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A Transgender Champion in Washington, D.C.


A key figure in getting the gender marker change on passports nearly a decade ago, Harper Jean Tobin is now focused on helping sex workers and fighting Trump.

Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality, was a key figure in getting the state department to change gender marker policy on passports back in 2010.

"A decade ago, most trans people couldn't dream of being able to get accurate ID without going through burdensome and sometimes impossible hoops," Tobin explains, who is a trans woman herself.

"Most of us couldn't imagine X gender markers, or getting rid of transgender exclusions in Medicaid and health insurance. Or that so many schools, hospitals, workplaces would commit themselves to full inclusion for our communities. Or that we'd start to curb some of the worst abuses against trans people in jails and police stations and be part of the conversation about police and criminal justice reform. And I'm proud to have been a small part of all of that."

Tobin previously worked at the Federal Rights Project of the National Senior Citizens Law Center (now Justice in Aging). The 37-year-old Kentucky native attended Oberlin College and has earned degrees in law and social work from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Tobin also serves on the board at HIPS, an organization that "promotes the health, rights, and dignity of individuals and communities impacted by sexual exchange and/or drug use due to choice, coercion, or circumstance" in the D.C. area.

Advocating for sex workers is important to her simply because "On any given day, the plurality and maybe even the majority of folks HIPS serves are transgender people--trans people of all genders, but predominately trans women of color," says Tobin.

"HIPS includes hormone therapy in its growing primary care program, and for years has been educating other institutions in the District on how to serve trans communities. People come to the HIPS drop-in center for a space where they won't be judged because of who they are, what they look like, or how they get by. NCTE's research shows 12 percent of trans adults have done sex work, and much more than that among trans women of color because of having so few other options. Like NCTE, HIPS has long advocated for LGBT equality and, in recent years, is backing the full decriminalization of sex work because it will make trans sex workers safer and actually make it easier for those who wish to leave the work to do so."

These days the NTCE is focused on fighting back against the Trump administration's political war against trans people. "I am proud that NCTE has led the pushback against the Trump Administration's attacks on our communities--and on so many communities--and helped slow these rollbacks. Even more that I'm proud that, working with people across the country, we have seen a loud and clear message that trans people are still here, we are resilient, and we are continuing to make progress in so many important ways in spite of these attacks." (

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