Commentary

Democrats need to prioritize transgender civil rights while they still can

LONDON/ENGLAND- 12 September 2020: Trans rights placard at Trans Pride 2020 in London
Trans rights placard at Trans Pride 2020 in London, 12 September 2020.Photo: JessicaGirvan / Shutterstock.com

So, it’s over. Donald Trump’s presidency is over. With any luck, we’ll never see someone like him in charge of our federal government ever again.

Finally, the LGBTQ community can stop playing defense against the tide of anti-queer bigotry we’ve been forced to struggle against for four long years and can instead refocus on what we want our new president and Congress to do to make our lives better instead of going out of their way to make them worse.

Related: President Biden overturns the ban on transgender military personnel

Of course, the big stuff like the Equality Act matters, as well as reversing Trump’s executive orders on pretty much everything to do with our community, but there’s also so much more work that can finally be done, the kind of work that I believe our country is finally ready to do.

Trans people have borne the brunt of the attacks against our community during the last administration and so we need a significant amount of attention. Anti-trans hate crimes must be addressed, not only in terms of preventing future crimes but also in the way that law enforcement investigates and prosecutes the crimes as well as protecting victims from further indignities perpetrated by the criminal justice system.

Perhaps most importantly, we not only need comprehensive action from our federal government on the issues that matter most in our lives, but it needs to happen quickly, during this session of Congress. The last time Democrats controlled the presidency and both chambers of Congress was 12 years ago, during President Obama’s first two years in office.

Obama prioritized his health care law over LGBTQ rights and remained mostly silent as Democrats dithered and dallied until time ran out, in the end achieving nothing more than the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and a hate crimes law that acknowledged trans people in federal law for the very first time but did nothing to help one of America’s most persecuted minorities live better lives.

Republicans reclaimed control of the House in the following midterm election and our hopes of further progress were dashed… until now. Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House. What had been impossible for so long is now possible again.

In addition, despite our federal government lagging woefully behind the American people, trans folk are now an inextricable part of American culture and diversity. We’re on TV, in the movies, and in the news. The American people know who we are and what we’re about. Regardless of where one comes down on trans-relevant issues, trying to claim ignorance as an excuse for inaction is simply no longer credible.

What we know is that when Republicans are in control of the agenda, progress on LGBT equality not only stops completely but they actively seek to roll back whatever progress our community has previously made. Obama’s executive orders that protected the rights of trans people in many areas were quickly rescinded once Trump became president.

Certainly, some significant progress has been made at the state and local levels and even at the Supreme Court over the last four years, but the federal rights that were granted trans Americans by presidential executive order disappeared with a few strokes of Trump’s pen. The only way to prevent this from happening again is to make these federal rights legislated law, and the only way to even have a chance of that is for it to happen now, during these first two years of Biden’s presidency while Democrats still control both Congress and the White House.

This is the time. We have at least two years to get this done. There’s no guarantee that Democrats will retain full control for longer than that – and we already know what happens when they lose it and haven’t gotten the job done. The clock is ticking and with it the chance for all LGBTQ people to be able to finally enjoy the same full civil rights our straight and cisgender fellow Americans do.

Congress must act – and it must act now. Just as ignorance is no longer a valid excuse, neither is kicking the can down the road in the hopes that Congress will get to it next session or the one after that. It would be incredibly unjust if Democrats continue to gamble with our basic civil rights for their own convenience as they have in the past.

Trans people of my generation, those of us who came out in the 1990s and helped to build this community, aren’t getting any younger. Trans youth who are coming out now still face the same kinds of discrimination in many areas. It needs to stop, and it needs to stop now.

Trans people shouldn’t have to continue to pay the price because congressional Democrats find us inconvenient. We’ve heard the promises for decades, but only a very few have been realized. No legislation can erase bigotry, but it can give trans people the legal protections we need to fight back when we’re discriminated against as well as protect us from Republican-controlled state legislatures that seek to pander to their base voters.

At the age of 58, I’ve reached the time in my life when trans friends and allies I’ve fought with and worked with are beginning to die. Each time it happens, I’m reminded of the truth that I have less time ahead of me than I do behind me. If it’s all the same to our government leaders, I’d like to be able to enjoy the same civil rights and equal treatment under the law in my country as cisgender Americans do before I die, no matter how many years I have left.

After all the time I and so many others have spent working toward that elusive goal, I really don’t think it’s too much to ask.

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