I had never heard of the EEOC before my coworker said we were hoping for a ruling from them that would protect transgender people under Title VII, the law that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. I asked around, and most of my friends had never heard of it, either.
Let me break it down. The EEOC interprets and enforces employment anti-discrimination laws. They're one of those super-important governmental agencies that many people never hear about until an issue like this comes up for an individual or community. Take a look at their website, and you'll get a sense of all the work they do to ensure equality in the workplace.
When they finally did issue the ruling that trans people are protected by Title VII, everyone here at the Transgender Law Center was ecstatic. For the first time ever transgender people throughout the country can file discrimination complaints at their local EEOC offices knowing that they are protected by federal law.
What struck me personally about the ruling was how broad-reaching and how eloquently it explained the connections between gender and sexuality that so many gay, lesbian, and bisexual people struggle to make. "The term 'gender,'" says the ruling, "encompasses not only a person's biological sex but also the cultural and social aspects associated with masculinity and femininity."
A few years ago I was one of the few proud sissies in a documentary film called The Butch Factor. In the film man after man talked about the pressures he felt, both within the gay community and beyond, to bulk up his muscles and present himself as masculine. Some of them put down feminine folks like me, while others noted how much courage it takes for a feminine gay man or genderqueer person to live authentically.
I know that when I was severely bullied in high school, it was about my feminine gender expression. And I know that when a company doesn't want to hire someone because that person is transgender or genderqueer, it's because that person is in some way defying the employer's rigid, and may I say outdated, gender rules and stereotypes.
The EEOC's ruling makes the case for feminine men, butch women, and really everybody who may be discriminated against because he or she is not behaving in a way that conforms to stereotypes about gender to unite in our cause for full equality. It connects the dots between homophobia, transphobia, and sexism.
With more transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the media than ever before, we are living in an extraordinary teachable moment for the LGBT community to begin to change the narrative about gender in the United States. Now is the time to talk about how rigid gender stereotypes not only divide the queer community but encourage bullying behavior, create a society of boys with pent-up rage, fuel sexist toy commercials, and feed the consumerism that relies on our obsession with achieving unrealistic body ideals.
In making the case for why it has our backs, the EEOC made the case for us all to have each other's backs, as well. Let's get to it!
For more information about this ruling and the case that sparked it, visit transgenderlawcenter.org.
Watch a preview of The Butch Factor: