As We Transition Our Economy, Let's Support Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Appalachians

Change is happening in our mountain communities. Recently, our region has been working towards transitioning our economy away from extractive industry, and  toward models that work for the people. Working class families across Central Appalachia have  sacrificed so much to build our nation’s infrastructure through coal mining and other resource extraction. It’s long overdue that we work to provide safe, fair, and well paying jobs to mountain people.

Just last month, my friend was a victim of discrimination and police brutality at a West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles office. Police were called after my friend, a transgender man, attempted to present his identification to register his truck, creating an “emotional disturbance” to DMV staff. The manager called a police officer to interrogate my friend about where he acquired his IDs - IDs which were legally his, but did not reflect his gender identity. The officer struck my friend, spraining his wrist, when he reached for the IDs in the officer’s extended hand. The officer said, “If you want to stop having problems at the DMV, just put MALE on your license or shave your face. If I were you, I wouldn’t come back here.”

In attempting to make a routine transaction at a state facility, my friend was accused of identity fraud, refused service, and verbally and physically assaulted by a police officer. Over a month later, he has still been unable to register his truck. Until there are safe spaces for transgender and gender nonconforming people, we must stand by and compromise our quality of life.

Historically, Appalachians have experienced a lack of safety in their day to day lives from the costs of extractive industry. The collapse of the unions, loss of clean water, homes destroyed from subsidence, and countless other violations have hindered our ability to live freely and safely in our communities . Often, there are further divisions in Appalachia due to deeply embedded racism and homophobia. Transgender and gender nonconforming individuals in particular experience higher threats to their safety, often more so if those individuals are people of color. While white cisgendered people in Appalachian communities struggle with access to proper healthcare and employment, queer and non-white communities suffer further, often resulting in poor mental and physical health. According to national statistics from the Transgender Law Center, transgender people were much more likely to experience threats, intimidation, harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence than non-transgender people.

This infographic called “Walk in Our Shoes” from The Gender Book, allows you to navigate through what some transgender and gender non-conforming people experience in day-to-day life.

A Kentucky legislator has proposed a bill that would ban transgender students from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. This outrageous legislation would require schools to compensate cisgender students $2,500 each time they told officials they'd shared a bathroom with a trans schoolmate. What happens when that trans person is in West Virginia, where legislators are considering a bill that would allow anyone over the age of 18 to carry a concealed weapon without permit? For a community of people who are already at a higher risk for being a victim of violence, states are eliminating safety protections for people who are targeted for hate crimes day after day.  We must speak out against these disturbing legislation proposals and demand protection.

The reality is that transgender and non-conforming members of our communities are suffering. It’s our job to demand that Appalachian transition includes protection for transgender and non-conforming people. We can do this through advocating for non-discrimination and hate crime protections, gender neutral bathrooms, and asking each other our preferred gender pronouns. And more than these policy changes, we can do the personal work calling out discrimination and micro-aggressions in our homes and workplaces, and creating a welcoming environment for all marginalized communities. In order to achieve a truly just transition, we have to fight to protect all people.

-Kendall Bilbrey

Appalachian Transition Fellow

The Alliance for Appalachia

  1. Transgender: Transgender (sometimes shortened to trans or TG) people are those whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs from the physical sex they were born with.

  2. Gender non-conforming: A person who doesn’t conform to society's expectations of gender expression (male or female), but something in between or beyond.

  3. Cisgendered: A person who by nature or by choice conforms to gender/sex based expectations of society (also referred to as “Gender-straight” or “Gender Normative”)