Editorials

Far from spotlight, the really brave transgender Americans

In this still image from a YouTube video posted in February, Taylor Alesana gives makeup tips in one of a series of online videos describing her daily experiences and struggles as a transgender girl. A support group said Alesana, 16, of northern San Diego County, killed herself.
In this still image from a YouTube video posted in February, Taylor Alesana gives makeup tips in one of a series of online videos describing her daily experiences and struggles as a transgender girl. A support group said Alesana, 16, of northern San Diego County, killed herself. The Associated Press

Social media is going absolutely crazy over the big reveal of Caitlyn Jenner, the new female identity for the former Olympic champion.

Her transition to a woman is being highly orchestrated – the two-hour TV special in April, the Vanity Fair magazine spread Monday, her first public appearance to receive a courage award from ESPN in July and, of course, a new “reality” show on cable.

But whether Jenner finds peace and happiness in this very public journey should matter far, far less than the private struggles of thousands of transgender Americans of all ages.

The hard truth is that as much as public opinion has shifted in favor of gay marriage, many of us are still very uncomfortable about transgender people – and too many are intolerant, if not hateful.

Discrimination is pervasive, even more so for transgender people of color, according to an exhaustive survey done by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

More than three-fourths of transgender children said they had been harassed in school, and more than a third said they were physically assaulted. As adults, 90 percent said they were mistreated at work, and nearly half said they were denied a promotion, fired or not hired in the first place because they were transgender.

More than 70 percent of respondents said they tried to avoid discrimination by hiding their gender transition and 57 percent said they delayed their transition, according to the survey. And finally there’s this sad statistic: More than 41 percent of 6,450 respondents across the country reported attempting suicide.

“Transgender and gender nonconforming people face injustice at every turn: in childhood homes, in school systems that promise to shelter and educate, in harsh and exclusionary workplaces, at the grocery store, the hotel front desk, in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms, before judges and at the hands of landlords, police officers, health care workers and other service providers,” the report says.

That’s real life – far more real than Jenner’s next show on the E! network. That ugly portrait can’t be airbrushed like a glitzy glamour shot on the cover of Vanity Fair.

If Jenner’s example offers some hope and if all the attention she is getting increases awareness and tolerance, that’s wonderful.

But there are many Americans trying to make the same transition who don’t have a team of publicists or a supportive network of family and friends. Unknown to the masses, they’re the ones really being brave.

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