Candidates often make vague promises to protect LGBTQIA rights. Generic affirmations are not good enough. We need concrete policy proposals to hold our elected officials accountable.
By Jordan Valerie Allen
This weekend, I attended Pride for the first time in my life. It was incredible to see New York City filled with proud queer folks decked out in LGBTQIA paraphernalia. Though I have been out for about three years now, I never felt comfortable enough in my gender or sexuality to attend Pride. But finally, surrounded by friends I love deeply, I was able to join my community in celebrating our identities and our right to live freely and openly as we are. In the radical tradition of the transgender women of color and sex workers who threw the first bricks at Stonewall, I saw many signs strongly condemning the administration’s treatment of immigrants and calling for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency central to the federal government’s racist detention and deportation system. Though there was much joy at the parade, I was also reminded of the struggles my community endures on a day-to-day basis.
I thought of the fact that on average, two black transgender women are killed each month. I thought about the death of Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender asylum seeker who lost her life at the hands of ICE. I thought about the same-gender couples devastated by the Supreme Court’s refusal to stand for their rights in the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling. I thought of my own experiences facing transphobic slurs and discrimination in daily life.
This hatred and discrimination has dire effects on the queer community. We are in the midst of a queer mental health crisis as well as a deadly crisis of anti-transgender violence that is taking dozens of lives each year. This is all enabled by an inactive Congress that refuses to pass legislation that would protect the LGBTQIA community. When’s the last time you heard a member of Congress mourning the death of a Black transgender woman murdered in the United States? You’re far more likely to have heard a member of Congress spewing anti-LGBTQIA hatred, sanctioning through politics the violence and discrimination we endure. That’s why it’s so important to propose concrete measures to improve the lives of LGBTQIA Americans and guarantee that we are all equal under the law, regardless of sexuality and/or gender identity. Here’s what Brand New Congress wants to do (details below):
- Pass Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Policies
- Protect the Privacy of transgender Americans
- Provide mandatory training public officials and employees
- Develop and implement LGBTQ-inclusive public education
- Guarantee transgender-affirming healthcare
- Ban “conversion therapy”
- End “gay panic” murder excuse
- Ban intersex mutilation
Pass Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Protections. Currently, anti-LGBTQ discrimination is legal on a federal level, and its impacts are devastating. LGBTQ people can be denied healthcare, housing, and basic services, leading to disproportionate rates of illness, homelessness, and violence. Congress must pass comprehensive anti-discrimination protections to ensure that all Americans have equal access in all areas of life, regardless of gender or sexuality.
Protect the privacy of transgender Americans. Even within the LGBTQ community, transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) Americans face disproportionate rates of discrimination. Reported homicides of transgender Americans are at an all-time high, with an estimated over 100 transgender Americans being murdered in 2016 based on FBI data. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, which was conducted prior to the Trump presidency, found that transgender Americans face “pervasive mistreatment and violence,” “severe economic hardship and instability,” and “serious psychological distress” as a result of anti-transgender discrimination. Given these dangers, we must do everything in our promote to protect the privacy of transgender Americans and ensure that all Americans are respected in their gender. Here are some steps we can take:
- De-gender documentation. Currently, it is difficult and in some states impossible for transgender Americans to change their gender marker(s) on official documentation. When possible, the process is only manageable if one has enough time to learn about the convoluted legal process, access to medical professionals, and can safely be out to the world.
The costly and invasive process requires notarized affidavits from medical professionals, and in some states, mandatory gender affirmation surgery, which not all people want. With disproportionately high rates of homelessness, poverty, and healthcare discrimination in the transgender community, the process bars the majority of transgender people from actually being able to change their gender marker(s).
Even if one successfully changes their gender marker(s), it often results in unwanted outing that puts them in danger, such as with law enforcement or when crossing a border. This matters because transgender and intersex persons often face harassment when officials see their gender markers. Further, many agencies misconstrue discrepancies between gender identity and markers as fraud. This puts people in danger of police intervention, the criminal justice system, and denial of basic services such as public transport and healthcare.
Gendered documentation not only results in misgendering and outing; it also erases the existence of intersex and non-binary people. The simple solution is to de-gender documentation so that gender markers are optional and the privacy of all Americans is protected.
- De-gender public facilities. Much of the anti-transgender hysteria plaguing our nation has revolved around public facilities, with anti-transgender legislators using bathrooms in particular to demonize and attack transgender Americans. Regardless of which bathroom transgender and gender non-conforming people use, they are at risk of violence and discrimination. For non-binary Americans, there is no appropriate choice for gendered facilities. This essentially bars transgender Americans to go out and freely participate in the public life. The simple solution is to de-gender public facilities.
Provide mandatory training for public officials and employees. LGBTQ Americans face discrimination not only from in everyday encounters, but also interactions with the very public officials and employees meant to serve them. LGBTQ Americans endure rampant healthcare discrimination, which can lead to the denial of basic and necessary medical services. LGBTQ Americans also endure rampant discrimination in education, depriving them of yet another basic right. The lack of adequate protections promotes a vicious cycle which pushes LGBTQ members from education and health care, and subjects them to sub-par educational and healthcare access. Consequently, this perpetuates further poverty, mental illness, and social stigmatization in the LGBTQ community, which is totally unacceptable. We must combat this through mandatory training and inclusivity for all public officials and employees.
Develop and implement LGBTQ-inclusive public education. Anti-LGBTQ school bullying is at an unprecedented high. According to a 2017 RTI International study, not only has anti-LGBTQ school bullying “not improved since the 1990’s,” “some forms of victimization, particularly those affecting youth, appear to be worsening.” Anti-LGBTQ school bullying can increase the likelihood of suicide fourfold, and LGBTQ students are up to three times more likely than their peers to be physically threatened or assaulted at school and 91% more likely to be bullied or harassed. An overwhelming 81% of transgender youth, 72% of lesbian youth, and 66% of bisexual and gay youth experience sexual harassment in school. It goes to follow that a majority of LGBTQ students feel safe simply being in school. This is an epidemic. No student should be prevented from having a good education simply because of their sexuality and/or gender identity. Lives are at stake here. We need to reform our public education system to ensure that LGBTQ students feel affirmed in their identities and can safely receive a good education.
- Providing resources to LGBTQ students. Schools should be prepared to support LGBTQ students by maintaining LGBTQ clubs such as GSAs and offering LGBTQ-specific school counseling.
- LGBTQ-inclusive classes. LGBTQ history and identities should be included in classes so that students are aware and accepting of LGBTQ identity. According to a GLSEN survey, only 12% of millennials learned about healthy same-gender relationships in school. Not providing LGBTQ students information about their identities robs them of the opportunity to know and accept themselves, which would help them stay healthy and happy, as confirmed by GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey. We must mandate gender-inclusive language and education in classes and events.
- Community training. Students and administrators alike will, as Teaching Tolerance advises, guarantee that “all school community members [have] a thorough understanding of the part they play in making their school an environment that welcomes all students.”
- De-gender dress codes. Gendered dress codes are restrictive and oppressive for transgender and GNC youth. Students of all identities should be able to express their gender as they see fit.
- Designate gender neutral facilities. As Teaching Tolerance writes: “Binary (women/men or boy/girl) restrooms aren’t inclusive and can be unsafe spaces for transgender and intersex students.” Therefore, we should provide gender neutral facilities where students of all genders can feel valid and safe.
Guarantee transgender-affirming healthcare. Currently, transgender affirmation procedures are considered cosmetic, which is belittling and makes the necessary procedures needlessly expensive. Healthcare providers should cover gender affirmation procedures as reconstructive, as allowing transgender people who want to transition medically to do so improves their mental health and productivity. As a study published in the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity found, “social, psychological, and medical gender affirmation were significant predictors of lower depression and higher self-esteem.” Gender affirmation can help curb suicidal ideation, which is incredibly important given that over 40% of transgender Americans attempt suicide, according to a Williams Institute survey. Essential medical procedures are not “cosmetic,” and transgender Americans deserve to be affirmed by their healthcare system.
Ban “conversion therapy.” Also known as “reparative therapy” and “ex-gay therapy,” this is a dangerous and debunked religious practice designed to rid LGBTQ people of their true gender identity and/or sexuality. The practice is deeply harmful, causing mental illness, substance abuse, and even suicide. Yet almost 700,000 LGBTQ adults and 20,000 children ages 13 to 17 are victims of “conversion therapy,” as it is entirely legal on the federal level. We must ban “conversion therapy” and instead affirm the identites of LGBTQ Americans.
End “gay panic” murder excuse. Known as the “gay panic” or “transgender panic” defense, defendants in LGBTQ murder cases in the United States can legally claim that they were driven to violence because of the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of LGBTQ people. Homophobia and transphobia are not excuses for violence and it is outrageous that “gay panic” and trans panic” defenses are still legal on the federal level. We must ban it.
Ban intersex mutilation. As the Human Rights Watch detailed: “Intersex people in the United States are subjected to medical practices that can inflict irreversible physical and psychological harm on them starting in infancy, harms that can last throughout their lives. Many of these procedures are done with the stated aim of making it easier for children to grow up ‘normal’ and integrate more easily into society by helping them conform to a particular sex assignment. The results are often catastrophic, the supposed benefits are largely unproven, and there are generally no urgent health considerations at stake. Procedures that could be delayed until intersex children are old enough to decide whether they want them are instead performed on infants who then have to live with the consequences for a lifetime.”
Instead of mutilating children, healthcare providers should provide information to parents about intersex identity to ensure that intersex youth can make their own choices and be treated with the respect they deserve.
This list, of course, is far from comprehensive. There will inevitably be new developments that necessite new solutions. That’s why it’s so important to us at Brand New Congress to be in constant dialogue with the LGBTQIA community. We’re in this together.
No more empty promises. Help elect a Brand New Congress with a concrete plan of action to protect LGBTQIA Americans.