November 13, 2015
When our anti-discrimination statutes fail to explicitly include gay and transgender Americans –– our government sends a powerfully toxic message that LGBT people are not worthy of being treated with dignity and fairness.November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we remember the transgender individuals who have been murdered in the past year. It has been a devastating and tragic year. As we wonder why there has been such an epidemic of anti-trans violence, particularly against trans women of color, one need not look much further than the hate-filled rhetoric of government “leaders,” such as Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick just a few weeks ago.
Creating a climate of hate and intolerance against already vulnerable people not only took down HERO – it contributed to an ongoing epidemic of violence against trans individuals.On November 3, Election Day, residents in Houston voted overwhelmingly to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, which would have prohibited anti-LGBT discrimination. While it also protected against discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, and eight other characteristics, opponents were able to defeat the measure by playing to the most base and offensive of fear tactics concerning transgender individuals. In celebrating the defeat of HERO, Patrick recklessly claimed that HERO would have endangered “our grandmoms and our mothers and our wives and our sisters and our daughters and our granddaughters” from cross-dressing sexual predators in public bathrooms – playing into despicable stereotypes of trans people. Creating a climate of hate and intolerance against already vulnerable people not only took down HERO – it contributed to an ongoing epidemic of violence against trans individuals. And there have been so many lives lost this year. What political leaders say matters, but what the law says, or doesn’t say, also matters. When our anti-discrimination statutes fail to explicitly include gay and transgender Americans –– our government sends a powerfully toxic message that LGBT people are not worthy of being treated with dignity and fairness.
The only way we can counter this argument is not to simply refute it, but rather to immunize people from it.In over half the states in this country and at the federal level, the absence of explicit protections is shameful. Even in GLAD’s home state, Massachusetts, which has led on equality in so many areas, we are still fighting to include full explicit protections in public accommodations for transgender people. Our exclusion from existing anti-discrimination statutory language sends the message that it is ok to target LGBT people for discrimination and violence. Our government tells citizens that LGBT lives and livelihoods are not worth the same as those of non-LGBT individuals. How do we change this tide? Just as school curriculum was used in the marriage equality fight to hold back equal marriage rights, our opponents believe they have discovered their winning strategy when it comes to trans rights – to play upon fears about sexual violence. The only way we can counter this argument is not to simply refute it, but rather to immunize people from it. We as human beings react emotionally, not rationally. And while it may seem obvious to us that such arguments are spurious and irrational, fear is a powerful and motivating emotion.
This Transgender Day of Remembrance, let us say the names of every trans person who has been murdered this year, to remember their deaths and mourn society’s loss. But let’s also inspire love and empathy, by celebrating trans lives and families.The best way we can win the next battle is to start before it begins, by cultivating a culture of respect, empathy, and love for transgender people. As I wrote in a past blog, we must create a culture of love for transgender people, everywhere we go, with everyone in our life. It starts with our schools, communities, workplaces, and families. And it must start now. One powerful example of how this can work is from Maine, where GLAD helped defeat a 2011 legislative attempt to strip away antidiscrimination protections that protected transgender people in public accommodations – including restrooms. State Representative Kenneth Fredette introduced this hateful bill in response to one of GLAD’s cases that sought access to the girl’s bathroom for a transgender 5th grade girl, Nicole Maines, in school. As Nicole put it, when her school prohibited her from using the girl’s restroom, it made her feel like a freak, and different from all the other girls at school. Her case, and the resulting legislative backlash, focused squarely on the same issue that took down HERO in Houston. And yet, we were able to defeat the bill in a Republican-controlled state senate, by putting forward examples of love, not fear, of transgender individuals. Nicole and her father Wayne personally lobbied key legislators, including Republicans. By telling their story, they not only made real the harms that result from discrimination, they also set an example of how we should treat one another – through the love of a father for his daughter. When it came time to vote on the state senate floor, legislator after legislator talked about how the Maines family moved them to vote against the bill. We successfully averted the legislative backlash, and with GLAD’s representation, Nicole went on to win the first state supreme court decision to affirm the right of a transgender girl to use the girls restroom. Nicole, now a college first-year student, was named one of Glamour magazine’s 50 Phenomenal women, for her advocacy for the trans community. This Transgender Day of Remembrance, let us say the names of every trans person who has been murdered this year, to remember their deaths and mourn society’s loss. But let’s also inspire love and empathy, by celebrating trans lives and families, such as Nicole and the Maines family. By doing so, we can both drown out the chorus of hate and intolerance that still echoes from Houston and so many other places, and pass laws that speak even more loudly to our equal worth as human beings.