Bringhurst: Democrats Fail To Protect Trans Rights


Carlene Coombs

Transgender youth sit on the steps at the Utah State Capitol on March 24, 2022 as the crowd surrounding them chanted “We love you.” (Photo by Carlene Coombs | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Maggie Bringhurst, Opinion Writer


In the 1950s and 60s, the Democratic party championed itself as the party for civil rights. They successfully passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act to secure racial desegregation. Although their stance lost support from Southern Democrats, it was long overdue and a crucial step towards equality. Then in 2015, the Obama administration ushered in another win for equal rights with the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Now Trump-era Republicans use transgender issues as a culture war battleground, while Democrats fail to respond with the same ferocity. The Democratic party should act to prioritize and defend trans rights as they grow increasingly under attack. Until they do, Democrats will continually expose themselves as disingenuous hypocrites and lose voter support.

The Party for Equality

Democrats pride themselves on being the party for social equality and advocating for marginalized groups. But when push comes to shove, they don’t defend those groups if it means jeopardizing their centrist voters. “The most important thing is to win the next election,” said Hillary Clinton in response to a question about transgender rights. “Whatever does not help you win should not be a priority.”

Advocating for transgender rights includes more than passing legislation and making statements. Support comes in the form of providing funding and nominating representatives who defend LGBTQ+ rights. For example, nine transgender candidates ran for Congressional office in 2018, but the party only managed to raise $300,000.

Established Democrats continue to endorse centrist candidates rather than progressive ones. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi voiced support for incumbent Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, an anti-abortion Democrat. Cuellar won the marginally-tight race against progressive Jessica Cisneros, a supporter of healthcare coverage for gender-affirming treatments.

Endorsements and funding would help secure progressive candidates and LGBTQ+ rights. But Democrats prefer to keep conservatives in office if it means winning centrist voters.

Current Threats to Transgender Rights

Rather than acting in line with party values, Democrats choose not to act at all. We continuously see a lack of support for the LGBTQ+ community while the right rushes to pass hateful laws. In 2022 alone, at least 25 bills restricting the rights of transgender individuals were passed. These laws include prohibiting doctors from performing gender reassignment surgery and giving puberty blockers to youth, as well as banning trans people from participating in sports. But despite having control of the White House and a majority in Congress, Democrats never implement counter-legislation.

According to the Trevor Project, half of transgender and non-binary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, while one in five attempted it. Daily discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ youth influences their mental health, proving the urgent necessity of protecting transgender individuals. Transgender youth who receive gender-affirming hormones have 60% lower odds of experiencing depression and 73% lower odds of experiencing suicidality.

The Future of Democrats

Approval for President Joe Biden among 18 to 30 year-olds is lower now than any prior Democrat president in decades. Millennials and Gen Z youth are frustrated with Democrats’ lack of action. Climate change, inflation, poverty, housing and student debt pose urgent threats to our generation, yet Congress fails to pass solution-oriented legislation.

Democrats worry that an extreme right-wing population would push Democrats to center-align their agenda, but the same polarization happens on the left. Additionally, the progressive left voted and donated to Joe Biden at a higher rate than other liberals during the 2020 election. Even from Hillary Clinton’s strictly political paradigm, pandering to this group would secure votes.

It may be difficult to pass federal laws with a partisan Congress, but it’s already difficult to pass bipartisan laws with Republicans’ refusal to compromise.

Local Democrats can exercise their limited power, but for red states like Utah, it’s not enough. Utah Sen. Derek Kitchen introduced a bill to prohibit the “gay panic” defense in court. He also introduced a bill to codify same-sex marriage in Utah to ensure marriage equality isn’t reversed following the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. But there’s only so much one individual can do. The party that supposedly stands for equality has far greater reasoning to stand their moral ground.

Silence is Complicit

Anti-LGBTQ+ Republicans have no evidence to back up legislation, while Democrats do. But Democrats aren’t fighting to legislate with the same vigor as fear-mongering Republicans. As long as Democrats stand idly by and fail their constituents, Republicans will wage war on transgender individuals.

Politics and elections aside, excluding transgender people from gender-affirming healthcare and sport participation is morally wrong, with detrimental consequences. It is up to Democrats to take a hard stance against intolerance and bigotry. Republicans may wage a culture war against the few to gain popularity among many, but Democrats equally bear the blame as long as they stand by and do nothing.


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