Transgender Rights Move into the Spotlight

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In 2014, and so far in 2015, there have been several legal, social media, and entertainment-related successes for the transgender community, proving what many of us have thought all along, Transgender rights matter. These successes were not without some wake up calls too, alerting us to the fact that as a nation we have a lot of self-educating to do, even within the LGBT community. Before I started writing this, I checked out GLAAD’s media reference page for transgender-related issues, which I found helpful in clarifying certain definitions and uses of terms–making sure you know what you’re talking about, and in the right ways, can only help increase your level of respect, especially as terms and definitions evolve.


While progress is being made in accepting, understanding, and supporting transgender people, and explicitly granting them their legal rights, they continue to experience severe disadvantages. Transgender people are disproportionately affected by hate crimes, especially transgender women, and face high levels of discrimination and poverty. The American Medical Association states that treatment for gender dysphoria is medically necessary, but insurance companies treat transition-related medical care as cosmetic. And while the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was repealed, it only applied to lesbian, gay, and bisexual personnel, so transgender people are still prohibited from serving in the military.

2014 began with the passing of the Affordable Care Act on January 1st, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and enabled eligible transgender Americans to receive transition-related care for the first time.

Then in April, the Department of Education added explicit protections for transgender students to Title IX. Also in education, three all-women’s colleges, including Mills College, Mount Holyoke College, and Simmons College, adopted policies that clearly state that all women can seek admission, regardless of what is listed on the applicant’s birth certificate or other legal documentation. Disappointingly, the Smith College board of trustees has stated that the class of 2020 will be the first to apply under an explicitly transgender-inclusive policy.

In Hollywood, there was upheaval concerning the straight actor Jared Leto portraying the transgender woman, Rayon, in Dalla Buyers Club, rather than an actual transgender woman. It was clear from his response to protesters that Leto, who argued that straight men play gay roles all the time and never once said the word “transgender” in any of his acceptance speeches, has some work to do in understanding what it means to be transgender. But he’s not the only one–read this article from Rolling Stone.

2014 also saw some improvements in the social media sector: Facebook now offers over 50 gender identities to choose from, and three gender pronouns. OKCupid also added nine sexual orientation and 19 gender options, while Google+ has started allowing users to type in their own gender. While not social media related, I can’t help but be reminded that most application forms I run into still only give two choices for gender.

As the year was coming to a close, the Department of Labor issued an executive order that protects transgender federal employees from workplace discrimination, a huge step forward as transgender people experience a disproportionate amount of workplace discrimination. This was followed by the release of a new federal regulation on Friday, January 30, 2015, clarifying that unlawful sex discrimination in the workplace includes bias against all LGBT workers, exhibiting the increasingly broad legal consensus that sex discrimination laws should extend to all LGBT workers, not just federal employees. Within the proposed rule it is stated that transgender workers must have equal access to workplace restrooms consistent with their identity (read this for more).

And in January 2015, for the first time in US History, President Obama said “transgender” and “bisexual” in a State of the Union address (read this article for more):

As Americans, we respect human dignity […] It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims ““ the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace. That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.

Here are a few articles and resources for further self education on transgender issues:


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