Transgender rights movement

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Pride London, 3 July 2010.

The transgender rights movement is a movement to promote transgender rights and to eliminate discrimination and violence against transgender people regarding housing, employment, public accommodations, education, and health care. In some jurisdictions, transgender activism seeks to allow changes to identification documents to conform with a person's current gender identity without the need for sex reassignment surgery.[1]

Madrid Pride 2016


Identifying the boundaries of a trans movement has been a matter of some debate. Conventionally, evidence of a codified political identity emerges in 1952, when Virginia Prince, a male crossdresser, along with others, launched Transvestia: The Journal of the American Society for Equality in Dress.[2] This publication is considered by some to be the beginning of the transgender rights movement in the United States, however it would be many years before the term "transgender", itself, would come into common usages.[2]

In the years before the Stonewall riots, other actions for LGBT rights had taken place, but while gender nonconformity has always been a part of signalling gay identity, most of the early gay organizations were more assimilationist in their immediate goals.

An early, but not widely known, action is the Cooper Do-nuts Riot of 1959 that took place in Downtown Los Angeles,[3] when drag queens, lesbians, gay men, and transgender people who hung out at Cooper Do-nuts and who were frequently harassed by the LAPD fought back after police arrested three people, including John Rechy. Patrons began pelting the police with donuts and coffee cups. The LAPD called for back-up and arrested a number of rioters. Rechy and the other two original detainees were able to escape.[4]

In August 1966 the Compton's Cafeteria Riot occurred in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. This incident was one of the first recorded LGBT-related riots in United States history.[4] In an incident similar to Cooper's, drag queens, prostitutes and trans people fought back against police harassment. When a transgender woman resisted arrest by throwing coffee at a police officer, drag queens poured into the streets, fighting back with their high heels and heavy bags.[5] The next night, the regular patrons were joined by street hustlers, Tenderloin street people, and other members of the LGBT community in their stand against police violence.[6] It marked the beginning of trans activism in San Francisco.[7]

In 1969, the year of the Stonewall Riots, the term transgender was not yet in use. But gender nonconforming people like drag king Stormé DeLarverie, and self-identified "street queen" Marsha P. Johnson were in the vanguard of the riots, with DeLarverie widely believed to be the person whose struggle with the police was the spark that set the crowd to fighting back.[8][9] Witnesses to the uprising also place early trans activists and members of the Gay Liberation Front, Zazu Nova and Jackie Hormona along with Johnson, as combatants "in the vanguard" of the pushback against the police on the multiple nights of the rebellion.[10]

Marsha P. Johnson later went on to co-found Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with close friend Sylvia Rivera. Rivera's early definitions around trans were very broad, including all gender-nonconforming people.[11] Rivera continued to be an advocate for trans rights, and inclusion of protection for trans people in all LGBT rights legislation, until her death in 2002.[12]

In the 1980s female to male (FTM) transsexuality became more broadly known.[13]

In 1992 Leslie Feinberg printed and circulated a pamphlet titled "Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come". Feinberg's pamphlet begins by calling on the trans community to compose their own definitions, invoking language as a tool that unites people divided by oppression. From here, Feinberg traces the emergence of oppression imposed by the ruling class by means of institutions. These institutions, run by the elite, enforce a gender binary at the expense of communal societies that encouraged liberal gender expression. Women were devalued and effeminacy was disparaged to promote patriarchal economic privilege. According to Feinberg, the gender binary is a contrivance of Western civilization. Having acknowledged this, Feinberg encourages all humans to reclaim the natural continuum of gender expression that identifies trans individuals as sacred. Feinberg concludes by empowering the working class to liberate themselves from the ruling class, which can be achieved by directing the labor of marginalized groups towards the common goal of revolution.[14]

In 1993, Adela Vázquez, a Latina transgender woman, protested for in San Francisco in consideration of the government removing the transgender community from the workforce because they labeled the trans community as disabled.[15] However, that situation is making some progress and is changing. In 2014, per The Nation Gay and Lesbian Task Force record, only 17 states (and the District of Columbia) in the United States of America have laws that protect individuals in the transgender community, which equals to about 45%. States that present these protections are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.[16] Furthermore, there are organizations that are working to increase the numbers of States having these laws like: The Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project; The Transgender Law Center; and the National Center for Transgender Equality.[16]

On December 31, 1993, a trans man named Brandon Teena was murdered in Nebraska along with two of his friends. This murder was documented in the 1999 movie Boys Don't Cry starring Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena.[13]

With the publication of 1996's Transgender Warriors, Leslie Feinberg brought the word "transgender" more fully into use. Like Rivera, Feinberg also defined "transgender" very broadly, including drag queens and gender nonconforming people from history. A dedicated communist, Feinberg included an analysis that included many who are oppressed by the apparatus of capitalism.[17]

Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual day of remembrance to commemorate those murdered in transphobic hate crimes, was first held in 1999 following the murder of Rita Hester in 1998. The "Remembering our Dead" web project was also set up in 1999.

In June 2012 CeCe McDonald was wrongfully imprisoned for having defended herself against neo-nazi attackers with a pair of scissors, which resulted in the death of one of her assailants. Her story was publicized by a GLAAD Media Award winning article in Laverne Cox, openly trans actress on Orange Is the New Black, launched a campaign to raise consciousness of cruel prison conditions for incarcerated trans individuals and rallied to free CeCe. After serving for 19 months, she was released January 2014.

Left OUT Party. Two signs reflecting some of the individuals protesting

On March 26–27, 2013, LGBT activists gathered at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. to support marriage equality, but in the midst of these demonstrations one speaker was asked to edit their proceedings to conceal their trans identity, and the trans community was asked to lower their pride flags. This incident follows years of tension between activist groups, namely Human Rights Campaign and the trans community, because the trans community is often neglected or blatantly excluded from events and political consideration. The incident resulted in a backlash and public criticism by the trans community. In response, activists groups apologized for the incident, and in 2014 HRC promised to energize efforts for promoting trans rights.

In Florida in March 2015, Representative Frank Artiles (R-Miami) proposed House Bill 583, which would ensure that individuals who enter public facilities such as bathrooms or locker rooms designated for those who are of the "other biological sex" could be jailed for up to 60 days. Artiles claims that it was proposed for the sake of public safety.[18]

In September 2017, the Botswana High Court ruled that the refusal of the Registrar of National Registration to change a transgender man's gender marker was "unreasonable and violated his constitutional rights to dignity, privacy, freedom of expression, equal protection of the law, freedom from discrimination and freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment". LGBT activists celebrated the ruling, describing it as a great victory.[19][20] At first, the Botswana Government announced it would appeal the ruling, but decided against it in December, supplying the trans man with a new identity document that reflects his gender identity.[21]

A similar case, where a transgender woman sought to change her gender marker to female, was heard in December 2017. The High Court ruled that the Government must recognise her gender identity.[22] She dedicated her victory to "every single trans diverse person in Botswana".

Issues of concern[edit]

Public toilet legislation[edit]

In the United States, the "bathroom bill" issue first came to public attention in 2013 when the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled in favour of transgender six-year-old student Coy Mathis' right to use the girls' toilet at her elementary school in Fountain, Colorado.[23] The case, along with Mathis and her family, was again brought to public attention with the 2016 release of the documentary Growing Up Coy.[24]

In the wake of the Mathis case, numerous states have put forth or passed legislation which obligates transgender people to use the public bathroom corresponding to their sex as assigned at birth.[25] As of July 2017, sixteen states had considered such bills and one state, North Carolina, passed its bill into law. The North Carolina House Bill 2, or HB2, was passed into law in February 2017.[25] HB2 quickly garnered attention as the first law of its kind and sparked high-profile condemnation, including cancellations of concerts and sporting events by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and the NCAA.[26] In the midst of the controversy and the inauguration of a new governor of North Carolina, the bill was repealed by the state legislature on March 30 of 2017.[26]


The treatment of transgender people in educational environments has often been a focal point of the movement's concern. In a survey of Canadian high schools conducted between 2007 and 2009, 74% of students who identified themselves as trans reported having experienced verbal harassment over their gender expression, 37% reported physical harassment over their gender expression, and 49% of trans students reported at least one instance of sexual harassment within the last school year.[27]

In 2013, Smith College, an all women liberal arts US college gained notoriety for denying admission to Calliope Wong, a transgender female.[28] Following the incident, the college’s administration and student activists engaged in a protracted battle around transgender women’s rights. The first women’s college in the United States to open admission to transgender women was Mills in the year of 2014[29] followed closely behind by Mount Holyoke in the same year.[30] After Mills and Mount Holyoke, Simmons University, Scripps College, Bryn Mawr and Wellesley changed their policy to accept transgender students. The last US women colleges to change their policies to admit transgender students were Smith College and Barnard College, effective on May and June 2015, respectively.[31] Student activists at US women colleges are credited for the introduction of more inclusionary policies allowing admission of trans women in spaces which historically have excluded them. Mount Holyoke remains the most gender-inclusive, admitting not only transgender women but also transgender men and non-binary people under its all-persons-but-cisgender-men policy.[31]

Statistics of oppression[edit]

In a survey conducted by National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called "Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey", respondents reported that 90% of them had experienced discrimination and harassment in the work place and at school. The trans community experiences rates of unemployment that are double the national average. Additionally, one out of every twelve trans women, and one out of every eight trans women of color, are physically attacked or assaulted in public (the nature of these crimes is often perpetrated in such a way that attempts to dehumanize the victim).[32][failed verification]

People of color[edit]

Transgender people of color often face an identity that is under speculation, suspicion, doubt, and policing. Those within the trans community are often left out from the wealthy, able-bodied, American, and white experience that those in the non-trans community often focus on, and are subject to discrimination as a transgender person and as a person of color.[33]

Historically, this is in part due to the rejection of an individual by family members at a young age. "The majority of transgender women of color", say Juline A. Koken, David S. Bimbi, and Jeffrey T. Parsons, "experience verbal and physical abuse at the hands of their family members upon disclosing their transgender identity."[34]

As transgender women of color face both gender and racial discrimination, their experiences may be qualitatively different from white transgender women. African-American and Latino families are deeply rooted in religious tradition, which may lead to more socially conservative and rigid ideas about gender roles, homosexuality, and traditionalism, and many transgender women of color state that their parents' negative reactions are largely due to the role religious beliefs play on their lives. In addition, parents also worry that their children will face additional hardships as members of double minorities.[34]

Some of the ways white transgender people have more privilege than those of their non-white counterparts include racialized violence, better pay, better representation and benefits from the mainstream media movement. According to a National Transgender Discrimination survey, the combination of anti-transgender bias and individual racism results in transgender people of color being 6 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police compared to cisgender White people, two-thirds of LGBT homicide victims being transgender women of color, and a startling 78% attempt suicide.[35][36] Of the 17 homicides of trans and gender-nonconforming people in 2017 that the project has counted so far, 16 had been people of color; 15 had been transgender women; and 13 had been black transgender women.[37] The NCAVP survey also found that trans survivors were 1.7 times more likely to be the victims of sexual violence than cis-gender survivors. Transgender/non-conforming individuals also reported over four times the national average of HIV infection (0.6% compared to 2.64%, respectively) with rates for transgender women (3.76%) and those who are unemployed (4.67%) even higher.[38] Black transgender people were affected by HIV even more so than these averages; 20.23% of transgender individuals with HIV are black.[39] According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population with unemployment, low income, and assault (both sexual and physical) raising the risk factors.[38]

The pure social stigma of being transgender is a root cause for poor health care, which manifests into other areas of transgender people. Social determinants of health, including violence and discrimination, may result in negative personal psychological and physiological effects. The access to proper health care is essential in both the transitioning and resilience. In a study of resilience of transgender people of color, Jay, a 41-year-old FTM POC, stated he “had no place to turn to get help in transition—and worked five jobs trying to save money for surgery that [he] never knew if [he] would be able to afford.”[40] Another key factor to the resilience to opposition of transgender POC involved having a strong sense of pride in both ethnic and gender identities. Developing this sense of pride can be a process, which involves overcoming barriers such as transphobia and racism. However, once these barriers are in fact crossed, transgender POC can start to see themselves in a better light and use their inner strength and confidence to be more persistent, optimistic, and positivity-oriented.

In recent years, there have been several housing crises among transgender people, especially transgender people of color. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 10.052 million people in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, or transgender, and millennials, or those born between 1980 and 1998, drive virtually all of all of the increases overall LGBT self-identification.[41] As the millennial generation has entered the college age, trans individuals have seen difficulty in securing basic housing rights and needs. There is a definite predominance of sex-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms, and housing where transgender people regularly are denied access, and are harassed and challenged for their gender identity.[42]] Most of the time, they are forced to “pick” a gender, even though they do not necessarily identify with it. Most universities operate on the premise that gender is binary and static, and this can be especially problematic with either poorer transgender individuals or transgender people of color, since 55% of college students in the United States are white[43] and the average income for families with college students is $74,000 – 60% higher than the national average of $46,326.[44]


Black transgender people live in extreme poverty with 34% reporting a household income of less than $10,000 a year, which is more than twice the rate for transgender people of all races (15%), four times the black population (9%), and eight times the U.S. population (4%).[39] Transgender people of color are more likely to be poor, be homeless, or lack a college degree.[45] Multiple factors pile up on each other that force many transgender people of color to be homeless; for instance, many individuals are involved in abusive relationships or live in crime-ridden neighborhoods because of the difficulty finding employment as a transgender person and/or experiencing job loss due to transphobia in the work place.[40] Those with greater socioeconomic status might use their social connections to advocate for access to appropriate housing for transgender students in ways that are not possible for most lower-income families; one proposal comes from the Administration for Children and Families, which issued the largest-ever LGBT focused federal grant to develop a model program to support LGBT foster youth and prevent them from being homeless.[46]


Trans communities also experience problems with intersectionality when it comes to traditional male and female gender roles. The experiences trans men face are vastly different than those of trans women; trans men who were raised as female were treated differently as soon as they came out as male. They gained professional experience, but lost intimacy; exuded authority, but caused fear.[47] Cultural sexism is often more visible to trans men because it is easier to be “low-disclosure” than trans women.[47] They are usually not recognized as trans, which is known as passing, and it avoids transphobia and discrimination by others. “Women’s appearances get more attention,” says Julia Serano, a transgender activist, “and women’s actions are commented on and critiqued more than men, so [it] just makes sense that people will focus more on trans women than trans men.”[47]

The focus of the realms of trans visibility in pop culture and trans organizations has mostly been on white people, especially with Caitlyn Jenner joining the trans community.[45]


International organizations such as GATE, and World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) work specifically towards transgender rights. Other national level organizations also work for transgender rights, such as: in the United States, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), GenderPAC, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the Transgender Law Center, and in the U.K., The Gender Trust, Trans Media Watch, and Press for Change.


Reform Judaism[edit]

In 2015, the American Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) adopted a Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People, urging clergy and synagogue attendants to actively promote tolerance and inclusion of such individuals.[48]

In popular culture[edit]

Major events[edit]

Carey Purcell states that these moments have been key to bringing awareness to the transgender movement and fight for transgender rights.[49]

Representation in media[edit]

Representation in pop culture has major effects on both the transgender and cisgender communities. Elizabeth Tisdell and Patricia Thompson conducted a study on the effects of representation in the media on teachers and its effect on the way they teach in the classroom. This study found that when teachers had been exposed to programming that featured diverse characters in a positive light, teachers were more open to teaching their students in a more open, accepting way.[63] In this study, the authors found that media reinforces the values of the dominant culture, and is one of the most powerful ways to informally educate people.[63] Tisdell and Thompson state that this representation is a way in which people construct ideas of themselves and others, and that more representation lends legitimacy to identities and movements such as the transgender movement.

In a separate study, GLAAD looked at the representation of transgender characters in the media over the last ten years.[64] After examining many different episodes and storylines, GLAAD found that transgender characters were cast in a “victim” role in 40% of the catalogued episodes, and were cast as killers or victims in 21% of the episodes.[64] They also found that the most common profession of transgender characters in the episodes was sex workers, seen in about 20% of the episodes.[64] In addition to the representation of transgender characters, the authors found that anti-transgender slurs, language, and dialogue were present in at least 61% of the episodes.[64]

Activists within the transgender rights movement argue that representation such as these set the movement back in gaining understanding within mainstream society. Jayce Montgomery is a trans man who argues that these types of representation “always displaying [transgender people] in the stereotypical way. You know, “masculine,” [or] this is the man/this is the woman role. And not really delving into their background and what they actually go through.”[65] In the same conversation, Stacey Rice goes on in the same conversation with Bitch Media to make the point that well known transgender celebrities are not representative of the general transgender community’s experiences.[65] Rice then goes on to say that while these celebrities are not representative of the average transgender person's experience, the visibility they bring to the transgender rights movement does nothing but help the cause.[65]


Many celebrities have spoken out in support of transgender rights and often in conjunction with overall support for the LGBTQ community. Numerous celebrities voice such support for the Human Rights Campaign, including Archie Panjabi, Lance Bass, Tituss Burgess, Chelsea Clinton, George Clooney, Tim Cook, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Sally Field, Lady Gaga, Whoopi Goldberg, Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Hudson, Caitlyn Jenner, Jazz Jennings, Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, Jennifer Lopez, Demi Lovato, Natasha Lyonne, Ellen Page, Brad Pitt, Geena Rocero, Bruce Springsteen, Jeffrey Tambor, Charlize Theron, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Wachowski.[66][67][68][69]

Magnus Hirschfeld, a German physician and outspoken advocate for sexual minorities, probably did more than anyone else for half a century to support transgender people and their rights to live a normal life in their identity.

In the same vein, Harry Benjamin German-American sexologist, author of The Transsexual Phenomenon was a supporter of transgender rights and helped establish the medical procedures and Standards of Care for transgender persons in the United States.

Laverne Cox[edit]

Orange Is the New Black actress Laverne Cox has been particularly outspoken about the importance of transgender rights. Being transgender herself, Cox has experienced firsthand the issues that surround those who are transgender and often uses her own story to promote the movement for transgender rights.[70] She sees her fame as an opportunity to bring awareness to causes that matter and that her unique position legitimizes the transgender rights movement.[71] Particularly, she believes that transgender individuals have been historically overlooked and sidelined not just socially, but in the fight for civil rights as well.[72] Cox acknowledges the progress that has been made for Gay rights, but that it is important to focus on transgender rights separately, seeing as it has historically been grouped together with other causes and used as an umbrella term.[73] In 2014, Glamour magazine named Cox Woman of the Year in recognition of her activism.[74]

Caitlyn Jenner[edit]

In April 2015, Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender.[75] The news had been speculated for months leading up to the announcement, but still shocked the public and received considerable attention.[76] Jenner expressed the desire to transition and to be known as Caitlyn Jenner and introduced herself for the first time on the cover of Vanity Fair.[77] Jenner's transition has been documented by the short-lived reality television series titled I am Cait.[78] Jenner was determined to make a difference and bring awareness to transgender rights, believing that telling her story can do so. Jenner did increase transgender visibility, however, her commentary and series were criticized for misrepresenting the struggles of the majority the trans community, who are much less privileged than her and face deeper problems.[79]

Janet Mock[edit]

Janet Mock is an author, activist, and TV show host who advocates transgender rights, sex workers' rights, and more among marginalized communities.[80][81][82] Mock uses storytelling as a way to diminish stigma of marginalized communities.[82] She has authored and edited many works addressing her personal struggles as well as exploring various social issues affecting various communities.[82] Mock acknowledged in an interview that her experience alone does not speak for all in the transgender community, but it can provide a platform for some to reflect upon.[83] She addressed and encouraged intersectionality and inclusiveness in the feminist movement at the 2017 Women's March.[82][81][80][84]

Notable transgender political figures[edit]

Georgina Beyer, former New Zealand politician who was the first openly transgender mayor and the first transgender politician to become member of Parliament in the world.[85]

Aya Kamikawa and Tomoya Hosoda, Japan's first openly transgender politicians.[86]

Amanda Simpson, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy and the highest ranking openly transgender appointee in the United States.[87]

Shabnam Mausi, the first transgender person in India to be elected for public office.[88][89]

Jenny Bailey, Cambridge, UK mayor who is also married to a transgender partner.[90]

Jamie Lee Hamilton, the first transgender person who ran for office in Canada.[91]

Kim Coco Iwamoto, Hawaii's Civil Rights Commissioner and former member of the Board of Education.[92]

Micheline Montreuil, Canadian politician, lawyer, and trans rights activist.

Nikki Sinclaire, former member of the European Parliament.[93]

Carla Antonelli, Spanish actress and politician who was the first openly transgender person to participate in Spain's legislature.[94]

Anna Grodzdka, a Polish politician and the first openly transgender person to be elected as a MP in Europe.[95]

Lauren Scott, US LGBTQ activist who ran for Nevada Assembly as a Republican.[96]

Geraldine Roman, the first openly transgender woman to be elected to Congress in the Philippines.[97]

Michelle Suaréz, the first openly transgender woman to be elected to office in Uruguay.

Tamara Adrián, the first openly transgender woman to be elected to office in Venezuela.

Luisa Revilla Urcia, the first openly transgender woman to be elected to office in Uruguay.[98]

Brianna Westbrook, a US democratic socialist politician and Vice Chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.[99]


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