Trans Politics on a Neoliberal Landscape

Dean Spade '97

Dean Spade

Transgender, transsexual and other gender non-conforming people face persistent and severe discrimination in employment, education, health care, social and legal services, criminal justice and many other realms. Dean Spade ’97, legal expert on transgender issues and founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, will discuss what trans politics can mean in the current political context and how we might understand strategies for trans legal equality in these times. What role does or should radical gender politics play in a historical moment marked by trends of privatization, labor and environmental deregulation, and the elimination of health and welfare programs, all of which contribute to an overall upward distribution of wealth and decreasing life chances for the poor? Neoliberalism’s hallmarks are cooptation and incorporation, meaning that the words and ideas of resistance movements are frequently recast to become legitimizing tools for oppressive political agendas. These trends have had significant impacts on social movements in the U.S., whose moves toward professionalization and away from radical demands for redistribution have drastically changed the context of resistance. What can trans activists and our allies learn from these trends and how can we conceptualize trans strategies that prioritize those who are the objects of the violence produced by neoliberalism? This talk will offer some examples of approaches being taken by trans activists to confront these dilemmas.

Five years after graduating from Barnard College, Dean Spade founded the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a non-profit law collective that provides free legal services to transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming people who are low-income and/or people of color. SRLP also engages in litigation, policy reform and public education on issues affecting these communities and operates on a collective governance model, prioritizing the governance and leadership of trans, intersex, and gender variant people of color. While working at SRLP, Dean taught classes focusing on sexual orientation, gender identity and law at Columbia and Harvard Law Schools. Dean is currently an assistant professor of law at Seattle University Law School. Prior to joining the faculty of Seattle University, Dean was a Williams Institute Law Teaching Fellow at UCLA Law School and Harvard Law School.