Hold Fast to Truth: Trans Rights and The Bully Behind the Podium

Safety is a commodity. It’s hard to discover spaces in which we feel confident in expressing ourselves to the world. That’s why it’s so difficult for many to hear that the Trump administration continues to roll back protections for our society's most vulnerable populations, leading to more exclusion, marginalization, and discrimination. This group of new leaders is set on pulling apart the sense of public belonging which is given freely and without question to white, heteronormative, and cisgender individuals who view themselves as the only population deserving of such safety. Cisgender is a term used to describe those who have no conflict with the gender into which they were born. The arguments that these power-holders make to withhold and remove safety from threatened communities are centered not around the wellbeing of individuals, but around self-preservation and the need to desperately cling to their superiority. That leaves those of us who are on the margins in dangerous uncertainty. The sense of safety that all of us desire has been particularly difficult to attain for the LGBTQ+ community, and even more particularly for the transgender souls who continue to become more alienated as time goes by.

It’s quite honestly terrifying. Day after day, the heart of the LGBTQ+ movement is politicized and mischaracterized, when it is and has always been a movement made up of hurting people. The LGBTQ+ community is the only place where safety and inclusivity can be found for many young men and women struggling with their sexual and gender identities. This movement is about lives of value being oppressed and threatened, and people wanting it to change. It’s always been about people, but the ruling class of cisgender and heterosexual males continue to characterize it as selfish liberal millennials and far-left postmodern deconstructions of meaning and truth.

That is patently false, and is a perspective that stems from choosing not to engage with the tangible lives of those individuals who are fighting for inclusion, safety, and to be heard. Those who fight against the rights of LGBTQ+ people are most often people who have no real life emotional connections to those effected, and thus have no sense of compassion or empathy for their pain.

Understanding is an incredibly important issue for our divided nation: understanding gleaned from relationships that foster growth in all parties toward reason and respect. The fundamental lack of understanding about what it means to be transgender, compounded with misguided fear from the right, have made the lives of trans people a living hell over the last year. Several weeks ago, the Trump Administration rescinded President Obama’s guidelines for protections for transgender students in public schools - allowing trans students to use facilities corresponding with their gender identity. The guidance issued by President Obama was an effort to dispel unfounded fears within the hetero and cis mindset. It also helped fight the tendency for hyper-localized government to become entrapped in uninformed bubbles. For instance, this man, who was running for a congressional seat in Tennessee, and is apparently so resistant to cultural change that he wants to revert to an America before the Civil Rights Movement, where Wally and Beaver were the biggest problems Americans had. So many of the issues of understanding arise from people who are uninformed in the greater world of ideas and opinions around them, only exacerbated by policies established by local governments.

Obama’s set of guidelines, though well intentioned and a powerful statement for the defense of trans rights, presents a lot of problems. First, there are questions of legal assertions made by the original guidelines that make it hard to determine whether it is enforceable or not. The wording does not offer any legal proof or support for its conclusions that Title IX includes the protection of transgender people. It simply states that it does. Second, the guidelines assume a great deal about a country that has proven time and time again that it does not understand or want to understand trans people. America’s engagement with trans issues only comes on the terms of the cis/hetero majority. It is only ever brought up in the context of protecting hetero families and their interests. The majority group of hetero/cis people has little desire to expand its boundaries for inclusion. Why share power when you have it all to yourself? The guidelines Obama issued also assume that those with the power to enforce the guidelines will not only value the voices of their students, but give them power. Problem is, often this is not the case: the reigning class of cis/hetero people (who are mostly men) tend not to want to share power.

With these initial concerns in mind, The Trump administration’s actions still have political motivations, as Attorney General Sessions hopes to remove the possibility of the judicial branch supporting and empowering Obama’s guidelines, as it has agreed to hear the case from North Carolina. We can only assume from his track record and vocally anti-LGBTQ+ position that he is motivated toward a more conservative, religiously dogmatic removal of civil liberties. The Department of Justice previously provided protections to vulnerable people; the new administration, through its new Attorney General, is trying to undo all of those protections. This is alarming.

AG Sessions’ history leads us to believe he is only interested in being a tool of the religious right, not at all interested in offering equal protection under the law for all citizens.

Litigations are ongoing, as a federal court in Texas issued an injunction against enforcement of the Obama policy last year. Several cases have been filed by progressive civil liberties organizations in an attempt to set a precedent. This precedent would help solidify the Obama guidelines being put into effect. Trump rolling back these policies doesn't actually put trans kids at any greater risk than they were, originally. Because this is still tied up in the courts, the Obama protections are on hold, and have been since August.

Remember, trans students face enormous amounts of violence and hate in schools across the country for reasons unconnected to gendered facilities. In fact, greater levels of clarity have been issued from the Department of Education and Secretary DeVos on the lengths to which school districts and individual educators should go to protect the safety of and to respect transgender students.

The kind of respect she is asking for comes from first accepting that these students’ identities emerge from great internal struggle. They deal with the conflict of their gender identity for their entire lives, and often do not experience resolution even after physically transitioning. Their lives are not expressions of entitlement or immoral “ideas.” Their gender identities are not manifestations of sinfulness, selfishness, or psychological malady. No. They are fundamentally different than others, which should be a celebration, not a daily resignation to fear and the threats of violence with which society enslaves them. Trans voices matter more than cis/hetero voices. Their experiences in gender identity are more valuable to society than the heteronormative voices of oppression. The educational systems in place stigmatize and physically threaten their very lives, and that is because the right wing “family values” religious ideology says, “We are better than you, and your opinions are stupid.” If anything has been made clear over the last month, it is that President Trump loves nothing more than completely obliterating the emotional independence and the empowerment of those who oppose him.

He gets every bit of his security from acting like “one of the guys.” He panders to the heteronormative elite around him for his affirmation, only offering them more power. He is the antithesis of trans empowerment. He’s all about reinforcing heterosexual exclusivity. There’s no room for gender-queering in his locker room talk.

He is completely self-interested, emotionally unstable, and deeply insecure. In his solo press conferences, reveling in conflict and accusation, Trump has displayed all the characteristics of a socially inept, deeply troubled bully who has a terrifying tendency toward violence, favoritism, and secrecy. He mirrors the kind of bullying that happens against queer kids in schools across the country every day. And no degree of giving him a chance will change the deep-seated psychology of bullying in this administration. It will continue to become more difficult to handle their bullying behavior as it remains the lynchpin in their style of communication. And that’s exactly what they want.

But there’s a catch: bullying is completely contingent on the power that the bullies gain from the reaction of those being bullied. Just like transgender men and women across our nation respond with confidence and strength, we too must defend their liberties without allowing bullies to control our emotional and logical wellbeing, allowing emotionally stunted panderers like Trump to control us. We must stick hard to the facts of the real life threats and fears of those being oppressed; otherwise, we let the bully drive the narrative.

In truth, the issue of the recent move by Sessions, DeVos, and Trump is not simple. Though the move is concerning, disappointing, and scary for so many of our nation’s children, the issues themselves have not changed much. We have not had any power taken from us. Remember these facts:

1.     First of all, and most importantly, transgender students have faced unchanged and continuous discrimination, bullying, segregation, and violence in their schools, despite the efforts of the Obama administration to secure freedom and safety for all. We must continue to secure that freedom by modeling inclusive and understanding behaviors[8] .

2.     The issues of language and corresponding legal problems still exist within the Title IX protections. We must help organizations, with our time and money, that are already participating in the judicial process to secure protection of transgender students, whether within Title IX, or with new legislation. The ACLU is a good place to start. We must work to implement policy that guarantees full rights to trans people.

3.     The rescinded policy is just the removal of guidance. It is not an issuance of new policy or guidance, much less any law, encouraging discrimination of LGBTQ+ students. Though it does signal the forthcoming possibility of such policies to many. If and when those policies emerge, we must make it clear that our fight continues for the dignity of those we know who are most affected. Perhaps it’s time for you to get to know someone new.

4.     This removal of guidance does not limit the ability of the judicial branch to continue clarity in Title IX protections for trans students. It simply says, “these policies have some legality issues, and our administration choose to remove them.” Any further commentary on the intentions of the administration is purely opinion, though very possibly well-founded. Opinion is valuable, but only when it is expressed with compassion and reason. Our representatives and peers will respond best to well-formed and contextualized viewpoints.

It is important to remember that though there are federal problems left and right, states and districts still have considerable flexibility to protect the rights of those who are most vulnerable. Secretary DeVos has made it clear that the safety and wellbeing of all students would be the focus of her tenure as Secretary of Education.

It is still and will always be a matter of the individuals with power being willing to enforce and enact policies not only of the federal government, but also the innate policies of human dignity and respect. It is the responsibility and DUTY of those in power to write policy that protects marginalized people, and to elevate those people into the powerful narrative of our nation. It is the responsibility of citizens to stand up and demand that those in power do their job, and do it without self-interest.

The possibility of destructive, enforceable, discriminatory policies or executive orders still looms in the future, and how we behave as a society matters now more than ever. We must fight for the most vulnerable people, and as you voice your compassion and empathy, let it drive the wheels of culture and policy forward.

Trump’s fluid relationship with truth is one of so many of his weaknesses. Our ability to engage with truth as fundamental and indisputable is our biggest strength. By all means be angry as the rights of human beings continue to be threatened. Don’t let oppressive bullies win by coercing fear or wild emotions out of you. Don’t let Trump and his team of nationalist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, racist assholes turn you into an asshole.

Don’t be an asshole. Don’t scream at people’s faces. Scream from every rooftop. Be an ally.