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Increasing transgender visibility, fighting conversion therapy


Increasing transgender visibility, fighting conversion therapy

Apr 01, 2023 | 6:00 am ET
By Isiah Holmes
Increasing transgender visibility, fighting conversion therapy
Two people fly a rainbow LGBTQ pride flag and a transgender pride flag in front of the Colorado Capitol building during a celebration on Nov. 7, 2020. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

On Friday, people around the globe celebrated the International Day of Transgender Visibility and also were reminded of an ongoing struggle by LGBTQ communities for the right to exist. In Milwaukee, County Executive David Crowley signed a resolution making official the county’s opposition to the practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ citizens. Meanwhile, a delegation of state elected officials representing the Milwaukee area condemned an uptick in anti-transgender violence. Gov. Tony Evers issued a proclamation earlier in March marking Friday as Transgender Day of Visibility.

In Wisconsin, state government didn’t recognize the International Day of Transgender Visibility until 2021. Over the last several years, LGBTQ communities have endured increasing suspicion and bigotry. The controversy is not limited to debates within schools around LGTBQ topics, books, and expression, but has spilled into state legislation nationwide and violence towards LGBTQ people.

“The discrimination, prejudice, and tragic violence directed at the LGBTQ+ community has no place here- or anywhere,” Crowley said on Friday, after signing a resolution proclaiming the county’s opposition to conversion therapy. The discredited practice involves therapists who try to change people’s sexual orientation and gender identity and make them adopt traditional sexual and gender roles. The resolution was authored by County Board Supv. Peter Burgelis.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin also joined 23 Senate colleagues in introducing a resolution that recognizes the transgender community. “At a time when our trans community is under attack, International Transgender Day of Visibility is an important time to send a clear message to our transgender friends and neighbors: I see you, I am with you, and I stand with you to celebrate the courage and dignity of living life as who you are,” said Baldwin. “I’m proud to join my colleagues on this resolution and continue our work to create a future where all Americans have the freedom of full equality.”

LGBTQ advocates see conversion therapy as unsafe, discriminatory and a vehicle for anti-LGBTQ ideology. A new report by the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization focusing on LGBTQ youth, found that 17% of American LGBTQ youth reported being threatened with or subjected to conversion therapy. The report found that there is no available research that shows that efforts to convert LGBTQ people are beneficial to children, adolescents or families. The report also found that efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity are ineffective, and can cause significant harm. At the signing ceremony for the Milwaukee County resolution Friday, Crowley also highlighted a 2022 report by the Human Rights Campaign. The report, titled “An Epidemic of Violence,” noted that Black transgender women account for 63% of all victims of fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people.

“Since 2013, over 85% of victims of violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people were people of color,” said Crowley. “Milwaukee County has a responsibility to promote the mental health and well-being of all its residents. Today, we send a strong message that our community is one where hate isn’t tolerated. Milwaukee County is a safe and welcoming place for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The trends noted in the Human Rights Campaign report are also manifesting in Milwaukee. Over the past year four Black transgender women have been murdered in the county. Their names are Brazil Johnson, Regina ‘Mya’ Allen, Toi Davis, and Cashay Henderson. Last summer, a $28,000 reward was posted by Milwaukee Crime Stoppers for information about Johnson’s killing. “The lives of these four Black women mattered,” a joint statement by 17 Milwaukee-area state senators and representatives declared Friday. “Transgender violence and violence targeting the LGBTQ+ community remains a major concern across our state and nation, and people are dying as a result.”

The delegation also cited the Human Rights Campaign, which found that at least 38 transgender people were killed in 2022 after a record high 57 homicides of transgender people were reported in 2021. “The Human Rights Campaign uses the phrase ‘at least’ because too often these stories go unreported,” the delegation stated. “We must all take a stand against hateful rhetoric, policies, and violence towards the trans community.”

“Our trans and non-binary friends, family and colleagues deserve to be whole and safe within our communities,” said Rep. Ryan Clancy (D-Milwaukee), one of the Milwaukee legislators who joined the statement. “In a time of unprecedented political attacks — which embolden violent physical attacks — it is our responsibility to stand up in protection, alliance, and service. To say, ‘we are here with you, you are loved, and we won’t stop fighting until you are safe.’”

Rep. Melissa Ratcliff (D-Cottage Grove) praised the transgender and nonbinary people who “show their strength in knowing themselves and being true to who they are.” In a statement, Ratcliff said, “this community continues to be marginalized by lawmakers simply for living openly and authentically. A person’s gender identity should never be used against them, and it is troubling that Republicans are so infatuated with criminalizing our transgender community when they simply want the same rights and freedom that others have.”

Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) said in a statement, “One of the cornerstone responsibilities of policymakers is to ensure that the people we represent are safe. We have the duty to act in the best interests of all Wisconsinites, especially our LGBTQ youth. Regardless of their identity, all kids deserve to see themselves represented and feel safe, loved, and know that they belong.”