A Review of the National Center for Transgender Equality's Decade of Accomplishment

As I take my leave from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), rolling off after six and half years of board service, I'd like to highlight the progress that the transgender community has made over the past decade, progress in which NCTE played a role. Founded a decade ago by Mara Keisling with a board that included trans leaders such as Diego Sanchez and gay leaders such as Stephen Glassman, NCTE filled a niche in the federal policy world. No trans organization had ever attempted to set up shop to help craft legislation and federal policy. At the time, in 2003, having the opportunity to do so, let alone the access needed to be successful, seemed like a dream.

That was the year that the U.S. invaded Iraq. It was two years before the Republicans introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment. And while significant progress on trans rights was picking up momentum on the state and local levels, thanks in part to the efforts of local activists supplemented by the legal expertise of community lawyers like Jennifer Levi, Liz Seaton and Lisa Mottet, it seemed a pipe dream that a federal policy boutique to advance trans rights could succeed.

But it did. After laying the foundation by working with supportive allies in the D.C. area for years and waiting for the election of a Democratic president and Congress, NCTE found that 2009 provided the opportunity to create a secure place for trans persons in federal policy. The following is a list of some of the achievements of the organization:

  • Modernization of the Social Security Administration's process for changing gender ID and bringing to a halt the agency's routine presentation of a no-match warning to a trans person's prospective employer when her current ID does not match the ID in the SSA database.

  • Streamlining the process by which the State Department updates passports, including the removal of a genital surgery requirement.
  • Public recognition by federal agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and others that gender-identity discrimination would not be tolerated.
  • Coverage for trans persons by all health-care providers who accept federal funding (which means virtually all health-care providers).
  • Trans health care coverage opened to all veterans.
  • A law to reduce the incidence of rape in prison, an issue of great concern to incarcerated trans persons.
  • Creation of the Transgender On-campus Nondiscrimination Information (TONI) Project to assist current and prospective college students in accessing up-to-date information about campus trans inclusion policies.
  • Creation of the landmark National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), in association with the Task Force.
  • Collaborating with SAGE to create resources for seniors, and with GLSEN to create resources for trans and gender-nonconforming students.
  • Development of immigration detention guidelines to minimize the misery of trans persons caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare while seeking asylum.
  • Creation of shelter guidelines for homeless youths and adults, in association with Lambda Legal and the Task Force.
  • Work on critical identification documents in addition to passports: birth certificates by working to revise the Birth Certificate Model Law, and drivers licenses by working with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators to modernize the process for recognizing gender changes.
  • NCTE was at ground zero of the battle over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in 2007, fighting for an inclusive bill that included gender identity and expression and developing a coalition of over 350 organizations called United ENDA that opposed the stripping of gender identity from the bill that ultimately passed in the House. The education begun then, in the fire of the often-emotionally-charged debates within the LGBT community, has led to an ENDA bill today that is inclusive by default.

    The education over the necessity for trans inclusion begun in earnest in 2007 also inspired our legal advocates to proceed with cases to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression, culminating in the historic Mia Macy v. Eric Holder decision of April 2012, providing trans and gender-nonconforming persons full legal rights in all 50 states and territories. Those victories, be they in federal court or the EEOC, have propelled the trans community far ahead of the non-trans gay community with respect to basic civil rights, so that we now fight alongside our allies to make sure, through passage of ENDA, that we leave no gay behind.

    As you can tell, the last decade was remarkably productive, much more so than any of us who were present at the creation could have envisioned. Today, with the organization's 10th anniversary soon upon us, a strategy for the next decade needs to take form. The world has changed, and the structures of our advocacy groups are changing, however reluctantly, along with it. Whereas once multi-issue organizations were the norm, today single-issue campaign-like organizations are increasingly taking the lead.

    I wish my colleagues in NCTE well as they move into the future, and I exhort them to elevate in their hearts one thing only: Keep your eyes on the prize of full trans equality. It won't be easy; it never is.