For Transgender Americans, the Political Gets Even More Personal

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The Trump administration delivered a one-two punch to transgender people just weeks before a midterm election in which a record number of L.G.B.T.Q. candidates are seeking office.

Maya Salam
CreditFranziska Barczyk

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On a panel of L.G.B.T.Q. journalists a couple of weeks ago, I was asked what news organizations were missing in our coverage of issues affecting this segment of the population.

For me, the answer was easy: Americans deserve a wider and more thorough examination of local and state legislation that relates to gender identity and sexual orientation. The Human Rights Campaign, which advocates protections of L.G.B.T.Q. people, tracked 129 bills introduced across 30 states last year that it described as anti-L.G.B.T.Q.

And that was before new reports this week that the Trump administration is moving to roll back protections for transgender Americans, possibly legally invalidating their existence by narrowly defining gender as based on sex assignment at birth. About 1.4 million Americans consider themselves transgender, according to a 2016 analysis of federal and state data.

Transgender advocates said that the timing, just weeks before the midterm elections, made them feel like the latest “pawns” in wedge-issue politics.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department told the United States Supreme Court that businesses can discriminate against workers based on their gender identity without violating federal law, Bloomberg Law reported.

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“Transgender people are frightened,” said Sarah Warbelow, the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign. “At every step where the administration has had the choice, they’ve opted to turn their back on transgender people.”

Under President Trump, several federal agencies have withdrawn Obama-era policies that recognized gender identity in schools, prisons and homeless shelters. The administration has also tried to remove questions about gender identity from an upcoming 2020 census survey.

This is happening amid a midterm campaign that has seen a record number of L.G.B.T.Q. candidates.

Christine Hallquist, a transgender woman from Vermont, could become the nation’s first transgender governor. In Texas, Gina Ortiz Jones, a Filipina Air Force veteran, could become the state’s first openly gay woman elected to any office. Brianna Titone could become the first openly transgender member of the Colorado Legislature. These women are all Democrats, as is Danica Roem, whose election last year to the Virginia House of Delegates made her the first openly transgender person to serve in any state legislature.

A Pew Research Center analysis last November showed that 54 percent of Americans believe gender is determined by sex at birth, and 32 percent say society has “gone too far” in accepting transgender people. Views were sharply divided along partisan and religious lines, with more Republicans and more Christians believing gender was determined by sex at birth.

Here are some examples of what is going on at the state level: