A remarkable event quietly took place recently in Saugatuck. A panel of courageous women and men took the stage at the local arts center to share with area residents their experience as transgender people.
Among the panelists were a mother and her 13-year-old daughter named Kylie—who spoke publicly for the first time about her journey to understanding herself as transgender.
It is no easy feat to come out as trans, particularly now, during the post-marriage equality backlash in which we are seeing tremendous hostility directed towards transgender people across the country through anti-LGBT legislation. Along with anti-trans legislation in states such as North Carolina, Michigan has introduced its own “bathroom bills,” in which transgender students would be barred from using the bathroom or locker room that matches their gender identity. This means that the state would prohibit Kylie from using the girls’ bathroom at her middle school despite the support of school administrators and her fellow students, for whom Kylie’s gender identity is “no big deal.”
In 2014, Rolling Stone magazine identified Michigan—along with Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas—as one of the five worst states for LGBT people. Despite the continued effort of the civil rights and business communities, in 2016 you can still be fired from a job, denied housing, or denied service at a restaurant in Michigan if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Still, there are reasons to hope. In September, on a 6-2 vote, the Michigan State Board of Education adopted guidelines designed to help schools address the needs of students who identify as LGBT. Michigan’s bathroom bill? It’s likely to die on the vine in the lame-duck legislative session. And in January, once the new legislature is seated, we will have another shot at amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Perhaps the greatest reason to hope, however, is because a brave 13-year-old girl stood up in Saugatuck to tell a group of strangers that her life, her dignity, matters.
Let’s join Kylie – as fellow transgender people or allies – in raising our voices to say that Michigan can and should do better.