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Deputy Executive Director of the National Center for Trans Equality, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen smiles outsidie
LGBTQ+ Stories

We must make it easier and safer to be transgender in America

Transgender Day of Visibility, which occurs annually on March 31, means hope. So much of the public discourse about transgender people is negative. It’s often about violence, which can make being trans feel like a death sentence. Transgender Day of Visibility shows other important dimensions of our experience. Many trans people, especially trans women of color, still face threats of violence, but celebrating a fuller range of our lives is essential for hope and inspiration.  

At the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) where I am currently deputy executive director, and will soon be executive director this summer, we lift the barriers that make it hard to be trans. We change laws and policies, and we lift up transgender voices in the process. Many people still don’t understand what it means to be trans, but when we put a human face to the issue, they recognize what’s at stake.

We work to make it easier and safer to be openly transgender.

One of our biggest victories we’ve achieved is dramatically expanding healthcare access through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Previously, trans people could be essentially barred from health insurance because being trans is technically a pre-existing condition called “gender identity disorder.” The ACA not only mandated coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions, but also explicitly banned discrimination on basis of gender identity. This absolutely changed healthcare access for trans people overnight, and NCTE was a big part of making that happen. We’ve scored many other big wins, too—from removing onerous and outdated medical requirements from gender markers to preserving nondiscrimination protections in homeless shelters.

Our top priorities in 2021 are passing the Equality Act and turning back the tide of the attacks on transgender youth. The Equality Act would help protect trans people from discrimination in virtually every area of daily life, including public spaces like stores, parks, and buses. We are working to pass that through the Senate. Moreover, transgender youth are being targeted by student-athlete bans and healthcare bans that seek to push them, and all trans people, into the shadows. We are fighting to turn that around. 

Trans people should feel safe in every part of their lives.

Violence against transgender people, especially trans women of color, is rising despite—or arguably even because of—the progress we’ve been making on trans rights. I feel the urgency. Ultimately, I want trans people to feel safe in every part of our lives: on the street, with our families, on the job, everywhere. 

The epidemic of violence against LGBTQ people, disproportionately against transgender women of color, is staggering. We need a comprehensive approach that ends the stigmatization, marginalization, and criminalization that transgender people, especially transgender women of color, face. This includes things like ending workplace discrimination so everyone can have a steady job that pays well, and affordable housing and accessible homeless shelters so everyone can have a roof over their head. When you don’t have money and you have to sleep on the street, you are exponentially more likely to be attacked. It’s not a coincidence that many Black and Latina trans women who have been murdered had experienced homelessness. We need to prevent people from having to be in such vulnerable situations to begin with. 

Without basic gun safety protections, the most vulnerable amongst us are at risk of death just for being our authentic selves. Those who think we don’t matter are emboldened to attack us. They are given the means to take our very lives away in just one shot. Common-sense gun safety measures can keep someone alive. It’s a matter of life and death. 

No matter who you are, there’s something you can do to stop discrimination against transgender people.

Discrimination against transgender people is rampant, from schools to doctors’ offices to public transportation. No matter who you are, there’s something you can do. Look at the groups or workplaces you’re in and consider, “how can we make this more welcoming to everyone, including trans people?” 

Get involved with NCTE

Visit the National Center for Transgender Equality’s website to see a host of ways you can support transgender people right now.

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