Transgender community marks day of visibility as state laws target LGBTQ youth

President Biden commemorated Transgender Day of Visibility by announcing a number of changes to make the government more inclusive, including giving trans people the right to mark "X" for gender identity on their passports. The president's message came as more states passed laws limiting transgender rights. Award-winning writer and activist Raquel Willis joins William Brangham to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden commemorated this International Transgender Day of Visibility today with a series of announcements and events. The president's message came as more states have passed laws limiting transgender rights.

    William Brangham has more about this day and the battles playing out around the country.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Judy.

    The Biden administration announced a number of changes to make the government more inclusive, including giving trans people the right to mark X for gender identity on their passports. And it announced a series of measures to support the mental health of transgender children.

    But perhaps most powerfully, in this video message, President Biden told trans individuals — quote — "Your president sees you."

  • President Joe Biden:

    To parents of transgender children, affirming you're child's identity is one of the most powerful things you can do to keep your child safe and healthy.

    To any transgender American who's struggling, please know that you're not alone. To parents and children alike, please ask for help, and know this: You're so brave, you belong, and we have your back.

  • William Brangham:

    This all comes as more than 130 bills targeting transgender rights specifically were introduced in state legislatures this year.

    Just yesterday, Oklahoma became the 13th state to sign into law a bill banning transgender women from competing on female sports teams at public schools and colleges. In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey signed bills targeting trans youth, including one that would restrict access to gender-affirming health care.

    For more on all of this, I'm joined by award-winning writer and activist Raquel Willis.

    Raquel, great to have you on the "NewsHour."

    Before we get to what is happening in the states, I want to acknowledge that today is supposed to be a day of recognition and visibility and celebration. And I'm wondering if it — does it feel that way to you? Does it feel like today is important?

  • Raquel Willis:

    Today is important, for sure, for our community.

    And I think folks are carving out spaces of joy in their everyday life. The trans community has always been here. We have always found ways to survive and thrive. And I love that our community does that in the face of all of this legislation.

  • William Brangham:

    Well, let's talk about all of that legislation, because there has been this record number of bills. I touched on a few of them, but bills and laws passed in states targeting different slices of transgender life in America.

    Why do you think this has become such an issue?

  • Raquel Willis:

    Well, this has become a banner issue, especially in the aftermath of what has been considered obviously marriage equality becoming the law of the land.

    The conservatives have made it their point to go after the trans community. They know overwhelmingly that we still have a general public that is unfamiliar with the experiences of trans people. Many folks still say that they don't know a trans person who live in America.

    So it is easy for them to take advantage of a bit of confirmation bias. They know that folks have all of these ideas about us that aren't necessarily true.

  • William Brangham:

    I was struck recently by Republican Governor of Utah Spencer Cox, when he was — he was vetoing a piece of legislation in his state that was then overturned by the legislature.

    But when he went to veto that bill, he said — quote — "Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few. I don't understand what they're going through or why they feel the way they do, but I want them to live."

    It does seem that there is a disproportionate focus on trans people in society right now.

  • Raquel Willis:

    Yes, there is.

    I mean, if you look at many of the testimonials from conservative politicians, a lot of times, they don't even know a single case in the state in which they're trying to move this legislation.

    But, either way, I think what we need to see more of is folks who consider themselves to be supportive of the trans community, like the Democratic Party, to come out and be on the offense and not just the defense.

  • William Brangham:

    What are the practical implications of these bills and laws in all these different states?

  • Raquel Willis:

    Well, unfortunately, what we're seeing in Texas, which has been really a tentpole state for a lot of us by legislation, I mean, there are families that are considering moving or have already.

    And then, of course, there are lots of folks who are trans who just do not feel safe. That impedes their ability to be visible, as we're celebrating today. So I think we have to get a grapple on why our experiences are so vital and why we are valid as human beings.

  • William Brangham:

    What would you say to people who — I mean, it's hard to understand people's motives sometimes, but people who genuinely believe that they are trying to protect women's sports or they are trying to protect their kids from what they think is indoctrination going on in classrooms?

    What do you say to people like that?

  • Raquel Willis:

    Well, I think that we have to consider that the folks who are overwhelmingly trying to move this legislation to supposedly protect women's sports have never really cared about women's inclusion in different sectors of society previous to this.

    So I think that that is very telling. I think it also paints an unfair picture. And, you know, to my point earlier about the ramifications of this, I mean, we don't want to see an increase in suicidality amongst young people, which we know happens when they don't have environments that are affirming, and we don't need to see a stoking of the violence that already exists.

    I mean, we have already lost a number of trans folks, mostly trans women of color, to senseless violence this year.

  • William Brangham:

    Right. That violence is going hand in hand with this rise in these numbers of bills.

    Do you see those as connected, or are those just parallel tracks?

  • Raquel Willis:

    I definitely see them as connected.

    I think that we can't disentangle what happens when we hear political rhetoric that says that we shouldn't exist. It says that we don't deserve the same rights as other folks, we don't deserve health care, housing, and to be ourselves, to be loved by our families.

    I mean, that's the big thing. If you think about the young children who are able to even name their truth to their families, and then finally find support, now, for instance, in places like Alabama and beyond, you're seeing criminalization of families that are affirming and loving. That's not OK.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, that's writer and activist Raquel Willis.

    Thank you so much for being here.

  • Raquel Willis:

    Thank you.

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