For Mariah Moore, voting is a ritual.
She has been voting since the age of 18 and hasn’t missed an election, yet. All elections have consequences, but this one is especially critical for her and many other transgender people whose rights have been decimated under the first term of the Trump Administration. In less than four years, he has taken away healthcare rights of transgender people in the military, as well as banning them from service. His Department of Housing and Urban Development is pushing to make it harder for trans people to seek shelter and federally-funded housing, and in August, erased protections for transgender patients by hospitals, doctors and insurance companies.
That’s why Moore and several other trans rights organizations and activists jumped on a conference call recently to discuss how they could support the 965,000 trans people who are eligible to vote at the polls.
“Our lives are literally at stake during this election and [we] really want to send that message to the trans community,” Moore, a trans rights activist, told The Root. “And also just wanting the entire LGBTQ community to know that there are some really serious things at stake here specifically [for] trans people of color.”
Moore and other trans rights activists The Root spoke to said the discrimination they have faced under the Trump Administration very much mirrors the transphobia they experience when many of them try to cast a ballot. The main issues transgender people face at the polls are with photo identification. Some states make it difficult for trans people to get the gender marker and names they were assigned at birth switched to their chosen ones, so they end up facing discrimination from poll workers because they do not visually present according to their identification.
“That could be something that stops them from voting,” said Diamond Stylz, executive director of Black Trans Women Inc, a national non-profit that is led by Black trans women focused on social advocacy. “There are trans folks that are really confident, like me, and that wouldn’t stop me from voting. But then there are some trans folks, who, if you get to misgendering them, you get to clocking them, that’ll give them dysphoria at that time or an anxiety attack and they won’t come back to their polling location. And in Texas, we have specific polling locations because one of the tactics of suppression is to put as few polling locations in big areas as possible, so the lines are super long. And so these are all factors that would make somebody say, ‘fuck it. I ain’t even talking about it.’”
Trans people in the thirty-five states that have voter ID laws often face challenges if they do not have identification that matches their gender identity; 18 of those states require a photo ID. A recent study conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA found that more than 378,000 transgender people, or 42 percent of trans folks eligible to vote, do not have an ID that matches their true gender or name. Trans people of color, those with disabilities and are low-income are also likely to face challenges trying to vote.
The genesis of voter ID laws, many of which are in GOP-lead states, is to suppress the voting power of Black people and other non-white groups. But they also have a discriminatory impact on trans people.
“A poll worker might bring their own stereotypes or perceptions of what a person with a certain kind of name ought to look like,” said David Brown, legal director at Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.“Or, they think that the photo on the ID may not look like the person that’s standing there in front of them. We certainly got reports of that from a few places around the country.”
Ashley Mayfaire, who co-founded Trans Social, Inc. with her husband, Morgan Mayfaire, told The Root that voter ID laws don’t require that somebody’s gender presentation matches the name, photo or gender marker on the ID.
“That’s not a legal reason for them not to be able to vote, but they face discrimination from poll workers,” she said. “And there hasn’t been widespread communication about what to do when that happens, who to call, what the affirmation form or provisional ballot processes are.”
Activists urge transgender people, like anyone else who believes they are facing discrimination at the polls, to speak with a poll station manager and not to leave without casting a provisional ballot. You can also call 866-OUR-VOTE or 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (en Español). Trans Social, Inc. has a guide for trans people in Florida who want to know their rights at the polls.
Stylz also brought up an important point: There are some people who do not have the courage to speak up for themselves or may break down if they are overwhelmed by the transphobia that they experience while voting. So, in Texas, she has been working with other like-minded people to carpool to the polls so they can vote together. Trans people often face abuse and discomfort on public transportation, so even getting to the polls on buses or trains would discourage people from voting.
All of these fears are in line with the fact that 2020 has been the most deadly year on record for transgender people with 32 deaths, most of whom were Black trans women.
Mayfaire’s group, based in Miami-Dade, Florida, is offering free Lyft codes for trans people to get to the polls so they won’t have to use public transport.
Rajee Narinesing, a transgender woman of Indian and Black descent, said she dropped off her ballot in Hollywood, Fla., where she lives, but even a simple task like that requires her to focus in ways that many people take for granted.
“Wherever I go, I’m always on alert,” said Narinesing. “For instance, when I pull up to the market. I don’t jump right out like a lot of people do. A lot of times, I actually will sit in my car and assess the situation and get myself together because it’s like, ‘Take a deep breath. You’re going out into public and anything could come your way.’ I don’t know if it’s really understood when you’re gay or trans and you’re Black or of color, it’s a double whammy. It’s two things that you’re dealing with.”
Transgender rights have not been a major political conversation until this year’s election when presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro mainstreamed their issues into their platforms. Barack Obama is widely credited for being the most progressive president on trans issues in U.S. history, but Trump has undone much of that work during his first term. Moore, who is based in New Orleans, drives home the message that another Trump term could harm what protections they have left. And she also devotes a lot of time to educating people about the impacts of local elections and the implications for the trans community.
“When we talk about the quality of life for people specifically in Louisiana, that means making sure we have a district department specifically in New Orleans that is affirming to trans people when it comes to making sure that they are properly housed and identified,” she said. “Making sure that folks can’t be turned away from shelters because of their gender identity. That’s even happening on a national level with the HUD rule. So these are some of the things in the attacks that have been coming down on the trans community since the president took office. We just need a new administration. We need a more affirming administration. And we also need elected officials locally who are accepting and affirming and share the same vision that we have for our future.”
The work to liberate transgender people will be ongoing, regardless of who wins the White House. Polling shows Biden ahead of Trump and many traditionally blue states, while usually red states such as Georgia and Texas are in play. Many of this year’s high-profile U.S. senate and house candidates are very progressive when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights and have gone on record supporting the Equality Act, which has been held up by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If Democrats win the Senate, the act is almost certain to pass and be signed into law by a Biden Administration.
Moore also made clear that not everyone in the community shares her politics and she educates everyone on how to best cast their ballots—regardless of their political outlooks. As for the organizing part, Moore and her fellow activists are ready for any outcome—including if Trump wins, whose administration has been openly transphobic.
If it is Joe Biden, Moore said they won’t relent on his administration either.
“We’ll take him to task with the promises that he made that he would reverse every single harmful executive order that Donald Trump instituted or carried out.”