A Closer Look

A monthly in-depth look at issues affecting people experiencing homelessness and the broader Health Care for the Homeless community

Are Left-Handed People ‘Perverts’ and ‘Abnormal’?

Question: Why are there four times as many left-handed people in the U.S. as there were ~100 years ago?

Answer: Historic stigma and discrimination. Prominent criminologists and psychologists in the early 1900s considered left-handed people “primitive and abnormal,” “stubborn, rebellious, rigid people,” and people who “may signify homosexuality, incest, and perversion.” Did you know that schools used to tie children’s left arms to their bodies to train them to be right-handed (or other corporeal punishment)? Stigma and discrimination existed against left-handed people for decades, which makes this 1971 newspaper’s begrudging acknowledgement that “left-handers…are becoming increasingly accepted and enabled to find their right (or left) place in the world” particularly telling.

Relevance: Does this framework (and vocabulary) for stigma and discrimination—based on naturally occurring human traits—sound familiar? It’s with this context that I turn to the recent public policy attacks on transgender and non-binary people.

In 2021, 33 states introduced 117 bills to limit rights for transgender people. In 2022, 315 anti-equity bills were introduced, with 29 becoming law. This year, 499 anti-trans bills across 49 states were introduced—with 43 passing, and 359 still actively being considered.

These public policy attacks fall across a wide range of basic freedoms and rights:

  • Health care: Laws limiting access to health care services or health insurance coverage; creating criminal penalties for providers delivering such care
  • Education: Laws prohibiting participation in school sports; limiting/censoring what can be said about LGBTQ people or issues in classrooms
  • Civil rights: Laws weakening nondiscrimination laws make it easier to fire people or refuse them treatment
  • Accurate identification: Laws limiting the ability to change official documents, such as birth certificates or drivers’ licenses
  • Free speech: Laws limiting access to books and how/where people can express themselves freely; prohibiting performances like drag shows
  • Public accommodations: Laws limiting the ability to use public facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms

These laws are not just being advanced at the state level—but also at the federal level. The House of Representatives just passed a law that restricts transgender students from playing on women’s sports teams, and no doubt plans to advance more legislative attacks that seek to elevate state-level laws to nationwide policy allowing for trans discrimination. Worse, public policy attacks like these make it more acceptable for people to commit violence against transgender and non-binary people as well. Given the stigma and discrimination towards trans folks, it should not come as a surprise that this group experiences high rates of homelessnessAll of this is shockingly wrong and unjust.

At the same time, five states have proposed laws protecting health care for those who identify as transgender or non-binary, and 19 states offer legal refuge to trans youth and their families. Let’s acknowledge these examples and promote more solutions to protect our friends and neighbors who are struggling to be safe, seen, heard, valued, and live their lives free of violence and discrimination.

Vision and values: Let’s commit to achieving a society where it is just as irrational and ridiculous to discriminate against transgender and non-binary people as it is to punish those who are left-handed. When we allow human beings to be their authentic selves, greater numbers of diverse expression naturally emerge. Let’s re-commit to centering our advocacy on values that promote dignity, love, inclusion, human rights, and equity in our struggle towards Justice.

Take Action to Support Trans/Nonbinary People:

The most direct action the HCH Community can take is to provide high-quality, trauma-informed care to transgender and non-binary people.

As health care providers, testify at legislative hearings in support of gender-affirming care (or take other actions, such as writing op-eds, writing letters to elected officials, etc.). Use our Advo-Kit to help you navigate advocacy actions.

Follow our partners at the Human Rights Campaign and sign up for action alerts on anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Follow our partners at True Colors United, who are dedicated to issues related to young people experiencing homeless and identifying as LGBTQ. Sign up for their federal advocacy and their state and local advocacy actions!

Call your Congressional representatives and ask them to support The Transgender Bill of Rights (H.Res 269), a resolution to recognize the federal government’s duty in protecting and codifying the rights of transgender and nonbinary people, as well as to ensure trans people have access to medical care, shelter, safety, and economic security.

Stand up for trans/non-binary folks in your everyday interactions with friends, family, coworkers, and others to check instances of stigma and discrimination.


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