As Democrats, We Can and Should Do More for Transgender Individuals

In May of 2018, the Daily Beast released an article discussing the presence of conservative Trump supporters who also identify as transgender. The article mentions the isolated situation they’re in where they face exclusion from their family and networks due to their gender but are questioned and criticised by fellow individuals who identify as LGBT. This criticism, however, isn’t new. When it comes to the political views of individuals identifying as transgender, we as Democrats are sometimes some of the first who criticize those views if they’re conservative. The argument is generally centered around claims that the Democratic Party is the superior political party when it comes to policies regarding transgender issues. It’s not wrong. However, the Democratic Party isn’t a champion either. I am a transgender woman and I’ve found myself in countless situations where party leaders misgender me, Democratic candidates fail to validate my identity, and everyday Democrats have dismissed transphobic behaviors from our elected officials and party leaders. Inclusivity is low, representation is scarce, and Democratic policies rarely reflect the most pressing issues affecting transgender individuals today. The Democratic Party is not a champion for individuals who are transgender. The question is what can we do about it? There are issues affecting transgender Americans and Democrats that we’re failing to address as a party and we can change that.

I should note, this article probably won’t address your FAQs regarding basic knowledge and issues affecting transgender individuals. To gain additional insight, I strongly recommend visiting the website www.transequality.org before reading in order to develop a better perspective on related issues.

In a Pew Research Poll in November of 2017, 34% of adults identifying as Democrats believe that your gender is solely determined by your birth sex. This creates a problem where trans inclusivity is low since 1 in 3 Democrats don’t even believe our identities, as transgender individuals are valid. As a result, Democrats misgendering transgender folks and dismissing transphobic behaviors isn’t uncommon. Inclusivity isn’t just a problem when it comes to what our base believes. In an interview with Rewire News in 2017, Jay Wu, communications manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality, discusses how phone banking and canvassing, the most necessary forms of political outreach, present unique challenges to transgender folks. Oftentimes we may be misgendered, put in uncomfortable situations, or even assaulted. We noted how, as a result, many transgender individuals feel uncomfortable and discouraged in getting involved with candidates. The lack of inclusivity creates a unique problem for transgender folks - we’re discouraged from getting involved and as a result, we can’t make change within our own party.

When we aren’t able to find a place amongst our party or get involved, we aren’t very well represented. Without inclusive activities and a substantial base of Democrats that are validating our concerns, we aren’t seen. In their book, Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law, Dean Spade details the lack of representation for transgender individuals within LGBT spaces. Because of the structure of LGBT spaces, including various political organizations and LGBT caucuses, those with higher levels of privilege rise to the top. Spade notes it is primarily individuals that benefit from being white, cisgender, and higher up on the socioeconomic ladder - therefore, cisgender individuals who maybe be queer, white, and middle class. This representation is further exacerbated by the enormous economic and social inequalities that transgender individuals face. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the UCLA’s Williams Institute, and Huffington Post report on the staggering level of poverty, homelessness, and unemployment amongst transgender individuals. This only makes the issue worse as it limits the ability for transgender individuals to volunteer, take up leadership positions, and run for office. According to a New York Times article in June of 2016, transgender individuals make up roughly 0.6% of the population. Yet, it's difficult to find a proportional amount of leadership and elected officials representing the demographic despite it being so small. What does all of this mean? Our party isn’t doing enough to uplift transgender individuals into leadership positions and candidacy opportunities. Certainly, we can’t directly take individuals out of tough economic situations but we can ask more people to run, work on being inclusive, and bring forward more opportunities to include transgender individuals.

Inclusivity and representation, the two previously mentioned issues, go hand in hand but contribute to a larger issue. Our policies and platforms aren’t addressing the issues that affect us the most. Spade tackles this issue in his previously mentioned book mentioning that much of the framework for tackling transgender issues is through the lens of gay and lesbian perspectives. This framework carries the assumption that nondiscrimination and equal access protection laws are the best legal course for protecting transgender individuals. No doubt, these are important, however, prioritizing this framework disregards the three most important areas for transgender individuals - administrative accommodation in bureaucratic systems, access to health care, and public sex segregation.

  • Administrative Accommodation in Bureaucratic Systems: identification and documentation in regards to names, gender markers, and other identifying information. Laws nationwide are fairly regressive on allowing flexibility in name and gender marker changes for transgender individuals.

  • Access to Healthcare: transgender individuals are highly likely to not find access to healthcare for generic and/or transgender-specific needs. The National Library of Medicine notes discrimination, harassment, and lack of awareness by medical professionals as some of the main reasons why.

  • Public Sex Segregation: an issue whereas transgender individuals are likely to face harassment and lack of accommodation in areas such as public restrooms, shelters, gyms, and other sex-segregated public areas.

By choosing to forgo these important issues, we often feel left behind by our party. These priorities are often left out and instead, the previously mentioned nondiscrimination and equal access protection laws are at the forefront. This can even be found in the DNC’s platform that prioritizes nondiscrimination protections over tackling policy issues that address administrative accommodation, healthcare access, and public sex segregation. At the end of the day, even if we’re included and represented within the party, our policy priorities are wrong.

So where does this leave us? We know that our party isn’t necessarily a champion for transgender individuals. We know that there is an issue of inclusion where a portion of our base isn’t all accepting and our practices aren’t as inclusive as we like to claim. We know that this is also an issue of representation where there aren’t enough transgender individuals representing us in office and in leadership. And we also know that our policy priorities aren’t focused on the bigger issues affecting the transgender community.  We know there are solutions to these problems and we are continually working to improve the intersectionality of our Democratic Party.

Our party has made strides. We’ve included more folks like myself and many others into volunteering, leadership, and even candidacies where according to Vice News in February of 2018 there are more than 40 transgender candidates running for office nationwide. Our party platform has just started to address health care access and violence affecting transgender individuals. Most importantly, our party has shown a glimmer of hope on the horizon. People are talking about these issues, asking important questions, and starting to show up for transgender people. So, what can we do now to expedite and improve this change? There are a few things:

  1. Ask questions - ask us our correct pronouns, ask us what we care about, and answer some of these questions yourself by checking out FAQs on www.transequality.org to learn more about our community.
  2. Prop up your transgender colleagues, friends, and family by recommending them for leadership and ask them to run for office.

  3. Call out the 34% of Democrats who don’t believe our identities are valid. Refer them to the same educational resources you’ve used to enhance your knowledge and acceptance.

  4. If you’re in party leadership, employed by the party, etc. then find ways you can accommodate transgender individuals by looking at best practices to respect transgender individuals (asking pronouns, changing your habits, etc.) and find safer and more comfortable volunteer positions.

  5. Push transgender issues as a priority at discussions and committees regarding platform development. Ask that administrative accommodation, access to health care, and public sex segregation are addressed.

I encourage you to employ these solutions. 2018 and future years will continually be a challenge for transgender individuals and the issues that confront the transgender community. As a party, it can be difficult to understand why transgender individuals may support Trump or hold conservative views. But, it is more important to ask us questions, hear what issues we care about, and find ways you can accommodate us. While we can’t claim to be a party that champions transgender people, we can definitely, one day, be that party. We should be that party. But, that’ll only happen if we increase our inclusivity, provide better representation for transgender individuals, and re-prioritize our policies for transgender issues. The time to show up and make our party better is now.

- Catherine Floate, IDYD National Committeeperson, 

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Carter Jones