In September 2018 Karlie Cruz became the first transgender homecoming queen crowned in her high school’s history, along with a gay homecoming king (BMOC). The royal court went on to appear on the news and were invited to attend numerous events hosted by LGBTQ organizations. In my interview with Cruz, she discussed how this experience influenced her and continues to do so in her college career. She also talked about how being transgender affects her in the workplace, and the issues the transgender community is currently facing around the world. In this essay, I will discuss how being transgender has affected Cruz in school and the workplace, and how she feels towards the LGBTQ community regarding discrimination and sexism.
Migrating to the U.S. from the Philippines at 12 years old is already a tough thing to do, and being transgender makes it even more nerve wracking. Being a transitioning transgender woman, dark skinned Asian moving to the U.S. influenced the way Karlie Cruz viewed women. As she considered how to appear more feminine, she was affected by “Western standards of beauty, which overwhelmingly favor stereotypically “white” (or Eurocentric) features: Straight hair, light skin, and light eyes” (Uwujaren 2014). This influenced her on how to approach changing her appearance in order to fit in with the “desired woman”. This internal struggle of whether to look more like a White woman or Asian woman was not the only gender issue affecting her, as she experienced sexism for the first time in her life after starting at her new school. Cruz first faced sexism in eighth grade when she was denied her request to switch from the boys’ to the girls’ locker room. She said this caused her to feel like her gender identity didn’t matter and that being trans was not allowed (Cruz).
However, she still gained enough confidence and support from friends to run for homecoming queen in her senior year of high school. On becoming her high school’s first transgender homecoming queen, she said “...it just made me feel very liberated, it just made me feel like the world was finally accepting people like me; trans people, people of color. And I just really wanted to do it for the youth, to see that anyone can do it, even if you’re trans, even if you’re queer, even if you’re gay, that you can do it, even if you’re like Mexican, Filipino...you can do it because like I don’t know I just, I feel like if I made it and I can become queen then other people can be queen…” (Cruz). Being crowned Sweetwater Union High School’s first transgender and second Filipino homecoming queen created history in the school and in the district; she was invited to many events where she received awards and scholarships. This experience inspired her to encourage others, especially youth, to always be themselves and to not be ashamed of their ethnicity, gender identity, sexual preference, or any other factors that make them who they are. Now attending San Francisco State University, Cruz states that she has been able to be even more open with her trans identity. She says SFSU and the Bay Area are more “...diverse and there’s literally so many people of my color, my gender, so many people part of the LGBTQ... coming to San Francisco State really like opened my mind to so many things, like it just made me more cultured... it made me respect other cultures, made me respect other people, it just opened my mind to like a lot of things.” San Francisco is one of the most liberal cities in the nation, even creating the world’s first transgender cultural district. San Francisco is home to the Tenderloin neighborhood, “which has one of the densest populations of transgender people in the country” (Veltman 2019). Due to San Francisco being so welcoming and open to transgender people, Cruz hopes to extend her stay after college and find a job within or near the city.
“It’s really messed up, not being able to work where you want to work, just to live, and having to resort to providing sex work ....” Cruz stated. Unfortunately, many transgender women resort to sex work as their main source of income. This may be due to family issues and having to find a job to support oneself as a minor or young adult with no job experience, or not being selected for jobs due to being transgender. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in four transgender people lose their job due to bias, and three in four have experienced discrimination such as harassment, sexual/physical violence and being forced to use restrooms not matching their gender identity (Silva 2017). Many transgender people often quit these jobs in order to avoid bigotry, and one in eight resort to sex or drug work (National Center for Transgender Equality). Karlie Cruz is aware of how unfair it is that some businesses refuse to hire trans people, or how harshly they are treated while working. In her experience working at Popeyes during highschool, she was often placed in the back and not in the front as cashier (Cruz). Her experience and the experience of others worries her since she is currently looking for a part-time job to help her pay for college, but she is hopeful that San Francisco’s liberal nature will allow her to face less discrimination than in her previous job.
The Stonewall Riots were a very important foundation for modern LGBTQ movements. It was one of the first and largest movements for the support and liberation of transgender people. Slyvia Rivera, one of the leaders of these demonstrations, discussed the trans and gay community during a talk at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York City in 2001. She mentioned how transgender people are always at the frontline for gay movements, how they show up in large numbers and fight for them, and how the gay community doesn’t do the same for them. Rivera stated “But it’s a shame that it has taken thirty two years for people to finally realize how much we have given to you, to realize the history of the trans involvement in this movement.” Trans people deserve the same support they give, they deserve the same reciprocated effort, time, and energy. Cruz spoke upon these riots and its leaders Slyvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, transgender women, in her speech after winning homecoming queen: “...they were the ones who led the movement but all the gay people got the praise for it, ... it’s just frustrating to see how you don’t get the same recognition as gay people, who just helped through it, not lead it.” The trans community, the frontliners in movements, the ones with the least to lose and the most to gain, deserve recognition and the same rights that the gay community have recieved. Cruz also said during the interview that “We’re the LGBTQ community, we literally need to be there for each other because no one else will.” and during Rivera’s speech she said “...and I once again wish yous all a very happy gay pride day but also think about us.”. The LGBTQ is a community, and communities need to be there for each other, for support, for guidance, for love, for a shared bond. It is unfair how trans people show up for the gay community during times of hardship and loss, and don’t recieve the same support. Although the trans community will continue supporting the gays in their movements, they will also continue to ask for more assistance and for more people to show up in their own demonstrations. Together they are one community, the LGBTQ community, and they get more done and more information spread if they work together, not separately.
Being transgender comes with many discriminatory diffiuclties, but it also comes with a sense of pride and confidence. Through the sexism faced at school and work, having to navigate how to become a woman, and feeling unvalued and unappreciated, Karlie Cruz seized these difficult experiences and used them to her advantage. She broke barriers and overcame the negative aspects she faced, using them to build up her confidence and increase the love she had for herself and her community. She took a risk and ran for homecoming queen, a risk which was successful and came with many positive rewards. She was able to inspire youth to be themselves, and to encourage students in her high school to be more open to people of all ethnicities, gender identities, and sexualities. This experience opened her eyes to a world that was more accepting of transgender people, to a university in liberal San Francisco, to hope that we can combat sexism and love each other. Although she still struggles alongside the LGBTQ community through its various movements for equality, sexism due to her being a woman, and discrimination due to her being Filipino, she is hopeful for the future. Being crowned homecoming queen taught her that she can achieve anything she sets her heart on, and to not be afraid of people judging her.
- Cruz, Karlie. Personal Interview. 1 December 2019. “Employment.” National Center for Transgender Equality, https://transequality.org/issues/employment.
- Rivera, Sylvia. Talk at LGMNY, Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, June 2001, New York City.
- Silva, Christianna. “Almost All Transgender Employees Experience Harassment or Mistreatment on the Job, a New Study Shows.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 1 Dec. 2017, https://www.newsweek.com/transgender-employees-experience-harassment-job-726494.
- Uwujaren, Jarune. “Dealing with Racialized Sexism.” Everyday Feminism, 8 Sept. 2014, https://everydayfeminism.com/2013/10/dealing-with-racialized-sexism/.
- Veltman, Chloe. “World's First Transgender Cultural District Looks to the Past - and the Future.”
- KQED, 24 Jan. 2019, https://www.kqed.org/news/11717648/worlds-first-transgender-culture-district-looks-to-the-past-and-the-future.