The Trump administration’s war on transgender human rights has begun — will the Left finally step up?
I felt a lot of things after hearing that Jeff Sessions had abandoned transgender students in his first act as Attorney General: axing legal protections for trans students from discrimination. Surprise wasn’t on the list.
Sessions, once widely considered to be among the Senate’s most hardline conservatives, has a long anti-queer history: as Alabama’s Attorney General, he vigorously attempted to block an LGBT conference at the University of Alabama; opposed the expansion of hate-crime legislation to include sexual orientation; co-sponsored the odious First Amendment Defense Act, a thinly-veiled license for discrimination that arose from anti-trans bathroom bills around the country; and so on. Trans people have known for months that we were first on his list.
When I sat down to write this article, though, it wasn’t with the intention of spelling out how the DOJ’s withdrawal from State of Texas v. United States of America will hurt trans kids. That’s a line of thinking which has already been argued ad infinitum. Instead, I intended to write about the deafening silence I heard from the Left, which claims to support trans rights, but so rarely takes any visible action to prove it. I wrote recently that, in the wake of the Women’s March, cis women needed to prove they had trans people’s backs to the extent that we had theirs; though hopeful, I was hardly optimistic.
But when I checked the morning news on Wednesday, my hot take had already cooled off. The official Women’s March Twitter account, much to my surprise, had sent out several messages strongly supporting the rights of trans students. On top of that, more than 780 parents of trans children submitted an open letter to Trump demanding he stand by his campaign promises to protect trans rights, and a telephone campaign asking Betsy DeVos to keep Title IX protections for trans students left the incoming Secretary of Education’s voicemail inbox completely clogged.Trans people have known for months that we were first on his list. Click To Tweet
To put it bluntly: This is the most action I’ve seen cisgender people take in support of trans rights since I started coming out in 2015. That’s a pretty low bar, to be sure, but it signals a willingness to get involved that wasn’t there before; whereas liberals pre-election were content to sit around retweeting each other’s #LoveIsLove platitudes, this increasingly active Left is showing up on a scale that’s legitimately encouraging.
Having said that, I hope all the trans allies reading this will understand where I’m coming from when I say that this is not enough. The Trump cabinet has been collectively rooted in anti-transness from its inception, and while the handful of actions taken so far have made me more optimistic about our allies than I was before, it’s unrealistic to think that DeVos — whose father was a co-founder of the anti-trans Family Research Council and who served as vice president of the conservative Edgar and Elsa Price Foundation for 17 years — will suddenly abandon her base because of some phone calls.
Far be it for me to demand concrete action without defining what is needed, though. Here are a few things that the Left can do to keep trans kids safe in Trump and Sessions’ America.
Name the problem.
As much as I respect Teen Vogue’s recent shift toward progressive advocacy, their article about Sessions’ withdrawal from the Obama DOJ’s petition had one glaring error. Their headline proclaimed that Trump “Just Made His First Action Against LGBTQ People,” which is technically accurate but not at all specific. And to be sure, this was a decision made specifically against transgender people, and should be discussed as such. Think of it like the recent push to stop normalizing fascists by calling them “alt-right”; call fascists and Nazis what they are, and call transphobia what it is. And speaking of which:
Stop giving platforms to bigotry.
Against my better judgment, let me talk about literal Nazi Milo Yiannopolous for a second. Yiannopoulous will appear on tonight’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, with Maher defending the booking by saying,“If Mr. Yiannopolous is indeed [a] monster…nothing could serve the liberal cause better than having him exposed on Friday night.”
I’m not going to rehash the arguments about why attempting to debate fascists is historically unhelpful. Rather, I want to point out that Milo uses public appearances to intentionally and directly harm people. At an infamous University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee event, he outed a trans student and accused her of being a man weaseling into the women’s locker rooms, invoking rhetoric repeatedly used to justify violence against trans women. The student, Adelaide Kramer, later told Broadly that she was — justifiably — afraid that her fellow students, who laughed along with Yiannopolous’ bigotry, would recognize and attack her.
The fact that Maher wants to provide a larger platform for Milo to promote his personal brand of targeted harassment is ludicrous enough. But the ACLU has also said they support his right to appear and spew hate, citing the First Amendment. This is an organization that has characterized its legal defense of trans student Gavin Grimm as an “agenda to treat all people with respect,” yet it won’t defend Gavin’s peers against the transphobic equivalent of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.
If you’re an event planner for an institution or organization, don’t include transphobes; if you’re in a community where a transphobe is scheduled to speak, coordinate efforts to cancel or shut down the event. UC Berkeley did it to Milo, and so can you.Teachers, school faculty, and school board members have a responsibility to step up and ensure that trans kids can access the facilities they need. Click To Tweet
Physically protect trans children and students.
Teachers, school faculty, and school board members have a responsibility to step up and ensure that trans kids can access the facilities they need. Gym teachers in particular can make a difference by personally ensuring proper locker room access. If students report feeling unwelcome or harassed in public bathrooms, take steps to identify the bad actors, and offer alternate accommodations (like a key to a staff bathroom) when possible. Board members, push for a trans-friendly bathroom policy; parents, make sure you know your district’s policy, and be ready to put pressure on the board if it isn’t up to snuff. Find out which businesses in your area don’t allow trans people to use the right restrooms and picket them. Taking actions like this may constitute civil disobedience in some areas, like North Carolina — but the alternative is letting vulnerable students come to harm.
Talk to your kids about gender.
Cis adults often take their children’s genders for granted, but if you’re a parent, it’s entirely possible that you’re raising a trans kid without either of you knowing it. It’s extremely common that trans people don’t even know transitioning is an option until long after puberty, so make sure that’s not the case for your kids. Check in with how they’re feeling. Read up on the signs of gender dysphoria and affirm the ways in which your child wants to present. If they consistently express a trans identity up to the point of adolescence, talk to your pediatrician about puberty blockers and starting HRT. Support and send money to The Trevor Project. More than anything, make sure your trans kids know they’re loved — and teach your cis kids to love their trans classmates.
Some may call me an idealist, but the past few days have demonstrated to me that the Left really does want to help trans people. And now you know how.
Please don’t let us down.