Column: Transgender people are Americans, too. It’s time we pass the Equality Act.

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There are 30 states in the United States that lack explicit protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Michigan is one of them.  

Transgender Michiganders like me are at risk of losing our jobs, being denied housing and being refused basic services, just because of who we are.  

The Equality Act is federal legislation that seeks to amend this injustice. Should it be passed and signed into law, it will set a clear precedent in our state and in our country that a business cannot fire an employee just because she’s a transgender woman or that a gay or lesbian couple cannot be denied adoption services just because of who they love.  

USS Frank E. Evans | U.S. Navy photo, Wikimedia Commons

I am the great-granddaughter of Italian immigrants and the granddaughter of World War II veterans: one a Purple Heart recipient and one who, aboard the USS Frank E. Evans translated the incoming radio message: “The Japanese have surrendered.”

My father served in the U.S. Army in Cold War Germany. I was born in the German town of Bremerhaven in 1988, two years before Operation Desert Storm and just a year after President Reagan famously declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Our family returned home to Bay City in 1989, where my father, with a GED and no college degree found a union job at a GM foundry in Saginaw. Throughout my childhood, my mom would alternate between part-time work and staying home, balancing the demands of raising three children while helping provide for the family — as many working-class parents do.  

Determined to see us prosper, our parents instilled in us the values of hard work and education, and the idea that those two things would serve as a gateway to a better life. It was through those fundamentals that we began to forge our pursuit of happiness and carve out our little piece of the American dream.  

The Gender Spectrum Collection

I learned early in my journey, however, that as a transgender woman, my path would be different: that every stride I made would be heavily resisted. When my doctors referred me for life-saving surgery, my former employer’s insurance plan refused to cover it. I kept grinding, determined to overcome the obstacles before me. I applied for new jobs and stacked up well on paper but would be deemed “unqualified” as soon as potential employers saw me arrive in a skirt.

My story is a microcosm of the issues faced by transgender Michiganders and Americans.  We are the folks at the margins of every segment of the population. Our Black and Latina sisters are murdered with regularity, as was the case last December in Detroit.  

We are fired from jobs for being who we are, as one recent Michigan case became national news. We are denied access to health care. We are told we cannot adopt children, donate organs and serve in the military. The laws of this country allow us little to no recourse for these injustices.  

Photo by Zackary Drucker, The Gender Spectrum Collection

We call ourselves a nation of laws, yet those laws do not explicitly protect our freedoms, nor do they reflect our history.  

So, I ask you America, why don’t we deserve civil rights? Are we not your sons and daughters? Are we not your neighbors and soldiers? Is our history not also on the beaches of Normandy and the assembly lines of the Big Three?

Is the history of my Black transgender friends not also part of the scourge of slavery? Are we not also the immigrants who sought refuge and were welcomed by Lady Liberty’s guiding light?  

The truth is that we are. We are sewn into every inch of the fabric of this nation.  

U.S. Capitol | Wikimedia Commons

It’s high time America rectifies these injustices and the Equality Act will help address that. The bill is scheduled to be voted on Friday in the Democratic-led U.S. House this week and is expected to pass. But it faces an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Senate and President Trump has come out in opposition.  

Every American who professes to defend our Constitution and uphold the core beliefs of our great nation should stand behind us. Stand behind your neighbors, family, friends, and veterans. Stand behind your fellow Americans. Stand behind the Equality Act.   

Emme Zanotti
Emme Zanotti is a transgender woman and community activist, currently serving as treasurer and on the board of directors of a metro-Detroit based nonprofit and volunteering with multiple human rights-based advocacy organizations.

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