By: Thomas Lewis
Decades from now, I’m going to look back at the second week of May 2016 as a historic turning point for transgender equality. I have little doubt that it will be remembered as the week transgender Americans had their rights recognized and that our crawl toward equality found surer footing.
This morning, the federal government finally released guidelines for public schools on how Title IX protects transgender students. It’s actually pretty simple: Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. When schools force transgender students into the wrong bathroom or tell us we have to use a separate bathroom that is sex discrimination plain and simple. But for some reason, state governors and lawmakers just don’t get it — or don’t care.
The new guidelines issued by the Departments of Justice and Education remind them of what they should already know: discriminating against transgender students is against the law. These guidelines should send a clear message to lawmakers who ignore the rights of transgender students like me and single us out for harmful discrimination at school, the place where we should all feel most comfortable.
Transgender Americans scored another victory today when the federal government announced that medical care for transgender people, including care related to gender transition, cannot be denied under the Affordable Care Act. Transgender people no longer have to worry that we won’t get the healthcare we need simply because of who we are. The victory, however, didn’t just protect the transgender community. The new rule also protects women – cis and trans - and all LGBT patients who previously had no protection from the federal government against discrimination in health care.
And last but certainly not least, the federal government announced they would challenge North Carolina’s harmful anti-transgender law in federal court. In a historic show of support for the transgender community, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said she will stand with us in our fight to stop Gov. Pat McCrory and the North Carolina Legislature’s attack on transgender people.
North Carolina is on the wrong side of history, and the law should be repealed so that transgender North Carolinians can comfortably use the restroom they have always used without fearing they will be targeted for harassment or even arrest. Attorney General Lynch said it best: “What we must not do — what we must never do — is turn on our neighbors, our family members, and our fellow Americans, for something they cannot control, and deny what makes them human.”
A lot has happened since I worked with the ACLU to convince South Dakota’s governor to veto what could have been the country’s first statewide, explicitly anti-transgender law. My home state made the right decision, but transgender students in states like North Carolina were not so lucky and needed the federal government’s protection. No matter where we live, all transgender students deserve to be treated just the same as our classmates. That’s why I am so happy the federal government is beginning to make that clear to public schools all across the country.
After a long, painful fight, our lawmakers are finally starting to realize that it’s time to put the awful history of injustice against transgender people behind us. My generation will soon be the leaders of this country and they understand that equality is one of our most sacred values. While the struggle is far from over, I believe this week proves that we are entering a new era where transgender people are treated like human beings with our civil rights firmly in place.