By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
By now, the crowds have dispersed from Times Square, leaving behind heaps of confetti, deflated balloons and the odd, broken pair of “2017” sunglasses. College bowl games and tie-in parades are now a memory. Even my neighbor who seems intent on his own backyard fireworks extravaganza has, mercifully, run out of M-80s.
We have — at long last — shambled into the New Year.
By most metrics, 2016 was difficult. Scores of celebrity deaths dominated entertainment news as we saw the passage of gender-transgressive musicians like David Bowie, Prince, Pete Burns, and even George Michael amongst other adored celebrities. We saw the United Kingdom leave the EU in an embarrassingly close vote, only to see a similar embarrassment in the United States electing reality show star and ethnically challenged businessman Donald J. Trump to lead our country for the next four years. I assure you that was about the nicest description I could manage for a man who has brought sexism, racism and all forms of phobia to the highest office in the land.
I can’t help but mention that, yes, 2016 was also the year my father passed away. To paraphrase the movie tag line, this time it was personal.
If 2015 was the year when transgender people found themselves deluged with one bathroom bill after another, 2016 will be recalled at the year when just one single such bill caused months of strife. It was on March 22 that the North Carolina Legislature, in a special session, passed House Bill 2.
The bill, predominately recalled as an anti-trans bathroom bill, went far beyond simply defining who could use a bathroom. It changes laws related to employment and contracting involving all sorts of discrimination, disallows localities within the state to enact minimum wage standards and other employment protections such as child welfare of family leave policies, and generally made North Carolina persona non grata for any number of business, sports and performance artists. HB2 also helped cause the downfall of North Carolina’s former governor, Pat McCrory, who continues to champion the bill.
In December insult was added to injury as North Carolina Republicans brokered a deal with the city of Charlotte, getting them to rescind their LGBT protection ordinance in trade for the repeal of House Bill 2. Once Charlotte had done so, the Legislature found themselves unable and unwilling to complete the repeal, and HB2 remains on the books.
North Carolina was not alone, with other states, most notably Texas, pushing for similar bills. In the Lone Star State’s version, the law only prevents male to female individuals from using women’s rooms: female to make transfolks will be welcome to use the men’s room. Texas also has taken a stab at the Affordable Care Act, fighting against abortion access and transgender inclusion on “religious freedom” grounds.
I hasten to add that such “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” are one of the popular ways to chip away at LGBT and other rights in a post marriage-equality era. We can be all-but-assured that we shall see a lot more of this in 2017 and beyond.
RFRA bills, coupled with expected undermining of Obama-era transgender protections, particularly in light of the incoming administration’s anti-LGBT cabinet choices — and the similarly anti-LGBT vice president-elect — are leading to more than a little trepidation on behalf of the transgender community as we turn our calendars to the new year.
What we see as we go into the New Year is a future where out rights are likely to be rolled back. Protections that were expected to continue through another Democratic administration are now assumed to be lost as soon as day one of the Trump presidency. Congress is also in Republican control, the Supreme Court is set to do the same, and the Democratic party seems more willing to point fingers at transgender people — amongst others — for their defeat. This is not the recipe for transgender rights.
So 2016 was bad, and 2017 will likely be a lot worse. It makes one want to despair. Let me tell you one key thing: that’s exactly what they’d want. While they will certainly try, the only thing they cannot stop is each of us. It becomes all the more important that we stand and fight back.
If you are transgender, take what little time is left and get your papers in order. Seek out resources like translawhelp.com and get your U.S. Passport and Social Security paperwork in order while you can.
If you are in a position where you can support them and other transgender organizations, please do so. You may wish to also support larger groups like Planned Parenthood, which is now starting to offer trans-related services, or the ACLU, which is gearing up to fight in Texas over their ACA ruling as well as anything done to harm people from the incoming administration.
If you can provide support of any type to your transgender siblings and others who will be marginalized further under the incoming administration, now is the time to lend your hand. Provide support of all kinds, and stand with each of us who are and will be in need in 2017 and beyond.
There’s one more important thing to do: stay alive.
There are many on the right who would like to see us go away, and that includes seeing us dead. To that end, they’re doing all they can to make our lives a struggle. It is up to each of us to resist, and even just continuing to be our wonderful selves fights against their desires.
2016 was hard, and much was lost. In 2017, we are threatened with more losses. Yet, I beg of you, let’s make 2017 the year we fight back.