Four Transgender Heroes

Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Foundation has named four transgender women who should be declared International Heroes for Women's History Month.

Just as we can’t limit the celebration of women across the world to just a single day, we can’t limit the great potential of women to boxes. Today, we do more than just celebrate the great women trailblazers who fulfilled roles historically dominated by men. Today, we also celebrate the women who created their own roles and bettered life for their own communities from the inside out.

--Nicolas Seip for True Colors

 photo Bemz2_zpszpvpbzsw.jpgBemz Benedito comes from the Philippines.

In the early 2000s, Bemz Benedito was a grad student and researcher involved with indigenous peoples’ rights and mining advocacies, when she was sexually harassed and assaulted at her place of work. This moment inspired her to pour her energy into protecting other LGBT Filipinos from discrimination and empowering them to make their voices heard.

I am not the best and there are others who are doing longer and better than I do, but be it remembered that here was a transgender woman who worked hard in her little ways to represent the LGBT community as one sector fighting for equal rights.

We don’t need to be a victim in order to know and assert our rights.


Bemz views representation in government as a key priority to ensure that LGBT Filipinos are heard, protected, and respected. Bemz is the chairperson for Ladlad Partylist, the only LGBT political party in the Philippines, which advocates for policies to protect elderly, homeless, and impoverished LGBT Filipinos and secure nondiscrimination laws in the country. In 2009, Ladlad’s petition to run in the 2010 elections was denied by the Philippines Commission on Elections on grounds of “immorality.” Under Bemz’s leadership, Ladlad successfully appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the Commission on Elections’ decision – winning the LGBT party the right to run for Congress. While Ladlad didn’t win a seat, claiming the right to participate was an unprecedented victory in itself. Today, Bemz continues to lead Ladlad and further LGBT representation in the Philippines.

 photo lohana_zpsj7xz9zy3.jpgLohana Berkins made her mark in Argentina.

I am convinced that the drive for change is love. The love that was denied to us is what moves us to change the world.


Today, we celebrate the legacy and remember the memory of Lohana Berkins, an Argentinian activist whose work can only be described as “revolutionary.” Lohana’s life of service to transgender Argentinians helped shape the world’s most progressive gender law, which enables people to change their name and sex on government documents without first getting approval from a doctor or judge. Today, the country sets an example for the rest of the world. However, Lohana also described an experience shared by many transgender women in Argentina – an experience she herself lived. “When she is 13 years old, the travesti (transgender woman) is pushed out of home and into prostitution, living in hotels in miserable conditions… exploited by adults, traded by them.” To help transgender women like her pull themselves out of such poverty and abuse, Lohana founded the Asociación de Lucha por la Identidad Travesti y Transexual, which advocates for transgender rights in Argentina. A year later, she created the Cooperativa Textil Echazú Nadia, Argentina’s first cooperative school for transgender people, providing training, education, and job opportunities for transgender Argentinians.

Lohana was a guiding force in the Argentinian Gender Identity Law, which was approved unanimously by the National Congress in 2012 and is viewed internationally as the world’s most expansive and liberating law regarding gender identity. By eliminating barriers to change important legal documents so that they reflect an individuals true gender, Argentina’s Gender Identity Law honors transgender folks’ right to be the experts of their own identity.

Lohana unfortunately died in early February after a lengthy illness.

Dearest Comrades: my health is grave and it doesn’t allow me to meet you in person. That’s why I want to thank all of you for your love and support and send you these words through our comrade Marlene Wayar to whom I also leave my mission.

Many are our accomplishments over the years. This is the time to resist, to continue fighting. The revolution’s time is right now, because we will not be going back to prison.

I am convinced that the drive for change is love. The love that was denied to us is what moves us to change the world.

All the beatings that I took and all the neglect that I suffered, they do not compare to the endless love that surrounds me in these moments. Travesti Rage Always. Hugs.

--Lohana Berkins

 photo liesl-theron-768x623_zpshqqndpb7.jpgLiesl Theron lives and works in South Africa.

It’s really something, having all of those rights on paper, but in daily life, real people are still experiencing problems in accessing medical care and in living their lives as Transpeople.


In 2005, Liesl Theron co-founded Gender DynamiX, South Africa’s first human rights organization focusing on the needs of transgender people. Through community mobilization, media engagement, public education, research, and training, Gender DynamiX “undertakes to advance, promote and defend the rights of trans and gender nonconforming persons in South Africa, Africa and globally.” In 2010, Gender DynamiX partnered with two other African LGBT organizations to launch “Transitioning Africa”: an program that aims to strengthen work to better transgender lives all across Africa by building a strong network of transgender-serving organizations. The program has facilitated collaboration between activists and organizations from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, and Uganda.

The work of Liesl and other South African activists has had far reaching success. In 2011, at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, the South African delegation introduced the first-ever UN resolution on the human rights of LGBT persons. The resolution was adopted and set an international standard on LGBT nondiscrimination.

 photo Cecilia-chung-768x513_zpsfer7hkbq.jpgLast, but certainly not least, is Hong Kong native Cecilia Chung, who now lives in San Francisco.

I’ll tell you what my definition of transgender is – it means transcending gender. That means that there’s no limits to who we can be. Not by what our genitalia dictates. Not by what society dictates. Not by what our parents said I should be, and how I should behave.

Chung came to this country with her family when she was 19.

From her leading research with San Francisco’s Transgender Discrimination Taskforce to her production of Trans March (one of the world’s largest annual transgender events), Cecilia’s work has informed policies that protect LGBT people from violence and discrimination and inspired activists in cities across the country. In 2005, she became the first Deputy Director of the Transgender Law Center, helping to shape its mission to “change law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression.” Cecilia is the first transgender women to become a San Francisco health commissioner, taking the opportunity to provide valuable training to Department of Public Health staff members around transgender health issues. Cecilia is the lead architect of the United States’ most ambitious publicly funded program addressing economic justice within the transgender community and led the efforts that made San Francisco the first and only city in the country to pay for transition-related medical care for the uninsured.

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Steven D's picture

I’ll tell you what my definition of transgender is – it means transcending gender. That means that there’s no limits to who we can be.

Thanks Robyn

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"You can't just leave those who created the problem in charge of the solution."---Tyree Scott

SnappleBC's picture

That line particularly struck me. As a computer scientist I've always been fascinated by virtual worlds and particularly fascinated by the gender-bending that goes on there. On the surface, depending on your outlook, it's somewhere between perverse and "some good clean experimentation". But when you dig deeper there's fascinating things that you can observe if you sit back and look objectively. In my own case I learned that my sexual orientation is, apparently "straight" independent of my current gender. My male characters flirted with female characters. My female characters eyed the boys. In real life (as a male), it's girl curves that catch my eye and I'm very happily married to a female. It does make me wonder, though, if I could take some sort of magic pill and become female in real life would I start eyeing the men? I'm guessing probably so.

I think that our society's framing of gender is woefully inadequate to the actual complexity of human sexuality and human relationships. I think it could use a thorough transcending Smile

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A lot of wanderers in the U.S. political desert recognize that all the duopoly has to offer is a choice of mirages. Come, let us trudge towards empty expanse of sand #1, littered with the bleached bones of Deaniacs and Hope and Changers.
-- lotlizard

So glad to see you here, Robyn. Yours is one of the voices I would have missed most from TOP. Glad I won't have to miss it.

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