Trans Rights Advances in 2011

Transgender people have never seen a year like 2011 – nearly every month brought news of a major advance. 

It began with a clarification that any physician can certify that a passport applicant has had appropriate treatment for a gender transition, all that is now needed for a transgender person to obtain a passport in their correct name and gender.   Since passports are one of the few “gatekeeper” documents that can be used to change other forms of identification like driver’s licenses, this change has huge implications for lowering the rate at which trans people are involuntarily outed and thereby exposed to prejudice.

In February the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force issued Injustice at Every Turn, the largest transgender study ever.  Documenting the many ways transgender people and their family members experience discrimination, violence, and prejudice, it  was later augmented with special reports on the additional discrimination faced by African-American and Latino transgender people.  Although data isn’t a policy change, this study has already been used as justification for many 2011 advances, and will continue to spur improvements for years.

In May the U.S. Office of Personnel Management issued a suite of documents concerning the rights of transgender federal workers.  Although only a small segment of the U.S. workforce is federal employees, the extremely progressive policies set the goalposts for other employers.

In June the United Nations passed its first resolution focused solely on protecting people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Veterans Administration (VA) also issued a Directive requiring all VA facilities to provide respectful health care to transgender veterans “without discrimination.”  Up to 40% of transgender people are military veterans, and there were reports of care improving overnight.

In August NCTE issued a Medicare fact sheet publicizing new and little-known benefits.  Not only did they clarify that Medicare covers hormones used by transgender people, but they also published a special billing code (condition code 45) that, when used in conjunction with the appropriate specific procedure codes, prevents the automatic “error” rejection that usually complicates payment for sex-linked procedures.  Critically, this code can also be used by health care professionals who are billing insurance companies other than Medicare.  August also saw an advance that was 10 years in the making: the World Professional Association for Transgender Health issued its 7th Standards of Care (SOC) for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People.  The new SOC are markedly more progressive, and include a call for “social and political climates that provide and ensure social tolerance, equality, and the full rights of citizenship” for transgender people.

 In September the Social Security Administration stopped issuing “no-match” letters telling employers when an employee has a different gender on their Social Security records.  Originally designed to combat domestic terrorism, the letters had instead served to out transgender employees. 

In November, the White House hosted a meeting with transgender activists to discuss violence against transgender people.  While FORGE announced there that it had received more than a half-million dollar federal grant to improve care for transgender crime victims, the meeting focused on what else the Administration can do to address the problem.  That month NCTE and the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network issued a groundbreaking model policy school districts could adapt to protect transgender and gender non-conforming students.

The year culminated with news from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) that nearly 1/3 of the largest U.S. corporations now provide health insurance covering at least $75,000 worth of surgery for transitioning transgender employees, a rate that had quadrupled in just two years.  We’re making progress.

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