The Charlotte community expended a lot of energy recently arguing over whether the City Council should adopt an anti-discrimination ordinance that would have let transgender people use the bathrooms of their choice.
The apparent suicide this week of Blake Brockington, 18, serves as a sobering reminder that far more than bathroom rights are at stake for transgender people.
Brockington, who was known as a girl until his sophomore year at East Mecklenburg High, had always felt he was a boy. But as a child, family members forced Brockington to wear dresses to church and family events.
In a story published by the Observer in January, he talked of fighting depression, and moving in with a foster family. He said that with their support, he received counseling and transitioned to being Blake. He spoke of how he was crowned East Meck’s first openly transgender homecoming king last year.
“That was single-handedly the hardest part of my trans journey,” Brockington told a reporter. “Really hateful things were said on the Internet. It was hard. I saw how narrow-minded the world really is.”
The debate earlier this month over the City Council’s anti-discrimination ordinance offers a glimpse at how hard the road to acceptance is for transgender people like Blake.
The strong, dismissive rhetoric some speakers employed surely must have left transgender citizens feeling unwanted and stigmatized. Is it really so hard to disagree without being disagreeable?
While most City Council members favored adopting the broader anti-discrimination ordinance, it ultimately failed because of disagreement over transgender bathroom rights.
Even in an era when gay marriage is fast becoming commonplace, we still aren’t sure what to make of transgender people. Janice Covington Allison, a transgender woman, was even given a police escort from the women’s bathroom during the City Council meeting. “A man in a dress,” one person called her.
Most of us can only guess at how hard such social stigma must be to bear. Some 41 percent of transgender people report attempting suicide, according to a 2014 survey by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.
An astounding figure, to be sure, compared to 4.6 percent of the general population ever attempting suicide. They are not just fighting for rights; they are fighting for their lives.
We don’t know all the particulars of what happened to Blake Brockington and why. We may never know. But we know his short life was far more complicated and rugged than any child should have to bear.
“I’m still a person,” he told a reporter for the January story. “And trans people are still people. Our bodies just don’t match what’s up (in our heads). We need support, not people looking down at us or overlooking us.
“We are still human.”
If Blake ended his life because he was tired of fighting negative reaction to his gender identify, that should be unacceptable to us all – regardless of which bathroom you thought he should use.