LGBT- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. While this acronym is supposed to encompass all of these groups, more often than not the latter component is neglected. In the past year, we have seen leaps and bounds made in the progression of rights for the LGBT community, most notably the Supreme Court decision upholding marriage equality in June of 2015 (Ireland and Mexico also legalized same-sex marriage last year). However, the principle discussion has surrounded rights regarding sexual orientation and not necessarily changing identities for transgender people.
Only now is the movement for transgender equality progressing to the forefront of the discussion, nearly 50 years after the Stonewall riots (often considered the inception of the LGBT rights movement). No president had even mentioned transgender people as a marginalized group in a State of the Union address until Obama did so in January of 2015. The nation has yet to rally behind transgender rights in the same way that they have made LGB rights of critical importance, and it is time that the nation assembles around the transgender community, and with urgency.
“According to a 2013 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 72% of victims of anti-LGBTQ homicide were transgender women, and 89% of victims were people of color, who are disproportionately subject to violence and other hate crimes.”
Currently, a deep-seated debate is playing out in state capitals across the country over whether or not transgender students in public schools should be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room of the gender with which they identify. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) faces a deadline this Tuesday to act on a bill passed by the state legislature that would restrict transgender students to only using the bathroom/locker room for the gender they were assigned at birth. If Gov. Daugaard does not sign or veto the bill, it will automatically go into effect and become the first law to regulate bathroom usage for transgender students in public schools in the country’s history. Thus far, he has not publicly indicated the decision he will make, and he is not the only one who is unsure of the correct path of action.
According to a Huffington Post Poll last summer, 25% of American respondents were uncertain about whether or not transgender people should be allowed to use bathrooms different than the gender they were assigned at birth, leaving an almost even split between those in support of transgender people using the bathroom in alignment with their gender identity (37%) and those opposed (38%).
This is not the only state advocating for restrictions of transgender students in public schools. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), over two-dozen bills have been filed across the country advocating to restrict transgender students to use the bathrooms for their birth-assigned gender in just the first two months of 2016. Ashley Joubert-Gaddis, director of operations at The Center for Equality, an advocacy group lobbying Daugaard to veto the bill, pins this sudden push for limitations on LGBT rights on the victory of gay people in securing their right to marry this past year, “What this amounts to is [conservative] legislators saying we didn’t win the gay marriage fight, so let’s go after someone else.” Thus, while marriage equality was certainly a win for this country and most of the people in LGBT community, it could be indirectly causing adverse effects for another group of people.
“Often we consider the struggles of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to be the same as those of transgender people, and while in some instances that is true, we also must also consider these communities separately to fight for equality in the ways that they differ.”
This is not the only current attack on transgender rights in this country. In Oklahoma, a bill was introduced that withholds state aid to a school if they receive a complaint regarding transgender students using a sex-segregated bathroom that doesn’t align with the student’s gender at birth. Similarly, there is a proposal in Virginia to require school boards to implement similar restrictions, where, if violated, the student could face fines up to $50. In Washington, a Senate committee approved a bill that would reverse previous progress for the transgender community, attempting to overturn a 2-month-old bill allowing transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.
The transgender community is not only subject to inequalities in civil liberties akin to those above, but they are also exposed to an exorbitant amount of violence and limited social acceptance. According to a 2013 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 72% of victims of anti-LGBTQ homicide were transgender women, and 89% of victims were people of color, who are disproportionately subject to violence and other hate crimes. Further, transgender people are forced to fight for social acceptance. This struggle is epitomized in the backlash following Bruce Jenner’s transition into Caitlyn Jenner last April. When Caitlyn was nominated for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs, people were in a fit that she was not deserving. Hate spewed all over the internet invalidating her struggle and making a mockery of her, including comments such as, “Bruce is obviously going through some serious mental health issues. To give him this award is a slap in the face to everyone else that has received it.” The challenges that the transgender community faces are complex, diverse, and plentiful.
Incremental progress is being made every day, and I do not mean for this article to discount these critical steps toward equality for the transgender community. Last year, Laverne Cox became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy Award (and she also toured college campuses including Duke’s), Obama signed an executive order protecting LGBT employees from discrimination, and shows like Growing Up Trans and Transparent have increased exposure to the challenges and daily life of transgender people. With that said, this article does serve to bring awareness to a cause that is so deserving of attention at this juncture in history.
Often we consider the struggles of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to be the same as those of transgender people, and while in some instances that is true, we also must also consider these communities separately to fight for equality in the ways that they differ. One group is subject to oppression based on sexual orientation, and other for sexual identity, thus bringing distinct challenges, such as that presented in the case of public bathroom usage. We must make transgender rights a priority, and it must start with awareness and action against bills such as the one presented in South Dakota.