Overwhelming majorities of Americans agree that transgender people should have the same general rights and legal protections as others. In a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute completed in August and September, while the “controversy” about Chaz Bono appearing on “Dancing With The Stars” raged in the media, approximately 9-in-10 (89 percent) Americans agree that transgender people deserve the same rights and protections as other Americans. With the American public overwhelmingly supporting us, it’s time to put on our dancing shoes and sway our legislators into passing basic protections.
I’m not suggesting that appearing on DWTS alone changed public opinion. It has taken decades of education, media attention, and a lot of courage by transgender people and our supporters that have brought us to this point where our political “leaders” can be followers of the public will to bring basic civil rights to our marginalized community. While we appreciate the support of this overwhelming majority, we are still at risk in our jobs, housing and the wide range of public accommodations.
The viral YouTube video of Chrissy Polis’ beating in a Rosedale, Md., McDonald’s shocked the world and shamed Marylanders into recommitting to fighting for her civil rights. I’m one of those Marylanders — I stepped up to join the board of the newly formed Gender Rights Maryland. Our governor is another, committing to support a Gender Non-Discrimination Bill this legislative session. As a transsexual woman I am blessed to have had the support of my family and community in my transition, and to work in a creative industry where my unique status is not a problem.
I am called through the social justice teachings of my religion (Catholic) to stand up for the marginalized. As a Catholic it’s reassuring that Catholics show the largest majority of support at 93 percent followed by 90 percent of mainline Protestants and 83 percent of white evangelical Protestants. This reconciles well with my experience that every priest, nun, and bishop to whom I have disclosed has been supportive and welcoming. Although Catholic teaching has no public position on trans people, many in the church hierarchy actively campaign against basic protections that are supported by their parishioners. To pass such protections we will need the support of the church members cited in the survey to counteract the small (but well funded and connected) religious extremists that bring pressure to bear on our legislators.
Even with the public support evident in this survey, the need for basic protections is supported by numerous reports of friends and surveys of transgender population. In fact, the overwhelming support for protections suggests that most people understand the need because they see the discrimination as likely. I hope we can draw on these fair-minded people for support in our legislative mission because the number of transgender people is estimated at only 0.3 percent of adults.
One of the findings of the survey is that two-thirds of Americans agree that they feel well informed about transgender issues and 11 percent say that they have a close friend or family member who is transgender. This survey seems to make it clear that through education and media exposure by those willing to stand up, Americans have been brought to the point where they understand the need for basic protections. The next step is to convince our legislators to follow them and ignore the vocal minorities. Then we will be able to work to make the discrimination itself a thing of the past.
The group Catholics for Equality co-signed in support of this op-ed.
Hilary Howes is a board member of Gender Rights Maryland and has served as a public information officer for Transgender San Francisco and a member/lobbyist for GenderPAC, the National Center for Transgender Equality and Equality Maryland. She lives in Maryland and has been married for 33 years.