Nov. 13 marks the start of Transgender Awareness Week, a time to learn about what it means to be transgender and the issues facing the trans community. Across the U.S., LGBTQ people, particularly trans youth, are under assault. Disturbingly, there’s even a small but very vocal group of parents seeking to harm youth under the guise of “parental rights.” Rather than protecting all young people’s freedom to thrive, these anti-LGBTQ activists are fighting for censorship and restrictions on trans people’s ability to simply live and exist in our society. Transgender Awareness Week offers an opportunity to learn how to be better allies and show our support for trans youth.
In our polarized political landscape, politicians are using trans lives as a wedge to advance their own agendas. This isn’t a new playbook. During the fight for marriage equality, I saw how opportunistic politicians chose to demonize and divide, rather than protect and serve constituents. It’s happening again today, as governments are placing trans youth under a constant threat of violence and indignities, and stripping them of access to life-saving care—moving health care decisions from parents and doctors to anti-LGBTQ politicians.
The increase in state-sanctioned anti-trans cruelty has spread swiftly and dangerously. In 2023 alone, politicians introduced more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills, including at least 142 bills to restrict health care for trans people, the majority targeting health care for trans youth. Twenty-one states now ban best practice health care for transgender youth despite every major professional medical association supporting it as safe and effective. Passing anti-trans legislation isn’t solving a real problem; it is only spreading hate for political gain, and making the world much more dangerous for trans people.
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Sadly, LGBTQ Americans are accustomed to looking over our shoulders. But things are getting worse, not better. GLAAD’s eighth annual Accelerating Acceptance study found that more than half of trans Americans don’t feel safe walking in their own neighborhoods. Schools, which should be a safe space for all youth, are now becoming battlegrounds as those same politicians, professional anti-LGBTQ activists, and now some parents, attack local school board members and other parents. There are campaigns to remove age-appropriate books that focus on LGBTQ people, to stop the use of Pride flags, and even to prevent the discussion of LGBTQ people in schools—so far, at least 11 states have passed laws which censor discussion of LGBTQ people and issues in public schools. Similar campaigns also seek to limit what our children learn about race and ethnicity in schools as well. This hostile activity is even showing up in progressive states like California, with a growing number of activists traveling within the state to push for dangerous anti-LGBTQ policies, often specifically targeting transgender students.
In the long run, these coordinated attempts to erase trans people from public life will fail. Trans people, including young trans people, have always existed—and they aren’t going anywhere.
The temporary success of these campaigns is fueled by a lack of familiarity with who trans people are. GLAAD’s 2023 Accelerating Acceptance report found that only 30% of Americans say they know a trans person in real life. Therefore, what most people know about being transgender they learned from the media. And, as the 2020 documentary Disclosure so powerfully illustrated, those media images have historically been distorted and defamatory. Only in the last few years have audiences seen more transgender characters and news stories about trans issues that are fair and accurate.
Since Americans have consumed decades of media filled with misinformation about trans people, it is too easy for anti-LGBTQ groups to fearmonger about them, spreading hate and disinformation to the 70% of Americans who do not have an out transgender friend, co-worker, or family member. A 2023 NBC News poll found that among people who personally know a trans person, 67% said that society hasn’t gone far enough in accepting transgender people. But among those who said they do not know a transgender person, 57% said society has gone “too far” in accepting trans people.
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As a proud mom, it enrages me that anti-trans hate is being spread under the guise of “parental rights.” Our job as parents is to keep our kids safe, tend to their health and well-being, and ensure they receive the education they need to grow into happy, healthy, responsible adults. For so many parents of trans youth, the toxic landscape makes it nearly impossible for them to fulfill those basic duties. What about their parental rights? Lesbian moms like me also have parental rights, and parents who are allies to LGBTQ people and want their children to learn about our existence have rights. Parental rights applies to all parents, not just to those who are seeking to harm LGBTQ people.
This Trans Awareness Week, everyone should strive to learn more about trans people. Increase your familiarity and learn how to be an ally to the trans people who are being targeted today. Trans people do not deserve to have their healthcare, education, and safety threatened or taken away; they deserve freedom, opportunity, and joy. Those who have devoted themselves to demonizing trans people must be recognized for the immoral opportunists they are. Awareness isn’t enough—we need protections, affirmations, and brighter futures—but it’s certainly a start.
Sarah Kate Ellis is the president and CEO of GLAAD. She is a member of the 2023 TIME100 list.
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