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Transgender America: 10 Best and Worst Moments of 2017

With Donald Trump in office, it was a hard year for the trans community – but there were still some hopeful signs

Trans America: 10 Best and Worst Moments of 2017

One of the brightest spots of 2017 was the November election, when several trans people won seats in local races.

Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Three years ago, the outlook for transgender people in America was optimistic: Time Magazine announced the “Transgender Tipping Point” in May of 2014, as pop culture milestones and minor legal victories were falling into place at a pace that suggested more substantial victories would not be far behind.

But by 2015, the anti-transgender backlash had already begun – and today, the optimism of 2014 seems like a distant dream. The anti-LGBT groups who first put transgender people in the state-level crosshairs now hold sway in the White House, and they have been using their power to make life hell for a community that was already living in legal purgatory. But even these dire circumstances, transgender people have made genuine gains, both cultural and political. The Trump administration’s actions may have delayed full equality, but the progress made in 2017 proves that it won’t be out of reach for long .

Here are the five best and worst moments of a year that saw the transgender community persisting under unprecedented political pressure.

The Good: Transgender service members

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The Good: Transgender service members shine under pressure

On the morning of July 26th, Trump unexpectedly announced on Twitter that “the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the military.” But his administration’s attempts to implement that policy have, so far, been unsuccessful. What Trump has unwittingly done, however, is draw public attention to the many transgender service members who “have and continue to serve with distinction,” as District Judge Kollar-Kotelly noted in the first of several court rulings against the hasty ban.

Suddenly, transgender service members and veterans are being given large platforms to share their stories. MTV, for example, issued an open invitation to transgender military members to attend the Video Music Awards – and a small group of them ended up walking the red carpet. And as transgender soldiers speak up, the public is learning the stakes of Trump’s actions. Retired Staff Sergeant Shane Ortega, who became one of the first public faces of transgender military service back in 2015, told Rolling Stone that the ban wasn’t just about military service but about “who is considered a valid human being, and who is not a human being.”

Trump’s tweets – which claimed, without any evidence, that transgender inclusion in the military would cause “tremendous medical costs” and “disruption” – were deeply dehumanizing. But they have been followed by six months of the most humanizing attention transgender troops have ever received.

Lil Duval

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The Bad: Lil Duval makes transphobic remarks on “The Breakfast Club”

“This might sound messed up, but I don’t care, she dying.”

That’s what comedian Lil Duval said on the July 28th edition of the hip-hop-focused radio show “The Breakfast Club” when asked how he would react if he discovered that a women he had been intimate with was transgender. Lil Duval went on to say that the experience would make him “gay” in his mind and he “can’t live with that.”

Given the violence perpetrated against transgender women – often by men who feel shame around sleeping with them – the comments hit a particularly raw nerve. Author Janet Mock penned the definitive response to the incident for Allure, writing, “It’s this deplorable rhetoric that leads many cis men, desperately clutching their heterosexuality, to yell at, kick, spit on, shoot, burn, stone and kill trans women of color.” 

The Good: Election Night 2017

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The Good: Election Night 2017

A lot of transgender people spent the night of November 8th fearing for the future, only to be pleasantly surprised. And while 2017’s electoral gains weren’t good enough to counteract the devastating effects of a Trump-Pence administration, they were certainly a step in the right direction.

Seven openly transgender candidates won elections, ranging from Stephe Koontz, who won a city council race in Georgia, to Danica Roem, the incoming Virginia state legislator (and metalhead) who ran against the author of an anti-transgender “bathroom bill.” In fact, two black transgender candidates – Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham – both won races for Minneapolis City Council seats. This is the first time in history that so many transgender people have won elections. Not only is that precedent a direct repudiation of Trump’s bigotry, it’s proof that voters increasingly don’t care about a candidate’s transgender status, so long as they can get the job done. Last year ended with the election of Donald Trump. This year ended with hope.

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