This past year has seen unprecedented attacks on transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people in America. On October 21, 2018, the New York Times reported that the Department of Health and Human Services, under the auspices of our current presidential administration, is pursuing changing the legal definition of gender under Title IX as a “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” DHHS’ memo suggested, among other things, that this legal definition may necessitate genetic testing if there was any doubt of someone’s gender. It is the most extreme step in a series of gradual roll-backs of protections for trans people, which includes eradicating mention of the term “transgender” on all federal websites and not including trans-identified people in the 2020 census.
The implications of this recommendation not only point to an erasure of trans people (and thus our rights) under the law, but are also potentially personally terrorizing to trans and gender expansive individuals. Trans Lifeline, the nation’s only hotline by and for transgender people, reported a 400% increase in call volume after the DHHS memo was released, including twice the number of first-time callers contemplating suicide.
It is vital for allies of trans and gender expansive people to use their privilege and access to resources to advocate for protection of the trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary communities. Here are seven ways you can support your trans colleagues, friends, and community members:
- Confront transphobia directly when you hear/see it, whether it’s an offensive meme or an epithet at a family dinner. The emotional labor trans people often have to do to defend their identities and educate people in their lives is exhausting. Correct pronouns when someone is misgendered, don’t let misinformation disseminate online, and don’t let slurs slip by without challenging it.
- Have tough conversations with those you disagree with. Part of being an ally is leveraging your privilege in situations that would put the target of discrimination in distress or danger. Cis (non-transgender) people are often privy to conversations that trans people are not where people share their true feelings and fears. Be willing to have painstaking, perhaps painful, conversations about why trans people must be protected, so we don’t have to. Be as compassionate and patient as possible.
- Give your time, energy, and money to organizations that support trans people. There are so many grassroots trans-focused organizations who provide vital services to trans and gender expansive people for free. Trans Lifeline is the only national hotline run by trans people for trans people. They also have a robust microgrant program which pays fees for individuals changing their identity documents. Click here to donate to Trans Lifeline. I’d also recommend donating to the Trans Justice Funding Project, which funds trans-focused groups all around the country, large and small. Information on them can be found here and a direct donation link can be found here. If you’d like to donate to smaller projects, click here for a list of small trans-led organizations, collectives, and artistic projects.
- Make sure your trans and gender expansive loved ones are okay. Research demonstrates that hateful rhetoric against trans people affects not only our mental health, but that of our loved ones (Brown et. al., 2011; Russell, 2004.) Check in on the trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people in your life. Offer to buy dinner (or even send delivery!), ask about their mental health, remind them that you care and are there to support them. Let them come over and pet your dog, hang out with your cat, or play with your kids!
- Contact your elected representatives and tell them what you think of these policy changes. A convenient text message-based tool I’ve used during the past year to keep up on issues I care about and to contact my state representatives is ResistBot. Simply text RESIST to 50409 and provide a little information about yourself, and they will prompt your engagement. For LGBTQ-specific updates, the National Center for Transgender Equality has action alerts for trans-related issues on the federal and state levels. HRC also has a tool to search for your Congressional representatives that includes a scorecard on LGBTQ rights and other progressive causes.
- Continue your learning process at your growing edges. We’re all in process, exploring our fears and internalized negative messages about people who are not like us. Continually confront the limits of your inclusion and make yourself uncomfortable. If you’ve never been to a protest, attend one with a friend. If you don’t know much about trans history, check out a book or podcast. Practice using gender-neutral pronouns. Become an even more informed ally.
- Celebrate trans resilience! Remind yourself and others of our victories–this election cycle saw the first trans person elected to a state legislature, we have unprecedented diversity in trans representation in the media, and of course, we create everyday acts of empowerment and joy. Don’t let a few fearful people in power overshadow the ways we shine.