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You're fired!"

You're fired!"


Or worse--you may be murdered. Transgender people may face discrimination on the job, in housing, or even in trying to pee. Some turn to legal proceedings to establish their rights. Some never get the chance to fight back. Part 9 in The Advocate's ongoing Transgender 101 series

You're fired!" " >

Many Americans do not realize that in much of the country you can be fired just for being transgender. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, only 31% of Americans live in areas that explicitly ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression. For the other 69%, legal proceedings may be the only way you can establish your rights. This means that revealing your transgender status could have the same result as that experienced by Sarah Blanchette and Diane Shroer.

Sarah Blanchette was a computer programmer for Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. In March 2004 she informed her superiors that she would return from a two-week vacation presenting herself as female. St. Anselm College then fired her, stating in a letter, "As you know, you recently disclosed to senior college administration your transsexual status. Upon consideration, you are immediately relieved of your duties...." The Boston-based LGBT advocacy and legal group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (not to be confused with the LGBT national media watchdog GLAAD) filed a lawsuit against Saint Anselm on May 26, 2005, reaching a settlement early this year.

Diane Schroer was an Airborne Ranger-qualified Special Forces officer who completed more than 450 parachute jumps, received numerous decorations--including the Defense Superior Service Medal, and was handpicked to head up a classified national security operation. Shortly after retiring as a colonel after 25 years of distinguished service in the army, she accepted a job as a terrorism research analyst at the Library of Congress. She thought she'd found the perfect fit. But when Schroer told her future supervisor that she was in the process of a gender transition to female, the job offer was rescinded. The American Civil Liberties Union is now representing her in a lawsuit against the Library of Congress.

If you are transgender and believe that your industry, employer, or trade will not accept a transgender person, you might decide to leave your current position before disclosing your transgender status. But after disclosure you will likely run into another problem: It can be very difficult to find new employment as an "out" transgender person, especially if your presentation does not rigidly conform to the gender binary. You may end up settling for employment considerably below your capabilities for the sake of having a job. Or you may not find a job at all.

Of course, however rampant and chronic employment discrimination may be for the community, it pales in comparison to the gravest issue facing transgender people: hate crimes. One example was the murder of Gwen Araujo in California in 2002. Gwen was a sexually active teenager who had not disclosed her transgender status to some of her male sex partners. She was murdered by her companions after their forced inspection revealed her to be biologically male. In the ensuing trial the defendants tried to use the transgender version of the "gay panic" defense--that Gwen had deceived them and therefore deserved to be murdered. In the end, two of the defendants were convicted of second-degree murder, but the jury concluded that no hate crime was committed.

An estimated average of one transgender person every two weeks is murdered just for being transgender. Gwen Smith has recorded the known killings on her Remembering Our Dead Web page at Every November 20 we in the transgender community honor the memory of our slain brothers and sisters in the solemn Transgender Day of Remembrance. Last year there were 305 TDOR events around the world, spanning 42 U.S. states and 11 countries on five continents.

As a trans person you may also face discrimination in your mundane everyday life, in areas such as housing, credit, and public accommodation. If your presentation does not rigidly conform to the gender binary, you may be harassed if you attempt to use either the men's or the ladies' bathroom. Self-deputized gender police (and sometimes, the actual law enforcement kind) stand ready to protect these sacred spaces. The Transgender Law Center's recently released guide "Peeing in Peace" explains how this policing harms gender-nonconforming people and offers some suggestions to help.

Regardless of how you present, you may face discrimination just because administrators or employees know you are transgender. GLAD successfully mounted a challenge in which a transgender middle school student was disciplined for wearing gender-appropriate clothing, and another in which a loan applicant was told to go home and come back dressed in clothing that matched the gender on her identification.

Discrimination pops up in all kinds of places, including your tax return. Since you must have the authorization of mental health professionals to have sex-reassignment surgery, and because you must pay the full cost of the surgery because it is generally not covered by insurance, Rhiannon O'Donnabhain deducted the costs of her sex-reassignment surgery on her 2001 return, believing they surely qualified as "medically necessary." Yet, upon audit, the IRS denied her deduction, deeming it "cosmetic." GLAD has commenced litigation on her behalf in U.S. tax court.

I have mentioned some of GLAD's transgender legal cases because they are most familiar to me from my position as the first transgender member of its board of directors. But in all fairness, organizations such as Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Transgender Law Center have also achieved significant legal gains on behalf of trans people. It's clearly going to take the work of all of these organizations and others, plus some significant legislation, before all of us gender-nonconforming people will be able to live our lives in peace.

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You're fired!"

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