“The Most Dangerous Year”
Families Fighting Legislation
With anti-transgender bathroom bills sweeping across the nation, The Human Rights Campaign called 2016 the most in 2016. It became quite a dangerous year for transgender Americans. Filmmaker Vlada Knowlton captured the ensuing civil rights battle from the perspective of a group of embattled parents – including herself and her husband who are parents of a young trans girl and are fighting to protect their children from discriminatory laws in their home state. While Knowlton passionately follows the story of anti-transgender legislation, the real heart of the film is in the stories of the families who accept and support their kids for who they are. This is a very important documentary with a focus on families fighting against anti-transgender rights legislation.
Director Knowlton’s youngest daughter was five years old upon coming out but started showing signs of being transgender two years earlier. The director states in the film that “it was a terrifying time for us.” It was quite a struggle to accept the child’s gender identity and the next year proved to be even worse.
In addition to their daughter, the film follows four other families— the Trainer, Mitchell, Kelly, and Blakefield families. All of them have a transgender son or daughter. By focusing on the children, Knowlton is able to show how vulnerable LGBTQ youth can be.
Washington was one of many states dealing with bathroom bills or ballot initiatives in state legislatures. They had a total of six bills filed but only SB 7443 stood the best chance of reaching the floor for a vote. Because Washington is an initiative state so the government requires 300,000 signatures before an initiative can land on the ballot. Just Want Privacy, an, anti-transgender organization worked to prevent transgender people, especially students, from using the bathroom aligning with their gender identity. The town hall events got ugly with the amount of protesters espousing their viewpoints.
The discussion of transgender people and how we’re perceived must include the medical community. We hear from Drs. Kevin Hatfield and Johanna Olsen-Kennedy who push that being trans is not a mental illness and one’s gender identity is in the brain.
Knowlton’s film comes from a place of great personal vulnerability, truth, and conviction. In 2015, she and her husband were coming to terms with their 5-year-old child’s transgender identity. Only a handful of months later, in 2016, a number of initiatives and political power plays would result in a push to rescind transgender rights laws and policies that the State of Washington had put in place in 2006.
Over the course of 90-plus minutes, Knowlton somehow finds a way to share her story, step back from the personal connection to the film she’s making, and present an engaging, factual, and galvanizing look at the myths, dangerous lies and misrepresentations that have bolstered a bustling and increasingly troublesome anti-trans movement since progress had been made towards equality for transgender individuals.
At the heart of the film is Aidan Key, the founder of Gender Diversity, a Seattle-based advocacy and support group for transgender individuals, with an emphasis on transgender youth. Key spends significant time working with public school districts, helping break down the misconceptions around understanding transgender identity and assisting with tools that steer districts toward integration and acceptance. The Knowltons got to know Key in 2015, when they went to Gender Diversity to find resources for their daughter Annabelle. Upon learning of Knowlton’s status as a documentarian, he sought her help in what he knew was emerging on the horizon in 2016.
A number of families share their stories and Knowlton weaves them into the tapestry of a narrative that simply asks for calm and level-headedness from its viewers. In what is supposedly one of the most liberal states in the union, Washington state, anti-trans legislation in the form of State Senate Bill 6443, and two subsequent ballot initiatives, gained traction. Chief among the supporters of these anti-trans drives, Joseph Backholm, founder of something called the Family Policy Institute of Washington.
Though Knowlton could treat Backholm with disdain and mockery, she doesn’t and her message is firm, her focus sharp and she keeps her points succinct and on point. Systematically, she demystifies debunks the always shocking arguments that transgender individuals are simply pretending, or that they have mental illness, are simply making a choice, or somehow have malicious or abhorrent intentions in presenting the way they do. She shows the always significant distinction that sexual preference and gender identity are two completely separate things that have nothing to do with one another. Knowlton has little choice but to use the science to silence a dangerous rhetoric that can seemingly emerge at any moment.