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Caitlyn Jenner Is Right: Trans Youth Are Dying Because We Don’t Accept Them

Caitlin Jenner at the ESPYs
Caitlin Jenner at the ESPYs
Chase Strangio,
Deputy Director for Transgender Justice, ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project
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July 16, 2015

Last night Caitlyn Jenner accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs and used her platform to bring attention to the struggles that transgender individuals face — particularly transgender young people.

At the end of her speech Jenner called on the crowd to take up the cause of transgender rights — a cause, she explained, that is about accepting people for who they are.

“If you want to call me names. Make Jokes. Doubt my intentions. Go ahead,” Jenner said. “Because the reality is … I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with who they are. They shouldn’t have to take it.”


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They shouldn’t have to take it, but day after day transgender young people are bullied, isolated, and attacked because of who they are.

On Monday, the ACLU will be in court in Norfolk, Virginia, defending the right of a transgender boy named Gavin Grimm who has been fighting just to use the boys’ bathroom at school. When Gavin first came out to his school as transgender and expressed his medical need to use the bathroom consistent with his gender identity, the school permitted him to do so for seven weeks without incident.

It wasn’t until adults in the community learned that Gavin was using the boys’ bathroom and became enraged that a transgender young person could use the bathroom that corresponds with his gender identity that Gavin was forced to use a separate bathroom from all the other kids. The adults in the community went so far as to take the issue to the school board and pass a policy to prevent Gavin and other trans students from using the bathroom consistent with who they are. Standing before Gavin, his family and the entire community, a supporter of the new policy called Gavin a “freak” and compared him to someone who thinks he is a dog.

The message the community sent to Gavin was clear: You are different, you are a freak, and we don’t care about you or your dignity.

This is precisely the type of bullying — from other young people but more insidiously from parents, adults, and institutions — that leads to disturbingly high rates of homelessness, murder, and suicide among transgender youth and young adults.

It has to stop.

When transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn took her own life this past December because of the abuse she experienced at the hands of adults in her life, she left a message behind:

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was – they’re treated like humans with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something.”

Across the country there are young people like Gavin who are just trying to survive. Thankfully there are people like Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, and Janet Mock who use their platforms to challenge us all to build a safer and more accountable world for these young people to grow up.

Join us on Monday in heeding Caitlyn Jenner’s message and supporting Gavin in his fight to be treated as human.

Our youth need to be sent messages of love and support not vengeance and disgust. After all, as Gavin testified before the school board, “This could be your child…I’m just a human. I’m just a boy.”

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