows a non-binary gender marker option) as well as birth certificates (which still only allow for male or female gender markers). Starting in the 2021-2022 school year, all local Virginia school boards will have to adopt model policies on how they support and treat transgender and non-binary students. You can check out our LGBTQ legal protections page for more information. You can also check our Bill Tracker andWhat You Can Dopage to get involved.