Is Trangsender Discrimination the “Civil Rights Issue of Our Time?”

By November 13, 2016LGBTQ Civil Rights

Vice President Joe Biden has called discrimination against transgender individuals the “civil rights issue of our time.”

With such a prominent and outspoken advocate in place, the issue of transgender discrimination is finally beginning to receive not just attention but the kind of respectful attention that could lead to positive change.

In this article, learn more about why transgender discrimination might fairly be called the biggest as-yet unresolved civil rights issue of this time period.

Civil Rights Defined

According to FindLaw, “civil rights” is a term that denotes the right of each individual citizen to receive the following in regards to living, working, education, housing and other circumstances:

  • Equal treatment.
  • Freedom from unfair treatment.
  • Freedom from discrimination.

Civil rights encompass protection on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, age, religion, national origin and other similar characteristics.

Yet, while these protections are outlined and enforced at the federal level, still individuals and groups deserving of such protection must often fight for it before protection is granted. It could be said that the protection of transgender persons from discrimination is just such a civil right issue, and it is being fought for right now.

Transgender Civil Rights Violations

is-trangsender-discrimination-the-civil-rights-issue-of-ourTo date, the laundry list of civil rights violations either actively perpetrated or simply permitted towards transgender persons continues to grow.

One of the most visible and prominent such issues is that of transgender bathroom use. Even as individual states continue to propose legislation to permit transgender persons to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, so too do many of these pieces of legislation get voted down as often as they get ratified.

As well, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in 32 U.S.A. states, it is still perfectly legal to fire a worker just for being transgender. Even worse, in a recent survey, 47 percent of those polled stated that they have in fact experienced workplace discrimination (not being promoted, not being hired, or being fired) for being transgender.

What Happens When Two Civil Rights Protections Clash

In recent news, the media has been reporting on potential outcomes when the civil rights protection of freedom of religion comes face to face with LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual transgender) issues.

The Atlantic recently ran a story highlighting a case where a family business with strong Baptist ties was permitted to fire an employee who was going through gender transition. At stake was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law that permits religious-based businesses to uphold their beliefs in their business practices.

In this case, decided in 2016, freedom of religion quite clearly won out over any employment protections that might have been afforded under sex discrimination. This is because at this point, the courts do not yet include transgender discrimination as sex discrimination. In fact, they are not sure where – if anywhere – to place transgender-related issues in any walk of life.

Similarly, just last year, The Nation reported on numerous incidents when LGBT workers were fired for everything from wearing a pride ribbon to talking with students about HIV.

Perhaps most revealing, 2011 Task Force survey revealed the following:

  • A full 90 percent of transgender individuals stated they have experienced mistreatment on the job.
  • 47 percent stated they have either lost out on job opportunities or promotions or have been fired for being transgender.
  • 19 percent stated they had been turned down for housing for being transgender.

Meanwhile, as many as one-quarter of transgender workers earn $25,000 or less – this represents less than 50 percent of the average income for adults nationwide.

National Organizations Fighting for Change


A number of national nonprofit organizations have been founded for the specific purpose of fighting to end LGBT discrimination and uphold equal rights. These organizations include (but are not limited to):

  • The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF).
  • The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).
  • The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
  • The Center for American Progress (CAP).

The protections these and other organizations are fighting for span the gamut from an end to bullying and harassment (both in person and online) to the right to gainful employment regardless of gender orientation.

There are three different levels where change is needed: federal, state and local government. In 2014, President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT workers for federal agencies and federal contractors. The order also prohibits an exemption based on religious beliefs.

But this only offers protection from discrimination to a small minority (approximately 20 percent) of the estimated 9 million Americans who identify as LGBT. To date, Congress has continued to gridlock during attempts to pass a full legal and enforceable version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Until such time as the discrimination is resolved, the dangers to LGBT individuals continues to be very real, with up to 40 percent (or 4 out of every 10) LGBT persons reporting at least one attempted suicide due to discrimination in education, the workplace, housing and daily life.

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