It has been nearly 50 years since the first brick was thrown through a window of the second floor of the Stonewall Inn in New York City—sparking the revolution known as the Stonewall Riots and beginning the Gay Rights Movement.
Since that time, many advancements in the protections for LGBTQ people have been made, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which makes violence based on race or sexual orientation a hate crime. And in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, arguably one of the biggest victories for the community.
But since President Donald Trump took office, a barrage of attacks against protections for the LGBTQ community threatens to erode some hard-won gains, specifically for the transgender population—considered one of the most vulnerable communities in the nation.
The move to define transgender out of existence will have severe impacts for trans people in prison already losing protection, which puts their safety in jeopardy. #TransRightsAreHumanRights https://t.co/kUUp8m6v2c
— LGBT Books to Prisoners (@LGBTBtP) October 23, 2018
The most recent attack came this week from the U.S. Department of Health and Human services. In a memo obtained by the NY Times, the department began spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.
The proposed change would make one’s gender either male or female, defined at birth with no ability for one to change that status ever in life. Any dispute about one’s sex would be clarified through genetic testing.
Civil rights groups and prominent transgender activists and advocates such as Laverne Cox, Indya Moore, and Janet Mock spoke out against the administration’s dangerous attempt to legally erase the transgender community from any recognition. The slogan “We cannot be erased” trended on social media as rallies and marches on Trump headquarters as LGBTQ people had reached a breaking point with this administration newest attempt at reversing civil rights.
This current attack is the continuation of the administration’s nearly two-year effort to roll back LGBTQ protections. It was a random day in July of 2017 when Trump rattled off a series of tweets attempting to ban transgender people from serving in the military. Citing that he had spoken with the generals and military experts and determined that their medical costs were too high—a cost significantly lower than what the military currently spends on Viagra. This ban was blocked by 4 courts before another attempt was made in March by the administration to bar only transgender members with a “history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria”.
The Trump administration has taken yet another step to attack transgender and nonbinary people.
We'll keep saying this for as long as it takes:
We are here.
You cannot erase us.
Our lives matter.
We will NEVER back down. pic.twitter.com/BnE17tzbPJ
— ACLU ? (@ACLU) October 22, 2018
The Trump administration also attempted to remove seven words from CDC language, including “vulnerable”, “science based”, and the word “transgender.” Agencies that use the words in applications could potentially be blocked from funding because they prompt fund overseers to “jump to conclusions,” and better language could be used to prevent that from happening. When news broke about the proposed change, the administration tried to change its tune, claiming that it wasn’t so much of a “ban” as a suggestion.
But, following this week’s attempt at removing trans people all together, we can assume it was a foreshadowing of events.
To get better understanding of what it would mean to ban the verbiage from agency applications, I spoke with Jasper Brooks, a filmmaker and transgender activist. He stated that “Genetic testing would be extremely harmful for the trans community because we literally work our lives to be seen as who we are and not our genetic makeup.” He noted that the change would “restrict us from being our authentic selves.”
We are tattoos. We are permanent marker. We are mountains. We are thunder. You cannot erase us, and you cannot control us. We will fight for the basic right to be ourselves, and we will win. https://t.co/fPepGHfJUL #WontBeErased
— Evan Greer (@evan_greer) October 22, 2018
Jasper is very clear on the fact that “sex and gender are not the same” and that it “should stay that way.” The most important information Jasper wanted to share is what cis people can do to help.
“Cisgender people could help by voting in our best interest but also donating money to transgender foundations and spaces as well as individual GoFundMe for gender confirmation surgeries and name/gender change expenses.”
He reiterated that if the proposed changes in verbiage is approved, “medical expenses would become too expensive to be accessible.” He ends by stating “If you have the power to give a trans person a job, THEN DO THAT! We are just trying to survive like everyone else.”
Suffice to say, the attacks against the LGBTQ community are only going to continue with this administration in power. Jasper is correct that cis people must begin voting in the best interest of groups more marginalized than themselves. If the Trump administration can erase the most vulnerable, I hate to imagine who is next on their food chain of oppression.
George M. Johnson is a Black queer journalist and activist located in the NYC area. He has written for TheRoot, ET, HIVequal, TeenVogue, NBC News and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.