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Won’t Be Erased
Under Unsupportive Administration, Transgender Students Express Fears, Struggles
January 22, 2019
Being stuck in the wrong body — it’s the “Freaky Friday” nightmare that freshman Evan Johnson has lived with for over 15 years.
Johnson is transgender.
He first felt the disconnect at around five years old when he learned what gender meant, and when he was eight, he immediately searched “why do I feel like a boy” on his first iPod.
He remembers asking his mom on the way to school why he had to be a girl, and later stuffing his hair in a hat, throwing on hoodies and jeans and desperately asking if he looked like a boy yet.
“You are just in the wrong body,” Johnson said. “You are trapped and you can’t do anything about it. You look in the mirror and it’s not you. You are not seeing yourself, you see a different person that is just not right.”
Like the 39 percent of LGBT Americans who have experienced rejection from family or friends, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, Johnson has not had a history of support from his family and peers. He said that after coming out to his parents with a different name and pronouns, they never agreed to use them. To avoid conflict with family, Johnson said that he gets his friends to use his old pronouns and name when they come over. As for middle school, when he became more open about his identity, Johnson said that students constantly called him transphobic and homophobic slurs.
It is far from uncommon for transgender youth like Johnson to become victims of harassment in school. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, which was the largest survey of transgender people ever done, found that 54 percent of openly transgender people were verbally harassed in school (K-12), and over one-sixth dropped out of school due to extreme harassment. Additionally, it found that 40 percent of the transgender people surveyed had attempted suicide in their lifetime — nine times the rate of the general U.S. population.
Just being transgender puts individuals at a higher risk than most in the country, which is why every step towards acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community can be seen as significant. While exposure can push people towards acceptance, so can legislation, like when the Supreme Court voted to legalize gay marriage in 2015 during Barack Obama’s second term.
Obama’s 2009-2017 presidency was a turning point in the U.S. for LGBTQ+, especially after he became the first president to announce that he was in favor of gay marriage, after publicly opposing it in years prior. He used his power to advocate for the community, and during his first term, the favorability rating for gay marriage became higher than the opposition rate for the first time in history, according to Pew Research. Among the several groundbreaking moves he made, Obama notably became the first to say the word “transgender” in his State of the Union address, declaring that they must not be persecuted.
“I think that when Obama was in office, things were looking up for the LGBT community,” Johnson said.
Youth transgender individuals like Johnson grew up watching the progress that Obama made, and when President Donald Trump came into office in 2016, there was no knowing what to expect. However, the level of uncertainty shifted when he made his first major blow at the transgender community.
July 26, 2017
It was the morning of July 26, 2017, when in the span of 13 minutes, Trump sent three tweets announcing a transgender military ban. This message shocked many in and out of the transgender community, and prompted thousands of protestors across the country to rise in opposition.
Johnson was in the car driving back from Colorado when he first got word of the ban.
After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
….Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
….victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
“I heard it on the radio and thought that it was some bit that the radio put together,” Johnson said. “I thought it was fake at first. I got back home and when I looked it up and it was real, I just bawled. I was terrified.”
Although Trump’s series of tweets surprised some military generals and Pentagon staff, they did not completely come out of nowhere. One month before the tweets, Trump’s secretary of Defense issued a delay on Obama-era policy that allowed transgender people into the military. This delay gave time for the Pentagon to review how transgender people could affect the “readiness and lethality” of their forces.
Trump, however, took a financial standpoint with his mention of a ban, attributing it to the “burdensome” medical costs that transgender members present, such as the costs of transition-related surgery or hormone treatment. According to a study by the RAND Corporation, only 29 to 129 transgender military members out of the 2,450 in the active component receive hormone treatment or gender-transition related surgeries. RAND then estimated that for this medical care, the military pays between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, which is just .04 to .17 percent of their yearly spendings. Meanwhile, the Military Times reported that the military spends $84.24 million annually on erectile dysfunction prescriptions, which is 10 times the amount spent on transition-related medical care.
“It is all just a matter of the government being transphobic,” Johnson said. “Trump has said very anti-trans and anti-LGBT things in the past, so when I heard about the ban, all I could think of was it being transphobic.”
Contrary to popular belief, Trump’s “ban” was not final or agreed upon by the courts. When an official policy for the ban was later sent to the courts, several federal judges blocked it, causing the administration to file a petition to skip the lower courts and head straight to the Supreme Court — a move that has only been passed three times in the past 66 years, according to NBC News.
January 22, 2019
However, just this Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court voted to allow the ban to go into effect while lower courts continue to review it. This ban will bar transgender people from joining the military, but it should not result in the removal of current transgender members and those “willing and able to serve in their biological sex.” The ban could also mean that current transgender members will not have access to gender-transition related health care as they did before.
While it has been over a year since Johnson was met with the tweets announcing the transgender military ban, he found out about the Supreme Court ruling this morning.
“It is a complete slap in the face to trans people everywhere,” Johnson said. “I feel horrible about it, knowing that some of my trans friends wanted to go into the military.”
It took until 2015 for Obama’s Defense Secretary to call the existing transgender military ban “outdated,” bringing the Pentagon to begin figuring out the policy that the Trump administration is actively reversing. Johnson said that Trump’s actions are harming the steps towards equality that the country has taken over the years for the transgender community.
“I just think that right now, him being in office is bringing everything down,” Johnson said. “It took so long to get to the point where we are at, and he is just knocking all of that work down and all of that progress that there has been.”
October 21, 2018
Their efforts to reverse Obama-era policy since 2017 was only an appetizer for what the Trump administration would do in 2018. In October, The New York Times received a memo from the Department of Health and Human Services that proposed redefining gender itself. Gender would be defined under Title IX as male or female at birth, unchangeable and “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” With this definition, “transgender” would be defined out of existence, ridding that community of their non-discrimination protections.
The outcome of a new definition is unclear, but it is predicted that employers could discriminate based on gender identity, transgender people could not receive certain health care services and both prison placement and bathroom usage would be based on biological sex. Essentially, it would be reversing what Obama put into place regarding the rights of transgender people.
The new gender definition is still on the table and being decided on by the Department of Health and Human Services, and there is no certainty that it will or will not be confirmed. Freshman Ethan Hexter, a transgender student, said that even if gender is not redefined, Trump’s efforts to erase transgender people will make a lasting impact on Americans.
“It is invalidating,” Hexter said. “The government is the highest form of authority and they decide almost everything, so when someone decides their opinion on transgender people and what they should be allowed to do, they look at the law.”
Hexter said that in school, he overhears students saying ignorant and transphobic comments in their conversations, and some students have teased him saying “you’re a girl.” Hexter recently came out to his mom about his gender identity, and said that she has done a great job of asking questions and trying to understand how she can support him best. If people could make the effort like his mom has to understand transgender people, Hexter said that equality would become much closer. However, he said that with Trump pushing for changes that could harm the transgender community, he worries that people will be discouraged from trying to understand their transgender peers.
“If [people] don’t try to learn themselves, then they will begin to distance themselves without realizing it,” Hexter said. “They hear something and they assume that’s it. I think that in general, an open-minded conversation with someone could at least make them consider viewing a transgender person in a more educated fashion.”
Freshman MJ Kelly, a non-binary student who goes by they/them pronouns, said that they are also afraid of the impact that the Trump administration is making on Americans’ views towards LGBTQ+ people.
“A lot of kids growing up in this who aren’t trans or LGBT are going to be like, ‘Oh that’s okay to do, I can discriminate against them because I don’t like it, because the president is doing it,’” Kelly said. “That is not okay. That is going to lead to more hate crimes.”
Along with Johnson and Hexter, Kelly grew up primarily when Obama was in office. Kelly said Obama’s eight years as president gave them a sense of safety, while Trump has created a fear that their rights could be taken away.
“There is a lot of fear, I feel like ever since that administration has taken place, I have had a lot of fear,” Kelly said. “The night Trump got elected, I was just sobbing, because I knew that it would not be safe anymore.”
Just two hours after Trump was sworn in, TechCrunch reported that every mention of the LGBTQ+ was removed from the White House webpage. In addition to erasing this information, Trump had chosen nominees to fill 120 federal judicial vacancies, one-third of which had an anti-LGBT record, according to Lambda Legal.
“The Trump administration had shown that it was going to do things like this, and nobody believed me [when I said] they were going to do bad stuff for us,” Kelly said. “Now they are actually doing it and a lot of people are shocked. What did you expect, you elected this man.”
For many transgender people, their hope lies in knowing that someday they will be able to make their gender transition. This could be in the form of hormone treatment, where an individual is prescribed either testosterone or estrogen shots, or in the form of gender-transition surgeries. Hexter said that with all of the administration’s actions and claims taken against transgender people, he worries about whether he will ever be able to transition.
“For trans youth, it kind of gives an existential dread of ‘I’ll never be able to do this,’” Hexter said. “We are told to get out of the house and get a job to pay for our transition and stuff, but then you hear that this can’t happen, and so all your hope of becoming who you are and doing what you want is lost.”
In freshman year, students take a Texas Reality Check in their professional communications class to calculate their future living expenses. They consider things like their housing, transportation and utility preferences and then are given an estimate of the salary needed to support themselves. While Hexter can calculate his expenses like everyone else, he also has to plan around the cost of transitioning. Hexter said that if anything were to happen to transgender health care, his plans could go down the drain.
“I have planned my life down to the second, with what job I am going to get and how I am going to afford transitioning,” Hexter said. “If anything happens, all of that will be for nothing and no matter what I do, I will always be how the government views me.”
Kelly said that when Trump took office, they immediately felt a need to be on watch. When anything concerning happens, Kelly emails their congressperson and uses social media to keep their friends aware of what is going on. In eighth grade, Kelly also founded the first Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at Cedar Park Middle School to help students learn more about the LGBTQ+ community and their rights.
“It is kind of sad because the Trump administration has forced me to grow up,” Kelly said. “Even with younger kids, they don’t get time to be kids anymore because they have to go right into paying attention to politics and making sure they aren’t going to get [discriminated against] because somebody doesn’t [want them] being who they are. The world will be perfect when it is not considered brave for you to just live and exist. I am just disgusted that this is the world that I have to live in as a trans person.”