Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a momentous decision that ended this nation’s long history of government-sanctioned discrimination against same-sex couples in the context of marriage. The ACLU, which represented several plaintiffs in that case, is proud to have been a part of such a historic decision that welcomed same-sex couples fully into the American family.
While we should celebrate this victory, this decision did not end the struggle for LGBT equality. Indeed, while high-profile people like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox have brought newfound visibility to transgender issues, many transgender men and women cannot lead open and visible lives for fear of discrimination and violence. Across the country, transgender people are denied a place to live, employment, and access to public places and businesses simply because of who they are. And at least 22 transgender women – 19 of them women of color – have been murdered in this country since January.
Health care also remains highly stigmatized and largely unavailable for many transgender people. Data from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 28 percent of the more than 6,000 transgender respondents postponed medical care due to discrimination, and another 48 percent did so because they could not afford it. Both private and public insurance plans continue to have blanket bans on coverage for health care related to gender transition. Even where there has been progress on coverage generally, insurance coverage for care that transgender women need is still elusive.
Despite this rampant mistreatment, most of our federal civil rights laws do not explicitly protect people from discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression. And the majority of states – including New Hampshire – do not have explicit protections either.
Comprehensive legislation was introduced in Congress in July that would ensure full federal equality for all LGBT people. This bill, aptly named the Equality Act, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity among the prohibited categories of discrimination in employment, housing, education and places of public accommodation.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rep. Annie Kuster are among more than 200 co-sponsors in the Senate and House. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Frank Guinta should join their Granite State colleagues in supporting the Equality Act. Given the current state of Congress, however, prospects of the bill passing this session are grim.
Here in New Hampshire, we have state level protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment, and public accommodations. However, gender identity is not yet listed as a protected status, which leaves our transgender residents vulnerable to discrimination.
It is time for gender identity protections in New Hampshire. Our two United States senators believe so; both Sen. Shaheen and Sen. Ayotte voted for gender identity employment protection at the federal level in 2013. And Portsmouth has made efforts to include gender identity protections for its municipal employees, recognizing that fighting discrimination benefits the entire community.
As the presidential primary approaches, we encourage Granite Staters to ask the presidential candidates whether they will fight for the civil liberties of all of New Hampshire’s residents, including those who are transgender. Legislation protecting transgender residents from discrimination is critical to ensuring their ability to be themselves without experiencing harm. It is also long overdue.
Gilles Bissonnette is the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire.
Stephanie Ramirez is a law student at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a former legal intern at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire.