Transgender activism has long history in Berkeley, continued presence through resources for trans people

Berkeley Free Clinic
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Transphobia is not a new phenomenon, and thus, neither is transgender activism.

Berkeley and the Bay Area as a whole have served as a nexus of much advocacy, which has often included LGBTQ+ rights.

“There is a long tradition of trans activism in and around Berkeley,” said Eric Stanley, assistant professor of gender and women’s studies at UC Berkeley, in an email.

Transgender people have fought issues that continue to be present today, such as the medicalization of their bodies, the lack of insurance coverage for gender confirmation procedures and anti-prostitution laws, which were often levied against trans people.

According to the digital archive compiled by UC Berkeley English professor Scott Saul and some of his students, records of this activism can be traced back to the 1970s in many transgender publications and in the underground newspaper Berkeley Barb.

While Berkeley Barb was not specifically a transgender-focused publication, it was considered the most trans-friendly in the Bay Area and had a number of transgender contributors. This allowed local trans people to find each other and advertise services including, but not exclusively, sex work.

Yet the people included in publications such as Berkeley Barb were most often white and middle class, as transgender people of color typically did not have the same support or economic resources.

According to Saul’s archive, transgender women also faced marginalization from the feminist movement, which trans-exclusionary radical feminists dominated, viewing trans women as a threat to the movement.

Stanley said the 2013 protests resulting from the death of Kayla Moore, a Black trans woman, in police custody are an example of a recent occurrence of transgender activism.

“Disability justice, anti-policing, and Black trans liberation politics are all coming together demanding justice,” Stanley said in the email. “This kind of radical intersectional organizing is what we need to transform the world.”

Seven years after Moore’s death, activists from groups such as Justice 4 Kayla Moore and Berkeley Copwatch continue to demonstrate and advocate legally for her and her family.

Another organization participating in transgender advocacy is the Pacific Center for Human Growth.

As the oldest LGBTQ+ center in the Bay Area, the Pacific Center has continued to be a major resource for transgender people since its founding in 1973. Along with offering mental health and wellness services through its sliding scale clinic, the center also provides support groups for LGBTQ+ community members and their families.

The support groups for transgender people include the Feminine-of-Center Middle-Eastern Queer Womyn and Trans Group, Partners of Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Folk, FTM Transmasculine Support Group, Transgender Support Group, Grupo de Apoyo Fenix in Oakland for trans-masculine Spanish speakers, Trans Tweens for ages 9-12 and Parents and Caregivers of Trans Tweens.

The Berkeley Free Clinic also offers support for members of the transgender community.

Through its Transgender Health Collective, the clinic offers trans-staffed, gender-affirming care. The collective functions as a mutual aid group, allowing for free and accessible care with a community model.

During the shelter-in-place, the Berkeley Free Clinic continues to offer sexually transmitted infection screenings and treatment for cisgender men and transgender clients. The screenings and treatments are free and can be arranged by phone.

Stanley is continuing to look to the future of transgender advocacy in their newest research project.

“I’m interested in how the Bay area uses its reputation as ‘LGBT friendly’ while, at the same time, ensuring the material conditions of many BIPOC trans people are unlivable,” Stanley said in the email. “Here I’m thinking about the twining processes of gentrification and policing that are directed toward Black and brown trans women, in particular.”

Contact Claire Daly at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @DalyClaire13.