John Oliver Explains Why Transgender Rights Have a Ways to Go


Last night on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver devoted his main segment to the unbelievable indignities suffered by the transgender community, despite the various high-profile strides (Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, Transparent’s Emmy win, Laverne Cox’s Madame Tussaud’s debut) made this year.

The transgender community faces so many serious challenges, from extremely high suicide rates and rates of harassment, physical assault, and sexual violence to lower earning margins, but on top of this, Oliver points out, the media is mind-blowingly insensitive—Barbara Walters, Katie Couric and Larry King have all asked transgender individuals way-too-personal questions about their anatomy.

But, Oliver adds, “Even when people say the right things about the transgender community, too often practical change fails to follow.” There’s a bill in Arizona right now that would punish anyone using the “wrong” bathroom with 6 months in jail and a $2,500 fine; it’s one of at least 13 “bathroom bills” to have been introduced in state legislature in the most recent session. And yet, “someone abusing a non-discrimination ordinance to assault someone in a bathroom is almost unheard-of,” Oliver explains. “It’s a borderline imaginary crime, like dragon rustling or space bestiality.”

The host also underlines a bizarre conflict unique to this period in our history with the transgender community—he shows footage of Kentucky state senate members expressing admiration for a transgender high schooler and then immediately voting against a bill that would allow him to use his preferred bathroom, and a transgender military member who was thanked for his service, given an award, and sent packing.

“That dynamic of praising a transgender person’s courage and then not actually supporting them speaks to the fact that we are weirdly comfortable celebrating transgender people while simultaneously dehumanizing them at the DMV, pinning awards to them as we drum them out of the military, and constantly quizzing them about their genitals.”

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