Trans Rights in the Utah State Senate

By: Corey Henderson  |  Our Voice Contributor

I was invited to the Utah Senate floor with my trans son by Sen. Jim Dabakis. Below is what I had prepared to say if I was given the change to speak, which didn’t happen.

Growing up, I was a military brat. At the young age of 6, my father got stationed in Hawaii, where he eventually retired from the Army. I lived in the Islands until my early 20’s when I moved to Utah. I consider myself having grown up in Hawaii.

In Hawaii, there’s kane (male), wahine (female), and Māhū – a third gender. The term Māhū is embodied by both male and female traits, and was an accepted gender like any other. In modern terms, this is somewhat synonymous with being transgender, or to a lesser extent, homosexual.

As we all know, children are accepting of others. It’s the parents that inject prejudice into them. Having grown up in a culture where transgender was the norm, knowing a few of them myself, it never occurred to me that it was a bad thing. I knew that some religions would try to shame them, but I never really understood why.

My coming to Utah was a culture shock in many ways. How our LGBTQ brethren are treated was among the biggest of them. We’re more than a decade into the 21st century, and non-discrimination legislation passed into Utah law only two years ago. Yet still more work needs to be done.

As it happens, Hawaiian culture is not the only culture that had a unique name, and acceptance, for the transgender. Other pacific island cultures such as Samoan and Tongan also lived with them in harmony. Native Americans call these people two-spirited. Ancient Judaism, of all things, didn’t just have male and female, they had six genders.

This isn’t a new social construct, there’s evidence dating back thousands of years. We’re only now coming to terms with it in modern society. It’s not shocking that it took us this long, really, with how we just in the past century have given women the right to vote. Blacks the right to vote. Gays the right to marry.

Regarding my son, Phoenix, we discovered his gender identity when he was only the age of 5. Not uncommon, as it turns out, there are even children who identify trans as early as the age of three. Looking back at videos when he was that young, yes, there were signs. We just didn’t see them at the time.

My wife and I, we of course had our concerns. Though it became clear to us fairly rapidly that there was nothing but complete acceptance of him. And we had to transition as a family to his true identity. Phoenix’s little sister, age 3 at the time, for the weeks following his transition kept affirming that she’s a girl. “Phoenix is a boy, and I’m a girl” she would say, letting us know in the only way she could, that she loved and accepted her older brother regardless of gender, and that she herself would remain female.

How do we have wide acceptance of the LGBTQ community? Education. Not teaching about it, not accepting it, doesn’t make it go away. It only makes it worse. Being LGBTQ isn’t something you “try on” because you’re bored, it’s something you’re born with. Learning about it doesn’t make it choice. If anything, it clarifies already existing internal conflict. People, kids especially, don’t always know how to articulate what they feel.

Why would anyone look at society and say “yeah, I want to be trans, or gay, or some other social outlier, just for the fun of it”. They wouldn’t. The LGBTQ community puts themselves through social ridicule, not because they want to be different, or edgy, but because they want to be true to themselves.

I urge you all to consider your love and your humanity, and express it by voting in favor of LGBTQ rights.

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