NEW YORK -- Anxiety is high among many transgender Americans after the sweeping Republican election victory. They fear stronger resistance to their push for civil-rights protections, including broader access to public restrooms, and wonder if their newly won right to serve openly in the military is in jeopardy.
Transgender people “are concerned for their safety, survival and legal rights in the coming years,” said Chase Strangio, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who often works on transgender issues.
Among the specific concerns:
- Many transgender people expect that Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will abandon or weaken the efforts by President Barack Obama’s administration to enable transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice at public schools-Republican officials in numerous states have opposed that campaign, saying schools should not be required to let such students use bathrooms or locker rooms based on their gender identity.
- There are fears that more GOP-governed states will approve legislation limiting transgender rights and will reject proposals to expand such rights.
- There’s uncertainty about the Pentagon’s recently adopted policy of allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military. Some conservative groups, including the Family Research Council and the Center for Military Readiness, have suggested a reversal of the policy. So has GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
“The question needs to be asked: Does this make our military more effective and more lethal?” said Hunter’s chief of staff, Joe Kasper. “It’s hard to see how.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, was cautiously optimistic that the military’s new policy would survive.
“I don’t know if anything will happen, but we’re certainly alert and ready to fight,” she said. “Hopefully, good, smart people will prevail.”
More broadly, transgender-rights advocates have been dealing with an outpouring of dismay and apprehension in their community.
Keisling’s organization, for example, held a call-in session Friday to provide advice to transgender people worried that changing their gender designation on federal and state identity documents might become more difficult in the new political environment.
During the presidential campaign, Trump sent mixed signals about his approach to transgender rights.
At one point, he said transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner could use whatever bathroom she preferred in one of his luxury buildings - an offer Jenner later took up at the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan. However, Trump has declined to repudiate a divisive North Carolina law that restricts transgender people’s bathroom access. He has said such policy decisions should be left up to the states.
Since his election, Trump has not publicly addressed transgender issues, though he did ease some concerns among gays and lesbians by saying that he considered same-sex marriage to be settled law. Transgender-rights activists remain wary, depicting Vice President-elect Mike Pence and some members of Trump’s transition team as hostile to their causes.
Jennifer Finney Boylan, a transgender author who teaches at Barnard College in New York, said in an email that she fears conservatives will now seek to “isolate and marginalize transgender people” and make them feel separated from the broader gay rights movement.
On the state level, transgender activists have taken heart that Republican North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who incurred sharp criticism for signing a bill limiting transgender people’s bathroom access, is trailing slightly in still-incomplete returns. Prospects for repealing the bill are uncertain, however, given continued GOP control of the legislature, and a similar bill already has been introduced in Texas.
Republican Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is president of the state Senate, listed what he called a “Women’s Privacy Act” as one of his top 10 priorities when the legislature reconvenes in January.
“A majority of Texans in both political parties and in every ethnic and demographic group believe that women and girls should have privacy and safety in their restrooms, showers and locker rooms,” Patrick said. “Unfortunately, legislation is necessary to assure that they do.”
Another proposed Texas bill would overturn nondiscrimination ordinances protecting LGBT people at the local level. Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth are among the cities with such protections.
Shannon Minter, a transgender man who is legal director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, said many transgender civil-rights gains of recent years are based on federal statutes and court precedents that cannot be quickly undone. However, he expressed dismay at the willingness of some conservatives to target transgender people with so-called bathroom bills.
“Like others in our country, transgender people want to be able to live safely, to be able to work and have access to decent health care, and to be able to live with dignity,” Minter said in an email. “We don’t want to be in the crosshairs of a trumped-up culture war.”
Sunday’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual commemoration of transgender people who have been killed in bias-related homicides, added to the community’s somber mood. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 23 transgender or gender-fluid people have been homicide victims in the U.S. so far this year, one more than the coalition tallied in all of 2015. Nearly all were black or Latina transgender women.
Some activists fear that violence could worsen in the aftermath of the election.
Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, said she is encouraging transgender people, and the parents of transgender youths, to move to “safe spaces” - cities and states with legal protections and a supportive culture.
Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Project director for the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal, said postelection worries were particularly intense among transgender youths and immigrants, and transgender people of color.
“I’ve heard from many people that they feel scared and alone, but they are not alone, especially now,” Levasseur said. “There is an army of smart lawyers and activists who are committed to protecting them and fighting for them.”
According to a recent estimate by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, there are about 1.4 million transgender adults in the United States.