Trump administration continues attack on Transgender Rights

The article in front of me landed in my newsfeed with a metaphorical thud. The headline “Trump Administration Asks Supreme Court To Legalize Firing Transgender Workers” had to be wrong, or at least, the wording seemed farcical.  And yet, following on the heels of a number of other announcements: banning transgender individuals in the military, a ban on Muslims entering the country, attempts to restrict legal immigration, aimed at Mexican and Central American immigrants – in a sense, this latest news was not so surprising after all.

Still, I was struck by the irony of such a request – an argument that the ability to discriminate against American citizens be enshrined in the law, declared legal by the highest court in the land – in the year 2019, when in many quarters of society, transgender individuals have slowly gained in acceptance.

In my own work as a transgender rights advocate and a licensed clinical social worker who serves the LGBT community, I have been heartened to note strides that we have made in safeguarding rights for transgender people.

In California, where I live and work, I conduct workplace training in compliance with SB 396, which was signed into law in December, 2017 by then-Governor Jerry Brown.  It mandates that all companies with more than 50 employees must hold anti-sexual harassment training that has been expanded to include identifying and preventing harassment based on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.

During my early transition, I interned at a hospital where I faced constant harassment and teasing from certain staff members who were transphobic. They constantly misgendered me, refusing to use the male pronouns I had requested, in spite of me passing fully as male and having had top and bottom surgery.

The supervisors, while not part of the bullying, were overwhelmed and unable to offer any protection, other than suggesting I do my best to ignore the bullying since “understandably” some people would have a hard time with it. To stay at this job, I had to protect myself, seeking support from a therapist as my employer remained baffled and unwilling to intervene. With this law proposed by the Administration, they could simply have refused to hire me in the first place or fired me based on my gender identity. 

SB 396, in contrast, recognizes the fundamental right of transgender people to hold jobs without fear of discrimination, harassment or intimidation based on their gender identity. In the case imminently before the Supreme Court – in which a transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, was promptly fired from her job after informing her employer that she was a transgender female and as such, would be dressing as a female thereafter – the Department of Justice is arguing that Title VII only protects individuals against discrimination on the basis of their biological sex.

In other words, if the DOJ prevails, it would be legal to discriminate, even fire, someone on the basis of their gender identity and by extension, in response to whether or not they conform to the employer’s expectations of gender stereotypes.

Wait, what?

Yes, you read that right: the Administration is asking the Supreme Court to agree – and in fact, overturn a lower court’s ruling that Ms. Stephens had in fact been the subject of discrimination – that it should be legal to fire transgender workers if the employer finds that they insufficiently conform to what the employer thinks a man or a woman should be or how they should present themselves. Not what the individual believes about him or herself or how they present themselves.

So what this amounts to is: it would be legal for my employer to decide who I am and how I may express myself. If I don’t conform, I can be fired. Period.

Since Trump’s attacks on transgender rights, I have observed many of my patients facing an increase in anxiety and depression as well as a sense of uncertainty as to work or insurance coverage for gender reassignment surgeries. I recently noted an increase in trans military service members seeking coping skills, as the military ban continued to be put forward. It is truly tragic that anyone able to serve this great country and willing to lay down their lives for it, and for us, could be denied that right simply for living their authentic lives.

My question is, how is this progress? Who does such a hypothetical ruling benefit? Transgender people are tax-paying citizens with a right to work. We are talented and have so much to offer as therapists, teachers, professors, attorneys, entertainers and everything else. Whatever the gifts and talents transgender individuals may possess, such employers will never know or have their businesses enriched by them, because they are willing to dismiss them over their very existence and identity as transgender.

How are workplaces enhanced by ridding them of transgender workers? (Just for the sake of argument, swap in other groups in this sentence: Latino workers, Jewish workers, black workers, and yes, female workers).

That would be outrageous, and most people wouldn’t stand for it, because it would be patently discriminatory, or racist, sexist and dare I say – un-American. As is often noted in such discussions these days, we are at an inflection point. What kind of society are we creating, when we are systematically removing rights from certain groups of people, rather than expanding them? When we are enacting a plan to disenfranchise certain individuals, making them “other,” not accord them basic freedoms?

As the poet and civil rights activist Audre Lorde wisely noted,  “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” 

And on a societal level, since when has a civilization thrived and advanced itself, when it contracted rather than expanded the rights of its citizens, indeed diminished whose rights are protected by the law?

This law would be a tragedy for us all and I urge every decent American citizen, regardless of political affiliation, to stand up for justice and equality and oppose this by any means necessary, because what’s next? You may be next! Your freedom of religion, your race, your sexual orientation, your rights as a woman, may all be next. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

About the Author:

Rizi Timane, LCSW, PhD, DSW(c) is the Clinical Director of the Happy Transgender Center, a provider of transgender cultural diversity training and an annual surgery grant for transgender persons in need of medical transition support. He is also a transgender entertainer with numerous LGBT-affirming singles out and several TV and film appearances.