It means so much to the transgender community that there’s an organization gathering statistics about the trans experience.
When it comes to trans equality, community advocate/activist Danielle Stewart calls West Virginia one of the worst states. Several cities like Beckley have non-discrimination ordinances in place.
According to Stewart, if you dig down there are misconceptions — many intentional misconceptions and the trans experience survey can help clear them up.
One misconception is that if you create non-discrimination ordinances there will be lawsuits. She says you’ll only have a lawsuit if you discriminate.
“People are looking for the right to discriminate. And if you look at the West Virginia Legislature and the laws that they’re trying to pass it’s absolutely: they want to discriminate against a group of people,” said Stewart. “Personal satisfaction, I think it was 97 percent of transgender individuals when they transition are happy. And I would be willing to bet that the three percent that aren’t are more environmental issues, simply just wanting to live and be who you are without discrimination.”
Danielle transitioned in 2017 and said 23 years as an army veteran she doesn’t have to worry about being discriminated for a job because she doesn’t need one and volunteers.
But those who’ve confided in her say employment and family acceptance make it tough out there. Once others understand where she’s coming from, she debunks the myths.
“Here’s this person, they wanna eat just like I wanna eat, they wanna house just like I wanna house, they wanna job just like I wanna job,” she said she’s a very public individual. “Part of that is to show I’m just like everybody else, I want the same things you all do.”
Religion plays a big part… not a lot of LGBTQ (trans people specifically) go to church services. Danielle says it’s not that they aren’t religious or spiritual, rather the church ran them out. She says what we need at the state level is the legislature to pass the Fairness Act.
“When it comes to the religious part that makes me angry beyond the discrimination is the fact that these churches are denying God to these people because of their beliefs, not because of God,” Stewart said. “And that is a real tragedy.”
The last West Virginia survey revealed we have the highest percentage of trans youth in America. Danielle would like to see more state-level statistics.
“Which is basically adding LGBTQ protections to the non-discrimination state law,” said Stewart. “There are so many benefits to that because we’re trying to make West Virginia this tourism destination; this welcoming place. But the first thing you see is ‘no, we don’t want you here.'”
At the national level, there’s the Equality Act — it keeps coming up through Congress and not going anywhere, it would add powerful protections for the LGBTQ community because federal law trumps state law for non-discrimination and would cut down on culture wars. Danielle says the biggest thing is just meet people where they are.
“Can’t change the names of the pronouns of a transgender individual. It’s a choice,” the community advocate/activist said. “Those little things make it easier on transgender individuals. It’s just not that hard and there’s no real reason not to.”
All these people growing up in West Virginia, ‘Hey, I’m who I am.”
“And our state says, ‘Get out; we don’t want you here.’ Employment is a huge issue. They talk at the state level of cutting benefits for people, we got people here that want to work and people won’t hire them,” said Stewart. “A simple passing of the Fairness Act takes care of that.”