There are few words that carry more weight than that of a grandparent. And in less than 140 characters, one congressional grandpa made his point on transgender rights clear.
“As the proud grandpa of a transgender grandchild, I hope she can feel safe at school without fear of being bullied,” California Rep. Mike Honda tweeted on Wednesday.
By the following day, the Democrat's very personal expression of love for his family member had been re-tweeted more than 5,300 times and "favorited" by more than 8,800 people.
Ineke Mushovic, executive director of Movement Advancement Project (MAP), said Honda's public announcement was significant, because it reached Americans who do not personally know someone who is transgender and might have difficulty understanding what that means.
"Transgender Americans, whether they are youth or adults, simply want the same chance as other Americans to go to school, earn a living, and to be safe in their communities," Mushovic said in an email. "And similarly, Rep. Honda, like any grandparent, wants these opportunities for the granddaughter he loves. Rep. Honda accepts his granddaughter without judging and is simply hoping that other Americans can do the same."
While school bullying is an issue for many youth across the country, it affects transgender students at an increased rate. A 2011 study commissioned by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 61% of those who were open about their transgender identity or gender non-conformity at school were met with harassment, assault, or even expulsion from school.
A study released yesterday by MAP and the Center for American Progress concluded that these environments make it difficult and potentially impossible for transgender students to succeed at school. “As a result, they are ill-prepared to compete for good jobs and see reduced earnings and fewer opportunities for successful jobs and careers,” the study says.
A key takeaway: Legislation could help level the playing field, according to Mushovic. More than half of all states lack laws protecting transgender students from bullying and harassment, which threatens not only their health and safety, but also their educational opportunities, she said.
If Honda is any indication, changing attitudes and increasing awareness might begin at the nuclear level. Transgender kids, after all, need our protection and our love, the representative said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
"We need to ensure that our LGBTQ youth are never bullied because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity," he wrote.
Honda, the House Democratic Senior Whip and a longtime supporter of the LGBT community, co-founded the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus with openly gay lawmakers Sen. Tammy Baldwin and former Rep. Barney Frank.
“I came to Congress to fight for the civil and human rights of Americans of all sexual orientations, genders and ethnic backgrounds. All Americans deserve the right to work, live, and love in peace and free from intimidation and prejudice,” he said at the time.