Policy matters

 A look at the legal landscape
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  February 24, 2010

"We are born this way": Discovering what it means to be transgendered. By Deirdre Fulton.
Identifying and living as a transgender person has intense emotional implications that we touch on in this week's story. But here, as with most social issues, the personal is also political. We talked to Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, about the current transgender policy landscape (and added a local concern at the end).

THE EMPLOYMENT NON-DISCRIMINATION ACT, which all four members of Maine's congressional delegation support, is a federal bill that would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (for non-religious employers with more than 15 employees). In the past, transgender advocates struggled to get their demographic included in the bill. Now, Keisling is optimistic that transgender rights are there to stay. The House of Representatives is expected to take up the bill in March.

• However, when it comes to employment and discrimination, "it's more than just passing ENDA," Keisling points out. "Unquestionably the biggest issue is JOBS IN GENERAL," she says, pointing to surveys that show the majority of transgender-identified people face discrimination or termination once their identity is revealed. "If you're unemployable, that obviously affects many other areas of your life." On top of passing ENDA, Keisling says transgender employment issues can be addressed by "doing EDUCATION FOR LAWYERS and for society as a whole," as well as by fixing mundane DOCUMENTATION ISSUES — making it easier for transgender people to get accurate identification cards and papers.

• More jobs could mean more comprehensive HEALTH CARE for the trans community. "Right now as an individual trans person it's very difficult to get health insurance," Keisling says, pointing to what she describes as "the overall stigmatization of trans health care." Most plans exclude trans health care from their coverage, despite the fact that increasing numbers of professional organizations — including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association — have issued statements expressing their support for comprehensive, accessible, clinically necessary transgender care.

• On March 1, the Maine Human Rights Commission will hold a public hearing on its "Sexual Orientation in Schools and Colleges" document that lays out the rights and responsibilities of educators and students under the Maine Human Rights Act. Some advocates want to include in the guidelines a provision that would guarantee TRANSGENDER STUDENTS access to public school bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams that are for people of the biologically opposite sex. This debate comes on the heels of a 2009 case in which the state's Human Rights Commission ruled against the Orono School Department for not letting a young male who identifies as female use the girls' bathroom. The hearing will take place at 8:30 am on Monday, March 1, in the Best Western Embassy Room in Augusta (284 Western Ave; maine.gov/mhrc).

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