One nasty habit that has plagued the human psyche for as long as we have been around is our tendency to fear what we don’t understand. It’s normal to be uncomfortable with concepts that are different than what we see in day-to-day life, and often when we come to understand what scares us or makes us uncomfortable, those negative feelings are gone. There’s nothing wrong with ignorance in its purest sense – it happens, people can’t expect to know and understand everything about everyone.
However, since humans don’t like to be scared or uncomfortable, we often take those feelings and covert them to something much, much worse: hate.
Discussion surrounding transgender issues is something a lot of people are uncomfortable talking about simply because most people don’t understand what it means to be transgender. A lot of people don’t know anyone who is openly transgender, and will never have to concern themselves with the struggles that face the trans community.
So, what does it mean to be a transgender person? Transgender is used as an umbrella term that encompasses all those whose gender identity does not match with the gender they were assigned at birth. To simplify, for some people that might mean being born with male sexual characteristics but identifying as a female, or vice-versa. Some transgender individuals will begin living their lives as the gender they identify as rather than conforming to the traits society has placed on their birth-assigned sex. Some transgender people seek medical interference, and are often referred by doctors for hormone therapy and/or surgery in order to feel more comfortable in their body.
Being transgender is not anything scary, perverted, or wrong. It’s also not a sexual fetish, it’s not “cross dressing” or “being a transvestite,” nor is it a psychological disorder that requires fixing. But sadly, many people still hold these misguided views, and every year assumptions that being transgender is something wrong or shameful contributes to violence against innocent people.
That’s why days like the Transgender Day of Remembrance are so important to mark; to let people know that for the trans community the issues are there, the struggles are real, and the ignorance runs deep.
Transgender Day of Remembrance was started in 1998 in memory of Rita Hester who was murdered that year because of her status as a trans woman. It is now a way to remember those who have been victims of hate-fueled violence against trans people, bring awareness, and fight transphobia. More and more communities have recognized the importance of this event, and now many major cities, communities, and groups participate by holding their own vigil on or around Nov. 20.
But for as many steps that have been taken to shed light on trans issues and combat transphobia, there are others trying to push back.
An opinion piece published in the Nov. 7 edition of the Nor’wester, out of Springdale, is one example of how far we still have to go as a society.
Written by Pastor L.R. Foster, the article, titled “The transgender issue,” is so misguided and filled with so many errors about what it means to be a transgender person it’s hard to take seriously, but the disgusting, hateful language used by Foster means we must.
“I would have never imagined that I would see the day where in a publicly-funded institution a cross dressing-transgender celebration day was promoted, but to my horror that day is here,” Foster writes, speaking of course about the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Obviously a very religious Christian, Foster spends much of the column discussing how the gender binary is somehow important to living morally as a Christian.
Foster goes on to say “I do not believe in hatred, violence, or bullying of any sort,” but finishes the piece saying that we should not promote “lifestyles that are logically and morally flawed.”
Despite the obvious contradiction of saying he does not believe in bullying and hate in the midst of a hateful and bullying column, Foster suggesting that a day for remembering victims of murder and violence is “horrifying” is just one step away from siding with those that incite the violence.
As reporters, we want to present differing opinions and provoke conversation, that’s part of what the media is all about. But there’s a huge difference between holding an unpopular opinion and spreading hurtful and hateful speech. The latter is dangerous, and contributes to more hate, more violence, and more discrimination.
Needless to say, the backlash has been huge and many are very upset about the article, but there were also many that agreed with Foster’s point of view.
Coincidentally, the same week that this column was published, Justice Minister Darin King announced that protection for gender identity and gender expression will be added to the province’s human rights code. Though it’s something that should have been done a long time ago, it proves we’re moving in the right direction. But we still have a long way to go.
Each year, transgender people are victims of violence and murder, for simply being who they are. Each year, transgender people take their own lives because they’re told who they are is gross, or wrong, or bad. Every day, members of the trans community face discrimination in work, in the medical system, and in other areas that make just wanting to live their lives a struggle.
This week, I urge you to step outside your comfort zone and get educated on trans issues. Become an ally, and let others know you won’t discriminate against transgender people because of who they are. Attend or organize a Transgender day of Remembrance in your area, reach out, and be someone who contributes to acceptance and love, not violence, intolerance, and hate.
A vigil to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance will be held in Grand Falls-Windsor at 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 19 in front of the Town Hall on High Street. For more information on this event, pick up a copy of Monday’s Advertiser.