We used to hear the saying, “As General Motors goes, so goes the nation,” but to gauge where we stand and where we’re going as a society, maybe we should substitute “Netflix” for the automaker’s name.
Consider the case of transgender rights. This is a landscape that is rapidly changing, breaking convention, busting stereotypes and forcing new ways of thinking on large segments of the population.
Laverne Cox, one of the stars of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” and the first openly transgender Emmy nominee in the acting category, may not have won the award this year, but history has already been made. Cox appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine and her show isn’t even the only major TV show to feature transgender characters and storylines. The new dramatic comedy “Transparent” debuts on Amazon Prime on September 26, starring Jeffrey Tambor as a father preparing to come out as transgender to his three children.
The degree to which social institutions, the media and governments recognize the civil and human rights of the transgender community is increasingly in the spotlight.
President Barack Obama recently signed an executive order prohibiting transgender federal workers from discrimination, and the Affordable Care Act prohibits health insurance companies from discriminating against transgender people, opening the door to coverage that includes gender reassignment surgery.
The Washington Post has launched an advice column on LGBT/straight etiquette. The U.S. Department of Education announced that Title IX protects transgender students. And Facebook opened gender options for transgender and gender non-conforming users.
But it’s not all good news. We’re also seeing historic levels of transphobia–discrimination, hate speech and violent, even fatal attacks on transgender women and men.
According to the report “Injustice at Every Turn” published by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:
- Transgender people experienced unemployment at twice the rate of the general population, “with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate.”
- Ninety percent of transgender people reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job.
- Twenty-two percent of respondents who have interacted with police reported harassment by police, “with much higher rates reported by people of color.”
- Almost half of the respondents (46 percent) reported being uncomfortable seeking police assistance.
- Forty-one percent of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6 percent of the general population.
We need a national conversation about transphobia, which dehumanizes, demeans and disadvantages a specific group of people. This is a feminist issue on two levels. First, like racism and homophobia, transphobia grows out of and helps perpetuate the same patriarchal ideology that dictates women’s subordination as second-class citizens. Second, transphobia disproportionately harms women.
Trans women face higher rates of discrimination, violence, sexual assault, and poverty. Around half of all victims of anti-LGBTQIA homicides in 2012 were transgender, and all of them were women of color.
Black and African-American transgender women have a 50 percent greater homicide rate than their white, Latina, and Native American counterparts and were more than three times as likely to experience police violence more than any other group, according to a 2012 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs on LGBTQIA and HIV Affected Hate Violence.
These are all civil rights violations because they are rooted in the denial of a person’s right to be who they are. Equal means equal. That includes equality for all women, not just a certain type of woman. Not just women who look like me!
The consequences of violating these fundamental rights are not just the alarming rates of homelessness, unemployment, access to health care, economic insecurity, depression and suicide, but also the weakening of the very fabric of our society.
It diminishes all of us when one type of person or group is targeted, and when they are denied the basic understanding, compassion and protection we all expect and deserve.
Last month, The National Organization for Women (NOW) interns, along with trans folk and allies from across the country participated in Transgender Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. NOW intern Jenna Archer wrote a blog post about the Lobby Day that included this insight:
“While I was leaving the office of Representative Barbara Lee (my home district), I overheard a young man passing me in the hallway say to his colleagues ‘I had never met a trans person before today.’ ”
Amplifying the voices and stories of transgender people puts a human face to these issues, and reveals the true impact of discrimination and the urgent need to afford LGBTQIA people federal protections.”
Laverne Cox has said, “It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist.” The history of feminism tells us that women know all too well what it’s like to not be seen, heard or treated with fairness and respect.
TIME Magazine’s cover story on Laverne Cox had the headline, “The Transgender Tipping Point.” I’m not sure we’ve come that far just yet. But with the support and commitment of thoughtful feminists, we’ll get there.