Silence = death. The phrase rings true even decades after this call to action was coined by activists.
Today, forced invisibility is an equivalent threat to health and well-being. As reported in the New York Times, the Trump administration plans to change federal civil rights law to define sex as “based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” If this policy is adopted, transgender and non-binary communities in many corners of our nation, already marginalized, will face government-sanctioned discrimination and be pushed further into the shadows.
In New York City, we will not look the other way and ignore the harmful impact this hateful policy will have on the rights and health of transgender and non-binary Americans.
Transgender and non-binary people across the country already face extreme stigma and discrimination, both of which lead to poor health outcomes, lack of access to jobs and homes, and societal violence. Because they do not fit neatly into categories created by a system developed by, and for, cisgender individuals, transgender people have been excluded from services needed to maintain their well-being and health for decades. Denying the dignity of transgender and non-binary people erases them, condones discrimination, and leads to medical neglect of core elements of health and prevention.
But we will fight to ensure that does not happen in New York City.
Here, transgender and non-binary people are fully protected by one of the strongest anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws in the nation, the New York City Human Rights Law, which expressly protects people against discrimination based on gender identity and expression in the workplace, housing, and places of public accommodation like stores, schools, and hospitals.
As a city, we will continue to vigorously support, protect, and advance the rights of transgender and non-binary people. Just this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a landmark law to simplify the process for New Yorkers to change the gender marker on their birth certificate, without medical attestation, now enabling them to have a foundational identity document that reflects their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth. We also added a non-binary “x” option to city birth certificates, recognizing the needs of New Yorkers who do not identify as men or women exclusively or at all. This is critical, because the most fundamental component of health equity is self-determination. We cannot hope to know the people we serve if we do not know who they are and how that shapes their health behaviors.
Likewise, the New York City Commission on Human Rights has made protecting and uplifting transgender and non-binary New Yorkers a core focus of its work, including publishing a legal enforcement guidance in 2015 articulating protections against gender identity and gender expression discrimination and launching a citywide ad campaign in 2016 affirming every individuals’ right to use the bathroom according to their gender identity and expression.
Everyone deserves to live a life of dignity and respect. Recent gains in societal acceptance has translated into transgender and non-binary people increasingly portrayed in the media and even running for public office. This move by the Trump administration would violate their rights and only exacerbate the stressors that lead to poor health outcomes and higher rates of suicide, anxiety, drug use, and depression. Allies are needed now more than ever. This year, at least 22 transgender people were victims of hate-related homicides, and most of them were women of color.
We cannot allow a community that is already vulnerable to suffer even more. We will stand by our transgender and non-binary allies and ensure that they are seen, heard and protected, regardless of efforts to erase them and silence their voices.
Dr. Oxiris Barbot is the acting commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Carmelyn P. Malalis is the chair and commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights.