It’s been a pretty good year so far for transgender peopleTrans Progressive Thursday, June 16th, 2011
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 If Maine had repealed the antidiscrimination protections based on gender identity, it would have been the only state to have ever repealed civil rights protections for transgender people.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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