It was October 1998 when 19 year old Brienne was kicked out of her childhood home, the only home she ever knew, and forced to live in her car. Her parents could not understand what she was trying to share with them that day. Maybe they were not really listening, or maybe they didn’t want to hear what she had to say, but either way they lost a child that day. The abbreviation LGBT means, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, and can be broken down into sexual orientation (LGB) and gender identity (T). The meaning of the term transgender is best defined on the LGBT website from GLAAD as “to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex the doctor marked on their birth certificate. Gender identity is a person's internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or someone outside of that gender binary). For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match” (“Transgender FAQ”). Brienne is neither lesbian, gay or bisexual - she is a transgender woman. Michael Leslie, director of LGBTQ mental health at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts states,"Often the same factors that increase suicide risk among straight peers dramatically affect trans individuals: limited social support, poverty, substance use, school avoidance, rejection by parents". Brienne, being a transgender person, has a long road ahead of her with issues like the lack of legal protection, poverty, harassment and stigma, anti-transgender violence, barriers to healthcare, and issues with identity documents. It is no wonder that there is a great deal of controversy surrounding equality in the transgender community. Some would say that transgender people don’t deserve equal rights. Others would say transgender people are people too. For someone to better understand a transgender person, one must learn to listen, not only with their ears, but also with an open mind.
One pressing effect of transgender people not having equal rights is related to public perception and how ignorance has run rampant in the media. This has become a dangerous condition among those uneducated to transgender issues. Take HB2 for example, a bill that recently passed in Raleigh, North Carolina. HB2 created statewide consistency regulations for single-sex multiple occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities in schools and public areas. Defining them as “A facility designed or designated to be used by only one person at a time where persons may be in various states of undress. A single occupancy bathroom or changing facility may include, but is not limited to, a single stall restroom designated as unisex or for use based on biological sex.” Biological sex meaning, “The physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person's birth certificate” (“Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act”). The bill, unapologetically, removed bathroom privileges of the transgender community in the state of North Carolina. While another article called “A ‘restroom bill’s’ other victims” talks about how transgender people are not the only ones affected. The article says, “The political storm around HB2, North Carolina's sweeping "bathroom bill," has focused on its implications for transgender individuals, but much less has been written about what it means for the "gender nonconforming." By that I mean those women and men, girls and boys whose appearance doesn't fit neatly into traditional male and female boxes - or restrooms” (Petrow). The the aftermath of HB2 rippled out like a stone being thrown into a calm lake. The issue instigated anti-transgender violence towards anyone using a bathroom that didn’t fit into what a girl or boy should look like.
Another effect of transgender people not having equal rights can been seen in the lack of legal protection. There is no thorough non-discrimination law that includes gender identity. The Human Rights Campaign website summarizes non-discriminatory states based on employment and housing, public accommodations, and education where “only 20 states and the District of Columbia prohibit employment and housing discrimination based on gender identity, only 18 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations; and only 14 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in education” (“Human Rights Campaign 2015 State Equality Index”). Transgender people are often grouped with gay people in widespread media. Because of this, some would think that existing LGBT related laws apply and they would be wrong. Discrimination laws still don’t protect transgender people.
Many arguments can be used to support discrimination against the transgender community. One argument surrounding bathroom usage by transgender people can be made that about the safety of women and children might be compromised, alluding that transgender people are sexual predators, waiting in the bathroom stall. In the article titled "Statistics Show Exactly How Many Times Trans People Have Attacked You in Bathrooms" quickly states, “There are zero reported cases of this happening” and goes on to present state by state statistics.
Another argument would be that being a transgender person is a mental disorder and not a civil rights issue. While there are cases where transgender people are labeled with gender dysphoria, being a transgender person is not a mental disorder. In the "GLAAD Media Reference Guide - In Focus: Covering the Transgender Community." it states “Neither the American Psychiatric Association nor the American Psychological Association consider simply being transgender a "mental disorder" (“GLAAD Media Reference Guide”).
On Monday, May 9, 2016 the U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch said it best;
“Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself. Some of you have lived freely for decades. Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead. But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. Please know that history is on your side. This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time. It may not be easy – but we’ll get there together” ("Justice News").
With that said, there are still ways to achieve transgender equality, but not without the help of allies. Become an ally and take a trans person to lunch and listen with an open mind. Transgender people need to eat too.