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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Anti-Trans Bills: It Means We’re Winning

It has finally happened. As a transgender advocate, part of me has always dreaded the day when the right-wing fringe would make fear-mongering about transgender people their latest hobby horse. But this year, proposed bills in Florida, Missouri, Kentucky, and Texas would make it a crime for transgender people to use public restrooms based on who they are, or invite lawsuits against businesses or schools that treat trans people with dignity. On the occasion of this International Transgender Day of Visibility, this is not the kind of visibility we want. These anti-trans bills are part of a broader wave of anti-LGBT legislation, including the “freedom to discriminate” bills we’ve seen in Indiana and Arkansas among other places, but make no mistake, trans people are being targeted by these too.

Understandably, many in the trans community are upset and scared. As a community, we’re already hurting. We’ve seen an unprecedented number of reported homicides of community members, especially transgender women of color, this year, as well as those we’ve lost to suicide. One in four of us have been physically assaulted because of who we are. And now, with these bathroom bills, lawmakers are essentially proposing to criminalize being transgender.

So here’s the good news: We’re going to win. These anti-trans bills are happening because we’re winning, not because we’re losing. City councils, school districts, businesses, courts, federal officials—more and more of them are lining up on our side, recognizing that transgender people cannot be equal members of society unless we have the right to live our lives as who we really are. More and more, the media are telling accurate and sympathetic stories about our lives. That kind of progress always brings out a backlash.

What’s more, these bills are probably going nowhere. Every year in every state, there are lots of kooky bills that are introduced bloodless and with no chance to become law, with no one really intending to move them. They are just what are called message bills—attention-seeking publicity stunts. Remember, there are also pro-LGBT bills introduced every year that no one thinks have a chance. And, fortunately in this case, legislation is always much easier to defeat than to pass.

Fortunately for us, we have many allies, including the broader LGBT movement progressive advocates eager to bat down the latest vicious right-wing attacks, and legislators of all stripes who know downright foolishness when they see it. In every state where these bills have been introduced, there are strong allies working alongside trans advocates to ensure these bills go nowhere.

And reassuringly, if any of these bathroom laws ever did pass, they would be null and void. The courts and the agencies charged with enforcing our civil rights laws have made increasingly clear that federal law prohibits discrimination against transgender people in employment, housing, education, and health care. Any state attempt to force discrimination, for example by schools, would be trumped by federal law. Attempts to criminalize everyday day acts by transgender people are also unconstitutional. Indeed, these bills are little different than the old laws that made it a crime to wear “clothing of the opposite sex”—which courts ruled unconstitutional decades ago.

So, it is important to be vigilant. Local, state and national organizations certainly are paying attention and making sure these bills are beaten. But do not fear too much. By all means, let’s fight back, call in our allies, and educate our neighbors. Let’s use these ludicrous bills as an opportunity to tell our stories. And make no mistake—the wind is still at our backs.​ We are winning.

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