In the past year, transgender people have become a topic of daily conversation in schools, legislatures, and homes across the country. In the past seven months alone, state legislators have introduced more than 40 bills seeking to bar transgender people from using public bathrooms. In March, North Carolina became the first state to enact such a law, requiring transgender people to use only public restrooms corresponding to their “biological sex.”
The messages used to support these bills rely on false stereotypes that exploit most people’s lack of familiarity with a transgender person. They portray transgender individuals as delusional, threatening, and “other,” stoking the discomfort and fear that expose an already vulnerable population to high levels of discrimination and violence.
Perhaps by design, these negative messages also silence transgender people, making it much harder for a transgender person to speak up or seek to connect with others for fear they will be met with rejection or even aggression.
Indeed, like so many other transgender people, I can no longer count the number of times in recent weeks I have walked into a restaurant, airport, or store only to be greeted by a local official or politician on TV urging support for such a measure. These painful messages isolate transgender people from others—deterring the personal contact and interactions that would lead to greater understanding and support.
A new public education campaign, Fairness USA, is seeking to counteract that isolation by showing the humanity of transgender people. The new ad—the first of its kind—highlights the vulnerability of transgender people when they need to use a public restroom and the urgent need for more legal protections.
The ad does something essential—it shows the harmful discrimination a transgender person faces simply by going about her daily life.
The ad features, Alaina Kupec, a transgender woman from North Carolina, where state law permits businesses to discriminate against transgender people. With remarkable sensitivity, the ad depicts Kupec’s anguish when a restaurant owner attempts to bar her from the women’s restroom. Her humiliation—and the fear that soon follows when she contemplates having to enter the men’s restroom—perfectly portray the everyday reality of many transgender people who live in the 32 states with no protections against such treatment.
Importantly, the ad also shows Kupec’s relief when other women come to her aid, rebuking the restaurant owner and accompanying her into the women’s restroom.
By standing up for Kupec’s safety and dignity, the other women highlight her shared humanity. Their solidarity—and the empathy they model—are a welcome antidote to the isolation and harassment engendered by laws such as North Carolina’s HB2.
As the new ad so poignantly shows, our current national debate is about much more than restrooms. It is about the common humanity of transgender people, and the dignity and respect we owe to one another as fellow human beings.