Brigid Bergin: I'm Bridget Bergin, politics reporter for WNYC in for Melissa Harris-Perry and you're back with The Takeaway. This weekend marks transgender day remembrance, an annual vigil which honors the memory of those murdered in acts of anti-transgender violence. It's held every year on November 20th. The day was started in to pay tribute to a Black trans-woman named Rita Hester, who was stabbed to death in her apartment in Boston in 1998. Hester was subsequently misgendered by police and media covering her death. Transactivist, Gwendolyn Ann Smith created a website in 1999 to remember Hester and other victims of anti-trans violence.
According to the human rights campaign with still over a month left in the year, 2021 has been the deadliest year for transgender or gender-nonconforming people on record. Most of those people killed were Black or Latinx, but it's also worth noting that trans murders often go inaccurately reported because of misgendering by police and media. The numbers in any given year could be much higher. Advocates say that this violence against trans people is fueled by anti-trans political rhetoric. 2021 also marks the most anti-trans bills that have been introduced in state legislatures than any previous year on record. Orion Rummler is a reporter on the breaking news team at The 19th. He joined us to talk about the significance of the transgender day of remembrance and recent legislation that impacts trans people.
Orion Rummler: This day every year honors the trans people predominantly Black and Latino women who were killed this year. The way this day is usually celebrated is by holding a candlelight vigil and someone volunteers to read the names of everyone who died this year. Saying their names is a way to honor them, to see them because in a lot of cases these are women gender-nonconforming people, and trans men who were not recognized by their families, by their communities, and some cases they may be misgendered by the police even after their deaths. TDR or trans day of remembrance is a way to affirm those who have been lost to say we see you and to remember them.
Brigid: This was a record break year for anti-trans legislation around the country. Can you tell us about some of the laws that were enacted?
Orion: Sure. Like you said, there were a record number of bills introduced this year. Most of those targeted trans youth sports participation in schools, K through 12 grades and access to gender-affirming care like puberty blockers and hormone therapy for minors. Texas was the state that introduced the most bills, like over triple the number of bills of any other state and they introduced 50 if you count sports gender-affirming care and also bills that would've blocked birth certificate updates for minors, and the majority of legislation that's passed across the country, only a handful of bills have passed.
They're almost always about sports, except for Arkansas which passed a ban for gender-affirming care. Although that's in legal limbo and Tennessee also passed a gender-affirming care ban but Tennessee's bill in that area isn't considered that it would actually do anything because, in Tennessee's law, the text doesn't understand that pre-pubescent trans kids would not be accessing this care.
Brigid: Orion, it's very interesting as you lay out the types of laws that were passed. I hear you talking about issues of sports and birth certificates, but it sounds like the word transgender is not used in a lot of the legislation. What do you think the significance of that is?
Orion: Absolutely. Me and my colleague, Kate Sosin, we looked through 102 of these bills and most of them in Texas, and the word transgender only comes up a handful of times. Advocates tell us and trans people living in Texas. There were also advocates tell us that that makes them feel like their existence is not being acknowledged. I think it also goes deeper because this legislation is aimed at restricting what kind of activities trans kids can do in terms of sports and the care they can receive, but the language doesn't acknowledge that it's about trans people. You also see that in the debates especially in the Texas legislature they had three special sessions this year and the trans kids playing in sports was a priority for the governor in every session.
The debate was like from two different planets. On one side, they're trying to get the other side to acknowledge that this is about trans people, and even that acknowledgement it wouldn't come easily. It just kept being dragged out and to where the proponents of the bills would say this is not about trans kids. This is about protecting girls in sports. When you drill down into it, their language is saying trans girls are not girls and that's why this is not about trans people. It's a weird convoluted language and the bottom line is that advocates tell us that it's done intentionally and it's a technique that we also saw in the language in bathroom bills several years ago.
Brigid: Orion, did your reporting find what the link was between this anti-trans rhetoric and legislation and the violence against transgender people?
Orion: Yes. We did talk with experts early this year because we did expect this year to be the deadliest on record for trans people this spring, so this was a long time coming. We knew it was going to be the deadliest and the advocates were worried that the language in these bills that depicts trans women as ''biological men'' would be rhetoric that would fuel hatred, basically, would fuel misunderstanding, would confuse people about what being transgender is. I would add that I've spoken with researchers who look into this area and that link hasn't been proven. We need more research and we need more data but that is what advocates are afraid of.
Brigid: On the local level, can you tell us about other anti-LGBTQ initiatives making their way through school districts and around the country?
Orion: Yes. We're seeing school districts ban pride flags this year including trans and non-binary flags saying that it's political speech. I talked with a Florida teacher in St. John's County and told me about one of her students who started wearing a trans flag as a cape in protest of their school cracking down. When I talked to the deputy superintendent I believe of that county, the way he explained the new policy to me was like we've already had this policy in place, but now we are reminding people that this is how it should be done.
Their explanation to me was like, this is not a new policy, but we're telling schools that you need to take pride flags out of schools that had been letting them circulate. We're seeing that and my colleague Nadra Nittle reported earlier this week about children's books by LGBTQ authors being banned in some schools. Some of those books are specifically meant for transgender, queer, and non-binary youth.
Brigid: Wow. Has there been any positive legislation or protections for trans people or other positive milestones for trans people this year?
Orion: Yes. It's basically two different stories at the federal level and the state or local level right now. At the federal level, we're seeing protections put in place as the Biden administration has made a point to reverse policies that were put in place during the Trump administration. The HHS restored anti-discrimination protections and Biden overturned the transgender military ban that was highly publicized when Trump implemented it and HUD withdrew a Trump era proposal that would've let federally funded emergency shelters exclude trans people.
The Pentagon said it would provide gender-affirming care and the justice department said in September that it would review policies on trans inmates in federal prison. This is all happening as the Biden White House has made an effort to meet with advocates. I don't know if we're seeing the fruit of those meetings yet, but the White House has met twice with intersex advocates this year virtually to talk about how to advance domestic protections against things like invasive unnecessary surgeries, and the White House met with trans women of color this summer for similar reasons.
Brigid: Some steps forward. Orion Rummler, reporter on the breaking news team at The 19th. Thank you so much for joining us.
Orion: Thank you so much, Brigid. I appreciate it.
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