Mother’s Day is this Sunday, and to celebrate we’re highlighting three families who would be deeply impacted if Washington’s longstanding transgender non-discrimination protections were repealed at the ballot box this fall.
Here are their stories:
Meghan & Her Daughter, Maya | Federal Way
Meghan’s remember’s clearly the night her daughter, Maya, turned to her and asked, “Mommy, why did God make me a boy? I’m really a girl.”
Meghan was stunned, but she did what any parent would do—reassured Maya that no one is a “mistake,” even though she herself was unsure what to do next.
“I was stunned,” she remembers. “I didn’t even know the word transgender existed at the time. But here was my child staring at me with eyes wide in pain. So I took a deep breath in and told her, ‘God doesn’t make mistakes. Mommy and daddy are going to help you find your unique purpose.’”
Meghan and her husband began to reach out to other families for support, which eventually led both of them to the understanding that Maya, like thousands of other Washingtonians, is transgender—assigned a gender identity at birth different from the one she began to express as she got older.
As Meghan learned more and more about what it means to be transgender, she got worried. Transgender people, she learned, are frequently targeted for discrimination and harassment, a situation that makes them more likely to experience homelessness, unemployment, and a range of mental and physical health issues.
“I was stunned. I didn’t even know the word transgender existed at the time. But here was my child staring at me with eyes wide in pain. So I took a deep breath in and told her, ‘God doesn’t make mistakes. Mommy and daddy are going to help you find your unique purpose.’” –Meghan, Federal Way
“As the newly realized parent of a transgender child, that scared me,” she says. She was already worried about how her family would take the news. “Now, it turns out, I might also have to worry about Maya’s future—would she be bullied at school or in public? Have problems finding a job as an adult?
But then she learned that Washington is one of 18 states with laws that prohibit discrimination against transgender people in public places. So even if Maya wasn’t accepted somewhere, at some point, the law would protect her.
“We are so thankful she’s been accepted by our community, but if she ever isn’t, we want to know the law protects her.”
Cheryl | Gig Harbor
Like many transgender people, Cheryl says transitioning to live as the woman she’d always known herself to be wasn’t easy.
She knows transgender people are more likely to face discrimination and violence because of who they are. It’s a sad fact, but one she’s better able to face because of the strong non-discrimination protections that Washington has had in place for 11 years. If she’s ever denied service by a business, or harassed in a public place, she can turn to the law for help.
What’s harder to face though, is the effect discrimination has had on her children.
After the shooting in Orlando, she got a panicked call from one of her daughters, who was worried the violence could spark further attacks. She feared that her mother could be a target because she is transgender.
“It is maddening that my loved ones have to be concerned about my safety purely because of who I am,” she says, noting that this isn’t the first time her children and husband have expressed fear for her safety.
“I’ve often been implored to use caution, to be safe when leaving the house. And my family’s fear has only grown as they have witnessed the increasingly hateful messages and legislation, proposed and passed, regarding transgender people.”
Fear-mongering rhetoric perpetuated by backers of I-1552, which would repeal non-discrimination protections that she relies on to keep her safe in public, have lately contributed to her and her family’s sense of unease.
“It is maddening that my loved ones have to be concerned about my safety purely because of who I am. I’ve often been implored to use caution, to be safe when leaving the house. And my family’s fear has only grown as they have witnessed the increasingly hateful messages and legislation, proposed and passed, regarding transgender people.” –Cheryl, Gig Harbor
“I-1552 is a prime driver of their fear right now,” she says. “Not only is the misinformation peddled by the I-1552 campaign … driving anti-transgender sentiments in our state, if I-1552 makes it onto the ballot and is passed I could be targeted for discrimination and harassment—legally.”
Luckily, she says, age has made her very stubborn, and she has no intention of changing the way she lives because of the discriminatory intentions of others.
“I’ve already spent 50 years of my life hidden and refuse to live the rest of it in fear.”
Betsy & Her Daughter, Rachel | Spokane
Betsy remembers it was her daughter Rachel’s second day of kindergarten when she “got the call every parent dreads.” The vice principal was on the line. Rachel had “just said something incredibly disturbing,” and Betsy needed to come in right away for a discussion.
“So there I was, waiting in anticipation when the vice principal pulls me in and tells me, ‘Your child told their teacher: ‘I have a secret, I am going to be a girl when I grow, please call me she.’ What do you expect me to do about this?”
Betsy was taken aback, but she didn’t hesitate to stand up for Rachel: “Well, call her ‘she’ then.”
When she got home, Betsy searched the Internet for answers, and soon found what she was looking for. Rachel was transgender, though it took a little more digging at the library for her to come to a full understanding of what that meant.
One statistic shocked her: Transgender people are 10 times more likely than members of the general public to attempt suicide—a statistic that’s driven in part by the fact that transgender people experience more discrimination, harassment and violence just because of who they are.
There was no question that Betsy and her husband would support their daughter in living as the girl she knew herself to be, but after seeing that statistic, they quickly realized there was no other option.
“So there I was, waiting in anticipation when the vice principal pulls me in and tells me, ‘Your child told their teacher: ‘I have a secret, I am going to be a girl when I grow, please call me she.’ What do you expect me to do about this?” –Betsy, Spokane
“I shared everything I was learning with my husband and we learned pretty quickly: we could bury our son or we could support our daughter.”
Both Betsy and her husband had difficult childhoods, and they vowed that things would be different for their daughter. That could have been difficult since, according to Betsy, they live in an area of the state where many transgender people stay “hidden” because of the fear of discrimination.
But she and her husband have tried hard to ensure that isn’t the case for Rachel—and the fact that Washington has transgender non-discrimination protections have really helped them make the best life possible for their daughter.