OPINION: Trans women are always welcome - and we owe them our support

by Robyn Exton | HER
Friday, 20 November 2020 12:02 GMT

Demonstrator, Alyssa Thomas, raises a sign with the words 'Black Trans Lives Matter' during the Pride Liberation March, an event highlighting the Black Lives Matter movement within the LGBTQ community in Denver, Colorado, U.S., June 14, 2020. Picture taken June 14, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The LGBT+ community needs to better support some of our most vulnerable members, especially Black transgender women.

(Editor's note: contains language that may offend some readers)

Robyn Exton is the CEO & Founder of HER, the world’s largest online community and dating app for LGBT+ women & queer people

We’ve fallen short in protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our community. The rising murder rates of transgender women, particularly trans women of color, and the proliferation of anti-trans sentiment shows that we have a long way to go — we all need to support trans women better.

Murders of transgender people in the United States this year had surpassed the total for all of 2019 by July, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the majority of whom were Black trans women under the age of 30. This shocking information isn’t even new, yet somehow it's passed over year after year by the community with little being done to effect change.

As violence continues to rise against the trans community, we must recognize that trans women are statistically disadvantaged in every sector. At the same time, rising voices that oppose trans lives continue to make headlines. When our community needs action the most, it's the exclusionary ones that still get the most attention. This is the time to work together, not against each other. There is too much at stake.

It isn’t physical violence alone that threatens trans women - the numbers show that systematic discrimination is a stark reality.

More than a quarter of trans women in the U.S. were unemployed in September 2020, compared to the national average of 7.9%. Until a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2020, it was legal in more than half of the states to fire workers for just being transgender.

More than 40% of Black trans folk have experienced homelessness in their lives, compared to an estimated 14% of the general population. And 90% of trans people report experiencing discrimination, harassment, and/or misgendering at work.

In recent years under President Donald Trump, we have seen anti-discrimination protections under the Affordable Care Act repealed, allowing hospitals to refuse care for the trans community. Trans people have been banned from military service. The federal government has also pushed back against existing protections against transgender discrimination in homeless shelters.

This isn’t a series of isolated incidents, it’s an epidemic of bigotry.

Awareness, acceptance, support, and love of trans people need to guide both policy-making to protect our vulnerable communities and our day-to-day actions of support.

Rhetoric and representation also make a difference. In 2019, there were zero transgender characters in any films made by major Hollywood studios. It would be easy to believe that trans people don’t exist.

Recent years have also seen a rise in the number and prominence of trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs).

TERFs — who identify as feminist, but do not believe trans women belong in women’s spaces — set a dangerous precedent for exclusion. We now see more media attention given to those highlighting anti-trans narratives than we do to those highlighting the actual murders of trans women. 

TERFs also believe that people assigned male at birth (AMAB) cannot understand a woman’s journey and therefore cannot identify as a woman or lesbian.

But a lesbian is a woman who is emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to other women. Trans women are women - and a trans woman whose sexuality is lesbian is absolutely a lesbian. They should be included and welcomed in all communities for lesbian women.

However, the LGBT+ community still creates “safe spaces” that are not “accepting spaces”.

So this is a plea (or maybe a demand): Everybody needs to accept, support, and love trans people.

Trans women are our community, and we have an opportunity to educate our wider LGBT+ community on trans rights and issues to both promote understanding and demonstrate active support. The only way to keep our safe spaces safe is to curb the threat of anti-trans narratives.

So what can you do?

Take a proactive stance. Say it out loud: “Trans rights are human rights!” Say it on social media and in physical spaces.

We have to be proactive in creating a world that actively pushes back against voices invalidating trans identities.

Listen to trans women, understand their experiences and journey, and speak up in conversations with friends and family. Support trans-owned and operated companies and, if you’re hiring, hire trans people. Give monetary support to organizations like the Trans Justice Funding Project, House of GG, or The Okra Project, so they can continue to support trans people through their ever-growing networks.

We have a long way to go until we have an equitable, accepting society, but the pendulum has started to shift. Trans women, especially Black trans women, need to know that we care for them, we accept them, we support them and we love them.

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