If your heart dropped on Feb. 22, the day the Donald Trump administration withdrew federal protections for transgender students across the country, then it’s time to ask yourself an important question: what can you do to protect trans youth right now?
When President Donald Trump made the decision to pull guidelines for protecting transgender students that were put in place by the Obama administration, he sent a message to America. It was a message of exclusion and disrespect, to say the least. Above all, it told us that our President is not only able, but willing to strip people — children, rather — of the right to exist in their own skin.
Shortly after Trump made his little announcement, celebrities and other leaders took to social media, and the people took to the streets. “We began planning the rally at 9:00 AM and at 5:30 PM there were already over a thousand people gathered,” Gabriel Blau, Co-Founder of Equality NY, tells us of the peaceful protest at Stonewall Inn in Manhattan that took place on Feb. 23. “People are ready and energized to come together, to rise up, to speak out. Rallies give us energy and strength and help us feel a community and feed our souls, but also show the world that we are mad, that we are ready to fight, and to keep fighting,” he adds. (You can view a potent recap of the rally below.)
Rallies are important, but they’re only a part of the larger puzzle, as Gabriel explains. Part of Equality NY’s agenda is attempting to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), a proposed law in New York State that would prohibit discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Equality NY likes to look at issues as a “people-first endeavor” rather than a “policy-first endeavor”, Gabriel explains. “But in order to best support them, there are policies we need to pass,” he admits. Unfortunately, though the legislation was introduced in 2003 and has been passed in the Assembly, it has never made it to the Senate floor.
If you are feeling enraged these days, that’s a good thing. Be angry, and when you’ve had some time to organize your thoughts, consider channeling that negative energy into positive action. Here are some suggestions as to how your efforts can be best put to use.
First, you don’t need to sit back while larger organizations fight legislators. There’s plenty you can do on every level, and it can go beyond writing a check. “Sign up for lists and get to know your local and state representatives,” Gabriel advises. Yes, you might not want to hear this, but doing the legwork is necessary. “It never hurts to call them and say, ‘hey, where are you on this law that we need to pass? Tell them that you want them to be on the right side of this. And even if they are, it’s still good to speak to them. Go to their town halls. Be aware of what your elected officials are doing, so you can either be a thorn in their side or an ally,” he adds. “Know who represents you at every level of government, and keep all that information in your phone. When you see something happen, start calling. Leave a message, but call and make sure the people representing you are doing so the way you want them to.”
If you’re active in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, and you want to do more to protect and support the trans individuals you know in real life, Mel Wymore, the Executive Director of TransPAC, encourages you to do something very easy: start a conversation. “Ask a question. Approach someone and say, you know, ‘I’m really interested in your experience. How can I learn more about what your experience is, and how can I support you in your experience?'” he says, stressing that it’s not simply about gender, but about getting to know another human being and contributing to their self-worth. “We’re afraid of people who have different experiences so we don’t become very brave, but just saying, hey, I want to know more, I’d like to get to know you a little better — that’s not confrontational and it’s not awkward. It just is. It’s a normal conversation you’d have with someone,” he explains.
Right now speaking up, loudly and often, to tell trans and non-binary people you have their back is the most important thing you can do. https://t.co/jaTsnEXXOc
— ACLU National (@ACLU) February 23, 2017
Feeling like a bit of a couch potato? That’s fine; it’s why social media exists — but you should be using social media as more than a means of sharing explosive articles about what outrageous thing Trump has done this time. “Use it in a way that unites people, as opposed to dividing them,” Mel suggests. “There’s a powerful pathway that actually worked with marriage equality. People were just sharing their experiences on social media and retweeting others’, sharing short get-to-know-you videos. There’s so much possibility for building connection and sharing, and in the end, that’s what wins hearts and minds,” he says. Mel believes that the Internet is a vital medium for inquiry, yes, but perhaps more importantly, a way to share a sense of common humanity.
We also can’t lose sight of those who are arguably the most powerless: children. The media loves to focus on kids getting to use their bathroom of choice and being referred to using the pronoun(s) they prefer, but it’s also about the wider sense of belonging, and sometimes that’s harder to define. “There are different contexts where bullying and exclusion happen, and sometimes the experience doesn’t come across so directly,” Mel says. “Sometimes it’s just when people don’t talk to them or ask them questions or share their lunch with them. It’s more of a subtle exclusion that doesn’t come across as abuse, but it comes across as, ‘you don’t really have a place here’. Micro-actions amount to a person’s dignity. It goes to the core of our being, these ideas of where we can go to a bathroom or how we’re called. It’s ingrained in our sense of self. When you don’t acknowledge that in a school or public space, you’re essentially excluding a large swath of our population.” Long story short: when we tell children that they can’t be who they say they are, we perpetuate that exclusion. And acceptance can save lives.
We affirm the right of every New Yorker to use the bathroom that fits their identity. A new president will not change our values. https://t.co/Ckr1yA5P0P
— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) February 22, 2017
Though it can seem like we’re living in the Dark Ages, it pays to be optimistic about what’s coming next. “People are engaged and ready to show up and that’s a huge accomplishment. They get that these issues are intersectional and we have to support each other,” Gabriel says. “Wake up calls are good because people really thought the fight for LGBT rights was over, but people get it now.”