This year November is Transgender Awareness Month. It is a month centering transgender women, transgender men and people with non-binary genders as well as those killed by transphobic violence. It includes the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th as well as Transgender Awareness Week or #Transweek, occurring from November 14 to November 20th.
The Transgender Month of Awareness is dedicated to raising awareness and visibility around transgender and gender nonconforming folk’s rights, needs and the issues. While this month aims to spread visibility and awareness, it also is a time to be cognizant of the violence done to transgender people.
This month includes the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day of observance of trans people who have died and the trans people that continue to be subject to a form of body terrorism and transphobic violence that has claimed their lives. The Transgender Day of Remembrance was started by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith in honor of Rita Hester a black transwoman who was killed due to transphobic violence. It is a day to memorialize Trans folks who were killed for their transness, to raise awareness to the effects of Transphobia.
Although the visibility, awareness and humanity of transgender people matters, this November reminds us that trans bodies are under constant states of violence and erasure. This month serves as reminder of the violence done to trans people due to transphobia, and that we all have to continue to fight to end it.
Why Pronouns and Bathrooms Matter in the Fight Against Transphobia
Policy plays an important role in both fighting and creating transphobia. School policies regarding pronouns and trans bathroom rights become extremely important when thinking about the comfort and safety of transgender people. School policy, in particular policies regarding the usage of correct pronouns for trans people and trans people’s right to use the bathroom, has begun to become a more widespread and visible political issue. Many universities and schools have adopted policies that allow for people to choose their own pronoun, rather than be given a designated one in order to make spaces more inclusive and viable for trans people. Similarly, many schools and universities have also begun to implement gender inclusive bathrooms, bathrooms for all genders to use, and/ or have allowed for trans students to use the bathroom of their choosing.
While these policy transitions have been really successful in some schools, in other institutions they have been met with more resistance. School policy allowing transgender people to use their chosen pronouns at some schools has been met with fierce backlash. The University of Toronto where professors refuse to use gender neutral pronouns and the University of Michigan where one student protested other students’ ability to choose their own pronouns and began using the pronoun “his majesty” are examples of this resistance. Policy around bathroom rights particularly around bathroom usage in public schools has been met with the fiercest resistance. Transphobic histories, largely relating transness and queerness to pedophilia and perversion are the root of the majority of this resistance. These transphobic assumptions hurt trans people who in reality are themselves put greatly at risk just trying to use the bathroom.
According to a study done by Judy Herman at the University of California Los Angeles, up to 70 percent of the transgender people participating had reported experiencing being denied access to restrooms, being harassed while using restrooms and even experience some physical assault, It is statistics like this that remind us that trans bodies are not safe in this country and that trans people are not allotted safety. The fact that trans bodies are under attack means that there must be a push for their humanization and the recognition of their rights.
Due to growing concerns about transgender people’s right to privacy and freedom from discrimination, in October the Obama administration took an aggressive stance in defending transgender people’s right to use the bathroom that they feel comfortable with. In defending this civil right, the administration sent out a letter to public schools across the country notifying them that transgender students must be permitted to use the bathroom of their choosing. This right is defended by Title IX, a federal law which defends against sex-based discrimination in schools, extending protection to people’s right to their own gender identity and trans people’s right to express their gender identity without harassment, discrimination or violence. The letter included a threat that any state that fails to comply with the administration’s interpretation of the law risks having federal funding pulled, as well as being sued by the government.
More Radical Reads: 9 Strategies for Dealing with Gender Dysphoria for Gender Queer and Trans Folks
Unfortunately however, a federal Texas state Judge blocked the Obama administration’s effort to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas, a Republican appointee of President George W. Bush, issued an injunction against the administration siding with the 13 states and blocking the Obama administration’s policy the evening before many students across the country where due to go back to school.
Failures to implement policy to support transgender people’s rights has led to cases like Gavin Grimm’s, which the ACLU will be representing in the supreme court. Gavin Gram, a 17 year old Transgender boy in Virginia’s Gloucester County, got permission to use the boys bathroom at his high school, and then had his right promptly revoked once parents and other citizens in the county threatened the school board and pushed them to pass a new school policy that limits access to communal restrooms based on the idea of “biological gender”. This policy pushes Gavin and other Transgender people attending the county schools into alternative restrooms which are relegated to students with “gender identity issues”. As a result, Gavin’s medical information and his body have been put on public display and became a topic of conversation for his community and his classmates. This case will be the first case of which the Supreme Court deals with a civil rights case directly about rights for transgender people.
Gavin’s Supreme Court case marks the growing emergence of policy and law cases pushing towards the protection of transgender people on a visible national level in a country that has been and continues to be highly transphobic. By not recognizing one’s gender identity, we demean and dismiss that person’s lived experience. It is the bodies like those of Rita Hester and Gavin Grimm that continue to be subjected to transphobic body terrorism and policing because the United States is a country that fosters transphobia in its law and in its culture. This is a form of dehumanization. It is in this way the government has failed and continues to be a failure to trans folks in its reign of body terrorism towards them.
More Radical Reads: 4 Things Cis Folk Are Clueless About Trans Folk
Although laws are put in place for the protection and privacy of all people, when specific policies fail to protect transgender folks, the law reaffirms that their bodies, their happiness, their safety and their lives don’t matter. Policies that reassert the rights of transgender people, although these policies won’t bring about the systematic and revolutionary change that is deserved to transgender folks, are an important form of harm reduction. It is a form of affirming the right to have your gender recognized. It is a fight for the humanization and better treatment of transgender and gender nonconforming folks. More than rights, it is a start to the social recognition of the humanity of transgender people. While law and policy won’t disrupt and dismantle transphobia, policies protecting trans rights at school level to state level have the ability to make the quality of life better for transgender people.
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[Feature Image: A person to the left of the photo with chin-length blond hair, they are wearing a blue sweater and a blue shirt with a face on it. They have sunglasses on top of their hair. Behind them is a crowd of people. Behind the crowd of people is a tree and a couple of buildings. Source: Franziska Neumeister]