Since becoming an activist 19 years ago, I have been advocating that more transgender and non-conforming individuals be open about their experiences. This lack of openness has put us 10 years behind the LGB community when it comes to civil rights. We need to be able to live our lives as authentically as we can without being ashamed of who we are.

Now, more than ever, the transgender community is at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Opponents of equality have been going after us relentlessly, putting forth all these bathroom bills claiming that we are predators and that we are going to harass their wives and daughters. We all know that this is not true; we have been using the restrooms and locker rooms for forever, without problem. This fear is out of ignorance. This is why we need to come out more and speak up; as the LGB community came out, they were eventually accepted by some of the straight community.

A BuzzFeed article recently described fractures within the TLGB community, with some advocating that bills for civil rights should not include public accommodations, just employment and housing protections. They said they’d eventually come back to add these public accommodations. We all know this incremental approach will not work. We need a comprehensive law. People advocating for this approach are throwing the transgender community under the bus. We cannot let this happen.

The transgender community needs to go to their representatives and senators in Lansing to advocate and educate on why we need protections for employment, housing, and accommodations. We need to write letters to the editors and other media outlets to let them and their audiences know how important this is. We need to speak up for ourselves and not let the LGB community speak for us.

Don’t get me wrong, we still need LGB organizations to work with us. I highly recommend the ACLU’s transgender advocacy program, which is taught by Amy Hunter. I urge people to sign up for it. I went through this program, and it helped me gain confidence in dealing with the media and taught me how to lobby.

For those of you who do identify as transgender, while I encourage you to come out and tell your story if you can, be safe about it. Don’t put your life in jeopardy, and take care of yourself first.