What is the first thing you look for when you come face to face with a stranger? Is it their clothing? Their eyes, or smile? What is the initial thought your mind? For me, all I think is, am I safe with this person? Will they turn on me if they figure out who I am? It’s terrifying to meet someone and have to wonder if you could be in danger. For too long this has been the struggle of the LGBTQ community. For too long, transgender people have been denied equal rights on account of who they are. Basic human rights are something that should no longer be denied to anyone. It is our belief as humans that we should be able to live our lives the way we choose. We are taught from a young age that we will be able to take advantages of opportunities that are available to us, and when you are denied these opportunities you forget you have the right to dream and achieve. For transgender people, we have been taught that we are abominations that don’t deserve a life in which we are content with ourselves. We can’t find jobs or homes without facing discrimination, we can’t even use the bathroom without it being a huge debate. How are we supposed to believe that we have a future at all.
As of now, there are some laws that allow Transgender people protection but, they are often ignored. Multiple states and towns have laws banning discrimination, but still more have laws allowing the discrimination to happen within legal transactions. Only 18 states have laws specifically banning the discrimination of gender identity. The other 33 have no such protection. Aside from the issue of laws protecting transgender people’s rights, there’s still a sizable amount of hate towards transgender people on account of ignorance or religion, and because of this, more and more transgender people are put at risk.
In 2016 alone, there have been at least 19 homicides due to transphobia, and violence rates are still high. A study by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs showed that, “Transgender people were 3.7 times more likely to experience police violence compared to cisgender survivors and victims”, also that “Transgender people were 7 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police compared to cisgender survivors and victims“. Rising violence with police, and average citizens has sent the level of danger in everyday life for transgender Americans tremendously high. Moreover, transgender hate crimes are increasing rapidly. Though many people may argue that they never hear about these killings, and that they’re not important the fact is, they’re just not advertised in front page news or included in numbers of hate crimes. Times magazine quotes, “ Incidents may not be determined to be hate crimes because there was no investigation”. People in power over crime fighting have put transgender people so low on the list of priorities that they’re suffering doesn’t even merit an investigation. We can connect this violence with the racist backlash also present in the American society. Statistics also show, “Transgender people of color were 6 times more likely to experience physical violence from the police compared to White cisgender survivors and victims”. This proves that our justice system has a warped sense of exactly who justice should be available to. As humans who live in America everyone’s life should be given exactly the same weight. Transgender people are also at risk from anyone around them, even those they trust. A human rights campaign article states, “These victims were killed by acquaintances, partners and strangers, some of whom have been arrested and charged, while others have yet to be identified”. Transgender people now no longer have the privilege of knowing that they can trust the people that they spend time with. “But how does this apply to me?”, you may ask. If we are able to harbor hate for groups of people that don’t harm us in any way, we have the power to tear our country apart from the inside. A suggestion to end this violence is better education on transgender people, also passing laws to ensure that transgender people are never put at unnecessary risk.
Violence is seen everywhere, with people of all ages but, many transgender Americans experience hate and discrimination from a young age. Multiple studies have shown that transgender youth do not feel safe in their schools, which are predominantly ‘safe places’. In fact, “90% of transgender youth reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression”. Kids feel unsafe in buildings that are supposed to be teaching them how to get along in the ‘real world’ . If they don’t feel safe in school, how are they supposed to expect anything else when they are thrown out into real life? If your ‘safe place’ isn’t secure where are you supposed to go? School administrations only get involved when a transgender kid reports being harassed or bullied. So for the majority of the time these kids are scared to come out because they don’t have the immediate backing of administrators. They also don’t have the support needed from teachers and other students. Even in my own classes, it’s evident that no one wants to confront the issue of transgender kids because it’s considered political and therefore shouldn’t be discussed in the classroom. Since when did personal preference become political? Since when did we lose sight of the pressing issues within our own society, especially those directly translated into schools. It is the administrator's job to make sure students feel safe in their school environment. Even if there is no complaints about harassment, they need to make sure that the bias and hate in other parts of the country are not reflected in our own school systems. Instead though, an article from the National Center for Transgender Equality explains, “Rather than focusing on their education, many students struggle for the ability to come to school and be themselves without being punished for wearing clothes or using facilities consistent with who they are. Some are denied opportunities to go on field trips or participate in sports”. Administrators (as well as teachers, and students) must be better educated in ways to make their school environment more inclusive and less discriminatory. There should be federal laws pertaining to personal freedoms that show youth from a young age that they don’t have to be afraid, they should be able to be unapologetically true to themselves.
After addressing the problems within our schools, it’s time to acknowledge the issues within our society. Discrimination still exists within legal acts,as a result it can be hard for transgender Americans to find jobs. Time magazine states, “Transgender people are four times more likely than the general population to report living in extreme poverty, making less than $10,000 per year”. It’s hard to find a steady income when you’re being denied stable jobs, when you could be fired for being openly transgender. In fact a study done by the National Center for Transgender Equality showed, “One in five transgender people in the United States has been discriminated when seeking a home, and more than one in ten have been evicted from their homes, because of their gender identity”. These evictions happen despite being prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. Transgender people continue to face this discrimination because they have no way to fight back. “Why don’t they take it to court?”, you may ask, well you see, as it is with bosses and landlords, judges can also harbor biases that might persuade them to rule against transgender people. There needs to be explicit legal protection for transgender people at a local level. As of right now, there are many homeless transgender Americans who have sought shelters, but, “Unfortunately, social service and homeless shelters that work with this population often fail to culturally and appropriately serve transgender homeless people, including denying them shelter based on their gender identity; inappropriately housing them in a gendered space they do not identify with; and failing to address co-occurring issues facing transgender homeless adults and youth”. Even if these people can find shelter they still face an inordinate amount of discrimination and continuous hardship. Although, some may argue that it’s too much to ask that we have specific transgender shelters, that’s not what I’m saying, even in homeless shelters transgender people aren’t taken seriously and allowed to be with their chosen gender identity. Homes for transgender people needs to be better, and they need to have a safer environment to live in order to prosper.
An article written by Daniel Harris, argues that transgender people have set the bar too high for acceptance, that they want everyone else to bend to their preferences. It is the view of people like him that they have been labelled as ‘cisgender’ and that this is offensive. Harris states, “ "Moreover, they shame us into silence by ridiculing the blunders we make while trying to come to grips with their unique dilemmas, decrying our curiosity about their bodies as prurience and our unwillingness, or even inability, to enter into their own (often unsuccessful) illusion as narrow‑mindedness”. Transgender people aren’t asking for perfect understanding, we are asking for just a hint of tolerance and peace. In regards to thinking that cisgender people are labelled unfairly, somehow this pales in comparison to the derogatory labels that have been stuck to transgender people through years of struggle, for example, tranny, he-she, hermaphrodite, freak, abomination, “it”. When people are denied simple basic rights it is not up to the people with these rights to feel prosecuted. As a human race we must make accommodations to be sure we can give everyone their best chance for success.
These are just some of the many issues faced by transgender Americans in society today. Much of the violence, and discrimination comes from personal transphobia and bias but, some of it is able to be changed by the government. There need to be better laws pertaining to trans rights. So future president, I speak directly to you and I implore you to take action. This is not an issue you can ignore anymore. You have the power to create a difference, so initiate that difference. I refuse to grow up in a world where I have to fear losing everything because of who I am. Take the steps needed to improve this world, and with any luck, things may just start to get better. What do you look at when you first meet someone? I look for kindness, and passion. These are the things that matter, and they are not merely skin deep.