In 1852, Frederick Douglass made a speech. In it, he asked “What to the slave, is the Fourth of July?” He went on to note that he had great respect for the Founders of our Nation, as they were brave men. However, he also noted that…while the rest of the nation celebrated…he and his community mourned.
I find resonance in those words…for, today, in 21st century America…I, as a transgender woman, have very little to celebrate. The rights and freedoms everyone else seemingly takes for granted…which are supposed to come with birthright citizenship…are denied to me. In my own state, laws were passed defining what bathroom I must use…regardless the risk to my own personal safety or comfort. Because someone MIGHT “pretend to be trans” to gain access to women’s spaces…to do nefarious things.
Let me unpack just how much bullshit there is in that entire line of reasoning. For starters, those who would pretend to be trans, to gain access to women’s spaces…to do nefarious things – by definition, they are criminals. And law or no law, they will do as they were going to do anyway. That is what criminals do.
Well…that is the argument we always get whenever we talk about passing common-sense gun-control legislation, or restriction on certain kinds of weapons that have no business in civilian hands, anyway…right? “If you outlaw guns, only criminals will have guns!” “We don’t need more gun laws, criminals won’t obey them anyway!” We have heard these arguments…yes?
YET..the very same people seemed to believe that somehow criminals WOULD magically obey the stupid law about bathrooms passed in North Carolina in 2016, infamously known as HB-2. Let me be clear: HB-2 protected NOBODY…and put an already marginalized and vulnerable community at great risk. They did not care, because they also disparage that community…and I don’t think it is a stretch to say that many of them actually WANTED us transgender people to be hurt. To be assaulted, beat up, raped and even killed in bathrooms.
Another faulty premise HB-2 rested on…was that somehow…we trans wanted to peek in on their wives and daughters. Because, after all…let’s face it…that is what a lot of hetero cisgender men imagine THEY might do…if given the opportunity to access women’s spaces. They fail to recognize that WE ARE NOT WIRED LIKE THEY ARE. We identify AS WOMEN. Not as men. And any other time they talk about us…the men are all freaked out that we trans might, like, come on to them. So which is it?
I specifically speak of trans women here, because NOBODY cared about the trans men using the men’s bathroom. This hateful legislation was aimed squarely and solely at transgender women…because they think we are creepy and icky. Oh, they would never own that if you confronted them with it…but it’s there. Live my life every day, and you see it all around you…in news media where murdered trans women are routinely misgendered and identified by their former male names (my own transmom, Terrianne…is even misgendered and misnamed in the cold case file of the Jacksonville, Florida P.D.) Almost eighteen years ago she was murdered on her own front lawn. A single gunshot to the head. And to this day her killer has never been brought to justice.
So this is just the stuff everyone NOTICES…because it is titillating. Because…ooooh….the bathroom…because our society cannot EVER seem to collective get it’s mind off sex for even so much as two lousy minutes. What they do not notice is the day-to-day indignity and injustice we transgender endure…and have endured for decades. And from which our governments refuse to protect us.
In nearly half of our states, you can be fired, or denied a job, legally…just for being transgender. Including my own home of North Carolina…which, in fact…is the only state in the nation…that literally codifies into law…discrimination against transgender people! This was done with the so-called repeal of HB-2…known as HB-142. In it, there are provisions that ONLY the State Assembly may make any laws or policies about bathrooms…forever. So if I am a school superintendent, for example, and I want to be accommodating to a trans student, and set up a separate bathroom for them…or allow them to use the bathroom with which they identify…legally, on my own hook, I can’t. I have to go through the State Assembly…which has no interest in granting transgender people basic rights or human dignity.
Similarly, in many of the same states, you can be evicted from your apartment or home…or be denied a rental…or even be denied credit to purchase a home…just for being trans. And businesses are free, in most of those same states…to refuse to serve us…even some government agencies refuse to…and do so legally.
They set us up to fail…in every way imaginable…make our already-difficult lives…as impossible as it is possible to make them…and then wonder why over 40 percent of us have, at some point in our lives, attempted suicide…versus about three percent of the general population. I, myself, am a survivor of two attempts. My last was twenty five years ago.
And this is even before we scratch the surface of the further indignity heaped on us by the Trump Administration…everything from rescinding Obama’s bathroom guidance, to removing a question on the Census about if you identify as transgender…to banning trans people from serving in the military, to banning the CDC from even saying the word “transgender” verbally or in reports.
This last is more insidious than most realize. The CDC used to do reports about violence faced by transgender people in bathrooms. And they did reports on transgender people who suffered medical problems from bathroom avoidance…everything from bladder spasms requiring medical attention from holding it too long…to dehydration leading to kidney disease and kidney failure…in an attempt to avoid the need to use the bathroom at all. These reports are no longer done. And if there is no government report about it…it did not happen! EXCEPT THAT IT DID HAPPEN…AND IT IS STILL HAPPENING!!! How convenient for them, isn’t it?
Signs are on the horizon that things may be getting better…but not before over half the part of my life that matters…the part where I can work and earn money…has been laid waste! And of course it STILL depends on the Supreme Court. The STACKED Supreme Court. Whether they respect precedence and common sense…or ideology.
Currently, a case is headed to SCOTUS R.G & G.R Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. vs. EEOC and Aimee Stephens. 46 organizations collaborated to file an Amici Curiae in the case…and yours truly is mentioned by name in the Brief. I knew this was coming, because I was contacted and asked for permission to use my story in the Brief.
In the Supreme Court of the United States
On Writ of Certiorari to the United States
Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
R.G. & G.R. HARRIS FUNERAL HOMES, INC.,
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY
COMMISSION AND AIMEE STEPHENS,
AMICI CURIAE BRIEF OF TRANSGENDER LAW
CENTER, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL
RIGHTS, AND 44 OTHER NON-PROFIT AND
GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATIONS IN SUPPORT
OF RESPONDENT AIMEE STEPHENS
And on Page 23 of the brief…my story is related:
Angela, a transgender woman from New Jersey,
was sent home when she came to work in a dress and
told to come to work dressed as a man.40 Angela felt
as though she was being forced to “choose between my
livelihood and my life.” Angela complied despite
feeling helpless and humiliated, but suffered an even
greater humiliation once she finished her shift: she
received a call from her employer saying not to return
to work because she was being terminated effective
immediately. Angela currently runs a small business
out of her home because she “would sooner die than go
on a job interview again.”
The discrimination that employees like Angela and
Carter experienced is undeniably discrimination
“because of … sex,” because it hinges on societal
expectations about how employees should act and
behave based on stereotyped perceptions of sex—the
very form of discrimination prohibited by Price
Note: Price Waterhouse refers to a 1997 ruling in Price Waterhouse vs Hopkins
My story directly relates to the legal action I took in 1997, resolved in 2002, and which funded my surgery, I might add. I am unable to articulate the defendant’s name in this case, nor disclose any other info about it…terms of our settlement forbid it.
I’d attach the Amici Curiae Brief to this article, but do not know how.
Anyway…this case may finally decide if we, as transgender people…have rights in employment and other areas…if we are in fact to be protected from discrimination on the basis of sex…which is currently precisely what we suffer. Discrimination on the basis of sex. Failure to conform to stereotypical dress and behavior based upon other people’s assumption of our gender.
And we suffer everyday indignity on the streets, in the public…in stores, in every manner of public accommodation…if a business so chooses…or if some other member of the public decides to harass us. And we have no protection.
We have thus no real ability to even carry out the essential functions of everyday life. And that is what transgender people face.
In a nation that lectures other nations around the world about human rights violations…it is almost laughable that MY basic rights and dignity…should even be a subject for debate! Certainly…in a free country…a truly free country…they would not be.
What is more fundamental to freedom…than the freedom to express oneself, and to identify oneself…in a way which does not break any laws…or OBJECTIVELY harm anyone else?
If my identity and my expression are limited…on pain of punishment/sanction – to only those things which are acceptable to others…then I am not free. And so I do not celebrate the Fourth…for I am not free. I have nothing to celebrate.