You probably heard the news about President Trump’s proposed ban on transgender military service, but that was the tip of the anti-LGBTQ iceberg this week.
That same day as the tweets, two more bombshells dropped: the Justice Department handed down an unprompted decision in a private employment suit, stating the Civil Rights Act does not apply to discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation; and Trump also nominated Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who is vocally anti-LGBTQ, as the ambassador at large for “international religious freedom.”
All three of these attacks, in one day.
Queer gender identities and what to do about them have been popular political debate topics this year. Right now, it’s trans people serving in the military. Before that, it was trans students and children allegedly posing a threat to our country. The so-called “trans ban” is just Trump blowing smoke on Twitter. But if those tweets actually worm their way into becoming an official military guidance, it would be one of the most devastating developments for trans rights this year.
So what’s really going on here?
Trump argues that the mere presence of trans people would cause disruption, and that the expense of providing healthcare for trans personnel would hurt military efficacy. But there’s no indication that’s true. It’s hard to pin down exactly how many openly trans people are already serving, but estimates range from 2,000 to over 15,000. And currently, the military spends five times more on Viagra than it does on trans-related healthcare.
Compare this to the arguments made against trans bathroom use. The idea that “bathroom bills” protect women from violence, while popular among those who don’t have any trans friends or family, is completely baseless. Not only is there a distinct lack of evidence to support the idea that segregating bathrooms by sex will prevent harassment, when trans people are involved in cases of harassment, they are virtually always the victims. HB2, the South Carolina bill that prevents trans people from accessing the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, is probably the most well-known. The real function of laws like HB2 is to provide legal grounds for transphobia.
These are just two examples of the tidal wave of anti-trans policymaking that has swept the US. According to Sasha Buchert, a staff lawyer at the Transgender Law Center, there were over 50 bills introduced in 2016 that targeted trans and gender-nonconforming people.
“It’s not just the bills that would restrict access to bathrooms and locker rooms, it’s bills that would try to keep us from being able to get healthcare, or to update our identity documents,” she said. “This is about erasing trans people completely.”
For example, this year in Indiana, legislation was introduced to prevent trans people from updating their birth certificates in any way. And one bill in Virginia proposed requiring trans people to use facilities that correspond with the gender marker on their original birth certificate, even if it had been updated. And don’t forget the many local bills that would block LGBTQ protections, putting those rights in the hands of more conservative state legislatures. Then there’s the “First Amendment Defense Act”, or FADA, which Buchert says gives businesses a “license to discriminate,” making it legal to deny private services to LGBTQ people.
Quick reality check: these laws impact cisgender people too. Make no mistake– they’re written to directly target the health and safety of queer and gender-nonconforming individuals. But how you’re perceived often matters more than who you actually are.
For example, Bridget Galaty, from Colorado, is cisgender and wears clothing usually designated for men. Even though she isn’t trans, she often gets strange looks when she uses facilities that are designated for women. One time, she says, a counselor at her summer camp tried to keep her from going into a girl’s changing room after swimming, all because she was wearing swim trunks.
“I started walking in, and the lady goes, ‘Sir, you can’t go in there,’” she said. “I’m there with all these people I know, so they know I’m going to the right bathroom. It’s not like everyone was trying to stop me from going in. She’s like, ‘Sir, the men’s room is that way!’ I kept going, and she said it again, so I just yelled really loud, ‘I’m a woman!’”
Galaty says it became an inside joke among her friends, but underneath the humor was frustration. “I know what bathroom I’m using. I’m a competent human being who can read signs… You don’t know me.”
In light of this past week, it seems almost surreal that Trump promised to protect and serve the LGBTQ community during his presidential campaign. The White House’s demonstrated support for decidedly anti-LGBTQ interests go beyond threats towards trans and queer rights; these measures are unnecessary and discriminatory, and everyone will feel their impact.