Editor's Note: Guest blogger Barbra Casbar Siperstein was the first transgender member appointed and confirmed to the Democratic National Committee, and is currently a member of the DNC Executive Committee. She's a former deputy vice chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and a former president of the New Jersey Stonewall Democrats, and is also a published author, small business owner, veteran, and a grandparent.
The last full week in July was an incredible week for transpeople in America.
On Monday, July 21, President Obama signed an executive order doing two things. First, it added "gender identity" to an existing equal opportunity executive order (no. 11478), thus protecting transgender federal workers. (President Clinton amended this order in 1998 to include sexual orientation.) It institutionalized and strengthened an existing federal policy which started under the Obama administration.
Secondly, and more importantly, it prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination for employers that work with the federal government as contractors or subcontractors. Specifically, the order amends the existing federal contractor nondiscrimination executive order, Executive Order 11246, to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It is estimated that this covers 28 million workers across the country. Although most contractors already have LGBT non-discrimination employment policies, some large and medium-sized companies do not -- Exxon Mobil, Leggett, and Platt are three examples that come to mind.
The executive order aims to fill gaps between Title VII sex discrimination protections and a handful of state laws that ban anti-LGBT discrimination. Today, only 18 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have gender identity employment non-discrimination laws on the books.
There seemed to be a compromise that no additional religious exemptions be included beyond those already contained in the existing executive orders, despite requests by some religious leaders to do so. At the same time, the order does not take action requested by some civil rights groups to rescind an executive order issued by President George W. Bush expanding exemptions for any "religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society" that allows such contractors to hire people of "a particular religion."
But the bottom line is that millions of LGBT Americans now have explicit workplace protections that can ensure that they and their families aren't cut out of a job because of who they are and who they love.
Unfortunately, with the gridlock in Congress and a small group of House Republicans controlling Speaker Boehner, a federal Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) that might have protected over 100 million workers has been stalled. When ENDA's religious exemption became controversial, LGBT advocates declared it dead; it appears that this was the final incentive for the president to take executive action.
It was a personal honor for me to be among over 200 LGBT activists, allies, organization heads, individuals, government employees, and local, state and federal elected officials present at the historic signing at the White House.
On Wednesday, July 23 in New Jersey, Garden State Equality announced the naming of Andrea "Andy" Bowen, a transgender activist with a proven record of nationally notable policy victories, as the group's new executive director. Andy is one the first openly transgender executive directors of a statewide LGBT civil rights organization.
Andy came to GSE with a brief yet intense resume and represents a new and young generation of trans leaders with a positive and open attitude. She came from D.C., where as a grassroots leader she played an integral role in engineering key victories for transgender justice.
The GSE Press release states:
"As Social Policy Organizer with DC Trans Coalition and Policy Associate at the National Center for Transgender Equality, she led advocacy efforts toward successful passage of Washington DC's landmark law easing the process whereby transgender people change their birth certificates and names.
"Through community organizing efforts, she engineered a lawsuit against a homeless shelter that was denying entrance to transgender women. Most recently, she worked with community members to ensure that DC health insurance policies, including DC Medicaid, cover the breadth of transgender-specific health care needs.
"Andy previously worked for the Ironworkers Union, undertaking research and community engagement activities for the Organizing Department. She has a Master of Social Work degree from the Catholic University of America, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in History and Certificate in Women's Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park."
As a former Garden State Equality vice chair, I'd like to congratulate the group for "walking the walk" and being the model of a truly inclusive statewide LGBT organization.
Last week truly was incredible for the transgender community. Here's to many more incredible weeks ahead!
Exclusive photo of President Obama by John Becker for the Bilerico Project.