Civil rights attorney Sam Ames says the 2020 election marks the beginning, not the end, of work to strengthen trans rights.
Sam Ames (© Han Koehle)
Obviously, we’re coming out of some really hard years. The Trump administration’s ban on open military service was the tip of the iceberg. It also waged a campaign to undo decades of work with federal agencies to include sexual orientation and gender identity in laws prohibiting sex discrimination. The Trump administration had those agencies reverse course, rescinding policies that protected transgender people in education, employment, healthcare, housing, and much more.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court ruled in June 2020 that the prohibition on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act includes sexual orientation and gender identity, a decision that nullified many of the Trump administration’s efforts and will be used to interpret a lot of other civil rights statutes. In his first few days in office, President Biden officially reversed much of that guidance, rescinded the military ban, and promised to prioritize the Equality Act.
But we’ve also seen an upsurge in state anti-trans legislation. Emboldened by Trump, many policymakers have introduced bills like Montana’s HB 112, which would ban trans youth from participating in school sports. The week after Biden’s inauguration, fourteen states introduced anti-trans bills. The 2020 election wasn’t the end of the work. In many ways, it was just the beginning.
While the Supreme Court made a big dent in legalized discrimination last term, the fight to extend those protections to other areas of life will take time. And it’s worth noting that nondiscrimination laws don’t eliminate discrimination; all they do is give victims the right to ask a court for a remedy—which is very difficult for most people.
When asked what policy priorities would actually have the biggest impact on their lives, trans people consistently name violence, health insurance, racism, and policing—with data showing that trans women of color face the highest risks. The most pressing issues facing trans people aren’t particular to trans people; they’re just particularly dangerous to trans people.
The fight for trans rights is multifaceted, so support for trans people is, too. Just as important as contacting legislators, donating to trans organizations, and supporting local trans-led groups is the work we need to do in ourselves, our communities, and our congregations. I was born and raised in Unitarian Universalism, and my faith has been a source of safety and transformation for me. But it’s also been a place of deep pain and rejection. I’m not alone; 72 percent of trans UUs don’t feel fully included in their congregations. We need our churches and seminaries to go beyond bathroom signs and pronoun stickers. UUs need to confront our own cissexism and transphobia; examine why we struggle so much to retain trans leaders; and end the whispering and misgendering waiting in every coffee hour. If we’re going to fight for a world that reflects our principles, we first need to live them.
What UUs Need To Know About Trans Rights, by Sam Ames
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