Melissa Harris-Perry devoted half of her two-hour MSNBC show to a discussion of LGBT issues on Sunday, with one panel focused exclusively on the concerns of the transgender community.
Guests for the transgender panel, a rare occurrence in network TV, included Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality, author Kate Bornstein, and Mel Wymore, the first openly transgender candidate for the New York City Council.
In a wide-ranging and substantive conversation, the panelists talked about the pervasive discrimination and violence faced by transgender individuals in the United States. According to a study released last year by NCTE and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, some 90% of transgender respondents had experienced harassment at work, 19% had contended with homelessness, and 41% had attempted suicide, more than twice the percentage among people diagnosed with chronic depression.
“Our political fight is really a fight for people’s lives,” said Keisling.
The panelists discussed how transgender policy priorities such as access to identity documents and health care relate to the broader LGBT agenda, often understood by many Americans to begin and end with marriage equality. Bornstein argued that the single focus presents a challenge to coalition-building because marriage is “perceived as a very selfish spearheading issue,” that excludes non-traditional family arrangements deserving protection, such as families led by single mothers or multiple partners.
Wymore, who is running to represent the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 2013, said that general audiences could learn much from the transgender experience. He argued that an improved understanding of transgender issues could change the political dialogue in the country.
“We have a lot to say about gender politics in general,” said Wymore. “If people were really to look at the real experience of transgender people, we would start to be ale to say, ‘Look, gender on the whole, equality is very important.’”
Harris-Perry said that she was moved to study the struggles of transgender people last year after video of the attack against Chrissy Polis, a transgender woman in Maryland, went viral. Polis was attacked by a group of African-American teens at a Baltimore-area McDonald’s.
“Simply because you are aware of one kind of inequality, it doesn’t mean that you empathize with others,” said Harris-Perry about the incident.
Watch the transgender segment in the first video below. In the second half of the hour, another slate of panelists evaluated the leadership of the Obama administration on LGBT issues. Last week, the administration disappointed advocates by indicating that the president was not ready "at this time" to sign an executive order that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity among federal contractors.