By Tate Hansen
Growing up in the Mormon Church, I was told gender was the ultimate divine right, the foremost important part of who we are. Our entire lives were structured on this premise. Men work and provide for their families. Women stay at home and care for the children and household. From a very young age I knew I was different. I didn’t want to live by those values.
I was raised outside of Utah in a devout Mormon family and grew up struggling with my identity. I first came out as bisexual at the end of college, and then as lesbian a while later. After years of much consideration, therapy, and soul-searching, I realized I didn’t identify with womanhood and that neither “man” nor “woman” truly described my experience. I present masculine, but nonbinary is really who I am.
Coming out as a transgender and nonbinary person is a continuous process. There’s updating gender information on all types of documents, and continuously addressing issues when my former name, or dead name, appears on my past work records. But the hardest part of this process for me was losing some of my friends and family, and even my church.
Today, I work as a forensic scientist at the Alaska State Crime Lab, formally known as the Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory. I’m glad to say I’ve received a great deal of support from my colleagues and coworkers and I have been fortunate to find places of acceptance and inclusiveness right here in Anchorage.
But that’s not the case for many transgender and nonbinary people. In 2017, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported 27 percent of transgender students felt unsafe going to school, 35 percent reported being bullied, and 35 percent had attempted suicide. Across the United States, and even here in Alaska, transgender and nonbinary people are still subjected to workplace harassment, housing discrimination, and even denied access to medical care.
It’s time for a federal solution. The Equality Act would start to address these issues by guaranteeing basic, fundamental protections for all people in employment, housing and public accommodations regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It would ensure transgender and nonbinary people are guaranteed the opportunity to work and provide for their families, secure a home for their loved ones, and access life-saving medical care – free from harassment, violence, and discrimination.
Even though I left my church, I believe all people have the right to practice whatever faith aligns with them, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights and safety of others. I believe we are called upon to respect the fundamental dignity of all people, and to treat others as we want to be treated, including those who seem different from us.
I know I’m not alone. In fact, 82 percent of White mainline Protestants, 73 percent of Black Protestants, 81 percent of Latinx Catholics, 77 percent of White Catholics, 78 percent of Latter-Day Saints, and 79 percent of Jewish Americans also support these protections.
The Equality Act would help ensure LGBTQ Americans are not refused a place to live, turned away from public spaces, denied medical care, or fired from a job because of who they are. It provides common sense nondiscrimination protections, and has broad and deep support across lines of political party, religion, demographics, and geography. The vast majority of people in this nation agree that it’s time to pass these protections, including 62 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of Independents, and 85 percent of Democrats.
I know there are people who might not understand the transgender and nonbinary communities, or who are struggling with their own gender identity. But LGBTQ people are your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers. I encourage those with questions or misunderstandings to learn more about the transgender and nonbinary communities or reach out to Identity Alaska, an Anchorage nonprofit that provides education and support. I think we can all agree that all Alaskans and the 13 million LGBTQ people across the nation deserve basic, fundamental protections.
It’s up to Congress now. I urge Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan to stand with their constituents and support passage of the Equality Act.
Tate Hansen is a proud Alaskan resident and lives with his partner in Anchorage.