Beyond the Binary

This week Caitlyn Jenner wowed the world with her courageous and stunning transition. An Annie Leibowitz photograph on the cover of Vanity Fair introduced her to the world. The Hollywood glitz and glamour of that act may seem a million miles away for a trans-man in rural Iowa struggling to come out, or a mature trans-woman in Des Moines grappling with health insurance. It did, however, open up a space for a national conversation about transgender issues and the transgender community. The response to Caitlyn's debut may become one of the most powerful moments in trans understanding and acceptance. We applaud both Caitlyn Jenner and Vanity Fair magazine for having the audacity to do the right thing.

One Iowa advocates for the rights of transgender persons in law enforcement, academic, political, religious, corporate and community settings. The emergence of a transgender equality movement impacts many institutions whose leadership is, quite frankly, unprepared and uneducated. One Iowa's cultural competency trainings familiarize staff about LGBT issues and terms, generate awareness of the need for policies and trainings and share federal, state and local nondiscrimination laws.

At its core the education builds welcoming, respectful, safe and legal environments for the transgender person. The culture of the setting: business, house of worship, school, lock-up, public accommodation, etc., must learn to adjust attitudes and beliefs, to create inclusive environments.

The cis community (non trans) must learn to accept trans individuals no matter how they choose to express their transition. That person whose gender identity differs from their birth sex may be on the beginning of a transition, at the end or somewhere in-between. Not everyone has the resources or the need to adhere to cis-normative ideas of how one should look. They may use hormone treatments and may or may not seek sex reassignment surgery to match their internal gender identity. And they may have a sexual orientation that is straight, bisexual, gay or lesbian relative to their internal gender identity. They may or may not change their name and pronouns. Their identity may not be easily determined.

We often hear that some folks 'have a problem' with transgender people. While we understand the complexities, especially for those with deeply held beliefs, we know that discrimination is, quite frankly, always discrimination. And it needs to stop.

In Iowa we have a state non-discrimination law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. All people living in Iowa are protected from such discrimination. And as a result of a 2012 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruling, the federal sex discrimination law, Title VII, now protects employees nationwide from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression.

Just this week The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued new guidelines for businesses. Employees who are transgender will have the right to have access to the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. This simple, clear directive is a major step forward toward equality in the workplace.

The trans-narrative for many Iowans has just begun. If we approach the movement for trans equality with respect and integrity, we will do the right thing. We have the protection of our laws. Now we need to change hearts and minds.

For information about One Iowa's Cultural Competency programming, please email Keenan Crow at