Transgender inclusion, visibility are more important than ever

Transgender people have been on a mission for decades to show people their humanity. It shouldn’t be just on them to do so. The rest of us should partake in making that goal a reality.

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Zahara Bassett, founder and CEO of Life Is Work, advocates for transgender people and members of the LGBTQIA community during a rally with Equality Illinois on Monday at Federal Plaza.

Zahara Bassett, founder and CEO of Life Is Work, advocates for transgender people and members of the LGBTQIA community during a rally with Equality Illinois on Monday at Federal Plaza.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Transgender individuals — Black and brown women in particular — have historically been leaders in fighting for LGBTQ rights and equality, all while bearing the brunt of hateful and violent attacks on their lives.

Sadly, in 2022, that’s still the case.

In Chicago, consider the recent deaths of two transgender Black women. LGBTQ advocate and activist Elise Malary of Andersonville, who was first reported missing on March 11, was found dead along the Evanston lakefront on March 17. Her cause of death has not yet been announced.

Then, on March 18, Tatiana “Tee Tee” Whetstone of Chatham was found beaten to death in a trash can. Her death was ruled a homicide.

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Meanwhile, there’s been a dramatic increase in anti-LGBTQ legislation proposed or passed in statehouses across the country.

In 2018, 41 such bills were proposed. This year, by March 15, 238 bills had been proposed, according to an NBC News analysis of data from the American Civil Liberties Union and the advocacy group Freedom for All Americans.

More than half of those bills, about 65%, target transgender individuals specifically, the analysis concluded.

Most of the legislative efforts aim to restrict LGBTQ subjects in schools and limit the participation of transgender individuals in sports. Some proposals would ultimately make it a crime for transgender people to seek gender-affirming medical care.

“It’s not easy waking up in the body that I’m in and trying to exist in a society where people have been taught that my identity is taboo,”transgender activist Zahara Bassett, founder and CEO of Life is Work, told us. “ ... [These bills] are just continuously pushing us back and showing us that we do not belong. That’s what they are trying to tell us.”

Illinois has no such proposal pending. But there is still work to be done so that the public doesn’t hear about trans lives only when those lives end in tragedy.

Transgender people should not have to do all the work of showing others their humanity and their ability to thrive and participate in society. The rest of us should do our part to make that a reality.

In the workplace and in other institutions, for instance, those interested in supporting LGBTQ people can start by putting transgender people on their team and allowing them to influence change, according to Caprice Carthans, a transgender woman and a board member at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

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“If they don’t fit the skills you request, give them a draft of what you are looking for and let them add their own spin to it,” Carthans said. “The traditional, white cisgendered [straight] format does not work for Black trans women. Let those trans people add their spice to the job or task, and watch it take a different shape.”

The White House and State Department announced on Thursday, which was Transgender Visibility Day, that U.S. citizens will be able to mark “X” — meaning “unspecified or another gender identity” — on their passport application beginning April 11. The new gender marker will allow transgender travelers to forego providing medical proof if their gender identity doesn’t match the marker on their birth certificate or other official documents.

That’s an important step that we support. Affirming gender identity can help save lives.

The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth, surveyed nearly 35,000 youths and found that 42% seriously considered attempting suicide in 2020, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth. But when LGBTQ youth had access to spaces that affirmed their sexual orientation and gender identity, suicide attempts declined.

The Human Rights Campaign has called 2021, when 191 anti-LGBTQ bills were proposed and 17 enacted into law, the worst year for LGBTQ state legislative attacks in history. 2022 is already on track to exceed that, with transgender rights under attack.

The way to fight back is to stand up for the justice, respect, safety and acceptance that transgender people deserve.

Send letters toletters@suntimes.com.

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