HONOLULU (KHON2) — As we move into Transgender Awareness Week, Nov. 13-17, it important to remember that non-binary conceptions of expression are an ancient tradition amongst most people groups in the world.

The concept of gender, the way we understand it in our modern times, was brought to indigenous people groups on Turtle Island (now known as North America) and Hawaiʻi by European explorers and colonizers.

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As such, the United States in 2023 finds itself torn between freedom of expression and controlling one’s conception of the self.

This is impacting First Nations’ peoples as indigenous traditions and European constructs regarding the role a person plays in society based on their genitalia at birth are confronting one another.

In Hawaiʻi, we have embarked on a path that allows us to support transgender residents in ways that many transgender persons in other parts of the US. do not have.

In October 2023, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health issued a reaffirmation of its support for transgender residents.

“We support our gender-diverse community in Hawaiʻi,” said Dr. Diana Felton, Chief of the Communicable Disease and Public Health Nursing Branch. “We also acknowledge the resilience and strength of gender-diverse people in the face of discrimination and honor the valued role of gender-diverse people in traditional Hawaiian culture.”

This reaffirmation was instigated in response to the increasing attacks on transgender communities and their rights as U.S. citizens. Hence, the DOH released its Statement on Transgender Rights and Public Health.

The DOH said that in alignment with its mission, the statement denounces discrimination, including transphobia and transphobic action, which is recognized as a threat to public health and safety.

“The Department of Health believes that all people of Hawaiʻi should have an equitable opportunity to achieve their optimal state of health and well-being,” said Director Kenneth Fink. “This includes our māhūwahine, māhūkāne, transgender, gender-diverse people, and other communities experiencing discrimination.”

For more information on resources for gender and sexual minorities, click here. You can also find information here on medical, legal, youth and general resources in the state.

Hawaiʻi has a strong history of protecting its transgender residents.

In 2015, the Legislature passed HB631 HD2 SD1 CD1. This gives transgender persons the freedom and opportunity to have their State issued identifications reflect their gender identity.

In 2016, the Hawaiʻi State Legislature passed HB2084 HD2 SD1 which protects transgender patients from discrimination perpetrated by insurance companies.

These two legislative pursuits may seem small, but they are big in their scope of allowing Hawaiʻi citizens the right to access life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that has traditionally only been allowed for some citizens.

“That’s something that’s really critical, especially now when you have states around the country moving the other direction, explicitly placing into law the ability to discriminate based on who people perceive themselves to be,” said Democratic Rep. Chris Lee at the time he introduced the bill. “Here in Hawaiʻi where we treat everyone with respect and aloha. We think everyone is created equal and ought to be treated the same.”

In 2018, Governor David Ige signed SB 270 which prohibits the abusive practice of conversion therapy, particularly against 2SLGBTQ+ youth.

“So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is nothing short of child abuse with life-threatening consequences for countless LGBTQ youth,” said HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof at the time the legislation was being signed. “It is time Hawaiʻi join the growing number of states who are enacting laws to protect LGBTQ youth from this dangerous and discredited practice. We thank the state legislators for passing this critical bill and urge Governor Ige to quickly sign it into law.”

Following this in 2019, the HB711 HD1 SD1 and its companion SB2 HD1 were implemented which prohibits the so-called “gay defense”. This is when a person who commits murder or assault claims they believed the person they murdered or attacked was gay, giving them the perceived right to destroy a life.

Earlier in 2023, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi signed Bill 25. The Bill is meant to “promote an environment that embraces diversity and safety for the citizenry and employees of the City and County of Honolulu”.

The Bill established a policy for the City and County of Honolulu that promotes anti-bias and inclusion for all City officers and employees. This includes different perspectives, views or opinions. 

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“Our diversity is one of the most special things about O‘ahu. The vibrant and varied backgrounds, cultures, and opinions of our residents and employees enrich all our lives,” said Mayor Rick Blangiardi at the time of his signing the Bill.