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Transgender Americans fear for safety after Trump win: ‘We are traumatized’

Transgender Americans fear for safety after Trump win: ‘We are traumatized’

As Emily Colvin, a transgender woman living in the heart of Missouri, watched the election results pour in on Tuesday night, her mind began to race with fear.

It was time for her to find a self-defense class, she thought. And maybe to purchase a gun.

With the United States emerging from one of the most bitterly divisive presidential races in its history, throngs of Americans find themselves deeply distrustful, and even fearful of the winner, Donald Trump.

But few groups have expressed dismay and fear as uniformly as the nation’s trans people, who already report discrimination, harassment and violence at rates starkly higher than the general population. On Wednesday, those who spoke to the Guardian saw Trump’s election as destined to hobble their movement after years in which their acceptance grew by leaps and bounds. And they said they feared an immediate cultural reckoning.

Cate Brenner, a trans woman on Long Island, said she was “absolutely terrified” for trans people and their movement. By Wednesday morning, it seemed as though every trans person she knew had gone into mourning. A friend of hers in California posted on social media about “going back into the closet”.

“It might be safer passing” as a straight, cisgender person, said this person, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity.

“I’m scared,” they continued. “I’ve been out and proud for most of my life, with supportive people around me. I’ve never had to deal with this kind of fear before.” Their fiance is also frightened to live openly as a transgender person. “We’re both scared to continue. We didn’t know before how we wanted to define ourselves, if we even wanted to. Now, we’re scared to even have the conversation.”

“We are all traumatized,” said Colvin. In her online network of trans friends, “The general reaction that I’m seeing is, ‘Oh my God. How are we going to protect ourselves?’”

Cate Brenner, a trans woman on Long Island, said she was “absolutely terrified” for trans people and their movement. By Wednesday morning, it seemed as though every trans person she knew had gone into mourning. A friend of hers in California posted on social media about “going back into the closet”.

“It might be safer passing” as a straight, cisgender person, said this person, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity.

“I’m scared,” they continued. “I’ve been out and proud for most of my life, with supportive people around me. I’ve never had to deal with this kind of fear before.” Their fiance is also frightened to live openly as a transgender person. “We’re both scared to continue. We didn’t know before how we wanted to define ourselves, if we even wanted to. Now, we’re scared to even have the conversation.”

“We are all traumatized,” said Colvin. In her online network of trans friends, “The general reaction that I’m seeing is, ‘Oh my God. How are we going to protect ourselves?’”

Trump’s administration is expected to usher in a sea change after several years in which transgender rights activists notched critical victories in the culture and government. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of Americans saying they knew a trans person grew from one in 10 to one in three. The Obama administration, in its final years, took the controversial and unequivocal position that federal anti-discrimination laws applied to the rights of trans people. There were far-reaching consequences for schools, which were required to allow trans students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms aligned with their gender identities, and for entire industries, such as health insurers.

Those gains, made amid a hail of controversy, now seem at risk. Trump seldom mentioned trans issues on the campaign trail. But his running mate, Indiana governor Mike Pence, first emerged on the national stage after signing an expansive anti-LGBT measure into law. And the Republican party at large has made its near-total opposition to trans rights clear.

On Wednesday morning, Pence seemed to confirm that the Trump administration would not place penalties on schools that fail to accommodate trans students, as Obama did. “Washington has no business intruding on the operation of our local schools,” Pence said, in an interview he gave to the arch-conservative radio host James Dobson.

Republicans are also poised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and with it, an anti-bias measure that prevented many health insurance plans from discriminating against trans policy holders.

On Wednesday, Mara Keisling, the director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, rejected the notion that Trump’s victory represented a terminal setback for the movement.

“Trans people have spent decades educating their classmates and their families and their co-workers and the people they worship with about who they are,” Keisling said. “The government can maybe take back some of the policy advancements we’ve had. But they can’t take away the dignity we’ve created for ourselves, the freedom we’ve created for ourselves.”

Still, Keisling conceded, “This slows us down, this hurts a lot.” On Wednesday morning, her group heard from trans people across the country who were scared and angry. “This has got to be terrifying for many trans people. We’re going to have to be strong in the face of some really terrible stuff.”

Colvin is worried about her access to hormone therapy in a world without the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. A student who was at one time homeless and suicidal, she credits her healthcare, which includes psychiatric therapy, with her survival. “I’m worried about our ability to change our names,” she continued. “I’m worried about laws that protected trans kids.”

Gianni, 18, a trans man who wished to be identified only by his first name, found himself wondering what would happen if he lost his healthcare coverage, or his insurer stopped covering his hormone therapy. He doesn’t believe there’s any way he could afford his transition treatments out-of-pocket.

He was worried for his safety, too. “I’m mixed race, and I’m transgender, and I feel like I’m in a big hole right now, and I’m scared,” Gianni said.

As Tuesday night gave way to Wednesday morning, Trans Lifeline, a national hotline for transgender people in crisis, saw its normal call volume triple. “Trans folks are frightened that they won’t be able to work, or access healthcare, or get travel documents updated,” said Greta Martela, the hotline’s director and founder.

Colvin witnessed a trans friend post about having suicidal thoughts on Facebook. The comments section pulsed with supportive messages and her friend sought help.

From his home in Sacramento, Mark Williams tweeted that he was fearful as the father of a transgender child. “A bully and a bigot is at the helm, with a man who doesn’t believe in LGBTQ rights as his second-in-command,” Williams told the Guardian. “I’m worried that the people who voted them into office will take the fact that they won as an affirmation that they can now discriminate and bully whoever they don’t like.”

Trans children like his could face a new crossroads in the coming year. The supreme court in October agreed to hear its first case on whether federal anti-bias law covers transgender individuals. The suit has been brought by a trans Virginia teenager whose school district has prohibited his use of the boys’ bathroom. Trump and Republican senators could fill the supreme court vacancy left by the late Antonin Scalia before oral arguments begin.

Keisling, though, said she remained hopeful that many schools would continue to accommodate trans students. The way she saw it was this: for a short period of time, the government told schools how to treat transgender students, and hundreds of schools across the country complied.

And in a potential victory for trans rights advocates, on Wednesday, it seemed possible that North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, a Republican, would lose re-election in a state that had otherwise voted to remain red. McCrory entered the national consciousness for his efforts to overturn broad discrimination protections for trans and other people.

“It’s important to understand that the trans movement has moved faster than I think any movement in American history,” said Keisling. She recalled an encounter of 15 years ago, when she was lobbying the president of the Pennsylvania senate to include trans people in a new bill. He refused. “He said, ‘Mara, look at the bright side. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have let you into my office.’ That’s not the way it is now, and that’s not the way it’s ever going to be again.”

And Brenner, the trans woman from Long Island, felt herself emboldened by Tuesday’s election. As her friend was weighing whether to go back into the closet, Brenner had already decided to make her trans identity more public.

“I’ve always been semi-quiet about it,” Brenner said. “But last night was the wake-up call that that was not an option. The lines have been drawn and I don’t want to be on the sidelines.”

In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255; Trans Lifeline runs a phone hotline staffed by trans people for trans people on 1-877-565-8860. In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here.

Source: US news | The Guardian By 
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