My day job involves running a Twin Cities nonprofit that helps low-income (read: poor) people connect with lawyers and legal resources. Recently, our accomplishments were featured in a local newspaper article that quoted me repeatedly.
Nowhere in the article is there any reference to me being transgender. When I later asked the reporter if she was even aware of my gender variant status, she answered, “yes.” She then added that it wasn’t relevant to the story about my nonprofit and thus she didn’t include it.
My reaction: We’ve come a long way, baby!
At least in the Twin Cities and Minnesota. Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Minnesota each have laws which prohibit discrimination because of someone’s race, ethnicity, sex, gender, and all the other usual characteristics that make people different. Additionally, they’ve made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation—two boxes that I’d check in a Lady Gaga second.
In other words, I live in an oasis with a capital “O.” Yes, it’s also the land of Ten Thousand Snowmen, but it’s an Oasis nonetheless.
Given the breadth of freedom here, it’s easy to forget about the other forty-nine states. Every day, I interact with successful gay and lesbian people—legislators, company owners, doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. It’s nothing to hear about another man’s “hubby” or to see a lesbian gleefully sharing her daughter’s baby picture.
There are at least three area nonprofits that are dedicated to transgender health— physical and emotional. There’s even a bar that trans folk have claimed as their own.
I’m also living proof that it’s not only possible to survive as an “out” trans person, but actually thrive. My nonprofit job takes me into the bastions of traditional older white male privilege—law firms, the judiciary, and corporate America. Most of the people I encounter have never knowingly interacted with a transgender person before me. In nearly thirty months on the job, I can honestly count on three fingers the number of times someone’s used the wrong pronoun.
What makes this even more remarkable is that while I look like a fairly attractive middle-aged woman (we call that “passing”), I can’t get rid of my darn man-voice. Thus, as I’m apt to admit, I’m only “98 percent passable.”
Still, that doesn’t seem to matter to the people who deal with me.
On occasion, I talk to groups about living as a trans person. I recently presented to a large national employer that’s headquartered in Minneapolis with a branch office in, of all places, Montana.
After reminding the audience that transgender people have legal protection in only eighteen states (including the District of Columbia), I offered a hypothetical: what if I worked for the employer and was such a good team member that the employer wanted to transfer me to Montana to head that office? I then asked the audience to consider that I wasn’t “legal” in Montana—without a city or state law to protect trans people like me, a landlord could legally deny me housing; an insurance agent could legitimately refuse to offer me car insurance; and the local gynecologist could safely deem me too exotic to treat.
In other words, someone in power could say, “I don’t like who or what you are and I’m not going to do business with your kind.”
The audience members registered shock. Their collective reaction: Really? Such discrimination—and attendant hatred—are possible today? And absolutely legal?
My answer: Yup. They sure are.
With this year’s brutal winter, I’ve given thought to moving somewhere warm.
Nowhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line is there a state with laws that protect transgender people. Why would I ever want to move from somewhere that protects me to a place that doesn’t? To a place where hating me is legal?
A year and a half ago, Vice President Biden called the push for transgender equality “the civil rights issue of our time.” Incrementally, we trans people are acquiring rights and protections. I’m confident that in twenty years, we’ll be talking about how most states, if not all, protect transgender folk.
That’s twenty years from now. I may not be around then, but others will be.
As we collectively march toward the goal of legal equality, please share with your family, friends, and most importantly, employers, about how it’s still possible for a landlord to deny housing to a trans person in most of the United States. It’s not right nor is it fair—most people readily understand this, regardless of where they stand on the gender spectrum.
As for me, I’ll stick it out in the Oasis despite the snow, ice, and subzero temps. That’s way better than being kicked out of a warm-weather apartment because I sound like a dude.
Ellie Krug is the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org