It's an all-too common situation. Amid all the progress that's been recently made by the LGBT community, the "T" part of that group is getting overlooked. In fact, perhaps we need to stop referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people as one, as the struggles of the first three groups and the struggles of transgender people are vastly different, and to conflate them is to misunderstand them. Few communities face as much hardship in America as transgender people do. If you consider yourself an advocate for LGBT rights, or an intersectional feminist, or even just a humane, caring person, these issues should be important to you. Here are five important issues facing transgender people right now, because knowing about the struggle is a necessary precursor for taking action.
It's one thing to know some of the horrifying statistics — more than 40 percent of transgender people attempt suicide at some point in their lifetimes, for example — and it's another to think seriously about how you can help. Maybe you're not transgender yourself; maybe you're a cisgender person who wants to become more aware of the privileges that come with that, or of the things you take for granted that transgender people simply can't — like having a driver's license that accurately reflects your gender identity. In any case, help and solidarity are vital. Here are five recent issues that you should be following.
1. Transgender Women In Competitive Sports
As detailed by The New York Times on Monday, The Court for the Arbitration of Sport made a decision that could have big implications for transgender athletes. Namely, they ruled that a woman possessing naturally elevated testosterone levels — Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, to be specific — should not be barred from competition against other women.
This is an area in which professional sports are wading into some complicated arguments about sex and gender, and what makes someone a woman or a man. According to the Times, the decision is "the latest demonstration that sex is part of a spectrum, not a this-or-that definition easily divided for matters such as sport."
Although the case wasn't specifically about transgender athletes, it's very well-trodden territory. Transgender women have frequently been subject to demeaning commentary, have been barred from participating in athletic contests against other women, and have been shamed by other competitors. Breaking apart the notion that biology-at-birth dictates which gender you ought to compete against could help alleviate this.
2. Gender-Appropriate Bathroom Usage For Transgender Students
Be forewarned that this is a rather discouraging story. In Norfolk, Virginia on Monday, U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar threw out the case of 17-year-old transgender teen Gavin Grimm, who was suing for the right to use the men's bathroom. Moreover, the judge really leaned into the dismissal, as BuzzFeed detailed: Doumar said that being transgender was a "mental disorder," and told Grimm's attorney's that he'd decided to reject their Title IX argument (Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in public schools) before the case began.
Your case in Title IX is gone, by the way. I have chosen to dismiss Title IX. I decided that before we started.
This is precisely the kind of issue that might seem trifling or negligible to somebody who doesn't have to live with it. But when you think about all the big and small ways society demeans transgender people, from refusing them appropriate bathroom access (imagine if you had to use gender-opposite bathrooms the rest of your life), to major media outlets misgendering and mocking transgender people, the reason that the rates of suicide attempts are so high starts to look grimly clear.
3. Anti-Trans Bigotry From Teachers
Here's another pretty upsetting story, but an illuminating one, as detailed by News.au.com: that of 10-year-old Charlotte, an Australian transgender girl who was allegedly done very wrong by her school. To hear the family tell it, Charlotte knew and insisted from the moment she could talk that she was a girl, and when she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, it came as a huge relief. Both of her parents embraced her for who she was — a reality that some children never get to live, sadly.
But even so, Charlotte was reportedly still harangued by authority figures at her school over her gender, by virtue of her desire to come out. According to the report, the principal of the school (which the family did not name) insisted that she shouldn't socially transition. But when word got around regardless, as things do in schoolyards, she was victim of some awful treatment by some of the school's teachers, the family said. A couple of harrowing examples:
- She was allegedly told "boys aren't allowed to have their hair up."
- When the class had been divided by gender, a teacher allegedly grabbed Charlotte by the arm and dragged her across the room. When she tried to explain, according to her parents, the teacher screamed at her: "No, I do understand and I do not care. You are going with the boys and that is it." Her parents removed her from the school after that incident. (The principal of the school claimed that it had treated Charlotte "in a thoughtful and sensitive manner.")
Transgender people are at a unique, heightened risk of violence, both from others and from themselves. And it goes without saying that people are never more vulnerable than when they're children. Hopefully, someday stories like these will be a distant memory, but that requires calling out transphobia at every turn, and teaching people in positions of authority how to be humane and compassionate.
4. Transgender Acceptance In Religion
Make no mistake; getting the leader of the Catholic Church to come out in support of transgender rights and respect seems like a high hurdle to clear. Catholicism has traditionally (and doctrinally) been pretty hostile to anything even loosely related to the sexual realm. Even Pope Francis, widely considered a progressive reformer, is nonetheless opposed to same-sex marriage, even backing a state referendum against it in Slovakia.
But that's not stopping Lui Akira Francesco Matsuo. As detailed by The New York Times, Matsuo, a transgender man and a practicing Catholic, is mounting a public effort to get a meeting with Pope Francis to advocate for himself and other transgender Catholics.
I want him to extend his hand openly, especially to the transgender community. I am a practicing Catholic. I just don’t have a parish I can call home.
It's a powerful statement - whether it works or not - because it comes from within the faith, and that could matter for the perceptions of other average Catholics. It might be easy for some of them to ignore or sneer at a transgender activist who's, say, an atheist. But making it clear that transgender people exist within all faith communities is a valuable step, and it's great that Matsuo is taking up the cause in such a public way.
5. Banning The Dangerous Practice Of "Conversion Therapy"
Remember Leelah Alcorn? She was a 17-year-old transgender girl in Ohio who took her own life late last year, prompting an outpouring of grief and rage from countless activists and advocates. Alcorn left a suicide note behind, detailing her struggles growing up in a conservative, transphobic household. Her parents had sent her to a so-called conversion therapy program in the hope of reversing her gender identity. Beyond not working, these kinds of programs have been found to be dangerous, often teaching young people to hate themselves, or immersing them in the hatred of others.
Her tragic death prompted a call to ban such practices, with a White House petition garnering more than the 100,000 signatures needed to draw a response. President Obama weighed in in April, announcing he'd support such a ban, and there's now legislation moving through the House of Representatives to try to achieve it. Whether it will pass is far from certain — the House is under the control of the GOP, after all — but if you've got the time, this would be as valuable an issue to contact your congressperson about as any in recent memory.
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