Committing to a Year of Action: Five Ways to Honor Our Community

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November 13, 2019
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by Avatara Smith-Carrington, 2019-2021 Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow (they/them/theirs) and Taylor Brown, Staff Attorney (she/her/hers)

This is part of our blog series written by Lambda Legal staff in honor of Transgender Awareness Week 2019.

Every year, TLGBQIA communities around the world observe Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) honoring the memory of all the transgender people who have lost their lives to anti-transgender violence. But this day is not just about remembrance. It is a call to action to interrogate and dismantle oppressive systems that perpetuate this violence.

We lead up to this day with Transgender Awareness Week, a week-long elevation of the experiences, successes, and diversity of the transgender community.

2019 marked yet another deadly year for Black and Latinx transgender women, who once again comprise the majority of the lives cut short by anti-transgender violence. This year, we lost 22.

We honor the stolen lives of our community members, bringing each of them into this space: 
Dana Martin, Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon, Claire Legato, Muhlaysia Booker, Michelle Washington, Paris Cameron, Chynal Lindsey, Chanel Scurlock, Zoe Spears, Brooklyn Lindsey, Denali Stuckey, Tracy Single, Bubba Walker, Kiki Fantroy, Jordan Cofer, Pebbles LaDime Doe, Bailey Reeves, Bee Love Slater, Jamagio Jamar Berryman, Itali Marlowe and Briana Hill.   

The violence perpetrated against our community is fueled by many forms of oppression, including but not limited to racism, sexism, anti-transgender bias, classism and xenophobia. This violence is consistently inflamed and condoned by both dog whistles and overt action from the highest levels of government. Intersecting forms of oppression place Black transgender women and transgender women of color in the crosshairs of various forms of violence. It is thus crucial that we center and amplify their experiences and voices in these conversations.

When our work centers those who are the most vulnerable, we can create a more just, equitable and safe community for everyone.

We cannot only mourn those we’ve lost without making change. This week, we invite you to consider the issues and commit to contributing positively to the wellbeing and livelihood of all transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people.

Equal Protection and Nondiscrimination

The United States is supposed to be a country of laws guaranteeing freedom and protection from discrimination. For TGNC people, that protection and those guarantees continue falling short. No person should be denied housing, employment, health care, safety, the ability to have a family, or opportunities for advancement because they are transgender.

However, for many TGNC people, our reality is often plagued by brutal and dehumanizing forces of discrimination reinforced by violence. Laws at the federal, state, and local levels must explicitly protect all people.

Recommendation: Pass TGNC-inclusive anti-discrimination laws at the federal, state and local levels. The Equality Act is one such example.

Housing

Rampant discrimination in public and private sectors means access to affordable, safe and secure housing is severely limited for transgender people—especially transgender youth of color, Black transgender women, and transgender people of color generally.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender people in the United States experience discrimination seeking housing. More than one in ten are evicted from their homes because of their gender. Discrimination in housing contributes to housing insecurity, leading in many situations to homelessness.

Most shelters are unsafe for transgender people, with seventy percent of respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS) who used shelter services reporting being removed or physically and/or sexually assaulted because of their gender. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a new rule in May 2019 that would weaken nondiscrimination protections for transgender people seeking shelter services, further endangering transgender people experiencing homelessness.

Access to affordable, safe housing is central to the wellbeing of transgender and gender non-conforming people.

Recommendation: Strengthen housing anti-discrimination protections for transgender and gender non-conforming people. This must include safer access to shelters and services, and increased investment in community-led, community-informed safety nets.

Employment

Workplace harassment, high rates of unemployment and underemployment are significant issues for TGNC people. Transgender people repeatedly report high rates of sexual harassment, violence and discrimination in the workplace. A lack of reliable and safe employment increases risks of homelessness, violence, contact with law enforcement and other harms that flow from an inability to financially self-support.

Representation inspires young people to succeed in school and adult life, and it is harmful for transgender youth to rarely or never see themselves reflected in professional life.

While we wait for the Supreme Court to reach the only logical decision it can regarding the application of Title VII to TGNC employees, it is essential that employers hire, invest in and promote transgender people.

Part of this investment must include a lived commitment from employers to create a safer environment for transgender employees. For employers’ policy reference: the Transgender Law Center’s Model Transgender Employment Policy.

Recommendation: Hire, invest in and promote transgender employees. Create safer, culturally-competent working environments.

Health Care

All people deserve access to affordable, quality, competent health care free from discrimination. For many TGNC people, impediments to accessing affirming and non-discriminatory health care are abundant. Systemic inequities like racism, classism, homophobia and anti-transgender bias create barriers to care.

Discriminatory coverage exclusions by insurers is compounded by interpersonal discrimination by health care providers and staff, contributing to negative health outcomes for transgender people. Lack of access to affirming health care contributes to anxiety, depression, suicidality, stigmatization and further discrimination.

For medical facilities’ reference: Transgender Affirming Hospital Policies.

Recommendation: Eliminate coverage exclusions in private and public health insurance. Facilities must institute competency trainings. Facilities and practitioners must adopt transgender-affirming policies.

To paraphrase the words of Lilla Watson, Aboriginal elder and activist, we must work together from a space recognizing that our “liberation is bound” with that of one another. We all have a duty to ensure that as we move forward, TGNC people are not left behind.

During this week of awareness and during Trans Day of Remembrance, remember us: Not only in death but also in life.

In honoring the lives lost to anti-transgender violence and celebrating the transgender community, we must commit to actions that empower the TGNC community, amplifying our work, our brilliance and our success.