Trans Timeline 2019

by Percy Langston

Here’s a brief overview of some of the milestones (and setbacks) in transgender rights in 2019, and why they matter:

New York City and New Jersey offer gender-neutral birth certificates

January 1, 2019

and February 1, 2019

What it is:

Laws enabling residents to amend their birth certificates with a gender-neutral designation took effect in New York City on January 1 and the state of New Jersey on February 1. 

The new designation, which features an “X” in the place of an “M” or “F,” was designed to be inclusive to trans and gender nonconforming residents and to support the right of citizens to have their gender identity affirmed by their birth certificate, according to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The New Jersey law, titled the “Babs Siperstein Law,” was named after New Jersey transgender activist Barbra “Babs” Siperstein. New Jersey has become the fourth state to enact such a policy, following California, Oregon and Washington. 

Why it matters:

There are few legal avenues for recognition of nonbinary gender identity, and this restriction of options means that the majority of nonbinary people are forced to adopt a legal designation that is not congruent with their gender (or lack thereof). This can create any number of uncomfortable and distressing situations in everyday life, to say nothing of the discomfort inherent in being legally designated as something one is not. Adding new designations that allow increased inclusivity and recognition for nonbinary people is, barring the total abolition of gender markers, the easiest way to ensure that citizens have access to legal documentation that is reflective of their identity.

April 12, 2019

Transgender military ban takes effect

What it is:

A long-contested ban on transgender service members in the military, announced by President Trump on Twitter in 2017, took effect on April 12.

Trump’s tweets launched an acrimonious legal battle, and enforcement of the ban was blocked for almost two years by a string of lawsuits. The final injunction was lifted by a federal judge on March 7, and an edited version of the ban was promptly approved by the Department of Defense on March 12.

The resulting order states that no one diagnosed with gender dysphoria after the ban takes effect will be able to serve while medically transitioning, and requires that, should transgender service members continue to serve, they must “choose” to adhere to their sex assigned at birth.

Why it matters:

Regardless of one’s personal feelings about the armed forces, the exclusion of marginalized groups from equal participation in civil society is alienating and reinforces already-existing stigmas.

The legacy of harmful “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy – which ruled the military’s attitude towards LGBT service members until 2010 – looms large over current discussion on the inclusion or non-inclusion of transgender citizens in military service. As many as 15,000 service members are transgender. They deserve an equal chance to serve because transgender people deserve an equal chance to live, and indeed to die, as is afforded to our cisgender counterparts.

The Trump administration’s decision to exclude transgender people from military service furthermore claims to be based on cost (although Trump’s proposed $200,000 to $250,000 per-person figure is a staggering overestimate), with the Department of Defense “burdened” by expenses related to gender-affirming care. Trans people are not “burdens,” and money spent on necessary medical treatment is never wasted. Trump’s policy, and the incendiary rhetoric behind it, constitutes little more than an attack on transgender existence.

May 17, 2019

“Equality Act” passes House of Representatives

What it is:

H.R. 5, cited as the “Equality Act,” seeks to amend existing civil rights legislation to include protections on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

The Equality Act, which passed the House in a 236-173 vote (including eight Republican supporters), will prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in areas of “public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system”.

Despite its claims to support equality, the Trump administration has expressed opposition to the bill, citing “poison pills” found in Equality Act’s current form.

Why it matters:

Anti-LGBT discrimination is far from a vestige of the past; a 2017 Harvard poll suggested that more than half of LGBT Americans have experienced some form of harassment or discrimination related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The effects on trans people are even more pronounced, and trans people are more likely to experience serious discrimination to the tune of physical or sexual assault, eviction or exclusion from housing, or denial of medical services.

Although 20 states and Washington, D.C. offer anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people, no comprehensive legislation exists on a federal level. The Equality Act offers a life raft to groups threatened by discrimination and codifies the treatment of LGBT people as a protected class.

May 22, 2019

Trump administration proposes rollback of LGBT anti-discrimination protections in homeless shelters

What it is:

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a rule allowing federally-funded shelters to create policy “considering an individual’s sex” when determining their eligibility for accommodation.

This is in stark contrast to HUD’s 2016 Equal Access Rule, which ensures that housing programs are “open to all eligible individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.” Despite the insistence of HUD Secretary Ben Carson that he is “not currently anticipating changing” the Equal Access Rule, the May 22 proposal guts many of the protections for homeless transgender people.

Under the proposed rule, single-sex and sex-segregated shelters can legally refuse housing to transgender people on the basis of “privacy, safety, practical concerns, [and] religious beliefs.”

Why it matters:

According to the US Transgender Survey, approximately one in three transgender people have been homeless in their lifetime. Of those surveyed, 70% who accessed a homeless shelter in the previous year experienced assault or harassment or were kicked out due to their gender identity. UCLA’s Williams Institute suggests that the number of homeless youth who identify as LGBT is as high as 40%.

These figures speak for themselves in illustrating a population that is incredibly and disproportionately threatened by housing insecurity. Transgender people are already at risk, even under the protection of the Equal Access Rule, and HUD intends to allow shelters to put them back on the streets. There is no need to mince words: this policy will have a body count.

May 24, 2019

Trump administration proposes removal of gender identity protections in the Affordable Care Act

What it is:

Continuing the administration’s rollback of existing legal protections, proposed regulation by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) seeks to legalize discrimination against transgender patients seeking health care.

The DHHS maintains the rule will “clarify the scope” of the anti-discrimination protections in Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Obama-era legislation is explicit in its stance that discrimination against transgender people falls under discrimination “on the basis of sex;” the Trump-era DHHS, however, hopes to amend the ACA’s policy on anti-trans discrimination by removing this language.

If the rule is finalized, insurers and medical providers will be able to legally deny necessary care to transgender patients for reasons based solely on their gender identity.

Why it matters:

Health care is a human right, and it is critical that we protect that right for transgender people as well. The proposed rule does not merely affect procedures specific to transgender people, and will in fact impose a greater threat of discrimination upon a population which already faces significant barriers to care.

The rollback will incur the additional consequence of signaling to insurance providers that it is not necessary to cover gender-affirming medical procedures, and will be costly to transgender people trying to obtain coverage for necessary procedures that do not typically align with their legal sex (e.g. a transgender man obtaining OB/GYN care).

May 25, 2019

 World Health Organization removes “gender identity disorder” from its list of mental disorders

 What it is:

On May 25, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a revised version of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) which removes “gender identity disorder” as a mental disorder.

In many places, a diagnosis of gender identity disorder is still required in order to obtain legal recognition of one’s gender identity. This standard, which relies inherently on the notion that trans identity is a form of mental illness, is rendered obsolete by the revision.

Why it matters:

The WHO is the health agency of the United Nations. As such, the ICD is used internationally to diagnose patients, and the removal of gender identity disorder is a watershed moment for the rights and dignity of transgender people around the world. The revised ICD opens the door for widespread reform and abolition of policies that require an official “gender identity disorder” diagnosis and signals that antiquated notions of trans identity as a sign of mental instability will no longer be tolerated by the medical establishment.