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Is transgender equality 'the civil rights issue of our time'?

LGBT rights supporters march in front of Congress.
LGBT rights supporters march in front of Congress.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

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How will transgender rights change during President Obama’s second term? In October 2012, Vice President Joe Biden called transgender equality “the civil rights issue of our time,” but although the president’s second term inauguration speech directly addressed gay rights, he has yet to speak about transgender rights.

The term transgender is used to describe people whose biological sex does not match their self-perceived gender, and who may have non-conforming gender expression. Transgender and gender non-conforming people frequently face discrimination in healthcare, public schools, public spaces, and the workplace. Transgender youth have statistically higher rates of homelessness, suicide, and self harm.

The Obama administration has made some contributions to transgender rights already, including adding gender identity to the non-discrimination clauses for federal housing. The the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been introduced in Congress every year since 1995, and has included protections for non-conforming gender identity and expression since 2011, but has never yet passed. 

How could transgender rights change in the next four years, socially and politically? What kind of federal legislation might feasibly pass -- what kinds of protections should be provided? Should gender identity discrimination be handled on a national level, or by individual states?


Shannon Minter, lead counsel in the California Prop 8 appeal case and legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco

Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review