As each year passes, America as a nation has become more progressive, more tolerant, more aware of the social issues that still plague its citizens each day. Yet we still live in a nation where InTouch magazine feels it's acceptable to release a transphobic cover about Bruce Jenner; where transgender teens like Leelah Alcorn have to cope with lack of acceptance within their own families. Which is why it's insanely exciting that President Obama referenced trans individuals in his 2015 State of the Union speech for the first time ever.
During his speech Tuesday night, Obama condemned hateful speech, not just against religious individuals, but anyone who faces persecution purely because of their identities. As the State of the Union read:
As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained. It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world. It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims — the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace. That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.
It was a paragraph that wasn't just notable for its reference to transgender rights, though — as Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight pointed out, Obama's State of the Union was the first to even reference the words lesbian and bisexual.
And though it's just one mention — without any sort of legislation — it's still a landmark statement when it comes to the government's support of trans individuals.
Still, there's a long way to go when it comes to trans advocacy in the American government and beyond. Not only are stories like Alcorn's far, far too common, but there are still attempts by politicians and more to curb the rights of trans Americans. Just look at the recent Kentucky legislation attempting to force transgender students to use bathrooms that align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Here's hoping the mere mention of transgender actually comes with policy in Obama's remaining years in office. Because, as of right now, it's just a word, unfortunately — time for action to come next.