My transgender brothers, sisters, and other siblings are under attack by their own governments, by their fellow citizens. I, and many others, are scared, angry, and heartsick. I wanted to provide you all with the devastating information about what has been happening in our country in hopes of bringing you into further solidarity and understanding with the transgender community, and me.
What’s happening in America to its transgender population is unprecedented in my 60-year lifetime. Not since the Jim Crow era has a marginalized minority been so unabashedly targeted by oppressive legislation.
At the time of my writing this, according to the Human Rights Campaign, six states have passed and signed into law legislation that denies rights to trans people that others freely enjoy. The laws fall into three basic categories:
- Denying transgender people (in most cases, children) the right to play sports that other people play.
- Denying transgender people the right to documentation that accurately reports our gender.
- Outlawing providing certain types of life-saving medical care to transgender people. (Yes, you read that right. A doctor in Arkansas can lose their license for providing lifesaving medical care to a trans person.)
How did we get to this point? It was a deliberate campaign by our adversaries, looking to visit pain on the LGBTQ+ community for political gain. As they probed for weakness in voter support for LGBTQ+ rights, they discovered that by targeting trans people, especially trans young people, they might be successful.
The heat on our community started small. In 2016, the South Dakota legislature passed a ban on use of public bathrooms by transgender people. We lobbied the governor furiously, and beyond all hopes, he vetoed the bill. The transgender Americans who were following the proceedings breathed a collective sigh of relief.
It was short lived. Later that year, North Carolina succeeded in passing such a ban. The outrage at that point was fresh and intense. With national energy focused on their state, North Carolinians, facing a boycott, repealed the rule a year later. Our hopes were high, back then. We felt protected and vindicated.
We were fooling ourselves. During the Trump presidency, the executive branch leveled a non-stop fusilade of oppressive measures in our direction: military ban, wavers of anti-discrimination laws for anyone claiming we violated their religion, denial of safety measures for federal transgender inmates. Still, we told ourselves, this guy won’t be president forever. When he’s gone, these measures will be gone with him. There weren’t actually any laws passed.
Until there were.
Our enemies learned from their mistakes. Targeting trans adults wouldn’t work yet. We still had too much support. Instead, they sought to capitalize on the doubt brought about by ignorance and misunderstandings around trans children. Books were written claiming that the large number of young people coming out as trans was not due, as one might expect, to the fact that we are now more knowledgeable of what it means to be trans. Instead, the books claimed that there was a “contagion” happening among young people.
These books suggested they are seeing their peers claiming to be a different gender than they were assigned at birth, and that is generating a sort of mass hysteria, making them want to do it themselves. They even invented a bogus condition unrecognized by any medical association, called ROGD. “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria”. They wrote elaborate scientific papers, though with flimsy enough evidence underpinning them that one major journal ended up needing to run a retraction. A fringe professional association, the American College of Pediatricians, was formed, with a name sufficiently close to the venerable American Academy of Pediatrics to confer legitimacy upon themselves among the confused.
With public skepticism about the genuineness of childhood transgender identities on the rise, it was time to strike. A series of bills targeting transgender young people sprang up in state legislatures nationwide. We’re finding out now they were orchestrated by a few anti-trans organizations. Although a number of them were beaten back, the confusion and smokescreen that had been under preparation for years created enough of an environment of ignorance and misinformation to allow several to pass.
The concern is growing that once states realize they won’t see North Carolina style reprisals, more of them will pile on.
The transgender community in this country is looking on with horror and broken hearts. We comprise only a small percentage of voters. If our cisgender brothers and sisters want to vote our rights away, they can amass an overwhelming majority. We are essentially helpless, subject to the whims of a population that vastly outnumbers us and has been misled by enough distortions and falsehoods that an appeal to their understanding of our plight won’t work. A few years ago our thoughts might have taken refuge in the possibility that the Supreme Court could step in. But with Brett Kavanaugh as the swing vote (meaning there are four other justices even less sympathetic to us than he is) such optimism is a thing of the past.
How far will it go? I suppose I could comfort myself that, up to now, only in faraway places such as Arkansas, Texas, and Montana has this effort succeeded. But can I take solace if floodwaters inundating my low-lying neighbor’s roof haven’t yet reached my own home when I don’t know how high they ultimately will rise?
Alas, there are indications that the waters are already at our doorstep. Recently, in Fairfax County, arguably Virginia’s most liberal and most affirming jurisdiction, the school system has been pulling books about trans young people from library shelves in response to an organized effort to keep trans students from reading material that might affirm their identities. Howard County is talking about doing the same. At a recent meeting, half our school board members voted to review a book that has been a lifeline for a lot of my trans students.
And there are indications that we’ve only seen the early droplets of the deluge. The Human Rights Campaign reports that more than a 150 anti-transgender bills are working their way through state legislatures across the country.
While I appreciate connecting and chatting about work, family, and my job as a teacher, unless I awkwardly bring it up, no one seems to acknowledge or connect with me over this very real proverbial 8-ton elephant in the conversation. Each of us in our faith community wish to be seen and known for our full and true selves, so please know that there are laws being passed in our country aimed at destroying transgender people, like me, and that it is devastating and hard to hold. The transgender community needs your love and your solidarity.