Transgender visibility increases along with transgender attacks

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It’s been a record year for anti-transgender legislation, with GOP lawmakers in at least 28 states introducing bills targeting the trans community. Florida is among them, with a bill barring trangender youth from participating in sports waiting to be signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

Meanwhile, transgenders have wider visibility and acceptance than ever before in movies, television, music and the business world. 

Transgender adcocate and bank executive Ashley T. Brundage and University of Tampa Professor Alisha Menzies explored the issue April 28 on Midpoint Wednesday with host Janet Scherberger. 

Brundage is the author of the book “Empowering Differences,” which provides a road map for harnessing diversity to achieve professional advancement for individuals and financial strength for business. 

Brundage was born male but transitioned to female in 2008 after losing her job during the market crash. She determined at that point the only way to succeed was to identify as her most authentic self. 

While she often faced discrimination, she continued with confidence, walking  into each interview, explaining how she could be used as an asset to reach a more diverse audience, including over two million transgender people currently living in the United States. Eventually, she found a job at a bank, where she is now the national vice president of diversity and inclusion. 

Her success, she said, was possible when she placed her happiness and quality of life before societal privilege. She encourages others to follow suit and live their most authentic life. She said she hopes her openness about identifying as a transgender woman has paved the road for others in the community, making it easier for them to branch into the world of business. 

“By choosing to be open,  by choosing to move in society openly as a transgender person and not necessarily hiding my status, but celebrating who I am and my authenticity, ultimately, I am using empowerment,” she said. “Hopefully making it easier… [for] other transgender people or other people who are intersectionality diverse who come after me down this pathway.”

Still, according to GLAAD, 80% of Americans don’t know personally know any transgender people. That means most of what they know about the community comes from movies and television, which makes how trans men and women are represented in media important.  

“The media, because we live in a 100 percent saturated world teaches us what we know about, who we know about it,” said UT professor Alisha Menzies. “It doesn’t teach us how to think, but what to think about.”  

Historically, Dr. Menzies said, transgender women have been portrayed in popular culture as dangerous murderers, such as in “Dressed to Kill,” or a joke, as in the TV show “Bosom Buddies” or “Mrs. Doubtfire,” which implies they aren’t real. More recently, however, transgender characters have been treated seriously and with sensitivity, as in the TV shows “Billions,” “Euphoria” and “Lonestar 911.” 

Brundage said she used to be unsure of whether she could find employment. She said that watching transgender characters, especially Mistress Carmelita in “Dirty Sexy Money” during  ABC’s prime time television slot, she realized with hard work, she too could succeed in her career of choice. 

Continued understanding of the transgender community through popular culture, both agreed, is essential given that 2020 was the deadliest year for transgender violence, according to the Human Rights Campaign. 

Maddie Harbaugh contributed to this report