When Kris Hayashi was executive director of the Audre Lorde Project in New York City, a community organizing center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, Two Spirit, trans, and gender-nonconforming people of color, the organization launched one of the first advocacy projects in the country of its kind, the annual NYC Trans Day of Action, now in its 11th year. During Hayashi’s tenure, the organization also won a campaign to get the city’s welfare agency to adopt policies developed by the community on serving trans and gender nonconforming people. 

Hayashi, now the executive director of the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, has been an organizer and an activist for about 20 years. He wants to acknowledge the gains made, while finding ways to make more progress in the face of intense violence and discrimination. 

Hayashi’s seen a lot of changes, some good and some terrible, particularly in the last few years. 

Let’s start with the good. The gains include a case that the Transgender Law Center was involved in that resulted in protection from employment discrimination. In recent years, there have been cases affirming the rights of transgender students. And California is one of the first states to pass laws protecting health insurance for transgender people. Transgender people are also more prominent in pop culture—no small thing. 

“There have been wins at the legal and policy level as well as an increase in visibility,” Hayashi said. “Laverne Cox and Janet Mock have written books that are on the bestsellers list.”

Although there are more protections in terms of law and policy, discrimination, and harassment against transgender people remain at horrifying levels. 

“The majority of trans people in this country are still struggling to survive on a daily basis,” Hayashi said. “They have four times the poverty, and 80 percent experience harassment. In K-12 schools, one sixth of the students are pushed out of school because of it.”

At Uncharted, The Berkeley Festival of Ideas this weekend, Hayashi will be talking with John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, about what gains have been made and how to keep making progress in such a repressive environment. 

“Ever since Trump was elected, it’s very clear there’s a relentless and strategic attempt to roll back the few rights and protections we have,” Hayashi said. “One of the first things Trump did was roll out the ban on transgender people in the military. Then one of the banned words at the Centers for Disease Control included ‘transgender.’ Transgender immigrants fleeing violence continue to face violence here. About one out of 500 detainees is transgender, but about one in five assaults are on trans people.”

Transgender leaders are organizing and fighting, Hayashi says. They’re not doing it alone. 

“We’ve been in this moment of being under intense attack, and we have powerful leaders and communities resisting,” he said. “We also have allies and people not part of the community who want to support us. We were flooded after Trump was elected with people who wanted to volunteer. I do have a lot of hope and see a lot of possibilities, and with our allies, we’re going to push back and resist and do whatever we can.”

Fri/5, 2pm
Roda Theatre, Berkeley Rep
Tickets and more info here