Transgender Discrimination – “The Civil Rights Issue of our Time”

Those are the words spoken by Vice President Joe Biden to the mother of a transgender woman in 2012, when she asked for his help. It is not an overstatement, given that recently in Sacramento, California, Kamala Harris was presented with a proposed ballot initiative attempting to make it legal to kill gays and lesbians "with bullets to the head." Harris refused to submit the application and took the matter to Court. Judge Raymond Cadei found the idea of such an initiative to be "patently unconstitutional," noting in his opinion that submitting the matter for a vote would be "inappropriate, waste public resources, generate unnecessary divisions among the public, and tend to mislead the electorate." Harris herself said, "This proposed act is the product of bigotry, seeks to promote violence, is patently unconstitutional and has no place in a civil society."

While this obviously unlawful attempt to "recriminalize" the LGBTQ community was rapidly shut down, such visceral hatred can rear itself in much more subtle and destructive ways, and the level of animus aimed at the transgender community is particularly egregious. Among the most vulnerable among us, the men and women of the transgender community are often singled out for acts of violence and prejudicial treatment, and they are statistically found to have the highest suicide rate in the country. It is believed that some 41% of persons in this group attempt suicide at some point in their lifetimes.

It is no wonder, given the treatment they receive in society at large.

Fortunately, here in California, there are laws in place specifically geared to protect members of the transgender community. In 2012, The Transgender Anti-Discrimination Law was passed, but unfortunately, many in the transgender community remain unaware of their rights. In 2014, the School Success and Opportunity Act went into effect, extending gender identity and expression discrimination protection to transgender and gender-nonconforming K-12 students in public schools.


In California, being transgender puts you in a protected class,. As a result, many forms of discrimination against you as a transgender or gender-noncomforming person are prohibited by law, and you can seek protection from such discrimination in the following ways:

A transgender person cannot be fired, harassed for being transgender, made to dress to conform to the sex assigned them at birth, or refused consideration for a position, in the course of his or her employment.

A transgender person cannot be discriminated against when applying for housing; nor can a person be evicted for being transgender.

A transgender person may use the restroom appropriate to the gender with which he or she identifies in all businesses open to the public, such as restaurants, office buildings, and entertainment venues. This rule also applies to using the restrooms at his or her place of employment.

A transgender person cannot be denied treatment on the basis of being transgender by a physician or hospital.

A transgender person applying for housing or accommodations in a shelter that is run by a religious institution* cannot be refused housing on the basis of being transgender.

In California's public schools, transgender students must to be treated as the gender with which they identify in manner of dress, inclusion in sports and school programs and the use of bathroom facilities consistent with their expressed gender identities.

Many transgendered persons remain in the dark about the remedies that are available to them. Because of the difficulty reaching a majority of these most vulnerable in our society, enormous transgressions continue to occur in the public sector. Transgender people are continually denied medical treatment. For example, Jay Kallio's breast cancer diagnosis was ignored by his primary care physician whose "first impulse" was to send him to a psychiatrist. Mr. Kallio has since been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

Then there is the story of Jessi Dye, whose employer asked her a ridiculous question. Hired to work at a nursing home, and excited to begin training as a nurses assistant in a company-sponsored program, Jessi began her first day full of hope and excitement for the future. That all came to a crashing halt when she was called into the office by the nursing home's manager, Robert Summerford. As soon as she walked into his office, he asked her the question that put her stomach in knots. "What are you?" he said. Because Jessi's drivers license did not yet match her gender identity, she was fired before she ever got a chance.

Singled out at a much higher rate than the general population, transgender and gender-nonconforming persons, according to the recent survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, suffer 90% more harassment at their place of employment than does the cisgender population. Just googling "transgender discrimination stories" produces well over a million results. That pretty much says it all.

The stories are many, and the law will remain a poor tool with which to fight discrimination, when so many do not know the protections available to them. Ultimately, Jessi was afforded her day in court and prevailed on a discrimination claim, but Mr. Kallio's delay in treatment may have resulted in his current fight with terminal cancer. There are those of us in the legal profession who are willing to join the battle and prevent these stories from multiplying. If you are a transgender individual, and you feel you are being discriminated against, contact an attorney and explore your claims. We are here to help.

*It should be noted that there are exceptions granted to some religious organizations and educational organizations, and these institutions may currently refuse to employ members of the LGBT community as a whole.

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