The city of Greensboro is developing a new task force to address the needs of transgender people in the community. According to city officials, the task force will be made up of all trans or gender nonbinary individuals.
“I think we have been discussing for a long time what the issues are for different marginalized groups,” at-large Councilmember Michelle Kennedy said in a phone interview on Friday. “Like what are the specific needs for the Black and Brown community? And the transgender community has a particularly different road often with government structures and entities. North Carolina is not the most welcoming place for folks who are trans.”
Kennedy said that the task force has been in the works for months, but the coronavirus pandemic brought progress to a halt. This past week, a ban on LGBTQ protections enacted by House Bill 142 — which repealed House Bill 2, also known as the “bathroom bill” — expired. The bill banned local governments from enacting non-discrimination ordinances such as employment and housing protections. Now, with the bill expired, local governments can move forward with protecting their most vulnerable individuals, Kennedy said.
“It’s beyond time to be listening to the transgender community about what they need,” she said. “And for them to have equity and to not have language that is misgendering people or using IDs that use deadnames.”
According to a draft document about the new task force, five to nine participants will lead the initiative and an emphasis will be placed on making sure a majority of the members are people of color. That’s because trans people of color, particularly trans Black women, are some of the most marginalized in the community, Kennedy said.
“We know that violence is perpetrated against trans women of color at a disproportionate rate and because of that, I think their voices need to be heard the loudest,” she said. “I’m not really interested in a task force of all upper class trans white men.”
According to data by UCLA’s Williams Institute, approximately 1.4 million adults in the country identify as transgender. A 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality which received responses from 27,715 individuals, found that 10 percent of trans individuals suffered violence from a family member because of their identity and 8 percent were kicked out of their homes. Those who were still in school experienced verbal harassment, physical attacks and sexual assaults. Thirty percent of respondents said that they had been mistreated in the workplace because of their gender identity. The data also shows that outcomes are often worse for trans individuals of color. According to the same survey, Black trans individuals were more likely than trans people of a different race to experience homelessness, sexual assault or live with HIV. The survey by UCLA found that transgender women, particularly women of color, were assumed by police to be sex workers and that more than half of the respondents said they would feel uncomfortable asking police for help if they needed it.
While the specific goals of the task force have not yet been determined, Kennedy said some of the more obvious issues like interactions with police and barriers to city services will likely come up in discussions.
Kennedy hopes that much like how Faith Action ID cards were used by undocumented individuals a few years ago for city services, another form of ID could be used by trans individuals who don’t have the means to fully change all of their government identification to match their gender identity.
“The GTA doesn’t need to know if I identify as male or female,” Kennedy said. “Same thing with a library card. What can we do in terms of alternate forms of documentation to make it more appropriate for folks in the trans community or people who are nonbinary?”
Jennifer Ruppe, the executive director of the Guilford Green Foundation and the LGBTQ Center, said the taskforce is a good first step to improving the lives of transgender individuals in the city.
“I think we really need to see real action from this,” she said. “That’s going to require that the right people are selected to be on this. We really need a diverse group of trans people to be on this task force. I hope that the city will do an intentional search for people to be on the task force and that they’re committed to the recommendations and making real change.”
Greensboro Human Rights Director Love Jones said that the goals and the strategies for improving the lives of transgender individuals in the city should happen organically and will be decided by those on the task force themselves.
“We don’t want it to be crafted by government and then projected out to the community,” she said. “We can see how productive these things can be when they’re not spearheaded by government and more about the government supporting a community effort.”
While the draft outline for the task force mentions issues like police interactions and housing discrimination, both Jones and Kennedy emphasized that what issues the task force wants to tackle will be up to them. And that’s what Ruppe is hoping for, too.
“I think that the task force will be critical to informing more protective protections than what the state currently offers,” she said. “It is a step that if implemented properly, could help [Greensboro] to be a leader not only in the state, but in the country.”
This week, the Human Rights Campaign released its Municipal Equality Index which scores cities on how well they support LGBTQ individuals. This year, Greensboro ranked second place with 79 points, behind Chapel Hill, which placed first with 86 points. That means that for the sixth year in a row, the city ranked first or second on the index.
“We’ve seen that on paper we can perform well,” Ruppe said about the index. “But there’s still a lot we can do.”
Ruppe said that since the onset of the pandemic nine months ago, the LGBTQ center has received an increase in requests for mental health services.
“It’s far different from what we were experiencing before,” Ruppe said. “Now people are calling and contemplating suicide, and that’s a result of isolation and fear of access to health care. I think it’s also triggering for people who survived the AIDS crisis.”
Included on the city’s draft for the task force is a line titled “public emergency support (pandemic/natural disaster)” that could help bolster the kind of work that the LGBTQ center is already doing to address mental health.
But the process is still in its early stages, according to Jones, and applications for those interested in being on the task force will be open until Monday. Then, city staff will pare down the pool to finalize the group. Jones also said that those who don’t make it into the final task force can still participate in shaping how the city supports transgender individuals because there may be subcommittees and more opportunities for input. So far, 22 individuals have reached out to be apart of the taskforce, according to Zaynah Afada, the general coordinator at the human rights department.
“This is an opportunity for those in the community to be the frontline voice of the taskforce,” she said.
Those interested in serving on the task force should contact Zaynah Afada, general coordinator at the human rights department, at [email protected] no later than Monday, Dec. 7.