A week of wins and losses for transgender rights


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.”

  • Is it fair to say that the island is above-average in terms of tolerance and acceptance?

    • Human rights are about the innate equality of all of us. Why should one group have to be “tolerated“ to have access housing, education, and healthcare without having to endure discrimination and violence? It’s not about which humans get to be tolerated or accepted. You may want to think about why you should probably rephrase your question.

      • President Obama, who I consider a fine individual and a fine president, said “We can disagree without being disagreeable.” I’m going to try to live up to that standard. First, I applaud Keith as a committed and caring individual. I hope he continues a long career in public service. He is a kind and thoughtful individual. Second, I absolutely believe that transgender individuals deserve the American ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. I also think that Trump’s moves were political stunts to shore up the base. Many of his actions are based on calculation, not principle. However, I have to ask- Who appointed you PC Police Officer of Martha’s Vineyard? There are people like myself who aim to be in the reasonable middle but get turned off by the self-righteous indignation and finger-pointing of people who parse every phrase and word for correctness. This behavior does far more harm than good and turns off moderate people who otherwise might be more supportive of the greater vision of inclusion. Let us consider Tolerance.org and their magazine, Teaching Tolerance. They post articles like the following: https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/your-trans-students-need-you , that aim to help teachers be more understanding and supportive of transgender students. Are you going to write to them and tell them that they need to rename their organization and publication because it doesn’t meet your standards of correct phraseology?

  • Thank you for thinking more about how you asked your question. People who go through life not being accepted or tolerated for being who they are would find your initial question disagreeable, and I thought you should know that. Didn’t intend to make you angry.

    • Hi Jackie- I think we’re having some semantic issues here, as we have more overlapping areas of agreement than disagreement. Your words didn’t make me angry at all, just a little befuddled. Tolerance in the sense of “I bestow tolerance upon you from my vantage point of superiority and you should be grateful for the gift” is one thing. Tolerance as conceived of by tolerance.org and the Teaching Tolerance initiative is another. My sense of it comes down to “Live And Let Live,” that my way of living life is just one of many and if other ways aren’t my cup of tea, it’s none of my business as long as someone else’s pursuit of the good life doesn’t impinge on my own. That said, I’m a bit confused by your statement that my initial question is disagreeable. Assuming “Spirit of Inclusiveness” would be a more benevolent phrasing, what is disagreeable about asking if it’s fair to say that MV is above average compared to the rest of the nation in terms of a spirit of inclusiveness? It’s not meant to be provocative or challenging, just an honest inquiry. My reading is that the island is above average in terms of progressive values; not 100% of the time, as evidenced by the posts in these forums, but on the whole I believe the scale tips towards inclusiveness. I’m curious to see if others feel the same way or if I’m off the mark. We need to be able to have open discussions with honest inquiry, and if people are so delicate that a question like this sends them spinning, that’s a tricky state of affairs.

  • Wesley–your comment about the level of “tolerance” is a fair question. And I think the answer is a resounding “yes”. But I think Jackie is rightfully indignant about the word “tolerated” . That word carries a lot of meaning. How often do you hear that a given community is “tolerating” straight white people ?
    As long as the dialogue is about “tolerating” we are no where near “acceptance” and ultimately getting to a point where we are not even thinking about it.
    Yes, sometimes Jackie is a bit abrasive, but I respect her for telling us what she really thinks.
    She doesn’t beat around the bush, and she doesn’t care where the chips fall.
    She is true to her values.. And she has earned my respect, even when we disagree.
    I can’t say that about many people here– You, Wesley, often put up articulate, meaningful, factually based posts– And i respect that– it’s not about partisan ideology– if someone has a meaningful factually based comment, that is worthy of a civil debate, I will have respect for that, regardless if i disagree. . I am disgusted with the idiots here that claim Obama ruined the country, without presenting a single fact as to why they think that, other than they were drinking Fox kool aid. I can’t can’t even count the number of times people mention “Obamagate” when I am speaking with them . I ask what is that ? they say ‘the worst crime in history” — and i ask “what was the crime?” And they tell me that “I know”, and it will come out soon. That bs is shameful. if you have a point, back it up.
    Otherwise, go to Fox”news”.com where a comment like “Pelosi is a commie” will get you 50 likes ..

    • DonDon, Thank you for your thoughts. As I wrote to Jackie, there are semantic interpretations at play here with the word “tolerance.” I’m going to go to the Tale of the Tape with the dictionary definitions. The first is “To allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of something that one does not necessarily like or agree with without interference.”. The second is “accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.” When I use the word, I’m thinking of the first, as distilled in the saying “Live and Let Live.” The second, which I’m not fond of, is essentially saying “I’m superior, you’re inferior, but I’ll put up with you.” If I mean the first and someone thinks I mean the second, we’re going to have a semantic crack-up. I’m a believer in open dialog with respect for others to hold different opinions without flying into an emotional tailspin, which our current political climate is antithetical to. For example, I think Keith goes a little overboard with the pronoun delicacy and I have no intention of playing that game. However, I also respect his right to do it and I’m not going to rage against him, nor discount his main thesis of inclusiveness and compassion. I don’t personally care for transgenderism. It doesn’t anger me or make me feel threatened. It’s just not my cup of tea. If other people wish to live thier lives in that manner, that’s their business. I have no wish to interfere, nor to discriminate against them or deprive them of their human rights. I’m not going to celebrate it, but neither am I going to celebrate Christianity or Islam, two faiths I don’t participate in and feel no particular attraction to. In that sense, I think tolerance is just fine, as it boils down to minding your own business. I do believe that the Trump presidency is a malignancy and his hardcore base is irrational, hence can’t be reasoned with. They’re too invested in their fever fantasy and would struggle to rebuild their sense of reality if they had to give up the paranoia, lies and conspiracies to think clearly. There’s no reasoning with them. At the same time, there has been a lack of introspection and honesty from the Democratic party about the reason the American public was in such an agitated state that Trump’s message resonated with enough centrists to help him eke out a narrow victory. My hope is that the centrists who said “Hey, Trump can’t be any worse that what’s out there” in 2016 will have learned their lesson. Fingers crossed…..

      • Trump did unwittingly teach Americans like me about Juneteenth. Who woulda ever thought?

  • Thank you both for thinking even more about this. I think about it too, because it does not impact me personally and we all tend not to pay attention when something feels so far off, especially in times like this. For instance, why do we pay more respectful attention to a white male’s editorial, one that makes it into our newspaper? Is a white male in a better position to teach us about discrimination of transgender people? When we talk about the tolerance level of the island community, the answer I believe is yes, we can hear what Keith is telling us because he is cis gender male. The gender pronouns, for instance, befuddle me too, but for those of us who are not negatively impacted by discrimination and violence, it is, I believe, up to us to listen, respect and honor the rights of others who suffer in ways we can’t imagine. For instance, to include BLM in this discussion, it is up to white people to deal with their biases and to educate themselves about how they contribute to systemic racism. Racism is a problem of white people. Sex and gender discrimination is a problem put forward by straight people. I don’t think I am superior. I look at my own behavior and sometimes see things I don’t like. I have no problem now, though, listening to the transgender wish to use pronouns that give them the dignity and equality they deserve without thinking it’s PC garbage. But I used to. It’s a perspective you can train your thinking to do more than “tolerate”. To be honest, on how I contribute to systemic racism, I had heard of Juneteenth many times, but never bothered to educate myself as to its actual meaning. In my ignorance and privilege, I assumed it was about James Joyce’s Ulysses, being uneducated in that department too. It is up to those of us who don’t experience much discrimination to educate ourselves so that we can actually all be moving toward the ideal, “we are all equal”. And I have to say, my “abrasiveness” turns off white Christian males. If it leads to the least discriminated people in this country to think about what they contribute to hurting those who are not privileged, it’s all good.

    • I don’t use “Christian“ in the religious sense, when I say “white Christian males”, but in the culturally, non-Jewish sense. Turning the other cheek ain’t my thing.

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