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Voter Suppression and the Transgender Community

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One of the first things I did when I turned 18 was register to vote. Growing up in Mobile, Ala., I was raised by a single black mom who grew up in the segregated South. I was made very aware of the fact that my ancestors literally died so that I could have the right to vote. Voting is one of my most fundamental duties as a citizen. Whenever I vote, I think about all those who have come before me, who fought and died so that I might stand in that voting booth and cast my ballot.

Voting is sacred for me. I remember the day I voted for Barack Obama for president, I did so rather cynically. I didn't believe that our country would elect a black man as president in my lifetime. But even through my cynicism I thought, "Oh my god, this could happen." I voted that day feeling connected, in a way I had never felt before, to those who had come before me. I'll never forget sitting up in my bed on election night as I watched Obama be declared president and then immediately getting a call from my mother, who still lives in Alabama, where so many civil rights struggles were fought. We were both in tears.

So when I see that one of our most sacred rights -- the right to vote -- is being tampered with, it gives me pause. Twenty states have attempted to pass laws designed to limit the number of folks who will be able to cast votes in November; the requirement of government-issued photo IDs is but one. Other efforts, like ending early voting and same-day registration and restricting voter-registration drives, aim to disenfranchise folks who tend to vote Democratic. Voter suppression could very well be the determining factor in the election this November. Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican, indicated as much when he stated, "Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done!"

A population that could be uniquely affected by the new voter ID laws that is not being talked about enough is the transgender community. According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, as many as 25,000 transgender people could lose their right to vote. Vincent Paolo Villano, from the National Center for Transgender Equality, tells me that their "biggest concern is that trans people, many of whom have never experienced problems voting before, won't take this issue seriously. The reality is that we won't know the true impact of these laws until election day, just the moment when it's too late." That's why they are launching a nonpartisan public education campaign around the new voter suppression laws, called "Voting While Trans." Starting Aug. 13, NCTE will have resources available that will tell trans folks what identification they need to vote in their state.

President Obama has had a rough go of it, and many progressives, including me, have found some of his policies problematic, but what his administration has done to change the lives of transgender Americans is unprecedented and historic and why I am voting for him again in November. Here are a few of his accomplishments for the trans community:

  • Signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expanding federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
  • Removed a common barrier to safe housing by adding gender identity and expression in the Fair Housing Act.
  • Reversed an inexcusable U.S. position by signing the United Nations Declaration on Gay Rights, which condemns violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity worldwide.
  • Changed State Department policy so that transgender Americans can more easily obtain passports that reflect their true gender.
  • Banned job discrimination based on gender identity throughout the federal government.
  • Formed the Interagency Council on Bullying Prevention, convened the first White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, and launched Stopbullying.gov, a website with resources designed to assist bullied youth and their advocates -- including specific information regarding LGBT bullying.
  • Hired and appointed a record number of qualified LGBT Americans, including several transgender appointees -- the first president ever to do so.
  • Department of Health and Human Services announced an award to Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) to establish the nation's first LGBT seniors resource center.
  • Sent an administration official to the Senate to testify in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the first time any official of any administration has done so.
  • Hosted the first LGBT Pride Month Celebration in White House history and, after eight years of silence under the Bush administration, resumed the tradition of issuing Presidential Pride proclamations.
  • President Obama, Vice President Biden, the DNC, and White House staff recorded "It Gets Better" videos.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services awarded the largest grant ever to an LGBT organization, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. Funds go toward combating discrimination against LGBT youth in the foster care system

If you are transgender and plan to vote this election day, please go to the National Center for Transgender Equality's website to get the information you need so that you can protect yourself from being disenfranchised on election day.