As human beings, we each have a gender identity and deserve to live it authentically. But sadly it is often more difficult for people to be supportive and respectful, express love and show tolerance for, or maintain open and honest communication with someone whose gender identity, expression, or beliefs differ from their own expectations about gender. This challenge is faced by people all across the gender spectrum, but it is especially concerning for transgender adults and youth because they are so often mislabeled, misunderstood, and marginalized by the majority of other people within their communities.
At Equality Utah, we envision a fair and just Utah for all of its citizens and believe that, in spite of our personal and cultural biases, we can all show mutual respect and kindness toward each other regardless of any differences between our gender identities or gender expressions. Doing so will help transgender people feel valued and accepted also as members of our communities. Ultimately, every person has a gender identity, we each want to live our own authentically, and we deserve to do so without fear of being shamed or rejected.
What does the term transgender mean?
One barrier that transgender people face when trying to gain acceptance and understanding from others is that the term transgender may feel ambiguous or confusing to others because it is often used, in a more general sense, to include other categories of gender identity and of gender expressions.
But the term gender expression refers to the manner in which each person expresses their gender identity and includes but is not limited to their appearance, mannerisms, actions, or other characteristics of an individual with or without regard to the person’s sex at birth. We see and tolerate many differences in each other’s gender expressions every day. The term gender identity refers instead to a person’s individual sense of being a particular gender (e.g., being a man, a woman, or another gender that doesn’t fit within these limited categories), regardless of that person’s biological sex.
So, a transgender person is someone whose sex at birth is different than that person’s gender identity—who they know themselves to be on the inside. Also, the term transgender does not refer to the person’s sexual orientation (i.e., that individual’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or opposite sex).
The LGBTQ community is very diverse and appreciates specific terms that help to express each person’s individuality. By using inclusive language, all of us can help to ensure more positive and respectful communication.
See Equality Utah’s “Language of Inclusion” guide for other specific terms and their definitions.
Unique Challenges for Transgender Utahns
Transgender people are members of every community here in Utah. But, unlike some members of the LGBTQ community, transgender individuals face unique challenges that make it harder to feel safe being their authentic selves.
For many transgender people, everyday routines—from using public transportation to showing ID—can be incredibly stressful. The challenges become even greater when transgender Utahns have to navigate important life activities—like interviewing for jobs, accessing medical care, gaining education in schools, filling out employment or housing applications, or receiving fair treatment in any gender-segregated facility or government agency.
In Utah, only 20% of people report that they know a transgender person, compared to the 80% of Utahns who report knowing a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person. This lack of visibility leaves our transgender population vulnerable because it’s a common human response to fear what we don’t know. And, sometimes, this fear leads to discrimination, harassment, or even violence.
Despite these challenges, we’re making progress as a community on a wide range of issues, including:
- Safer school laws
- Stricter hate crime laws
- More inclusive non-discrimination laws
These laws help many transgender people support themselves and their families, live more safely, and participate more fully in their communities.
Our Current Efforts to Secure Rights for Transgender Utahns
In 2015, we successfully advocated for a historic LGBTQ anti-discrimination law, SB 296. This law makes it illegal for landlords and employers to discriminate against LGBTQ people simply for being who they are.
At Equality Utah, we still have more work to do. So we’re continuing to advocate for policy changes on critical issues that affect transgender people’s everyday lives, which include the following:
- Policies that help LGBTQ Utahns get access to health care and insurance coverage.
- Policies to provide gender-neutral restrooms throughout the community.
- Policies to enable transgender people to use the restrooms that are consistent with their gender identities.
Health Care and Insurance Coverage for Transgender People
Like many laws that affect transgender people, whether they can access health care depends on what state they live in. Transgender people living in California or New York, for example, can usually access the medical care they need. That’s because both of those states have laws that require insurance companies to cover medical services designed for transgender people.
But insurance companies in Utah don’t cover many of these critical health services. Instead, they are legally allowed to deny coverage for the specific health conditions and medical treatments that transgender people need. Utah’s laws have also made it difficult for health care professionals to provide the best care they can to their transgender patients.
Fortunately, some medical groups—like the American Medical Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health—support insurance coverage for trans-related health care. They recognize that treatments like hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery are just as medically necessary as treatments for diabetes or heart disease.
However, some lawmakers, employers, and insurance companies still argue that it costs too much money to provide the medical care transgender people need. But, in reality, studies have shown that providing medical services is cost-effective, especially since providing medical services for transgender people reduces the need for additional mental health services and therapy down the road.
And, ultimately, providing insurance coverage for the health care that transgender people need is the right thing to do.
Lobbying for Equal Access and for Gender-Neutral Public Restrooms
Like many other everyday routines people sometimes take for granted, being able to use the restroom that matches your gender identity is something that can actually be a very stressful experience for transgender people. Some states—including California, Nevada, and 16 others—guarantee transgender people equal access to public accommodations and the right to use the restrooms that match their gender identities.
Although Utah doesn’t have any laws that restrict access to public accommodations per se, our state also doesn’t have any laws that guarantee equal access and rights to public accommodations for our transgender community.
Additionally, at Equality Utah, we believe that passing laws requiring gender-neutral restrooms would be no different from the other laws that have been passed to provide equal rights and show basic respect for LGBTQ Utahns. Helping transgender Utahns be able to use a single-occupancy bathroom stall that protects their dignity and feels comfortable and safe to them is just common sense. That’s why we’re working toward this policy change to be included within Utah’s existing public accommodations laws—so that a person’s gender identity will never stand in the way of their right to access public services and accommodations in our state.
Additional Resources Related to Transgender Equality
Here are some other online resources that may be useful to transgender Utahns, their families, and other allies:
- Negotiating for Inclusive Health Insurance Coverage (Transgender Law Center)
- Transgender-Inclusive Benefits for Employees and Dependents (Human Rights Campaign)
- Equal Access to Public Bathrooms
- National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ report on transgender violence in 2016
- Workplace Rights and Wrongs
- Transition Related Health Care
- Voting While Trans: Preparing for Voter ID Laws
- TEA of Utah (Transgender Education Advocates)
Enabling Transgender Utahns to Live Authentically without Fear or Despair
At Equality Utah, we strive to provide information and resources and advocate for laws and policies that will enabling transgender Utahns to live authentically without fear of harassment or rejection, which can damage a person’s self-confidence and destroy their hope for the future.
We agree with the Mama Dragons, an organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering mothers by providing “healthy, loving, and supportive environments for mothers of LGBTQIA children,” that it is especially important for parents to show that they are not just allies with their transgender youth but are also “with them on this journey.”
For ideas, check out our page on “Affirming Practices for Parents and Allies of Transgender Youth.”
Affirming Practices for Parents and Allies of Transgender Youth
Although affirming practices are sometimes more difficult for parents and allies of LGBTQ youth to implement, these are essential for maintaining trust and building strong and lasting relationships with them. According to the Mama Dragons website, the following five affirming parenting practices can help. These guidelines are essential for all parents and allies of transgender youth and adults to understand if they wishing to strengthen the self-esteems and senses of self-worth for LGBTQ youth and adults.
1. Create a supportive family environment.
2. Require respect within the family.
3. Express love and support for your child’s gender expression.
4. Allow zero tolerance for disrespect, negative comments, or pressure.
5. Maintain open and honest communication with your child.
For more details about these parenting practices, suggestions for following them, and other helpful resources about supporting transgender adults or youth, please click here.
Transgender Utahns Who Choose to Transition
Transgender adults and youth face a unique set of challenges, expectations, and assumptions as they seek acceptance and understanding from others, especially if and when they choose to transition from one expressed gender to another and when and how they will come out to their family and friends. Each of these is a difficult decision that could have lasting and often negative consequences for the person and the people they care about. But positive consequences are also possible, especially if they have supportive people who care about them.
For additional help and ideas, check out this set of tips from the Mama Dragons website for responding in affirming, supportive ways when someone has just come out to you as being transgender.
Respectfully Addressing and Referring to Transgender People
As is true with anyone we interact with, being respectful and kind to transgender people means using the terms they prefer to be referred to with by other people, whether they are around or not. This includes using their preferred pronouns and names.
If we don’t know what they prefer, we should ask them. And, if we can’t ask them about their preferred pronouns, we can just use their first name. Asking everyone what pronouns they prefer is part of being polite. This is especially helpful for transgender people because it shows them that they can be their whole selves around us.
If someone has come out to you, you may want to also ask them who is allowed to know about their gender identity or sexual orientation. Additionally, to protect their privacy and show our support, if a transgender person is being misidentified or is being referred to with pronouns they do not prefer, we should first find out how and if they would like us to be an ally. Then, to show them basic respect, we should honor those decisions and not share their private information with others that they don’t trust.
For definitions of respectful LGBTQ terms, check out this glossary of transgender terms from GLAAD.