Transgender people can't be defined out of existence, despite this administration's efforts

Transgender people can't be defined out of existence, despite this administration's efforts
© Greg Nash

The Sunday morning newspaper delivered a new fear to those of us in the transgender and gender non-conforming community. This fear wasn’t whether we would be targeted by legislation to deny us access to public restrooms or discriminated against by our commander-in-chief as we strive to wear our nation’s uniform with pride. Those are realities we have sadly become accustomed to.

This fear is erasure. The memo circulating through the halls of federal agencies is responsible for policies ranging from health care to education, was reported by The New York Times under the headline “‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration.” Defined out of existence. Read that again and this time imagine you are a transgender teenager struggling to make it through the day; the implications are tragic.

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At The Trevor Project we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of calls and texts to our crisis services from young people who identify as transgender or non-binary over the last year. These youth now make up more than a third of the youth reaching out to us for help.

The waves of confusion, anger and panic flowing through the transgender community since it was reported that the government intended to ignore gender identity for purposes of federal law were entirely foreseeable and entirely avoidable.

When a young person hears that their existence and gender identity will not be recognized by their government, they hear that they are not worthy to be a part of that nation. Nothing could be further from the truth, but the messages from a bully pulpit can be powerful in a society that is already hostile. 

Nearly half of all transgender people have made a suicide attempt, many before the age of 25. Many feel that suicide is one of their only options as they experience rejection from family, friends and society as a whole. A government’s erasure of transgender identities and intersex people is a form of that rejection on a monumental scale.

And what’s worse is the excuse given for this government-sanctioned rejection is supposedly science, despite a growing consensus from medical experts in support of respect for transgender people. 

The American Psychological Association rejected the claims of the memorandum seeking to erase transgender identity by stating it “fails to recognize decades of scientific research into psychology, genetics and physiology.” Best practices for protecting the health and wellbeing of transgender and gender non-conforming citizens have been provided by the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). None of them support the reported policy of defining “sex” to erase a person's gender identity in favor of crude anatomical generalizations. 

When our daily lives as transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are attacked, our mental health suffers. It is a testament to the resilience of our community that so many of us continue to thrive and survive. 

But if bad laws and policies hurt, good laws and policies can help. Today transgender and gender expansive youth are protected from conversion therapy in 14 states around the country. More than 20 states explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

The efforts to ban transgender individuals from military service has been halted by court-after-court. Five states allow gender-fluid individuals like myself to identify as non-binary, male, or female on their drivers licenses.

These protections won’t reverse the challenging reality of being transgender or non-binary in America overnight. But combined with growing public understanding and education, they should remind LGBTQ youth that no matter what any memo might say, the existence of transgender and gender non-conforming community is not up for debate. 

Finally, if you are struggling or in crisis, please call TrevorLifeline 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386. Text and chat counseling are available from 3-10 p.m. EST every day at www.thetrevorproject.org/help. We’re here for you, and you’re never alone.

Sam Brinton is the head of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project.