A person’s gender identity does not always align with their biological anatomy. Since the age of 5 years old, former funeral director Aimee Stephens identified as a female albeit born biologically male. For several years, Aimee Stephens had suppressed her desire to dress accordingly with her gender identity because of the negative stigma being transgender encompassed. Aimee experienced an insurmountable amount of distress living this double life and with the help of her therapist she was able to open up to her family and friends about her transition. The next step in her transition was to notify her employer. Aimee worked as a funeral director for six years and took great pride in assisting families dealing with loss. Two weeks after notifying her employer that she would be wearing feminine attire to work because of her newly claimed identity as a female, they fired her (Gringberg). This case was taken to the sixth circuit court in which they ruled in favor of Ms. Stephens (Sixth Circuit Court). Although Ms. Stephens was able to win this case in March of 2018, it had been almost 5 years since the funeral home had let her go. In that time, Ms. Stephens and her family experienced a lot financial instability due to the burden of medical expenses and loss of her income (Gringberg) In the United States gender identity is not considered one of the federally protected classes under the anti-discrimination laws. That means each state has the ability to create laws that can legally allow discrimination towards transgender individuals. Transgender people are at the mercy of their state politicians and the legislations they create. A solution that aids in assisting transgender people in states with very little LGBTQ+ support is adding gender identity as a federally protected class under the U.S Anti-discrimination laws. This can be accomplished by creating an awareness campaign which prompts support that gender identity should become a federally protected class.
In the United States 50% of people who identify as LGBTQ+ are at risk of losing their jobs (James). This high percentage of people at-risk reside in states that do not prohibit discrimination at work based on gender identity and/or live in states that have religious law exemptions. A majority of these people live in states that have very little LGBTQ+ political representation. The huge underlying issue is that not every state has the same equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community. California, for instance, has very liberal laws which protect gender identity in the work environment. However, a state such as Mississippi has very conservative laws which allow employers to fire anyone due to their religious beliefs. The HB 1253 law enacted in Mississippi states “The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that… Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.” (Domonsoke) In contrast, California FEHA bill, gender identity is a protected class so “California employees also have the right to use restrooms that correspond to their chosen gender identity. An employee must not be forced to use a separate restroom or to use a restroom that opposes their gender identity.” (“Sexual Orientation…”) apparent differences in legislation can greatly affect the quality of life transgender people experience depending on which state they reside in. Laws that are in effect like the Mississippi HB 1253 law constrain and discriminate rights for a transgender people and highlights how gender identity rights vary greatly across the country. The differences in state legislations show the inequality that transgender people in the U.S is still facing.
There are currently 30 states in the U.S that do not have laws protecting gender identity discrimination. That is more than half of the 50 states which make up the United States. The increase of LGBTQ+ identifying adults has increased from 3.5% in 2012 to 4.5% in 2017. The driving force of this growth mainly pertains to the increase of millennials who openly identify as LGBTQ+ (James). These conservative states must recognize a growing population that differs from past generations. The LGBTQ+ community is outspoken and proud. For many years in the United States, LGBTQ+ people were persecuted. They were criminalized for who they were and who they loved and also experienced a great deal of violence due to the hatred of others. As of 2018, there have been several states which have proposed anti- gender identity discrimination laws these new laws have been great advances for transgender equality but, as I mentioned previously 30 states have yet to join the cause. This delay in nationwide gender identity equality impedes on basic rights transgender people deserve. According to the 2015 National Transgender Survey, 27% of people were fired or denied a promotion due to their gender identity and of those people reported being fired 69% of them did not seek legal aid (James). “The unemployment rate among respondents was 15%, three times higher than the U.S. unemployment rate at the time of the survey (5%)” (James). There are transgender people who are losing their jobs and suffering financially because their employers, state and federal government do not protect them from work place discrimination.
In the recent Supreme Court Case: Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado civil rights commission, a gay couple was refused service because of the store owners’ religious beliefs. The Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the store owner (“Masterpiece Cakeshop…”). This Supreme Court decision creates a precedent to the country that a person’s religious belief can be used to discriminate against LGBT people. In that example service was denied, but in other states that grant religious liberty to businesses, employers can legally fire someone if they are transgender. The United States is known to be a nation that welcomes all religious practices and beliefs. Religion is even one of the federally protected classes under the U.S anti-discrimination laws. Although religion plays a huge role in the lives of millions across the country, the United States is not a religious nation. The U.S is a secular nation which means that religious beliefs and practices should not influence the law and legislations put into place, however this does not mean that politicians do not use their power to create laws that uphold their religious beliefs or of their sponsors (Bullard). The current Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, is one of many outspoken politicians about their religious beliefs. Mike Pence claims to be a “Evangelical Catholic, a conservative and republican” it is very apparent that Pence uses his religious beliefs to strengthen his political popularity (Miller). In 2016, Mike Pence signed the controversial RFRA law in Indiana, this law named the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allowed business to refuse to work, employ and service people that did not align with their religious belief. This law received nationwide backlash especially from the LGBTQ+ community. Companies threatened to boycott Indiana because of this new law and a week later Pence had to sign a revised version (Bender). There is a significant gray area when it comes to a law such as the RFRA, these laws protect people who want to practice their religion and although it is their human rights to do so, is it just when an employer interprets and manipulates the law as tool to not employ a transgender person? It is not because that is discrimination and promotes the idea that transgender people are not equal to cis-gender people. Laws such as the RFRA entertain the idea that transgender people are a second-class citizen. Employers should not be hiring or firing someone based on their gender identity. Employers that open their business to the public must look past their religious beliefs and non-conforming gender identities especially when seeking potential candidates, and examine what really matters which would be their qualifications, experience and education.
I propose a solution in which gender identity should become a federally protected class. This can create a standard across the country that transgender people can not be discriminated against in a place of employment and have the protection of the federal government. There are many other countries which have included gender identity as a protected class from workplace discrimination such as Canada, Sweden, and Argentina. The biggest advancement of gender identity acceptance is in Argentina. Argentina passed their Gender Identity law, Number 26743 in 2012 which allows transgender people to be legally recognized for their gender identity without any conditions such as gender reassignment surgery and/or psychiatric evaluations (Arístegui). This progression in the protection of transgender people in Argentina has been positively received. A small study in the International Journal of Transgenderism follows a small group of transgender people living in Argentina after the implementation of the new Gender Identity law (Arístegui). The study shows that many of the transgender participants perceived a safer work and school environment after the law. Another country that is progressing fast for gender identity rights is Canada, Canada has amended their Human Rights Act to include gender identity and expression. The Canadian human rights act was enacted by the Canadian parliament to “ensure equal opportunity to individuals who may be victims of discriminatory practice” (“Consolidated Federal Laws…”). The original Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977 follows many of the same beliefs the U.S Civil rights act of 1964 does which protects their citizens from discrimination against race, religion, age and other classes. The recent addition of gender identity and expression in Canadas Human Rights act shows how Canada supersedes the U.S in LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion. Transgender employment rights in Sweden are very similar to Argentina and Canada. In Sweden the LGBTQ+ community is protected by the federal government due to the Discrimination Act which states its purpose is to “combat discrimination and support equal opportunity for everyone regardless of age, sex, transgender identity, expression, sexual orientation and many more.” (“ Consolidated Federal Laws…”). There is a steady growth and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community around the world, especially in developed countries. This acceptance is due to many countries taking a step to protect and involve gender identity and sexual orientation into their laws. After reviewing these countries laws on gender identity, it is apparent that the U.S is still far behind on gender identity equality.
One of the first steps into recognizing that gender identity should become a federally protected class is to create a campaign to raise awareness. Although there are many campaigns that are already established to support equality for the LGBTQ+ community, a campaign that is specifically geared towards moderates in low LGBTQ+ support states can improve tolerance and potentially acceptance for gender identity equality in those states. One of the campaign goals would be to inform the public on transgender statistics. These statistics will range from employment rate, percentage of transgenders being fired, and reports of harassment in the work place. A lot of the statistics will come from national surveys or journals such as the National Transgender survey or the International Transgender journal and by providing some quick facts about transgender discrimination in the workplace the campaign is able to start laying its foundation for the next goal. The next goal for the campaign is to begin a petition. The petition would be for local and state government officials to initiate laws that protect employment for transgender people. A petition is a good way to demonstrate the commitment level of a community. In the first stage of the campaign: awareness; canvassers and local groups will be informing the community about the petition and potentially gathering signatures of new supporters. The campaign tactic can also be done online, an anecdotal awareness advertisement on the local news channel can also spark a light in the cause.
It is essential that there are enough people supporting the cause to end workplace discrimination for transgender people. The power of people in numbers have been shown to inspire political officials to amend laws. Another way to approach defining gender identity as a federally protected class is by lobbying. Lobbying is another form of inspiring politicians. This type of persuasion usually deals with a person working in collaboration with an organization. There are many organizations such as the ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union that support equality for transgender people in the work place. A skilled lobbyist is very beneficial to organizations that seek to push politicians into creating laws. GINA is the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. This act was enacted in 2008 and became the last federally protected class (“Legislative History…”). Analyzing how GINA came to be approved by congress can paint a pathway on the routes that the campaign for gender identity equality can take the next step. The history of GINA begins with a multitude of bills regarding to non-discrimination against genetic information, many of the bills were proposed by state senators and representatives. There is a likely hood that these senators and representatives were influenced by lobbyists. Eventually, an organization which campaigned for non-discrimination against genetic information was formed, this group was called the Coalition for Genetic Fairness. Coalition for Genetic Fairness continued to popularize their campaign for genetic fairness and eventually with the assistance of state senators and representatives across the country GINA was introduced to the house of representatives and then the United States Senate; GINA passed both. The final act was for President Bush to sign the bill into law. (“Legislative History…”) The process of establishing a bill into a law can take many years which is why informing the general public about gender identity discrimination is important. Lobbying politicians is also vital when trying to take a campaign to the next step which can be creating more bills and laws that protect transgender people from religious liberty discrimination. Although it did take GINA a couple of years to become law, the effort it took from supporting organizations to senators and representatives alike show that if enough people support a cause then there is a high likelihood it can become law.
There is a lot opposition from allowing gender identity to become a state and federally protected class. This is due to a series of fallacies conservatives, anti-LGBTQ+ and/or uninformed people assume about transgender people. There is also a lot of negative stigma that seems to follow transgender people. Many Americans believe that being transgender is a mental disorder this assumption has been discredited from the American Psychiatric Association. The APA states that transgender people experience gender dysphoria, gender dysphoria is a condition where a transgender person experiences intense emotion such a depression and anxiety due to feeling being born in the wrong body. The treatment to gender dysphoria is transitioning and allowing a transgender person to transition can greatly improve their mental state although it may not be socially acceptable (“What Is Gender…”). There is also a common misconception that if transgendered people are allowed to use the bathroom of their gender identity than it may pose a risk for harassment towards women using the bathrooms. This can apply to a public, school and work restroom. There isn’t any evidence that demonstrates the likely hood of that happening and is unfortunately another form of transphobic tall tales (Mizock).
The goal for my campaign is to promote and inform people of discrimination against transgender people. This campaign would be another effort in the support for transgender equality across the U.S. Transgender people face a lot of negative stigma throughout their lives. These people may suffer mentally because of the dysphoria they experience but, that is not a reason to belittle and acknowledge them of who they are. Gender Identity expression is a vital component on how you act in your day to day life and although cis-gendered people may not realize it, transgendered people face fear and discrimination because they openly claim their gender identity. The importance of including gender identity as a federally protected class should be the next advancement for basic human rights in a developed country like the U.S. It is time for the federal government to take charge and allow nationwide workplace equality for transgender people.