The Need for Allies in the Fight for Transgender Equality Has Never Been More Dire, Activists Say

A detail photo of a collection of small Pride Flags, and Transgender Pride Flags.
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Transgender athletes Schuyler Bailar and Rebekah Bruesehoff told Inside Edition Digital they are fighting for equality, but they cannot do it alone.

At first glance, many would assume the LGBTQ+ community is thriving.

More Americans are more inclusive and tolerant. In 2004, 60% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, and 31% were in favor of it, whereas in 2019, those groups had reversed in percentages, as 61% of those spoken to said they were in favor of same-sex marriage and 31% were opposed to it, according to The Washington Post.

More people than ever believe themselves to be open-minded, progressive and willing to fight in support of LGBTQ+ rights. And more companies are supporting and becoming allies to the community and their fight as well.

The entertainment industry is slowly but surely becoming more inclusive in casting, hiring and representation. Celebrities like JoJo Siwa, Elliot Page, Colton Underwood, Demi Lovato, David Archuleta, Sam Smith and many more have publicly shared their transitions, journeys and stories. As a result, they have become role models for their fans and others in the community who are struggling.

President Biden has also made several progressive stances in support of equality. He recently issued a proclamation stating that June would be recognized as Pride Month. “While I am proud of the progress my Administration has made in advancing protections for the LGBTQ+ community, I will not rest until full equality for LGBTQ+ Americans is finally achieved and codified into law," he said in the proclamation.

Other steps the Biden administration has taken to support the LGBTQ+ community include extending protection against discrimination based on gender equality and sexual orientation, revoking former President Donald Trump’s order that banned federal agencies and other recipients of federal funding from conducting diversity training that included training on sexual orientation and gender identity, and repealing the ban on transgender people serving in the military, according to The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the U.S.'s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy groups. Pete Buttigieg also became the first openly LGBTQ+ cabinet member.

And what advocates have called another massive step in the right direction is that Laurel Hubbard, a weightlifter from New Zealand, will be the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics.

Even so, the LGBTQ+ fight for equality and fairness is far from over, especially for those in the transgender community. Last year was the deadliest year on record for violence against transgender or gender-nonconforming people, the HRC states. There are currently hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills that have been introduced in state legislature. 

And 2021 has been a record-breaking year for anti-transgender legislation.

“Thirty-three states have introduced more than 100 bills that aim to curb the rights of transgender people across the country” CNN reported. The states, which all have Republican governors, include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Idaho, Tennessee and North Dakota.

At least 115 bills are being considered that target the transgender community, data from the HRC showed. It is the highest number of bills targeting the transgender community the organization has seen be considered in one period since it began tracking legislation that targets the LGBTQ+ community more than 15 years ago. "These bills represent a cruel effort to further stigmatize and discriminate against LGBTQ youth across the country, specifically trans youth who simply want to live as their true selves and grow into who they are," the HRC wrote.

These bills target transgender people's access to healthcare, limit youth access to curriculum about LGBTQ+ people and issues and restrict which bathrooms transgender people can use. Many focus on restricting where and how transgender athletes can compete.

"Transgender kids are just like other kids," Rebekah Bruesehoff, 14, told Inside Edition Digital. "These headlines make us out to be so scary, but we're just not. On the field, it doesn't matter. I'm a part of the team. I'm not the best, but I'm out there trying my hardest just like everyone else."

Bruesehoff was thrust into the spotlight in 2017 after attending a rally in Jersey City, New Jersey. She and her mom attended to talk about the Trump administration rescinding the guidelines for transgender students, but it was a photo of her that went viral and got more attention. 

In it, she held a sign saying, "I'm the scary transgender person the media warned you about." 

Rebekah, who will enter high school in the fall, plays field hockey. And she uses her platform to stress the importance of allowing trans athletes to compete without limitations. 

"I could talk about hormones or puberty blockers, I could talk about the statistics that show that these bills are trying to solve a problem that just doesn't exist, I could talk about so many things, but really what it comes down to is these kids just want to be included," Rebekah's mother, Jamie Bruesehoff, told Inside Edition Digital. "Kids like Rebekah aren't trying to dominate in their sports or steal anyone's scholarship. They are trying to be a part of their school community, hang out with their friends, and have fun playing a game they love."

Rebekah lives in a state where she is protected by anti-discrimination laws, but she still fights for those who aren't so lucky. 

"Being transgender has never been an issue on my athletic teams, and I hope that will continue to be the case," she said. "Of course, all the anti-trans legislation across the country makes me feel uneasy, even knowing that my experience has always been positive and the law is on my side. That's important for people to understand. Even if you're in a state with supportive laws and a supportive community, these attacks on transgender athletes are hard and scary."

Another former athlete who uses their platform to bring awareness to transgender issues, among other things, is Schuyler Bailar. He attended Harvard University and was the first openly transgender Division I swimmer in the NCAA. 

The 25-year-old is now a public speaker, activist and author and focuses on educating others. 

On Schuyler's website and Instagram page, he has a no-nonsense, here-are-the-facts approach to educating those who wish to learn about the LGBTQ+ community. And he makes it difficult for naysayers and those who oppose equality to argue against what he's saying because of his direct approach. 

"I am empowered, in my own truth. It says that I put the facts out there, and I'm not going to entertain people who are going to argue with facts," he told Inside Edition Digital. "The things that I share, and I try to do a really good job of this, and I try to focus on this as much as I can, I try to share facts. And the things that we often are, fought with are not facts. They are bigotry, they are transphobia, they are things people pawn as ‘well just listen to the science’ and then if you actually go look at the science, right, the facts agree with trans people."

Schuyler believes lawmakers who insist on attacking and demeaning transgender people, especially transgender women, are motivated by the need to have control. 

"This policing of women's bodies is not new. Trans women are just the next target. Or the next sort of proxy or scapegoat for the arguments, and the sexism, and misogyny, and racism," Schuyler said. "Athletes, specifically Black women, are most attacked. As they are everywhere else in the world, as well."

"But women of color are the most attacked of any other demographic. And in sports, we see constantly women's bodies being policed for many different reasons, and especially Black women," he said. "You've seen Serena Williams, Caster Semenya, and now, Sha’Carri Richardson has been policed as well and called a man. Black women are often perceived as not woman enough for many different reasons. And the landmark case that began these attacks on trans women were to Black trans girls. And there's no coincidence there."

And although it sometimes feels like the fight for equality is an uphill battle, advocates are tirelessly working towards change. For Rebekah, that includes sharing her amazing story. 

"We have to keep making our voices heard and sharing our stories because more than anything else, people learn from and are changed by personal connections," she said.

It also includes working with the GenderCool project. "GenderCool is a national story-telling campaign to replace opinions with real-life interactions with transgender youth," she said of the organization. "We focus on who we are instead of what we are. The fact is that transgender kids are so much more than their identity. We are athletes, authors, singers, future CEOs and politicians, and more. We are trying to make the world a more inclusive place to live and work."

With GenderCool, Rebekah co-authored her first book, "A Kids Book About Being Inclusive," which focuses on teaching children about inclusivity.

Schuyler publicly shares his story, holds seminars, keeps people in the know with a constant flow of information and resources on his website and social media pages, and he sets an example for others with similar stories. 

He also takes his advocacy one step further, holding several support groups for trans and queer people to have a safe place and another resource in the community. 

"Anywhere from 20 to 50 people come to those monthly groups, and I love them," he said. "I think they're really lovely spaces for queer and trans people to connect with each other. And they're global groups, and we have people from all over the world that join them and just really need space."

Though always ready to advocate for themselves and the transgender community, what's needed most to see real progress is further action by allies, Rebekah, Jamie and Schuyler said. 

"We need LGBTQ allies to step up right now," Jamie said. "We need them to correct misinformation, share positive stories, and be boldly and loudly supportive of the trans community."

One of the easiest places to start becoming involved in allyship is by getting to know more trans people and becoming dedicated to educating oneself, Schuyler said.  

"I think that people need to be exposing themselves to trans and queer people. I think that a lot of times, people think, 'Oh, well, that doesn't apply to me. I don't know anybody,’ or ‘Oh, I’m not mean, so, therefore, I'm not bad,'" Schuyler said. "Most people hold biases in one way, shape, or form because the world is biased, right? We grew up in a sexist, misogynistic, racist, transphobic world, and so we have to take time to unlearn those things."

"Following trans people online I think is a huge way to start your ally-ship because then you are consistently exposed to us and then you can't say ‘oh, I don't know somebody’ or ‘I never heard of that before’ because you just learn about it by following us," he continued. 

Jamie stressed the importance of voting, noting it is the only way to combat the legislation being put in place that targets the trans community. "Please vote! We have to show elected officials that are doing harm that we will hold them accountable with our voice and our vote," she said. "Even if they aren't doing the most egregious harm, if they aren't putting themselves on the line for transgender youth, then they are complicit."

"There's data that shows that the majority of people support LGBTQ+ equality, and yet we hear the voices of those against it so much more," Jamie continued. "They are loud and relentless. We need allies to be just as loud and relentless. Push for the Equality Act. Speak out against harmful legislation. Don't avoid conversations because they're uncomfortable. Trans lives depend on it."

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