Confronting transphobia

Transgender activists in revolting Trump era: not going back

“Scary” 10-year-old Rebekah defends her real self as a girl — to the vast approval of internet supporters. PHOTO: Jamie Bruesehoft
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Assaults that transgender and sexually diverse people have weathered for decades have reached a new level as the Trump-Pence regime ramps up discrimination and eliminates protections.

Trump’s administration removed guidelines that allowed transgender students to use school bathrooms matching their gender identity. The Department of Education rejects all civil rights claims by transgender students. The ban on transgender people in the military is stalled in court. The administration is signaling it is OK to assault and murder LGBTQ folk.

Trump’s latest attack is the First Amendment Defense Act, which permits any person, business, or official to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of freedom of religion. In a chilling throwback to Jim Crow laws it would allow bigots to deny housing, jobs, healthcare and other services to an entire population.

Rigid, unequal roles for women and men are the bedrock of capitalism, where women are subservient to men and children are the property of the heterosexual family. Transmen and women are especially threatening because they do not fit into traditional gender norms. They disrupt the system of discrimination used to keep everyone down.

Vigorous fightback. Transgender people are mobilizing in their own defense, swiftly gaining allies as they do. Together with undocumented immigrant youth — the most vulnerable and the first attacked — they are out in front. Attempts to enact “bathroom bills” have been met with loud protests and boycott threats organized by LGBTQ activists. These actions harken back to the Stonewall Rebellion that sparked the modern LGBTQ movement. They produce a multi-issue struggle because transgender people are part of the Black, Native American, labor and feminist movements.

California-based Immigrant Youth Coalition connects the struggles of undocumented and detained immigrants and LGBTQ youth.

At Santee High School in working-class South Central Los Angeles, for example, the student body is 99 percent people of color. Santee’s Gay Straight Alliance won the first all-gender bathroom in the state and then led students and supporters to chase away religious bigots harassing students as they left school. Trump’s transgender ban brought out thousands of protesters, including vets, to rally at recruiting stations across the U.S. The first anniversary of the murders of the LGBTQ clientele of Florida’s Pulse nightclub was marked by protests in hundreds of cities across the country.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos instructed her Department to reject all civil rights claims by transgender students. Over 700 parents of transgender children from 47 states sent her a letter condemning her failure to protect gender nonconforming students. In Massachusetts, unions representing 750,000 workers joined a coalition defending a transgender equality law in danger of repeal.

Reforms will not insure survival. Public acceptance of LGBTQ people has certainly increased in recent years. Transwomen such as actor Laverne Cox and news reporter Janet Mock are on national television. West Coast states have added a non-binary gender check box to government documents.

Many labor unions have also begun to mobilize in defense of LGBTQ people. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has made it a policy to negotiate contracts with non-discrimination language and transition-related health coverage. L.A. UFCW Local 770’s OUTreach group actively defends LGBTQ workers and protests murders of transgender people. Some Pride at Work (AFL-CIO) chapters are officially mobilizing against transphobia. These changes are just the beginning of what is needed.

However, the fifth murder of a transgender woman this year was just reported in Cleveland, Ohio. Transgender immigrants in detention face daily assaults by guards. The unemployment rate for transgender people is triple the national average. Thirty-five percent face housing discrimination. Students are disciplined more often than others. Unemployment, poverty and a lack of qualified doctors make healthcare so inaccessible that nearly one-third of transgender people have none at all.

LGBTQ folks need what the rest of the working class needs — good jobs and housing, free childcare and education, quality healthcare, personal safety. But these needs are greatly deepened when they also face transphobia.

A militant LGBTQ movement in solidarity with the labor movement could win relief for transgender and queer people of color and workers. Mutual support in shared battles could actually push back against economic and physical assaults.

Such unity could hasten the day when a transgender woman of color can wake up looking forward to the day, not in fear. That would be a big step toward justice

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