Religious Right Groups Add To The Transgender Community’s Burdens

The National Center for Transgender Equality recently released results from the largest survey ever taken of transgender people in America – 27,715 respondents – and the data makes for grim reading. 

Forty percent of respondents had attempted suicide at some point in their lives. Fifty-nine percent reported avoiding using public restrooms in the past year, many fearing that they would be confronted. About one-third said that they go so far as to limit the amount that they eat and drink in public to avoid using a restroom.

Members of the transgender community also face high rates of harassment and assault. Forty-six percent reported being verbally harassed, and 9 percent reported physical assaults. Perhaps most appallingly, 47 percent said that they had been sexually assaulted.

The survey also found that 29 percent of transgender Americans live in poverty, a much higher figure than the overall poverty rate of about 14 percent.

“Discrimination and violence threaten transgender people’s ability to have even the basics: food, a place to sleep or a job,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of NCTE. “This survey demonstrates that there is a lot of work ahead to achieve simple parity and full equality for transgender people.” 

Indeed there is. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to get there under a President Donald Trump. 

The Trump Administration may make it harder for transgender rights to advance. 

President Barack Obama’s administration has worked to ensure that the rights of transgender Americans are respected. An administration guidance, for example, made it clear that federal antidiscrimination law requires public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

That guidance letter, however, is currently being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court. Gavin Grimm, a transgender high-school student in Virginia whose school denied him the ability to use the boy’s bathroom, sued the school for violating his rights as explained by the Obama administration’s guidance letter. Now that guidance letter will likely be rescinded by the Trump administration, and the previously expected support from the U.S. Justice Department (which would have presented to the high court the government’s opinion about the meaning of the federal legal protections against discrimination) is not likely to be forthcoming from a Justice Department under Trump’s thumb.

Earlier this year, Church & State ran a story about the growing number of attacks on the transgender community by Religious Right groups. We noted that these groups, having lost the legal battle over marriage equality, seem to be shifting their focus to the trans community. On our Protect Thy Neighbor website, we closely followed legislation and lawsuits designed to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against transgender people. 

I’ve noticed it myself. There has been an uptick in Religious Right emails, blog posts and fundraising messages attacking transgender people. Much of this material focuses on bathrooms. The message sent is that you or someone you care about could be assaulted by a trans person in a bathroom. The fact that this never happens hasn’t slowed down the fear mongering.

The survey results indicate that transgender Americans face many challenges, and they carry unique burdens. I find it ironic that Religious Right groups are behind so many attacks because the biblical book of Galatians speaks to this issue. “Bear one another’s burdens,” it admonishes, “and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Bear the burden. Don’t add to it. That seems to be pretty straightforward. Here at Americans United, that’s what we strive to do. I wish the Religious Right would follow our example.