Yesterday I attended a rally and press conference for Tanesh Nutall, a Transgender Law Center client who was discriminated against by a San Francisco city employee. In 2016, she was blocked from using a women’s restroom in a city building by an employee of the Office of Citizen Complaints, who called Tanesh a “fucking man” and a “fucking freak”.
This harassment occurred in a supposedly progressive and LGBTQ-friendly city, with a Democratic government, during the Obama presidential administration. State-sanctioned discrimination and violence against black and brown folks is a real problem in San Francisco, sadly, where gentrification has reduced the black population to about three percent, and undocumented Latinx immigrants face constant fear of deportation. Add being a transgender woman to that mix, and you face the triple threat of racism, sexism, and cissexism — even when attempting the simple human act of going to the bathroom.
Of course, trans people of all races and genders have experienced harassment in restrooms and other gendered public facilities. I told my own story of being called out for using a men’s restroom in a 2015 BuzzFeed article on the subject. I haven’t had any incidents since then, but I’m still nervous when entering men’s restrooms, and prefer using gender-neutral facilities wherever possible. (Growing a beard has stopped people from misgendering me as female almost entirely, but it took four years of testosterone therapy for that to happen.)
Regardless, I recognize that trans women and transfeminine non-binary people are much more likely to be questioned and attacked when entering women’s spaces. Trans women have been portrayed by conservatives and TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) as sexual predators and rapists. Trans men and transmasculine non-binary people, when our existence is acknowledged at all, are more likely to be seen as confused, deluded, or pathetic rather than dangerous.
The racist, trans-antagonistic portrayal of black and brown trans women as violent “men” has contributed to an epidemic of violence against them. There were 26 known murders of trans people in the U.S. in 2017, and as in previous years, the victims were overwhelmingly trans women of color. We must put a stop to these killings, and that begins with addressing all trans women with the respect and dignity they deserve.
I am grateful to the Transgender Law Center for their work to end discrimination against trans people, elevate black and brown voices, and help all trans and non-binary people live more authentic lives. I’ve posted photos from yesterday’s rally on Flickr; some are also available on Wikimedia Commons. Please share and show up for black and brown trans women; they need your support.