Labor Day: Rights for the Transgender Community

Labor Day: Rights for the Transgender Community

Labor Day is a day of celebration with family and friends over hamburgers and a cold beer. It signals the end of summer, a very short summer if you live in my town, Chicago. Yet, in the upcoming months there will be much positive change for the transgender community.

The U.S. Military is making progress toward lifting a ban on allowing transgender women and men to serve in the military. A six-month study on the affect this may have on our Armed Forces was announced in July by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. The transgender community is the last protected class to be considered for military duty. The Pentagon’s plan is designed to remove one of the last discriminatory hurdles in who can serve in the military, treating gender identity on par with race, religion, color, sex or sexual orientation.

For the many in the transgender community who have served or are currently serving in secrecy, it is a welcome development by the U.S. government and the natural next step to equality for the transgender population. “Transgender men and women in uniform have been there with us, even as they often had to serve in silence alongside their fellow comrades in arms,” Carter said in his statement. “The Defense Department's current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions.”

In 2011, Gary Gates, research director at UCLA's Williams Institute, which is devoted to public policy questions related to gender identity and sexual orientation, estimated that 3 of every 1,000 U.S. adults are transgender — at least 100 times the presumed rate in the 1980s. His estimates are based on demographic tweaks to the results of a 2008 nationwide survey of more than 6,500 transgender people that was conducted by activist groups.

Among those assigned male at birth, Gates found that 32% of the transgender population had served in the military, compared with 20% of men in the general population. For those assigned female at birth the figure was 5.5%, compared with 1.7% of all women.

In 2011, nearly 23 out of every 100,000 patients in the VA system had a diagnosis of gender identity disorder, which is used to describe gender identity issues that lead to significant levels of psychological distress and has been associated with high suicide risk. That's five times the rate in the general population. In 2011, the VA began providing hormone therapy and other non-surgical treatment for transgender patients, a strong motivation for some people to seek out a diagnosis.

The Obama Administration continues its support of the transgender population to ban discrimination against transgender people by introducing a broader proposed regulation by including “gender identity” within the protective umbrella in the Affordable Care Act. The new rule basically says that insurers can not exclude transgender people from other services people have.

The new regulation may not be final for many months since public comments on this issue extends through November 6. Officials are seeking comment on a range of issues, including religious conscience protections for service providers.

It has been a long fight for equal rights and acceptance for the transgender community. Many have lived in the shadows, afraid to speak up as to their gender identity, for fear of losing their military status, jobs and family.  The journey to become one’s authentic self has been difficult in a world that is often un-accepting of those who don’t conform to gender standards. This is all rapidly changing. On this day, there is much to celebrate for the transgender community. Let’s raise our glass to freedom to be who we are.

Happy Labor Day!

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