We’re in the midst of Transgender Awareness Week, a time that’s meant to raise the visibility of transgender people and the issues they face.
In 2020, trans people still face unfathomable levels of discrimination and prejudice every day. This year, at least 36 transgender and gender non-conforming people were violently killed in the U.S., the Human Rights Campaign reports. Trans people are currently banned from serving openly in the U.S. military, despite most Americans supporting their ability to serve as themselves. One in five transgender people have faced discrimination when trying to find housing, and one in 10 have been evicted due to their gender identity, the National Center For Transgender Equality reports.
But in spite of these injustices, the trans community has also celebrated some major milestones in recent years. Currently, 20 states have laws that protect minors from conversion therapy — a harmful and abusive practice that attempts to shame and traumatize people into changing from LGBTQ to cis and straight. The most recent state to pass such a law was Virginia, in March 2020; it was also the first Southern state to do so. U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden thanked the trans community in his victory speech, a first for a president-elect. This month, a housing complex aimed at helping those who face housing discrimination due to their gender identity opened in New York City.
And there's much more work left to be done. Refinery29 sat down (virtually) with Sam Brinton, the vice president of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project and Keygan Miller, a senior advocacy associate for The Trevor Project, both of whom use they/them pronouns, to talk about how allies can effectively advocate for trans people and what issues they want to spotlight right now.
Refinery29: What do people get wrong when they think about advocacy?
Sam Brinton (SB): “A lot of people think of advocacy as something that takes place in the hallowed halls of Congress or when you cast a vote for a president. That’s true, but we can also be advocates by taking smaller steps. For example, if I’m a teacher and I learn that one of my students is trans, I can be an advocate by having a conversation with that student, and allowing them to tell me what would make them feel safer in the classroom. I could normalize talking about pronouns in the classroom.”
Keygan Miller (KM): “I think too, that we often have ideas about what it means to be educated on an issue. Acknowledging what you don’t know can make a big difference.”
Can you explain more how this mindset can be harmful?
KM: “Take something like anti-trans medical bills. We might hear, ‘Doctors shouldn’t be prescribing hormone blockers, because they don’t have enough studies.’ That’s just a lack of education. We do have studies, and we know that blockers are reversible. So it’s just a matter of not being afraid of something because you don't understand it, and being willing to educate yourself.”
Tell me more about anti-trans medical bills. What are they?
KM: “They would prohibit trans minors from seeking any type of medical transition. In some cases, the bans [could impact] mental health care. Trans people already have to jump through hoops to gain access to medical care; and it’s extra for young people. There's no need for state legislators to oversee something that medical professionals have approved.”
SB: “Similarly, every major medical organization has come out against conversion therapy, and yet the state legislator are just now catching up and starting to ban the practice. 57% of transgender and non-binary youth who've gone through conversion therapy have attempted suicide this year alone. Yet state after state is still debating whether it should be something practiced on children. State legislators should be listening to medical best practice. And medical best practice is to affirm, not to try to remove, a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”
You also mentioned correct pronoun use being a form of advocacy. Can you elaborate?
KM: “Using someone’s correct pronouns reduces the suicide attempt rate by about half. This is why it’s so important to make sure we’re normalizing using people’s correct pronouns. You can do that by putting your pronouns in your email signature, for instance, or putting pronouns next to your name on Zoom. The goal is to normalize stating pronouns for everyone, rather than making it all about a trans person’s pronouns.”
Are there any other areas of advocacy that don’t get enough attention?
SB: “Yes — This doesn’t get talked about a lot, but if we die, Keygan and I will not currently be marked in any way [on a death record] as a trans or non-binary person. This is public health data, and knowing those numbers can help save future lives [by showing prevalence and patterns of suicide or homicide in LGBTQ populations].”
For our readers who want to advocate more for the trans community, where can they start?
KM: “Look at what is going on directly around you. Do your local schools have policies for supporting trans students? If not, advocating for them can be as simple as saying, ‘Here’s a model policy that The Trevor Project put together’ — or any one of the numerous LGBTQ-supportive model policies. Calling your elected official is also really powerful. They do pay attention to what their constituents say. Just saying, “I don’t support that bill that denies medical care to trans people,” can make a big difference.”
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.