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When Our Leaders Stopped Whispering About Trans Equality

When Our Leaders Stopped Whispering About Trans Equality

On Monday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch walked up to a podium at the United States Department of Justice and announced that the federal government would put its resources and full power behind the fight for transgender equality.

Lynch confidently announced that the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice was filing suit against the state of North Carolina, and passionately articulated why the discriminatory House Bill 2 is both a violation of our nation’s laws and our values as a people. Near the close of her remarks, Lynch paused, looked straight into the camera, and spoke directly to transgender Americans in North Carolina and across the country.

“Let me also speak directly to the transgender community itself.  Some of you have lived freely for decades. Others of you are still wondering how you can possibly live the lives you were born to lead. But no matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice and the entire Obama Administration wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. Please know that history is on your side. This country was founded on a promise of equal rights for all, and we have always managed to move closer to that promise, little by little, one day at a time. It may not be easy — but we’ll get there together.”

As a transgender person, it’s hard to express just how profound it was to watch the attorney general of the United States stand up on behalf of the federal government, and so forcefully, clearly defend and embrace transgender people and our rights.

We have been ignored, laughed at, harassed, and attacked for so long. Even as we have witnessed significant reforms and legal progress over the last seven years, we also noticed that each step forward was announced with a whisper — and met with a shrug by many of our allies. We’ve noticed that we have been unnoticed by so many whose passion for justice and equality for others should have led them to our side but didn’t.

Monday felt different, though. For the first time, we saw our political leaders boldly stand up for us — with passion and pride in their decision to march forward. For the first time, it feels like our allies are comfortable in this fight, that they understand this fight. And for the first time, it feels like our national leaders could not only see us, but could also see and feel our pain and were rightly — and finally — outraged by our plight.

There are no words that can accurately describe the emotional comfort that a moment like this brings. It felt like a parent wrapping their arms around you when you are feeling sad or unsafe and, in that moment, breaking down and releasing all of your emotion as you are enveloped in love and support. Attorney General Lynch and her deputy Vanita Gupta stood tall in our defense, providing protection for transgender people who too often have been failed by their own state government and sometimes their very own family. For the many trans people who have been rejected by their families of origin, this kind of affirmation is long overdue, and its impact cannot be overstated.

Like other transgender people I know, I cried watching Lynch’s press conference. I cried for two hours straight following the press conference. My mom called me crying too. 

I couldn’t stop thinking about the transgender senior who never thought they’d see such full-throated support and powerful action from the federal government to defend their basic humanity.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the transgender student in North Carolina dreading going to school tomorrow because of bullying and harassment that has only been enhanced and fostered by HB 2.

I couldn’t stop thinking of my 16-year-old self, looking into the mirror, struggling to say “I’m transgender” and feeling shame for even temporarily accepting that fact.

I thought about the parent of a trans kid, who is struggling to do right by their child and yet continues to face vicious attacks from their own neighbors that put not only their child in the crosshairs, but their very fitness as parents.

And that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about the transgender person born generations from now who will learn about this fight for justice and equality in their textbooks and never have to know what Monday felt like to us — because they will never know anything different.

SARAH MCBRIDE
SARAH MCBRIDE is the campaigns and communications manager for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.

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