Op-ed: 14 Reasons That Made 2011 Great for Trans People

By Advocate Contributors

Originally published on Advocate.com December 28 2011 7:10 PM ET

For eight years, I've been incredibly fortunate to be doing trans social justice work. And as I look back at what has been accomplished, I can say that 2011 is especially marked by victory after victory. Most Americans now know a little bit more about the struggle trans people face. Every day people are becoming stronger trans allies. From the trans actors we are finally seeing on movie and television screens, to local nondiscrimination laws, and to the global call for LGBT rights, there is real change in nearly every facet of our lives.

Of course, discrimination and disrespect against trans people persists. Disparities in employment and healthcare for trans people and especially among trans people of color run high. And our federal policy agenda is brimming with solutions we are pressing the federal government for.

Despite the work ahead, I'm still both humbled and excited by the progress that we are winning.

Recognizing that there is lots of good work being done across the country, here's my take on 14 reasons, in no particular order, that made the year great for trans people.

1. More and More State and Local Laws Pass 

Four states (Hawaii, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Nevada) passed transgender antidiscrimination laws--the most new laws ever in one year. Vermont and California passed new birth certificate laws making it easier for transgender people to update their name and gender. By a vote of 61-81, the Maine legislature killed an anti-trans bill. And 13 local jurisdictions passed laws protecting trans people in the workplace.

2. The White House Makes Trans People and Issues a Priority 

There have been lots of meetings with administration officials over the past few years. But this year, two meetings stand out. In April, representatives from various federal agencies met with a group of advocates to talk about a range of trans-related policy issues. And in November, another inter-agency group met with trans anti-violence advocates at the White House to have a discussion about how to end violence against trans people.

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3. Harmony Santana Becomes the First Openly Trans Actor to Get a Major Award Nomination 

For her moving portrayal of a young trans woman of color in Gun Hill Road, Harmony Santana is the first openly trans actor to be nominated at the prestigious Independent Spirit Awards for Best Supporting Actress. Certainly Santana's path has been paved by numerous trans allies portraying trans people (e.g. Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry, and Felicity Huffman in TransAmerica), though Santana is the first person to be nominated for a major industry award as a trans actor depicting a trans person, and in the proper category, no less.

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4. Trans Health Policy Improves 

Health policy advances were very frequent this year. The medical profession continued to come around on trans health with the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology issuing a clear policy statement about proper treatment for trans people. To reach even more physicians, the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health published the first-ever protocols for transgender primary care. And several legal cases solidified trans people's legal rights to healthcare while incarcerated. Maybe most importantly, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began a process to develop methods to include trans people in future federal health surveys, paving the way for a better understanding of health disparities we face and possible solutions to these disparities.

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5. First Sitting Cabinet Secretary Addresses a Trans Event 

As another symbol of the growing power of trans people, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan became the first sitting Cabinet secretary to attend and keynote a transgender function. His remarks emphasized the need for protections for trans people and their families in housing programs. In an interview later that evening, Secretary Donovan became the highest ranking U.S. government official to express support for marriage equality.

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6. Using Sex Discrimination Laws to Protect Trans People 

While laws the Employment Nondiscrimination Act are still badly needed, we are making strides in achieving protections for trans people in jobs, housing, and schools on the basis of existing laws prohibiting sex discrimination. Federal agencies that enforce these laws are increasingly pursuing complaints from transgender people and providing redress for some. A "hugely important" ruling from a usually conservative federal appeals court in Atlanta advanced this trend, ruling in favor of Vandy Beth Glenn, a transgender woman fired from her job because of her gender transition.

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7. The U.S. and the U.N. Speak Up for LGBT Rights 

Global transgender rights work has been happening for years, and this year saw more advances than ever including the U.S. government aggressively supporting transgender rights worldwide. Earlier this year, the United Nations issued a resolution calling for an end to human rights violations against trans and LGBT people. As a report resulting from that resolution was being issued this month, the Obama administration stepped in with a major U.N. speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling on all countries to protect LGBT human rights and a memorandum from the president instructing American agencies to promote the human rights of LGBT people in their diplomacy and aid work.

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8. Release of the Most Comprehensive Study on Trans Discrimination 

This year, with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, we published the groundbreaking National Transgender Discrimination Survey. With nearly 6,500 respondents, trans people reported discrimination in every area of life. Andy by every vital marker, the report showed both disparate and desperate health outcomes. But the report findings should be held separately from the significance of the report itself--the study has become the go-to resource for understanding the breadth of barriers facing trans people.

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9. Improved Standards of Care for Trans People 

In September, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health released significantly improved standards to meet the medical needs of trans people. The key updates include the recognition that gender nonconformity is not a disorder, repudiation of the effectiveness of "reparative therapy," and the affirmation that transition-related treatments should be covered by insurance. The Standards of Care are a critical resource for providers across the country, and has led the change in creating positive norms for trans health care.

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10. Government Backs Trans Federal Workers 

In May, the Office of Personnel Management issued new guidance on treating trans people in the federal workplace equally and fairly, including clarifying the rights of trans people to change their gender in their medical records, and access sex-specific care under the federal health plan. While this important new guidance only applies to a relatively small number of trans federal employees, it sends a message that all workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

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11. Veterans Administration Raises the Bar on Trans Health 

In a significant step forward, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs issued a directive establishing the respectful treatment of trans veterans. The directive reiterates coverage of the most basic and necessary medical care by the VA including sex-specific care, hormone therapy, and mental health services. While advocates continue to press the VA on including sex reassignment surgery in their programs, the directive has raised the standard for the equal treatment of trans people by both public and private healthcare providers.

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12. Chaz Bono Teaching Trans to the Masses 

Chaz Bono on Dancing With the Stars marked the first time an openly trans man starred on a major network television show for something unrelated to being trans. Bono's welcome quickly turned into controversy, but his resilience and warm persona told Americans that they have a lot in common with him and other trans people. I credit Chaz for his willingness to tell his story, and for teaching Americans at least a little bit about our lives.

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13. Making Schools Safe for Trans Youth 

More and more school districts are starting to learn about trans people, and have passed sexual orientation and gender identity policies. To further this along, NCTE and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network issued the first resource that provides schools with tangible solutions to creating trans-inclusive policies. To often, and in light of the spate of anti-trans violence, trans young people are left to protect themselves, often putting their education and sometimes their safety at risk. The resource is long overdue, and teachers and administrators have been hungry for guidelines on how to make our schools safe for everyone.

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14. All Federal Legislation Introduced this Congress is Trans-Inclusive 

In the 112th Congress which started in January and ends next December, many pro-LGBT bills have been introduced to advance a range of issues from employment discrimination to to healthcare access to housing to credit protections. Continuing this trend from the last several congresses, every significant piece of legislation that should include gender identity, does.