June 5, 2017

Agents of Change: Kris Hayashi

Leading the charge for transgender rights

By OMCA Staff

Kris Hayashi is the executive director of the Transgender Law Center, a national organization headquartered in Oakland. OMCA spoke to him in 2016 about the current state of affairs for transgender people in California is, and what changes are still needed.

Are attitudes toward the transgender community changing in California?

Definitely. Twenty years ago, when I was first starting to understand myself as a transgender person, it was a vastly different place than it is today. Even in the past year or two, we’ve seen an incredible increase in the visibility of transgender and gender-nonconforming people, particularly in popular culture: Laverne Cox on the cover of Time magazine, Janet Mock on the best-seller list, Caitlyn Jenner coming out. Five years ago, that would not have seemed possible. But the majority of transgender people are still really struggling with unemployment, homelessness, poverty, and high rates of violence.

What role do public institutions like OMCA have in advancing the movement?

Public institutions play a huge role in increasing public understanding of the trans community and the wide range of issues and injustices it faces. They play a key role in educating Californians about who really lives here. Public institutions advance public understanding in critical ways.

How can California push for further change?

It’s important to remember that while there has been a tremendous increase in visibility in the media, transgender people have been part of California forever, particularly in the Bay Area and in L.A., where we’ve had an incredible movement. Remember, this was the site of Compton’s Cafeteria rebellion, a historic moment of resistance. We’ve had transgender leaders throughout California for decades advocating for justice. But there’s still much to do as far as increasing the public understanding of transgender people—we go to school, we have families—as well as understanding the injustices and struggles people face.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Inside Out, the Oakland Museum of California's Member magazine.