Super Bowl slam

By Dr. Jaime M. Grant, former director of the Policy Institute at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and one of the authors of Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.

The Super Bowl has become much more than a football game over the course of the past 40 years; it’s a community event, an annual gathering space for much of the nation, a place where athletics, pop culture, family and food all collide in our living rooms, our local bars and social clubs. Super Bowl commerce has also grown exponentially; a lightning fast Super Bowl commercial now holds a price tag of $3 million or more. These spots are observed in greater numbers and with greater anticipation than many major cultural and political events – and advertisers know this. These commercials have become another event within the event, an annual Super Bowl at the intersection of creativity and commerce.

So, imagine my despair that on the very weekend that a landmark study on the pervasiveness and devastating effects of discrimination on transgender people is released, a Super Bowl Slam on transgender people is one of the very first commercials that airs.

Don’t be confused by the lighthearted air that Living Social wraps its anti-transgender bias in as it travels from the “isolated” existence of a burly, bearded, working class man into the many social activities he accesses – events, food, yoga, and clothing, finally standing before the camera in a fire-engine red dress and heels. All of us know who the butt of this joke is; and that the path this commercial takes from the garage to the swanky bar – while its audience is engaged in what is arguably the most hyper-masculinized athletic contest of the year — is designed to be so outrageous as to be burned into memory alongside the other competing marketing moments.

Forgive me if I can’t take a joke, but anti-transgender bias is deadly.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality released a study of 6,500 hundred transgender and gender non-conforming participants that details outrageous abuses in almost every aspect of life – from family life to K-12, from the workplace to the doctor’s office, from the police station to the emergency room. The study demonstrates clearly that it is part and parcel of social and legal convention in this country to ridicule, harass and abuse transgender people and their families.

Among its subjects, who were living in all 50 states across the nation, this comprehensive study found people living in devastating circumstances, as a direct result of bias:

  • Subjects were experiencing double the unemployment rate of the general population, and among those employed, 90 percent reported harassment or disrespect at work, or taking actions to avoid it.
  • Despite having achieved more college degrees than the general population, participants were living in nearly four times the poverty,
  • A quarter of respondents lost their jobs due to bias,
  • 4 in 5 were bullied in school and many dropped out; 30 percent reported teacher harassment in K-12 settings
  • One-fifth became homeless
  • 20 percent report harassment and 6 percent reported physical assault by police.
  • These biases added up to extremely poor health outcomes as participants were at four times the rate of risk of having HIV and most outrageously, report a suicide attempt rate of 41 percent, 26 times the general population.

This study provides a never-before documented, 360-degree view of the most egregious human rights violations imaginable. Living Social got it right on one count – transgender and gender non-conforming people are often very isolated – isolated by anti-transgender bias. And this commercial only adds to that isolation and social marginalization.

The Task Force/NCTE study makes hundreds of recommendations on how to combat anti-transgender bias and its deadly consequences. All of us are implicated by this data and called to confront these abuses – whether we are doctors, judges, teachers, clerks, bus drivers, parents, lawmakers, employers, landlords, lenders, classmates, co-workers or spouses, there is a role for each of us in reckoning with the pervasive inhumanity documented in the report.

But for big advertisers, who have such a tremendous effect on our culture and in spreading either hatred or understanding, there is a much greater responsibility to act. In the Super Bowl of humanity, all of us are failing our transgender family members, neighbors, friends and co-workers. This must stop.