Transphobia is the new homophobia

Farron Knechtel, Columnist

Fears about transgender people using the restroom, seeking gender confirmation surgery and competing in sports appear to be on the rise from a small and vocal minority. If you are trans or otherwise LGBTQ, however, it’s probably not much of a surprise.

I’ve been openly part of the LGTBQ community for most of my life. Discrimination is nothing new for members of our community. Over the course of about two decades, I’ve seen a shift in focus in this discrimination. I’ve witnessed and lived this discrimination first hand.

I experienced frequent bullying when I was a senior in high school in 2003. My classmates called me homophobic slurs and insulted me about being “confused” by my masculine clothes and short hair. Classmates I hardly knew expressed disgust toward me or demanded to know the particulars of my sex life. I even experienced violence in my personal life.

Over all, there was an air of disdain around “gays and lesbians.” “Gay”’ was an insult synonymous with “stupid” or “lame,” and I heard my peers throw the insult around at everything: a movie or a singer they didn’t like or a chair with a broken leg. If I called my peers out on it, they became indignant or ignored me.

Hoping to find a community amidst such hostility, I became the vice president of my school’s newly founded Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). We made two appeals to the student Associated Student Body (ASB) to receive recognition as an official club and were denied each time. During the same meeting we outlined our community outreach and volunteer work, the ham radio club and collectible card gaming club were approved. We were told our club was not necessary.

After that, our GSA quietly skirted policy by “just happening” to hang out in our advisor’s classrooms. We reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). After the ACLU sent a letter to our school board outlining legal and civil rights concerns, we were allowed to keep meeting on campus.

Still, we were not allocated funding or recognized as an official school club. It was disappointing, but at least we didn’t have to sneak around. After I graduated, I busied myself with other concerns, but I never forgot my anger as my peers told me that my club, my community, had no reason to exist.

The discourse and understanding around LGBTQ identity shifted rapidly in the years that followed. I came out as trans and genderqueer. I faced confusion from my friends and loved ones all over again, and transphobic remarks from some of the gay and lesbian people I once considered friends.

Having lived through that very homophobic time in the ‘00s, I notice a lot of similarities at the apprehension cis people have toward trans people. It seems remarkably similar to the fears people had toward me as a lesbian two decades ago.

The way trans women are characterized as perverts who want to sneak into women’s restrooms or cheat at women’s sports reminds me of how girls would tell me not to stare at them in the locker room when I was minding my own business. I was treated as though I had an ulterior motive for participating in activities all the girls were doing.

When I hear concerns of cis parents afraid that their children will make sudden decisions that they regret, I remember how mental health professionals told me that being gay and questioning my gender identity were nothing more than a phase.

The overall rhetoric – that young people need to be protected from trans people, and trans people need to be protected from themselves – seems incredibly similar to fears of gays and lesbians “recruiting” in the ‘90s. The sanctity of designated gender seems like a stand-in for the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.

My trans siblings and I are frightened by the precedent these anti-trans laws are setting. The Human Rights Campaign states on that 2021 is “a record year for anti-transgender legislation.” Over 70 state bills that seek to limit the rights of trans people have been proposed this year.

Bills limiting health care for transgender youth, banning trans youth from participating in gendered sports, and other limitations of the legal rights of trans people are tracked by the ACLU at 

Lawmakers seem to be sending the message I received back in the ‘00s: you are not allowed to exist in the same way your peers do. You need to express yourself in the ways that we approve of. If you try to create a space for yourself, we will undermine you and force you to stop.

Given my years of experience, I have to hope that eventually this injustice will be seen for what it is: as backwards and cruel as the anti-gay legislation in our recent past.

In 2009, I received an email from the former president of our GSA saying that the ACLU helped him win the legal battle for recognition of our GSA. When it comes to this current fight against transphobia, I want to believe I’ll someday say the same words I did then. They’re the words I said when gay marriage was final legalized nationally, and when President Biden overturned discriminatory national policies in 2021: “Took them long enough.”