Anthony Martinez is Executive Director of the Civil Rights Agenda, a Chicago-based non-profit focused on advancing LGBT issues.
MARTINEZ: I think the most important forward movement for transgender rights in 2013 was the successful passage of a transgender inclusive ENDA in the United States Senate. That was a milestone that not only helped heal the wounds from the betrayal by Congressman Frank and HRC when they stripped transgender people out of the bill in 2007, but also it is indicative of the amazing momentum that the LGBT movement is seeing nationwide. It also shows that transgender rights is not the pariah issue that it once was.
I think another very significant step forward for transgender rights this year was the passage of a bill in California that protects transgender students. I was involved in an incident regarding transgender students in Aurora, Illinois last year. Luckily, here in Illinois we have protections for transgender students, but there is no guidance for teachers or administrators on how to help them. Transgender affirming administrators worked on guidance with regards to restroom and locker room usage and how to aid a transitioning student. The school board voted to adopt it, and that set off a firestorm that gained national attention. The vitriol and pure hate that came after the passage was so intense that the school board eventually voted to repeal the rule that created the guidance. One recurring theme we heard from anti-transgender activists was that boys in skirts would gain access to the girls locker room and "rape your daughters." It was ridiculous and pure lies fed by ignorance. That experience taught me that ensuring protections for transgender youth is still a very hot button topic that has substantial push back. I hope that we see more momentum on that issue now that California moved to pass this important legislation and there will be more conversation on what it means to be a transgender youth and how we can ensure their safety in the school environment.
I also can't forget that the Oregon legislature repealed the surgery requirement for gender change on one's birth certificate and the Social Security Administration dropped their surgery requirement for gender change — among other wins. Additionally, so many people came out publicly as transgender like WikiLeaks soldier Chelsea Manning, former Navy Seal Kristin Beck, and billionaire Jennifer Pritzker. Transgender individuals coming out is so important because the lack of identification with transgender people is what creates the alienation that causes people to fight against transgender rights.
Unfortunately, I do not think we are going to see many gains federally in 2014- at least from Congress. With the inability for Congress to act on anything, we are probably not going to see much movement on transgender rights there. With that said, the Obama Administration has consistently helped the LGBT community make gains. I am hopeful that the Department of Health and Human Services will ensure gender-affirming surgeries can be covered by Medicaid and Medicare. I would also like to see movement on the issue of transgender individuals serving in the military. I also think the Obama Administration should work to change the incredibly negative circumstances that transgender prisoners face during incarceration.
Additionally, there are many gains that can be made at the state level. There definitely needs to be an effort to repeal the Medicaid regulation that blocks transgender individuals from accessing gender affirming healthcare in New York. In Illinois and New Jersey, we will be working to change the law that requires surgery to change ones gender marker on a birth certificate. We also have to protect the gains that were made in California for transgender students if the anti-transgender coalition is successful in getting the issue on the ballot for repeal.
I read something the other day that [Michael Silverman at the TLDEF] said about how the transgender rights movement is 20 years behind the LGB movement in terms of public opinion, and I would mostly agree with that. We can correlate that to a lack of understanding within broader society. And I would relate that to the fact that many people do not know someone who is transgender. So, how do we change that? Of course we could talk about transgender folks coming out, and that should be encouraged. But, before we invoke Harvey Milk, we need to think of the hundreds of transgender folks who are killed every year just for being transgender. There is a very real safety issue for transgender individuals who live life openly transgender.
So, I would suggest we start with a conversation. And these conversations are happening around the country, but we need to push them to the forefront of the societal consciousness. The Civil Rights Agenda is holding a teach-in for legislators in Illinois this year that will discuss the realities of being transgender, but will also discuss basic Transgender 101. We need to have those conversations with the general public as well. I think the biggest hurdle the transgender rights movement faces is the lack of education. Let's fix that.
As I mentioned previously, we are working to ensure transgender people in Illinois can change their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity without having surgery. Additionally, it looks like there will be a bill to add gender identity to the Illinois hate crimes enhancement law. We will also continue our efforts working with the Chicago Police Department on their policy related to the treatment of transgender individuals in custody. Currently, the department only recognizes gender solely based on an individual's genitalia and that is not acceptable. It is time that the "authorities" respect a persons ability to self-identify. We are also working to expand these protections to other cities throughout Illinois.
Additionally, we are working with the Obama Administration on the Medicaid/Medicare issue and hope to work on transgender prison issues moving into 2014.