It's been a progressive year for the transgender community – from Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair reveal to Miley Cyrus' InstaPride campaign to the continued success of Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox. But as John Oliver observes, it's important not to become "complacent about how far we've come." In the above segment from Sunday's Last Week Tonight, the host breaks down a number of prevalent issues transgender people face – from the media's frequent insensitivity to various civil rights injustices.
After showing a transgender faux pas montage featuring TV personalities like Barbara Walters, Larry King and a "bamboozled" local weatherman, Oliver takes a minute to explain the terminology that confuses so many. "Transgender people have a gender identity that differs from the one they were assigned at birth," he says. "Gender identity is who you are; sexual orientation is who you love. Some transgender people do undergo hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery as part of their transition; some do not. And interestingly, their decision on this matter is, medically speaking, none of your fucking business."
Oliver also addresses the question, "What do I call a transgender person?" with a clear-cut answer: "Call them whatever they want to be called," he says, using a hilarious real-life example as proof that Americans are capable of doing that. "Over the past 20 years, we've agreed to call this man Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, just Diddy and now Puff Daddy again – and most people don't even like him!"
One study indicates that there are nearly 700,000 American transgender adults. Many of these people battle suicide attempts, workplace inequality, harassment, physical and sexual assault, restrictions from the military and humiliating "bathroom bills" often used to discriminate. "Official rules can end up legitimizing prejudice," Oliver says, citing an example of a transgender high school student, Henry, who was bullied by his peers after being forced to use the girls' bathroom.
"We are weirdly comfortable celebrating transgender people while simultaneously dehumanizing them at the DMV, pinning awards to them as we drum them out of the military and constantly quizzing them about their genitals," Oliver says.
"This is a civil rights issue," he continues. "And if you're not willing to support transgender people for their sake, at least do it for your own. Because we've been through this before; we know how this thing ends. If you take the anti-civil rights side and deny people something they're entitled to, history is not going to be kind to you."