The New York Times, the nation's newspaper of record, which is also read globally by opinion and decision makers, is in the process of rolling out a series entitled, "The Quest for Transgender Equality." It's easy in 2015 to write this off as just one more media recognition of trans persons, which has been picking up steam over the past three years. After all, trans has become "chic" and reached a "tipping point." Once one outlet runs with the novelty and gets a positive response, others quickly jump on the bandwagon.
But this is the New York Times. We've come a long way from the coverage of the Stonewall Uprising in the June 29, 1969 paper. This series includes the lead editorial, a page with photos, essays and videos, a timeline and in-depth stories. This can only lead to deeper understand, acceptance and a willingness to engage trans persons on the less salacious aspects of our lives. Having this go around the world with the imprimatur of theTimes is so important.
As I wrote in my Times essay, the web page of photos reminded me of Professor Lynn Conway's webpage, "Transsexual Women's Successes" and then "Transsexual Men's Successes." It's remarkable that today so many are willing to be out in such a public way, a far cry from the day Lynn put together her website to serve as a source of pride as well as encouragement to those struggling to be themselves. For trans persons and their parents and families, being able to see real people leading lives free from stigma and shame was transformative.
Now that people are beginning to pay attention -- 17 million tuned in to Jenner's interview with Diane Sawyer last month, more than watched the Late Night with David Letterman finale -- I want to revisit the Times' timeline of trans history. We live in a celebrity culture, so it's no surprise that the list is heavy on celebrities. I recognize the importance of celebrity spokespersons -- not only was the Jenner event hugely important in terms of educating the population that a classic American male sports champion could actually be a woman, but that public exposure can change the hearts and minds of public officials in positions of power to positively affect the lives of many. A case in point is Maryland Senate President Mike Miller, who after five years of personally dealing with local trans activists, had a moment of enlightenment while watching the Chaz Bono interview with David Letterman in 2011. You just never know what particular event will bring illumination.
Fleshing out the timeline, I believe it's important to recognize the following:
• Phyllis Frye, now a municipal judge in Houston, started the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy (ICTLEP) in 1991, to organize the legal profession in support of trans rights.
• Two decades after being excluded by the activist gay community in New York in 1973, direct action, on the model of Act Up, made the news in 1994 with the formation of Transsexual Menace by Riki Wilchins and Denise Norris.
• Wilchins then founded GenderPac in 1995, expanding from a specifically transgender focus to gender nonconformity in society at large.
• Magazines such as Tapestry, Chrysalis and TransSisters provided information for a growing community. IFGE, the International Foundation for Gender Education, published Tapestry and ran annual conferences for the national community. The Southern Comfort Conference, the largest of its kind, began in 1991, and the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, today the largest in the country with over 3500 participants, was founded in 2002.
• The late 90s saw the formation of NTAC, the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, which began lobbying a very resistant Congress along with GenderPac.
• Passage of statewide antidiscrimination protections in Minnesota in 1993 and Rhode Island in 2001 showcased the need for a trans presence working in Washington, and Mara Keisling founded NCTE, the National Center for TransEquality, in 2003.
• State and local efforts picked up steam with a great deal of success through 2007, when a trans-inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) ran into resistance in the U.S House of Representatives. That experience, however, led to a huge outpouring of political support from many of the nation's gay organizations, bringing about the political maturation of the LGBT community so that today the comprehensive and inclusive LGBT Equality Act would not be considered without gender identity and expression.
• That ENDA experience, along with the general conservative backlash under the Bush administration, led to the first of many referendum backlashes to trans civil rights laws, beginning in my home county, Montgomery County, MD. The efforts have increased over the years but usually fall short with unified LGBT community action. Today 17 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and over 200 local jurisdictions have employment, housing and public accommodations protections, two more states have employment and housing coverage, a trans-inclusive ENDA was passed by the U.S. Senate in 2013 by a 2:1 margin, and the Equality Act, modeled on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, is soon to be introduced.
• The critical legal victories of the past decade, led by Smith v. City of Salem in 2006, Schroer v. Billington in 2008, and Glenn v. Brumby in 2011, set the stage for the Macy decision of 2012, covering trans persons in all 50 states under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Those protections have been increasingly confirmed, with occasional exception, in federal courts over the past few years, with a number of cases settling out of court. The regulations promulgated by the Department of Labor covering LGBT workers thanks to the Federal Contractor Executive Order 13672 of 2014, the memo of the U.S. Attorney General in support of including trans persons under Title VII, the 14th Amendment protections recognized thanks to Schroer and Glenn, all point to the increasing legal inclusion of trans persons in American society.
• Probably most importantly, the revision of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) in 2012, removing the classification of being transgender as a mental illness, underpinned the trans civil rights movement and accelerated the victories. The effort was a long and arduous one, led by Kelley Winters of GID Reform, with the help of many within the medical profession as well as activists on the street. The growth of physician support was led by the activities of the members of the increasingly influential World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which had formed as the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (HBIGDA) back in 1979. This transformation was analogous to the near-total removal of homosexuality from the DSM in 1973, giving the gay rights movement a critical boost. Ending the psychopathology arguments removes the power from the anti-trans movement, who are then left to fall back on tenuous religious claims. As has been evident in the growth of support by all denominations in the Jewish community, as well as a growing number of Christian denominations as well, there are really no Biblical arguments against trans persons.