Interview with Roxanne Anderson, Honored Trans and Racial Justice Activist on Trump, Bathroom Policy, and the Lavender Community

Bigstock/mkabakov

Bigstock/mkabakov

You know Roxanne Anderson as last year’s Grand Marshal for Twin Cities Pride. That honor signified a culmination of an activist life for queer and racial justice. Known for steering work groups on trans inclusion for the Minneapolis City Council and the Children’s Theatre Company, Roxanne’s other achievements include the position of trans and racial justice director for OutFront Minnesota, lead consultant for RoxA Consulting, co-owner of Cafe SouthSide, board chair of the Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition, program director for Trans Youth Support Network (TYSN), and co-founder/director of RARE Productions. This is in addition to serving as a co-host on KFAI radio’s long running Fresh Fruit program.

Roxanne shared some thoughts recently about upcoming issues on the horizon as we look at a new political landscape in 2017.

John Townsend: There has been an unsettled feeling about the election, not just about Donald Trump, but also about Republicans sweeping Congress and so many state legislatures. What are your thoughts and feelings about how we come to grips with that?
Roxanne Anderson: I wholeheartedly agree there is an unsettled feeling. Folks have no idea what we are in store for and that is scary. Moreover, I think a lot of people do not realize what it fully implicates that we would elect someone who is not at all presidential. This is a person who has disrespected most folks we consider marginalized: women, queer folks, people of color. He has literally threatened to take most of what the Obama administration put in place and he was disrespectful to our current president from the very beginning of his presidency.

The sweep of Congress as well as state legislatures sends a clear message to all those folks. His recent request for those working on climate change amplifies that message. If you are not rich, white, straight, male, and on his side you are against him, which means for most of us, for my communities, it means that we will be targets, subject to those in power in a way we haven’t seen in a long time.

I think the unsettling feeling for some is the realization of what we as a nation have done. A realization that Trump may take over our government in a way we are not ready for, that he has no experience, no training in politics and has never held any elected office. One clear example is how he has already cost us millions of dollars in security measures because he refuses to follow presidential procedure and the advice of the Secret Service and he hasn’t even taken office yet. I think we come to grips by organizing, covering our bases, knowing the resources we have, building our networks, and avoiding the instinct to turn in, isolate, and not connect with our communities.

JT: We may well be going into a very divided public debate on the trans bathroom controversy on both the state level and nationally. What thoughts and suggestions do you have on how the GLBT community can win over skeptics? Are there any particular forces we need to be aware of?
RA: The arguments are the same: single-stall bathrooms do not need to be gendered. Trans folks are far more “at risk” in bathrooms than anyone else. All folks have a right to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as.

JT: I got a lot of positive feedback on the Children’s Theatre trans-inclusion article. You were central to that. Are you lining up other organizations to participate in the training for this?
RA: I would love other folks to be part of sharing the knowledge. Education is the key to change. The more folks know about issues that affect others, the less divided we are. I am available and willing to work with those who (want to understand) inclusion as the answer.

JT: A lot of people in the queer community feel that we have not been as attentive to what Chelsea Manning has been through. What are you thoughts on this?
RA: I think Chelsea Manning is really not that different from any trans woman held in a men’s correctional facility. Not safe. Period. CeCe McDonald said, “Prisons are not safe for anyone.” I don’t think we as a “GLBT” community are attentive when any trans folks are incarcerated. Look when our very own CeCe McDonald was held, charged, and subsequently incarcerated after a vicious transphobic and racist attack; we did nothing as a community. Folks that “act as our representatives” actually balked at helping, by wondering the level of guilt, by not standing with her from the start, by questioning her character, by not marching on the jail and (Hennepin County Attorney) Mike Freeman from day one. We should have demanded her release immediately. Every queer person in Minnesota should have held our system accountable for the egregious and aggressive attack of CeCe and her friends. We should have, we could have, but we didn’t, we — the larger community — stood silent and allowed racism and transphobia to prevail. Only a small vigilant group stood with her from day one. The Free CeCe Committee was mostly individuals connected to TYSN (Trans Youth Support Network), MTHC (Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition), Youthline, and the GLBT Host Home program; all underfunded programs serving predominately queer and trans folks of color, that wrote letters that started a media campaign that incited artists and activists all over the world to demand her release, that pushed her legal team and connected with and visited CeCe. Not Lavender, not OutFront, not RHI (Rainbow Health Initiative), or PFund, PHS (Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota); not one issued a press release from these agencies in support of CeCe or charging the system with failure.

There is no doubt the criminal justice system needs to change. The system is built in patriarchy, on the foundation of racism and white supremacy. It works very well for the white male who conforms to it. Chelsea Manning therefore falls outside of the system not made for women, poor folks, and people of color. There is also no doubt that the larger LGBT community has to change. We must pull together, centering the most marginalized among us: trans, queer, and GNC (gender non-conforming) people of color.

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