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OPINION

Transgender rights must be recognized as civil rights

Now is the chance to expand civil rights for LGBTQ+ — and specifically trans — Americans.

Demonstrators gather on the steps to the Texas State Capitol May 20 to speak against transgender-related bills being considered in the Texas Legislature in Austin, Texas.
Demonstrators gather on the steps to the Texas State Capitol May 20 to speak against transgender-related bills being considered in the Texas Legislature in Austin, Texas.Eric Gay/Associated Press

While the term “transgender” may be recent, gender diversity is nothing new. Research shows that sexual and gender variations are innate to the human condition. Historians have evidence of gender diversity dating back to the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age.

The 20th century was filled with examples of the pendulum swinging in relation to trans rights. Europe in the early 1930s experienced gender progressivism followed by fascism. The late 1950s and early 1960s in America saw riots in Los Angeles and in San Francisco, as well as the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan, followed by the first peer-run support and advocacy organization for transgender people.

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Yet even as the country celebrates Pride Month, there are unprecedented attacks on trans rights across the nation. An astonishing 125 anti-transgender bills have been proposed in over half of America’s statehouses. The same politicians who have argued that smoking didn’t cause cancer, or that global climate change isn’t real, now argue that science proves transgender people should be deprived of rights. This is pure desperation, the last gasp of a false culture war lost.

These arguments undoubtedly have severe effects on the mental health of trans people, especially kids. The attempts by cisgender legislators to play political football with people’s lives directly harm children. The lack of acceptance, the suicides, and family isolation are often caused by transphobia and the people fanning those flames. And we know that this can be changed: The rates of suicide decline significantly when trans people are supported.

These attacks will not alter the arc of modern history. We in the trans community have had to depend on each other when those in positions of authority have turned their backs on us. Previous attempts to restrict the civil and human rights of the trans community have only bolstered our strength.

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More and more people are coming out. We see trans people in politics and on TV. This is not because more people are trans, rather, because slowly and surely, we are creating a society that is more accepting, pluralistic, and offers more space to be valued and seen. As members of the trans community, we have superpowers and we are resilient.

Instead of focusing strictly on the strife between transgender kids and adults — whether at home, in school, or in politics — let’s focus on the lessons that our community can teach America.

We have seen examples of trans-led structures, such as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, contributing to a brighter future. Let’s focus on how gender-affirming care can offer a model for all of health care. Let’s listen to trans collectives advocating for those who face state and institutional violence. Let’s elevate voices pushed to the margins and welcome trans voices in places of political power.

Americans must recognize the gains of the trans and gender-diverse community and push for national legislation enshrining these rights. When we fight for trans rights, we move the needle for all rights.

The Equality Act has been re-introduced in Congress and has already passed the House. It would ensure that trans Americans would not have to choose between being themselves and keeping a job or stable housing. It would move the dialogue toward openness and acceptance. Now is the chance to expand civil rights for LGBTQ+ — and specifically trans — Americans.

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Republicans depict the Equality Act as an assault on religious freedom. The right weaponizes faith to interfere with choices made between patients, families, and providers. The lack of these rights and protections allows us to be denied health care, housing, employment, and public recognition. Reinforcing trans rights does not take from the rights of others: equality for one group doesn’t limit equality for another.

America has the opportunity to learn from the trans community and recognize that we are multilayered people with robust and diverse identities, relationships, and affiliations. It is time the law recognizes our rights and the Senate passes the Equality Act and President Biden signs into law protections that we can be truly proud of.

Trans people have and always will be here. It’s time to accept that.

Dallas Ducar is the founding CEO of Transhealth Northampton.