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Highlighting Our Heroes in the Fight for Transgender Rights

By Shawn Jain, Media Strategist, ACLU & John Knight, LGBT Project at 5:11pm

As Transgender Awareness Week 2012 (November 12-19) concludes, today we feature three of our heroic clients who’ve made our work to end discrimination against transgender people possible. Not only have our clients been willing to stand up against discrimination, but they’ve also taken on the challenge of teaching others – legislators, judges and the general public – what it means to be transgender and the challenges transgender people face. The following people have helped make our transgender rights work possible in the areas of employment discrimination and identification documents. The LGBT community has seen astounding progress, but a great deal of work still needs to be done to secure greater understanding and acceptance along with basic legal protections for transgender Americans for whom discrimination is still commonplace.

Diane Schroer -- Employment Discrimination

“After retiring from the Army, I decided to acknowledge Diane and say goodbye to David. It wasn’t an easy choice, it wasn’t courage or madness. Just something that I needed to do.” – Diane Schroer. For more on her story, see the video below:

Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see You Tube's privacy statement on their website and Google's privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU's privacy statement, click here.

Close to half of respondents in a recent national survey reported being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion because of being transgender/gender non-conforming.  The ACLU has represented transgender clients who have faced gender-based discrimination in the workplace.

In the case of Diane Schroer v. Library of Congress, the ACLU represented a highly decorated military veteran who thought she had found a perfect fit when she was offered a terrorism research position with the Library of Congress – until they rescinded her job offer when she told her future supervisor that she was in the process of a gender transition. In a groundbreaking decision issued in September 2008, a federal judge ruled that discriminating against someone for changing genders is sex discrimination under federal law.  Schroer was awarded $500,000 in compensation by the government.

Diane’s case and her story have illustrated the crucial need for laws and legal precedents to protect transgender people from losing their jobs because they are transgender.

Hayden Nevill & Lauren Grey  - Identification Documents

“Without consistency [in ID documents], you are flagged as a security risk. You’re treated differently when you give someone a document that has an opposite gender marker than how you present.” – Lauren Grey. For more on her story, see the video below:

Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see You Tube's privacy statement on their website and Google's privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU's privacy statement, click here.

With an increasing demand that we show official identification documents to enter public and private buildings, apply for a job, and vote, it has become more important than ever before to hold accurate identification documents.  Moreover, restrictions on correcting the gender on identification documents have presented a unique set of problems for transgender Americans.  In a recent national survey, 40 percent  of those who present ID that did not match their gender identity/expression reported being harassed while 15 percent reported being asked to leave, and 3 percent reported being attacked or assaulted.  Hayden Nevill and Lauren Grey both sued state agencies that restricted their ability to correct the gender on their identification documents.

In Nevill v. Alaska DMV/K.L. v. Alaska DMV, Hayden Nevill, a transgender veterinarian in Fairbanks, AK, was one of three clients to challenge Alaska’s restrictions on correcting the gender on your driver’s license.  In an op-ed published in the Anchorage Daily News (and re-posted on this blog) earlier this year, Nevill wrote about how transgender people often have to struggle or disclose private information just to get driver’s licenses and other identification documents that match who they are:

I'm a professional who travels for work. I am a guy. I have a deep voice and a receding hairline. No one meeting me ever mistakes me for female. My passport says I'm male. My Alaska driver's license has my current name and recent photo, but still says 'F'.

How does this affect me? I carry my passport everywhere, using it for ID when everyone else uses a driver's license. That works fine when I'm presenting my ID on a job site, except when I need to drive a company vehicle or rent a car. Then I'm faced with a confused clerk who may or may not accept my driver's license as valid. If I have to explain medical reasons why my documents don't match, at best it's a conversation that invades my privacy and is uncomfortable for everyone involved. At worst, it exposes me to possible discrimination or suffering physical violence.

To fix the Alaska DMV’s flawed policy that required those who seek to change the gender marker on their driver’s license submit proof of a sex reassignment surgery, ACLU filed a lawsuit, K.L. v. Alaska DMV, on behalf of a transgender woman, K.L., whose U.S. passport and work documents all identify her as a female.  After initially securing a change to the gender on her driver’s license, she was told that her new license would be revoked unless she submitted proof of having surgery.  Later, Nevill and another client served as clients in a separate case seeking the same result.  Following a court ruling in the K.L. case finding that denying accurate identification documents violated the privacy rights of transgender Alaskans, the DMV removed the requirement for surgery or any other specific medical intervention to correct the gender on a driver’s license as of August 2012.

Meanwhile, in another part of the country, Lauren Grey also fought for the right to accurate identification documents in Grey v. Arnold.  In May 2011, Lauren Grey and two other clients challenged the Illinois Department of Public Health’s requirement that persons born in Illinois undergo genital surgery before they could change the gender on their birth certificates.  In October 2012, the court approved an enforceable agreement to prevent the Department from reinstating this requirement and ensuring that people will no longer have to complete surgeries that may not be available or medically necessary for them.

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