This week’s landmark Supreme Court decision outlawing employment discrimination against LGBTQ Americans simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is undoubtedly cause for celebration. But in recognizing this week’s Supreme Court victory, we must not forget that every moment of every day, the current presidential administration fights tooth and nail to take our country backward on trans rights. There is no clearer evidence of this than Donald Trump’s recent executive order that permits discrimination in healthcare against people who identify as transgender, a population that easily exceeds 1 million people.
This is just the tip of a very transphobic iceberg for this regime. They have targeted trans individuals and their access to basic human rights, such as education and housing, since day one. Perhaps most abhorrent: a senseless ban on openly transgender individuals serving as members of the U.S. armed forces. Actions like these give cover to the obscene assaults and violence that can shape the trans experience in America. While President Obama was certainly more of a friend than President Trump, few politicians in power historically have advocated for transgender Americans.
The trans experience in America is often marked by discrimination, persecution, and violence. According to a study of college-age individuals, trans people are four times more likely to have experienced issues concerning their mental health. Trans Americans are more likely to think about, attempt, and commit suicide. They also face higher rates of murder. The American Medical Association even went so far as to label the violence against the transgender community an epidemic. They specifically cited “the amplified physical dangers faced by transgender people of color.”
This violence against trans people is intersectional, and particularly amplified by racial biases at work. In 2018, the majority of violent deaths of transgender and/or gender-nonconforming people were of black transgender women. Black trans women in particular face monumental challenges. As reported by the Human Rights Commission, black trans women are four times more likely to be unemployed, and are more than five times more likely to have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, than the general population of the U.S.
Just in the past two weeks, two black trans women, Riah Milton of Ohio and Dominique (“Rem’Mie”) Fells of Pennsylvania, were killed. These tragedies increase the number of murdered transgender or gender-nonconforming people in 2020 to at least 14, with the real number likely higher, according to advocates.
In recent protests against police brutality and for Black Lives Matter, there were signs and chants of “Black Trans Lives Matter.” In fact, while you have probably heard the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, you may very well not have heard the names of black transgender individuals killed by police officers recently, like Tony McDade in Florida, who was allegedly called the N-word by officers, and later misgendered on police reports. And to literally add insult to injury (or death), murders of trans Americans are often subject to media erasure and misgendering in the news.
Trump’s executive order, mercilessly signed during Pride Month, a celebration of the multiracial Stonewall Riots, represents a dangerous and very real threat to the lives of trans people in the U.S. To revoke healthcare protections during this pandemic represents not just passively transphobic views, but an actively violent attack on the lives and bodies of transgender Americans. Healthcare is a human right, no matter your gender identity or sexual orientation, but it is especially vital now, during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Similar to those seeking to finally make a difference on race relations in America and to become actively antiracist in order to dismantle white supremacy, we also have to grapple with our longstanding transphobia if we are to prevent a transphobic future. That takes many forms, but some of the first steps include a more intentional display of gender pronouns from cisgender Americans, meaning those who identify with the gender that corresponds with their sex at birth. I use “he/him/his” pronouns, for instance, and identify as a cisgender man. This takes the burden of conversations about pronouns off trans and/or gender-nonconforming people, calls on cisgender people to participate, and normalizes conversations about gender identity.
These changes may very well lead to some uncomfortable conversations. Examination of yourself and the people closest to you can be much harder than decrying an administration you probably dislike anyway, if you’ve made it this far into the piece. But as someone who still struggles with pronouns and forgets to center trans and nonbinary people within the LGBTQ movement, I have a long, long way to go. However, I have found discomfort often leads to growth.
I am an elected official and frequent campaign staffer, and therefore I often see solving societal issues through the lens of policy and voting. But this issue has to be a part of our everyday lives. Protests, direct action, and tough conversations are equally important aspects of change, as is voting in order to better our society and democracy. It is long past time to create an Island, state, and country that truly respects transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals for the people they are.
Keith Chatinover is a member of the Dukes County Commission. He uses the pronouns “he, him, his.”