Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry in for Tanzina Vega, and this is The Takeaway. Thank you for spending part of your day with us. Now, it's June 1, the first day of Pride Month, four weeks of marches, actions, celebrations, protests, and proms organized and led by LGBTQ+ communities across the globe to ensure visibility, build solidarity and create change. Pride is also the annual commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall rebellion, the watershed week when the patrons and community of Greenwich Village's Stonewall Inn collectively resisted police violence and harassment.
Seymour Pine: It was a release of energy; they could now fight back for all the times they had to slink away without being able to say anything and take whatever crap the cops were giving at them. Once it broke loose, it was very contagious.
Melissa: Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine who led the raid, speaking in an interview from 2004. That's the reminder that Pride Month is not only about cultural and community celebration, it is also about politics. A point President Biden made explicit in his address to Congress in April.
Joe Biden: I also hope Congress would get to my desk the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ Americans. For all transgender Americans watching at home, especially young people, you're so brave. I want you to know your president has your back.
Melissa: President Biden's backing is especially important right now. More than 30 states have introduced bills targeting the rights and freedoms of transgender people. All this while transgender youth and adults face outsized rates of homelessness, incarceration, and vulnerability to violence. With me now is Kate Sosin, LGBTQ+ reporter at The 19th. Kate, welcome back.
Kate Sosin: Thank you for having me, Melissa, and Happy Pride.
Melissa: Happy Pride. Now, I actually want to start by having you walk us through what some of this legislation has been, that's been introduced in states specifically targeting transgender folk.
Kate Sosin: The main two types of bills are what we call medical youth bands. These are bills that prevent transgender youth from accessing affirming medical care. For the most part, these are puberty blockers. When kids hit an age, where they are at an age where they would be comfortable transitioning, then they might be able to, but in the meantime, while they're figuring that out, they can go on a puberty blocker that just prevents them from experiencing development in a body where they wouldn't be comfortable. This just pauses puberty.
Those bills prevent kids from accessing that medical care that providers have found is really, really effective in preventing mental duress and suicides. The other kind of bill are these transports bills, which we've seen a lot of in the media. This says that trans girls especially cannot play on sports teams with other girls. Those bills we've seen pass at really alarming speed. Last year, we only saw this passing in one state. Now we have eight states that have passed these bills.
Melissa: Can we start by talking a little bit here about where these bills come from? It's not an accident that we see several dozen states all at once seeking to pass legislation that is quite similar. Where are they getting these bills?
Kate Sosin: That's a really good question. We actually found there's a website that generates this legislation, so you can just log in and request a bill. This is done by a coalition of anti-LGBTQ organizations, a number of them that have been labeled hate organizations by the Southern Poverty Law Center. You can just go in and fill in what model legislation you want, and they will generate a bill for you. That's part of it.
The other part of it is that these kinds of bills have been generating and kicked around for years. After the advent of marriage equality in 2015, the focus both in the LGBTQ community, and then people who oppose LGBTQ rights shifted to trans rights. We saw bathroom bills in 2016, and that campaign largely failed and the shift went to trans kids, because how many of us really know trans kids? Not a lot. Less of us know trans people than gay people, for example, and even fewer of us know transgender children. That's an issue that's much easier to legislate around because few of us actually know the people that are impacted.
Melissa: It's this bizarre reality where on the one hand, there is no problem here to solve. There's not some fundamental crux of anxiety in middle schools where trans kids are overwhelming the sports teams. The problem that it creates, so is that solving a problem, but it is creating a problem for vulnerable communities. Talk to us a little bit about, for example, the economic vulnerability of trans folks and particularly trans folks of color and how COVID really revealed so much of this economic vulnerability.
Kate Sosin: This is a really important question, I think. In the worst year that we had ever seen for transgender homicides was 2017. In 2017, we had 27 reported transgender homicides, it was a crisis, unlike anything we'd ever seen. In 2020, we had 44 trans homicides. The pandemic pushed trans people, mostly Black trans women, further to the margins. Trans people in general experience unemployment at three times the general population according to the last survey we have, which was in 2015.
Now, this year, before Pride Month, which is when we always see an uptick in trans homicides, we're already at 27 transgender murders; we're almost doubling the pace of what we saw last year already. Most of those deaths are transgender women of color. A lot of advocates are saying that it's the pandemic, and it's also these anti-trans bills.
What we're seeing is these bills that are passing in states like Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, South Dakota, Montana, places where you don't necessarily have huge populations of transgender women of color. Then we're also seeing the homicide rate of Black trans-women tick up in states like New York, in cities like Chicago, where we do have these high populations of Black trans-women. The crisis is being felt across the country and these bills are impacting trans people everywhere.
Melissa: So important, it feels to me to recall that even in moments that are this painful, and I feel like I can almost hear the pain in your voice about this vulnerability and this violence, this almost legislative violence over and against folks relative simply to identity, that at the same time, there's always resistance that exists in these moments as well. Can you talk about the ACLU's decision to sue the state of Arkansas over an anti-trans law?
Kate Sosin: Yes, the ACLU has gone to bat against. Arkansas has a trans-medical ban, so it prevents transgender youth from getting the care that all the major medical associations have found is appropriate for transgender youth. They are suing that and Chase Strangio, who's a prominent trans-attorney has been at the forefront of this. That is really critical. The other thing that I want to point out, especially as we head into Pride Month is, especially in the pandemic, trans people have really been leading the charge in taking care of their own in terms of housing, in terms of food, in terms of mutual aid.
That has been really critical care for a lot of people, especially in the south, there have been a number of programs, housing programs, and there is a real story of resistance, and part of that is these lawsuits. Then part of it is transgender women organizing for each other knowing that help is not necessarily on the way, especially during the Trump administration, which a lot of people saw as hostile to transgender people. That aid has been there and I think that's a really important and also, I think, a bright spot in all of this.
Melissa: I so appreciate you saying that. I'm very excited that this month, I'm partnering with PFLAG, and we are doing a series of conversations with queer and trans folk of color throughout the country who are doing exactly that kind of organizing. The opportunities I've had to have some of these conversations has been absolutely extraordinary, House of Tulip down in New Orleans. In fact, a little bit later in the show, we'll talk with Taylor Alxndr of Southern Fried Queer Pride. Indeed, that sense of collective work on one's own behalf has been critical to this aspect of resistance.
Kate Sosin: Absolutely.
Melissa: Have there also been-- it feels to me again even in this difficult moment there have been some spaces, some states where there have been efforts to actually expand rights for trans community members? Where is that happening?
Kate Sosin: Vermont actually struck down its trans-panic defense. This is a really important thing that has been happening in states. The trans-panic defenses in a number of states actually still have this on the books where if you actually murder an LGBTQ person, you can claim that you panicked because you did not know that they were LGBTQ and were so overcome by rage that you killed them and that that is an actual defense.
Melissa: Is kind of like The Crying Game 1992 defense right.
Kate Sosin: Exactly, yes. California is a state that I love to watch. In part, I'm from California but California has really led the nation in LGBTQ rights. I have a feature coming out today that looks at a really young policy person who's been working on this but California has been moving towards banning infant intersex surgeries which is really interesting. If a person is born with sex characteristics that don't fit neatly in the binary of male or female, they are often subjected to surgery and intersex rights advocates have been pushing for years to ban those surgeries because they can often be really traumatic and painful.
California has been working really hard to stray down those surgeries to pediatric hospitals, and Chicago and Boston have gotten rid of those. California has also started to enforce the Prison Rape Elimination Act for trans prisoners. California is a great state to watch especially as we look at Pride.
Melissa: Kate Sosin is the LGBTQ+ reporter at The 19th, writing really important work around these questions. Again, Kate, Happy Pride.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.