The Transgender Rights Movement in the 21st Century

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #101, Spring 2003.

by Li Anne W. Taft

The right to define ourselves and live how we choose has been guaranteed by the U.S.constitution for more than 220 years, and is supported by numerous United Nations decrees. Yet in reality, our right to the pursuit of happiness is limited by others who want us to conform to rigid sex stereotypes. Transgendered, transsexual, and intersexed people of the 21st century can achieve happiness only with equal opportunity in the workplace and equal access to government, medical and social services?including marriage licenses.
The first two years of this newcentury have held great promise, with many regional and national newsstations, websites, movies, and television programs showing the lives, struggles, and triumphs of gender-variant men and women. This upbeat media exposure has brought new energy and greater attention to our struggle for self-preservation and created a united front for the achievement of our equal rights. As a result, the transgender rights movement has gained support from new quarters, including city and state legislators, the American Civil Liberties Union, and state civil rights groups, which have shown strong support of late for protecting the rights of all who choose to define their own sex and

But there have been sad, cruel stories about transgendered people who are beaten, abused, murdered, stripped of their marital status and inheritance, and denied equal public access to services, including bathrooms, marriage licenses, medical treatment, health insurance, and sports participation. Transgendered people and transgender communities everywhere have reacted by seeking bolder and more effective ways to change the future. These drastic events in the first years of 21st century have encouraged transgendered people to seek an understanding of our past struggles and gains and to demand the right to define our own futures.

I believe that by looking back at the most important transgender events of the past 95 years, we will be able to see more clearly the progress of our rights movement. With this knowledge, we and our supporters can better prepare for our uncertain yet promising future in this new century.

The following is my short list of the top transgender stories of the last century. They are presented in descending chronological order, 2002-1910.

2002 The Boston City Council passes a measure adding gender identity and expression to the city?s anti-discrimination law and becomes the eleventh U.S. jurisdiction in 2002 and the 50th
US jurisdiction overall to protect transgendered people in anti-discrimination laws. 41 cities, seven counties, and the states of Rhode Island and Minnesota have made 2002 ?a landmark year for passing transgender anti-discrimination laws? (Lorri L. Jean, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force).

1999 A Texas court rules post-operative transsexual Christie Littleton?s eight-year marriage null and void, because she is assumed to have chromosomes which are the same as her husband?s, making it against Texas? ban on same-sex marriages.

2000 State legislators in Colorado follow the leads of California and Decatur, Georgia and pass a safe school bill that includes gender identity. California?s Dignity for all Students Act, passed in 1999, protects both lesbian and gay and gender-variant students.

1999 Georgina Beyer becomes the first openly-identified transsexual to be elected to the New Zealand Parliament.

1997 The John/Joan case receives international attention after it is reported in Rolling Stone magazine by John Colapinto. More fully described in Colapinto?s As Nature Made Him, this story of a boy who was raised as a girl on the advice of psychologist John Money helped to change the traditional definitions of gender by reaffirming the importance of biology after he reassigned himself as a male.

1995 Tyra Hunter, a transsexual woman involved in a car accident in Washington D.C, dies because of inadequate medial care after medical treatment is withheld by a firefighter at the crash scene, and later inattention at the hospital. A court decision in 1997 awarded damages to Hunter?s mother for negligence and death resulting from discriminatory treatment by the EMT team.

1993 Brandon Teena, a transman, is murdered by two men in Nebraska who are later convicted of a hate crime. Boys Don?t Cry, a movie drama based on Brandon?s life and death, was released in 1999. Actress Hillary Swank gained critical review and won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Drama.

1993 Minnesota becomes the first state to pass an anti-discrimination law that includes transgender language. ?It?s Time, America? arises from the movement.

1990s Studies are done on the human brain, which show a possible physical cause for transsexualism.

1990s Because of the Internet, transgender support and advocacy groups and educational organizations are established in every state (except, seemingly, the Dakotas? Ed.).

1975 Richard Raskind shocks the tennis world by changing genders and becoming Ren?e Richards. The N.J. Supreme Court later rules she can compete professionally in womens? tournaments.

1973 The John/Joan case was first reported in research papers by Dr. Milton Diamond (See 1997 above).

1969 Stonewall riots in New York City are instigated by transgendered and gay individuals who refuse arrest and protest ongoing police harassment and hostility.

1966 With funding from Reed Erickson, a wealthy female-to-male transsexual, The Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic opens in Baltimore. The historic opening makes sex reassignment surgery available to citizens in the U.S. for the first time. 2,000 applications are received the first year.

1965 A review of the medical literature describes 18 of 100 male-to-female transsexuals who had tried to remove their own sex organs.

1952 Christine Jorgensen, who had undergone ?sex-change? procedures in Denmark, becomes the first person widely known to be transsexual.

1931 Dr. Felix Abraham, a physician at the Hirschfeld?s Institute for Sexual Science, publishes the first scientific article on human transsexual surgery.

1920 The Catholic Church bestows sainthood on Joan of Arc, now understood by historians to have been
persecuted for her gender variance as a woman who dressed, acted, talked, and looked like a man.

1910 Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, a Berlin physician, publishes a pioneering work on gender variance and articulates a modern definition of gender. ?Absolute representatives of their sex are,? he wrote, ?only abstractions, invented extremes.?

This is not a complete, final list, for there are many other stories that can be viewed as the top transgender stories of the 20th and 21st centuries. Please feel free to add your own knowledge of international, national, or local events. Please circulate this list widely to help educate both transgendered and nontransgendered people alike on the history of our rights movement.