Fighting for Trans Rights
What motivates a person to become an activist? It is often a deeply personal reason and, for a group of parents in Washington State, it was their love of their children. Their story is told by Vlada Knowlton in her documentary The Most Dangerous Year, which highlights families with transgender children and their struggle to maintain civil rights for transgender people during the year 2016, when several discriminatory bathroom bills were introduced in Washington State.
The people behind these bathroom bills used fear to gather support, falsely claiming that the current law encouraged sexual predators to dress as the opposite gender under false pretenses to enter a bathroom and sexually assault someone. They promoted this fear tactic despite the fact that they were well aware that there was not one documented case of this scenario during the ten years that transgender rights have been legally protected in Washington state.
Many supporters of these bills have never met an openly transgender person and were unaware that they had already been sharing public restrooms with transgender people their entire lives. Nor did they acknowledge that forcing people to use the bathroom of the gender assigned at birth would be impossible to enforce.
This lack of understanding, exposure and education was an essential part of the problem, a problem that Aidan Key, founder of Gender Diversity, attempts to address by traveling the country to educate communities about transgender issues. Aidan Key was instrumental in organizing against the bill, and in the movie he is shown educating Snohomish County School District staff on the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, an area of frequent misunderstanding.
Most people come to accept transgender kids once they understand that accepting a young child who is transgender is only about accepting their gender identity. Researchers explain that people generally realize their gender identity by age three to five, whereas people do not realize who they are sexually attracted to until closer to their teen years, or even later.
Ultimately, the anti-trans bill was voted down narrowly (losing by just one vote), but this was followed closely by another discriminatory bathroom bill, Initiative 1515, sponsored by the group “Just Want Privacy.”
As Just Want Privacy gained support for I-1515, the families with transgender kids joined the Washington Won’t Discriminate campaign. These families began telling their personal stories in front of large audiences, speaking at churches, community centers and on local news and radio shows in order to show the human face behind transgender families.
Personal stories combined with the experience of meeting transgender kids and their families had a powerful impact on previously uninformed people. There were many tears from audience members after these families spoke about fears of discrimination against their children, demonstrating that storytelling is a powerful tool for community activism.
Before learning that the initiative failed, Vlada implied that love always wins and that just by accepting their kids they had already won. This is reminiscent of the expression “love trumps hate.”
People want to believe the world is a safe place and deny the fact that our society affords us no control over many aspects of our lives. Once we acknowledge this fact, we either fall into despair or realize the necessity of organizing to change society.
This specific fight was won, in part, because brave families with transgender kids decided to organize together and publicly share their powerful and deeply personal stories. My hope is for people to see the power in telling their stories so more will join in to help increase acceptance of the trans community.
Bridget Osborn is a hospice nurse, a member of the Washington State Nurses Association and the mother of a transgender child.