President Obama And Transgender Rights: A Timeline Of His Quiet, Overdue Push For Equality
While the burden of achieving equal legal status is still one that transgender Americans and their advocates know all too well, slowly and surely President Obama is bringing trans issues into the light of mainstream American politics. And most recently, Obama publicly backed Title IX protections for transgender students. On Saturday, LGBT magazine The Advocate wondered aloud Saturday whether Obama is the most trans-friendly President of all time.
The answer? Yes, and there's not even a clear runner-up. That's not to say he's immune from criticism on this front — yes, more needs to be done, and more attention paid. But no other American President has done so much as speak the word "transgender" aloud in a speech before the Obama era, let alone take proactive steps to enhance their legal protections.
Let's take a look back at the Obama administration's push for trans rights — and the times they failed to enact change when it was most necessary.
1. Breaking The Silence
In October 2009, Obama gave a speech at a dinner for the Human Rights Campaign, in which he shouted out not just the struggle for gay rights, but for transgender rights as well. Obama is the first American president to publicly address the transgender rights movement, and as the following years would show, he wasn't just paying lip service.
2. Signing New Hate Crimes Legislation
Just 18 days after his address to the HRC, Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, codifying that assaults against people based on either sexual orientation or gender identity are federal crimes.
3. A Community Overlooked
During his 2012 inaugural address, Obama included mention of the gay rights movement, drawing plaudits for becoming the first president to do so. One glaring omission, however — he didn't mention the transgender community, despite having done so among activists in 2009.
This was an omission which provoked an inspiring letter from 11-year-old transgender girl Sadie Croft: "Transgender people are not allowed the freedom to do things everyone else does, like go to the doctor, go to school, get a job, and even make friends. ... It really isn’t that hard to like transgender people because we are like everyone else."
4. A Blow Against Housing Discrimination
In March 2012, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced new rules forbidding discrimination against both against gay and transgender Americans seeking housing in taxpayer-subsidized abodes.
5. The Fight For ENDA
Obama's backed the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a longtime Democratic bill (introduced dozens of times since 1994) which would institute workplace protections for transgender employees, prohibiting both hiring and on-the-job discrimination.
The most recent iteration is inclusive to transgender Americans, for which we have former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank to thank. It passed the Senate in November 2013, but sadly, the GOP-led House is intractably opposed to it, and no movement is anticipated.
6. Protecting Students From Discrimination
Now, in 2014, Obama has thrown his weight behind anti-discrimination efforts at the scholastic level, across high schools and colleges alike. Last week, he publicly noted:
Title IX is a very powerful tool. The fact that we are applying it to transgender students means that they are going to be in a position to assert their rights if and when they see that they are being discriminated on their college campuses.
With the aggressive everyday discriminations and attendant risks of violence that transgender people inordinately face, Obama's support of transgender rights can't be underestimated.