A Discussion on Trans Activism

On September 27 of last year, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announced a new initiative to “significantly expand its work dedicated to justice for the transgender community.” According to the announcement, the goals of the new initiative will be to promote the economic empowerment, leadership, safety, and the general public’s awareness of transgender people. Sybastian Smith and Gabrielle Claiborne are both involved in parts of the initiative.

Smith (he/him) is a nurse, and in the words of Madeline Roberts of HRC, a “fierce advocate for all trans folks, particularly trans masculine individuals.” He is currently involved in HRC’s public service announcement (PSA) campaign, “See Each Other. Save Trans Lives.” Smith is also an HRC ACTIVATE fellow.

Claiborne (she/her) is the author of Embrace Your Truth and co-founder of Transformation Journeys Worldwide, through which she does transgender inclusion trainings with a wide variety of corporations in numerous industries.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

To begin with, could you tell our readers about your backgrounds and activist work?

Smith: I am an HRC ACTIVATE fellow of the 2020 class, which is where my work with them began, with leadership training and getting out there to do activist/social justice work.

The last particular workshop I did was here in Atlanta focusing on stronger intercommunity relationships so we can show a more unified front in social justice movements. It’s about being more unified in our community, so we can be stronger outside our community.

For me, the most important takeaway from the workshop was [the importance of] learning to communicate with each other better, and that means better understanding of our individual experience so we can, although we have many differences, find commonality.


Claiborne: I am the co-founder of Transformation Journeys Worldwide, an inclusion training and consulting firm with a transgender focus. We help a variety of organizations — with the corporate sector being our bread and butter — transform their environments to be more inclusive of trans and nonbinary culture.

Pre-pandemic, we were traveling all over the country in order to work with various organizations. Now, we have shifted everything to online to where we are delivering our services through online platforms.

We have a pretty robust service offering, because we recognize we need to reach our clients where they are. In terms of transgender, nonbinary workplace inclusion, our clients are all over the spectrum when it comes to creating that inclusive workplace culture.


[To Smith:] Could you talk about your background as a nurse, and particularly what it means to be a nurse today, [during the COVID-19 pandemic] and a transgender nurse?

Smith: Being a nurse today, particularly in COVID times, it has been a test. It’s been difficult to get in here and stay in it. It’s been hard not to be worried about myself, my family, and what has been going on while I’ve been taking care of other folks. So, it really has been a test for my career and what I really want to do.

Speaking as a transgender medical professional, I feel like it’s so important that we are in these positions that are affecting our lifestyle. It’s important to have trans folks in the clinic, in the doctor’s office, and that’s been my motivation to work in clinics that are servicing LGBTQ folks so that when people come in, they can see a familiar face. Having a trans person on staff who can advocate for [trans patients] really does help.


[To Claiborne:] What are some of the specifics of your organization’s work?

Claiborne: Recognizing the importance of meeting our clients where they are, a lot of our clients start at a one-on-one level. So, we have one-on-one interactions about how to be respectful, where we talk about the importance of language, transition, and share personal stories.

Our audiences are predominately cisgender audiences, so when we are sharing experiences that are unfamiliar to them, the personal story really helps make that connection, and to have compassion. So, we really try to have that personal story in there, and then we lead audiences with a call to action around how to be respectful, how to interact respectfully with the trans, nonbinary community.

Beyond that one-on-one, which is more of a personal competency track, we look at the organizational track, which is policies [and] very focused trainings for [parts of the workplace] like HR and IT, making sure that they do all the things they can do organizationally to create that inclusive workplace culture.

Most organizations want to do the right thing, they just don’t know how to start the conversations. So, that’s when they come to organizations like [Transforming Journeys.]