On March 1, in what amounts to a big victory for the struggle for trans equality, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard unexpectedly vetoed a bill that would have relegated trans children and teens to segregated restrooms and even went so far as to mandate a birth certificate check to keep trans youths out of the bathrooms of their choice.
The bill had been approved by state legislators, and Daugaard’s veto was the only thing that prevented it from becoming law. Between the bill’s passing the state legislature and the governor’s vetoing of it, Daugaard sustained a tremendous amount of pressure from trans people, their organizations and their supporters. When the bill first passed, Daugaard claimed that he had never knowingly met a transgender person. The response from the trans community was to demand that the governor meet with some trans people before making a decision on the bill. The organized response was so strong that meetings in fact took place, as well as activism all over the country to demand the veto of the bill, which would have been the first of its kind to become law.
Daugaard’s decision is a huge testament to the powerful ongoing movement of trans people everywhere. If we had remained silent, it’s likely that the South Dakota governor would have been able to continue pretending trans people do not exist.
Despite this victory, trans people are under attack in many other states. As soon as the South Dakota bill passed, a man in that state made a public threat to shoot any trans child going into the same bathroom used by his children. In another example, a bill recently passed in North Carolina that explicitly stated that
trans people must be permitted to use the bathroom corresponding with their gender and safety needs. While this is of course a positive development, the response from the right-wing bigots was immediate and extreme, organizing protests and violent speeches against trans people. In Seattle, a man entered a women’s locker room, claiming he “identified as a woman” and took off his shirt in an attempt to undermine the right of trans women to use the appropriate changing area. Bigoted anti-trans “feminist” groups are vowing to photograph and document trans women using women’s bathrooms.
A recent article published in the Advocate, a weekly LGBTQ newspaper, states that 2016 is slated to be a most dangerous year for trans people. This may come as a surprise to some, considering the visibility some trans celebrities have gained and the gradual acceptance of trans people as a central part of the LGBTQ struggle.
However, the reality of the situation speaks for itself, and visibility often comes at an extreme price, especially for trans people who don’t have the resources to get support while living openly.
The Advocate article states that of the 175 pieces of new anti-LGBTQ legislation proposed nationwide that were found, 44 target trans people specifically. There are almost certainly more bills than those that were found. In all of 2015, there were at least 125 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed, at least 21 of which specifically targeted trans people.
This is not new. Anti-LGBTQ laws, especially anti-trans laws, have, throughout history, been used to target LGBTQ people. However, just as victories for women’s rights and reproductive health have been met with a vicious backlash from the right-wing, the victories won by trans and nonbinary people have also seen a vicious response from the right-wing in recent years.
Fightback is the only route to safety
As the example of South Dakota shows, only a mass effort to demand justice and shut down hate can be successful in winning even the most basic protections for trans people. There are many movements growing now that are crucial to trans people’s survival.
In Sarasota, Florida, a movement has sprung up after Pine View High School student Nate Quinn, a young trans man, was banned from using the men’s room and told that bullying was to be expected if he was going to be out at school. Nate and his supporters, along with the ANSWER Coalition, converged on the school in a day of call-ins to demand that the school instate adequate protections for trans youth. After achieving a victory at Pine View, Nate and his supporters moved on to demand that the school board of Sarasota county enact protections for trans students. The demands, known as Nate’s List, have gained a great deal of support from people both locally and around the country.
In an interview with Liberation News, Quinn told his story: “Last year, the situation included the principal and guidance counselor who told me I had to use the women’s room even though I identified and presented as a male. I didn’t challenge anything until it happened again this year in January while I was experiencing cyber bullying. I believe that administration’s way of dealing with the situation by ignoring it at that time set an example for students that treating trans students as outcasts was okay. So that’s when I set the first meeting face to face with principal Dr. Covert, where he again said no to letting me use the men’s room. Then we scheduled the call-in which eventually enabled the policy change at Pine View.”
As with so many similar victories, Quinn has faced a great deal of backlash. “The worst attacks that have come at me were the pastors at the last school board meeting,” he says. “Young Republicans [also] went to a previous school board meeting to advise against a county change in policy and ask to have the change at Pine View reversed. Pastors attempted to use the Bible to convince the school board being trans is a mental illness and they shouldn’t change any policies for us.”
Despite this hate, Quinn has a strong army of youth, teachers and activists supporting him and teens like him, and their victory at Pine Ridge demonstrates the power of unity and organization.
Jennicet Gutierrez: Transgender, undocumented voice of fightback
In June of 2015, President Obama held a showy LGBTQ event at the White House – and his speech there was interrupted by undocumented trans Latina activist Jennicet Gutierrez. For two minutes she repeatedly asked Obama to release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention facilities. None of the guests showed her any support, and one man yelled: “This is not for you. This is for all of us!” Gutierrez’s interruption went viral and she has since become a key fighter for trans immigrant rights.
Gutierrez told Liberation News that bills targeting trans people’s bathroom and locker usage creates a particular danger for undocumented trans people and trans people of color. “It is unacceptable to me that anti-trans bathroom bills want to further dehumanize and criminalize our existence,” she said. “Being an undocumented woman in this country means living in fear of deportation. These proposed laws will further criminalize us just for the simple act of using the bathroom.”
In just the past two months, at least three trans people were murdered in the United States. Kayden Clarke, 24, was shot by cops who were supposed to keep him from self-harm. Monica Loera, a 43-year old sex worker, was killed in her own home by a client. Maya Young, a 25-year-old Philadelphia resident, was stabbed several times by an unknown attacker in her city.
The link between these hate crimes and bills like those about bathroom access can be hard to see at first. However, in a society that normalizes trans exclusion and endangerment it’s easier to commit and get away with a hate crime. For instance, in most states in the U.S., individuals who have admitted to killing a trans person have been able to claim “trans panic” (shock and panic at discovering that someone is trans) as a defense for murdering or assaulting someone.
A unified movement for trans equality and liberation is needed. This is not a fight that trans people, or even the LGBTQ community, should be fighting alone. All who fight against any form of oppression and hate must also stand in unwavering solidarity with all of our brave and powerful trans fighters whose existence and survival alone is a revolutionary act under capitalism. We need a new system to guarantee full liberation, and we need every person to stand up to demand it.