How the National Center for Transgender Equality Is Fighting Trump’s Anti-Trans Memo

Mara Keisling, the founder and executive director of the NCTE, shares the seven steps the organization is taking to protects trans people.

Within minutes of reading news reports about a coordinated strategy within the Trump administration to erase transgender people from federal law, we at the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) were flooded with emails, tweets, and phone calls asking us the same question: “How can I help?”

We have been so heartened at the community response to this news and to the #WontBeErased campaign on social media and in cities around the country. We know that we can make every legal argument in defense of the rights of transgender people, but the most powerful tool we have in this fight is the collective voice of transgender people and our loved ones across the country who will not let these attacks go quietly by.

We also take seriously our responsibility as the premiere transgender advocacy organization in the nation’s capital to lead a massive response to this effort by the Trump administration to harm so many in our community. We want to make clear to our community, our allies, and the Trump administration every step we are taking to fight back and ultimately defeat these efforts to codify prejudice and hate.

  1. Confronting the Trump administration face to face

    Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty

    The day after The New York Times published details of the Trump administration’s plan to erase transgender people, NCTE leadership confronted officials from the Department of Education about the plan and its practical impacts on transgender youth.

    Last week’s meeting is far from the last or first time transgender advocates from NCTE have held pointed discussions with Trump officials, making it absolutely clear why the steps they are taking are so radical and outrageous. NCTE will also be speaking at the next scheduled meeting of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission alongside the families of transgender children who have faced mistreatment at their schools. While we know this administration is determined to harm transgender people, we will make sure they have to look trans advocates in the eye as they try to justify what they are doing.

  2. Leading a flood of public outcry to every anti-trans rule change

    Wiktor S / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty

    The Trump administration’s latest attack will likely hinge on the use of federal regulations—a tedious process that few outside of the world of policymaking generally have time to follow. But before any proposed rule can be enacted by a federal agency, it must allow for public inspection and public comment—giving regular citizens a rare chance to be heard by their government officials.

    Last spring, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a proposal that would allow doctors and hospitals to turn away patients if treating them conflicted with their religious beliefs—a commonly used tactic to disguise prejudice as “religious liberty.” After 77,000 public comments from NCTE and others, the rule has been stalled, with even Trump’s Office of Management and Budget demanding HHS respond to the concerns of the public before giving doctors a license to discriminate.

    Any regulatory effort by the Trump administration to erase transgender people from civil rights law will be met with similar force, making it clear to officials and to lawmakers that these steps are far from mainstream and will limit the rights of 2 million people to health care, education, housing, or employment. In fact, NCTE has already partnered with the Transgender Law Center on Protect Trans Health—a public campaign to fight against an imminent HHS rule that would seek to deny transgender people access to the same health care as everyone else.

    We also support our partners who take the Trump administration to court to challenge their anti-transgender agenda. Just this week, we led a brief to the Supreme Court in Doe v. Trump, one of four lawsuits challenging the President’s faulty attempts to ban transgender people from the military.

  3. Advancing trans equality in the States

    John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe

    NCTE prides itself on a robust state policy program, aimed at working hand in hand with state and local advocates to increase access to jobs, health care, education, housing, and accurate identity documents. Just this year, we helped secure explicit protections for transgender people to access to adequate health insurance coverage in New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. We also worked with administrators and advocates in Minnesota, Nevada, and New York City to increase access to accurate identity documents such as driver’s licenses and birth certificates, and helped secure non-discrimination policies for state employees in Montana and Virginia as well as in schools in New Jersey.

    State policies explicitly protecting transgender people’s rights are among the best safeguards we have against a hostile administration in Washington. With the campaign to erase transgender people more public and more transparent than ever, we will be doubling our fight across every state and territory for the rights of transgender people.

  4. Working to #TRANSform the vote on November 6


    NCTE’s sibling organization, the NCTE Action Fund, launched TRANSform the Vote, a national voter engagement campaign aimed at helping transgender people, their families, and allies register and vote in this year’s midterm elections on November 6. Over 1.4 million transgender people are of voting age, and the Action Fund’s goal is ensuring every one of them can vote and does vote. The Action Fund has and will continue to lead outreach and education efforts, including providing information about registration and how transgender people can navigate strict voter identification laws.

    From city councils to state legislatures to the U.S. Congress, candidates are discussing important issues that impact the rights and livelihood of transgender people. We are devoted to making sure every candidate knows they must support transgender equality if they want to support equality at all.

  5. Voting Yes on 3 in Massachusetts

    Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty

    The NCTE Action Fund is likewise devoted to saving a law in Massachusetts that protects the rights of nearly 30,000 transgender people in the commonwealth. In the first statewide ballot initiative of its kind, Massachusetts voters are being asked if they want to keep a 2016 law extending protections to transgender people who experience discrimination in public spaces including banks, hospitals, malls, and restaurants.

    While Massachusetts has historically been on the vanguard of LGBTQ rights, becoming the first state to legalize marriage equality in 2004, the Action Fund is taking nothing for granted, devoting hundreds of hours to supporting the Yes on 3 campaign by phone banking and engaging Massachusetts voters, as well as sending staff and leadership to help with canvassing, rallies, and other awareness efforts.

    Twenty other states, including D.C., have laws explicitly protecting transgender people from discrimination—a shield against the Trump administration’s efforts to erase us from federal nondiscrimination law. Not only would a loss in Massachusetts be awful for the people of Massachusetts—it would embolden opponents of transgender equality across the country.

  6. Working with Congress to pass the Equality Act


    While most federal courts today agree that federal laws banning discrimination based on sex likewise prohibit anti-transgender discrimination, a hostile Trump administration—and its lawless rush to change rules and tilt the court system against equality—means the country needs a strong law cementing the rights of transgender people now more than ever.

    Most Americans don’t know this, but there is no federal law explicitly stopping an employer from firing an LGBTQ person because of their sexual orientation or gender identity—despite the fact that most Americans also support such a law. For years, NCTE has fought for the Equality Act, a federal law that would make it explicitly clear that discrimination against anyone because of who they are or who they love is against the law.

    We are confident this bill could pass today if leaders in Congress allowed a vote. Given the broad support for LGBTQ equality across the country and across all partisan divides, there is no excuse for any member of Congress to fail to support this necessary and long overdue bill.

  7. Raising the voices of transgender people and their families

    Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty

    Opponents of transgender equality have shown themselves willing to spread disgusting myths about us or the impacts of laws protecting us. Much of this cultural confusion fuels efforts by the Trump administration and others to suggest transgender people are less deserving of the same rights as everyone else.

    They wrongly believe our community is small and isolated. That’s why we knew our first action in response to this memo had to be making clear that trans people are part of communities across the country and that we #WontBeErased. It’s why we led an open letter to the Department of Health and Human Services challenging this memo, cosigned by 2,500 parents and other family members of transgender youth. With future plans to raise the visibility of our community, we know the lives and voices of transgender people and our allies are our best weapon in the fight against prejudice.

    We know transgender people are diverse, bold, and resilient enough to persist and thrive in the face of even the most dangerous attacks against us. But the more we live with openness and authenticity, the more we show the narratives of bigotry to be nothing short of hateful and hollow.

Mara Keisling is the founder and executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life-saving change for transgender people.