RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
LGBT Americans say discrimination is a problem, but there is disagreement over the cause. This comes from a poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Respondents to this survey over the age of 50 tended to blame discrimination on individual prejudice, while younger generations pointed to both individuals and biased laws. The two people we're going to meet now reflect those viewpoints. Martha Bebinger of member station WBUR introduces us.
MARTHA BEBINGER, BYLINE: In a small colonial house in Springfield, Mass., Edanry Rivera and Louis Mitchell do-si-do around the kitchen.
LOUIS MITCHELL: I offered coffee first.
EDANRY RIVERA: All right. I was thinking you wanted some coffee too.
MITCHELL: Coffee is the lifeblood of my very existence.
BEBINGER: Mitchell, a 57-year-old transgender man, owns this home. Rivera, a 27-year-old trans woman, rents a room. Many days, to avoid scoffs, stares and physical threats, Rivera never leaves the house.
RIVERA: Once I step out there, it's war sometimes with people.
BEBINGER: To avoid war, Rivera works from home as a marketing writer. When she does go out, Rivera does not try to convince anyone in the grocery store checkout line or her Puerto Rican family that it's OK for her to wear a skirt. She lives with the pain of trading contact with her family for the joy of being herself.
RIVERA: I can't change people who are so deeply rooted in their values, so the only thing I can do is to focus on policy and legislation because we're always going to have a bias, but we need policy in place to reflect our values now in 2017.
BEBINGER: Values that are becoming transgender-friendly, Rivera says, at least among her generation.
RIVERA: Government needs to catch up.
RIVERA: Mitchell leans in. This United Church of Christ minister has been nodding often but wants to make sure Rivera understands why older trans men and women are more focused on individual prejudice.
MITCHELL: We've actually been around to see some policy changes.
BEBINGER: Mitchell, who's African-American, mentions the Civil Rights Act.
MITCHELL: And we've also seen where the policy changes have not necessarily made all of us safer.
BEBINGER: Is there a story that's in this?
MITCHELL: Ah, yeah.
RIVERA: (Laughter) Want to hear it.
MITCHELL: There's probably no shortage of stories. Well, in the first six months of my transition...
BEBINGER: From presenting as a black woman to a black man...
MITCHELL: I was probably pulled over 300 percent more in my first six months of transition than I had been in the previous 23 years of driving.
BEBINGER: Mitchell still plans driving routes carefully because he says civil rights laws do not protect him from officers who see black men as a threat. Mitchell says laws are vital, but not enough yet.
MITCHELL: In the meantime, I want to work on every heart that I can find to say, hey, it's me. You loved me yesterday. Why are you not loving me now?
BEBINGER: So for people who are over 50, the battleground was the personal battleground.
Rea Carey, who runs the National LGBTQ Task Force, says older adults have lived for decades without legal protections, fighting those daily personal battles.
REA CAREY: Who are my friends and neighbors and family, and are they going to support me when I come out?
BEBINGER: But Carey says coming of age in the last decade or two as LGBT is completely different.
CAREY: Their experience has been framed by working to get legal protections.
BEBINGER: There is one more reason Edanry Rivera says many transgender 20- or 30-somethings focus on government. They rely on it for health insurance, employment assistance and student loans.
RIVERA: So our dependence on the government is making us much more in tune as to the laws and policies in place that have put us there.
BEBINGER: Well, beware, says Louis Mitchell.
MITCHELL: More dependence on the government, and a less dependable government.
BEBINGER: Mitchell and Rivera do agree that after years of progress, they are now fighting to hold on to legal and lived rights they thought were secure. For NPR News, I'm Martha Bebinger in Boston.
(SOUNDBITE OF GIANTS' "WHISPERED EARS")
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