by: Alexis Sanchez (she/her/hers), Director of Advocacy and Training, Sacramento LGBT Community Center
Visibility is a double-edged sword for transgender people. We see this playing out as openly transgender people are being elevated to statehouses and federal offices and taking major roles in television in cinema. While some of the community are seeing opportunities that weren’t available a decade ago, others are being disproportionally affected as this new visibility has made them the target of hate and attempts to legislate them out of existence. Visibility can be dangerous for those of us who live in conservative states, or those with intersecting marginalized identity.
My background is in public health policy which is often times dry statistics and speaking about communities in an abstract way. However, when it comes to transgender communities, the data is stark. Transgender people are at greater risk than almost any other minority when it comes to most issues. From housing insecurity, to being the targets of violence, transgender people are the community that faces the most harm. When you look at those with intersecting marginalized identities – such as transgender women of color or undocumented transgender people – the data is even more heartbreaking. The past few years have seemingly made things worse as increased visibility of transgender people has led to a slew of anti-trans legislation and an increase of hate related attacks. What does visibility mean if it comes at the expense of our most marginalized?
There is some good that comes from visibility, more positive transgender representation in media has led to greater public support for trans people. “Though the number of Americans who say that they personally know someone who is transgender has grown, 84% of Americans continue to learn about transgender people through the media,” said Nick Adams, Director of Programs for Transgender Media at GLAAD According to a recent PRRI Poll, “More than six in ten (62%) Americans say they have become more supportive toward transgender rights compared to their views five years ago.” With more Americans seeing positive representation of transgender people on their televisions, we see more popular support for legislation that protects transgender people.
This support can translate to better legislation to help protect the most marginalized. 2020 saw a number of bills signed into law in California to help trans people. Governor Newsom signed SB 932, which ensures comprehensive data collection to understand how COVID-19 is impacting the LGBTQ+ community. AB 2218 by Assembly member Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) establishes the Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund. The Fund will assist organizations serving people that identify as transgender, gender nonconforming, or intersex (TGI), and help create or fund TGI-specific housing programs and partnerships with hospitals, health care clinics and other medical providers to provide TGI-focused health care. SB 132 requires CDCR to house transgender, gender-nonconforming and intersex people with a focus on health and safety. SB 1255 ends the practice of insurance companies discriminating against HIV-positive individuals.
Better legislation comes from better legislators, and 2020 has seen more openly binary and non-binary transgender people elected to public office. “Openly trans candidates were elected, or reelected, in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, New Hampshire and Vermont. The LGBTQ Victory Fund reports that the total number of transgender elected officials nationwide will jump from an existing 28 to 32 when new winners take office next year.” These legislators will hopefully be able to bring forth policy from a place of their own experience, that can speak to the challenges that transgender people face. It also creates possibility models for youth who are questioning their gender. When I was a child, one of the things that kept me from transitioning was the perception that if I transitioned I would have to surrender all of my ambitions because transgender women weren’t at state capitols and in corporate boardrooms. Today’s youth will be able to look to these new legislators and see that big things are possible for them regardless of their gender identity.
These steps are creating long term change to help future generations, but what does visibility mean for those of us who are experiencing the challenges that come with being openly trans? This is where allies are the most critical. My challenge on Transgender Day of Visibility is to support and uplift transgender people, especially those with intersecting marginalized identities such as transgender women of color or undocumented transgender people. Get to know which organizations provide services or aid to transgender people. Research bills and policy in your city, county, or state, and call your local representative to support legislation that seeks to help transgender people. Visibility makes us vulnerable, but also makes it possible to address the problems that were invisible to our cisgender allies a few years ago. Together, we can work to create a world that celebrates gender diversity and is free of the systems that have oppressed transgender people for far too long.
Alexis Sanchez (She, Her, Hers) is the Sacramento LGBT Center’s Director of Advocacy and Training. As a native Angelino, Alexis has worked hard and lead numerous initiatives in the LGBTQ community including campaigns to reduce gun violence, hate crimes, over-policing, health disparities, substance use, housing discrimination, and workplace discrimination. In 2020, Alexis was honored as Woman of the Year by Representative Adam Schiff (CA-28).
If you are a member of the transgender community, questioning your identity, or know someone who is and needs support, The Sacramento LGBT Center offers a variety programs to help, including counseling, legal services, sexual health services, crime victim services, housing services, workforce development, social support, and community resource navigation. For more information call (916) 442- 0185 or email the Center at: firstname.lastname@example.org.