Waking Up to the ’T’ in ’LGBT’
November is Transgender Awareness Month, but it grew out of a singular and solemn Transgender Day of Remembrance. An event that began in 1999 as a candlelight vigil recognizing the 1998 (still unsolved) murder of Rita Hester in Allston, Mass.
"There was a lot of ignorance at one time," explains Transgender Law Center Executive Director Masen Davis. "And although the movement has really blossomed, there are still communities where it's very difficult to come out, even where there are resources for and visibility of transgender people."
Davis, a transgender man, encourages people to consider what that means to young transgender people in places where instead of resources for and visibility of transgender people, there is nothing but bigotry, loathing and violence for them. "It's important to remember we've made progress and that there is quite a ways to go," he said. "I like to say that I really feel like I'm living in a Dickens novel in which it's the best of times and the worst of times... That's a testament to the activism and bravery of so many who came before us."
Yet there was a moment in recent history when some in the LGBT-equality movement considered dropping the "T" from the Employment Non-Discrimination ACT (ENDA)-at least temporarily. The thinking was that protection for transgender people with employment rights might be more than far-right votes in congress would bear. "Back in 2007, some people seemed to think there was openness to taking transgender people out of ENDA," Davis recalls, noting that the community appears to have moved on from that idea. "We have an inclusive ENDA today. There's no sign at all that transgender people will be left out of ENDA when it becomes law."
Although passage of ENDA may still be some distance off, Davis is encouraged by recent gains for transgender students made in the courts. "I'm especially excited about a legal decision that the Transgender Law Center helped win in Macy v. Department of Justice," he said. "The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that transgender discrimination constituted sexual discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
Mia Macy alleges that, as a man, she was offered a job in a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms ballistics lab in what would have amounted to a transfer from her ATF job in Phoenix to one near San Francisco. According to the EEOC finding, Macy alleges the job offer was rescinded because she informed the hiring manager that she was in the process of changing her sex from male to female.
Indeed, the record seems to indicate that the manager misrepresented that the job was no longer available, when in actuality it was. Having now determined that transgender discrimination is in fact unlawful sexual discrimination EEOC will now determine if that is what occurred in the case. "We need ENDA," Davis said. "But in the meantime, we have the law on our side now. The EEOC ruling applies to employers with 15n or more employees. This puts people on notice that you can't discriminate because someone is transgender."
Access to gender-appropriate facilities, such as locker rooms in schools and public restrooms is another area transgender people-especially young people-face difficulties. That fight is one that can get really ugly, according to Davis. "There has been some sort of bathroom challenge in every civil rights movement," he said. "It's amazing. But I'm tired of meeting transgender youth who have gotten infections because there is no restroom for them to use throughout the day. Or, they were unable to graduate because they couldn't get a simple P.E. credit because of lack of access to a locker room."
To find ways to get involved in helping bring equality and dignity to transgender people and how to stand up for your rights visit transgenderlawcenter.org. To find out more about Transgender Day of Remembrance visit transgenderdor.org