How HRC’s Tori Cooper Advocated for Trans People in 2021
Author: Trudy Ring
Describing the situation of transgender people in 2021, Tori Cooper invokes a line from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
There is currently unprecedented visibility of trans people and, in some corners, unprecedented acceptance. But the violence against the community remains at epidemic proportions — violent deaths of trans Americans this year may exceed 2020’s record total — and more anti-trans legislation than ever has been introduced at the state level.
“The irony of that is absolutely astounding,” says Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative. Having been brought in to lead the initiative when it was created at the beginning of 2020, she’s working to better the lives of trans people through a variety of means.
One of the initiative’s priorities is public safety through enforcement of hate-crime laws and other measures, and so is educating nontrans people about trans identity. Economic empowerment is another, with the TJI holding job fairs for trans people in locales across the nation. And so is legislation, as Cooper notes the importance of passing the Equality Act, the sweeping LGBTQ+ rights bill currently pending in Congress.
“It’s important to understand that all of those things work hand in hand,” Cooper says.
It’s likewise important to recognize how race and class affect trans Americans. “It is impossible to erase race from the conversations when we talk about marginalized folks, including trans folks,” she says. Trans people have fewer opportunities for education and employment, and therefore higher rates of poverty, than their cisgender counterparts — and the situation is even more dire for trans people of color. And many of those who do find employment work in service industries, where the pay is often low, and which have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. “All of these things lead to worse outcomes,” Cooper says.
Trans women of color also have disproportionately high HIV rates, something Cooper blames on lack of access to health care along with the myriad other difficulties this demographic faces. She has been involved in HIV services for decades, and she’s continuing to confront the crisis as a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. She is the first Black trans woman on the council, which she joined in August.
Cooper says she’s enjoyed more privilege in her life than many other trans women of color; she has experience in both nonprofits and corporate America, and she’s working on a master’s degree. “I decided to use my privilege” for activism, she says. “I did it simply because it was the right thing to do.”
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2021 People of the Year issue, which is out on newsstands November 23, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.
Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Trudy Ring