Transgender Equality: Amy Hunter's Full Time Job

by Crystal A. Proxmire

The past few years have been a whirlwind for Amy Hunter, a transgender activist from Kalamazoo who has just been named Co-Chair of the Victory Fund Campaign Endorsement Committee. Having a top position on a committee that helps support out candidates in races across the country is a big step for the 52 year old. Hunter transitioned seven years ago, but it is only one of many exciting things she's been up to since making the big change in her life.

Hunter explained how the transition not only changed her physically, but also brought out her inner-activist. "I transitioned in '06 and I was always sort of political, but I became overtly political around that time. It started with understanding, when I was looking for resources and then realized how little there were. It made me more of an activist.

"I chucked my old career and started doing politics full time. It hasn't all been smooth sailing, but I can't imagine not being political," she said. Previously she'd worked doing lighting in the film business.

But now she herself is in the limelight. Including being onstage at the Democratic National Convention's LGBT Caucus gathering as one of 14 transgender delegates in 2012. "It was amazing. We were like rock stars," she said. "It was a really affirming experience. Finally equality is a plank in the Democratic Party platform. Pretty amazing to be part of a party that was unified along those progressive principals when we haven't always been."

Here in Michigan, Hunter has built up an impressive resume of creating change that helped bring her to DC and into a leadership role at the Victory Fund.

In 2008 and 2009 she got involved with KAFE, the Kalamazoo Alliance For Equality, serving as a liaison between KAFE and the One Kalamazoo Campaign. "I did a lot of the behind the scenes negotiating with the City Commission and the (City) Attorney. One of the things that is important is that we made a strategic choice to put me in a highly visible position. It's important that transpeople see a person who is out and willing to be out, it makes them say 'I can do that too.'"

Currently Hunter is the chair of KAFE, whose focus is now on political campaigns and statewide action. "We'll probably pick a couple of candidates for 2014 and work hard for them, and support more issues like fair districting, which is becoming increasingly important," she said. "What's happening in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio is that so many of the congressional districts have been gerrymandered so it's almost impossible for Democrats to win. This happened a lot in the last election cycle. More people voted for Democrats, but they did not get the seats...Issues like fair districting, as well as amending the state's Civil Rights Act, those things are going to be very important."

But that's not all. Extending herself beyond Kalamazoo, Hunter has worked with the Equality Michigan Pride PAC, which is the statewide political agency which endorses and supports out candidates within the state.

In Feb. 2011 she took the lead at Equality PAC and says that changes are still in the works. "What I began attempting to do was shift the direction of pack, so we weren't doing the same thing as Victory Fund. We (now) aren't supporting strictly out candidates. None of us can advance in progressive politics in Michigan - the environmental folks, the labor folks, the fair housing folks, women's issues - none of us can advance unless we can all advance. We made a conscious decision to start supporting progressive candidates that support equality," Hunter said.

Overall, her mission isn't just for LGBT equality, but for the T's to get more recognition and support in organizations that do this type of work. She noted that while many organizations embrace the idea of supporting everyone in the community, some lack first-hand experience with transgender volunteers, and sometimes an understanding of how transgender people's needs are unique. Her job, she said, is to make sure that as other transgender activists come up, there is already a place for them.

The Victory Fund appointment came after a trip to Long Beach, California for a leaders' conference. "One of the things I found disturbing was the statistics. Out of 250 people that were affiliated with Victory Fund, there were only four of us. Trainings they were running were not trans specific. One of the things I talked about was that we include the T all the time but it's not always followed through with an LGBT organization," Hunter said. "I've been urged to bring transpeople into the organization. We put a transperson on the board and that person brings trans people in, but on the front end they didn't have anything for them. If we agree that transpeople are important, what are we going to do to let them know they have a place?

"I told them, lets have some discussions over the next few months. Our struggles are different. The decisions we make are often times irrevocable, especially if we choose to be out. There's a level of support that is not understood.

"There is a big wave of transpeople coming that are getting to that age where they start embracing public service. It's important we start now trying to find a way to welcome them and give them the resources and leadership they need," Hunter said. "The American dream is for all of us. The promises don't just apply to a narrow view. How can somebody like me, and somebody like you, how can we encourage and nurture everyone who gets pushed to the fringe to participate? That's the challenge. And I ask, what contribution can I make?"

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