We Can’t See Young Progressive Voters as a Monolith

We Can’t See Young Progressive Voters as a Monolith

We Can’t See Young Progressive Voters as a Monolith

Young people have diverse, complex demands for the future—and we should be taking them seriously.


These dispatches are published as part of StudentNation’s “Vision 2020: Election Stories From the Next Generation,” reports from young journalists that center the concerns of diverse young voters. In this project, working with Dr. Sherri Williams, we recruited young journalists from different backgrounds to develop story ideas and reporting about their peers’ concerns ahead of the most important election of our lives. This is the final installment of the series.

Jack Andrejco, a 21-year-old transgender man, spent his junior year in high school struggling with gender dysphoria. He needed a gender therapist’s approval to start hormones. Gender-reassignment surgery took a physical toll on him, he said, but it was life-changing.

“I was fortunate to have a great surgeon with a great team of doctors and nurses in addition to a supportive family to help me recover,” said Andrejco, of South Orange, N.J., now a senior studying psychology at Rutgers University.

But Andrejco knows that health care for transgender people is still wholly insufficient. And while he said he has noticed an improvement in recent years, he hopes that momentum continues under the next president.

Transgender people often find themselves facing discriminatory health policies at medical institutions. That bigotry also makes them reluctant to seek medical care. But legal and societal barriers to their access to health care, especially lack of health insurance, are among key concerns that young transgender voters want presidential candidates to address this election as the nation grapples with a global health crisis—the Covid-19 pandemic.

The health of transgender people is even more complicated in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. While Covid-19 led to a strained health care system and profound economic and job losses, for transgender people the impact of the pandemic was deeper because of the systemic inequities in health and employment they already faced. More than one in five transgender adults have at least one or more chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, or asthma, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. More than one in four transgender people have lost their job due to bias, and more than three-fourths experienced workplace discrimination. Also, the risk of homelessness makes it easier for issues like the Covid-19 pandemic to affect a community already at risk of having chronic diseases.

Moreover, President Trump’s June reversal of section 1557, the nondiscrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act, erased protections for health procedures typically sought by transgender people. The rule was designed to stop gender identity discrimination, including discrimination against intersex and nonbinary individuals. It also banned forms of sexual identity discrimination including gender stereotyping, expecting a person to act a certain way because of their gender. But a federal judge blocked the implementation of the reversal in August saying that it clashed with the June 2020 Supreme Court ruling that extended 1964 Civil Rights Act protections for LGBTQ people and made it illegal to fire them from jobs based on sexual identity.

Also, in 2018 the Trump administration suggested removing sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination wording from some federal health care regulations for federal and state health insurance.

Experts feared that rollbacks on former President Obama’s regulations that prohibited discrimination on gender identity and sexual orientation for private insurance and state insurance could enable health insurers to charge higher premiums or deny service to LGBTQ patients, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report.

Britt Walsh, director of Gender Affirming Services at Whitman-Whitaker Health in Washington, D.C., oversees a department that provides services including assistance with physical and mental health care. Walsh is concerned that another term with President Trump could erase all the previous protections from the act.

States are also looking to legally restrict LGBTQ health. This year seven states—Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, and South Dakota—introduced legislation that would prohibit physicians from treating transgender youth under 16 with hormones.“Imagine being a young person and hearing statewide legislation that’s hateful toward your identity,” Walsh said.

The Trump administration also proposed the health care regulation “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care” to enable health care providers to deny people treatment based on the medical professional’s religious beliefs on LGBTQ identities.

Young men like Andrejco believe policy actions, like the Trump administration’s attempt to reverse the Affordable Care Act’s LGBTQ protections, are a major blow to the transgender community. “What is the true meaning of this?” he asked. “Cisgender people go through hormone therapies and secondary sex surgeries, so how are transgender people any different?”

Petruce Jean-Charles

* * *

Sebastian Valencia, who will vote for the first time in the 2020 presidential election, is dissatisfied with his options.

“I feel like I’m finally able to contribute to the American democratic system,” said 18-year-old Valencia, a recent graduate of Bethesda–Chevy Chase High School in suburban Washington, D.C. “But I am also really disappointed in the choices we might end up with—I have a lot of issues with Biden and I sure as hell don’t want four more years of Trump.”

Latin-Americans are the largest-growing ethnic demographic in the United States, totaling nearly 60 million with roots in various nations, according to the Pew Research Center. They are diverse—and so are their concerns during this presidential election.

Indeed, Valencia’s main election priorities are abortion access and social security, which he said did not get enough attention in the recent debates. “As a Latino first-time voter, I think it’s important for other Americans to recognize that Latinos care about issues other than just immigration,” he said.

The myth of the monolithic Latinx voting bloc wrongly flattens the Latin-American demographic, presuming voters have the same interests, as well as political and social affiliations. The myth also assumes that all Latinos are Democrats, despite the fact that in 2016 President Trump earned 28 percent of the Latino vote.

The economy, health care, the Covid-19 pandemic, racial and ethnic inequality and violent crime were among the top five presidential election issues of concern among registered Latinx voters, according to Pew Research Center data released in September. Immigration ranked number eight among their concerns.

Ludy Grandas, a senior professorial lecturer in Spanish at American University, said that she often has to work to dismantle monolithic ideas of Latinx people in her classes. However, outside of the classroom, Grandas said Latinx students often face unreasonable expectations about their identity. “There is a plethora of misconceptions—from how you’re supposed to behave to whether you’re fluent in Spanish or not,” said Grandas. “The needs of the Latin American community are so varied, economically and culturally.”

However, many young Latinx voters do not feel like many presidential candidates fully understand what it means to be Latinx. Matt Hooke, 21, of Chevy Chase, Md., said there’s a lot of needless pandering. “It’s super-patronizing to see presidential candidates speak Spanish as if we don’t understand them already,” he said. “They need to understand that people vote on policy. It’s just a testament to the theatrics of politics.”

Politicians may be paying more attention to Latinx folks because their voter eligibility is increasing. Latin Americans will account for 13 percent of the US electorate, according to the Pew Research Center. Hooke, an Ecuadorian-American student, said that the Latinx monolithic voting bloc myth is misguided: Not only is every Latinx person different, but various nationalities are represented in the voting booth.

For example, Mexican-American citizens comprise the highest share, 16 percent, of immigrants that are eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election. Cuban immigrants are 4 percent; US citizens from the Dominican Republic are 3 percent; and El Salvadorians are 2 percent of eligible voters, according to Pew Research Center data.

Also, in 2018 the Pew Research Center found that among eligible Hispanic voters, 65 percent of Puerto Ricans and 59 percent of Mexican Americans supported the Democratic Party and most eligible voters of Cuban descent, 57 percent, supported Republicans.

A Politico poll also suggests that two-thirds of Americans see the student loan crisis as a threat to the economy, including Latinx students—Astrid Korte is one of them.

Korte, 25, of Rockville, Md., recently earned a master’s degree in speech pathology at the University of the District of Columbia. She said that student loan debt is the election issue primarily on her mind, adding she’s anxious about her future. Korte, originally from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, said that the myth of the monolithic Latinx vote obscures the many different needs that Latinx voters bring to the table. “Every country is different,” she said. “Just because we speak the same language doesn’t mean we speak the same politics.”

James Lepinsky

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