Liberty and Justice for All*
In the United States, transgender women have a life expectancy of 35 years. This is less than half of the life expectancy of cisgender women at 86.6 years. Although the 14th amendment guarantees equal protection of the law for all citizens, recent legislation in Houston, Texas and North Carolina imply otherwise. In November of 2015, Houstonians voted to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (also known as “HERO” and “Proposition 1”), an equal rights ordinance designed to protect the rights of many groups of people from “intentional discrimination, based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity and pregnancy.” Ultimately, it was shot down based on the one clause about gender identity. In March of 2016, House Bill 2 (HB2) was passed by North Carolina’s state legislature, which requires transgender and gender nonconforming citizens to use the public bathroom corresponding with the gender on their birth certificates. Both of these actions directly endanger trans people. Transgender women are 1.8 times more likely to experience sexual violence than any other group of people and comprise seventy-two percent of hate violence homicides. Trans people are seven times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police than cisgender people are. When legislation like HERO is repealed and legislation like HB2 is passed, it is really hard for members of the transgender community to feel protected by their government.
One would hope that encouraging people to vote would help with the discrimination that trans people face, but it is a lot harder than that. The voter turnout to repeal HERO was the highest that the Houston voter turnout had been since 2003. Voter quantity is nothing if it isn’t paired with voter education. The trans community is a small community that is not well understood. If their rights are dependent upon a majority vote, they do not comprise a large enough population to win that majority. Even though subjecting someone’s rights to a popular vote is demeaning and wrong, the fact of the matter is that currently trans people and their rights are dependent on the votes of others.
A recent Harris poll shows that only sixteen percent of Americans know someone who is transgender, meaning most people learn about trans people from the media. It is important to make sure that media represents the trans community in a truthful way. Groups like GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) work to ensure proper media coverage. As stated on their website, they “work with national news outlets, TV networks, film studios, and Spanish-language media to include real stories about transgender people. GLAAD also works closely with transgender people and transgender advocacy groups to raise awareness about transgender issues. GLAAD provides free media trainings to empower transgender people to share their stories”. Supporting organizations like this will make huge steps forward for equal treatment of trans people in the United States.
For many of us that cannot financially support trans activist groups, there are organizations that appreciate the time that can be given. At Texas Woman’s University, students can get involved with PRIDE, an organization that aims to provide social support, enhance awareness, and secure equal rights for LGBTQIA+ students. PRIDE does not take roll or require membership dues because of their concern for safety and anonymity outside of meetings and events. Meetings and events are provided in Blackboard, if you search for PRIDE under the Organizations tab. They also have a Facebook page.
It is also important to be a good ally. Here are some tips from GLAAD.
- Respect gender pronouns. Remember, also, that “they/them” is a valid gender pronoun! Many people disregard this specific pronoun because they think it is more important to adhere to the definition of “they” as “used to refer to two or more people or things previously mentioned or easily identified,” rather than respecting someone’s gender identity… “They” can also be defined as “a person of an unspecified sex,” so it is singular too.
- Be conscientious with confidentiality. Some people are not as comfortable sharing that they are transgendered, while others are. Especially in the current state of society where there is such blatant inequality to gender identity, disclosing this information is just as much dangerous as it is an invasion of privacy.
- Help make your company or group truly trans-inclusive. At meetings or events, set an inclusive tone.
- Support gender neutral restrooms. For those who are gender nonconforming and transgender who do not feel comfortable in public, gendered restrooms, having a single user, gender neutral bathroom promotes their comfort and safety.
- Be patient with those who are exploring their gender identity. Self-discovery is a journey for everyone. When examining one’s gender identity, one may change their name or their pronouns multiple times. Respect what they are going through and use the name and pronoun that they request.
- There is no right or wrong way to transition! Someone who is pre-op is just as trans as someone who is post op, someone who has not undergone hormone therapy is just as trans as someone who has.
- Don’t ask about someone’s “real” name. Their real name is the name they go by.
- Do not ask about someone’s genitals, surgical status, or sex life. These things are private for everyone, and generally inappropriate to ask about in general. Curiosity is not nearly as important as respect. (Have you noticed the common theme here?)
- Listen and learn from your trans friends. The best way to learn is to listen.
- Challenge anti-transgender comments or jokes.
- Know your limits as an ally. It is okay if you do not know everything. Admitting you do not know is better than spreading misinformation.
Ultimately, there is a difference between common decency and making a difference, but both are necessary. Being a good ally is common decency. Being respectful and kind is common decency. To make a difference, one must act. The trans community is not asking for special privileges, they are asking for basic human rights. Get involved: join or support an activist group. You will be on the right side of history, I promise you.
Ayala, Jesse. “Houston Equal Rights Ordinance Number 2014-530 Section-by-Section Summary.” Greater Houston Partnership (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
“Calculator: Life Expectancy.” Social Security Administration. Social Security Administration, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Dempsey, Matt. “Voter Turnout Highest Since 2003.” Houston Chronicle. Houston Chronicle, 3 Nov. 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
“Disability, Hate Crime and Violence.” (2012): n. pag. Anti-Violence Project. The New York City Anti-Violence Project. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
“Fighting Back against HB2 | Campaign for Southern Equality.”Campaign for Southern Equality. Campaign for Southern Equality, n.d. Web. 10 May 2016.
“GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program.” GLAAD. Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, 11 Sept. 2011. Web. 10 May 2016.
“Pride.” – TWU Department of Multicultural Women’s and Gender Studies. Texas Woman’s University- Department of Multicultural Women’s and Gender Studies, n.d. Web. 10 May 2016.
“Tips for Allies of Transgender People.” GLAAD. Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, 08 Nov. 2013. Web. 10 May 2016.
Towle, Andy. “Houston Mayor Annise Parker Blasts #HERO Defeat and Right’s ‘Campaign of Lies’ – WATCH.” Towleroad. 4 November 2015. Web. 10 May, 2016.