Trans People See No Equality in Rural Georgia

A man a part of the Christian protesters yells at an LGBT supporter who takes a stand for what he believes in. Photo by: Dayne Francis, Signal Archives 2015

Outside of the protected boundaries of Georgia State and the city of Atlanta, life is completely different for a transgender individual.

Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

Atlanta holds one of the largest LGBTQ+ communities in the country, and Georgia State follows by example. The university is known for its diversity on many fronts, including sexuality and gender identity. But the people who identify as transgender and those who don’t let a binary gender system define them haven’t always had it easy in the city.

Chanel Haley, Georgia Equality’s Gender Inclusion Organizer, and a trans Georgia State student weighed in on the reality for the community inside and outside of Atlanta city lines.

HOUSING

For many, finding a place to live often depends on pet preferences, pricing of rent, location, and noisy neighbors. But for the transgender community in Georgia, it often comes down to the policies in place against discrimination. Atlanta is the only city in the state that has some form of protection against housing discrimination.

“However, the county does not have that, nor does the state,” Haley said.

For places outside the city of Atlanta, the only way to ensure protection against housing discrimination is through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The HUD Equal Access Rule protects trans individuals, but only if it qualifies as HUD-funded housing. However, there’s no guarantee for church or private developments. According to Haley, even the protections that do exist are subject to change.

“That is something the current administration is pulling back on,” she said.

Other than those exceptions, housing discrimination is not only common, but entirely legal. For a trans person, private owners, and organizations such as churches providing emergency housing, have every legal right to reject them and they can do so based solely on a person’s gender identity.

Even on Georgia State’s campus, housing can be an issue. Haley explained that many university policies are questionable because while the written policy may be inclusive, it’s the implementation of that policy that really matters.

Georgia State assigns housing to transgender individuals on a case-by-case basis, which is what Haley said universities often resort to in order to stay politically correct.

In 2015, Georgia State introduced co-ed dorms, allowing students to live with anyone they wanted regardless of their sex. At the time, director of University Housing Marilyn De LaRoche said the decision came after repeated requests from groups on campus calling for more housing options.

She told USAToday the decision came in the interest of the LGBTQ+ community.

“For transgender and transsexual students, it actually offers them an environment of comfort to be rooming with people who have their same interests,” LaRoche said back in 2015. “Across the country, you have more than a 100 — maybe 125 — schools that already have this in place and has been in place for years. This is different for Georgia, but not different to the country.”

The program has been a step forward for Georgia State’s trans community. The Signal spoke with a trans student about Georgia State’s gender-inclusive housing to hear how it has affected some of our trans community first hand.

“The program is a little flawed,” the student said, “but at least it exists.”

The student applied for gender inclusive housing, but was not able to get it after the housing overflow issue. They said that the people they talked to from the housing department were very accommodating, but there were still some issues.

“I was talking about needing to get into gender inclusive housing and the person I was asking didn’t really understand what my question was,” they said.

They felt like the fact that Georgia State has trans and non-binary students was lost on the housing employee.

“She wasn’t rude, she just didn’t seem to understand,” they said. “She didn’t know that was a thing that we offer.”

The student said they were lucky to live with accepting cisgender people of the gender the student was assigned at birth, but they have some friends that have had to deal with transphobia.

Housing on or off campus also isn’t the end to the hurdles the community has to overcome.

EMPLOYMENT & HEALTHCARE

“To make it worse, there is no protection –period– for employment outside of Atlanta,” Haley said.

There is no other way to put it. If you are trans anywhere else in Georgia, an employer can choose not to hire you based off of who you are.

And Georgia is no stranger to workplace discrimination. Women are paid less than men, women of color are paid less than white women, and transgender individuals are still fighting for their rights to work at all.

“I think that it’s important, especially for women, to understand how strong discrimination is here in Georgia,” Haley said.

And it might just be the workplace discrimination that costs Atlanta its shot at the Amazon headquarters. Last week, when the Georgia Senate passed a bill allowing adoption agencies to deny gay couples for adoption, activists turned to the corporate giant, urging Amazon to stay away from the state.

According to The Chicago Tribune, advocates sent a letter to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos asking him to keep equality and workplace fairness in mind, saying that “doing best for its employees can’t including putting 50,000 of them in any of 11 final locations: Atlanta, Austin, Columbus, Dallas, Indianapolis, Miami, Nashville, Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or Raleigh.”

And when it comes to taking care of our transgender community, nothing requires doctors in the state to do so.

Haley said that if a trans person is rushed to the hospital in critical condition, doctor’s oath requires them to save a life. However, once that person is in a stable condition, the doctor is in perfectly legal parameters to abandon the patient.

POLITICS

Living in the heart of the state capital, it’s easy to forget that Georgia is more than just Atlanta. There are 159 counties in Georgia. There are 180 representatives that have promised to represent us.

“What people fail to remember is that you live here in Atlanta, and it’s concentrated in Democratic control, liberal control, but the rest of the state is not,” Haley explained.

Rural Georgia, much like the rest of the rural South, has more traditional, conservative values, so their votes look very different from Atlanta’s. Even though Atlanta is bustling, it’s actually agriculture that brings most of the money in for Georgia, so the rural areas also have more financial pull.

This can sometimes make voting a tricky situation.

“I will admit, voter suppression is real in Georgia,” Haley said.

Trans people can often face some struggles at the polls if their ID picture no longer looks like them, or if their name or gender has been changed. There is a common assumption that people from the LGBTQ+ community are usually Democratic because that is the party that often presents the most legislation in their favor. So depending on the poll they attend, it can be very convenient for the workers to make it difficult for people in the LGBTQ+ community to vote.

“Which is ridiculous because they’re on both sides of the isle,” Haley said.

For example, House Bill 660 presented by Rep. Meagan Hanson, R-Brookhaven, would establish some legal parameters for crimes committed based on prejudice beliefs in Georgia. In the same way, Senate Bill 119 presented by Senator Lester G. Jackson, D, would offer statewide protection to LGBTQ+ people.

Whatever the case, it’s a system. If the LGBTQ+ community can’t get people in office who represent them, then no legislation will ever give them protection.

“The thing about discrimination is that it plants a seed,” Haley said. “If I can get away with discriminating against one group, then it leads into the next, and the next, and the next.”

THE TRANS REALITY

While Atlanta’s hub might often seem like a safe space, transgender individuals live in a state willing to offer them no protection.

“My hometown was in the suburbs and I felt really unsafe in that town,” the student said. “I was really worried that that was going to be something that was just a part of being trans. I thought that was something I was going to feel for the rest of my life.”

Atlanta has helped that feeling fade for the student, but the LGBTQ+ community is still facing that feeling in Georgia.

“I think the base of this is that the LGBTQ+ Community in the state of Georgia does not have basic rights,” Haley said.

There have been systems put in place against the community that effectively make living a difficult thing to do outside of Atlanta.

“This is about the basics of being allowed to work, allowed to use the bathroom where you want, and being allowed to have housing,” Haley said.

These difficulties also have major impacts on the homeless, incarceration, and murder rates in the trans community, all of which are elevated because of issues that stem from anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

WHAT CAN STUDENTS DO?

However, there is something students can do to help. For one, Georgia State is in walking distance from the Capitol. Lobbying, protesting, or sitting in on proceedings are all ways Georgia State students can stay informed and have their voices heard.

At the very least, dialogue can be a first line of defense.

“I have seen a lot more happen with conversation than people give credit for,” Haley said. “It’s more about people feeling like they are being validated.”

Getting in contact with officials to start that conversation can be an effective tactic. Haley stressed the importance of identifying a location and whether or not you are a part of the LGBTQ+ community when you contact them.

“It’s way more powerful having letters from someone who is not in the community,” she said, mostly because that shows that it’s an issue everyone is concerned about and also makes it relatable to the person reading that letter who may be thinking of their children who may feel the same way.

In the same way, officials are going to be more sensitive to the people who (district-wise) have the power to vote them in or out, so that’s why location is important to include.

Whatever your line of action may be, now you know the facts. Georgia State students are lucky to attend a university in an area where the LGBTQ+ community has begun to collect basic civil rights.

“I consistently stand by that we are stronger together,” Haley said. “That’s what we should all be striving for.”

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