At the beginning of 2017, following the tumultuous election season it was my hope that there would be few changes made to the years of progress for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights and equality. It was clear that prior to the election of 2016, the Obama administration, U.S. Supreme Court, and the Justice Department were committed to promoting social justice for LGBTQ individuals, and most especially the transgender community. In fact, significant progress was made with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (2010), federal recognition of marriage equality (2015), a SAMHSA study rejecting conversion therapy (2015), and the promotion of Title IX protection for transgender youth in schools (2016), among other key areas.
The newly elected president had made campaign promises to support and protect the LGBTQ community, especially following the terrorist attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. However, soon after the 2017 presidential inauguration, many policy changes directly affecting members of the transgender community were soon proposed or implemented.
Starting in February 2017, less than a month after President Trump’s inauguration, the Departments of Justice and Education withdrew landmark 2016 guidance explaining how schools must protect transgender students under Title IX law. The very next month the Census Bureau retracted a proposal to collect demographic information on LGBT people in the 2020 Census. In July, the President abruptly announced a ban on transgender individuals serving within the military which was as much of a surprise to the Pentagon as it was to members of the LGBTQ community. In October of the administration’s first year, the Justice Department released a memo instructing Department of Justice attorneys to take the legal position that federal law does not protect transgender workers from discrimination.
In February of 2018, the U.S. Department of Education announced it will summarily dismiss complaints based on gender identity discrimination. The following month, the Department of Defense policy changed on transgender individuals ability to serve in the military. Finally this past April, the administration proposed the removal of health care benefits for transgender individuals under the Affordable Care Act.
One of the leading national social justice advocacy organizations for the transgender community, The National Center for Transgender Equality notes, “The Trump administration has already taken numerous actions that harm transgender people, that undermine important protections, and even taken actions to erase transgender people from government surveys and therefore government programs.” Thus when we continue to create layers of invisibility through erasure, complicity, and complacency, we promote the active oppression of people and populations who so vitally need to be counted and included. Transphobia, stigma, bias, and stereotyping all increase the likelihood for risk factors related to various health (e.g., HIV transmission, substance use) and mental health (e.g., depression, anxiety) needs among members of the transgender community. It also remains essential that we do not conflate the needs of the transgender community with those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer communities, when in fact, they have many unique health, mental health, and advocacy concerns to be addressed. Ultimately, when elected officials at the local, state or national level promote intolerance or create invisibility for minority groups, such as members of the transgender community, it increases the likelihood of others doing the same. In fact, over the past couple years, increases in hostility, hate crimes, and transphobia are on the rise.
Political ideologies aside, this is ultimately a matter of advocacy, fairness, equity, and equality for members of the transgender community. The need for advocacy extends far beyond building allyship, as it is vitally important for individuals to come together to raise a united voice to counter oppression of a minority community.
We are called across the professions of social work, medicine, nursing, psychology, psychiatry, counseling, and public health to affirmingly and effectively serve and advocate for all those in need. Thus, there has never been a greater time for the service community to step up and step in to the promotion of social justice and advocacy for all LGBTQ folks, but most especially for members of the transgender community.
It was after the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York City that the annual celebration of LGBTQ history and pride began in the month of June. Notably, members of the transgender community including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera played a key role in leading the Stonewall uprising. LGBTQ pride month continues to be widely recognized nationally and internationally each year. When pride is celebrated across cities or towns via proclamations, or by holding pride parades, marches, lectures, or other such events, it promotes visibility, inclusiveness, and education about the widely diverse LGBTQ community. However, when a president and administration does not publicly recognize LGBTQ pride month, it can promote invisibility, a lack of support, and intolerance. Therefore, when we actively engage in various forms of advocacy whether during LGBTQ pride month or all year long, such as those noted below, we can actively demonstrate the promotion of social justice for transgender individuals and all those within the broader LGBTQ community.
Actions that can promote advocacy for the transgender community include becoming an informed advocate and ally: instituting transgender affirming language, practices, and policies at your school, agency, or workplace; calling and writing local, state, and federal (The White House, U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate) elected officials in protest against anti-transgender policies; using social media platforms to promote equality and counter transphobia; marching in an LGBTQ pride parade as a member of the community or ally; and creating an event in your agency or community to commemorate international transgender day of remembrance.
When we pridefully raise our voices and create affirming spaces for important dialogues such as increasing allyship with marginalized populations, we truly step up and we step in, we advocate, and we promote social justice. There is no alternative other than turning our backs on those that need us most. Ultimately, we must continue to believe that there is truth to the adage: “together we can make a difference”.
Featured Image Credit: “Trans Transgender Flag Pride” by katlove. CC0 via Pixabay.