Transgender Workers Now Protected from Discrimination Nationwide
An April 20 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling that covers transgender individuals under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act went into effect late last month, providing transgender Americans for the first time with recourse when denied employment or fired on the basis of their gender identity. Whether in Vermont or Georgia, transgender employees who face discrimination will now have the option to file a complaint with the federal office.
The ruling, a result of a Transgender Law Center complaint on behalf of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives employee, came after a smattering of federal court rulings that state prohibitions on sex discrimination also apply to gender identity.
Most recently, an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled in December that a Georgian transgender woman fired for transitioning was wrongfully terminated. “Discriminating against someone on the basis of his or her gender non-conformity," declared the court, "constitutes sex-based discrimination.”
A National Center for Transgender Equality survey [PDF] found that 26 percent of transgender Americans had lost one or more jobs because of their gender identity, while a staggering 97 percent reported being harassed or mistreated at work because of their gender presentation.
As a consequence of this constant, institutionalized discrimination in the workplace, transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed as non-transgender people and twice as likely to live in extreme poverty.
Despite the ruling, there is still distance left to travel.
A federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would include gender identity and sexual orientation, for example, has stagnated repeatedly in congress although it's slated for discussion in committee this month. Even if there is some progress on the law books, as transgender professor and Sylvia Rivera Law Project founder Dean Spade point out, antidiscrimination laws have not historically been sufficient to counteract racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination.
“Antidiscrimination law seeks out aberrant individuals with overly biased intentions,” Spade writes in his book Normal Life. “Meanwhile, all the daily disparities in life chances that shape our world along lines of race, class, indigeneity, disability, national origin, sex, and gender remain untouchable and affirmed as non-discriminatory or even fair.”
Transgender Law Center Executive Director Masen Davis advised trans people to take advantage of the ruling. "This is a historic day for human rights in the United States," Davis said in a statement. "We no longer have to be silent when we are fired or not hired simply for being who we are."
Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.