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Posts Tagged ‘Equal Rights’

UPDATED: see below.

Recently, the Center for American Progress published an FAQ on ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act). Although generally accurate and informative, this article provides a misleading impression of the scope of ENDA’s provisions concerning access to restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities.

In the hopes of correcting this error, I have emailed CAP. I will update this post when I receive a response.  Here’s what I told them:

As I’m sure you know, the most contentious issue surrounding anti-discrimination protections for trans people is access to restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities. Therefore, I was disturbed to see that CAP’s FAQ misinterprets ENDA’s provisions on that issue. In response to the question, “What does ENDA require of employers in terms of restroom facilities and access?,” the article states:

“Under ENDA, employees would only be required to provide employees with ‘reasonable access’ to adequate restroom, shower, and dressing facilities consistent with an employee’s gender identity. Employers who deny employees access to a shared facility would not be in violation of ENDA as long as they provide a viable alternative. Nothing in the proposed bill requires employers to construct new or additional facilities.”

There are two primary problems with this response. First, ENDA never mention restrooms. Consequently, ENDA’s gender identity non-discrimination requirements apply to access to restroom facilities in the same way they do to all other “terms and conditions” of employment. Thus, there is no exemption for employers who, for whatever reason, decide to bar a trans woman from the same restrooms that other women use, or vice versa for trans men.

Second, section 8(a)(3) of ENDA, from which the “reasonable access” language in the above quote is taken, applies only to “shared shower or dressing facilities in which being seen unclothed is unavoidable.” (Emphasis added.) That section allows employers to bar trans employees from such facilities (but not facilities where being seen unclothed is avoidable), provided that the employer provides separate shower or dressing facilities that are consistent with the employee’s gender identity at the time of being hired or as specified in a later notice to the employer.

By implying that ENDA provides some sort of exemption regarding access to restrooms, and failing to note the very limited nature of the exemption for shower and dressing  facilities, the response in the FAQ misleads employers, trans people and the public in ways that I believe can unnecessarily complicate the debate on non-discrimination protections for trans people. Accuracy in describing what ENDA does and doesn’t do is essential in informing the public debate on these issues. Therefore, I hope you agree that a revision of the portion of FAQ dealing with these issues is necessary.

For my interpretation of how ENDA would apply to sex-segregated facilities, see Why the “Transsexual” vs. “Transgender” Debate Is Irrelevant to the Fight for Equal Rights.

UPDATE: Apparently, in response to my email, CAP has edited the section on facility access.  It now reads:

Q. What does ENDA require of employers in terms of facilities and access?

Under ENDA, employees would only be required to provide employees with “reasonable access” to adequate shower and dressing facilities consistent with an employee’s gender identity. Employers who deny employees access to a shared facility would not be in violation of ENDA as long as they provide a viable alternative. Nothing in the proposed bill requires employers to construct new or additional facilities.

As you can see, all they’ve done is delete the word “restroom.” The second error, and the resulting misimpression that employers can exclude trans people from all shared showers & dressing rooms with impunity, remains. Nice try, CAP, but you still didn’t get it right.

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I hesitate to jump into these shark-infested waters, but here goes.

I certainly have my own opinion on the “transsexual” vs. “transgender” debate that has ignited many a flame war on the internet over the last few months between those who want to separate our community based on those who have had or, at least, want to have, SRS, from everyone else, but I’m not going to express that here. Instead, I’m going to take a position that I’ve never seen expressed by anyone else, although some have come close. My position comes from my background as an attorney and my understanding of how anti-discrimination laws are written and are intended to operate.

Here’s what I know to be true: the dispute about who is transsexual and who isn’t is irrelevant to the fight for protections for transsexual, transgender, genderqueer and every other gender variant or gender nonconforming person in this country. Why? Because of how anti-discrimination laws are written for both practical and constitutional reasons.

(more…)

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Over on Bilerico, Karen Ocamp shared her take on President Barack Obama’s speech at HRC’s annual dinner last night.  I don’t go for name calling (Karen says Obama is a “sissy”), but I share her disppaontment at Obama’s failure to use the power of his office to put action to his words, to demonstrate there is more to him than rousing speeches and inspiring words.  Here’s my dream of what Obama could have said to show that “Yes, We Can!” is more than just a slogan to win votes and volunteers, which I left as a comment on Karen’s essay:

I was very disappointed in Obama’s speech. I don’t think it would have been much more of a risk, politically, for him to have said, “Tonight, I call on Congress, on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid, to start making my vision for America a reality by passing ENDA and delivering it to my desk to be signed into law.” Or to say, “Today, I signed an executive order telling the United States military to stop spending your tax dollars on investigating and discharging dedicated Americans who have volunteered to serve our Nation simply because of who they are. Our county cannot afford to lose those soldiers, sailors, air men and women and others. But, more importantly, I signed that Order because it is the right thing to do. And, now, it is time for Congress and the rest of America to do the right thing too. We can no longer stand on the sidelines and watch as Americans are denied the promise of equality that this great Nation has stood for for more than 200 years simply because of who they are, and who they love.”

But, then, I’ve always been a dreamer. It’s hard to maintain that hope, however, in the face of continued disappointment.

As Rep. John Lewis, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., said on the floor of the House during the debate over a trans inclusive ENDA in November 2007, “It is always the right time to do the right thing.”  Mr. President, the time is NOW!

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Attorney and law professor Jillian Weiss has posted another interesting article over on Bilerico.  This one concerns the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which held that laws making sex between consenting adults of the same sex a crime (aka “sodomy” laws) are unconstitutional, and whether and how that decision can be used to, in her words, “loosen the chokehold that the law has on transgender people.”  One of the commenters there asked if she could write another article on the definition of “sex” in Title VII and EEO policies banning “sex” discrimination, as applied to trans people.  Rather than wait for Dr. Weiss’ response, I decided to weigh in on this topic.  Here is my response:

E.T., I’ll take a stab at responding to your second question regarding the definition of “sex.”

It’s important to distinguish 2 different situations in which the legal definition of the word “sex” impacts trans people: first, laws that ban discrimination on the basis of sex in employment, housing, public accommodations, etc.; and second, the right of trans people to access legal privileges, e.g., marriage (in most states), that are restricted on the basis of a person’s sex. The second group could also encompass the right of trans people to use services or facilities, e.g., public restrooms, access to which is restricted on the basis of a person’s sex. (I say “could encompass” since, in most places, contrary to public opinion, there are no laws that say a man can’t use a women’s restroom, or vice versa. In other words, sex segregation of restrooms is largely a matter of social convention, not law, although trespassing and disturbing the peace laws are sometimes used (unjustly, in my opinion) to enforce those conventions.)

Where access to a legal privilege, service or facility is restricted based on sex, determining a trans person’s right of access requires a determination of what “sex” the person is, since sex-based segregation is based on a strict binary division between male or female, where no ambiguity is allowed. Answering that question, in turn, raises myriad complicated questions regarding how a person’s sex is determined. For example, is it strictly biological or chromosomal, or does it include a person’s gender identity or expression? If biological, do we look only at the configuration of the person’s genitals or genes at birth, or do we, also or instead, give effect to the person’s genital configuration after surgery? Can a person’s sex be legally changed? And what do we do about intersex people whose chromosomes, genitalia, internal organs, etc. are not clearly male or female?

Most, but not all, of the cases addressing this question in the context of the right of a trans person to marry have ignored the effects of surgery and attempts to “legally” change the person’s sex by amending her/his birth certificate. In other words, they were decided based on the basic premise espoused by many of our opponents that “once a man, always a man,” and vice versa.

Fortunately, most, but not all, of the recent cases involving the definition of “sex” for purposes of determining a trans person’s right to protection under laws banning sex discrimination have avoided this difficulty. They do so by saying that it doesn’t matter what sex a person is, i.e., whether the person is male, female, both or neither. Instead, what matters is whether the person was treated differently because of some sex-related characteristic. This trend started with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins in 1988. In that case, the court said that discrimination based on sex under Title VII, the federal law banning sex, race and other types of discrimination in employment, includes being treated differently because the person doesn’t conform to sex-based stereotypes regarding dress, mannerisms, etc. Thus, the Supreme Court held that it was illegal for Price Waterhouse to refuse to make Ann Hopkins a partner basically because she was too “butch.” (The court, of course, didn’t use that term and there is no indication that I know of that Ms. Hopkins was lesbian.)

This trend, IMO, reached its logical endpoint with last fall’s federal trial court decision in Diane Schroer’s Title VII sex discrimination suit against the Library of Congress. Schroer v. Billington. In that case, the court found that the Library violated Title VII by discriminating against Schroer because she was changing her sex, not because she was male, female, both or neither.

Thus, in the context of discrimination laws or policies that you were talking about, it isn’t necessary to define a person’s sex as male or female, etc. It is only necessary to tackle that question when the trans person is seeking access to a legal privilege like marriage, or a service or facility, like a restroom, where access is restricted based on whether the person is male or female. The lack of a coherent and consistent definition of a person’s sex and/or methods for legally changing one’s sex that are actually recognized by the courts are the source of most, if not, all, of the ongoing confusion regarding the rights of trans people.

In the case of marriage, I think the best solution to that confusion is to remove all sex or gender based restrictions, in other words, to legalize same sex marriage. That’s why the battle for marriage equality is important to the trans community, contrary to the opinions of some. With respect to access to restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities, I think the best solution is to provide for personal privacy, e.g., the stalls in women’s restrooms, and allow access based on the person’s gender expression. In other words, if you’re presenting as a woman, you use a women’s restroom, and vice versa, regardless of your physical sex. Any other solution quickly becomes too complex and confusing to administer and enforce. Implementing that solution will, however, require the American public to just “get over” their hang-ups about the sex or gender of the person in the stall next to them.

UPDATE

Some of you may also be interested in this post from last year on how laws that ban sex discrimination in access to public accommodations relate to the right of trans people to public restrooms.

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eQualityGiving is proposing a bill to correct the unequal treatment of LGBT people in all areas of federal law – employment, housing and public accommodations discrimination, the American with Disabilities Act, DOMA, DADT, etc. Read about (and download) it here. Whether or not a comprehensive bill like this is ever introduced or enacted, I think it serves a useful purpose in uniting the debate on the many ways in which we are treated unequally and helping to ensure that the changes we seek are consistent.

What do you think?

******************************
FYI, here is eQualityGiving’s email announcing its proposal:

INTRODUCING THE EQUALITY & RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACT

Dear Abigail,

What if we asked for legal equality all at once in one comprehensive omnibus bill?

THE BLUEPRINT FOR LGBT EQUALITY

What would a bill for total legal equality look like? We asked attorney Karen Doering, a very experienced and savvy civil rights attorney, to prepare such a bill. It was presented and discussed on our listserv, which includes many of the major donors to the movement and the executive directors of all the major LGBTQ organizations.

We believe now is the time to introduce an omnibus bill.

We have prepared a section of our website with all the information about the proposed bill:
www.eQualityGiving.org/Blueprint-for-LGBT-Equality

There you can read the actual text of the bill and read the answers to the frequently asked questions. There is also a section reviewing the status of the incremental bills currently proposed. You can also post your comments directly on the site.

WHAT THE OMNIBUS BILL COVERS

1. Employment
2. Housing
3. Public accommodation
4. Public facilities
5. Credit
6. Federally funded programs and activities
7. Education
8. Disability
9. Civil marriage
10. Hate crimes
11. Armed forces
12. Immigration

INCREMENTALISM vs. OMNIBUS BILL

Some people think that an omnibus bill is too unrealistic to pursue because Congress functions in a very complex way. But the country voted for a new leader who promised major changes to the way our government functions.

We have tried incrementalism at the federal level for LGBT equality for 35 years without any results. Now is the best time to capitalize on the energy of new leadership and propose what we think change looks like.

As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said:

“A right delayed is a right denied.”

Asking for an omnibus equality bill does not mean that we need to pursue it at the expense of incremental bills. Both approaches can be used simultaneously, and we encourage this strategy.

An Omnibus bill has two major benefits:

> It points out in clear legal terms all the areas in which we are not treated equally under the law. If we ask for less, we will certainly get less.

> An Omnibus bill provides a standard to which incremental victories can be compared. We may discover, for example, that even the trans-inclusive ENDA introduced in March 2007 still did not provide the same level of protections in employment that other groups receive.

SAY WHAT YOU THINK

If you believe that, in addition to incremental bills, we should also push for an Omnibus Equality Bill, tell your member of Congress, talk to your friends, and write about it on the site. All the info about the bill is here:

www.eQualityGiving.org/Blueprint-for-LGBT-Equality

For many months we have been preparing this Omnibus Equality Bill. Join us to push for it, so that we can achieve LGBT legal equality faster.

Best regards,

Juan Ahonen-Jover, Ph.D.
Ken Ahonen-Jover, M.D.
Founders, eQualityGiving

P.S. Please forward this alert to others who could be interested.

********************************

UPDATE – 3/24/09

Recently, there has been some discussion in the blogosphere about the impact of what some believe to be a narrower definition of “gender identity” in the federal Hate Crimes Bill (HR1592) from 2007, when compared to the definition of that term in the gender-inclusive ENDA (HR2015) from that same year.  (The Hate Crimes Bill defined “gender identity” as “actual or perceived gender-related characteristics,” while the inclusive version of ENDA defines it to mean “the gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.  To learn about this discussion, read Kathy Padilla’s recent posts on The Bilerico Project here and here.)  In a comment I left on eQualityGiving’s website, I pointed out this difference and the risk of unnecessary litigation over whether the definitions are intended to have different meanings.  In response, eQualityGiving has amended their Omnibus Bill to include the same definition in all its provisions, including hate crimes.  The revised version of the bill, dated March 21, 2009, is available for download on eQualityGiving’s website.

In my original post, I failed to note one huge advantage eQualityGiving’s Omnibus Bill has over even the inclusive version of ENDA.  Rather than enacting a separate statute with a broader exemption for religious organizations and other provisions that differ from existing civil rights law, eQualityGiving’s bill would simply amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the federal law banning sex, race and other discrimination in employment) by adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to its terms.  As Karen Doering, the drafter of the Omnibus Bill, explains on the FAQ page for the bill, this approach has substantial advantages over ENDA.  Having worked as an investigator of discrimination claims under Title VII and being familiar with its terms and, especially, how it has been interpreted by the courts, I see this as a major improvement over current proposals.

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My friend Michael is one of the organizers of, and the webmaster for, the Central Arizona Gender Alliance.  Recently, he asked me to write a profile of myself to be posted as the feature story on the CAGA website for January 2009.  Rather than start from scratch, I adapted my “Who I Am and Why I Do What I Do” post.  Since I wrote that post, however, my involvement in the issues affecting our community has increased.  That led to the following comments that I added to the story that will appear on the CAGA site, which I wanted to share here.

While I have this chance, I also want to say some things about activism. The trans community in this country is small, and the number of those willing to speak out on the issues that affect us is even smaller. That means that each one of us is vital if we ever want the public’s attitude toward us, and the discrimination, hate and bigotry that we face, to change. It also means that one person can have a significant impact on the direction that our community takes in addressing the issues that we face.

It sounds clichéd, but I have learned through experience the truth of the statement that if I don’t do it, if I don’t step forward and say “this is wrong and must change,” if I don’t propose solutions and work to make them a reality, then who will? The answer is no one. It happens every day. We see or hear about something that we know is wrong – another trans woman shot in Memphis, another trans woman homeless because she can’t get a job – and we stand by in silence and do nothing. Those things will never change if you don’t work to change them, even if all you can do is to say “this is wrong.” Keep in mind too that, although it is important that we in the trans community know about these injustices, it is our families and friends, our lesbian, gay and bisexual sisters and brothers, and the general public that need to hear our voices. So many people truly have no idea about the mistreatment that we suffer, how widespread it is and how few protections exist to ensure that most basic of human rights: the right to live lives of peace and dignity. Those are the people we need to speak to, because it is their sense of justice and morality that we need to invoke if we ever want things to change.

Is it scary to step forward and say, “I am trans, this is wrong and it must stop”? Of course, it is. But there are also rich rewards in showing the world that we are proud of who we are, that we refuse to cower in the darkness of ignorance and hate any longer, and in knowing that we are helping to change the world, not just for ourselves, but for people everywhere. Join me! Today do just one thing to make the world a better place to live, whether that’s giving a hug to a friend you know is having a hard time, writing a letter to the editor or simply telling your story. But, most of all, Be Who You Are!!

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The discussion on various Yahoo groups that I belong to regarding the impact of the same-sex marriage bans just enacted in Arizona, California and Florida on marriages involving one or more transgender partner continues. I’ve previously posted about those issues here and here.  This is my most recent addition to that discussion:

I agree with the basics of your description [of the law concerning marriages in which one partner is trans], but want to clarify that what happens in most of these cases is that the couple is able to get a marriage license and marry simply because they appear to be a typical male/female couple. Thus, although they are allowed to marry, they are “legally” married only in the sense that no one has challenged it yet. Many couples involving a trans partner may marry, live out their lives and die without anyone ever challenging the validity of their marriage, and thus escape the uncertainty I’ve been talking about. But there’s no way to predict which couples will be that fortunate and which ones will face the horror of being told years later that they were never legally married.

As for the “trans lesbian” who married her partner that you mentioned, I assume that you are referring to cases where a MTF transsexual marries a cisgender female, before the trans partner has changed her name or sex marker on any of her identification documents. I know of several such cases. Again, as long as the couple appears to be a male/female couple to whatever clerk issues the marriage license and to whatever judge or other authority marries them, their marriage is treated as a legal, opposite-sex marriage, but may, or may not, in fact be legal if it is ever challenged.

The basic rule is that a marriage that was legal when and where it was entered into continues to be valid until dissolved by divorce. The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), however, makes an exception to that rule for same-sex marriages by allowing states where such marriages are banned to refuse to recognize a legal same-sex marriage entered into in another state or country. DOMA should not apply, however, to a marriage between a trans woman who was legally male at the time and a cisgender female since, at the time it is entered into, it is a legal opposite-sex marriage. The same applies to a trans man who is legally female at the time he marries a cisgender male. Such marriages should, therefore, be safe from challenge even after the trans partner legally changes her/his name and sex. A marriage between a man and woman, one of whom realizes that she/he is trans after the marriage and then transitions, should also be legal, since the only difference between that situation and the ones I just discussed is simply a matter of timing.

BUT, and this is a big “but,” I know of no cases anywhere addressing whether a marriage in which one partner transitions after marriage continues to be valid. Everything I know says it should be, but stranger things have happened, especially when it comes to trans people.

Finally, just to clarify, the majority of courts that have faced the issue have said that a marriage between a trans woman (i.e., an MTF transsexual) who is “legally” female at the time of marriage and a cisgender man (or vice versa) is INVALID as an illegal, same-sex marriage, despite any change in identification documents, birth certificates, or whatever.

The bottom line is to get married before the trans partner has legally changed her/his sex if you can. If not, once married, see an attorney to draft wills, medical directives, child adoptions, etc. to legally create as many of the benefits of marriage as possible, in case the marriage is declared invalid at some future date. (In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do those things even when the couple marries while they are still legally of different sexes, just in case.) In other words, do the exact same things that other “same-sex” couples have to do to create the semblance of a legally recognized marriage. That’s why marriage equality is just as much an issue for trans people as it is for gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

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