Petersen: Transgender People Cannot Be Erased


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By Josh Petersen, Digital Managing Editor


Transgender people cannot be erased. For some, this might sound obvious. A person’s gender identity is an inherent, undeniable part of who they are, and to treat transgender people with respect and dignity is not a radical political choice — it’s basic human decency. All that transgender people are asking for is equal treatment, and the right to live a normal life without fearing discrimination or violence. Over the past several years, there have been small but encouraging signs of progress. Transgender and non-binary issues have slowly seeped into popular culture and political discourse, and many Americans, especially young ones, have learned more about the differences between gender and sex. In 2015, the Human Rights Campaign released a guidebook to help schools support transgender students.

However, recent action from the Trump administration is a potent reminder that the fight for equality is far from over. The New York Times reported that the Department of Health and Human Services is considering a strict definition of gender that is restricted to biological sex at birth. This action would restrict transgender people from various civil rights protections — especially in health care and public education. Quite simply, the administration is trying to officially define transgender Americans out of existence.

Many Americans are actively trying to deny transgender people their human rights on a daily basis. This recent action is just a symptom of the transphobia that affects every facet of life for gender-nonconforming people. Even as LGBT+ rights have expanded rapidly in the past ten years, it is important to remember that transgender people have often been left out of this progress for the queer community as a whole. A 2017 poll found that 54 percent of Americans believe gender is determined by sex at birth. Transgender and non-conforming people continually face mental health challenges — a shocking 41 percent have attempted suicide. Transgender people are often denied their humanity in even the most mundane experiences, such as going to the bathroom or being called by their preferred pronouns.

Whether motivated by apathy, political strategy, or personal animosity, President Trump’s hateful actions are harming this community. A fascinating, and disheartening episode of “The Daily” theorized that President Trump’s position on transgender rights was designed to be a “wedge issue” to deliberately polarize Americans and energize the most conservative voters. This policy would closely mirror the ideological stance of most conservative evangelicals, who voted for President Trump in overwhelming numbers. This proposed policy change is both immoral and depressingly cynical. Faced with his own unpopularity, President Trump and his administration have targeted the most vulnerable Americans for cheap political points.

Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights, has referred to wider definitions of gender identity as “radical gender ideology.” Yet restricting a person’s access to basic government services based on gender identity is the truly radical ideology. The policy’s implication that transgender people may be subject to unwanted genetic testing is especially frightening. This proposal goes directly against the statements of experts and medical professionals, who say anatomy at birth is not the only factor that determines gender.

It is more important than ever for Americans, especially those in the queer community, to publicly defend transgender people. It is also essential to support candidates who are willing to fight for transgender rights. As dangerous ideologies attempt to treat transgender lives as meaningless, it is time for allies to use their privilege by standing with and actively supporting those who are left without a voice.

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