Do you remember what the world was like 20 years ago? I do. Back then, we were not equal citizens. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was still in place, and we were still years from achieving Marriage Equality. We were not protected by policy and the murder of Matthew Shepard lingered in the back of our minds, giving validation to our worst fears – that what happened to Matthew could happen to us.
I was a teenager, desperately wanting to come out and find my tribe, but afraid to do so. During those times it wasn’t uncommon for us to be disowned by our families, to be harassed, to be discriminated against, and to always be cautious of how much we shared of ourselves, lest we out ourselves to an unsympathetic person and face the consequences. I knew I needed to be true to myself and my loved ones, but I also knew that once I came out I would be making myself vulnerable to a sometimes hostile, violent world. I was afraid I would be the next Matthew.
Now, 20 years later, our community has achieved incredible social and political progress. When Marriage Equality was recognized at the federal level, I realized that, for the first time, I was a fully equal citizen. It was an amazing feeling, like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.
But I only felt that way because I am a cisgender gay man, meaning that my gender identity and my biological sex align. For those in our trans, non-binary, intersex, and gender expansive community, there may be a feeling that one foot is in the present, and the other is firmly rooted in the past of 20 years ago.
The reason is policy. Socially and politically, those comprising the T in the LGBTQ community are still experiencing many of the same problems our general community faced 20 years ago. Politicians and various leaders, including school administrators, have been working on the “which bathroom can be used?” question for years and, while they argue, the Trump administration has been making concerted efforts to limit and even revoke the civil rights of trans, non-binary, intersex, and gender expansive people. They believe civil rights and protections were given to people who don’t “deserve” them.
If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. These actions affect everyone in the LGBTQ community, but the trans community is being hit hardest. There has been a steady increase in the number of trans people, particularly trans women of color, dying from fatal violence in recent years: 22 in 2015, 23 in 2016, at least 29 in 2017 (possibly more), and at least 22 in 2018. The increase in violence is a reflection of policy and politics – as efforts to limit and revoke the rights of our trans community increase, so does the violence they experience. Our community is in danger.
Overall, our community is in a much better place now than we were 20 years ago. However, the trans community, with fewer numbers and less social and political power, are still in crisis. Now is the time to band together, to unite and fight for the rights and safety of the most vulnerable members of our community who helped us move forward while inadequate policies and resources held them back. We are a community, and communities work together to help and protect its members.
If you remember what life was like twenty years ago, I hope you also empathize with our trans community, who are in many ways still living in the reality of the past. I also hope you’ll remember how our struggles made us stronger, more resilient, and appreciate the strength of the T in our community. More importantly, we all have the power to be the person we needed 20 years ago. Be that person for someone today.
- Brian George Hose has been an advocate for LGBTQ persons and issues all his adult life. He holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Shepherd University and looks forward to pursuing a Master's of Social Work with a focus in mental health. A former musician, Brian served as minister of music for New Light MCC for several years and incorporates music into social work practice. He lives in rural Western Maryland where he has amassed a sinful number of books, yarn, and books about yarn. He has been writing for Baltimore Out Loud since February 2016.