Tobi Hill-Meyer on Trans Organizing in the LGBT Movement

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tobi Hill-Meyer, delivering the keynote at the Trans Justice Summit in OR. 
November is Transgender Awareness Month. As the month wraps up, Strong Families is taking this opportunity to highlight and celebrate the work of Basic Rights Oregon to support and celebrate transgender leaders.

On a rainy November afternoon, more than 55 trans activists and leaders from across Oregon attended the third annual Trans Justice Summit. The Summit was part of the Basic Rights Oregon’s Trans Justice Program, and is a space intentionally created to build the skills of trans folks who have often been pushed out of the LGB movement.

Tobi Hill-Meyer, a former Oregonian who now calls Seattle home, was the keynote speaker. She is an activist, writer, and filmmaker, her most recent work is Doing It Again. Strong Families had a chance to catch up after the summit to talk about her reflections on the work, the state of the movement, and challenges ahead.

What did you want folks attending to take away from your keynote?

Tobi: The main things I wanted them to take away is a sense of how to create a movement and community that is strong, capable and can take care of each other—while still being able to get the work done!

What do you think of the current priorities of the LGBT movement?

Tobi: Well, it’s no secret that I am worried about us becoming a single issue movement. Marriage is clearly the issue that’s taking priority right now, and I think that marriage is not a unifying issue in the trans community. Marriage is not the problem per say, but a single issue focus that ignores other important issues is the problem.

Not only is it a contentious issue in the trans community, but the way the politics have played out in the LGBT movement are also problematic. Trans folks have often been told to wait their turn. But somehow it never seems to be the trans community’s turn? For example, Massachusetts and New York both cut gender identity from non-discrimination bills in the early 2000’s, and then went on to deal with marriage without “coming back” for trans folks.

As a trans organizer, I believe that when LGBT orgs lose the ability to speak for trans issues, it’s a loss for all of us, not just the trans community. LGBT organizations often try to fit trans issues in, but it is not the focus of their work. For example, some LGBT organizations have taken on employment non-discrimination. It's an important issue, but often it's prioritized because it also impacts non-trans gays and lesbians and they aren't aware of or don't seem to care about other priorities within the trans community like health care, police profiling or prisoner rights. 

Participants at the Trans Justice Summit
How do you think that we should handle disagreement in the LGBT community? Building on that, how do we foster and build greater accountability?

Tobi: I’m really interested in some of the dynamics within the LGBT community about how we handle disagreement and hurtful behavior. I've seen too many instances of where someone does something—puts out something that is unintentionally racist, is part of some kind of violence—and the community response is to ostracize them.

Now I’m not saying that we should tolerate racism or violence or anything that is hurtful and dangerous to folks in our community. But how do we avoid blacklisting? It doesn't help the community—it just isolates and shuts folks down. We need build a culture of loving accountability that holds people in our communities responsible for actions that might be hurtful and also recognizes that people can grow, evolve and change.

What was it like to be back in Oregon and back at Basic Rights?

Tobi: It was really nice to be in that space, it’s great working with folks I have more of a history with. I grew up in Oregon and worked with Basic Rights for almost a decade before moving to Seattle.

Ten years ago I was one of the complainers that sometimes people didn't want to hear from. But almost all of the things I used to criticize BRO for have shifted – they have done a lot of work. There’s a tangible difference between LGBT organizations and Trans groups. But I've seen BRO shift enough that they are a Trans organization too – and they are pretty much one of the only groups I can say that of.

Tobi Hill-Meyer is a multiracial trans activist, writer, and filmmaker with over a decade experience working with feminist and LGBTQ organizations on a local, state, and federal level, having served on several boards and offering support as a strategic consultant. She is the director of Doing It Ourselves, and winner of the Emerging Filmmaker Award at the 2010 Feminist Porn Awards. Find out more at

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