Privilege: A license to be quiet?

Privilege: A license to be quiet?

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I have it made. 

I could quite easily flop into a comfortable rocking chair on the front porch with a cup of coffee and a dog on my lap and enjoy retirement!

However, that would do two things to me. First, the inactivity would likely be the cause of my death. Secondly, my conscience would drive me to the brink of insanity.

You see, when I finally mustered up the courage to live authentically, I was able to have nearly zero struggles. The first reason was that I was white; the second was I was employable because of a nearly impeccable resume, and as a retired member of the Air Force, I had a pension and medical coverage.

Now fully retired, with my service pension and Social Security, I also have Medicare and Tricare for Life. I have a roof over my head and food in the cupboard and refrigerator. I have clothes to wear, a car to drive, and am in good health for a woman of 77 years.

So why should I not just go ahead and enjoy my senior years in all that comfort?

Certainly, many would state that I have earned it. For me at least, the answer is simple. When so many others barely stay alive, I simply cannot sit quietly and ignore them simply because I am a woman of significant privilege.

Many in the transgender community face adversity daily. I will spare you the boring percentages, but their struggles are all about the issues that my privilege protects me from experiencing.

The transgender community faces homelessness, extreme poverty, low rates of health insurance, lack of access to quality health or senior care, malnutrition, unemployment and under-employment, denial of public accommodations, fear of police, suicide and murder. To learn more about the disparities that impact transgender communities, you can access the report from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey at

The statistics and their message naturally cut across all age groups. However, seniors are particularly vulnerable because facilities are not culturally competent to serve their unique health needs or provide affirming senior care.

Transgender seniors oftentimes cannot speak because their lack of privilege keeps them in a cone of silence, so I have to speak for them.

Currently in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it is acceptable to deny rights to housing, employment and public accommodation based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE). 

We sorely need an amendment to the Human Rights Act of 1955. For the past 14 years, we have tried desperately to pass the “PA Fairness Act” which would add SOGIE protections to the Human Rights Act of 1955.

Fortunately, we have a governor in Tom Wolf who understands our plight. In a variety of ways through policy changes and executive orders, he has made things more bearable for some transgender Pennsylvanians. However, our full freedom and recognition as valued citizens of the Commonwealth can only come through the legislative process. 

Without naming names, members exist within our legislature that insist that the Fairness Act is dead on arrival in spite of bipartisan support. If you are reading this, please pressure your legislator to support the Fairness Act. To find contact information for your legislators, visit

Legislation such as the PA Fairness Act is a vital step toward ensuring that Pennsylvanians of all sexual orientations and gender identities are able to grow older with access to housing, healthcare, and the care they need as they age. It is more than needed and it is the humane thing to do. 


Joanne Carroll is the president of TransCentralPA, a nonprofit organization committed to providing advocacy and caring support for transgender individuals, their significant others, families, friends and allies. To learn more or to get involved, visit

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