Now it is personal. I’ve been reacting for months to President Donald Trump and his attacks on people and the media, and his attempts to dismantle Obama-era policies that I believed were effective and fair.
I joined the women’s march the day after the inauguration. I’ve posted articles and made comments on Facebook. I’ve tried to listen to defenders of Trump to understand where they’re coming from, even though I often strongly disagree.
But last week Trump and his administration rocked me to the core. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department will take the position that transgender people are not protected by a civil rights law that bans discrimination in the workplace based on sex. The order reverses an Obama Justice Department order to view “sex” under the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include gender identity, thus protecting transgender people from discrimination.
I read about the announcement on my phone as I was sitting next to my son at a Minnesota Lynx celebration. My celebratory mood instantly turned sour and then to anger.
My son is transgender. He just graduated college, a small, liberal-arts school in rural Illinois. He worked his tail off in class and in the pool, where he swam three years on the women’s team and his senior year on the men’s team. He spent 10 weeks on an internship in his native China (he was adopted as a baby), working in a center for kids with autism and other challenges. He came home full of enthusiasm and ready to join the workforce. He had three job offers and took a position at a well-known Twin Cities nonprofit, where he will be working with kids with autism, which was his goal.
But now the Trump administration is saying to him and thousands of other transgender people that we don’t have your back. You fall outside the class of people we will stand up for. In a land in which the Declaration of Independence declares that all men are created equal, you can be discriminated against.
According to the New York Times: “That position is not just a reversal from the Obama-era stance, but it would also put the Justice Department at odds with the view of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, another part of the federal government that deals with discrimination in the workplace.”
The policy also seems to be at odds with what then-Republican-nominee Trump said about LGBTQ people in his speech at the 2016 convention in Cleveland. Citing the attack on the gay club in Orlando by a man who claimed allegiance to ISIS, Trump said: “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.”
But apparently the American ideology that says it’s OK to discriminate against transgender people is acceptable.
My family and I have learned a lot through my son’s transition. He came out a couple of years ago, but he told me that despite being born a female, he always felt like a male since he could remember. He just didn’t know how to express those feelings.
One thing that really stands out in our learning process is that it’s so important to know an individual who is going through change or who is different from you in some way in terms of gender, race, religion or ethnicity. It is personal. That relationship overshadows broad generalizations about a group. It seems simple, but we tend to ignore that human connection when we make statements about groups or enact policies that discriminate.
My son transitioned during college. Many of his classmates and teammates had different political views, but they rallied around him. His coach, a former state trooper, was incredibly supportive and paved the way for him to realize his dream of swimming on the men’s team. Teammates’ parents were respectful and supportive. His myriad relatives from both sides rallied to his side, despite varying political and social perspectives.
An article in his college paper about his transition that was later published in a national online swim site drew dozens of positive comments. And friends and teammates from over the years cheered him on in their Facebook comments when he made the announcement.
So it is personal. When you know someone as a friend, as a human being, it is much harder to make generalizations about a group. And it is much harder to make discriminatory policies.
The president and Attorney General Sessions need to think about people like my son and the thousands like him, about their lives, about their contributions now and in the future, about their humanity, before they make their shoot-from-the-hip policies. It is very personal.
Doug Stone, of St. Paul, is a former journalist who now works as a communications consultant for Twin Cities nonprofits.