For Transgender Voters, Key Personal Rights Hang in the Balance

Fei Lu | Tuesday, November 3, 2020


Throughout the United States, voters across the political spectrum are anxious about tonight’s election. For many transgender and non-binary voters, however, what happens tonight could hit at the very core of their most important, hard-fought social liberties. 

Since President Trump began his presidency, LGBTQ+ Americans have seen their rights severely compromised; particularly transgender rights. And with the recent appointment of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, LGBTQ+ advocates worry that Obama-era civil rights including gay marriage and other protections may be reversed.

In July, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rolled back a ruling that protected transgender individuals from discrimination in homeless shelters that receive federal funding. 

Other incidents include The Department of Health and Human Services eliminating protections for transgender people in healthcare and insurance coverage, and the Department of Education declaring that Title IX requires Connecticut schools to ban transgender students from school sports participation at the risk of losing funding. 

Photo courtesy of Claire Roche.

Claire Roche, 25, say she’s scared of what transgender youth may face, whatever the outcome. 

“Honestly, no matter who gets elected, it’s still going to be really hard,” she said over a Zoom interview. She paused briefly as a train passed by her Brooklyn apartment. “Many of my friends have been scared of violence from random people on the streets.” She worries that homophobic and transphobic Trump supporters may feel emboldened if he wins the election or may be incited toward violence if Joe Biden wins. On Nov 2, NBC News reported anti-LGBTQ+ attacks have drastically increased before election night.

Roche intended to vote, but realized her registration had lapsed. 

“I should have been more on top of it and made sure that I was registered ahead of time,” she said over Zoom. “I had checked in not too long ago, and I thought I was good.” 

Even if President Trump loses, Roche fears he has already put in place a threat against LGBTQ+ civil rights. 

“One of the biggest threats is that there’s a big conservative majority on the Supreme Court,” she said. “All of our rights are at risk, and anything can be easily taken away by them.” She plans to marry her fiancé on the weekend, but worries that if she legally changes her gender to female, she and her wife’s marriage might be nullified. “I’m worried about all kinds of anti-discrimination laws getting passed over.”

Jen Winslow, 54, a stand-up comedian based in Los Angeles, voted through a mail-in ballot. 

Photo courtesy of Jen Winslow

“It was amazing [in Los Angeles] because they sent every registered voter the ballot,” she says in a Zoom interview. “I sat down with my roommate, and we went through all the research that we had done through all of this. This was a great voting experience.”

As a transwoman, Winslow’s fears also concern marriage equality. “They are going to hit every anti-conservative policy that’s ever been put in place, policies put in place by Obama,” she said. 

For Winslow, her experience as a trans person is relatively young, having come out at 47. But she’s always been involved in advocacy. 

“[Transgender rights] is something I always paid attention to, because I knew that’s where my life was headed,” she says. “I’ve always fought for gay rights. That was the major thing growing up. I also did care work during the AIDS crisis, and so the community has always been in my mind.” 

Despite not being her initial first choice, she supports Democratic Nominee Joe Biden. “I liked in his town hall debate when the woman asked the question about her trans daughter, and he was like…” she paused, taking a moment to hold back tears. “I will protect you immediately.” 

She describes how terrible the Reagan years were for LGBTQ+ rights, and how much Obama had championed equal rights, only now “to see everything slowly get ripped away by Trump.”

Ultimately, Winslow says wants the transgender community to have full protections. 

“My parents never had to vote on any of their rights,” she said. “They had those rights. And so I want those protections for everybody, not just the trans community. I want [protections] for the black community and every disenfranchised group that has lost everything they fought so hard for these last four years.”



This story is the work of a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Other news organizations are welcome to publish this story as long as they adhere to these guidelines.