We all know that nothing happens overnight, and that maxim is certainly spot-on when it comes to the transgender community. Like other social justice movements before us, getting needed protections and rights for transgender Americans has been step by step – and many times, three steps forward and one step back. Today, we take one very large step forward.
The National Center for Transgender Equality is part of Fairness USA, a partnership that includes the Freedom for All Americans Education Fund, the Movement Advancement Project, the Equality Federation, the Equality Ohio Education Fund, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Today we are launching a major public education campaign — the first of its kind — to raise awareness of the need for protections for transgender people across the United States.
The centerpiece of the campaign is an ad that will be aired during the Republican National Convention. The ad depicts mistreatment and harassment that many transgender people across the country have faced and continue to face when they need to use the restroom.
Newly released survey data from NCTE shows that 59 percent of transgender people have avoided bathrooms in the last year because they were afraid of problems like being confronted by others. A shocking one in 10 (12 percent of) transgender people report they have been harassed, attacked, or sexually assaulted in a bathroom in the last year, and one-third of transgender people have avoided drinking or eating so that they did not need to use the restroom. In the majority of states, restaurant and store managers can legally stop transgender people from using bathrooms that match the gender they live as every day — or kick them out of their restaurant or store just for being transgender.
This is appalling, but we are no longer fighting this battle alone. Much like the state-by-state marriage equality battles, we have seen that when people get to know their LGBT colleagues, neighbors, and friends for who they are, their opposition weakens and their support grows. Today, as more transgender men and women step forward to tell their stories, and parents advocate for their transgender or questioning children, negative attitudes are challenged and hearts and minds open up. In truth, we’re a mishmash community like everyone else — some of us are raising children, most of us are regular working folks, and some of us are serving in the military.
Those who support us see us for who we are – people. And in the same way that they’ve opened their hearts and minds, so too have voters across the country. Just last month, Quinnipiac University released findings from three swing states in the presidential race — Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — showing that support for transgender people is on the rise.
The poll found that 48 percent of Floridians, 43 percent of Ohioans, and 49 percent of Pennsylvania voters support the rights of transgender people to use the public bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. And one could argue that the rise from just a month earlier, when CNN and Gallup found national support hovering at or below 40 percent, comes at a time when the so-called bathroom debate has gotten ugly.
Transgender people are deserving of the same rights and protections that every other American citizen enjoys and, frankly, thinks little about. At a time when the world can seem both dangerous and uncertain, and after the tragedy that took place during Latin Night at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where LGBT patrons were heartlessly gunned down, it’s time to focus more on our shared values and less on our perceived differences.
So many people, LGBT or not, have experienced some level of discrimination at some point or another, and no one goes back looking for more. We dismantle the hate with unity and compassion, but we also need protections under the law whether that’s in employment, accommodations or, yes, being able to use the bathroom that matches who we are.
Today, more and more Americans are also standing up and making it clear that government has better things to do than to single out transgender people in bathrooms. Bathrooms are a charade camouflaging outdated opposition to larger inequities like public accommodations, open military service, and employment discrimination. The campaign we are launching is not meant to claim special privileges — it is simply to take back the right to dignity and equality that we are due as Americans, and more importantly, as human beings. This campaign is a chance for all Americans to understand the injustices we face every day for just being who we are. There is no more hiding from this issue.
Watch the ad. Share its message. Let’s take a giant step forward — together.
MARA KEISLING is the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. Follow her on Twitter @marakeisling.