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No Compromise on Transgender Rights

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November 1, 2016
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M. Dru Levasseur

In 2007, Lambda Legal joined more than 400 organizations to draw a line in the sand to not support the any nondiscrimination bill that leaves transgender people behind. Almost a decade later, we are having the same fight.

Leaving out public accommodations in a nondiscrimination bill — particularly at this moment in history where the spotlight is on transgender people in restrooms — is, in effect, leaving transgender people out of the law.

“We will come back for you later” doesn’t work. Not then. Not today.

What good is a nondiscrimination law that leaves out protections for transgender people to be in public life? Public accommodations are everything. It is the ability to leave your house and exist in the world as who you are. To take up space — to literally be seen in public. To not be forced to go home to pee. 

I believe in the effectiveness of incrementalism. Hell, I do formal legal equality work. But at this point in the movement, we cannot afford to leave transgender people behind. And to be clear, this does leave transgender people behind.

Let us send the message that transgender people deserve respect and dignity, not just at work or housing, but in public life.

Nondiscrimination laws not only protect people, they also send people a message. They put people on notice about how to treat other people.

Let us send the message that transgender people deserve respect and dignity, not just at work or housing, but in public life.

Lambda Legal had an internal conversation about where we stand on this issue. My colleagues, who deeply care about making progress, discussed the value of incrementalism. But once they heard and understood that lowering the bar on public accommodations would mean excluding trans people from protection, they changed their minds.

Yes, we have work to do to educate the general public about who transgender people are. So let’s get to work on that. Even if we are unable to pass these laws right now, we must not send the message that transgender people deserve anything but full equality.

At this point in our movement, we are not going to stand behind a message that says it is acceptable to leave transgender people out so we can make some advances.

That’s not going to happen. Not on my watch.

Transgender Rights