From nondiscrimination ordinances and policies, to addressing racism, transgender community still has work to do
Today in Texas, a lesbian couple may marry if one of the partners is trans, but a heterosexual couple with a trans partner may not. That’s because Texas only recognizes the sex on the original birth certificate, not on an amended certificate.
Some legislators would like to avoid their own confusion about who transgender people are by simply banning them from marrying anyone. Once marriage is defined as between two people, that will no longer be an issue for the trans community.
But there are many more issues that are just as, if not more important to most in the transgender community. And as America begins to look beyond marriage equality, these are just a few of the battles the trans community will continue to fight.
Trans Pride Initiative President Nell Gaither is more interested in protections that can be acquired by regulation rather than by law.
She said nondiscrimination ordinances are great, but to take advantage of them, the person has to have transportation, time and experience working with a bureaucracy.
She’s more interested, she said, in changing policies and regulations that benefit trans people.
While nondiscrimination ordinances may set the basis for policy, only by educating people will things change.
Getting the proper gender markers on official documents remains the biggest barrier for the trans community. Vincent Villano with the National Center for Transgender Equality said modern policies need to be adopted nationwide to adequately address the problem.
Dallas attorney Katie Sprinkle explained how updating procedures to change gender markers would make a huge difference in the lives of transgender people. Once the gender marker is changed, she explained, trans people can get identification that matches their presentation.
“Most people get a driver’s license and say, ‘Now I can drive,’” she said. “A trans person gets a driver’s license with the correct sex on it and says, ‘Now I can live.’”
A name or presentation that doesn’t match the sex on the license outs someone applying for a job. That’s one reason for the high unemployment rate in the trans community.
But correct ID affects the life of a transgender person in a number of ways. “A traffic stop can escalate quickly,” Sprinkle said. “Especially if you’re stopped by Bubba in the wrong jurisdiction.”
In fact, she added, simply getting carded when entering a bar can become a dangerous situation. “A little bigotry and some alcohol?” she said. “Violence can quickly follow.”
Monica Roberts is editor of TransGriot and lives in Houston. She said a more uniform policy on gender marker changes is needed, noting that in some states, a trans person can change the gender marker without surgery. But in Texas, getting an ID “to reflect who you are,” is more difficult, Roberts said.
Sprinkle said Tarrant County won’t accept any case involving gender marker change. In Dallas County, she relies on friendly judges using a broad interpretation of the law.
Bathroom bills and workplace harassment
Bathroom bills that clogged legislative agendas this spring in Texas and other states are already illegal, according to Villano, or they at least disregard current Equal Employment Opportunity rulings.
“Should one of these bathroom bills become law, they would be inconsistent with EEOC rulings on transgender people’s right to go to the bathroom at work,” he explained.
In Texas, Republican state Rep. Debbie Riddle of Houston, introduced HB 1747, which would have changed the penal code on bathroom use, and 1748, which would have implemented a penalty for use of a bathroom by the “wrong” sex. Both died in committee.
The ruling Villano referred to was the case of Tamara Lusardi, a disabled Army veteran who worked for the Army as a civilian. Lusardi transitioned on the job and was required to only use a gender-neutral bathroom. She was reprimanded when she used a women’s bathroom when the assigned restroom was out of service.
The EEOC found that the requirement intruded on her privacy, caused discomfort and was humiliating.
In addition, she was called by her former name and her supervisor called her “sir.” Those most common forms of harassment against the trans community were found to be illegal discrimination.
Villano said people faced with that sort of harassment in the workplace need to step forward and file complaints “to solidify these protections.”
Sprinkle said she’s advised clients in that position to look for a new job that will be more understanding, and to hold off on filing a complaint until after they have changed jobs.
“When you leave, you’re free from retribution,” Sprinkle explained. “If you’re still working there, they’ll start building a file against you.”
A clearer definition of Title 7 by the Supreme Court would go a long way to solidify what the EEOC has already said about protections the trans community has, Sprinkle noted.
One of the problems Gaither said could be solved through regulation is in the area of health insurance and healthcare. Insurance companies often discriminate against their trans customers by not providing all necessary medical care. A trans man, for example, who hasn’t had a complete hysterectomy may not be covered for uterine cancer if he’s had his gender markers changed.
Villano said he believes sex-specific treatments are covered by the Affordable Care Act and will be covered as cases work their way through the courts. But cancer and other illnesses aren’t likely to wait on the court system to work things out.
Gaither said even many trans people who have insurance still have trouble getting the hormones they need, and transition surgery that is often prescribed as medically necessary is being added to some policies, but only very slowly.
Villano said, “Under rule 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, no one can be denied sex-specific care. It shouldn’t be happening.”
But it is.
Late last year, Sprinkle filed suit against an insurance company that refused to cover a client of hers — a trans man who had had top surgery — for breast cancer. After his breasts were removed, the tissue was biopsied in what Sprinkle said is a standard medical procedure.
The man’s doctor found he had a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer found primarily in women, and recommended the man be treated with chemotherapy and radiation. But since he had already had his gender marker changed, the insurance company refused the coverage.
Using rule 1557, Sprinkle said she was able to get the insurance company to cover the necessary treatments.
Because of the difficulties they face in other areas, including in employment, transgender women and men often find themselves homeless and in need of shelter. And while “federal policy says you can’t discriminate, that a trans person can get into any shelter, that’s not the way it works in real life,” said Gaither, who has worked with several shelters in the Dallas area.
People are still turned away or sent to housing for the wrong gender, Gaither said, adding that 30 to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, but most are not accessing traditional shelters. Many couch surf or find alternate places to live temporarily.
“We’re expecting marginalized people to come to us and that doesn’t happen,” Gaither said, noting that policies need to be put in place to serve the homeless trans community and new ways to reach that marginalized community have to be found.
A bill to replace the embattled Employment Nondiscrimination Act will include protections in the areas of housing and accommodations as well as employment. Gender identity and expression will be included as protected categories in the new legislation, Villano said.
Passage of the new measure can’t come fast enough since, as Roberts noted, “The trans community has a 26 percent unemployment rate.”
Even if there is progress on all these other issues, racism remains a huge barrier to progress for trans women and men of color. Trans women are already frequently targets of violence. Add racism into the mix, and the costs rise even higher. Trans women of color are murdered at a much higher rate than even others in the LGBT community; at least 12 trans women have been murdered just since the start of this year, and most were women of color.
Roberts said that combating racism will help bring those alarming statistics down, and the battle needs to start within the LGBT community itself.
“Race does impact what happens in our community,” Roberts said, calling on the LGBT community to acknowledge and address its own racism. “Then we can set the example for greater society,” she concluded.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 19, 2015.