Supporting the transgender community during political and social unrest

By Melchior Tuerk  

Elm Staff Writer

On March 4, the last day of the Conservative Political Action Conference, Michael Knowles of the Daily Wire gave a hair-raising speech disparaging “transgenderism.” This speech is the most recent example of the rampant transphobia in conservative media cycles.

After using extremist language by referring to transgender issues as an “all or nothing” issue and proclaiming that “transgenderism is false” and should be “eradicated from public life entirely,” Knowles uses the most harmful language of all when discussing transgender people: he says that the eradication of transgenderism from American society is to the benefit of the “poor people who have fallen prey to this confusion.”

Those who act against the rights of transgender people often push that men cannot become women, women cannot become men, and that transgenderism is biologically impossible. This belief is incorrect and ignorant. 

Gender is “expressed by social or cultural distinctions and differences, rather than biological ones” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary. Society has moved on from the restrictions of biologically defined gender and embraces the reality of what gender looks like today. 

Furthermore, biological sex is not as simple as a binary male and female sex. The United Nations Human Rights Office estimates that nearly 2% of people are intersex, meaning their internal and external genitalia cannot be properly identified as biologically male or female. 

To put it simply, defining gender biologically is messy and often inconclusive. There are also studies continuously being done exploring possible connections between gender perception and chemicals in the body. 

According to data from a CDC survey recording risk factors, transgender people make up 0.6% of the United States population over the age of 13 and 1.4% of individuals between the ages of 13 and 17. As education on gender identity and expression spreads, and young people learn that gender is not firm, this number is likely to increase. 

Transgender individuals are familiar with being represented not only as “confused” in the media, but also as dangerous or evil, and in the language many LGBTQ+ people are familiar with, “spreading an agenda.”

The rhetoric that transgender people have sinister motives is not only harmful to the overall reputation of LGBTQ+ people, but also directly endangers them. By villainizing transgender individuals and deprioritizing their human rights, conservative spokespeople are sanctioning violence against the transgender community. 

Feb. 11, just a few weeks prior to this most recent attack on transgender people, a 16-year-old transgender girl named Brianna Ghey was murdered in a park near Liverpool, England. According to The New York Times, two teenagers were charged with her murder. Officials are still investigating the motives and cannot confirm the assault was a hate crime. Even though many British news sources were emitting Ghey’s identity as a transgender woman, it is impossible to ignore when considering her murder.

Forbes magazine reports that in 2021, 375 transgender individuals were killed globally, though this number only accounts for reported murders and does not account for assaults or harassment. A study done at the UCLA School of Law also found that transgender people over the age of 16 are victims of violence more than four times more often than cisgender people. 

The “eradication” that Knowles calls for is already occurring. 

In taking away healthcare and social protection, stopping inclusive education, and suffocating the experiences of transgender people, Knowles is hoping for the complete erasure of transgender identities in society. 

America is not unfamiliar with genocides of this nature: one needs to only go back 100 years and consider Native American assimilation, well discussed by Jessica Keating, or 50 years to the forced sterilization of “feebleminded” and women with disabilities as reported by NPR, to see what this dangerous rhetoric can lead to. 

With many states considering or passing anti-transgender healthcare legislation, steps are being taken toward a government sanctioned genocidal event. The Washington Post reports that as of Feb. 2023, at least 5 states have passed bills restricting gender affirming healthcare for minors. Now, some states are looking to target transgender adults. 

But Michael Knowles rejects the term genocide. On his television show he said “there can’t be a genocide…it’s not a legitimate category of being,” doubling down on the baseless belief that transgenderism is somehow “false.”

So, what now? In a world where minorities’ fates lay in the hands of those working against them, how do we protect our most vulnerable?

Registering to vote is one of the most effective ways to use one’s voice in support of human rights. Research your local and state politicians and know what bills they are supporting and where they stand on important issues that affect the transgender and LGBTQ+ community. If you cannot find this information readily, you can reach out to the politicians directly. The Human Rights Campaign is a fantastic resource for registering to vote, finding elected officials and what legislation they support, and otherwise educating oneself on human rights issues. 

However, voting is not the only step you should take to help protect the transgender community. Try embracing what may feel superficial or performative; action can be small. Including your pronouns in your social media bios, email sign offs, and in-person introductions can show transgender individuals that you are an ally. Asking somebody’s pronouns when you are meeting them for the first time also takes the pressure off of the individual to create the space for sharing pronouns and shows them that you are actively looking to respect their identity.

If you are financially able to, another small way to show support is grabbing a ‘trans rights are human rights’ or other transgender supportive stickers to put on your computer, water bottle, or phone case. Little signifiers can help transgender individuals identify safe and supportive people in their community. 

Make space for transgender people in your community. A large part of social activism is stepping back and providing a platform for those who are oppressed to speak out and share what they need. Without hearing from transgender people directly, no effective, helpful change can be made. Ask your transgender community members what they need from you at this time. They may need a shoulder to cry on or an open ear for angry venting. There is not one acceptable emotion to be feeling amid this widespread transphobia; it is a mess of hate and hurt. 

On campus, take time to attend an event run by Encouraging Respect of Sexuality, Supporting All Gender Experiences, or Pride in Athletics Club. These three very welcoming clubs support LGBTQ+ students on campus and are run by LGBTQ+ students. Many of the events are fun meetups such as paint nights, game nights, movie nights, or sporting events, so it is a very low pressure and safe environment. 

For those seeking out something more active, there are a number of charities that support transgender individuals including GLAAD, the Trevor Project, the Human Rights Campaign, Trans Lifeline, and Planned Parenthood, to name just a few. All of these charities take donations, and some may need volunteers. Attending protests and marches in support of transgender rights is also a fantastic way to show allyship. 

Every day is a test of transgender strength. With basic rights consistently in peril, transphobia abounding, and misinformation spreading like wildfire, transgender people are fighting like never before. But in these moments of fear, may we also take time to celebrate transgender joy and success. Them is a news source focusing on LGBTQ+ news, and frequently highlights transgender people. Recent headlines include: “Bella Ramsey Praised Their ‘Gay Army’ of Social Media Supporters,” “This Trans Athlete Just Won a Major Discrimination Suit Against USA Powerlifting,” and “How to Buy Your Cookies from Trans Girl Scouts This Year.” It is necessary to recognize the positives amidst the negatives in the world.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Caption:Due to the uptick in anti-transgender healthcare laws and abundance of anti-transgender rhetoric, it is important now more than ever to fight for transgender rights and protect those we care about.

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