The 14th Amendment of the Constitution guarantees equal rights to all Americans.
Or at least that’s the theory.
Our country has a less-than-perfect record when it comes to equality. I suppose that’s to be expected when many of our founders were also slaveholders. But throughout history, America has attempted to right the wrongs of our past. Take for example, the 19th Amendment, which gave (white) women the right to vote.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in housing, employment and services for women, people of color and religious minorities. Twenty-six years later, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed to provide the same protections for people with disabilities. Brown v. Board of Education integrated our schools because despite all these “equal rights,” it was clear that separate is not, in fact, equal — and never will be.
Say what you will about the sexism, misogyny, ableism and racism that many still experience today — at least we the people have tried, through the courts or through Congress, to address these issues.
One group clearly forgotten, though? The LGBTQ community.
Marriage equality has been the law of the land since 2015. Yet many people are surprised when they find out that a same-sex couple can get married, go on their honeymoon and return home only to find out that they’ve been fired from their jobs and evicted from their apartment — simply for being gay.
Unfortunately, and not entirely surprisingly, this type of treatment is 100 percent legal in 19 states (including Texas).
If LGBTQ people already have equal rights, as the 14th Amendment states, then why is the president attempting to ban transgender people from military service? Why is Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick campaigning to prevent my transgender son from using the bathroom at school? Why do I have to fight so damn hard every day to make sure my son, Max, won’t be left behind?
Throughout history, opponents have argued that giving women, disabled persons and minorities “equal” rights was code for “special” rights. It’s an argument we hear often today, in the march toward equality for the LGBTQ community.
But I ask you, fellow white people: Has the equal treatment of people of color taken away any of your rights? To my fellow cisgender, straight Americans: Will the equal treatment of queer-identified people somehow take away your right to marry who you love, eat what you like or live where you want?
It’s not pie, y’all. Equal rights for others doesn’t mean fewer rights for you.
For those of you who know my family, you may wonder why my husband and I feel so strongly that Denton needs a nondiscrimination ordinance, when our transgender son has been so well loved and supported by our community. But you may not understand the challenges we face almost daily in advocating for him.
When we needed a new pediatrician, we searched high and low to find someone who wouldn’t misgender him or give him second-rate care. When he needed his first “boy” haircut, I held my breath and hoped that the same people who trimmed his pigtails back when he still used female pronouns would give him the new look that he wanted. When he signed up for summer camp, I called ahead and had a “best practices” conversation with the camp counselors to make sure Max wouldn’t be treated any differently than any of the other children under their care.
I’ve never had to do any of this for my cisgender daughter, but this is a common necessity for my transgender son. And, quite frankly, I don’t want to worry about him all the time. I want my son to live in a world that will give him the same opportunities and treatment as anyone else. And until we have the laws in place to guarantee this, I’ll keep worrying, and keep fighting.
Great change starts with small acts. Denton might be just one small town in a nation that spans half a continent, but passing a nondiscrimination ordinance to protect LGBTQ people like my son would send a powerful message about who and what we value as a community. Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and even Plano have all passed similar regulations, and now it’s our turn.
It’s time for Denton — and indeed our nation — to stand up for the rights of everyone, including the LGBTQ community and trans kids like my son, Max. We’ve done it before for other minority groups, and we can do it again. Anything less, quite frankly, is un-American.
This essay was originally published as an op-ed in the Denton Record-Chronicle