Civilities: The Human Rights Campaign's Sarah McBride joins to talk about the State of LGBTQ in a Trump World. Plus: A Duke senior talks about being trans (02 07)

Feb 07, 2017

Steven Petrow (the author of "Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners") addresses questions about LGBT and straight etiquette in his column, Civilities. In between, join Steven for his chat about everything that's on your mind.

Here's more about Steven's "Civilities" column and what makes him the person to dole out advice.

You can also reach Steven on Facebook at and on Twitter @stevenpetrow.

I have two special guests to welcome today. For the first part of the chat I am joined by Liz Hadfield who is a Duke University senior and a trans woman. I profiled her in a recent column titled: "This transgender person wants to help you understand her experience."


We'll talk in a moment about what her life has been like since the column was published.


And then later in the chat, Sarah McBride from the Human Rights Campaign takes your questions and mine about the State of LGBTQ so far in the Trump era. Here's a profile of McBride done by my Post colleague Juliet Eilperin.


Welcome, Liz.

Let me start with this question: How would you characterize the reaction to the column about you?


I'd put the reactions I've seen mainly into two different categories: "hopeful" and "hateful." Many people reached out to me personally to say that they were quite thankful for me sharing my experience, and that it helps to see representation of other trans people. However, there were also a lot of hateful comments and reactions, saying things like "a man is born, no matter what they wear," which is really frustrating to see, given the absolute inaccuracy of statements like this.

Liz, Can you tell is a bit about how you told your family that you are trans. How did they respond? What do you wish they might have done differently -- if anything? Any resources that you recommend?

Awesome question! So, I was studying abroad at the time, so I had to actually call my mom to tell her, because for me, it wasn't something that could wait until I got home three months later. From there, she told my dad. They were both really accepting and understanding (and still are), even though they started out not even knowing what being trans means. I don't think there's anything that I particularly wish they did differently, except maybe asked more questions. I think it's easy to make a lot of assumptions about what being trans means, especially given the lack of info in mainstream media about trans experiences. I have tons of resources to recommend--I'll see if I can link some to the end of the article! Not enough time to find those lines right now...but My Gender Workbook is a good starting point (can't remember the author...sorry!) 

Hi Steven! As a white man currently dating an Asian trans identifying as a woman, I can not thank you enough for providing inspirational profiles! Thank you Liz for your courage. Although we can always tell we are being looked out when out on the town, knowing there are others like us always makes it easier for me to be in my Trans-Pacific partnership. I long for a day when people do not giggle or awkwardly turn away, and I know it is coming. Thanks.

Liz, This came in from a reader just now. I guess you'd put this in the "hopeful" category.

Aw, that's so wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing, it's great to know that you both are doing well, despite haters! Yes, I long for that day too--but by being out in public and living our own authentic lives, we can help to make this change!

Liz, Do you ever respond to those who email or comment in a hateful way? Do you try to change people's minds?

I think it's sometimes best for my mental health to just ignore hurtful or hateful comments (or to delete them if they're emails). However, I do respond sometimes, because I know other people read comments other than me, and I think it's important to provide an alternative perspective. I know their mind might not change, so I NEVER respond with anger or vitriol, but ALWAYS kindness and empathy. I state clear facts, and calmly question misguided assumptions that might take place. Often, people say hateful things because they just don't understand, and I see it as my job to be a platform for helping people understand (however, this is not the responsibility of all trans persons, to be clear, it's just my own personal style).

Possible to get that fixed? Thanks!

Let me work on that! Thanks.

I just wanted to thank all of you for your advocacy and your willingness to be a public figure. There are so many issues that need attention right now, it's hard to know where to focus. I'm so grateful for people who are working on the issues and in the fields were I have no expertise or am not sure how to help. Individually I can't stop everything that's awful but together - together, we can resist. And I know being public comes at a cost, so...thank you.

Liz, This is from a reader and I think a thoughtful question is hidden within. Has there been a cost to you in going public? Or have the benefits more than offset some of the challenges?

Wow, this really warms my hear. Thank you so very much for the thoughtful comment! I think there's definitely been a cost of more people saying hateful things, but like I said, I do my best to ignore the hate, or sprinkle it with empathy and love when I have energy and time. And, overall, showing others that despite the hate, being represented matter and promoting trans people--and preventing us from being erased--makes it so, so, soooooo worth it.

Liz, When I interviewed you, you talked with me a great deal about your "privilege." For length reasons that part of our talk didn't make it into the column. But what did you mean by that? How do you explain the concept to others who don't get it?

I'm so happy you brought this up! So, as a white person and as a person of a middle-ish socio-economoic status, with supportive and loving parents, and at a generally accepting school, I am quite lucky. Many, many, MANY trans people don't have the same love and resources that I do. Trans women of color are disproportionately high victims of violence, with almost all murders of trans people happening every year having trans women of color as victims. In addition, having a supportive family dramatically reduces trans suicide attempt rates (which, on average, are at 41%). Not having a supportive family or support system skyrockets that to over 50%. (Check out the National Transgender Discrimination Survey for more info and stats)

Liz, One last question before I let you go back to class. I know from my own experience and interviews that many folks remain confused by the difference between "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." How do you explain the difference?

In general, here's the difference:

Sexual orientation = who you are attracted to (people who generally present as male, generally present as female, both, neither, something else, etc.)

Gender Identity = how you identify yourself (generally masculine, generally feminine, both, neither, etc.).

There is very little relationship between sexual orientation and gender identity. You can be trans and heterosexual, trans and homosexual, trans and pansexual (like me), or something else entirely. The important thing to do, in general, is not to make assumptions about gender or sexual orientation--for anybody.

Thanks so much for having me, Steven! Yup, I'm going to rush off to class now--I hope you have a great rest of the chat! By for now!

It's a real honor to welcome you to this chat, Sarah. And for those of you following, let me remind you how you probably best know Sarah -- that's through her remarkable speech at the Democratic convention last summer. Here's a link. (Click on the link and then play the video). She is the first trans person to address a national convention. Sarah, welcome.

Thank you so much for inviting me to join you, Steven. It's an honor. And let me just say thank you to Liz for sharing her story and helping to educate so many people.



Andrew Solomon wrote in the New Yorker the other day: "It's different being gay now than it was in, say, October." What's your take on that? And how is it different for you as a trans person since before the election?

That's a great question. Many LGBTQ Americans woke up the day after the election feeling scared and fearful about what  is to come, something we certainly share with many across America who find themselves under threat by the new Administration. For the last eight years, we've had an Administration and a president who stood up for LGBTQ people. In particular, transgender people had an ally in the White House for the first time. We saw President Obama and his Cabinet defend our rights, from health care to education. And while we  still do not know exactly will come our way, I think many of us remain vigilant about the potential fights ahead of us.

Steven, the link to Liz's story is not working from here. Thanks "This transgender person wants to help you understand her experience."

Try this link. Sorry.

Just before we started the chat I saw a news bulletin that Betsy DeVos had been confirmed as Secretary of Education--that VP Mike Pence had to cast the deciding vote. Why were you and many in the LGBTQ community (and other communities) so opposed to her? Do individuals make a real difference?

We are speaking moments after Betsy DeVos' nomination barely made it through the confirmation process. The fact that the nomination required a first-of-its-kind tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence, I think, reflects the fact that our voices matter.  And the closeness of the vote demonstrates that, as she now assumes the helm of the Department of Education, America will be watching.  HRC had serious questions about her vision that remained unanswered throughout the confirmation process. We certainly hope that Secretary DeVos will work on behalf of every student and ensure equal access to a safe and quality education for LGBTQ young people. A lot is at stake, particularly for transgender students. We, along with millions of Americans, will remain vigilant as the Administration continues and we will be ready to fight should they seek to undo the rights of LGBTQ students.

There's been a strong campaign by HRC and others to bring attention to a proposed Executive Order that, it's said, would have curbed many of the protections put in place by the Obama Administration. Is that actually dead?

I think President Trump was hoping that he would receive praise for announcing that he would not rescind an Executive Order that provided vital protections from discrimination for roughly 1 in 5 workers nationwide. That's a pretty low-bar. And while the White House made a limited announcement regarding the 2014 Executive Order, they have not denied rumors that they are considering an action that would grant a breathtakingly expansive license to discriminate against LGBTQ people and women. HRC, along with our coalition partners, joined together the other day to proclaim from the steps of our office that we would not stand for any attempt to roll back the clock. Vigilance is the word of the day and it remains so on this topic sadly. 

I see no evidence Trump has anything against the LGBTQ community. I am not a fan of his, but I think your headline saying "the State of LGBTQ in a Trump World" assumes that he is anti-LGBTQ. Please explain. Thanks.

I'll answer this one since I wrote, "The State of LGBTQ in a Trump World." I'm not sure why you read that as assuming he's anti-LGBTQ. I didn't actually write, "The Frightening State of LGBTQ Life in a Trump World," which I might have. But there's no question that President Trump is not a friend of the LGBTQ community. Look at the examples of some of his high level appointments. For instance, Vice President Pence has a long record of opposing equality. Please take a look at is record in Indiana. Now, it may be true that the president has his ire and focus on other groups--like Muslims, Mexicans--but that doesn't mean he's a friend of equality and inclusion. Here's a post-election column of mine on this very topic.


I also recommend the Solomon column in the New Yorker that I referenced a earlier.

In many ways, President Trump has reached out to diverse groups for his cabinet secretaries. Ben Carson and Elaine Chao come to mind. He's also quite close to two prominent conservative gay men--Peter Thiel and Milo Yiannopoulos. How concerned are you about those lines of communication?

I would take issue with the assertion that President Trump has reached out to a diverse group for his cabinet secretaries. In fact, his cabinet is one of the least diverse in modern history.

As a transgender person, I certainly hope that President Trump is not listening to Milo Yiannopoulos, a self-described internet troll who continuously spouts racists, sexist, and anti-trans comments.

But this question gets to an important point about President Trump's Administration: who you surround yourself with speaks volumes about who you are. In Ben Carson, we have a nominee who denies the existence of LGBTQ people. In Jeff Sessions, we have a nominee who was denied a federal judgeship in the 1980s because the Republican-controlled Senate deemed him too racist. And as a senator, he has consistently voted against LGBTQ equality. These nominations, and others, should give any American serious pause about the vision and goals of this Administration.

I'm not a Trump supporter, but I'm hearing from a couple of gay friends that they're (literally) afraid Trump is going to round them up. This seems beyond hyperbolic, considering he's on record as being pro-gay rights. Why -- and this is a serious question -- the hysteria? Is it simply because he was elected with an (R) after his name?

Thanks for your question. While I don't think President Trump is going to round LGBTQ people up, I do think the concerns from the community about his vision are not only understandable, but warranted. Despite saying the letters "LGBTQ" at the RNC, Donald Trump consistently endorsed anti-equality positions. He committed to appointing anti-equality judges to the Supreme Court, a promise he fulfilled thus far with his nomination of Judge Gorsuch. He has promised to sign Kim Davis-style discrimination into law. And he has nominated, from Mike Pence to Jeff Sessions, vehemently anti-equality individuals to some of the most senior positions in his Administration. The community heard and saw all of these things. 

But even if Donald Trump had endorsed pro-equality positions, we must also remember that LGBTQ people are Muslims, we are immigrants, women, people of color, and people with disabilities and when Donald Trump attacks any one of us, he is attacking all of us.

I am very concerned when people constantly talk about impeaching President Trump. I think there are aspects of VP Pence's known positions that are much, much worse. And he and Paul Ryan would get along like crazy making things much more efficient. Do you agree?

I'll take this one. Talk is cheap--as they say. And there is no legitimate talk of impeachment currently. Yes, Pence and Ryan are likely to make better (political) bedfellows--but we should stay in the present, focused on the issues and votes ahead.

I am deeply frightened by the damage a Trump administration will likely to do many minority groups across the country, but I also recognize I live in California where protections for LGBTQ's are pretty solid. Is it naive thinking that certain states will be fairly safe for LGBTQ people? And how can we best help our brothers and sisters in states where that isn't the case?

We have made some remarkable progress in states like California. I come from the great state of Delaware, which has also seen historic progress over the last eight years. There is no question that for those of us who live in pro-equality states, our experience will be dramatically different than the experience of individuals who live in states without explicit protections.  For many across this country, over the last eight years, the federal government was the only entity protecting their rights and helping to shield them from discrimination. For them, our efforts to preserve our progress becomes that much more vital. 

For those of us living in states that have led the way, we must never forget that there is always still work to do. California, for example, continues to lead the way in pushing forward new or innovative ways to expand equity and equality for the LGBTQ community. That work remains important. But, to your point, we must also fight for the same-sex couple in Arkansas or the transgender student in North Carolina or Texas who see their state legislatures passing or considering anti-equality laws and who worry that the federal government may not be there for them anymore. Dozens of states are poised to consider hateful and discriminatory bills this year alone. I certainly encourage you to visit as we continue to work to push equality forward, change hearts and minds, protect our progress, and stop hate in its tracks. Organizations like the ACLU and Lambda Legal are also doing important work to preserve our rights through the courts. All of these pressure points matter in the coming years.

There are places like Iran and Cuba that offer state-funded trans surgery before offering equal civil rights to all LGB and T and there are places in the US where psycho-social resources are limited for such life-altering decisions. What are your thoughts about how the already difficult decision-making process might be impacted for those who have such limited resources, limited information, and are encouraged to follow only one option to feel more whole? Second part. Did you feel your resources/choices were limited in any way?

Thanks for this question. As with many issues facing the trans community, we've seen unprecedented progress over the last several years in access to competent and inclusive care for transgender people, including transition related care. More and more states are taking the steps to ban discriminatory blanket exclusions in insurance plans that deny treatment and services to transgender people for the purpose of medically necessary transition related care, despite the fact that same care is provided to others. At the federal level, the ACA provides protections in this area, with regulations specifically banning the discrimination I mention above in all federally funded health care programs. These advancements have been life-saving for the trans community and highlight the need to preserve the ACA in the years to come.

But even with these protections, transgender people still face a dearth of competent and inclusive providers in many areas of the country and it underscores the fact that our work is not just legal, but also social. We need protections, but we must also do the work of training providers and health professionals on being inclusive and affirming of transgender people and patients. The work of organizations like the HRC Foundation to push forward inclusive and equitable policies and practices in our hospitals and workplaces becomes even more important now.

Hi Mr. Petrow - I'm a church secretary and often need to address correspondence to our members. I have a question about how best to address envelopes when I'm contacting a family. There are a couple of factors at play: firstly, there are several different families in the church with the same last name. I know in the "olden days" I would have addressed them to "The John Smith Family", "The Steve Smith Family", "The Adam Smith Family" etc to differentiate the different families of Smiths. However, this now feels old-fashioned and sexist. Secondly, of course many of our families are headed by women. Can I write "The John and Jane Smith Family", "The Beth and Mary Smith Family", "The Jenny Smith Family"? It seems long and awkward to write out both first names, but just putting "The John Smith Family" when there is a wife or partner in the home looks awful to me in 2017. Thanks for your help.

Ah, a traditional etiquette question! Thank you. yes, it might take a little bit longer to write out a longer name, a hyphenated name, or two names -- but I'm hoping that this has come up before -- oh, maybe 20 or 30 years ago when women started keeping their "maiden" names after marriage. The new examples you give are perfect and what I really like about them--and I think the recipients will, too-- is the use of the word "family." That's what we all want to be recognized as. Keep up the good work--and thanks for your question.

Other than the Human Rights Campaign, what organizations should we be donating to in order to help those on the front lines of fighting for our rights?

That's a great question. In addition to HRC, organizations like Lambda Legal and the ACLU are doing important work in the courts to protect LGBTQ rights, among other important issues. Organizations such as the NAACP, NCLR, Planned Parenthood all deserve our support as well.  We are going to need to stand together not just because its the right thing to do, but also because its the only way we can defeat the hateful and discriminatory policies coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 



I've seen many in the progressive community saying that it's not worth going to war in an attempt to prevent Judge Gorsuch from joining the Supreme Court. In a nutshell, what's his background on LGBTQ issues and should his nomination be more or less of a focus?

During the campaign, Donald Trump committed to appointing anti-equality judges to the federal bench and that is the type of nominee we have in Judge Gorsuch. That is why HRC took the unprecedented step of opposing Judge Gorsuch's nomination even before his confirmation hearing, because his record is just egregious. As a federal judge, he has ruled against providing medically necessary care to a transgender woman and in favor of providing a license to discriminate to for-profit companies. The latter decision, Hobby Lobby, has been the foundation of many of the discriminatory bills we've seen pop up in states across the country, including the legislation signed by then-Governor Mike Pence in Indiana. There are going to be many important issues coming before the court in the next few years, including on transgender rights. Our victory on marriage equality does not assure us victory on other issues moving forward. We need a Justice who is going to protect everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful. 

Many, many thanks to Liz Hadfield and Sarah McBride for joining today's chat. And to you all, too. Very good questions. I'll see you back here in two weeks with another live chat.

Thanks for the great questions!

In This Chat
Steven Petrow
Steven Petrow is a respected journalist and the go-to source for modern manners. Petrow writes the "Civilities" column for The Washington Post as well as "Digital Ethics" for USA Today.
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