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Oregon advocates offer support for transgender people amid increasing threats | Straight Talk

In the face of anti-transgender bills nationwide and a rise in hate crimes against trans people, advocates in Oregon pledge to fight back and offer support.

PORTLAND, Ore. — As the transgender community faces threats on multiple fronts, local advocates pledge to fight back and offer support to transgender individuals and families.

"We are going to have your back and keep shining your light," said Jess Guerriero, a social worker at OHSU's Transgender Health Program.

"We are fighting to make sure this doesn't enter Oregon," said Seth Johnstone of Basic Rights Oregon.

Guerriero and Johnstone were guests on this week's episode of "Straight Talk" to discuss the threats facing transgender people and the resources and support available to help.

Transgender people face multiple threats

2021 was the deadliest year on record for transgender individuals, according to the Human Rights Commission, with 45 transgender victims of homicide.

In addition, 2022 is on pace to see a record number of bills targeting transgender youth. Overall, there have been more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills compared to 150 in 2021. The Human Rights Commission also reports, "there has been a resurgence of stigmatizing and demeaning rhetoric from cultural, social, and political figures domestically and internationally."

Kalama, Wash. teen charged with hate crime against transgender students

Locally this week, police in Kalama, Wash. arrested a 16-year-old male student for assault and a hate crime offense at Kalama High School.
Police say the teen and another student targeted two transgender students using anti-gay slurs and then attacked one of the students, kicking them and giving them a concussion.

Johnstone, the lead Transgender Justice Trainer at Basic Rights Oregon, said schools need to be a safe place for everyone, including transgender people. He said studies show when there are supportive adults in a young person's life, the rate of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation go down, and when that support isn't available at home, students depend on schools for support.

"When we see school environments that aren't supportive of folks being their true selves and being targeted for being their true selves, it's definitely a failure of the system. And adults need to step up for youth," Johnstone said.

RELATED: Two teens arrested after attack on trans student in Kalama, Wash.

Paying it forward

Jess Guerriero grew up in a town on the east coast, where the trans community didn't have much visibility.

"I only knew one other trans kid and he was bullied mercilessly. I think my teenage brain was like — keep that over there, that is not me," Guerriero said.

It wasn't until Guerriero went to graduate school and read about nonbinary people in a textbook that things clicked.

"I was in grad school training to be a professor when that same friend took his life, and that was really my call to action to get back on the ground and pay it forward, because I am one of the lucky ones. I have supportive friends and family," they said.

Guerriero had this message for trans youth and their families: "Know we are out here. We survived. We continue to survive. We continue to thrive and we continue to say you are brave and resilient."

Shoring up LGBTQ protections in Oregon

Johnstone said Basic Rights Oregon is working to shore up the protections transgender people already have in Oregon, one of the more progressive states in the country on LGBTQ rights.

"We want to make sure folks have access to health care, education and employment. And the biggest thing right now is to continue to be aggressive," Johnstone said.

RELATED: Oregon LGBTQ+ organizations receive thousands in new grant money

Myths about gender-affirming health care

In Texas, the governor ordered state agencies to investigate parents for child abuse if they sought medical treatments for transgender adolescents, treatments that are widely considered standard of care in medicine. Guerriero said that type of legislation perpetuates myths, vilifies the care they're trying to provide and vilifies the adults and youth seeking the care. 

Guerriero said they are trying to get the story out about what Guerriero says is "medically necessary and life-saving care."

"Not every trans person wants medical intervention to affirm their identity, but those who do should have safe access to it. And when that care is under attack, it puts stress on health care systems, on providers, and certainly on the patients seeking care themselves," Guerriero said.

Johnstone said many of the narratives are fear-based.

"The biggest goal is that we elevate the voices of marginalized members of the trans community to have their voices heard. So that we can change minds and have people learn about our community properly," Johnstone said.

Trans youth needing support can get help through the Trevor Project.

Trans adults can get support through the Trans Lifeline.

RELATED: Experts: Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric could galvanize extremists

Should Be Alive: A KGW original podcast

Also on this episode of Straight Talk, KGW's Ashley Korslien and Vancouver-based trans activist Linden Walls discussed the KGW original podcast "Should Be Alive," which explores the murder of transgender teen, Nikki Kuhnhausen.

The 2019 murder helped prompt Washington lawmakers to pass "Nikki's Law,” which bans the "gay panic" defense, in which accused attackers blame the victims for crimes committed against them.

RELATED: Flight Risk | Should Be Alive, episode 4

"Should Be Alive" is available to download wherever you get your podcasts.

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