Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, and you're still with The Takeaway on Election Eve.
Now according to the Williams Institute, an LGBTQ think tank at UCLA, more than 800,000 transgender adults are eligible to vote, but barriers to access or fears of voter intimidation may prevent some trans individuals from even attempting to cast their ballot. Now, according to the Williams Institute, 31 states conduct their elections primarily in person at polling places and have voter ID laws. Meanwhile, half of voting-eligible transgender Americans living in these states do not have an ID that correctly reflects their name or gender.
Josie Caballero: I am Josie Caballero. I am the Director of the US Transgender Survey and Special Projects at the National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's start with the barriers here. The barriers in our system of voting that affect transgender individuals and gender-expansive individuals who are going to go cast their vote.
Josie Caballero: One of the things that's really important to talk about is voter protection and access to the vote. When you think about voting as trans, we have to think about, in some states, there are still very strict voter ID laws as well as barriers of getting IDs in certain areas that have been made more complicated due to recent legislation making it harder to change gender markers and names on IDs.
Really when we take a look at this, right, we can look at data from the US Trans Survey back in 2015 where nearly one-third, 32% of respondents who have shown an ID or with a name or gender that doesn't match their gender presentation were verbally harassed, denied benefits of service or asked to leave or even assaulted. When you take a look at that, you have a chilling effect where you have folks who are wanting to go and vote but are nervous that they are either early in their transition and haven't had the opportunity to change their IDs yet, but they're already starting to present as a gender that doesn't match their gender marker, and the effects are real.
One in five respondents did not use a place of public accommodation in the past year because they thought they would be mistreated as a trans person. When you look at the fact that 45% of the LGBTQ population live in states with difficult or hard-to-understand forms or providers necessary to prove that you are a trans person changing your gender marker, it really makes it quite scary to know that in most of those states where 45% of the LGBTQ population where they live where it's very ambiguous on how to change your ID or very difficult with gender surgeries and things of that nature to prove it, you also can see a direct correlation that a lot of these states are also states with very strict voter ID laws where trans people are required to show their IDs.
If the poll worker isn't trained or worse, they are actually anti-trans or LGBTQ personally, they could be denied access to vote. That is a very scary prospect for a lot of trans people that some people may not even want to vote at all, one in five at least, to even go and put themselves in danger.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Yes, I just don't want to miss this. I feel like I want to say, Josie, you said all of that again, because when we think about just to pause on that to say, "Okay, I have a constitutional right to vote, I'm a citizen of the US, I'm registered, I have a right to vote," but if I arrive to vote with my government issued ID, which has been required, then one, it may have my dead name on it, or the gender marker on it may not be as I'm currently self-presenting.
Then I have to deal with a poll worker who very well may harass, assault, embarrass, and at a time, when in many of these same states that you're referring to, Josie, the folks who are being voted for down-ballot in these state houses are introducing bills that will have a disproportionate impact on the very people who are being disenfranchised. It's infuriating and deeply concerning.
Josie Caballero: Absolutely. Since we're calling out certain states, we've already seen legislation in Arkansas, Alabama, and Florida, that has actually banned transgender care for people under the age of 21. What you're seeing is exactly that, where we already have evidence like such in Texas where the Attorney General put out a rule that says that people can say to Child Protective Services that this child is being abused because they're getting gender-affirming care in happy and healthy families.
We already have an effect of social workers leaving the state because they don't want to go in happy, healthy families and say that they're potential child abusers. Then you also have medical boards in Florida that are trying to deny and not even allow the people who are in their adolescence getting these life-saving therapies. Now they may be reverted to no longer have access to those medicines.
Then on top of that, in these really red areas where a trans person may have to go to the poll because they also limit vote by mail, where you can have the safety and comfort of your own home and vote and then put it in the mailbox, you're forced to go to the polls. With the heightened danger of being openly trans in these areas, as you may or may not know, it's another record-breaking year of trans murders of trans people across this country. Every year, the numbers go up tragically. These are real fears. This chilling effect is absolutely discriminatory and very scary because it could be somebody's life on the line.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Yet when I said we're in the final days, final hours of the midterms, you started with enthusiasm. I'm going to presume that means that you and I are still thinking democracy is worth it. [chuckles] Talk to me about ways that we can mitigate these threats, and we can protect trans voters.
Josie Caballero: Absolutely. We definitely tell our trans siblings to make sure if you do have a name change in process, bring your paperwork. Bring your name, your birth certificate, your social security card if you have to, and say, "No, this is who I am. Please let me have access to the vote." Bring a buddy, bring a friend, a family member to go in with you to make sure that you have that extra layer of protection to be able to say, "No, this person is who they say they are. Let them vote."
Also, the fact that we need to make sure that we have average citizens that are poll workers to understand that people may come in that are trans and may have a different name on the voter registration because that voter registration may have not been updated to the name and presentation that they have. Really going in with a little extra precaution and with your head on a swivel, let's say, so you can actually vote because when we vote in these areas, we are actually voting for our own existence in these areas. We have that opportunity to push back and say, "No, my vote will be heard. I will have the ability to cast my vote to say I do not agree with the policies that are taking away our livelihoods and our right to exist in this country."
Melissa Harris-Perry: What are some of the other structures that matter? Talk to me about how some of the accessibility options that we put into place during the pandemic actually help to mitigate some of this disenfranchisement of trans voters.
Josie Caballero: It's been really wonderful to see the expansion of vote-by-mail opportunities for citizens across the country. With those options, it really does give that extra layer of security. We definitely recommend to trans people who may have a little concern to go into the polls. This also includes LGBTQ folks and non-trans individuals who may not present in the stereotypical manner like a woman who is not trans goes into a voting booth, and they appear masculine because of all the hysteria around trans people.
They too could fall victim to a poll worker saying, "No, you can't vote because you aren't who you say you are." We encourage people to go get out there, put your ballot in the mailbox, so you actually have that extra layer of protection. We need to keep ensuring that the structure in the system is allowing for a larger breadth of ability to have vote-by-mail opportunities for that extra layer of safety of being able to vote in the privacy of your own home and not have to worry about being hassled just by doing your civil duty as a voter in this country.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We've talked a little bit about the anti-trans, and I'm just going to call it anti-child, anti-family, anti-human legislation that has been presented by Republicans in so many states. Then about some of the violence that has been endemic and again, to be clear, this is violence against trans folk, not violence by trans folk. Have Democrats done any better in this midterm cycle as we have seen that violence, as we have seen that legislative violence? Can you point to Democrats clearly offering an alternative?
Josie Caballero: We have seen some really good things coming out of the administration that has been very positive and open about the fact that these anti-trans laws are completely unacceptable and are against the human rights and civil liberties of trans and LGBTQ folks. I will say that we can do a lot better. When you see a Republican politician currently in this country, they will say a moniker such as, "I know what a woman is or my pronouns are, I love America, or patriot," and things of that nature. We're starting to see that dog whistle that is like, "I am going to vote against trans people.
I am going to pass legislation against trans people and I would like to see more Democratic politicians taking a stance and saying everything that is coming out from the Republicans when it comes to LGBTQ rights, trans rights are completely inaccurate, not based in science and not in the comradery of loving the people that are in our own communities. We need to have Democrats pushing back against those narratives to say trans people and queer people and LGBTQ people are completely wonderful, contributing members of our society. They are not a danger to society. They are not a danger to children. They just want to live their lives like everybody else in this community."
We have seen good messaging come from Democrats, but we definitely need more. We cannot let the Republicans control the narrative of who we are as trans people. I would love to see Democrats take a stronger front position in saying this cannot stand and what these Republicans are saying are pure hatred and bigotry that actually hurts our community and causes violence and death in the community.
It is absolutely devastating that this issue isn't as front and center as it should be, but we are seeing positive things from the president, such as a rule change to make sure that we're not being discriminated against in healthcare, allowing transgender Americans to openly serve in the United States military, I myself am a veteran, and these are the type of things that we need to be able to say is important for us to be able to work and live and play and love in the communities that we contribute to every day. Have Democrats done a lot? Yes. Could they do a lot, a lot more? Absolutely. I hope that when we see the results of the election, that we see that anti-trans rhetoric isn't the winning issue.
Melissa Harris-Perry: If a trans person, gender expansive person goes to cast their vote in person because that's the option that's available to them, and they experience something that they think may constitute intimidation, harassment, or an attempt to disenfranchise them, what should they do?
Josie Caballero: They should immediately call the registrar of voters in their local area to make sure that they have the complaint done. Also don't leave. If they want to give you a provisional ballot, then go ahead and do that. [laughs] Make sure you go in, cast the ballot as best as you can to make sure that your vote is counted, and make sure you follow up with the poll worker manager, but if the poll worker manager isn't available and not supportive, make sure you escalate it all the way up if you have to. As far as you can go to make sure that your vote is represented and making sure that those levels of intimidation and harassment are alleviated right away.
Because if you're voting in the morning and you are denied the vote, or you receive harassment and intimidation, that phone call might be able to prevent somebody else from receiving the same treatment later. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation. Even if you are a non-trans person and you see this happening, stand by and say, "Hey, let's call the voter registrar. Hey, let's make sure that your vote is being counted." Because that's what it's going to take to make sure that this happens.
Have your voter registrar number on the ready so you can say, "I'm going to stand right here and I'm going to make a phone call and I'm going to make sure that they know that this is happening so I can make sure that I gain access to the vote as well as the other people going into the poll as well." We have to protect the right to vote for all people, including our trans and gender-diverse folks.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Josie Caballero is the Director of the US Trans Survey and Special Projects for the National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund. Josie, thank you again for joining The Takeaway.
Josie Caballero: Thank you so much. It was great to be here.
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