By Cassandra Devereaux
Three days after the leak of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services memo outlining its plan to narrowly define people’s sex (and gender) based on genitals at birth, another front in Trump’s war on transgender people opened.
The Department of Justice sent a brief to the Supreme Court on October 24 telling them that civil rights laws forbidding discrimination based on sex did not apply to transgender persons. Moreover, the brief asked them to hear three cases in which lower courts have upheld the interpretation that has protected trans and intersex people.
The administration’s goal is to allow employers to fire and refuse to hire trans and intersex people, who are already a brutally marginalized population.
The execution of these reactionary policies, while yet restrained by constitutional constraints, is intended to rob transgender people of the ability to procure the material needs of survival. In late 2017, it was found that the trans population faced a 16 percent unemployment rate, as compared to 9 percent for the general population. It is not likely that this discrimination has eased over the past year.
Coupled with the government’s removal of all references to trans people or the trans experience from the websites for the U.S. Health Department and the Office of Civil Rights, we can clearly see these actions as a form of ultimatum. Trans people are to either become invisible by conforming to the narrow constraints of these reactionary views of gender and sexuality, or we die.
The administration’s insistence that its actions are done with the intent of “protecting Americans” is not only dehumanizing, but underscores that they see us as a threat which needs to stop existing. Given the astronomic suicide rate in these affected communities, it is certain that many will die because of this bigotry.
The depravity of capitalism
By the time the DOJ brief was issued, trans, non-binary and intersex persons and advocates of justice writ large had already risen as one to confront the tyrannical plan issued by DHHS. The spontaneous and fierce #WontBeErased movement has staunchly defended the dignity and integrity of transgender people by confronting the forces of reaction.
We cannot neglect discussing the material realities that come from the rescinding of protections in employment and housing. Many trans people are shunted into the perils of the underground economy, especially into the perils of sex work — the singular value many acribe to us. In the vulnerability of sex work, many people, especially trans women of color, are lost to murder.
In the 2015 U.S. Transgender survey, it was revealed that 20 percent of all respondents had engaged in illegal activity to secure subsistence at some point, and 19 percent had engaged specifically in sex work for income, food or just a place to sleep indoors. The likelihood of engaging in such work climbed steeply for respondents of color, more than doubling for Black and Native peoples.
Meanwhile, the study found 30 percent have been homeless at some point in their lives, up from 26 percent in the previous year. Again, we find a steep climb in homelessness for trans and nonbinary people of color. This paints a dire portrait of a population in grevious need of basic means of survival.
The withholding of the things human beings require for survival illustrates the depravity of capitalism. People starve in a world where there is food enough for everybody, go without shelter while there are enough empty homes for all, and die of easily curable diseases. To provide for all, however, would cut into the profits of the billionaires.
African-Americans and other people of color have long been denied housing. Trump himself was once sued by the Justice Department for his racist “no vacancy” practice. People of color are frequently passed over for opportunities, jobs and promotions and thus kept as an underclass in perpetuity.
Terror versus hope
In order to remove trans people from society, Trump has moved to enshrine into law the right of employers to carry out precisely this kind of discrimination against trans and nonbinary people. We will be denied any legal recourse while the state gives its blessing and encouragement for these injustices.
The white terror we’ve been seeing — mail bombs, random slayings of Black people, a massacre at a synagogue — might seem unconnected, but they are intimately entwined. Each facet of this terror is a menacing attempt to return to a status quo where white, cisgender and heterosexual men wielded severe control over everybody else, where they kept us in our place economically, socially and in every facet of our lives upon pain of death.
Looking at the frightful surge of fascist ideology and violence, it is easy to feel the ghosts of an ignoble past rising against us, threatening to pull us down into the hells of our shared past. But there is hope.
Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro once said, “A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.” This eloquently describes the times we are in. We will either be crushed by the past or win the future. Some hope to tread water, believing that if only an election goes the right way it will return us to a better time. This won’t and cannot happen, because our problems stem from capitalism itself and the social reaction needed to prop up the system.
It is time to let the systems of the past fall away. To protect us all, it’s time for trans people, people of color, religious minorities and all other oppressed people to come together. It’s time for workers of the world to unite. It’s as true now as when it was first said: We have nothing to lose but our chains.