Written by Ola Adebayo, MPH candidate and student worker at the Institute for Public Health
March 31st marked the International Trans Day of Visibility. While this day was centered to shine a spotlight on trans and non-binary peoples, it was overshadowed by the significant amount of anti-trans legislation sweeping the nation. As of this month, 15 states are currently passing legislation to ban or restrict access to gender-affirming care that medical experts deem as necessary and can lower the risk of suicide, self-harm, and depression. These bans will impact 58,000 children which represent over a third of trans youth.
This historic amount of legislation has led some advocates to label 2022 as the “worst year in recent history for LGBTQ state legislative attacks.” In Missouri, 8 bills are being discussed that would restrict people to change the sex on their birth certificate, create athletic guidelines by sex, and provisions surrounding gender-affirming surgeries.
These bills however are the opposite of the national decree. Since 2014, support for same-sex marriage has increased by 24%, with now 7 out of 10 Americans agreeing with the practice. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, nearly 79% of Americans support laws that protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations. This widespread support is even seen within conservative and Republican political parties. Recently, Senator Tyler Pace, a Republican senator from Arizona, broke away from his party when he voted to block legislation that would have banned gender-affirming surgery for transgender youth. In Utah, Governor Spencer Cox stated that he would veto legislation that would bar transgender student-athletes from competing in girls’ sports. Senate Republicans in Idaho stopped a bill that would criminally charge parents who allow their minors to receive gender-affirming care.
So even with national opposition, why are more bills being proposed and spreading throughout local and national political spheres? LGBTQ+ advocates and political experts state that this surge in anti-transgender legislation uses transgender people as a wedge to garner greater support from right-wing voters. This push for more legislation may also stem from the landmark Supreme Court cases that granted same-sex couples the right to marry in 2015 and prohibited workplace discrimination in 2020.
Unfortunately, these bills have taken a toll on transgender individuals and their families. Gillian Branstetter, trans advocate, and media manager at the National Women’s Law Center, told NBC News, “They are treating trans kids as though they are a contagion” and ultimately vilifying parents for allowing their children to uncover who they truly are. These bills will have long-term impacts on individuals and do the opposite of protecting children. According to The Trevor Project’s National Survey on Mental Health, 52% of transgender and non-binary youth considered suicide and this rate is estimated to rise due to these legislative actions.
Why are transgender people suddenly everywhere? Trans activist Samy Nour Younes says he gets that question a lot. Gender variations outside of the binary however have been seen in societies dating over 2000 years ago. Trans people and practices even assisted the North to win the Civil War with individuals assigned females at birth who dressed up as men to fight. Once the war ended, some of these people continued to live their lives as men. Indigenous communities within the United States have shown multiplicity in the gender construct with the notion of “Two Spirits”. Even with this history, transgender stories stem even further back and continue to be a powerful voice for others from Albert Cashier, Virginia Prince, and Christine Jorgensen to Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and Laverne Cox.
So no, trans people aren’t “suddenly” here and these issues aren’t new. International Trans Day of Visibility is not just one day, but a daily exercise in engaging and advocating for trans and non-binary people. We all have to provide support and attention to those that have already been doing so for generations. There are ways to assist in the movement: (1) reaching out to legislators in your state to find out if laws are being written and to voice your dissent toward these policies; (2) learning from and engaging with trans and non-binary resources, workshops, and novelists to understand how to be a better ally, and (3) donate to support organizations and legal funds to ensure that this movement is not one that trans people and their families have to carry on by themselves. The lasting message Younes left for his TED audience should be a sentiment that everyone sends out to trans people: “You are not alone. You have us. And we are not going anywhere.”