I spent the last few days down in Richmond, in large part to attend a summit sponsored by Equality Virginia that focused on issues facing the transgender community. While it was clear there’s a lot of work to do to ensure basic equality for trans and non-binary people, there was a lot of positive energy and most people left feeling like positive change could happen relatively soon. Then we saw the article published by the New York Times this morning highlighting the Trump Administration’s most recent efforts to go after transgender people.
Especially when it comes to Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education, the Administration has a history of claiming Title IX doesn’t apply to gender identity. Title IX is the civil rights law that bans discrimination based on gender in education programs that receive federal funds (even most private schools receive some sort of federal funding). According to the report, the Trump Administration wants to make it clear the term “sex” used in the law is based upon the genitalia a person is born with and cannot change to match a person’s true gender identity.
“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department proposed in the memo, which was drafted and has been circulating since last spring. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”
In other words, this would essentially mean that transgender people simply do not exist in the eyes of the federal government and can therefore be discriminated against. This echoes a sentiment Sarah McBride, HRC’s National Press Secretary, said at the summit I attended this weekend. Sarah spoke about how the transgender community has a lot of concerns besides the bathroom issue, but anti-equality advocates like to raise that issue in an attempt to prevent transgender people from being in public for an extended period of time. And by not being in public, trans people would effectively removed from society.
Polling data shows that the concept of being visible in the community is already taking place to some degree, though these policies would only increase it. A poll released by the Pew Research Center back in 2016, for instance, showed that only 30% of adults know somebody who is transgender. Even fewer people over the age of 65 (16%) say they know someone who’s trans. Those are drastically smaller numbers than the 87% of people who knew someone who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
Not only does this inability to fully participate and be visible in society inhibit the basic right of transgender people to live life to their fullest potential, it also impacts whether or not people believe discriminating against the transgender community is acceptable. The same Pew poll, for instance, showed that 15% of people say they’ve personally become more accepting of gays and lesbians in recent years and many claim knowing a homosexual is what changed their opinion.
Both the direct and indirect impacts the Trump Administration’s efforts to essentially erase the transgender community from society and allow discrimination need to be addressed. Since the Executive Branch has made it clear it’s okay with promoting bigotry and discrimination, we need Congress to stand up for basic equality.
One way Congress can show it doesn’t support the Trump Administration’s hate and bigotry is by passing the Equality Act. The legislation would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity among those groups who can’t be discriminated against in public accommodations. It already has 226 co-sponsors from both parties and 117 major corporations have joined HRC’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act.
If Congress doesn’t act, the Trump Administration’s new policy could have an extremely negative impact on the community. Transgender people could be denied access to emergency shelters, transgender men could be harassed while trying to improve themselves at a job training programs, hospitals could refuse to help transwomen care even if it’s not related to their transition, and so much more.
Moving forward on legislation to prevent this type of discrimination also doesn’t have to be a partisan issue. A recent poll from the Human Rights Campaign shows that 69% of likely voters approve of a federal nondiscrimination law (only 27% opposed it). This includes 51% of Republicans, 72% of Independents, and 80% of Democrats supporting the law. On top of that, 64% said they’d be less likely to support their Member of Congress if he or she opposed a nondiscrimination law.
I’ve also heard of polling from another organization that shows 54% of active Republican voters here in Virginia believe the the LGBT community shouldn’t be discriminated against when it comes to housing and public accommodations. These are voters who have participated in GOP primaries who also said they didn’t care if politicians supported legislation preventing this type of discrimination. Republican legislators in Virginia therefore don’t have to worry about having someone run against them in the primary if they stand up for equality.
What this all means is the Trump Administration is promoting an extreme agenda that would not only harm the transgender community, but also clearly goes against the will of the general public. Since Trump and his allies on the far right are already trying to silence the trans community and remove them from society, however, supporters of basic equality must stand up and prevent hate and bigotry from moving forward.