Intersections in Pride: An interview with Celia Sandhya Daniels

Contoured by the global pandemic and ongoing civic engagement around the Black Lives Matter movement, Pride Month in 2020 has underscored the critical role that intersectionality plays in the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and 2-spirited + (LGBTQ2+) justice. Coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, the theory of intersectionality addresses individual identities that are made up of various aspects like gender, religion, class, ability, race and sexuality. To approach an identity with consideration of all aspects of their experience is to uphold an intersectional approach. 

We sat down with trans evangelist and human rights activist Celia Sandha Daniels to explore how intersectionality has become a part of her story and work. Additionally, Celia is a Champion at Pride 365 Certified that strives to bring greater visibility to the best and most authentic supporters of the LGBT+ community. As an Asian Indian trans women of color, Celia has battled stigma, discrimination and gender dysphoria and now speaks passionately about the challenges confronted by LGBT+ folks in the corporate world. 

Kamil: What does Pride in 2020 mean to you?

Celia: Pride in 2020 is more about intersectional identities. I would love to see Pride as not just an event for the month of June – it has to be more consistent than that. For me, Pride has to go beyond the end of June when all the rainbow flags come down – that’s not how Pride should be. Pride should be 365 days. Pride in 2020 has been so different. A lot of us are actually fighting for the same cause. If you look at the civil rights activism happening with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement – it has such an intersectionality with the trans community because the movements founders included queer and trans individuals. 

This has been one of the most difficult and joyful years in terms of reflecting on intersectionality. I’m South Asian and I’m an immigrant. On top of that I’m an entrepreneur and I’m a father to my child and a husband to my wife. There are a lot of intersectionalities there but it is more important for us to look at the human being as a whole and not just say “Hey Celia is trans.” That’s not the only identity I have. People need to understand that we have so many intersectional identities and we have to start considering those who belong to those identities. For example, I am brown and I am in support of the BLM movement because that could solve some of the issues we are fighting for in the trans and LGBT+ community. 

You’ve mentioned how there is overlap in the objectives of movements like BLM and trans advocacy, have the intentions behind your work changed at all in the last few months?

It has changed quite a bit because even within the LGBT+ spectrum I was more focused on the trans and gender non-binary positions because those are the communities that have been hit the hardest on the spectrum. There are not too many advocates for gender non-binary folks especially in the workplace. Companies are really happy if you transition. They looked at me in one instance and said “Celia why are you coming out as gender-fluid?We can help you transition”. My point was that I did not want to transition and companies don’t talk about this. Almost 27% of youth in California identify as gender non-binary. There is a huge population and there is a lot of work to be done that goes beyond a gender-neutral washroom. I’m talking about policies, legal changes, security matters. 

Companies are still learning. Policies are not yet defined around gender non-binary folks. 

If I were to invite you to a room full of HR managers and people leaders, what would you say?

HR managers are rarely dealing with just one form of diversity. There are several identities that need attention. When you are in the diversity & inclusion (D&I) space, we need to be champions for a whole intersection of identities – not just one identity. When I have spoken in D&I forums, I have introduced the concept of ‘diversity and integration’. Inclusion is like saying “would you like to join me for coffee?” and then you ask me the same thing the next day. Integration is where you work to integrate inclusion into processes. So you would say “we meet for coffee at 10:30 at Starbucks – would you like to join us there from now on?”. Now what is happening is you’re following a process and not going on the fly. 

I would also like to address mental health when we are looking at some minorities like veterans and differently abled people. When you are working with such groups, there are a lot of mental health issues at play. Intersectional identities include medical and mental issues that require attention. Supports that address such issues effectively boost employee productivity and involvement. 

You call yourself a trans evangelist and have used that term often to describe your commitment to advocacy. How can we emulate that sentiment as allies? 

As a trans-evangelist, what I want to do is bring awareness to every area of my life. If I’m going to the grocery store, how do I help the cashier understand that I am trans and to be more open and accepting to me? Even the police for instance. I have gone to the police station at an open house and helped educate them about the gender non-binary community. I literally took my license and said “this license says Daniel, not Celia, and if you are biased towards me, you may not believe that my identification is me and could arrest me”. 

In those spaces, it’s important for me to keep talking about bringing awareness. Now as allies, there are a few things you could do quickly. The first thing you can do is add gender pronouns to your name like he/him whenever introducing yourself. You may know what your identity is and may not need to articulate it for yourself but for trans people, those little titles can be very important especially in work settings. If you introduce yourself with gender pronouns, a trans individual will automatically know that you are trying to be an ally. That is an open way to say “I see you and I hear you”. This applies in day-to-day settings like at a restaurant too. 

Additionally, being an ally means speaking out for the trans community when people are talking trash. One of my friends was telling me about how they were frustrated about their tax dollars being sent to trans people in the military and how they hate to see that. I tried to challenge them by probing at assumptions they were making. I tried to tell them about belonging and how it makes a huge difference to people’s lives. 

What’s next for you Celia?

I’m taking it one day at a time. I don’t have plans for my future. I told my wife that if I have an opportunity to do something in my life going forward, I will continue to do what I’m doing now. I’m just going to keep at it. I want to create an organization or continue to join organizations that are doing good work. I’m trying to educate my own South Asian community as well – we’re doing it as a family actually. My daughters ask me “why are people in our community saying ‘brown lives matter’? Don’t they understand what’s going on?” We have a lot of work to do and that challenge perks me up. 

Additional resources:

Gender and Sexual Diversity in the Workplace Training Plus Q&A from TransCanWork

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