For many transgender Americans, fear of losing your job due to discrimination is a very real threat. Consider: in 32 US states there are no legal protections for transgender workers and, currently, there is no federal law banning discrimination based on gender identity.
On December 18, transgender workers employed in the public sector gained a little more protection with the announcement by US Attorney General Eric Holder that the Justice Department would expand its interpretation of sex discrimination – prohibited by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act – to include discrimination based on gender identity. Under the new policy, the department will no longer be able to assert that transgender people are not protected under the sex discrimination provision and the department’s Civil Rights Division will be able to file claims against state and local public employers for discriminating against transgender workers.
The announcement builds upon a series of victories for transgender rights in the US, including a 2012 decision by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Macy v. Holder, which found that transgender people are protected under Title VII. The case was brought by Mia Macy, a transgender woman who was denied work with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives after her prospective employer learned about her transition.
In July, President Barack Obama invited Macy to attend the signing of an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In his remarks, the president thanked Macy and others, saying that it was because of “passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of [their] cause [that] our government – government of the people, by the people, and for the people – will become just a little bit fairer.”
This new policy goes one step further toward guaranteeing full equality for transgender Americans, but it is still not enough to ensure a comprehensive end to workplace discrimination. Ultimately, it will be the continued efforts of advocates like Macy that will lead to achieving the protections that the transgender community deserves.