Transmissions: Trans during wartime
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There was a collective groan on November 8, 2016 as we saw Donald Trump win the presidency. With his victory, we knew that transgender rights won through the Obama administration, protections that had been claimed to be "robust," were on the chopping block. Indeed, I think back to a picture of then-candidate Trump holding a Pride flag emblazoned with "LGBTs for Trump," and noted that the flag itself was upside down, a move typically reserved for those in distress.
Today, past Trump's first 100 days, we see the rollback of our rights in action.
Transgender military service, one of the later additions to a broad number of trans-positive Obama-era policy changes, is now in jeopardy. According to a report in Newsweek, transgender men and women will not be allowed to sign up to serve on July 1 as anticipated, and it is unclear if Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis will implement the order at all.
It is unclear how this will affect the 7,000 or so transgender military personnel already serving, some of whom have been openly transgender since last June's order, but we have a good idea: two transgender cadets – one with the Army, the other with the Air Force – are set to graduate their military academies this year, but will not be commissioned. Because policies are not yet in place, the Pentagon does not know how to handle these new officers.
The military is not the only place we're seeing setbacks: Back in February, early in his presidency, rules around restrooms and other facilities aimed at protecting transgender students were rescinded, furthering anti-transgender struggles over bathroom access.
Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has quietly begun to purge materials related to trans people's use of shelters, revoking rules allowing them to stay at sex-segregated shelters of their choice.
Carson, it is worth noting, had this to say about transgender people last July at the Republican National Convention:
"You know, we look at this whole transgender thing. I got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don't know anymore. Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you're a man or vice versa?"
Carson's views are not out of line with his contemporaries in other agencies under Trump. While Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reportedly initially opposed rescinding the guidance on trans students, she ultimately fell in line behind the administration's overall views, and is seemingly no longer interested in standing up to any violations of students' rights.
Tom Price, the Health and Human Services secretary, has been clearly against transgender students, saying that the restroom policies enacted under President Barack Obama were "yet another abuse and overreach of power by the Obama administration, and a clear invasion of privacy."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is staunchly opposed to LGBT rights, having even fought against hate crime protections, but Sessions seems against protecting most everyone under his watch – besides perhaps, himself and his cronies. Indeed, many in the Trump White House have come from LGBT hostile territory.
It would seem, therefore, that for as long as Trump is in office, transgender rights will be threatened.
We're now in the first Pride Month of this presidency, and Trump – far from the smiling candidate holding up a Pride flag and imploring people to "ask the gays" about how much they favor him – has declined to officially recognize it. It's an unsurprising move.
Let this be a reminder to our community: While we have enjoyed a relatively successful eight years prior insofar as transgender rights go at the federal level, we are now at war. Our rights are being eroded, and will continue to be pushed back against. This isn't fear mongering: this is fact.
While it is nice to have an administration that is willing to go to bat for us now and then, it is really up to us to make a difference. Each one of us is our best spokesperson, and can do more to protect our community than any action taken by a president's Cabinet secretary.
Now is a time for us to stand up and be heard. It is a time for us to assert our rights, even as people seek to demolish them. It is not a time to play nice and hope for the best, nor is it a time to despair and let harm come: no, it is a time to stand our ground and fight back.
It will be up to each of us to stand against an administration full of anti-transgender bullies. We will need to rely on our allies and make new ones, and work stronger and closer with them. We will need to stand not only for ourselves, but also for all who may be oppressed under the Trump administration.
This Pride is not one about celebration, but should be one of resistance, where we show just what we are made of in the face of such attacks from the President and his people. We simply have to stand, united, against our enemies, and continue to show that –- in spite of their best efforts – we shall continue to exist.
If this is to be a war, then it will be on us to win it.
Gwen Smith is like a tree planted by the waters. You'll find her at www.gwensmith.com.