By RUSS O’SHEA
The past year has seen unprecedented attacks on queer communities. Specifically being targeted are some of the most vulnerable among the queer population—trans people. The ACLU is tracking over 450 bills restricting free speech, civil rights, health care, education, and other basic rights that all people should enjoy. These bills, alongside more and more frequent hate crimes and anti-trans media narratives, are making America a dangerous place to be trans.
Trans youth targeted by states
Trans youth are the primary target of anti-trans legislation. According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, 26.6% of trans people between 13-17 years old live in states that have passed bans on gender-affirming care. An additional 23.8% live in states that are at immediate risk of losing access. These bans also force youth currently undergoing treatment to detransition, a traumatic and harmful process.
Expert medical opinion has consistently spoken to this treatment’s medical necessity for trans patients. When trans people do not receive adequate gender affirming care they often experience distress that contributes to a decline in overall health. Suicide among trans youth is extremely commonplace, with an estimated 50% of trans and nonbinary youth considering suicide in 2022, according to The Trevor Project. That proportion will only grow as attacks on trans people by legislature and far-right mobs increase.
The arguments being made to justify restrictions on medical care are completely hollow and based on fear-mongering rather than science. Gender-affirming care is dismissed as “experimental” or “trendy,” yet it has existed in various forms for at least a century. Suppression of this necessary medicine has been a mainstay of state-led efforts to erase trans people.
Famously, the Institute of Sexual Science was the earliest recorded transgender clinic and community space, founded in 1919 in Berlin, Germany. Representing a history in contradiction to the accepted norm, the institute’s library was among the first to be burned by the Nazis, a loss of over 20,000 books and journals by and about queer people. Erasure of and violence towards trans people is what sets trans health care back, not its application. The treatment that exists now is the safest way to transition, and treatment can only improve with wider accessibility and practice. Just as with abortion, restrictions on this necessary care will not stop people from transitioning; it will only limit their ability to transition safely.
One form of trans health care being limited is puberty blockers. The right claims that youth seeking puberty blockers are too young to make this “irreversibly damaging” decision and uses rhetoric about protecting children to deny this important form of treatment. This argument is clearly meant to take agency over their own bodies away from trans youth and significantly worsen their dysphoria and wellbeing by forcing them to undergo uncomfortable bodily changes. Puberty blockers put irreversible body changes caused by puberty on pause, which gives questioning youth more time to explore their gender in a safe way. Puberty blockers have been shown to drastically reduce depression and suicidality among trans and non-binary youth, according to a Seattle-based study. They are an important form of treatment and should be widely available to youth who are experiencing dysphoria or have doubts about their identity.
Trans people themselves have been propped up as a reason to ban health care, with a disproportionate amount of people that have detransitioned being paraded through media. This presentation of detransitioning as so commonplace is dishonest and meant to scare trans people away from seeking important health care. In a review of 27 studies involving almost 8000 teens and adults who had transgender surgeries—principally in Europe, the U.S and Canada—1% on average expressed regret” compared to a general surgical regret rate of 14.4%.
The few safe places in which trans youth can find refuge are being taken from them. Legislation is being proposed in several states that restricts teachers’ ability to respect trans students’ identity, including using the proper name and pronouns. This represents not only an attack on trans youth but also on school workers’ ability to perform their jobs. Teachers’ unions should be resisting this threat to safe schooling alongside their students at every turn. On April 6, Arkansas lawmakers approved a bill that would require parental permission to use trans students’ chosen names and pronouns. This has the potential to create a great danger for these students at home by outing them to a family who may not be accepting of their identity.
Schools and libraries are some of the few places in which trans youth can find acceptance. For this reason, the pandemic took a particularly devastating toll on trans youth. Stuck at home, many were forced to closet themselves, accept abuse, or flee. It should come as no surprise that one in five trans people have experienced homelessness. Family and community rejection, discrimination on the part of landlords, and precarity of income are all factors that make it especially hard for trans people to find housing. In many parts of the country a trans person’s home is the only place they feel safe or that they can be themselves. Homeless trans people meanwhile often find themselves in dangerous situations and are much more likely to experience hate-motivated violence.
According to the Transgender Law Center’s analysis, 43% of Trans people in the U.S. live in a state or territory that scores either “low” or “negative” on their metrics of equality. For reference, Pennsylvania scores “fair,” which is higher than “low,” but trans people have no laws protecting them from discrimination on the basis of gender identity on the job or in housing. Unemployment rates among trans workers are double that of the overall population, and they earn less on average than their cis counterparts. Trans workers describe being “laughed out of interviews” because of their identity. According to TransEquality.org more than one in four trans people have lost a job due to bias and over 75% have experienced workplace discrimination. For these reasons it makes sense that many trans people are forced to turn to sex work to support themselves, a profession that is dangerous and often hyper-exploitative.
Restrictions on athletics
The ruling class is trying to pit cis women against trans women to justify stripping all women of rights, a tactic which is most clearly displayed in athletics. On April 11, North Dakota governor Burgum signed two bills into law banning trans women from playing on the appropriate sports team. Similar legislation has passed in 19 other states. One argument made to justify the ban was the myth that trans women take scholarship opportunities from their cis teammates. As Workers’ Voice has previously reported, this argument is a baseless excuse for an issue that should concern all athletes.
On March 23 World Athletics (WA) announced a ban on trans women from competing as women. This policy went into effect on March 31, Transgender Day of Visibility. According to WA president Sebastian Coe, this ban is to “maintain fairness for female athletes.” In actuality, policing gender in sports hurts all women and girls, and cis women—particularly cis women of color such as Caster Semenya—are increasingly being barred from sports as a result of this policing. The way to secure equality for women is not by holding up trans women as a scapegoat for women’s oppression. This only divides women and therefore makes their fight for liberation weaker.
Attacks by the far right
Hate crimes against trans people have become more and more commonplace, with trans women of color being the most frequent target of hate-motivated violence. As legislation against trans people continues to pass, right-wing forces will only feel more emboldened to attack trans people.
Ohio provides examples of the growing boldness of anti-trans fascists. Tempest magazine reports that in December, “a hundreds-strong, homophobic coalition of Proud Boys, neo-Nazis, Christian nationalists, and J6 rioters demonstrated in Columbus, Ohio, and successfully forced the cancellation of Red Oak’s Drag Queen Story Hour through intimidation and fear.” Spurred on by differences in strategic vision that led to disunity in the face of that mobilization, left-wing activists throughout the state have begun a crucial discussion on how to defend drag events. This is especially important because the momentary “success” for the far-right to be able to demonstrate without mass opposition emboldened the openly Nazi elements to make their presence known.
On March 11, at another drag story hour in Wadsworth, Ohio, around 200, mostly armed, far-right activists taunted and threw slurs at queer community defenders. In a step indicating increasing self-confidence to make public appearances, a neo-Nazi group identified by Them as “Blood Tribe” showed up armed with swastika flags and chanted openly genocidal slogans. These included call-and-response “Sieg! Heil!” and “Weimar Problems! Weimar Solutions!” a reference to the Third Reich’s systematic repression and murder of queer people.
These sorts of confrontations are happening all over the country. In March, a drag show was canceled by venue organizers at the Porter County Convention Center in Indiana. Right-wing opposition sent death threats to everyone involved with the show and threatened to come with rifles. Proud Boys and connected right-wing thugs harassed and physically attacked supporters of a February drag story hour in Silver Spring, Md. In April, a restaurant in Richland, Wash., received death threats and was vandalized by right-wingers in an attempt to scare the establishment into canceling an upcoming drag show.
These confrontations are becoming increasingly volatile and frequent. The Advocate reports that by Dec. 17, 2022, there were at least 141 protests and threats against queer events that year. Fascists, conservatives, and even elite liberals are taking up the rhetoric that being trans is a type of mental illness, that queer people are “groomers,” and that trans women in particular are predators. There is a spectrum of transphobic thinking that moves from asserting that cross-dressing is necessarily sexual and therefore inappropriate for children to the idea that trans people—and ultimately all queer people including cis gays and lesbians—are targetting children for sexual abuse. Besides drag show bans, another example of this rhetoric being weaponized legislatively is the implementation of bathroom restrictions for trans people. In actuality, the largest proportion of child sex abuses is perpetrated by straight cis men on family members and acquaintances.
Democrats can’t save us
All this takes place under the Biden administration and with very little resistance from so-called “progressives.” This makes sense because Democratic politicians have the same fundamental interests as their Republican counterparts. On March 21, Georgia passed a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors, and then the Democrats and Republicans went out to play kickball together, a gross display of how little lawmakers actually care about their constituents’ needs. Though many anti trans laws specifically target the youth, trans people and our allies would be naive to assume that this onslaught of legislation will stop there—or that these attacks will be limited to trans rights. It is critical to begin organizing a fightback now.
As U.S. world hegemony declines, along with corporate profit rates, the ruling class is scrambling to come up with solutions. The capitalists and their mouthpieces in both major parties agree that the way to do this is by tightening the reins on the working class. In accord with this objective, a wing of the ruling class has initiated measures to reinforce the most reactionary underpinnings of U.S. capitalist society—encouraging such things as white supremacy, xenophobic nationalism, religious intolerance, anti-immigrant prejudice, and strict adherence to the nuclear family model.
In practice, this has led to legislation and court rulings such as the overturn of Roe v. Wade, abortion bans, and anti-trans laws, as well as the mobilization of police and far-right mobs to keep the working class in line.
Only a grassroots mass movement can disrupt the oppression of trans people and turn the tide towards their liberation by dismantling the existing status quo and establishing a system that prioritizes human needs over profit. Such a movement would intersect with a variety of others that affect trans people in particular—for example, the movements for climate justice and against police brutality and militarization.
Gender-affirming health care is a matter of life or death and must be made free and accessible to all to prevent the continued suffering of trans people. Community spaces and housing where trans people feel safe must be established and safeguarded. The labor unions need to take action to defend their trans members from harassment and exploitation on the job. Building an independent workers’ party that takes up trans liberation in all its forms is a key part of realizing these goals.
Photo: Amanda Y. Su / Harvard Crimson