In the years since Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender, she has become one of music’s most outspoken voices for trans rights. On Wednesday night, the Trump administration sent a letter to public schools asking them to annul special protections for transgender students. The action was the result of a struggle between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the latter of whom opposed it and only reluctantly signed off on it.
To Grace, the action symbolizes a bleak future for the way the administration works with transgender people. As the dust settled, the singer – whose band will be touring with Green Day beginning March 1st – spoke with Rolling Stone to share her views on how she thinks it will affect the transgender community.
What was your first reaction to Trump’s action?
The knee-jerk thought is “fucking figures.” It’s fucking stupid. It’s unfortunately not surprising to me at all, and it’s kind of predictable and seems so transparent that this is an administration that doesn’t fucking care about transgender people.
The previous administration was the first to even acknowledge transgender people and that was really an amazing feeling, like, “Whoa. The government has your back as a transgender person or is even acknowledging your existence.” There’s something that’s somehow more evil about an administration actively going out and trying to take away rights as opposed to the previous administrations before the Obama administration that just didn’t do anything. There’s just something that much more fucked up about going out of your way to be like, “We’re taking that protection away from you.”
“This is an administration that doesn’t fucking care about transgender people.”
Last June, Trump tweeted his support of the LGBT community and when he was campaigning, he said Caitlyn Jenner could use any bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower. He’s flip-flopping on his personal views for his cabinet.
Right, but again, it’s not surprising to me. It echoes most of the transgender community’s criticism of Caitlyn Jenner’s naïveté for thinking that Trump or the Republican administration will give a shit or do anything to protect LGBT people, never mind going out of their way to take back protections.
Conversely, The New York Times reported that Betsy DeVos – whose family has given money to anti-gay organizations – opposed the action, citing the suicide rate among trans students.
My understanding is that she was voicing opposition to this and that it was Sessions and ultimately Trump who were like, “Nope. Go ahead and let’s go along with this.” But it just goes to show that she’s kind of a pushover and that he’s surrounding himself with people who will ultimately do his bidding; people he can steamroll who aren’t going to oppose his ultimate agenda.
And it’s not just this action by the administration toward transgender people that’s scary. It’s the overall agenda of making certain groups of people seem less than other groups of people and how that contributes to discrimination and allows people to treat other people as subhuman. You are stating, “These people are not equal to these other people. They don’t deserve protection.” And it’s just fucked up.
Interestingly, DeVos included a provision saying that the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights should investigate attacks “against those who are most vulnerable in our schools.”
I don’t think it’s enough. And I know that enforcing protections, for the most part, is being left up to the states now. But I don’t think it’s enough. I don’t think suicide hotlines are enough. I don’t think that waiting until it’s that much of a problem is enough. I just think it’s ridiculous in this day and age.
Can states handle these decisions?
Saying it’s a states’ rights thing essentially means OK-ing what’s happening in like North Carolina with bills similar to HB2. You’re giving the state the right to discriminate them.
What would you like to see happen next, legally, with regard to this action?
I just think it’s a continual battle for education. So many people are ignorant when it comes to gender identity and what it means to be trans. So many people are ignorant around the bathroom issue in particular.
It’s insane that it’s something that’s so heated or so misunderstood. It’s insane that it’s a reality for transgender people, that it’s my reality. Most of the time, I will just wait to use the fucking bathroom, and not do it in public. I feel so strongly about it being an issue for students because I remember there always being traumatic issues around restrooms in elementary school when I was growing up, and this is not even being out as a transgender person but just the experience of being a student and using a locker room or a bathroom and already feeling unprotected. You’re creating that much more dangerous of an environment for transgender students.
What organizations do you work with regarding trans rights?
Most of the charity work I’ve been doing has been funneled through Gender Is Over. The focus of where the funds go to is always different, but it’s always a trans-centered legal organization, or they send books to prisoners or something.
My attitude has always been that as an activist who’s a musician, the best thing that I can do is to contribute financially and have those funds directed to places that I know are going to be out there fighting for change on a legal level, like the Transgender Legal Defense Fund, because I’m just not personally in the position where I can be pursuing change on a legal level. I’m a person in a band, you know? I’m going on fucking tour with Green Day. So the best thing I can do is talk about it and try to educate people and then whatever funds I can raise, to direct that towards the people who are doing work on a legal level to create change in that way. You have to come at it from as many angles as you can.
Since you have the great platform of touring with Green Day, will be you be distributing information or educational materials via your merch table?
Well, we’re going back to North Carolina. Whenever we’re there, I invite any local groups that want to come out and flyer to do so. A part of the punk-show history or culture is having organizations out there and having them present. So I’m still encouraging anyone who wants to hand out information on what you can do on a local community level to do so. Other than that, I’ll be speaking directly to it onstage.
Do you have a personal message to Donald Trump?
“Fuck off.” [Laughs]. No, a personal message to Trump … I don’t even know where to begin. He seems so unrelatable. The simplistic idea of saying, “Oh, everyone deserves equal rights and equal protections” … I don’t even know. I just wish this wasn’t a reality.