Dropping the "T": Trans Rights in the Marriage Era Read

Published: April 5, 2013

Two weeks ago, Hillary Clinton announced her support for gay marriage. Placid and well-coiffed, she looked at the camera with Clintonian firmness, and said, “L.G.B.T. Americans are our colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, our friends, our loved ones, and they are full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship. That includes marriage.”

That Monday, she joined the ranks of prominent Democrats—and even a share of prominent Republicans—in the righteous chorus seeking to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which her husband signed in 1996. (Not known for his penitence, Bill Clinton published an op-ed asserting that the law “is itself discriminatory” and “should be overturned.”) Whether the law is struck down now, as DOMA is challenged before the Supreme Court, or years later—when the seventy per cent of under-thirty voters who support marriage equality rise up in age and power—there is no doubt, as Jeffrey Toobin wrote last week in the magazine, that nothing now “can reverse the march toward equality.”

There is a question, however, in the language Clinton used, the particular lip service she chose to pay. The United States moves inexorably toward granting equality to the L.G.B., but in the process—while still pronouncing that satisfying final consonant—we often, in practice, drop the “T.”

In New York, where in 1969 the riots at the Stonewall Inn launched the movement, the privileging of only L.G.B. rights is telling. In 2002, in order to get a hard-fought non-discrimination bill passed, gay and lesbian activists in New York stopped fighting for provisions related to their transgender allies. The bill, the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (“SONDA”), made it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, credit, and the exercise of civil rights. Meanwhile, State Senator Tom Duane, the leading sponsor of the original draft, which had extended trans rights, decried the “terrible, horrible discrimination” that transgender people face: “They risk public exposure and loss of jobs, and sometimes violence, loss of homes.” Over ten years later, a Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (“GENDA”) is still not law.

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