Raising Maine’s minimum wage is a trans justice issue
“So you must be happy whole about the Caitlyn Jenner thing, right?” It’s a question many of my cisgender* friends have asked me since Caitlyn Jenner “came out” on the cover of Vanity Fair in June. Jenner’s newfound fame as a trans activist is one of many examples of the growing visibility and awareness of transgender* people in popular culture. Along with actresses and writers such as Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, and shows such as Amazon’s Transparent, Jenner signifies a rapid change in media representation of trans people and trans bodies.
And yet, as a transgender woman, I’m not overwhelmed with excitement. Although the Jenner story has guaranteed that anyone who pays attention to pop culture in this country is now aware that trans people exist, the picture of life as a trans person presented in the media coverage surrounding Jenner is largely disconnected from the reality of average trans people’s lives.
That reality is far more dire than it is portrayed on TV.
In the recently completed Maine Transgender Economic Survey (METES), trans people were asked questions regarding income sources and resource security. That is: who pays us, and are we able to meet our basic needs, like food, shelter, transportation, health care? A mere 32% of the 118 respondents reported that they could consistently meet those basic needs. This means that roughly two out of three transgender people in Maine are unable to financially meet their basic needs. One in four report never being able to meet those needs. They lack adequate housing. Some must choose between eating and accessing health care. And many lack the transportation necessary to get them to a job that could improve their conditions, especially for those in rural areas.
The METES revealed a startling truth about trans lives in Maine: to be transgender is not only a personal and social identity–it is an economic condition.
It’s imperative to understand that these statistics aren’t from some abstract data set. They represent real people in our communities. Population estimates of Maine’s trans community range from about four to twelve thousand individuals. And we come from all parts. We’re your kid’s teachers. We’re your doctors and nurses. We’re factory workers and millwrights. We’re the homeless person you just walked by. And most importantly, we’re somebody’s loved one. Truly, we are everywhere.
And there is hope for our community One of the basic tenets of the trans justice movement is that, often, the policy issues that will most help our community are not unique to our community. 37% of Maine’s trans community work a job at or below $12/hr and would receive a direct wage increase as a result of the proposed citizens’ initiative to raise the minimum wage championed by Mainers for Fair Wages. An additional 15% work a low wage job above $12/hr, but within a bracket that is likely to benefit from the upward push on the labor market stemming from a minimum wage increase. That means 51%–about one in two trans people in Maine–stand to get a raise as a result of this one policy. If we consider only those trans people who are never able to meet their basic needs, that goes up to three in five.
Raising the minimum wage is a trans justice issue. In fact, it is likely the single policy change that would have the greatest positive effect, in terms of general well being, for Maine’s trans community, which is why over 88% of trans people in Maine support raising the wage.
We’re ready for this change. We need this change. The trans community will stand in solidarity with our fellow Mainers in this work. Will you stand with us?
*cisgender: an adjective describing someone whose gender identity matches the one they were assigned at birth
*transgender: A term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth
Photo via Flickr/torbakhopper.
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