John Oliver’s Take On Trans Rights Gets The Laverne Cox Seal Of Approval

by Alexa Salvato

Last week we wrote about John Oliver’s coverage of the harassment women face online, which we thought was pretty great, but this week’s segment on transgender rights was amazing on a whole new level.

Now, it’s a legitimate criticism that we shouldn’t be patting mainstream media white guys on the back for bringing attention to important issues of marginalized groups. However, Oliver is using his substantial platform to provide truly empathetic education about transgender rights. He is doing the requisite work for being an ally. In fact, the reason we found it was because of Laverne Cox’s impassioned recommendation on her Facebook page: “John Oliver breaks it all the way down here. He like really gets it. It feels amazing to really be gotten. MUST WATCH,” she wrote earlier today.

Oliver is clear on the fact that the few trans people prominent in the media don’t reflect reality for many trans individuals around the country, a number estimated at 700,000. “While a handful of transgender people have been winning awards or appearing on magazine covers, the community at large has been facing some staggering challenges,” he says, citing sources that say that 41 percent of trans people have attempted suicide, and 78 percent of transgender kids have been bullied in school.

He takes a moment to educate those who might be brand new to the term “trans” altogether too. (The clip around 2:00 of a weatherman who just “can’t even keep up” with the times is horrifying.) “Transgender people have a gender identity that differs from the one they were assigned at birth, and gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation,” he says. He also highlights the ridiculousness of people’s confusion about “what to call” a transgender person: “It’s pretty simple: call them whatever they want to be called.”

One of the most poignant stories followed courtroom discussion of a “bathroom bill” in Kentucky. A teen trans male stood before the judges and explained why a bill that would make it illegal to enter a bathroom that doesn’t reflect your birth certificate gender shouldn’t pass. Henry, the young man in the video, detailed the dehumanization he felt when he was required to use his high school’s girls room, and the judges praised him for speaking up. But that’s the awful thing: Although all of the judges commended his bravery, they still voted for the bill to advance. “Even when people say the right things about the transgender community, practical change fails to follow,” Oliver said. “…Official rules can end up legitimizing prejudice.”

This is a vital point: Official rules legitimize individual prejudice every day. Sophia can be your favorite lady on OITNB, but for the lives of real transgender people to improve, “We’ve clearly got work to do”—all of us. 

 Images and video via HBO


John Oliver Speaks Out Against The Ridiculousness Of Online Harassment

Laverne Cox’s Words Of Wisdom To A 7-Year-Old Transgender Fan

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