Transgender Rights Are More Urgent Than Ever

Commentary By: A. Scott Johnson, Special To Follow South Jersey

An individual’s identity is something that grows with them over time. You today are, hopefully, not the same person you were in elementary school. That’s not to say there’s nothing similar between you then and you now. The things you experienced become a part of who you are, for better and for worse. This idea also works in reverse, that who someone is will affect the situations they experience, again for better and, sadly, for worse. The transgender community is one group that is perpetually harassed and discriminated against because of their identity. It is unfair and unmerited.

The transgender community has been fighting for equal rights for ages. Going all the way back to the start of pride we can find transgender people leading Stonewall riots in New York City. Nowadays we hear of athletes wanting to compete with the gender they identify as, or students going to court so they can use the bathroom, and occasionally a celebrity comes out as nonbinary. Whenever something is relevant to the transgender community you may see it reposted with the caption “Trans Rights are human rights” or just simply “Trans Rights.” So what does it actually mean to want equal rights for transgender people?

Starting from the beginning of the wider LGBTQ+ movement we can find transgender women front and center (although technically the term “transgender” wasn’t popularized until the early 90s). Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are two prominent transgender figures at the Stonewall riots in 1969. That night was a response to police raiding the Stonewall Inn arresting people for violating discriminatory laws from the time. Since then many laws have been made to protect the LGBTQ+ community and police forces are no longer raiding gay bars. So what does it mean to fight for transgender rights in todays age? Is it still necessary? Short answer, yes.

Many problems that transgender folk faced fifty years ago are still issues today. The poverty rates for transgender adults are higher than the poverty rates of non-transgender or cisgender adults. The rates are even higher for trans people of color. This problem becomes even greater when many homeless shelters have turned trans people away. Federally funded homeless shelters are no longer allowed to discriminate against transgender people, but there are still many non-federally funded that won’t let trans people in or mistreat them. On top of that transgender people are harrassed by other shelter inhabitants.

The harassment doesn’t end there. The LGBTQ and HIV-Affected Hate and Violence in 2014 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) states that of the murder victims from the study, 55% were transgender women, and 50% were transgender women of color. The study also shows that women were more likely to experience intimidation, harassment, threats, and violence from police if they were transgender. In the most recent report from NCAVP in 2017 they have found decreased reports of hate violence but a higher rate from other data collection systems. These reports and statistics show how the transgender community experience higher rates of violence and discrimination.

What do all these numbers mean, and what can be done to improve these situations? First and foremost transgender identity needs to be formally recognized across the board. Currently less than half of U.S. states have laws that protect trans people against discrimination in public places and from private businesses. On top of that more people need to be educated in transgender issues because too many people still believe that trans women are pereverts wanting to sneak into the women’s bathrooms and that trans men are just women that want to feel special. When these harmful myths are broken then maybe more people can understand the trans experience and accept their identities. 

Editor’s note: On Saturday evening on November 19, five people were killed and 18 were injured during a shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado. According to Garden State Equality, New Jersey was the first state in the nation to create a Transgender Equality Task Force whose mission is “to study the legal and societal barriers to equality for transgender individuals in New Jersey and provide concrete policy prescriptions for the governor, legislature, and state agencies to enact.” The 2022 US Transgender Survey plans to provide “an updated and expanded view of the experiences of transgender people across a wide range of areas, such as education, employment, family life, health, housing, and interactions with police and prisons.” The survey is now open until December 2. To take the survey, click here.

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