In This Issue
- Executive Director’s Message
- TLDEF Urges Administration to Adopt Rule to Improve Transgender Health Access
- TLDEF Commemorates Veterans Day; Renews Call for Open Transgender Military Service
- Governor Andrew Cuomo Announces New Protections for Transgender New Yorkers
- TLDEF Condemns New York Senate Majority Leader's Disingenuous Criticism of Transgender Rights Regulations
- Houston Equal Rights Ordinance Repealed
- TLDEF in the News
Executive Director’s Message
Today marks the 17th Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), a day to memorialize all those lost to anti-transgender violence and to honor the spirit and resilience of transgender people worldwide.
TDOR began in 1999 when activists held a vigil to honor Rita Hester, a 34-year-old African American transgender woman who was killed the previous year in her apartment. Gwendolyn Ann Smith organized what has grown into a worldwide commemoration of all those killed by anti-transgender violence. Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe now observe this solemn day by honoring the memory of those who were killed and holding local remembrance events.
The transgender community - and transgender women of color in particular - is in the midst of a crisis of violence. The number of transgender people killed this year is staggering. More than 20 people have been lost. Every year the National Report on Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities reveals the disproportionate impact that deadly violence has on transgender people, and transgender people of color most severely.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance reminds all of us that we must work hard to address the overwhelming levels of day-to-day discrimination that transgender people face, including a lack of employment opportunity and unconscionably high barriers to accessing basic health care. This discrimination keeps people marginalized and makes them vulnerable to violence.
There is no one solution to the problem. Only a path forward where much work is needed to confront the obstacles community members face so that we can all live with dignity and respect, free from discrimination and violence.
Many of the most vulnerable clients we serve at TLDEF live at the intersection of race, class and gender discrimination. The statistics on hate violence remind us how very dangerous that particular intersection can be.
We have learned that seemingly simple interventions can often make a big difference in people’s lives. Transgender women of color comprise the largest demographic group served by our Name Change Project. We’ve studied the impact of a name change on their lives and know that it helps. It raises levels of employment; it raises incomes; it increases access to health care; and it lowers levels of abuse that people experience, among other things. In short, it helps to move people away from the margins and towards the mainstream. It’s not a magic solution. It’s just one intervention that helps.
That’s why we’re happy to share with you in this newsletter that we’ve expanded the Name Change Project to metro Detroit, increasing our ability to help community members in need. And it’s why we want to share with you additional stories about the work we’re doing to stop discrimination and help community members live free and equal lives.
We’ll tell you about our support for the Obama Administration’s plan to ban transgender healthcare discrimination across the U.S. as well as its efforts to lift the prohibition on open transgender military service once and for all.
We’ll also fill you in on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s historic protections for transgender New Yorkers, while calling out State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan for his criticism of Cuomo.
In addition, we’ll share unfortunate news about the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance and the need to counter the hateful misinformation that led to its demise.
You’ll learn about our recent victory to secure coverage for a transgender man’s medically necessary gynecological care, after Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield denied his insurance claims. And we’ll spotlight the New York State Department of Education’s new guidelines to protect transgender and gender nonconforming students from bias.
Finally, we’ll tell you about national and local news coverage of our advocacy work in outlets from The New York Times to CNN and beyond that is helping to educate the public about the unique challenges community members face.
The road ahead of us will be a long one. We’ll be tired and we’ll be angry at times. Who wouldn’t be? But we will press forward as a community, knowing that we will all one day be free. We are reminded today that there is no alternative to victory. Lives are on the line.
On November 9, TLDEF submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), expressing support for improving the health and wellness of transgender Americans through a proposed federal rule. The new rule seeks to prohibit health care discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across the nation, ensuring increased access to care for communities that have long been excluded from the health care system.
The Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities rule seeks to prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in health care facilities and ban the widespread insurance industry practice of excluding coverage for transgender health care. It would also require Medicaid to cover transgender health care. The rule is designed to implement the Affordable Care Act’s non-discrimination provision, Section 1557.
In explaining the importance of this issue, TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman said:
“This common sense rule is meant to provide basic protections from discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Health care facilities must no longer be able to deny them care just because of who they are. Insurance companies should be required to cover care for transgender Americans on the same terms as they do for everyone else. These protections are long overdue and will create a sea change in the ability of transgender Americans to access medically necessary health care. The rule represents a monumental step towards ensuring that transgender Americans are treated fairly in the healthcare system. It is vital for LGBT people to have access to medically necessary care, to be covered by insurance for that care, and to be treated with dignity and respect in medical settings.
“As we expressed in our official comments to HHS, transgender people continue to face tremendous barriers to accessing care which causes great harm to their health and well-being. The purpose of the Affordable Care Act was to ensure that all Americans had access to safe, affordable care. Under this new rule, LGBT people should finally be able to reap the benefits of our nation’s health care law.
“Health care related to gender transition is widely recognized as medically necessary by organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. We commend the federal government for striving to adhere to this guidance. We look forward to seeing this regulation adopted to ensure health care equality for transgender Americans.”
With the comment period now complete, the Department of Health and Human Services is expected to take final action on the proposed rule in the coming months.
On November 11, TLDEF joined advocates around in the nation in commemorating Veteran’s Day. We paid tribute to all those who have served in our nation’s military and renewed our call for an end to the ban on open transgender service.
An estimated 20 percent of transgender adults have served in the military during their lifetime and an estimated 134,000 veterans identify as transgender. 15,000 transgender individuals are actively serving. Despite their sacrifices, the United States has only recently begun to stand with them.
In July, the Department of Defense took steps to lift the ban on open transgender military service. In announcing the formation of a six-month working group to study the “policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter acknowledged that transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines “are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that's contrary to our value of service and individual merit.” In addition to forming the working group, the Secretary moved to immediately limit discharges by elevating all discharge decisions impacting transgender service members to Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
In reflecting on Veteran’s Day, TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman stated:
“Today we honor the courageous veterans who put their lives on the line in defense of our nation. We emphasize our gratitude for the service of transgender military personnel who have had to hide who they are or risk discharge under the military’s biased and outdated regulations.
“We are encouraged by the Department of Defense’s steps to end the ban on open transgender military service. And the immediate discharge of transgender service members has been largely halted, as it should be.
“But there remains much to do. Transgender veterans face unreasonable difficulty accessing transition-related health care from the Veterans Health Administration. And veterans seeking to correct identity documents like discharge papers still face tremendous barriers when trying to do so. The government continues to persecute transgender veterans, demanding repayment of loans after discharging personnel just because of who they are.
“Qualified and talented people continue to bear the burden of serving in the shadows while we wait for the Pentagon to announce a final policy. We urge the Pentagon to lift the ban on open transgender service as soon as possible. And we call upon all government agencies to ensure that transgender veterans are treated fairly and equally.
“We thank all of the brave transgender men and women who have served and sacrificed in silence and those who continue to serve our country with distinction today. Like all service members who regularly put themselves in harm’s way in our defense, transgender service members deserve the respect and dignity that come with serving openly.”
In late October, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced new regulations to protect transgender New Yorkers from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit. The new protections will extend the reach of the New York State Human Rights Law that already bars discrimination on the basis of sex and disability, among other characteristics. “[T]he fair legal interpretation and definition of a person’s sex includes gender identity and gender expression,” the governor said. A statement from the governor’s office also read in part: “These regulations affirm that all transgender individuals are protected under the State’s Human Rights Law, and all public and private employers, housing providers, businesses, creditors and others should know that discrimination against transgender persons is unlawful and will not be tolerated anywhere in the State of New York.”
In responding to the announcement, TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman said:
“We applaud Governor Cuomo for taking this important executive action to ban discrimination against transgender New Yorkers. With the State Senate’s continued failure to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), these regulations are expected to give transgender residents protections that they have been lacking for far too long.
“Through these vital regulations, transgender people can no longer be fired from their jobs, thrown out of their homes and denied basic public services just because of who they are. These protections are long past due and we commend the Governor for making this a priority in the face of continued inaction on GENDA by the Senate. Transgender people in New York have suffered under existing law and this bold step will help improve their lives moving forward.
“Governor Cuomo’s leadership in issuing these rules provides a significant remedy for the state’s lack of comprehensive legislation to protect transgender people. While we strongly commend his executive action, we still urge state lawmakers to make GENDA a priority, as it would formally add “gender identity and expression” to the text of the existing Human Rights Law, and also expand New York’s hate crimes law to bring transgender people within its scope. Nineteen other states have passed laws that protect their transgender residents from discrimination. It is time for New York to pass GENDA and become the 20th.”
Governor Cuomo’s new regulations have been published in the New York State Register and are undergoing a 45-day public comment period. We intend to submit supporting comments.
TLDEF Condemns New York Senate Majority Leader's Disingenuous Criticism of Transgender Rights Regulations
On the heels of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s historic move to support transgender rights, TLDEF responded to comments made by New York Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan suggesting that Governor Cuomo went beyond his authority by proposing new regulations to protect transgender New Yorkers from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit. “The scourge of harassment and discrimination against transgender individuals is well-known – and has also has gone largely unanswered for too long,” Governor Cuomo said in announcing his action on October 22.
Speaking to reporters just days after the announcement, Senator Flanagan criticized the Governor’s action, stating that “we have coequal branches of government” and “these issues should all be vetted in concert with the Legislature.”
Reacting to the comments, TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman said:
“It is disingenuous for Senator Flanagan to suggest that the legislature was not given an opportunity to vet legislation to protect New York’s transgender community. As Senate Majority Leader, he presides over a legislative body that missed 13 opportunities over more than a decade to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a proposed law that would address the challenges facing transgender New Yorkers. The full Senate has never even voted on it. Instead, Senator Flanagan and his colleagues have buried the legislation in committee, ending any hope that it could be fully reviewed, or that transgender people might finally get redress from the extraordinary levels of discrimination they face.
“Governor Cuomo took executive action to protect transgender people because it was clear the Senate would not act. Instead of being debated by a handful of people in a committee in Albany, the Governor’s action will be subject to public comment and all of the scrutiny that entails. The Governor has the authority to propose these regulations, and he has exercised that authority judiciously to protect New York’s diverse populace. His leadership on this issue deserves praise, and we applaud him for taking action.”
On November 3, Houston voters repealed that city’s equal rights ordinance, which banned discrimination against Houstonians in housing, employment, public accommodations and city services. It protected residents from public and private sector bias based upon their race, religion, age, disability, military status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and several other characteristics. The ordinance passed the Houston City Council in 2014, sparking a push by opponents to place a repeal referendum on the ballot. The Council ruled that opponents had failed to gather enough signatures to move their effort forward. They then filed suit and the Texas Supreme Court ordered the Council to overturn the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) or send the referendum to the ballot.
Commenting on HERO’s defeat, TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman said:
“This vote is a setback for Houston and for equal rights. Houstonians turned their backs on their city’s historic embrace of diversity and inclusion. Leading up to the vote, those opposed to HERO waged an all-out war against it, spreading fear and misinformation about the law’s protections for transgender Houstonians. Anti-transgender activists made false and offensive claims designed to exploit the public’s lack of familiarity with the transgender community and the unique challenges it faces.
“From day one, this law has been about ensuring that Houston residents receive basic protection from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and that they have legal recourse if they are fired from their jobs, thrown out of their homes, or refused service just because of who they are.
“Opponents have been vicious in their efforts to turn back the clock on justice, but in due time their tactics will cease to be effective. As Houstonians and Americans everywhere continue to learn more about their transgender family members, neighbors and co-workers, efforts to vilify the community will fail.
“The struggle for basic fairness is far from over. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Houston Mayor Annise Parker and all those who worked tirelessly in support of HERO. Justice and equality will prevail in Houston and throughout our nation. We remain steadfast in our commitment to the pursuit of equal rights.”
A significant number of prominent national and regional media outlets have spotlighted TLDEF’s advocacy efforts in recent months.
- The New York Times and Associated Press shared TLDEF’s positive reaction to the Obama Administration’s plan to prohibit transgender health care discrimination across the U.S.
- The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times included TLDEF’s favorable views on a decision that will make San Francisco’s county jails among the first in the nation to house transgender people based on gender identity.
- Mashable highlighted TLDEF’s point of view in a comprehensive article about transgender teens in America, allowing our organization to share insights about how family rejection of transgender teens can lead to homelessness.
- CNN also asked TLDEF to weigh in on the rights of transgender students in its coverage of Missouri teen Lila Perry’s fight to use the girls’ bathroom and locker room at her high school.
- The Associated Press interviewed TLDEF about a judge’s decision allowing a 48-year old transgender woman to obtain gender reassignment surgery, quashing her parents’ request to deny her that care.
- The Los Angeles Times included TLDEF’s opinion about TSA agents’ mistreatment of transgender people in airports in a story about a transgender woman who was detained and harassed at Orlando International Airport.
- MTV included TLDEF’s insights and information about our Name Change Project when it delved into the issue of name changes for transgender people. The article contrasted how quickly Caitlyn Jenner was able to legally change her name compared with the experiences of ordinary transgender people, who often face obstacles during the process.
- WHAG-TV covered our client Kristen Skinner’s triumphant return to the West Virginia DMV to update her driver’s license after the agency changed its photo policy to allow transgender people to be photographed as they appear on a regular basis. The change came after TLDEF threatened a lawsuit against the DMV over its previous discriminatory photo policy.
- The Denver Post broke the story of our work to reverse Aetna’s discriminatory decision to deny coverage for a Colorado transgender woman’s medically necessary gender reassignment surgery.
- The Detroit Free Press highlighted the launch of the Name Change Project in the Detroit metro area.
- The Associated Press and several local Wisconsin outlets covered our condemnation of a pending Wisconsin bill that would hurt transgender students by banning them from using bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with who they are.
- The Houston Chronicle, Mashable, and HuffPost Live shared TLDEF’s reaction to the anti-transgender campaign used to bring down the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.
- ABC News and The New York Times included TLDEF in their coverage of a Department of Education decision supporting a transgender teen’s right to use the girls’ bathroom and locker room at her high school in Palatine, Illinois.
- Fusion asked TLDEF to comment on a proposed new law in Ecuador that would allow people to describe themselves as “masculine” or “feminine” on IDs rather than “male” or “female.”
We are thrilled to share our work and our opinions about pressing matters affecting the community in these and other national and local news outlets. Educating people about the challenges that transgender Americans face helps to change opinions in support of transgender equal rights.
Read all of TLDEF’s media coverage here.