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Posted at 05:05 PM ET, 09/01/2011

Chaz Bono on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ puts transgender rights in spotlight


Chaz Bono (DAN STEINBERG/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Since ABC announced Chaz Bono as the newest cast member for the 13th season of “Dancing With the Stars” this morning, he has been the target of commenters who say a transgender person shouldn’t be on the show.

But for as many people who questioned on the DWTS message board whether Bono would dance with a man or a woman, or dance at all, there were just as many who defended Bono, including his mother Cher and co-cast member Lacey Schwimmer.

Despite the support Bono is getting, transgender activists say this is just another indication of the staggering levels of discrimination that still exist toward transgender people.

In February, a first-of-its-kind report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) found that half of more than 6,000 transgender and gender non-conforming responders said they had experienced harassment in the workplace, 19 percent had been refused a home or apartment, and 41 percent had tried to commit suicide, 26 times the national average.

In April, a face was put to those numbers when a 22-year-old transgender woman was brutally attacked by a woman and juvenile at a suburban Baltimore McDonald’s.

At the time, Mara Keisling, founding executive director of the NCTE, told The Post that she thought that it is unclear whether discrimination against transgender people in the U.S. is getting worse.

“There are a lot more of us that are out and willing to stand up. There are more of us insisting on our place in society. And unfortunately that is often matched by ignorance,” she said.

Now the controversy surrounding Bono — a transgender advocate who underwent a female-to-male gender transition at age 39 — is shedding a light on that ignorance, advocates say.

Allyson Robinson, Human Rights Campaign Deputy Director of Diversity, writes the reaction simply highlights “many Americans’ inexperience with transgender and gender-variant people and the work that lies ahead of us to secure equal rights for all.”

The February study found that the transgender community possesses a remarkable ability to overcome the obstacles standing in their way.

And Bono seems to be determined to be among them, writing on Twitter today: “I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I received from everyone. Thanks so much. I don't listen to the haters, but embrace the love.”

By  |  05:05 PM ET, 09/01/2011

 
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