Understanding the ‘Gender Revolution’ Doesn’t Just Ease Discrimination, It Can Save Lives

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Transgender people are more likely to be unemployed, homeless and living in poverty. They are often victims of harassment, health care discrimination, housing inequality and family rejection, which appears to contribute to greater suicide attempts among transgender individuals.

These startling revelations have led to calls for people to be more open to different gender identities, especially those that do not fit the male and female categories people have grown accustomed to.

On June 6, the Family Resource Center at the Institute of Living offered an exclusive screening of Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric at Real Art Ways in Hartford.

The screening of the National Geographic documentary film, which aims to foster conversation on gender issues and promote understanding of the notion that gender exists on a spectrum, was followed by a panel discussion featuring members of the community and experts from the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

“We really wanted to make sure we answered questions from the audience and make a connection to their needs as a community and people who are interested in this topic,” said Dr. Laura Saunders, clinical coordinator of The Right Track/LGBTQ Specialty Track in Young Adult Services at the Institute of Living. “Everyone’s experiences are different. The more we provide open discussion and affirming conversations, the better the whole process is.”

The discussion focused on ways to promote understanding and reduce the negative consequences of stigma on gender identity issues.

For one member of the panel, improving this situation is both critical and personal.

“Every day I continue on this journey and I will be on this journey for the rest of my life,” said Hunter, a 23-year-old transgender man who described his transition. “Every day I’ve become more like myself, the person I was supposed to be. It’s an exciting journey and sometimes it’s scary, but I am a little happier every day.”

When a person is born, they are not just assigned a sex by the doctor—they are assigned a gender by their family and community. That gender assignment at birth has consequences for a lifetime, and always brings expectations from society at large.

When people don’t adhere to those expectations because their gender identity doesn’t match the gender they were assigned at birth, they become victims of discrimination, segregation, and in many cases, violence.

Dr. Priya Phulwani, pediatric and adult endocrinologist and director of the Gender Program at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, works with transgender people of all ages and champions the need for greater understanding to combat stigma.

“This is not something new and it’s not just a trend,” Phulwani said. “Adolescents who hit puberty and still feel very strongly that the gender assigned at birth doesn’t fit your affirmed gender, the chances they will change their mind are very, very slim. And less than two percent of people who have undergone a gender-affirming surgery say they regret their decision.”

“For the vast majority of people, not doing something because you fear that it’s a phase has a huge negative consequence with suicide attempt rates greater than 40 percent. There’s no question in my mind that supporting transitions is the way to go in nearly every case.”

According to the film, gender has always existed on a spectrum and some cultures have embraced a broader definition of gender for thousands of years. But these issues have only recently entered mainstream discussion in the United States, in part because of improvements in communication and community building, both on- and off-line.

“PFLAG was originally set up as ‘parents and friends of lesbians and gays,’ but we don’t call ourselves that anymore,” said Lori Davison, president of PFLAG Hartford. “We have between 50 and 80 people that come to our Hartford chapter meetings, and about three-quarters of them are there for gender identity issues. This is happening and it’s growing because there is more exposure and people are getting educated about it.”

Davison praised Katie Couric’s approach in the documentary.

“I think the film was very well done,” Davison said. “Katie Couric got a public whipping from the transgender community after an interview that went awry a few years ago. Instead of getting riled up about it, she sought to learn more about gender and transgender people. I commend the way this film was set up and portrayed her asking important questions we hear all the time.”

You can watch a preview of the documentary on the National Geographic website or purchase and stream the film at home through Amazon or YouTube.

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