Fighting Anti-Transgender Bigotry and Misinformation

When I came out to my mom at the age of 21, telling her I was gay, my voice shaking and tears in my eyes, she quickly grabbed my hand and exclaimed, “Oh honey! The most important thing to me is that you are happy.” My mother’s immediate and unwavering embrace of who I was set the stage for a life of joy, consequence and purpose. While I know that my mom would have had more questions, I know that her reaction would have been the same if I had come out as transgender. She would have loved me unconditionally. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) could learn a thing or two from my mom.

In an ignorant, uninformed and misleading tirade, last week Senator Paul questioned Dr. Rachel Levine, President Biden’s nominee for Assistant Health Secretary in a way that reflected a profoundly misinformed, stilted and stereotypical caricature of her trans-personhood. Read more about Paul’s infuriating remarks here.  If confirmed, Levin would be the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. It’s about time.

Transgender people have a gender identity or expression that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth (birth sex). It is well-established that from a very young age children understand their gender and are keenly aware when their birth sex is not aligned with their own sense of who they are.  According to the American Psychological Association, “Children usually have a sense of their gender identity between age 2 to 5 and they typically become cognizant of their sexual orientation around age 9 or 10, although this self-awareness is occurring at earlier ages, particularly as it is a topic more widely discussed and available to younger children.”

The medical community has long recognized that transgender people exist, and that transition-related care is medically necessary, effective and that such care is essential to the long-term health of children and adults. For children, transition related care does NOT include surgery, contrary to Senator Paul’s inflammatory rhetoric. Transgender people who can be themselves are just as healthy and well-adjusted as anyone else. But it is well-established that when transgender children or adults are denied age-appropriate treatment or prevented from living consistent with their gender identity, (including being subjected to conversion therapy or pressure to change/suppress their identities) it is devastatingly harmful.

Transgender identity is part of the wonder that is human diversity and the sooner our broader society, and certainly elected officials recognize this fact the sooner we will see an end to the stigma and trauma suffered by too many trans men and women. The brunt of this stigma is most borne by transgender women of color, who are targeted for violence and assault and are murdered at horrific rates. In 2020 alone over 45 transgender individuals were killed, most of them Black or Latinx transgender women.

I am proud to sit on the Board of The California Endowment as we deepen our understanding of the transgender community in California. These efforts include supporting our grantees who advocate for transgender children and adults, participating in and helping co-create public education campaigns to increase awareness and understanding of trans issues and to oppose all efforts to demean or stigmatize trans people. The Endowment is committed to ensuring that transgender Californians have access to culturally competent health care and that trans children and adults are embraced and supported to thrive. As my mom would say, we want our trans brothers and sisters to be happy. That happiness begins with fully embracing and celebrating California’s vibrant and diverse trans community.

Kate Kendell

Board member, The California Endowment

Former Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights


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