‘Sometimes this stuff backfires:’ Trans advocate talks GOP attacks ahead of midterms
(Wynne Nowland is the CEO of New York insurance firm Bradley & Parker. COURTESY: Wynne Nowland)
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The anti-trans movement by Republicans has only ramped up throughout the midterm election season. With concerted efforts to infiltrate school boards, curriculums, sports, and even the policing of washrooms, the GOP has gone all in on their attacks against one of the most vulnerable marginalized groups in America.
And while many of the targeted attacks are focused on young people, 61-year-old Wynne Nowland knows firsthand that the harm caused by anti-trans propaganda doesn’t discriminate by age.
In 2017, Nowland, the chair and CEO of New York insurance firm Bradley & Parker, came out to her colleagues as trans at the age of 56. Her story has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, TODAY, and Business Insider.
Nowland has faced her fair share of hatred and bigotry, but overall, she calls her experience “overwhelmingly positive.”
“I’m not naive enough to think that that doesn’t have to do with some privilege that I have,” Nowland said in an interview with The Blueprint. “I’m white, I’m in the business world, I’m fairly successful financially. Those things probably help.”
Despite New York City generally being known as an inclusive and safe haven for queer and trans folks, Nowland’s experience living on Long Island hasn’t been without struggles.
“Depending on where you are in the country, those things can be very difficult,” she said. “I would not want to be a 26-year-old trans woman in Alabama. Being a 26-year-old woman in Metropolitan New York isn’t a walk in the park either, but I think it’s significantly better.”
In the five years since coming out, Nowland has watched as the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric among the far-right rose.
But Nowland is no fool: “They do it to instill fear,” she says.
What scare tacticians often forget, she added, is that history shows that their efforts often have the opposite effect, resulting in marginalized groups mobilizing the vote.
“I truly believe that a lot of the people that are spouting this rhetoric don't really necessarily believe it,” she said. “They just think it's good politics.”
Nowland believes that many anti-trans Republicans don’t actually feel strong enough about their views to engage in a personal conversation with her. Instead, she pointed out, they do it for political gain.
One of the more common propaganda tactics that we hear from right-wing politicians and commentators is that when trans folks go through the transition process, they don’t end up being happy afterwards.
Not only do studies show the complete opposite, research proves that when trans people are able to live their lives in a way they’re comfortable identifying, there are often better mental health outcomes, particularly among youth.
“You would think the amount of time these politicians are talking about us trans people that we were taking over the world,” Nowland said, noting that the trans population across America makes up just 1.6 million of the country’s more than 330 million people.
The most targeted anti-trans legislation has centered around schools and the education system. Between gender-neutral washrooms and Don’t Say Gay, young people are being taught that there’s something inherently wrong with who they are.
“What I might say in response is, if they weren't doing such a good job making trans lives miserable, people might not be so upset,” she noted. “ I'm not so sure they're so upset because they've transitioned and now they wish they didn't. They're upset because they transitioned and now they can't get a job, or they transitioned and they're being discriminated against. That might make me upset that I chose to transition. I might have some second thoughts then.”
Ultimately, Nowland chooses to stay positive, believing that most people, at their core, know what’s right and what’s wrong.
But that moral compass hasn’t stopped the Democratic Party from backing the most radical, fringe Republican candidates in an effort to outperform the GOP in next week’s midterm elections. The failure of the Democrats to follow through on their promises to trans Americans, Nowland added, could come back to bite them at the ballot box.
“If they get walloped next week, they have some culpability,” she predicted.
When it comes to health care, Nowland pointed out that transphobic misinformation often boils down to two extremes blown out of proportion: the most expensive gender reassignment surgeries for adults and “aggressive” hormone therapies for youths.
“With the kids, they want you to believe that these corrupt physicians and their corrupt therapist counterparts are giving pre-teen children these drugs that are going to forever change their lives,” Nowland said. “There’s no responsible doctor, no responsible therapist that does that.”
Nowland is often asked why she came out in such a big way? “You had a pretty nice life,” they say. “You lived under the radar.”
But to Nowland, that’s how things get solved and become normalized. For her, opening people up to real-life experiences with trans people is the best antidote for fear-mongering transphobia.