Johnny Hebda: It’s past time for the gay community to be the allies the trans community needs

The trans and nonbinary communities — the smallest and most vulnerable sectors under the LGBTQ umbrella — are being attacked.

As a gay man who is actively involved in Pride events and LGBTQ-centered fundraisers, I recognize that I have been selfish. As a cisgender, white and privileged member of society, I’ve concerned myself with Pride and activism as it pertains to me and in celebrating my sexuality and freedom to live my authentic self.

The “T” in LGBTQ had previously seldom crossed my mind — but this year, regretfully for the first time, I noticed the lack of “T” representation from the community at large during Utah Pride celebrations. I also realized that I don’t really know many trans individuals in my social or professional circles. It hit me this year just how self-absorbed and unaware I have been. I am part of the problem, I need to do more.

The trans and nonbinary communities — the smallest and most vulnerable sectors under the LGBTQ umbrella — are being attacked. The 500-plus pieces of U.S. legislation aimed at the LGBTQ community just this year are primarily targeted at the trans community. It’s as if society wants to hide this community and push them back into the closet, akin to don’t ask/don’t tell.

The religious and far-right politicians take aim at the trans community by raising fears under the guise of protecting children, such as Gov. Greg Abbott’s instruction to state health agencies in Texas that medical treatments provided to transgender adolescents should be classified as “child abuse” under existing state law. And Ron DeSantis, a prominent presidential candidate, using trans rights as a major talking point of his campaign, saying it is “wrong for a teacher to instruct a student that they were born in the wrong body” and “youth gender transition surgeries are barbaric.”

These antics have been used for more than a century by creating mystical fears of indoctrinating the children with anti-American views and customs, confusing them with traditional gender responsibilities, integrating them with communist atheism and blah-blah-blah. It’s the same headlines and fear mongering used against immigrants, used against women, used against Black communities and used against gay communities.

Well, now the tired, old antics are taking aim at the trans community.

Exposing children to gay people doesn’t turn children gay any more than exposing gay children to straight people turns them straight. I’ll let you in on a little secret: The same rule applies to trans people.

What I have found most shocking is not the predictable threats from the political, far-right-wing and religious zealots, but the transphobia I have observed within the gay community. As I have become more involved with the trans community, I have been appalled at the apathy, the discrimination and the so-called “LGB movement,” or the desire of certain gay folks to separate themselves from the trans community.

As I now have come to know many members of the trans community, they have shared their feelings of being ignored, avoided and discriminated against by the gay community. And this isn’t unique to Utah, it’s a microcosm of the trans community’s feelings across the nation.

Numerous national polls show that support for gay rights is at an all-time high. Homophobia is condemned by virtually all age brackets and socioeconomic subsets, showing 70%+ supporting gay rights. However, other polls show that 38% of Americans believe society has “gone too far” in accepting transgender individuals.

Over the past decade, minds and hearts have shifted as the majority of society has accepted gay people as equals. And largely the catalyst for this progression came because straight allies supported and stood side-by-side with the gay community.

This same progression is needed for the trans community, and it must come from the gay community. We must be the allies that straight people were for us. We should be locking arms, empowering, supporting and fighting for our trans community. We have the majority of public support, laws and freedoms on our side. Our trans siblings do not.

I’ve been shocked by how few people — gay or straight — have befriended a trans person. So many people have opinions based on biased media and misinformation, yet have never sought education or gone to the source.

I challenge each member of the gay community to find a way to get to know, support and show love to a trans person. As gay people show greater empathy and support for the trans community, we will influence our straight friends and family.

We can be the link to strengthen the trans rights movement if we step up and do more. Apathy and disinterest are selfish and hypocritical. We want and demand to be treated fairly and to live as our authentic selves and love who we love. The trans community deserves the same. It is our responsibility to stand beside our trans siblings and demand they get the same rights and protections that we demanded and have received. We have a responsibility here. When the gay community truly starts supporting the trans community, we can make a powerful impact, and we will influence society. This is our moral obligation. We can and must do more.

On Aug. 12 the fourth annual Utah Trans Pride Festival will be held at Provo Memorial Park. It is an opportunity to celebrate, center and bring visibility to the amazingly diverse transgender community, as well as to raise funds for transgender people to pay for transition-related costs and gender-affirming care. It’s one of very few of its kind in the nation. I call upon gay Utahns to volunteer, support and be allies for this event. Bring your straight family and friends. Get to know the trans community. Ask questions. Show love. Seek understanding. Through education, empathy and empowering the trans community, we can be the catalyst for change. It’s about them, not us. We can do more. It’s long overdue.

(Johnny Hebda)

Johnny Hebda is a Salt Lake City resident, is a BYU alumni and LGBTQ+ activist. He is an actor, director, producer, entrepreneur and a volunteer director of the Utah Trans Pride Festival. He has produced many large events and fundraisers for LGBTQ+ organizations across the state.