OPINION It’s fair to say that it’s been a rough few weeks for the LGBTQ community in the US. We have been under fire since the 2016 Election, and it is now clear that an all out war has been declared, with the top casualties being trans and non-binary youth and trans women of colour.
Prior to November 2016 things were moving forward, albeit slowly, for transgender folk. Visibility of gender diversity was increasing, and federal, state and local governments were adding protections that covered many aspects of public life. Transphobia in especially the media was still very much a thing of course but, as the queer parent of a transgender child, I felt cautiously optimistic that I might one day see a society that wholeheartedly affirms and accepts transgender youth.
The first attack came weeks after the Trump Inauguration with the announcement that Title IX Guidelines were to be rescinded immediately in our public schools. These guidelines, issued in May 2016 by the Obama Adminstration, had basically provided a blueprint for how schools should affirm their transgender and non-binary students. Without these guidelines vulnerable students were left at the mercy of school administrators. Within days we heard stories of youth being forced to use the wrong bathrooms, and being misgendered/ dead named by their educators without consequence, in many cases without any (affordable) legal recourse for families.
“This year alone, at least 21 trans women have been murdered (overwhelmingly trans women of colour), and it’s very likely that number is much higher as victims of violent crime are often misgendered in death.”
For a period of time so called “ bathroom bills” became a weapon in the arsenal of Conservative politicians here. Fortunately all failed or were withdrawn, and the last few years have seen a decrease in these types of attacks. Every time Bills like these are debated, irreparable harm is done, in particular to vulnerable trans youth. They are forced to listen to politicians and media pundits describe them as “predators” and their humanity is up for public debate. Trans women are especially demonized and it’s no surprise that reported hate crimes against transgender and non-binary communities are on the rise. This year alone, at least 21 trans women have been murdered (overwhelmingly trans women of colour), and it’s very likely that number is much higher as victims of violent crime are often misgendered in death.
It’s impossible to detail the complete barrage of attacks on the transgender and non-binary community by our federal government in one 1000 word essay- so a comprehensive list from the National Center for Transgender Equality can be found here. This list doesn’t include state and local efforts to exclude trans folk from public life, nor does it mention the many anti-LGBTQ judges appointed at lightening speed to our courts. Some of these judges (with lifetime appointments!) have called trans youth ‘delusional”, and are now tasked with issuing rulings that could have life changing impacts on the youth they demonized.
Already battle fatigued, hundreds of us stood outside the Supreme Court in DC on October 8th, as the nine Justices heard oral arguments in 3 cases regarding anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination. One of the cases, Harris vs EEOC & Aimee Stephens- a woman who was fired two weeks after telling her boss she is transgender – is the first transgender rights case to be heard before the Supreme Court. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality more than one in four transgender people have lost a job due to bias, and more than 75 % have experienced some form of workplace discrimination. If the Supreme Court rules that it is legal to fire somebody because they are transgender, these figures will only increase.
A few days later news broke of a custody battle in Texas. A jury had initially appointed full custody of a 7 year old transgender girl to her supportive mother, and the outcry was immediate. Within hours politicians were calling for investigations and the mother was declared a child abuser. A media frenzy followed, and politicians in three states announced Bills to prevent transgender children from undergoing any form of medical transition, including blockers, before the age of 18. It’s likely that these Bills, based on ignorance and misinformation, will pop up in more states, and will become the “bathroom bills” of the 2020 legislative session
This Friday the administration announced a plan to legalize widespread anti-trans discrimination in federal programs grant funded by the Department of Health and Human Services. This includes foster care and adoption, youth homelessness prevention, and health care. This new rule will further push at-risk trans youth into the margins.
“I have no doubts that we will win this war, but if we lose the election next year things will likely get worse before they get better.
The consequences for this continued war on trans youth are severe. Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that transgender youth are 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight, cisgender peers. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that rates of suicide and self harm are on the increase, and online parent groups share stories of more frequent bullying and anti-trans hate speech in schools. We know of trans youth already denied access to affirming health care, with sometimes life threatening consequences. Online attacks against transgender folk have been particularly ugly lately, especially after Always announced it would remove the Venus symbol from it’s sanitary products.
Although this war is making us weary, there are many reasons for hope. Youth are rejecting the gender binary and are more openly identifying as queer and trans. There is increasing support for transgender rights, and more than 60% of Americans are saying they are now more supportive than 5 years ago. Youth led campaigns are winning school board policies and nationwide voter registration efforts are resulting in record numbers of youth able to vote next year.
I have no doubts that we will win this war, but if we lose the election next year things will likely get worse before they get better. Make sure you support the trans and non-binary folk in the trenches by donating to trans led organizations here and in Iceland. Reach out to offer support to the trans/ non-binary people you know and never stay silent when you witness transphobia online or in person. Lives are depending on it.”