Transgender People: The Next Civil Rights Frontier
When Vandiver Elizabeth Glenn was fired from a state job in Georgia, she filed a lawsuit saying that she had been discriminated against for being transgender. Georgia civil rights laws do not cover transgender people, but a powerful federal court ruled last week that Glenn’s firing violated the U.S. Constitution. There was also a second major piece of transgender news last week: a new study shows that a growing number of major American companies are paying for their employees’ gender reassignment surgery. Taken together, the ruling and the study are strong indications that transgender rights are starting to enter the mainstream.
The backstory behind the court ruling: Glenn, an editor with the Georgia General Assembly, was born a biological male but long believed herself to be a woman. After being diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, an American Psychiatric Association-recognized condition, she began making the transition from male to female under medical supervision. Glenn was preparing for gender-reassignment surgery by living as a woman outside of work and presenting as a man at work. Eventually, she informed a colleague that she would soon begin coming to work as a woman, and when Glenn’s supervisor found out, he fired her.
Since there is no federal or Georgia state statute that protects transgender people from job discrimination, Glenn went a different route. She sued under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, claiming that she was a victim of sex discrimination, since she had been fired for failing to conform to the sex that her boss assumed her to be. It was a creative strategy, but there was legal precedent: in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that it is sex discrimination to turn down a woman for partner in an accounting firm for coming off as too ‘macho.’ Invoking this theory, Glenn argued that she had been fired for ‘gender non-conformity.’
Read more: ideas.time.com