New gains for transgender rights

The Task Force celebrates new victories this week in the area of nondiscrimination protections for transgender people.

The Howard County Council voted last night to make Howard County, Md., the third jurisdiction in Maryland to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. It follows in the footsteps of Baltimore City and Montgomery County. The measure passed by a 4-1 vote. Howard County Executive Ken Ullman is expected to sign the ordinance, which will go into effect 61 days after it is signed.

The measure bans discrimination against transgender and gender nonconforming people in the areas of housing, employment, law enforcement practices, public accommodations, credit, health and social services. The Task Force joined several other national and local organizations last month to provide testimony in support of the ordinance, citing statistics from its groundbreaking report released earlier this year, Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.

With the passage of this ordinance, one-third of Maryland’s population is now covered by gender identity and expression-inclusive legislation, setting the stage for future efforts to enact a statewide gender identity discrimination ban.

Monday also brought a win to the city of Columbia, Mo., which became the sixth local jurisdiction in Missouri to ban discrimination based on gender identity. The six-member City Council voted unanimously to include gender identity protections in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations. Columbia joins Kansas City, St. Louis, Clayton, Olivette, and University City in prohibiting gender identity discrimination in the state.

Today, meanwhile, it was announced that the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Ga., unanimously upheld a lower court opinion holding that the Georgia General Assembly illegally discriminated against Vandy Beth Glenn, a transgender woman.

Vandy Beth was fired from a job she held for two years after informing her supervisor that she planned to transition from male to female. The supervisor responsible for Vandy Beth’s termination admitted in court documents that her transition at least partly led to her termination. Lambda Legal filed the case in 2008, claiming that her termination violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection guarantee because it treated her differently due to her nonconformity with sex stereotypes and her medical condition. The court sided with Vandy Beth, stating, “All persons, whether transgender or not, are protected from discrimination on the basis of gender stereotype.”

This holding is very important in the area of employment discrimination, but also highlights the need to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, creating a federal prohibition of gender identity discrimination in employment throughout the country.