Orlando Gonzales: Transgender awareness — literally a matter of life & death

Transgender pride rainbow waving flag. Seamless cgi animation highly detailed fabric texture in cinematic slow motion. LGBTQ 3d background of fight for rights and equality symbol.
Issues impacting the civil rights and lives of transgender people have never demanded more urgent attention.

As we observe Transgender Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance & Resilience (TDORR), our LGBTQ community has much to reflect upon. Since taking office, President Joe Biden pledged his commitment to being the most pro-equality administration in history and has largely made good on this promise so far.

Today nearly 14% of President Biden’s (or 1,500) federal appointees identify as LGBTQ, as stated in his Pride month proclamation in June. During that month, the White House also announced historic new actions to advance equality, inclusion, and opportunity for transgender Americans.

However, we still have our work cut out for us in realizing full equality, and the issues impacting the civil rights and lives of transgender people have never demanded more urgent attention.

Today, transgender people are not only disproportionately affected by hate crime but are also subject to an outright barrage of transphobic legislation from elected leaders.

As residents of Florida and advocates for LGBTQ equality, we are currently fighting to ensure that the lives of transgender people are protected by hate crime laws and that health practitioners are safe from political persecution for providing gender-affirming medical care to trans individuals.

Transgender awareness matters now more than ever

Each year between Nov. 13-19, people and organizations in the world participate in Transgender Awareness Week (TAW) to help raise the visibility of transgender people and address the issues faced by the community.

This is a week for trans individuals to make their voices heard and help educate the public about what it means to be transgender. Now more than ever, it’s also a time to illuminate the issues of prejudice and discrimination as transgender people are threatened by lawmakers across the country by weaponizing legislation at all levels of government.

Held annually on Nov. 20, Transgender Day of Remembrance & Resilience (TDORR) was founded by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor her memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was murdered in Boston, Massachusetts in 1998.

TDORR has since become an important national memorial to commemorate all the transgender individuals lost to violence throughout the year. As we observe TDORR in 2021, it so happens that we’re looking back on the most violent year in history for trans-Americans.

Trans rights are under attack around the country

Since the start of 2020, legislators in at least 25 states have introduced more than 75 bills that target LGBTQ people, many specifically directed at transgender youth, according to a tally compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In fact, more anti-trans bills were passed in 2021 than in any other year, aimed at stripping transgender youth from their right to participate in extracurricular sports and having access to gender-affirming medical care. Just as alarming is the legislation being proposed in 21 states that would criminalize such medical care for trans minors. One such bill, FL H0211, was introduced in Florida in September 2021 and would provide criminal penalties for medical practitioners and clinicians for performing gender-affirming treatment.

While many politicians describe gender-affirming surgery as cosmetic, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, considered the governing body on this issue, has stated that “medical procedures attendant to gender-affirming/confirming surgeries are not ‘cosmetic’ or ‘elective’ or ‘for the mere convenience of the patient.’”

“In some cases, such surgery is the only effective treatment for the condition,” and genital surgery, in particular, is “essential and life-saving.”

The ignorance and contempt inherent in the language of these bills—often characterizing trans girls as boys — poses the very real danger of spurring more violent attacks against trans people at a time when transphobic hate violence has never been higher.

Hate crime laws must also protect trans people

As we approach TDORR 2021, the tally of transgender murder victims since the stabbing of Rita Hester in 1998 is at an all-time high.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2021 has been literally the deadliest year on record for trans people in America, with 45 transgender homicides to date — most of them Black or Latinx. The numbers may be even higher, as many victims are misgendered in law enforcement statements and media reports, which can delay our awareness of deadly incidents.

National Center for Transgender Equality reports that transgender people face extraordinary levels of physical and sexual violence, whether on the streets, at school or work, at home, or at the hands of government officials.

More than one in four trans people has faced a bias-driven assault, and rates are higher for trans women and trans people of color. And while we must urgently address the systemic ignorance that drives violence against the transgender community, we must also amend the egregious shortcomings of a legal system that fails to classify this violence as hate crimes.

To this end, it is critical that we push for the passing of FL S0308, a Florida Senate bill that would expand grounds for the reclassification of crimes to include acts of prejudice based on the gender or gender identity of any person.

Our LGBTQ community has made magnificent strides in the last few decades, but today we face significant challenges in defending the most vulnerable and often misunderstood group among us.

We are not only fighting for transgender people’s right to be themselves as valued members of society, but for their very right to exist. It is literally a matter of life and death. Our efforts to end discrimination for trans sibling is not limited to just Transgender Day of Remembrance & Resilience. With awareness and public education, policy change and changing hearts and minds in the community we can end transphobia. We hope you will join us on our mission of compassion, education, and solidarity to help end ignorance and hate.

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Orlando Gonzales is executive director of Safeguarding American Values for Everyone (SAVE); visit their website here.

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