NEW YORK (AP) — These are pivotal times for transgender Americans, as they gain in visibility yet remain buffeted by bias and misunderstanding.
Five things to know about this diverse community and the challenges it faces:
According to demographer Gary Gates of the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, an estimated 3.4 percent of American adults identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, while only one-tenth that many — about 700,000 — are transgender. Yet there’s growing awareness of the transgender community, fueled by positive portrayals on popular TV shows, an array of campaigns to expand transgender rights, and recurring reports of homicides and suicides claiming the lives of transgender people.
Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from the gender they had at birth. Gender identity is different from sexual orientation; a transgender person may be straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual. Some transgender people alter their bodies via hormones or surgery, but advocacy groups stress that being transgender is not dependent upon medical procedures.
VIOLENCE AND SUICIDES
Thirteen transgender people were murdered in 2014 and seven more so far this year, nearly all of them Black or Latina, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a leading national LGBT-rights organization
Suicide also is a problem. According to a survey of 6,450 transgender people by the National LGBTQ Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, 41 percent of respondents reported attempting suicide.
Just two weeks ago, a 16-year-old transgender girl who spoke on YouTube about being bullied at school in Southern California killed herself. A local support group said Taylor Alesana was constantly picked on by peers before taking her life.
For activists, a paramount goal is to end the military’s ban on transgender people serving openly in the armed forces. The new defense secretary, Ash Carter, has said he is open-minded on the policy, which is part of a broader ongoing review of enlistment standards. However, defense officials say some of Carter’s top advisers have serious reservations, related to such issues as where transgender troops would be housed, which bathrooms they would use and whether their presence would affect the cohesiveness of small units. Despite the official ban, some studies and surveys estimate that 15,000 transgender people serve in the active duty military and the reserves, often in secret but sometimes with the knowledge of their commander or peers.
Activists acknowledge that gender-identity issues could pose challenges for the military, but they note that some allied nations — including Australia, Canada and Britain — allow transgender people to serve in uniform.
In several recent cases, lawyers for transgender prison inmates have gone to court demanding that corrections officials provide hormone treatment or sex-reassignment surgery for their clients. California’s corrections department has appealed a federal judge’s order to provide such surgery to a 51-year-old inmate. A similar order in Massachusetts, affecting an inmate convicted of murder, is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Georgia, the corrections department this month changed its policy just days after the U.S. Justice Department weighed in on a lawsuit filed by a transgender prisoner. The Justice Department said prison officials must treat an inmate’s gender identity condition just as they would treat any other medical or mental health condition.
The issue also has arisen in regard to convicted national security leaker Chelsea Manning, who requested hormone therapy and other treatment for her gender dysphoria while she’s in military prison. Under pressure from a lawsuit, the Army recently approved hormone therapy for the prisoner, who was arrested as Bradley Manning.
Manning would have been discharged from the Army, but she first has to finish her 35-year sentence at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
For opponents of transgender rights, one line of attack is to oppose policies that would allow people to choose whether to use a men’s or women’s bathroom based on gender identity. In California, some conservative activists are planning an attempt in 2016 to repeal a state law that allows transgender students to choose which school restrooms they use and whether to play on boys’ or girls’ sports teams. Proponents of the repeal instead want to require people to use “facilities in accordance with their biological sex in all government buildings.”
In Nevada, some Republican lawmakers broke party ranks on Tuesday and voted with Democrats to kill a bill that would have required students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their biological sex. A similar bill remains pending in Florida’s House of Representatives.