We hear it a lot these days, don't we? The term "marriage equality" is used to describe the right of gays and lesbians to marry, "workplace equality" is used to describe states and jurisdictions which have laws which protect the rights of LGBT workers, and there's even a national civil rights organization which calls itself "Equality Matters". As common as it now is to hear the term "equality" thrown around with such abandon in our national conversation about American LGBT civil rights, is it really accurate or even fair to describe many of our community's most recent political gains with this term?
Is it really accurate to describe a situation like in New York, Massachusetts, or other states where gay and lesbian citizens now enjoy full anti-discrimination protections and the right to marry, but transgender citizens are denied such basic civil rights protections, as "equality"?
Let's start with some basic definitions. Merriam-Webster defines the term "equality" as "the quality, fact, or state of being equal". Obviously, for a full definition we need to define the word "equal" as well. The first two definitions of the adjective form of the word seem to provide the best answer:
1. "exactly the same in number, amount, degree, rank, or quality"
2. "not varying from one person or part to another"
The clear truth is that when only the wealthiest, most populous, and most politically favored groups are protected from discrimination in the workplace, in housing, and in public accommodations while poorer, less politically potent and popular minorities are denied those same rights and protections, it doesn't qualify as anything that can accurately be defined as "equality".
You can call the right of gays and lesbians to marry in a given jurisdiction "marriage parity," "the right to marry," and many other things, but when the breadwinners of straight, gay, and lesbian families are legally protected from discrimination in their workplaces while trans workers can still be fired, denied employment entirely, or be subject to hostile working conditions which would be illegal to impose upon other workers, those breadwinners and the families which depend on them are, by definition, not equal to their non-trans co-workers, and the term "equality" cannot be truthfully applied.
When a law-abiding, taxpaying family can be legally evicted from their rented home for no other reason than because that family includes a transgender-identified member while their gay, lesbian or straight neighbors are protected by law from being treated in the same discriminatory way, that's not a situation which can be reasonably termed "equality".
When gay and lesbian Americans are free to serve openly in our nation's military but transgender Americans are still automatically declared unfit to serve for no other reason than because they are transgender, you can't realistically call that "equality" either.
The only way you can define the situation we currently have in most of this country as "equality" is if you believe that transgender Americans don't matter, that our lacking these basic American civil rights is of no consequence to the greater struggle of all Americans to strive for a better life.
Just as it is not "equality" for gay and lesbian workers in 29 states to be denied the same workplace civil rights their straight co-workers enjoy or the right to marry in the 44 states which still refuse that right to their gay and lesbian citizens, it's no more accurate to use that term to describe the states which do protect their gay and lesbian citizens from unjust discrimination but continue to exclude their transgender citizens from those very same protections.