Vote like your life depends on it, because ours do. And choose candidates who value all life, who validate and respect us.

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Basic human rights and protection from discrimination should not be a topic for debate. Whether or not the life experience of a least 1.4 million American transgender adults and thousands of youth is valid and true should not be an academic conversation about legal precedent.

But the memo related to Title IX currently circulating in the Department of Health and Human Services does exactly that.

The department is seeking to define gender “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable,” and if the topic is ever unclear, should be settled with genetic testing. Setting aside centuries of social culture and decades of scientific research that prove all of that wrong, not to mention the gross violation of privacy and overreach of government, this comes down to the administration debating the humanity and validity of people. They want to erase the existence of people you know, love and respect.

Similarly, the Department of Justice last week filed a brief arguing that Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, “does not apply to discrimination against an individual based on his or her gender identity.”

I am fortunate enough to live in the Seattle area and work for The Seattle Times. Washington state values our existence, and respects the identities of the thousands of trans and gender-nonconforming individuals living here, out or not. My employer has played an important role in my personal comfort in coming out as a trans man, and supported me without question or hesitation.

All of that is now at risk.

As we’ve seen under a wildly different administration from the previous one, all it takes is a small shift in the majority for the tide of culture to change. Rights are being stripped away at an alarming rate, and this is only the most recent attempt to dehumanize and erase us. It’s the third direct attack against the trans community in the past two years, beginning with removing protections for trans students in public schools, followed by discrediting the service of thousands of trans members of the military. Now they are taking a swing at the community as a whole.

This isn’t just about cakes or bathrooms anymore. It’s about housing, and jobs and medical care. We can be rejected by an apartment complex because they don’t like that someone who’s tall, broad and has an Adam’s apple is wearing eye shadow and a skirt. We can lose our job because the hiring manager thinks that someone who has a uterus should use the women’s restroom, no matter what.

Yes, things like harassment, assault and murder are still illegal. But ever since the political atmosphere has begun to change, assaults on trans women are on the rise, with at least 21 deaths recorded this year. And that number is probably lower than it should be due to misgendering and misidentification of victims by police. Did you know that the “trans panic defense,” a legal defense that claims the defendant was temporarily insane due to engaging in sexual activity with someone they were previously unaware was trans, is a legal defense strategy in 47 states, including Washington?

You can help.

Respect pronouns and names. When someone asks you to use a specific pronoun or name when referring to them, do it. It’s not that hard; you adapt to a person’s new last name when they get married, you can adapt when they change their first name.

Learn about us. Talk to trans people, do some research on the internet. There are hundreds of great resources out there with information about our struggles and joys. Look into local resources and volunteer time and money if you’ve got it.

Vote. Vote like your life depends on it, because ours do. Choose candidates who value all people, who validate and respect us. Local races have an impact, and while we are fortunate to be protected now, that could very easily change.