A year ago, Ames Simmons sat down with his boss and a few other leaders in his company and announced that he wanted to take the next big step in a process he had invested years of thought, energy and consideration into. He was ready to transition publicly at work from female to male – as a transgender man, Ames’ male gender is an innate part of him, a key part of his innermost sense of self.
But it wasn’t by any means an easy experience to come out as transgender – Ames prepared for years, building up the money, confidence, and reputation he needed to feel totally secure. Ames lives in Atlanta, Georgia, a state with no state laws prohibiting discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Without LGBT-inclusive statewide or federal protections, Ames knew that he was vulnerable to the discrimination that is all too common across the country.
“It took a long time of tip-toeing around to get a feel for whether or when it would be safe for me to come out as transgender,” Ames said. “I guess I have been aware of my transgender identity since late in 2008 – but for many, many of those years, I didn’t even start thinking about making a formal medical, legal, and social decision until the spring of 2015. So for six or seven years I was just sort of trapped in this space of needing to transition but not being able to see a way to safely do that.”
“For a long time, just thinking about transition was about accumulating enough savings to be in an OK position if something did go wrong. By the time I felt that the conditions were right to transition, I had been thinking about it for years and years, and it was all a very carefully orchestrated thing.”
Part of that orchestration included updating his passport and his driver’s license to show his new name and gender, and originally, that was as far as Ames was planning to go. However, when he began seeing state legislatures considering bills targeting transgender people in public facilities, he started thinking twice about that decision. Legislation like North Carolina’s House Bill 2 restricting transgender people’s ability to access public facilities in accordance with their gender identity worried him. “That legislation really scares me. Those bills are targeting me.”
Ames decided to pursue a court hearing to amend his birth certificate to show his gender as male. This was a completely separate filing from the court order changing his name, filed in a separate jurisdiction. It was complicated enough that Ames had to retain counsel—and he is an attorney. “That’s how scared I am that I will be pushed out of the bathroom I belong in – that my very identity as a man will be questioned and policed as a ‘threat,’” Ames said.
“That’s how scared I am that I will be pushed out of the bathroom I belong in – that my very identity as a man will be questioned and policed as a ‘threat.’” – Ames Simmons
As a result of the hearing, he obtained a court order directing Georgia’s Department of Vital Records to amend his birth certificate to show his correct name and gender marker. Ames said that the agency clerk mentioned when he presented the court order that this process is “hard” for the agency, never mind the personal difficulty Ames went through to get to the point of presenting the order.
Once the updated birth certificate arrived in the mail, Ames was relieved to see that it showed the correct information with the original December 1970 issue date and no indication that it had been amended. Some of the anxiety of being pushed out of public facilities was eased by having the updated document in hand. But Ames notes that for transgender people, any kind of identification check has the potential for peril. “Who actually carries around their passport and birth certificate with them when they go out?” he asked.
No one should have to spend years of their life calculating and measuring and worrying about whether it is safe to be who they are. But because of the lack of LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections – and because of a general lack of knowledge and understanding about transgender lives – Ames and other transgender people like him must constantly weigh these very real components of their lives.
That can be exhausting – and with greater acceptance and clearer laws underlining that no one can or should face discrimination because they are transgender, change is possible.
“There are so many fewer trans people than there are LGB people, so the more that every trans person can come out and tell their story when they feel that it is safe to do that, that will go to the greater good,” Ames said. “A movement for non-discrimination in Georgia would set a whole tone for people to think about being LGBTQ in Georgia. It makes a difference if these protections are passed on the municipal level, or on the state level, or on the federal level. They would give people protection when there is a violation of their rights – and that is an important, indispensable first step.”
Learn more about the fight for LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections in Georgia with Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, the coalition Freedom for All Americans is proud to lead alongside Georgia Equality and other partners.