By Julia Luong
You might’ve recently heard about the major reforms delivered by the Biden Administration for transgender people in the United States. On March 31, 2022, the Biden Administration announced new actions to support the lives of transgender children. However, many people still pose questions or concerns. The one question I often hear is: “What’s the point of the reforms?” Well, hear me out first.
“Transgender” is a term that describes people whose gender identity is different from their gender assigned at birth—it is a lot more complex than “boy turns into girl” or “girl turns into boy. ”Being transgender is different from being lesbian, gay, or bisexual, which describes one’s sexual orientation. Some trans people identify as trans men, trans women, non-binary, genderqueer, or other identities that reflect their personal experience. Some also take hormones, have surgery, or change their pronouns or appearance to transition.
Even with the reforms, there is currently discrimination towards the transgender community and hundreds of anti-trans laws on the rise. Transgender and non-binary people continue to face violence and discrimination in their own homes, at school, or in public. They face high levels of domestic and sexual violence, denial of medical care, zero access to shelters, and restrictions from working, and even more so with people of color who are transgender, according to HRC.org.
Transgender people shouldn’t have to go through hurdles to access basic needs; they deserve rights like any other person. People may say a few reforms may have already been passed; however, a few reforms don’t automatically solve every single issue. If that were the case, sexism and racism would not continue to be an issue today.
Really, this is only the very beginning.
Medical care is a major concern within the transgender community. They are at a high risk for physical and mental health issues. The transgender community has the lowest life expectancy for any group of individuals. Due to high rates of poverty, HIV, discrimination, and other social, political, and economic factors, it increases the risk for transgender people to have worse health than cisgender people; this causes there to be a wide gap between the two populations. A 2021 Transpop survey reveals a staggering difference between transgender people versus cisgender people in terms of mental health, with 42% vs 8% attempting suicide in their lifetime and 56% vs 9% engaging in self-harm.
Furthermore, transgender people have the same needs as any other person and may desire hormone therapy and/or surgery to transition, yet they lack access to receive care and often get disregarded or harassed by many medical professionals due to their gender identity.
Often, many young transgender individuals deal with severe discrimination. I conducted interviews with transgender students from Williamsville East High School to tell me whether they have experienced some form of discrimination in their life for being transgender, and every single one of them said yes.
Two students revealed how they faced discrimination within school hours. One explained a situation regarding a teacher disrespecting their privacy and identity.
“The teacher ignored my emails regarding my identity and how to keep it safe, then proceeded to call me my preferred name on a parent-teacher call. The email stated not to do this; it stated to use different pronouns and names in front of parents. That interaction completely put me at risk and exposed me; I didn’t find out about it until my mom confronted me,” explained the first anonymous student who didn’t want to use their name to protect their identity.
Another student explained a situation with a couple of classmates during a gym class and at home.
“These guys targeted my friends and I with dodgeballs, calling us the F slur. We went to guidance, but they said they could do nothing because we didn’t have evidence. When my friend got solid evidence, my friend was told he can’t invade people’s privacy just to prove a point,” said this second anonymous student. “I also used to live in an abusive household, but I, now, live in a better one with my step-dad and mom. I came out to my biological dad in 7th grade. He yelled and screamed at me while threatening to beat me and take my door off my room. He told me I would always be a woman.”
And the brutality doesn’t stop there. Acts of violence towards transgender individuals have been on the rise in recent years. They’re more common than you might think. A recent study by UCLA law school found that transgender people are four times more likely than any other community to experience violent victimization, like rape or assault. Four times? Why is this not coming to anyone’s attention?
Although the number of hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community in general has decreased in recent years, the hate crimes against the transgender community in particular have increased. From 2019 to 2020, it increased significantly by 41%, according to FBI data. The difference is insane, and it’s only within a single year. Because nothing is being done about the situation, it only continues to worsen year after year.
And let’s not forget people of color. It is seen that 84% of violence against the trans community is directed towards transgender people of color, especially black trans women. Black trans people face startling levels of discrimination out of all transgender people. The challenges people of color face are worsened because of challenges they deal with due to racism, and they are typically less accepted within the transgender community itself.
Kian Allen, a brown, trans guy, mentions in his blog how he feels black and brown experiences are being erased and not being represented within LGBTQ spaces, which are dominated by white voices. Moreover, Sage Subbiah, a brown, trans student within East High School, mentions, “One of the biggest issues is the idea that if you’re a trans person who isn’t white, then you’re not valid. It’s like your own identity gets questioned.”
One could argue that trans people can’t identify the way they want to since they can’t understand the experiences of cisgender people. For example, saying that transgender women don’t have the same experiences on how to be a “true” woman, so they cannot be women. But what is a “true woman”? There are cis women who have fertility issues and cannot give birth, cannot have periods due to menopause/stress/disease, are flat chested, or miscarry. By that argument, those women are not real women since they don’t have those capabilities. But women are still women despite not having these same experiences.
There are over two million people who are transgender in the United States and 12 million who identify as non-binary. Nobody can continue ignoring such a large part of the population dealing with major issues. Many people dismiss the transgender community and lack understanding because they lack education.
So educate yourselves. Educate yourselves on gender identity, listen to their stories, and find out what kind of situations they face. Educate yourself on their preferred name and how they identify. Put yourself in their shoes. They’re your neighbors, classmates, friends, family, and coworkers. They’re regular people. Let’s start treating them as such.