In the drive to secure basic human rights for sexual minorities, the T in LGBT — transgender — is not only last in the ordering of that acronym but also the last to have rights recognized and codified, and now is the most vilified by those trying to roll back rights for all.
Almost three years before Stonewall, there was a similar act of queer resistance in San Francisco. Like the riot at the Stonewall Inn in New York, transgender people were central to the two nights of active rebellion at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria. In both cases, years of discrimination, harassment, beatings and arrests at the hands of police ignited the flames.
The riot at Compton’s mostly faded from memory. The exact date wasn’t even recorded, only that it happened sometime in August of 1966. The 1969 Stonewall Riot is most often regarded as the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement.
A lot has changed since then.
There have been huge advances in LGBT rights, and Pride Events draw millions of participants and spectators in cities across the country and around the world every year. But while trans people were critical to the events that began the movement for LGBT rights, recognition of the civil rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people has been slower and harder to win. Such recognition remains more precarious than protections based on sexual orientation.
When New York State passed SONDA (Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act) in 2002, it did not include protections against discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Efforts to include protections for transgender New Yorkers in SONDA were blocked out of fear that insisting on a more comprehensive bill would prevent it from passing. GENDA, (the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act) which does codify those protections, wasn’t passed until this year.
Now the president of the United States is leading a drive to reverse the gains for transgender rights that have been made.
President Trump has ordered a reversal of the Obama administration’s policy of allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military. Last month the administration released a draft rule that would permit health care providers and insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of gender identity. Another rule would allow health care workers to refuse to treat transgender patients. More changes would allow prisons and homeless shelters to determine placements based on birth gender, putting transgender individuals at extreme risk.
At the same time, the public visibility and acceptance of transgender and gender nonconforming people has grown exponentially. Every effort to reverse the gains trans people have made is being vigorously challenged.
The assault on transgender rights is part of a broader effort to roll back rights for the entire LGBT community, women’s rights and the rights of racial and ethnic minorities. It is vital to stand as a community against every attempt to divide and separate us, to single out groups as being unworthy of rights that others take for granted.
Lesbian rights, gay rights, bi rights, trans rights, intersexed rights, and the rights of every other letter in the alphabet are human rights. They only become separate issues when divided and defined by rules, edicts or plain old bigotry.