March 31st marks the annual Transgender Day of Visibility, an international holiday that celebrates transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. The day is dedicated to acknowledging all that has been accomplished to promote trans equality and justice in the face of adversity. It is also a time to raise awareness around the discrimination that unfortunately still exists.

Visibility Makes a Difference

While progress has been made, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals continue to face severe discrimination and systemic inequality, especially right here in Ohio. This can be and has been attributed to a lack of understanding. Many people don’t know the journey of transgender youth and adults and the barriers that society presents. In fact, a public opinion survey found that only 30% of participants knew someone who is transgender, a statistic that continues to be part of ongoing conversations around why visibility is so important.

Knowing someone who identifies as transgender is associated with elevated support for transgender people and their rights. A growing research base suggests that information sharing, such as having a simple conversation, can reduce transphobia. And a study conducted by the Williams Institute in 2018 found that viewing images of transgender and gender non-conforming people can increase support for trans equality, again underscoring the significance of representation.

Why does this matter? In short – being visible (and vocal) is a catalyst for change. And we need change!

Visibility is a powerful tool in shattering stigma and altering perceptions. When transgender youth and adults share their stories, it demystifies the “unknown.” Increased awareness fosters affirmation, acceptance, and inclusion. This is why we need statewide policies and laws that not only allow but encourage all of members of the transgender community to feel physically and emotionally safe to live their lives openly and authentically.

The Current Ohio Landscape

Sadly, Ohio is taking steps in the opposite (and wrong) direction as two bills attacking transgender youth have recently been introduced in the Ohio legislature.

  • HB 513 prohibits evidence-based health care for LGBTQ youth and criminalizes the providers who offer them services and supports. The bill goes against what we know to be true, which is that access to gender-affirming care improves mental health and overall well-being. The bill named, “Vulnerable Child Protection Act,” will NOT protect vulnerable children, rather it will put transgender youth at further risk for negative outcomes. This is extremely dangerous as transgender youth exhibit higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation compared to their peers.
  • HB 527 – the so-called “Save Women’s Sports Act” – excludes transgender students from participating in sports that match their gender identity. The bill singles out transgender women and girls and keeps them from participating in activities that promote teamwork, relationship-building, and self-confidence. It’s blatant discrimination that is in conflict with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)’s policy pertaining to transgender student-athletes and raises concerns around Title IX considerations.

There can be fear in the unfamiliar, and that sentiment is exactly what these bills aim to exploit. Ohio lawmakers leading the charge are encouraging discrimination and spreading misinformation. It’s irresponsible, ill-conceived, and detrimental to transgender youth and their families. The introduction of these bills, and the message that they send, demonstrates the need for greater visibility. Education on the science, or lack thereof, behind these bills is crucial in promoting affirmation and acceptance of youth.

Increased awareness is also needed to continue to advance the Ohio Fairness Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite the fact that roughly seven in ten Ohioans report that they favor LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies, we are still waiting for Ohio legislators to extend basic statewide protections to our 461,000 LGBT residents.

All Ohioans, no matter who they are or who they love, should be protected from discrimination at work, in housing and public accommodations. The LGBTQ community and advocates have been pushing for these basic protections since 2003. Silver lining though, we are seeing positive movement on this front. Not only have over 850 business signed on in support, but the current bipartisan bill has received several hearings in the Senate, and recently an identical bill was introduced in the House, which demonstrates broad support in passing much needed (and long overdue) non-discrimination legislation.

Show Support!

Transgender youth and adults deserve equality now. They aren’t a statistic; they are your classmates, neighbors, coworkers, and family members. The best way to show your support and raise awareness for the transgender community is by taking action. Here are a few ways to foster inclusivity on March 31st and every day.