To mark the end of Transgender Awareness Week, LGBTQ @ Venable hosted Geena Rocero, a transgender fashion model, producer, and activist, at the Diversity and Inclusion reception in Venable's New York office. Nora Garrote, chair of the Diversity Committee, welcomed a packed audience and reminded them that "diversity and inclusion are not the domain of the few, or only for the benefit of some, but involve each one of us every day." Geena explored this theme as she recounted her own journey to self-acceptance and the risk she took coming out as trans in a TED talk that has been viewed nearly 4 million times and translated into 32 languages.
Born a male in the Philippines, Geena said she knew from the age of five that she was a girl. As an adult pursuing a modeling career in the United States, Geena said she had to keep her trans identity hidden – even from her own agent. "When (trans) people got outed their careers disappeared," she explained, and so she lived with the "nagging paranoia" that at any moment she would be found out and her career would be over. The turmoil of living this lie eventually led to extreme eczema – the stress was literally breaking her down – and so she decided to out herself in the most public platform possible – a TED talk.
Since then, she has been invited to speak at the United Nations and the White House, founded her own production company, Gender Proud, has worked on trans issues with the Obama administration, and spoke at the steps of the Supreme Court in October when the Court heard arguments on sex-based protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. She cautioned, however, that her experience as a successful trans woman is not typical – her community continues to struggle in the margins, experiencing severe employment discrimination and violence. She noted that, in the past 12 months alone, 22 trans people were murdered, the majority of whom were people of color, adding the sobering statistic that a transwoman of color has a life expectancy of just 35 years.
Geena concluded by encouraging the attendees to keep the dialog going, adding that the best way to advocate for the trans community is to support the work of local organizations. "An ally is a verb, not a noun," she said.