Opinion: Facing the realities of transgender life in America

Posted on Apr 19 2017 - 7:59am by Akim Powell

“Would you feel comfortable with me walking in your bathroom with pink Brazilian hair down my back, wearing 6-inch heels?” L’oreal Johnson asked during an interview.

Johnson, who identifies as a transgender woman, sat before me in my hometown of Long Beach.  

“It’s always been a struggle to be a transgender woman, and now a simple thing like using the restroom is blown out of proportion,” she said.

Indeed, the issues surrounding gendered bathrooms continue to circulate among America’s political discussions.

In February, Trump rescinded the Obama administration’s protection policy that gave transgender students the right to use the bathroom they felt the most comfortable using in public schools.  

In a place where children are already experiencing physical and mental changes, why cause more strife for kids who don’t identify as the gender on their birth certificate?

According to the 2011 National School Climate Survey released by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 80 percent of LGBT students felt unsafe and experienced harassment due to their sexuality.

Adults and young people who identify as transsexual or who are undergoing sex change therapy also have more to fear on top of which bathroom to use.

The slaying of three colored trans women within days in Louisiana, specifically in high poverty areas, hit home especially hard for Johnson and me.

According to TimesPicayune, Ciara McElveen was fatally stabbed in the Seventh Ward in New Orleans. Jaquarrius Holland was found murdered, and the crime is still under investigation. And out of the three transgender women killed, Chyna Gibson’s story was the most publicized. Gibson was a drag performer, typically known by the name “Chyna Dupree.”  

LGBT organization GLAAD is keeping a running count of transgender people killed in 2017. There have been eight deaths, all of whom are transgender women of color. Don’t let this fool you; this number only represents reported incidents.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated there may be 40 times more hate crimes occurring nationally than the FBI reports. Think about all the other trans people who may have been murdered due to ignorance and fear.

Celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and YouTuber Gigi Gorgeous don’t fully depict what it means to be transgender in America.

Yes, it can be glamorous, but more often, transgender people are dehumanized. Trans children and adults can end up facing acts of violence, being discriminated against or becoming homeless.

Time reports that transgender people are four times more likely than the general population to live in extreme poverty. The risk is even greater for transgender women of color. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reports that 16 of the 20 LGBTQ people murdered in 2014 were people of color. Eleven were transgender women, and 10 were colored trans women.

We, as Americans, have an obligation to the transgender community. We all want to advocate that “all lives matter” or “black lives matter,” but do you believe that “trans lives matter?”

If so, we all need to stop the violence and educate others who are insensitive and uninformed on the subject.

“Always stay true to yourself, and always have your own back,” Johnson told me.  “Everyone needs to stop the hating, start the loving and give the girls a chance.”

Akim Powell is a freshman journalism major from Long Beach.