By Janna Barkin, Parent Groups Advisor
The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear three cases that would allow them to evaluate whether employers can fire an employee for being transgender. Currently, trans people are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on sex. However, the Justice Department filed a brief arguing that Title VII only protects workers based on their “biological sex.” The brief reads: “Title VII does not prohibit discrimination against transgender persons based on their transgender status… It simply does not speak to discrimination because of an individual’s gender identity or a disconnect between an individual’s gender identity and the individual’s sex.”
This attack on transgender people by the Trump Administration is another in a long list of calls for discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. Last week, the administration proposed a rule that would gut non-discrimination protections by adding religious exemptions to Executive Order 13672, signed by then-President Barack Obama on July 21, 2014, which prohibits discrimination in hiring by federal contractors on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.
This is completely unacceptable. All people deserve to be treated with respect. LGBTQ+ people should have the same rights as cisgender or heterosexual people have. No one should be discriminated against based on something that is intrinsic to who they are as a person. When a community or culture does discriminate against certain individuals, it is all of us who suffer.
The Trump administration needs Gender-101 training. Gender is not just one’s “biological sex” or sex at birth. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health all agree: gender can be described as the interplay of three things: 1. Biological – including outer and inner body, DNA, genetics, and their interplay, 2. Gender Identity – one’s inner held understanding of themselves with regard to gender, and 3. Gender expression – how one expresses gender outwardly, including through clothing and hair styles, mannerisms, name, and pronouns.
To be transgender is just another beautiful way of being human; a natural variation.
When we first started the parent/caregiver support groups for parents with transgender/non binary/gender questioning children at The Spahr Center in 2015, President Obama was in office. It was a positive time for LGBTQ rights. Same-sex marriage was legalized. The Obama Administration issued guidelines to protect transgender youth in schools. Many states, including California, made laws to strengthen protections for transgender rights in the workplace, in schools, in medical establishments, and in public accommodations.
Positive change was happening on the national level.
In 2016, Trump was elected and the future quickly turned bleak. He ran on promises that included blatant discrimination–against LGBTQ people, against women, and against people of color. Since taking office, he has started to systematically dismantle the protections that President Obama issued. He has rallied the forces of hate and bigotry. LGBTQ people are in danger. Our community is in danger.
There is reason to be alarmed.
Studies show over and over that transgender people are more likely to suffer from discrimination, isolation, depression and anxiety than their cisgender peers. LGBTQ youth attempt suicide at much higher rates than that of their heterosexual, cisgender peers. Transgender youth have the highest rates of suicide among their peers. (https://www.hrc.org/resources/2018-lgbtq-youth-report) The latest attacks from the Trump administration will undoubtedly make things even worse.
While some states do have protections in place, they are not enough. We need a national policy that specifically addresses the rights of our transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming citizens. According to Transgender Law Center, there are 18 states in the US that have high levels of protection with regard to Gender Identity, 6 with medium protections, 10 with low protections, and 16 with negative protections. (https://transgenderlawcenter.org/equalitymap) One’s address should not determine their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We can change the tide, we can save lives.
Recent studies from the University of Texas show that simply using a person’s chosen name and correct pronouns greatly reduces their risk for suicide and depression. Another study states the same about using a trans youth’s chosen name. (https://news.utexas.edu/2018/03/30/name-use-matters-for-transgender-youths-mental-health/) These simple acts of respect can truly be life-saving. A word of advice: whenever readers are unsure about how someone they meet identifies, it is perfectly alright to ask.
I am filled with hope each time we have an “aha” moment at The Spahr Center’s monthly parent/caregiver support group meetings. A parent remarks that when they use the pronoun the child has asked them to use, the child “lights up” and becomes more interested in family time. Another reflects on how happy their child seems at school since their name change went through and their teachers are all on board. A grandma reflects the joy oozing from her granddaughter, who is transgender, when she gifted her with a makeover.
Over the last year, the Spahr Center’s Youth Advocacy Coalition has trained over 1,000 teachers, students, service providers and community members on how they can be active allies to transgender people. Conducting these trainings helps us develop a welcoming and safe environment for transgender people in Marin, and helps build a grassroots movement for trans equity in the county. This sort of advocacy is a critical aspect of our work at The Spahr Center. We are also developing additional support systems for transgender people. Stay tuned for updates on an educational and support group for trans people and their loved ones.
This is a call to action. We who consider ourselves allies to LGBTQ+ people must do more to ensure that all people are treated with respect. Educate yourself. Attend local community events focused on LGBTQ issues. Volunteer at The Spahr Center, our very own LGBTQ+ center right here in Marin. Talk about why you care about LGBTQ+ issues with your friends and family members. Contact government officials and tell them you oppose attacks on LGBTQ+ rights. https://action.hrc.org/E60hhkh Tell them you oppose the Trump Administration’s attempts to erase LGBTQ+ people. Tell them you won’t stand for hate and bigotry in our community, in our country.
Take action today. Lives literally depend upon it.
“Lead with your heart.” Miss Major Griffin-Gracy (trans woman, activist, leader)
“Hope will never be silent.” Harvey Milk (gay man, San Francisco Supervisor)
The Spahr Center will continue to fight for transgender equity. If you want to join this effort, contact Fel at firstname.lastname@example.org.