It's no secret that transgender people face higher levels of discrimination at home, school, and work than cisgender people do. In recent years transgender rights have sparked an important human rights dialogue (although I'd argue it should have been a part of the conversation much, much sooner) — and despite Trump's withdraw of transgender bathroom access protections, there are still recent transgender rights victories that provide hope in a frightening time.
Transgender rights have been advancing since the 1950s when Christine Jorgensen became the first American to undergo gender confirmation surgery in 1952. Jorgensen had to travel to Denmark for hormone therapy and surgery, but upon return she publicly announced her transition, and became an advocate for trans rights.
A timeline of milestones of the transgender movement published in the New York Times details hard-won victories for trans rights. In 1966 physician Harry Benjamin published The Transsexual Phenomenon (a term that can be somewhat divisive these days; as GLAAD notes, it's older and not an umbrella term), a book outlining medical-transition options for trans people. In 1975 Minneapolis led the transgender protection movement by becoming the first city in the United States to pass a law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people. And, in 1993, Minnesota became the first state to pass laws protecting trans people statewide.
In 1995, Phyllis Frye, often referred to as the grandmother of the trans rights movement, and Riki Anne Wilchins, held the first transgender lobbying day. Wilchins also created the now defunct advocacy group GenderPAC. In 2005, California became the first state to mandate transgender health care coverage with the Insurance Gender Nondiscrimination Act.
In 2009 President Barack Obama was the first president (as if we need another reason to love him more) to nominate openly transgender federal appointees. Dylan Orr began as an attorney at the Department of Labor in December, and a month later, Amanda Simpson became a senior technical adviser in the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security. In 2014 the Department of Health and Human Services mandated that Medicare cover gender confirmation surgery, reversing policy in place since 1981.
Each year the fight for trans rights makes more gains. Here are three recent transgender victories that will give you hope for the future.
Gavin Grimm Takes Restroom Rights Case to the Supreme Court
Transgender teen Gavin Grimm's fight for restroom equality came to light nationally when parents of students at his Virginia high school learned that Grimm was using the boys bathroom. The parents brought the issue in front of the school board, which voted 6-1 against Grimm, according to Teen Vogue. Grimm, who lives in a conservative state, did not accept their decision, and the ACLU filed a federal discrimination complaint with the Department of Justice and the Department of Education on his behalf case in December 2014.
The ACLU claims that the school board's ruling violated Title IX , and is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. Grimm's case advanced last year when Obama directed all public schools to allow students to you use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity versus the gender listed on their birth certificate. This week, President Trump rescinded protections for transgender students, making Grimm's case, which will be heard by the Supreme Court in March, more important than ever.
In an article on the Huffington Post, Grimm's attorney, Joshua Block of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “We’re prepared to make our case to the court and to make sure the Supreme Court and people in general see Gavin as who he is and see trans kids across the country for who they are." Grimm “is not trying to dismantle sex-segregated restrooms. He’s just trying to use them.”
Despite the recent setback, Grimm's case being heard by the Supreme Court is an important victory for the transgender community. Laverne Cox even voiced her support for Grimm on stage at the Grammys last week, saying, “Everyone, please Google ‘Gavin Grimm.’ He’s going to the Supreme Court in March. #StandWithGavin."
Obama Makes It Illegal for Federally Funded Health Care Providers to Deny Coverage to Trans People
If you don't already have enough reasons to love Obama, here's another. In May of 2016, our former president made it illegal for health insurance companies that receive federal funding as part of the Affordable Care Act to deny coverage to trans people.
The Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities rule implemented Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. It's is "the first federal civil rights law to broadly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded health programs," according to the Advocate. The rule ensures that transgender Americans cannot be denied health care services related to gender transition by health care providers that receive federal funding.
The Human Rights Campaign praised the decision in a press release: “Access to healthcare should never be denied because of your sexual orientation or gender identity,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “LGBT people have too often faced healthcare systems that provide inequitable and hostile treatment. This new and important regulation will address many of these disparities and is critical to help end discrimination against transgender and gender nonconforming people in healthcare and insurance. The Affordable Care Act has made a tremendous impact on the lives of millions of Americans, and this regulation makes clear that LGBT people and their unique needs are included in the protections it provides.”
Britney Austin Makes A Big Step For Fighting Harassment In The Workplace
If you've ever watched The L Word, you might remember when transgender character Max Sweeney (played by Daniela Sea) was harassed and ostracized at work until he eventually resigned. In the storyline, Max had originally applied for the job pre-transition as Moira, and was turned down because the management didn't think she would "fit in" with the team. Max eventually secured the job after transitioning, but after revealing he was transgender, he began to get bullied at work.
Unfortunately this doesn't only happen on TV. Rights for transgender people in the workplace aren't a given, and even when they do exist, they are not always enforced.
But in 2016, Britney Austin, an Arizona transgender woman, settled a case with her employer after allegedly facing discrimination and harassment at the call center where she worked. According to an article in the Advocate, the company agreed to pay Austin $115,000, and said it would implement numerous changes to company policies.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in Austin's favor, and found the company in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by subjecting her to “a hostile work environment and disparate treatment because of her sex, including because Ms. Austin is a woman who is transgender.”
The settlement agreement included an apology to Austin, which stated the following:
Each trans person who goes public with harassment and discrimination brings much needed attention to issues affecting trans people. With Trump's recent repeal of trans protection rights, it's easy to get discouraged, but remember: There is light on both sides of darkness. You just have to look.