Trans Rights Under Attack; California Fighting Back

by Amanda Goad, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Southern California

2017 has been a roller-coaster year for transgender rights in America. Even while the trans community endures an ongoing epidemic of violence as well as attacks from the federal government and those of many states, trans activists and supportive legislators continue to secure important victories here in California and beyond. The ACLU is committed to fighting for transgender rights and ensuring that all people have the freedom to express their gender.

Violence. By GLAAD’s count, fifteen transgender people –all women or femmes of color– have been murdered in the United States so far in 2017. Just like the appalling body counts of 2015 and 2016, this number reflects our society’s longstanding collective failure to recognize and support the humanity of transgender people, especially trans women of color.

Student Rights. In February, the federal Departments of Justice and Education rescinded guidance that had clarified for school officials how federal law protects the rights of transgender students. That move was a shameful attack on a group of young people who are frequently targeted for bullying and harassment, and eliminated any doubt about whether the Trump administration would be anti-LGBT. But brave trans youth leaders, including ACLU client Gavin Grimm, are continuing to fight for respect and recognition through the courts and in their schools and communities. It’s important to understand that the law (both federal Title IX and more specific statutes in California and several other states) still protects trans students’ right to be themselves at school, including using bathrooms and playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.

Health Care. Similarly, the federal Department of Health and Human Services in May announced it would “reconsider” a prior rule banning gender identity discrimination in health care. This was an affront to trans people’s dignity and could result in denials of life-sustaining treatment, but does not impact the strong and explicit protections against discrimination in medical settings that California patients enjoy. The ACLU currently represents trans man Evan Minton in a lawsuit challenging a Sacramento-area Catholic hospital’s refusal to let his doctor perform medically necessary gender-confirming surgery.

Bad Bills. Recently a number of states have rolled back transgender rights by passing new discriminatory laws, often fueled by fallacious “concerns” about improper behavior in public restrooms. Most notoriously, North Carolina last year endured a firestorm of controversy and boycotts after passing the explicitly anti-trans HB2, then claimed to repeal it but in fact just substituted a subtler version that continues to discriminate against and disempower transgender people. The Texas legislature will consider a similarly noxious proposal at a July special session. And regressive anti-trans laws are not just a “red state” phenomenon – in Washington state, anti-LGBT groups are gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would take away existing legal protections for transgender people. The ACLU and other advocates are poised to fight back, organizing opposition to bad proposals and, when necessary, filing constitutional challenges (like the one currently pending in North Carolina). The state of California has also acted to ensure taxpayer money doesn’t go toward funding discrimination, by banning state employees’ non-essential travel to states with anti-LGBT laws: currently, the list includes North Carolina, Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Kentucky.

Better Bills. Meanwhile, the California Senate just passed SB 179 (introduced by Senators Toni Atkins and Scott Wiener). If it passes the Assembly and gets Governor Brown’s signature, this bill would ease the process of changing the gender marker on a birth certificate or driver’s license and would create a nonbinary gender marker option. Also, as of March 1, 2017, California law requires all single-user public restrooms to be gender-neutral rather than restricted to “men” or “women.” These positive developments help ensure that transgender Californians will be able to live their lives authentically.

What can you do to help advance trans rights?  Here are 3 suggestions to start off with…

Educate Yourself. Grab a book by Julia Serano or Janet Mock and learn about how systemic discrimination shapes individual trans experiences. Watch the videos at www.transformcalifornia.com to see personal stories from trans people and their families. Identify trans-led organizing groups in your area and attend their events, volunteer, or donate.

Speak Up Contact your political representatives (federal, state, and local) to let them know trans issues are important to you. Intervene when you witness misgendering, anti-trans harassment, or violence. If you experience illegal discrimination, contact your local ACLU affiliate.

Don’t Panic, But Don’t Get Complacent. There will inevitably be more setbacks before we achieve a future where transgender Americans can live freely without discrimination, harassment, or violence. Meanwhile, we must honor the dead and fight like hell for the living!