January 22, 2020
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Marginalizing transgender Americans is wrong, and dangerous

Robin Rayne | AP
Robin Rayne | AP
Transgender and non-binary individuals and their allies stroll through the city's Midtown district during Gay Pride's Transgender Rights march in Atlanta on Oct. 12, 2019.

LGBTQ Americans are much more likely to face discrimination and harassment than their heterosexual, cisgender peers. The situation is especially bad for transgender Americans.

And the situation is getting worse. Three times in one week in June, the Trump administration issued rules and proposals to take rights and protections away from transgender Americans. First, the administration finalized a rule that allows health care workers to refuse to treat transgender patients based on religious objections. The next day, it announced draft rules that would allow homeless shelters that receive federal funds to turn away transgender individuals.

Then the administration released a proposal that would gut patient protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity that were included in the Affordable Care Act.

These come on top of a Pentagon ban on transgender Americans serving in the military and a reversal of policy ensuring that transgender students were protected from discrimination in public schools and universities.

These are part of a long list of policy changes undertaken or proposed by the Trump administration that aim to take rights away from LGBTQ Americans.

The administration, and others, have a particular focus on people who are transgender, often using language that dehumanizes them. In a recent email, Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League, asked “Has the transgender issue hit your child’s school?” The email links to materials that demean and marginalize transgender students and adults.

Being transgender is not an “issue” to be eliminated. It is reality for an estimated 700,000 Americans.

It is a reality that leaves these Americans vulnerable, which is reason to ensure they are covered by civil rights protections, not maligned and targeted for discrimination.

Transgender adults are twice as likely to live in poverty as other Americans and three times more likely to be unemployed, according to a 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality. A third of transgender people have experienced homelessness and only 16 percent own a home, compared to 63 percent of the American population.

Transgender adults are nine times as likely to experience a suicide attempt as their non-transgender peers. In the last year, more than 300 transgender people were killed around the world, 30 of them in the United States.

Maine has taken important steps to protect transgender people. The state’s Human Right Act broadly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In their first bill this year, Maine lawmakers passed legislation, which was signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills, that prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ people by health insurance companies.

Federal legislation is needed as well. The Equality Act would extend protections based on sexual orientation to employment, housing, public accommodations and public services.

The measure passed the House earlier this year, with support from Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree. It has languished in the Senate, while that body has endorsed the nominations of several Trump nominees who have been hostile to LGBTQ Americans and their rights.

Sen. Susan Collins is the act’s lone Republican sponsor in the Senate, with only a handful of Republicans signing on in the U.S. House of Representatives. Sen. Angus King is also a co-sponsor.

“All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream,” Collins said when the Equality Act was introduced in March. “It is time we ensure that all people are judged on their talents and abilities, and have full access to the services they need and the opportunities they seek.”

The federal government has a responsibility to ensure the civil rights of all Americans are protected. The Trump administration has targeted transgender Americans by seeking to diminish, and in many cases eliminate, their rights.

This is a shameful abandonment of its constitutional responsibility and sends the dangerous and hurtful message that these Americans are somehow less valuable than others.

Passing the Equality Act would be one important step in reversing this hateful trend.

 



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