For months now,
an amazing coalition of LGBT organizations has worked
tirelessly toward passage of the first transgender-inclusive
Employment Non-Discrimination Act bill in Congress.
Yet in a weak moment at the very end of September, key
legislators got cold feet and threw us out. Reaction
was immediate and overwhelming. Almost all of the
country's LGBT organizations -- the list continues to grow -- spoke out loud
and clear in opposition to this ejection. Legislators
had no choice but to give a trans-inclusive ENDA
developments of the last few days have you wanting to know
more about what "transgender" really
means, you've come to the right place. In the
next 800 words I'll cover the key things you need to
know. You may not be aware that I've actually
written 20 Advocate.com columns over the past two
years on transgender awareness -- you can find links to all
of them on my own Web site. But no matter; I'll
include links below where my back columns provide more
information on particular topics.
start with terminology. The trans-inclusive ENDA covers
employment discrimination based on sexual orientation
(who you love), gender identity (who you are), and
gender expression (how you look and act). The last two
are a bit of a mouthful, so they often get referred to as
the "transgender-inclusive" parts for
because of the stigma associated with any adjective
beginning with "trans," many people affected
by issues related to their gender identity or
expression also deny being transgender and could be
missing the fact that this bill is for them too. These
people include the man or woman who occasionally
dresses in drag, the intersex person born with any one
of a number of conditions that make their sex inconsistent
or ambiguous, the swishy man whose feminine
behavior provokes catcalls, and the masculine
woman who gets harassed when she uses the ladies'
are more classically included under the transgender umbrella
include transsexuals who transition genders as I did,
cross-dressers who have an opposite gender
presentation only part of the time, and gender-queer
people who have a unique gender presentation all of the
time. Sexual orientation has no relation to any of this. As
an example, I proudly identify as a lesbian in my new
life while my two best friends (also trans women)
identify as straight.
What is the prevalence of
transgenderism? For many years all we had to go on were the
low numbers from the American Psychiatric Association,
dating from the decades-old beginnings of transgender
understanding. But trans woman Lynn Conway, a
brilliant computer scientist who developed technology used
in most computers today, applied her analytical smarts
a few years ago to come up with a better estimate --
1.5% of the population, or 15 people per thousand in
the population. Comparing with the Williams
Institute's latest statistic for gay/lesbian
prevalence, that's one trans person for every
three gay/lesbian people.
If that seems too
high, it could be because transgender people have been
highly closeted in the past. Those who transitioned genders
often chose to live "stealth" in
their new gender -- never admitting to being
transgender -- because of safety concerns, societal
stigma, and prejudice. And as GenderPAC executive
director Riki Wilchins observed in her recent Advocate.com
commentary, even the gay rights movement previously
forced gender-nonconforming gays into hiding, arguing
"that we are 'just like everyone else,'
except that we sleep with same-sex partners."
Part of the
stigma about being trans comes from the fact that
"gender identity disorder" is still in
the American Psychiatric Association's catalog
of mental disorders. Why hasn't it been removed when
homosexuality was removed in 1973? Because for those of us
who need hormones and surgery to feel authentic in our
new genders, paternalistic medical guidelines still
require a GID diagnosis. Some believe that the diagnosis
enables doctors to provide treatment when they might
fear accusations of malpractice without it.
Another source of
the stigma is what I call MIDS -- Man in a Dress Syndrome.
Women were essentially required 30 years ago to cross-dress
-- in masculine-looking skirt suits -- to gain
entrance into corporate America. But even today, when
a man puts on the clothes of a woman he is immediately
presumed less capable. Sadly, this is not the only way in
which overt sexism skews perceptions
of transgender people.
ENDA is an imperative because only 37% of Americans
live in areas explicitly banning discrimination based on
gender identity and expression, the latest statistic
from the National Center for Transgender Equality. In
areas lacking protection, a simple "no-match"
letter from the Social Security Administration,
stating that the gender in its database does not match
the one you listed in your employment application, can
provoke your employer to fire you.
sad, because transgender people can be very capable
employees. There are many success stories.
Fortunately, acceptance in corporate
America is growing rapidly. This year's Corporate
Equality Index saw a stunning 41% increase -- to 195
-- in the number of major U.S. businesses banning
discrimination based on gender identity and
expression. If there is such a groundswell of support, why
then did lawmakers get cold feet?
because conservative religious activists have been busy in
the past few months too, learning everything about
transgenderism so they can twist the facts and scare
the lawmakers. Legislators need to know that trans
issues are not a new ploy in the "homosexual
agenda." Quite the contrary: Transgender people
were visible in everyday life in the Bible, along with
evidence that Jesus wanted us included too.
Legal's analysis says an ENDA without
protections covering gender identity and expression would be
inadequate for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals too. That
makes it clear that we all need to rally behind trans
inclusion in ENDA. Do what you can, even if
it's just forwarding a link to this article to a
friend. Help show that we truly want equality for