Opinion: Transgender community needs more visibility, rights

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Throughout the movement and history of the LGBT community, it has really been the lesbian and gay movement. Bisexuals are pigeon-holed into the first two aforementioned categories, and the transgender/transsexual community are completely forgotten about or thrown under the rug.

International Transgender Day of Visibility was March 31, and although this article is a day late, the message needs to get out there. The transgender community should be more visible with those fighting for the rights and privileges of different sexualities and gender identities.

What most people don’t know is how under-protected and underrepresented the transgender community is in the mainstream society. On Sept. 20, 2011, the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the U.S. armed forces was officially enacted. The 17-year-old policy “banned openly gay men, lesbians and bisexuals from military service,” according to a July 22, 2011 New York Times article. Please note that transgender men and women were not protected in the repeal of that policy.

In turn, that means all transgender people in the military are not protected, could lose their military careers if investigated and are not given the same rights as their cisgender peers.

Those who serve and protect the U.S. are not able to live how they truly want to live as out transgender men and women. Instead, they have to hide and be afraid of slipping up, in fear of loosing their career.

Additionally, there is no global universal law for people to be able to change their gender without having to undergo surgery first, according to Gender Proud, a campaign to enhance the rights of transgender individuals.

Geena Rocero, the founder of Gender Proud, became the first transgender person to ever come out on a TedTalk. She discussed how most of the Western world has very rigid concepts of gender that exist alongside legal systems that afford transgender individuals very limited rights. Although she grew up in the Philippines, where gender identity is much more fluid, it is still not politically recognized there.

As transgender men and women continue to live out and free, there needs to be a societal shift. One looming issue is the violence against transgender individuals, whether it be male to female or female to male transgender people.

According to study by the Organization of American States from Aug. 15, 2013, transgender people are often victims of violent crimes, including murders. In July 2013, 39 people who identified as lesbian, gay and transgender were murdered in North and South America.

Murder is not the only type of violence against the transgender community. According to Trans Student Equality Resources from March 2014, 80 percent of trans students felt unsafe at school because of their gender expression. Almost 60 percent of gender nonconforming students experienced verbal harassment in the past year because of their gender expression, compared to 29 percent of their peers. Forty-nine percent of trans people reported physical abuse and 41 percent of trans people have attempted suicide.

These statistics should be alarming to anyone. But, therein lies the problem. Many people have no idea these statistics are this high because the transgender community is so underrepresented in mainstream media. Though these issues are just the tip of the iceberg for this community, they are still prevalent.

One way the transgender community, especially in Kansas, has gained momentum and visibility is through The Face of Trans’ “I Am” Project. This project shows how trans people are ordinary people living extraordinary lives.

Recently, Adam O’Brien, senior in fine arts, was photographed and put on a billboard on K-177 just outside Manhattan. The billboard, sponsored by the Flint Hills Human Rights Project, is part of the “I Am” Project movement.

It is through small acts of continuous visibility that the transgender community continues to gain momentum and equality. Through education and continued support from others around them, this community will be able to get the full rights that the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities have already been granted in some ways.

The transgender community needs to continue to be visible in the mainstream and to be understood by the majority. It will take time for people to understand this community, but with time comes eventual equality and acceptance of all people.

Jakki Forester is a junior in journalism and American ethnic studies. Please send all comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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