SKILTON: Respect for transgender rights

In the last fifty years, we’ve made progress toward legal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people. These victories are important, but too many of them have been important only — or primarily — for gay men and lesbians. As the entire LGBTQ movement charts our political goals for the coming years, we should consider some of the wrong decisions we have made on the way to these victories. One of these is that we — queer people who are not transgender — have often shown little or no concern for the lives and political interests of transgender and gender non-conforming people.

Today, we have the chance to stand up against the bias that queer and straight communities alike have shown toward transgender people. At a hearing at 7p.m. tonight, the Board of Aldermen’s legislation committee will consider a city ordinance to add gender identity and expression to the list of protected classes in New Haven’s non-discrimination laws — affirming that New Haven should be a place where transgender and gender nonconforming people are safe from prejudice.

This legislation is urgently needed because transgender people face discrimination and disproportionate levels of violence in almost every area of life. Eighteen transgender people from the United States and Central America have been murdered in the last year.

This violence is not limited to hate crimes on the street. Rather, according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a 2011 publication of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender people are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, physical and sexual assault at work and violence and harassment from officials such as teachers, doctors, nurses and social service providers.

The results of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey also indicate that transgender people face their lives with fewer resources than their straight or queer gender-typical peers. They have far less access to health care, endure more mental illness and drug abuse and are refused care in doctor’s offices and emergency rooms at disturbingly high rates.

Transgender people are also much more likely to be homeless, live in extreme poverty or be incarcerated. If they enter the social service system or foster care, encounter the police or go to prison, they have reason to expect that officials will treat them with hostility or indifference. All of these things are more likely for transgender people of color, but they are still quite likely for people who are transgender and white.

So the gay and lesbian rights movement may have won some victories, but the LGBTQ movement has far to go, in New Haven and around the country — at least if we believe that dignity and respect for transgender people are a meaningful goal of our activism. And if non-transgender queer people and our supporters do not make this our goal, we will be just as complicit in violence and bias toward trans people as straight people who promote or overlook homophobia are in bias against us.

If you are coming out today — on National Coming Out Day — as an LGBTQ person or a straight supporter, and you are not transgender, then come out as an ally to transgender people as well. Think about the violence and discrimination that transgender people face in our society, even as gay and lesbian people enjoy increasing tolerance in places as open as New Haven and Connecticut. Think about the ways that victories for gay men and lesbians have left the transgender community behind.

It’s time to stand up against the bias that both queer and straight communities have shown toward transgender people. It’s time to come out for respect — for everyone, no matter their gender.

Amalia Skilton is a junior in Calhoun College. Contact her at amalia.skilton@yale.edu.

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