Too Little, Too Late on Gender Identity Protections?
September 13 2011 7:00 AM ET
In its legal settlement with Yang, the TSA agreed to require approximately 100 managers at LAX to attend sensitivity training on transgender issues as well as to pay Yang five months’ back wages and a five-figure settlement for pain and suffering. “We need to be aware of transgender issues not only for our coworkers but for passengers,” a TSA spokesman at LAX says of Yang’s settlement. Whether such diversity training will affect how TSA officials treat future transgender employees remains to be seen.
A federal law against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity would be a welcome step forward, although it has little or no chance of passage under the Republican-majority House of Representatives. A Democratic-controlled Congress even punted in the last session, with leaders continuing to assert that LGBT Americans wanted “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal passed first. For many transgender people, who can’t serve in the military regardless of DADT’s repeal, that argument is particularly offensive.
“The more that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was talked about and acted upon, the less they wanted to be concerned about us,” Monica Helms, cofounder of the Transgender American Veterans Association, said in January. “Now I see all this celebration. Everyone is patting each other on the back, and we’re saying, ‘Hello? Hello? What about us?’ ”
Particularly striking is the fact that though employment rights for LGBT people now draw support among a majority of Americans, most Americans think such protections are already in place. A full 73% of likely voters in the 2012 election support laws protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender workers against on-the-job discrimination. Nine out of 10 respondents in a Center for American Progress poll last spring believed that Congress has already passed such legislation.
“A confusing patchwork of state and local laws currently offer some protections to gay and transgender workers,” reports Jeff Krehely, director of the center’s LGBT Research and Communications Project. “Many of these policies only apply to gay people, while some are inclusive of transgender employees. Even with these policies, however, a federal law such as ENDA is needed to provide full and adequate protections to gay and transgender Americans.”
If there’s any bright spot for transgender workers, it’s that leading corporations are ahead of Washington on the issue. In its 2012 Corporate Equality Index, the Human Rights Campaign updated its criteria to require that companies offer a transgender-inclusive health plan to its workers in order to qualify for a 100% rating. Fortune 500 companies including Wells Fargo, Coca-Cola, Walt Disney Co., and American Airlines are among the more progressive on the issue. “This will be our first year including health benefits for gender reassignment procedures,” says Lauri Curtis, American Airlines' vice president for diversity, leadership, and engagement. “Despite rising medical costs, we work hard to ensure we offer competitive medical plans for all employees. … We took the time to review the various medical necessity guidelines and implemented those guidelines that were most comprehensive to ensure consistency for our employees and retirees using this benefit.”