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It’s been a pretty good year so far for transgender people

Commentary: Trans Progressive

In the big picture of basic civil rights for transgender Americans, 2011 has to this point been a good year for civil rights progress. Sometimes I know it’s hard to focus on what’s been accomplished when we also see what hasn’t yet been accomplished, or see backward steps, but for trans people we’ve seen more civil rights gains than losses.

To begin with, three states have added antidiscrimination protections based on gender identity to their lists of protected classes for antidiscrimination legislation.

In Hawaii, the state legislature added employment antidiscrimination protections for gender identity adding to the states pre-existent antidiscrimination protections for employment and public accommodations. Hawaii became the 13th state and the first state since 2006, to add employment protections for transgender people.

The 14th state to legislatively add employment antidiscrimination protections based on gender identity was Nevada. Not only did the state legislatively add employment antidiscrimination protections, the state also legislatively added housing and public accommodation protections.

The interesting thing about Nevada is that the employment, housing, and public accommodation bills were submitted as three separate bills, and a Republican Governor signed the three bills into law.

And Connecticut, the 15th state, legislatively added antidiscrimination protections based on gender identity for employment, housing and public accommodations.

The Connecticut protections were added after years and years of consistent hard work by a dedicated group of transgender activists. It’s a testament of how hard work for basic civil rights protections is often a multi-year effort. We don’t receive civil rights protections just by asking for the protections.

In Maine, an attempt to repeal civil rights protections for transgender citizens, legislatively adopted five years ago, by the newly Republican legislature was beaten back in that state’s senate. If Maine had repealed the antidiscrimination protections based on gender identity, it would have been the only state to have ever repealed civil rights protections for transgender people.

On the federal level, the Office of Personnel Management added antidiscrimination protections for all federal employees under their purview. In other words, the federal government, the largest employer in the United States, now has an antidiscrimination policy that includes protections for transgender federal employees.

Less well known is that individual federal agencies have been updating their antidiscrimination and equal opportunity policies. These include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development. They’ve changed their equal opportunity/antidiscrimination policies to include the phrase “sex (including pregnancy and gender identity).” Including gender identity in the sub-definition for sex is in line with the decision in Schroer v. Library of Congress. According to the ACLU, they described the outcome of the case this way:

“On September 19, 2008, a federal district judge ruled that the Library of Congress illegally discriminated against Schroer, in a groundbreaking decision that found that discriminating against someone for changing genders is sex discrimination under federal law. On April 28, 2009, the judge ordered the government to pay nearly $500,000 in compensation for the discrimination, which was the maximum he could award in the case.”

The Department of Justice didn’t appeal the decision, and agencies throughout the Executive Branch have been quietly changing their equal opportunity and antidiscrimination policies. This is probably the most significant development of how the Obama Administration has been working toward ordinary equality for transgender citizens, but it’s happening under the radar.

Regarding health care, the city of Portland, Oregon recently became the third local government in the United States to offer transgender health care benefits for its employees, to include genital reconstruction surgery. The other two local entities with this kind of health care coverage for transgender civil servants are San Francisco, California and Multnomah County, Oregon.

And Health and Human Services changed how they administer their programs. On April 1, 2011, the Secretary issued a new policy explicitly requiring HHS employees to serve all individuals who are eligible for the Department’s programs without regard to any non-merit factor, including race, national origin, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability (physical or mental), age, status as a parent or genetic information.

And, it’s anticipated that the Veterans Administration (VA) will very, very soon implement a health care policy that will standardize treatment for transgender veterans across the entire VA health care system.

There have been a number of setbacks and a number of losses, but as for civil rights, the transgender community has pretty much quietly, and off the radar, achieved significant progress with regards to basic civil rights this year.

And, the year is only half over. Obviously, this is all good news for the transgender community.



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Posted by LGBT Weekly on Jun 16, 2011. Filed under Trans Progressive. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

3 Comments for “It’s been a pretty good year so far for transgender people”

  1. Excellent summation Autumn! It is so wonderful seeing how you walk the walk and talk the talk! As a fellow vet, it is awesome to have someone of your caliber spearheading efforts and spreading the word! I agree! This year will go down in history as a pivotal year with the Federal Government leading the way toward more equal protections in years to come

  2. Would like to add one more comment. Twenty-seven years ago, I was discharged as an E-5/SSgt from the USAF. I was only 23 years old. I had enlisted at 18, to young to ask all the right questions. I figured that I would “occupy” myself through my prime years and would be rewarded at the end with the GI Bill. To this day I feel “screwed” and will feel this way to my grave.
    I couldn’t fathom the notion of musical benefits with those who volunteer to give all if need be for our country. Nothing will ever make things right unless I indeed get what I feel I deserve—the GI bill. Of course, this will never happen.

    But this year has begun restoring some faith in my country that was lost in 1979, when I was informed at my first duty station that the “GI Bill had been discontinued in Aug/1977″. I love this country and indeed am blessed to have been born here. As a transgender female, personally this has begun healing my inner ever-present wound that was “inflicted” 32 years ago with the news of the GI Bill postponement. I am not whining…just stating my feelings about how crucial it is to be faithful to those who promise to be faithful for their country. It is only the right and American thing to do.

  3. Excellent article, Autumn. One little pedantic correction: the Tennessee state legislature repealed all laws at the city and county level protecting Trans and Intersex people, and also amended state legislation to overturn caselaw that gave limited protections to both those groups in the infamous “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act of 2011″.

    While it could be argued that repealing the patchwork of anti-discrimination laws at the local level would give “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce”, the amendment to state law made it clear that this was an anti-Trans and anti-Intersex bill in intent. As a side-effect, it makes it illegal for cities and counties in Tennessee to be in compliance with Federal law covering veterans and the disabled, and even parts of the Civil Rights Act 1964.

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