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Being Trans in Covid-19

Marginalizing the marginalized

It’s been more than a year since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold and its effects have left no community, family or individual untouched by its impact.

We’ve been told that we’re all in this together, but our experiences of Covid-19 aren’t the same. In 2020, we began an article series to highlight the inequalities that exist within our system as well as the communities made vulnerable by systemic failures and discrimination that face higher barriers and challenges to accessing healthcare and essential services.

For 2021, we’re reconnecting with our featured contributors, like Mara Keisling, Executive Director for The National Center for Transgender Equality, to learn how the pandemic is impacting their communities one year later.

Being Trans in Covid-19: 2021 update

The pandemic has been as rough as expected for trans people who already tended to be more marginalized than non-trans people. But I think it has also been much harder than expected for at least two reasons. First, murders of Black and other trans women of color have increased dramatically in 2020 and are spiking even higher this year. Second, anti-trans state legislators in dozens of American states have been coming after trans children with a brutal barrage of discriminatory legislation and official, disrespectful and dehumanizing speech aimed at using these children for political gain. It has been absolutely shameful. But trans resilience has been put to the test and is holding strong as a whole.

To learn more about the work of the National Center for Transgender Equality, follow @transequalitynow. Mara’s original piece appeared on our website in June 2020. Read on to learn more about her insight on being trans in Covid-19.

Being Trans in Covid-19: Marginalizing the marginalized

Transgender people in the United States have advanced our visibility and acceptance as fast as any group in history. And our rights—at least under the law—have progressed just as quickly. Yet there is no illusion that we have attained final victory or that we are not still being battered by society, by our government and, too often still, by our families. Even with our advancement, we still experience rates of unemployment, homelessness and healthcare discrimination at crisis levels.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated this crisis for many trans and gender non-conforming people. And we know that the benefits and the harms are not shared evenly across all trans people, with trans people of color and lower-income folks facing the brunt. There are some themes that ring through lots of trans communities. The same forces that cause the disrespect, discrimination and violence so many of us face make this crisis especially acute for many trans people. These forces—stigmatization, marginalization and criminalization—run clearly through all of the increased pain we face in this pandemic.

Of course, trans people have always been stigmatized in modern society. We are called “troubled,” “confused,” “ill,” “dangerous” and “disposable.” This gives license to those who hate us to mistreat us, permission to fire us, to deny us healthcare and even to banish us from our homes and families. The effects of this mistreatment and hatred are currently felt painfully by kids, teenagers and even adults who are now forced to shelter with family or others who don’t accept or nurture them and may degrade, disrespect or even physically hurt them.

The stigmatization also enables the marginalization that infuses each opportunity and reality of every trans person. Our US Trans Survey has shown that trans people face marginalization in the form of discrimination throughout all aspects of society. We are marginalized in education and employment. The survey showed we are more than two and a half times more likely to be living in poverty. And like other marginalized groups of people in the United States, this comes with less or no access to healthcare.

Mara and members of National Center For Transgender Equality are active advocates for Trans health protection.

Members of National Center For Transgender Equality protest at President's Park in Washington, D.C.

The marginalization and stigmatization also amplify other challenges we face in the current health and economic crises. According to the last US Trans Survey, we are more likely to be homeless, so we are at far greater risk to the virus than others. We are more likely to earn an income in sex work. And like all sex workers, trans sex workers in many parts of the industry are more vulnerable to the disease and the economic realities of social distancing.

Though our organization and movement are solidly committed to sex work decriminalization and progress has been growing slowly, the ongoing criminalization of sex work always has inexcusably harmful effects on good people just trying to get by. It is even more damaging during this crisis when incarcerated people of all kinds are too often shockingly vulnerable and unprotected from the virus. Because of the stigmatization and marginalization felt by many trans people, our data shows that we are disproportionately represented in jails, prisons and immigration detention centers where our health and lives are carelessly or ruthlessly exposed.

All of that is what society and people do to us. That is not what defines trans or gender non-conforming people, though. We are not only stigmatized, marginalized and criminalized. We are also resilient community builders and generally extraordinary. The resilience in particular is shining in full measure during this crisis, with people who have gone through so much trudging, often limping, through more. And the communities that we have built over the past decades are now supporting themselves and each other. That is extraordinary. Trans people are extraordinary.

#ProtectTransHealth Mara Keisling Executive Director, The National Center for Transgender Equality @transequalitynow

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This article is part of a series on Covid-19 in communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Explore the rest of the stories here.

Mara Keisling, Executive Director for The National Center for Transgender Equality.