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Media Watch Exclusive: Transgender Social Workers Weigh in on Caitlyn Jenner debut in Vanity Fair

Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair.

Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair.

The Olympic gold medal decathlon winner formerly known as Bruce Jenner on Monday unveiled her new identity as transgender woman Caitlyn Jenner in a Vanity Fair magazine cover shot and photo spread.

Jenner’s transition has been documented in the news and comes as the media is paying more attention to people who are transgender, including Orange is the New Black actress and activist Laverne Cox, activist Janet Mock, and Army Sgt. Shane Ortega.

Could the media’s attention change public perceptions toward people who are transgender, who continue to suffer from discrimination and violence and according to a recent National Association of Social Workers-backed study are more likely to live in poverty? asked two social workers who are transgender to weigh in. Here are their responses:

Eli Strong

Eli Strong

Eli Strong, MSW

 Seeing representations of trans people in the media can be of some help to having the trans experience more visible, but it didn’t stop the murders of nine trans women this year (eight trans women of color) or the eight or more suicides of trans youth this year. We are in the middle of an epidemic of trans violence and death and something more has to be done. I LOVE Janet Mock, Laverne Cox and other outspoken trans activists, but right now we need more than just those people. We need legislation that guarantees employment protections, health insurance and hate crimes protection…but even that isn’t enough. Legislation alone can’t save us. We need cis (cisgender or non-transgender people) people to stop killing trans people. We need cis people to stop bullying trans people into committing suicide. We need to join trans and cis people together, black, brown and white people together, men and women together, to break down the systems of oppression that serves and uplifts the status quo and further oppresses, marginalizes and murders those that don’t fit within it.

Strong is an avid University of Alabama “Bama” football fan, speaker, writer, activist, and host of The Strong Stance on the Back2Us Radio  “Network. He was featured in the 2012 National Geographic documentary “American Transgender,” which followed the daily lives of three trans people. Eli is the former facilitator for the DC Area Transmasculine Society and is currently a member of the Community Advisory Board for America In Transition. He lives in Washington, Ga. with his wife.

Zander Keig

Zander Keig

Zander Keig, LCSW, MS

The increased media exposure of transgender people, for example data illustrating economic disparity and violence specifically impacting transgender women of color and recent medical, legal and social advancements primarily highlighting transgender women, is encouraging. I hope the trend of showcasing specific transgender experiences continues and that stories of less visible members of the transgender community (i.e. trans men of color and other transgender individuals assigned female at birth who are now identifying and living as men), who are contributing to the advancement of the transgender community, becomes more commonplace.

Keig serves on the NASW National Committee for LGBT Issues and NASW California Chapter Diversity Committee. In addition, he serves on the California Mental Health America Reducing Disparities Transgender Advisory Group and the Veterans Affairs National Transgender Education Workgroup. Keig is co-editor of the 2011 Lambda Literary Transgender Non-fiction Finalist “Letters for My Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect” (Wilgefortis, 2011); co-editor of the 2015 Lambda Literary Transgender Nonfiction Nominee “Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family & Themselves” (Transgress Press, 2014);  and is featured in the 2014 award-winning illustrated documentary “Zanderology,” which goes beyond telling people it gets better by showing them  how one person transformed their life in nearly every way possible.

The National Association of Social Workers is committed to equal treatment for all, including members of the LGBT community. To learn more visit NASW’s Diversity and Equity website. And to meet NASW members who are experts on LGBT issues check out NASW’s 1,000 Experts LGBT Pride Month Special.

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  1. Transgender- An offensive and inaccurate umbrella term synonymous with outdated transvestite thinking promoted by LGBT activist that supposedly includes all gender non-conforming people from crossdressers- transsexuals. Because of its grouping nature and exclusive association with the gay community its use and promotion should be viewed as being sex discriminatory and as of supporting illegal human experimentation.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Could you please suggest the terminology that should be used?

    Greg Wright
    NASW Public Relations Manager

  3. I’m grateful for the publicity given to Catlin Jenner, just very sorry for the many on the sexual continuum who cannot afford the wonderful doctors, make up artists and assistants that Vantiy Fair and Catlin have access to.

    It would be wonderful if Vanity Fair or another major fashion magazine chose the contiuum of sexual identities, gave their models a photo shoot, dressing them as they love to present themselves with sensitive costumers and photo makeup, This presentation to the public would be, as far as I am concerned, exiting and educational. Bios of the individuals would give an article credibility and personality. How educational would that be for the general public..

    So, let’s hope Catlin and Vantiy Fair are just the beginning.

  4. Greg Wright Unlike LGBT language the Americans With Disabilities Act uses Homosexual, Bisexual, Transsexual, and Transvestite without lumping them together into a singular acronym and clearly states none are handicapped. LGBT research undermines that because it has been tailored towards the most dysfunctional and LGBT activist. Transgender research is a joke its like saying every TV and TS and all other groups lumped under it are the same thing or face the same oppression. If anything “Transgender” represents its own form of conversion therapy and sex discrimination because of its “Umbrella term” status and association with the “gay community.” Its really shameful stuff that a professional organization would have ever adopted its usage especially how shoddy the research behind its use has been!!!!!

  5. Lisa, thanks so much for taking the time to explain your position. Greg Wright

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