Putting the “T” in LGBTQ

According to the poll that appeared in last week’s issue of The Phillipian on LGBTQ rights, 91 percent of students are in favor of same-sex marriage. While Andover is not necessarily representative of the rest of the country, there is no doubt that young people today possess more progressive views on LGBTQ issues than older generations. But while LGBQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning) groups have received a lot of attention in the media recently, I wonder about the “T,” or the transgender individuals.

Transgender individuals assert that they do not fit into the male-female dichotomy. Often, the gender that a transgender individual feels comfortable identifying with does not align with that individual’s biological sex. There is a spectrum, and many transgender individuals find themselves somewhere between male and female.

As the current notions of gender do not accommodate for transgender individuals, Americans who identify as transgender may have difficulty obtaining health care, employment and housing. In addition, because many non-discrimination laws do not include discrimination against transgender individuals as an explicit offense, transgender individuals may face discrimination in educational contexts and when they attempt to receive public accommodations, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s website.

I wonder what would happen if we polled Andover students on how they felt about transgender rights. My guess: there would be a lot less support.

Transgender issues may feel so much more foreign to us for a number of reasons. First, 3.5 percent of Americans identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, while a mere 0.3 percent identify as transgender, according to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA. For that reason, the number of people who are even familiar with the issues common to transgender individuals is probably much smaller.

Secondly, many of us simply are not comfortable with the idea that gender identity is fluid. Many have come to the understanding that one’s sexuality is an element of his or her emotional and spiritual identity, and therefore may differ from “the norm.” It is difficult, however, for many to fathom how one’s biological sex could misrepresent the individual, as most view biological sex as an unchanging aspect of our physical identity.

In November, one of my closest friends at home came out to me as transgender. He truly felt that he was meant to be a woman, and he hoped that I could understand. While I wasn’t opposed to transgender rights, it never really seemed like much of an issue to me. LGBQ equality always seemed like enough to ask for—until suddenly it wasn’t.

Transgender individuals and transgender issues need just as much attention, if not more, than LGBQ issues. According to a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender individuals tend to have lower incomes and are more likely to be unemployed when compared with the general population. Almost 90 percent of transgender individuals surveyed reported having been harassed or mistreated in the workplace. There is no way to rationalize or comprehend such large-scale abuse.

Even more unbelievably, almost 78 percent of those surveyed reported some form of harassment or abuse in a K-12 setting. School is a place most of us view as a safe-haven for personal expression and where individuals (particularly adolescents) should be given time and space to learn about themselves. If schools aren’t safe, then where is?

Now, here’s the saddest part: 41 percent of transgender individuals who participated in the study reported that they had attempted suicide, compared with 1.6 percent of the general population. These individuals were the 41 percent who were unsuccessful, and lived to tell the tale. There is a human toll for the lack of conversation about transgender rights.

Dr. Jaime Grant, who was a leading author of the study, spoke at Andover last October. “There’s a reason that social movements are led by young people… young people see the insanity of injustice,” she said. In many ways, it is very much on our shoulders, as future leaders, to advocate for transgender rights and to change some of the more rigid conventions about gender. How can we call for racial equality, religious equality, women’s rights and LGBQ equality without advocating just as fiercely for transgender equality?

Anyone can make their profile picture a red equals sign, but how many have the guts to stop patting themselves on the back and talk about who’s missing from the LGBQ civil rights movement? If the Supreme Court overturns the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 in June, it will be a larger-than-life victory for LGBQ equality. But as for transgender rights, the fight is far from over.

Lily Grossbard is a new Lower from New York, NY.