Empowering transgender and non-binary survivors of violence

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The Out to Lunch Gender, Sexuality and Community Lecture Series invites scholars and community activists from various disciplines to examine a wide variety of topics related to gender identity, gender expression and sexuality. The program is designed to study these topics and how they intersect with public health, business, science, families, education, immigration and politics.  

The most recent lecture was titled “Trans/Non-Binary Survivors in the Whirlwind of a Triple Pandemic: Resistance and Resilience,” and was presented by Michael Munson, executive director of FORGE, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of trans and non-binary individuals. Munson spoke about how sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking and bullying are not new in the trans and non-binary community.   

“Many trans youth or non-binary youth are experiencing bullying at home, at school, in their neighborhoods, on the street with other kids or adults, in sports … we can do something about that by trying to build stronger social networks for those kids,” Munson said.  

FORGE is an organization focused on improving the lives of transgender individuals through providing resources, building strong connections and empowering growth through knowledge. Founded in 1994, the organization has since become a key factor in supporting trans survivors of violence. By focusing on community-building and providing technical skills, Munson and his team are working to reduce the impact of trauma on trans and non-binary survivors. Their guiding mission is to create a world where all voices are heard, and all people and bodies are valued and respected.  

“We really care about empowering trans survivors to do what they need to do to heal from the victimization that they have experienced,” Munson said.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences study is one of the largest of its kind and provides important findings for how childhood abuse and neglect can later affect an individual’s health and well-being. Munson pinpointed trans-specific adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that can have a significant impact on future violence victimization and perpetration. These include abuse, neglect, household dysfunction and denial of identity. 

“The total denial of someone’s identity can really be a substantial issue in their health and wellness,” Munson said.  

By “denial of identity,” Munson is referring to actions like refusing to use people’s preferred pronouns. Many trans individuals are subject to harassment or discrimination from people who are either scared, uncomfortable or uneducated about what it means to be transgender or non-binary. This is a major problem in society and more work needs to be done at the local, state and federal levels of government to ensure that all people are treated fairly, not just those who identify with a certain gender. Munson said the Biden administration is doing a better job than the previous administration at making trans rights a priority; however, there continues to be a lot of hesitation and resistance at the state level.   

“As Biden has entered office, we have seen a shift from these national or federal legislative efforts to some statewide or local legislative efforts that are anti-trans,” Munson said.  

Laws like these pose grave threats to the health and well-being of trans individuals. Munson provided insight into the hardships the trans and LGBTQ+ communities face daily and how this constant fear extends to many parts of an individual’s life like street safety, employment security, housing security, bathroom access, relationship stability, family tensions and hate-motivated crimes. 

On his first day in office, President Biden ushered in a new Executive Order to prevent and combat discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. On the state level, things are not looking as positive. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the 2021 legislative session is making history for passing the highest number of anti-transgender bills. Many of these are on the state level, including South Carolina HB 4047 and Texas SB 1311, anti-transgender medical care bans, and Michigan SB 218, an anti-transgender sports ban. 

Laws like these pose grave threats to the health and well-being of trans individuals. Munson provided insight into the hardships the trans and LGBTQ+ communities face daily and how this constant fear extends to many parts of an individual’s life like street safety, employment security, housing security, bathroom access, relationship stability, family tensions and hate-motivated crimes.  

So what can you do? 

Munson closed out his lecture by providing viewers with advice and simple actions to help create a more accepting, welcoming and respectful environment for trans and non-binary individuals. Some of these included asking people their pronouns, believing survivors, becoming an upstander, finding alternatives to the police, posting on social media and being kind. By doing these things daily, we might just be able to make our world a better place.  

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