LGBT-U Apprentice Q&A: Rebecca Kling in Washington, D.C.By Megan Clayton • August 26, 2016 • 11:32 am
In 2015, Freedom for All Americans launched a new program designed to strengthen the movement to win non-discrimination protections for all LGBT Americans—LGBT University, an ambitious training and development program for the next wave of campaign leaders. The first cohort, comprising 16 apprentices from all across the country, is nearly done with the year-long training, which kicked off last fall in Phoenix, Arizona. Training sessions included informational overviews about every facet of running public education and political campaigns, including fundraising, field, communications, strategy, and more.
Now that our apprentices have graduated, they’re getting a chance to deploy what they’ve learned during a very critical time for LGBT rights, especially transgender rights. This year, state legislatures across the country have introduced a record number of anti-LGBT bills, many of them targeting transgender people. But our LGBT-U grads are ready to use the tools they developed at LGBT-U to defeat discriminatory legislation and advance LGBT non-discrimination nationwide.
As our nation increasingly grows in their understanding of transgender Americans and the need for non-discrimination protections, we spoke with Rebecca Kling, a transgender rights activist who currently works for the National Center for Transgender Equality. We asked why she wanted to get involved with LGBT-U, what she hopes to get out of it, and why it’s important for the nation to move forward on full protections for LGBT people.
Were you involved in the LGBT organizing space before joining LGBT University?
Before coming to LGBT-U I toured the country using art to educate people at colleges, campuses and theater festivals about transgender identity. I performed solo pieces in colleges and universities, and in theater festivals and conferences.. I would do a workshop about being an ally or trans issues in health care, and then in the evening I would do solo performances with storytelling and personal narrative. I would discuss my own experiences and my own journey – about how I have been fired for being transgender, or about surgery, or about family, and then diving into some of those questions from an artistic lens.
I also volunteered with, and then co-directed, The Trans 100, a list sponsored by GLAAD that features 100 leaders and advocates in the trans community.
Can you tell me more about the employment discrimination you faced? Was that a catalyst of sorts for your involvement in the movement for LGBT non-discrimination?
In 2010 I was teaching a once-a-week theater workshop in the suburbs of Chicago. I taught the workshop for the first time, it went well, and I later got a phone call saying that my presence in the classroom was bringing up “uncomfortable conversation.” The organizers said that they wanted a different teacher to move forward with the workshop – and I knew that the “uncomfortable conversation” was the fact that I am transgender.
This was a concrete example of someone very specifically saying to me, “You are not qualified for this because you are trans.” And that sucked. It was awful and was damaging – but it was also an opportunity to take a step back and talk about how I can use that experience to fuel work to make change.
Why did you apply to join the LGBT-U program?
I was excited about having the ability to network with other community leaders and activists, as well as to gain tools to further the fight for equality. The non-discrimination focus and the get-out-the-vote ideas and the campaigning efforts were not things I had experience with.
I wanted to see how could I move beyond telling my own story to elevating the voices of others and work in the broader movement to make sure there was full legal equality. I wanted to step out of the work I was doing and connect with a broader advocacy and activist community.
Why do you think it’s important to fight for LGBT non-discrimination protections nationwide?
I think there’s the obvious practical issue – LGBT people and trans people in particular are discriminated against by much higher rates, so we need protections to have stable health care and employment and other stuff.
We also have a moral imperative to fight against discrimination, whether or not it directly impacts us. There’s a moral responsibility to follow this “All for One,” that we’re in this together, and I think that is really powerful. We need to fight this fight together.
What is one thing you have gotten out of LGBT-U so far, and what are you looking forward to continuing this fall?
It’s been really wonderful meeting people from all across the country and seeing the different backgrounds all together. Those continued connections will be really important.
The discussion around messaging and the way that LGBT-U talks about nondiscrimination has been very helpful in training spokespeople and advancing this issue. I am really looking forward to learning how to respond to lies and falsehoods around LGBT rights.