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Current surge of anti-trans hate and violence and actions to practice allyship to the trans community

For the past several years, the transgender community has been experiencing and witnessing a surge in anti-trans hate and violence, which aims to threaten the safety and well-being of transgender and genderqueer individuals and the wider queer community. Anti-trans and anti-queer hate are not new phenomena, but have their origins in colonialism, White Supremacy, as well as in pushback movements against queer and trans rights in modern history.

The consequences of this rise in hateful ideology will manifest not only in further violence, legislation, and laws that target trans and queer folks, but it will be people with intersectional identities who experience the highest proportion of these negative consequences; Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous, and other racialized queer and trans folks will be those who face higher amounts of discrimination, as well as queer and trans people with disabilities, queer and trans refugees and immigrants, and other individuals who experience compounding forms of oppression.

Given the rise in hate and violence that the queer and trans community are facing, it is essential for people and communities who are not themselves queer or trans to be proactive and intentional in their allyship and support of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and particularly for trans folks. This blog post will outline the historical context for this recent rise in hate, describe the current situation with a highlight on people with intersectional identities experiencing disproportionate amounts of hate and violence, and will conclude with tangible actions for allies and workplaces in supporting the trans and queer community

Historical Context

Anti-trans and anti-queer hate are products of colonialism and White Supremacy, and current discourse among anti-trans hate groups includes recycled rhetoric from pushback movements against queer and trans rights in modern history.

Many Indigenous communities prior to European colonialism recognized over two genders, and often genderqueer and queer folks were revered for their connection to spirit and held unique roles in their communities. The existence and acceptance of trans, genderqueer, and sexually diverse individuals has not only been identified in pre-colonial North America, but also in South America, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Oceania, and Europe. Standards for binary gender roles and sexes along with compulsory heterosexuality were created, dispersed, maintained, and enforced as a tool of European colonialism to advance their power and wealth.

Societal norms maintaining binary gender identities, binary sex categories, and compulsory heterosexuality originate in racial ideology and white supremacy as well as misogyny and patriarchy; they function to control people and create power structures as well as hierarchy. As European colonial powers encountered societies, communities, cultures, and peoples who recognized and accepted non-binary gender identities as well as homosexuality and queerness, they framed queer and transness within these People of Colour as indicative of their ‘inferiority’, and thus as a justification for their oppression and subjugation. Queer and transness did not align with the colonizer’s white, Christian, European, and imperialist norms. Gender and sexual diversity were thus portrayed by colonizers as unethical, and as a threat to the cis-hetero-patriarchy, specifically to those who benefit from it (I.e., white cisgender straight men). The creation of binary gender norms and heterosexuality as the standard were intentional products of the colonial machine in its quest for further power and domination. Our society and our gender and sexuality norms today exist as they do because our foundation has been built through the ideals of white supremacy and cis-hetero-patriarchy.

Current Surge in Anti-Trans Hate

Over the past several years, the trans community has borne witness to an alarming surge in anti-trans hate, including anti-trans legislation and laws being passed in the United States. In 2023 alone in the US, over 500 anti-trans bills have been introduced, with 79 having been passed as of July 25, 2023 (2023 Anti-Trans Bills Tracker). Canada has been experiencing this rise in hateful ideology in tandem with the US.

There are numerous examples where the queer and trans community have been used as a scapegoat and have been targets of hate, violence, and discrimination. Prior to and during WWII, trans and queer folks were targets of Nazi genocidal extermination campaigns, and the first Nazi book burning took place in an academic foundation dedicated to studying homosexuality, sex, and transness. Numerous genocidal campaigns have included queer and trans folks as within their target demographic. During the AIDS crisis in the United States, as tens of thousands of people were contracting and dying of the disease, stigma and discrimination against the queer and trans community skyrocketed, and the president at the time responded to the crisis with apathy and inaction. Such instances demonstrate the reality that constructed moral panics function to distract and incite people, particularly during times of crisis (war or other conflicts, epidemic or pandemics, natural disasters, and more). This also illustrates how and why the transgender community is being used as a scapegoat today, given they are a historically marginalized community.

Today, we are witnessing a moral panic in the form of a surge of anti-trans hate, violence, discrimination, and ideology, which has amounted to actual genocidal ideology and actions being taken. In the United States, for example, a Florida governor has explicitly used the word “eliminate” when referring to transgender people, which coincides with his efforts to enact further anti-trans bills into law and garner support in his campaign to become president of the United States. In addition to dehumanizing and vilifying language being used against the trans community, book bans are occurring in a number of states, specifically books discussing gender, sex, sexuality, race, anti-racism, among other subjects. Access to information has also been threatened in certain states, as discussions about free access to media including social media platforms have been raised. Beyond genocidal ideology being spouted, genocidal actions have been taken as well, including the forced removal of children from families in Florida if the family includes a queer or trans family member, or if guardians or other family members take any action to support gender affirming medical care (read: Florida Senate Passes Extreme Gender-Affirming Care Ban). As well in particular states, gender-affirming care is now being denied to both trans and genderqueer kids and adults. Denying life-saving medical care is a violation of human rights. Not only do all of these political actions cumulatively lead to increased social isolation and marginalization of trans queer folks, but they also produce further violence and significantly elevated rates of mental illness and suicidality. In 2022, the Canadian Medical Association Journal has published a study that found: “compared with cisgender, heterosexual adolescents, transgender adolescents showed 5 times the risk of suicidal ideation … and 7.6 times the risk of suicide attempt.” With such trends of discriminatory, violent, and hateful ideology and legislation on the rise, it is urgent to act quickly to prevent and reduce further harm.

Forms of oppression like transphobia and homophobia do not occur in a vacuum, they exist in a wider environment with other interacting forces, including other forms of oppression. As such, at times where historically marginalized groups are being targeted, individuals with intersectional identities who experience compounding forms of oppression such as racism, ableism, xenophobia, and more will experience disproportionately higher rates of social and systemic discrimination and inequality. Trans Pulse Canada shared a 2020 report where they found that:

“- racialized trans and non-binary respondents experienced high levels of violence and harassment, even when compared to the already high levels among non-racialized respondents. … Physical violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault were all significantly more common among racialized respondents when compared to non-racialized respondents.”

When a specific equity-deserving group is being targeted, other marginalized groups will also experience a rise in discriminatory, hateful, and violent offences – this is the nature of a society founded in multiple interacting forms of oppression.

Active and Genuine Allyship

Trans rights are human rights, and trans People of Colour’s lives matter.

For people who are not themselves trans, queer, or POC, it is even more vital to commit to allyship for trans and queer folks. Trans and queer people cannot be the sole activists in the ongoing movement for global gender and sexual diversity equality. Without the support of cisgender and straight people – those outside the community – demonstrating continuous and active allyship, queer and trans folks are much more likely to experience isolation and barriers in their efforts to attaining equal rights, including discrimination, harassment, violence, and/or systemic legal or policy issues. Allyship represents an ongoing, active, genuine, and intentional commitment to recognizing one’s privilege and using one’s voice to support and advocate for a marginalized community, and to continuously expand one’s knowledge by listening to and learning from the community.

There are many ways to practice allyship to the trans and queer community. For example, at the individual level, try finding new music, art, books, TV shows, movies, or other media and content created by queer and trans artists, particularly centering Black, Indigenous, Brown, Asian, and other racialized folks who are trans, non-binary, and/or queer, trans and queer people with disabilities, and more people with intersectional identities and a wide array of lived experiences. It is most important that cisgender and straight folks make an intentional effort to learn more, and be genuine about your curiosity.

At the interpersonal level , you can take tangible steps to promote allyship. Some ideas include:

Donations and Support: Extend your support by donating to organizations, non-profits, and individuals within the trans and queer community. Consider contributing to mutual aid funds or using money-sharing apps to uplift those in need.

Sharing Resources: Knowledge is power. Share information and resources about allyship within your social circles. Encourage your friends, family, peers, coworkers, and acquaintances to educate themselves and practice allyship.

Standing Up Against Discrimination: Be an advocate for trans folks and challenge discrimination and hate wherever it may occur. Even if you find yourself in spaces where trans and/or queer individuals are absent, take a stand and foster a more inclusive environment. Sometimes, doing the right thing might be challenging, but it’s when it’s most crucial.

Supporting the trans and queer community also requires addressing systemic issues. Here are some examples of how you can promote allyship at the institutional level:

Workplaces: Suggest or create space for affinity groups, allowing marginalized individuals to form communities, share experiences, and access resources. Encourage your workplace to implement gender-neutral bathrooms, use inclusive language in policies, and provide gender-affirming healthcare coverage.

General Institutional Ideas: implement gender neutral bathrooms, gender neutral language in documents/policies, not making assumptions about sexual orientation or pronouns, including gender affirming care within medical coverage package, cover basic protections from discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex, gender, and sexual orientation, etc.

Advocate: Work towards fostering inclusion and equity for trans individuals in various spheres, including legal rights, healthcare, housing, and sports.

To conclude, after several years of rising sentiments of anti-trans hate in North America, there has been an unprecedented number of anti-trans bills being enacted in the US in 2023, as well as a surge in instances of discrimination and violence against transgender people. This anti-trans hate is a product of colonial ideology, specifically, white supremacy and cis-hetero-patriarchy. It is crucial we recognize the impact of rising hate towards trans and queer folks, particularly for individuals and communities who are People of Colour, Indigenous, people with disabilities, refugees or immigrants, religious, cultural, or language minorities, older and younger people, and others with compounding experiences of discrimination. It is never too late to take actions demonstrating allyship to the queer and trans community, and it is always needed. It’s vital to the safety and wellbeing of trans and queer people that as a society we learn from our history the signs of proliferating injustice and hate, so we may collectively extinguish the flames before they produce further harm and violence.

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