Kasey Suffredini: Overcoming deeply ingrained stereotypes about transgender people won't happen overnight
Laws that single out and attempt to exclude transgender people deny shared human dignity, he says
All over the country, bills are being filed that treat transgender people like pawns in a chess game.
North Carolina has passed the most extreme anti-LGBT law in recent history, forbidding transgender people to use restrooms that correspond to the gender they live as every day. Meanwhile, a bill that would have made it legal for some groups to deny employment or services to LGBT people just narrowly escaped becoming law in Georgia, while in 31 additional states, transgender people lack explicit protections from discrimination.
That discrimination is a reality that’s too common for too many Americans, including myself as a transgender man.
Revealing that I am transgender was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. To finally and fully be myself, I had to share something intensely private with my entire world. I had to ask everyone who has known me to transition with me – to learn a new name and new pronouns.
I’ve been fortunate to have support from my family and friends on this shared journey. But like so many other transgender people, I have been physically assaulted by strangers for being transgender. In my daily life, I’ve encountered humiliating and invasive questioning and treatment. Yet I’m lucky it has not been even worse – I know other transgender people who have been denied jobs or refused services because of who they are.
Current nondiscrimination proposals embody our nation’s core identity – the land of opportunity and equal treatment. But opponents of transgender equality intentionally use dishonest tactics to stoke fear in the hearts of reasonable Americans by reducing critical protections to questions about restroom use, dehumanizing transgender people while peddling fiction about how protecting people like us will embolden criminals to engage in illegal behavior – or worse, that we are criminals.
Equating transgender Americans with criminals and predators perpetuates widespread misunderstandings about what it actually means to be transgender. And it represents a substantial and urgent challenge in the movement for LGBT equality.
In most parts of the country, Americans have yet to meet a transgender person. That makes it hard to understand what it means to be transgender and to relate to the challenges we face just going about our lives each day. We must change that in order to have an honest dialogue about the comprehensive protections that transgender Americans desperately need.
That’s why Freedom for All Americans is launching the Transgender Freedom Project, a multiyear, national campaign to grow support for transgender equality by amplifying the stories of transgender Americans, developing messages that reach hearts and change minds, and equipping state campaigns with the proven tools and resources needed to win LGBT nondiscrimination protections in every community across America.
Coupled with introducing more Americans to their transgender neighbors, we’re committed to growing awareness about what comprehensive nondiscrimination protections really mean. It’s about the ability to earn a living, secure a decent place to live, attend school safety, and access quality medical care and fair lending. But we’ll also engage our opponents head on and work to debunk the harmful rhetoric they spread about restrooms.
Transgender people use restrooms for the same reasons as anyone else and, like everyone else, we value safety and privacy in these spaces. There are laws already in place to keep restrooms safe, and laws that protect transgender people from discrimination don’t change that. But laws that single out transgender people and attempt to exclude us from these spaces deny us our shared human dignity, and they make it very difficult for us to go about our daily lives. As Americans better understand who transgender people really are, public support will grow for the protections we need.
We’ve seen incremental wins already. In South Dakota, a Republican governor vetoed a bill that would have made it the first state in the nation to ban transgender students at school from using restrooms that correspond to who they are. In Wisconsin, a similar bill failed. In Massachusetts – the state I’ve long called home – the House speaker, Senate president, more than 200 businesses, dozens of cities and civic leaders, and major professional sports organizations in New England have expressed strong support for a proposal to expressly prohibit discrimination against transgender people in public places, compelling our state’s Republican governor to evolve from promising a veto a few years ago, to “considering” the legislation currently. And last week, the Republican governor of Georgia said he would veto a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse services to LGBT individuals and other groups of people.
In many cases, we’ve won because of the support of hundreds of businesses that oppose discrimination. But transgender people should not be left to hope for random acts of kindness. Like other Americans, we aspire to equality under law and guaranteed freedom from discrimination in the core aspects of civic life.
Overcoming deeply ingrained and longstanding stereotypes about transgender people won’t happen overnight. And we may lose more before we win. But Americans believe in fairness – and there are hundreds of thousands of transgender Americans like myself out there. We’re committed to this fight so no one has to grow up afraid to go to school or worried about job security. We envision a country in which all Americans, no matter who they are, can achieve their version of the American dream.