Editor's Note: This is a guest opinion column by Juanita MORE!, a drag performer, chef, writer, activist and a leading voice of the Bay Area's LGBTQ+ community for nearly 30 years. Learn about her work in KQED Arts' 'Changing Face of Drag' series and on her website.
With this morning's news that the Supreme Court reinstated President Trump's ban on transgender service members in the military, one thing is clear: we are still under attack.
While the trans community has always faced violence—for much longer than the current administration's re-doubling of efforts to make that violence into law—the rate and magnitude of recent attacks on trans people's civil rights are unprecedented. The Trump administration has taken quiet steps to dismantle LGBTQ health initiatives by defunding key fields of research, prohibiting the use of the word "transgender" in formal studies and removing protections for LGBTQ workers and patients.
The Trump administration moved to roll back other key Obama-era protections, including the first ever trans-inclusive prohibition on gender discrimination in healthcare. As a result, transgender individuals in many states are now being denied access to transition-related healthcare, excluded from sex-specific programs and left vulnerable to other forms of discrimination, such as being misgendered or harassed by healthcare providers.
More attacks on the trans community are underway in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, where noted anti-LGBTQ bigot Roger Severino has taken steps to define trans people out of existence. Under Severino's control, the Department of Health and Human Services circulated a memo seeking to narrow the definition of gender to explicitly exclude transgender individuals from civil rights protections.
It would be truly mind-blowing if these threats weren’t so startlingly methodical and real. But the "why" of it continues to elude. Why should someone’s gender identity disqualify them from basic, fundamental rights? Callous feels too light a label for this cruelty.
During my 30 years as a drag performer in San Francisco, trans people have been an essential part of my community. Last year, I chose TRUTH (TRans yoUTH), a joint program from the Transgender Law Center and GSA Network, as the beneficiary of my annual Pride event. We raised $70,000 for a program that seeks to amplify the voices of trans and gender non-conforming young people by offering a safe place to share struggles, learn empathy and build public understanding.
Trans youth have it hard enough, and the fact that they must confront a federal government actively seeking to erase them is devastating. And the devastation is documented and real. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 40 percent of trans people have attempted suicide. Seventy-seven percent of trans youth have experienced some form of harassment or discrimination in school—and for 17 percent of those students, the harassment was so severe that they had to transfer or drop out.
TRUTH is allowing trans youth to lead the way to end the isolation and stigma so that these data points can get to zero. Most days, I take solace in their strength and in recognizing that they have the power to change both minds and policies by virtue of their mere existence. Their stories are human stories, and they will be my voice when I can no longer speak.
Denouncing this latest attack on our community is imperative, but change won’t come easy, and solidarity is an act beyond using your voice on social media. We need to show up for each other right now, and where it counts: in person and at the ballot. We are being ruled by a system that placates the irrational fears of middle America and the Bible belt. If we don’t show up to protect each other, we will be silenced.
This is a self-conscious administration, and last I checked, our system still resembles a democracy. In less than two years' time at the 2020 election, we can send a message that we are watching and listening and won’t stand for it. I am confident that message will be heard, but the statistics leave me with a sickening fear that change can’t come soon enough.
In the words of Miss Major, a veteran of the Stonewall Rebellion, survivor of Attica State Prison, former sex worker, elder and community leader: "After 70 years, I am here to tell you the system has always tried to break us. All we trans girls know we got to depend on each other, and when enough of us bitches come together we can [burn] it down and use the ashes to build the motherf-cking mansions we deserve!"
I’m with you, Miss Major. And I’m with my trans siblings, too. Let’s burn it down and rebuild what we deserve.