Trans Legal Trailblazers Macy and Glenn Speak Out for Sweeping Educational Efforts

Vandy Beth Glenn on the balcony outside Rep John Lewis' office in the Cannon House Office Building.
Vandy Beth Glenn on the balcony outside Rep John Lewis' office in the Cannon House Office Building.

Last week I described the bandwagon effect as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) joined Freedom to Work, Gender Rights Maryland, the Transgender Law Center, TrueChild and the LGBT legal organizations in recognition of the sweeping national impact of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Macy v. Holder decision on the trans community's inclusion under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This positive change was provoked by comments made by EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum to BuzzFeed reporter Chris Geidner in response to a graphic created by the National LGBTQ Task Force that stated unequivocally that such broad protections do not exist.

This week I would like to follow up and flesh out the importance of a comment made by Tico Almeida of Freedom to Work in that same BuzzFeed piece:

I would like to see the big national LGBT organizations use their ample budgets on a public education campaign to promote the historic nature of the Macy decision so that more LGBT Americans will know that the EEOC is open for business and willing to help.

Similarly, in the vacuum of national advocacy, when those with the broadest reach don't use their resources and platform to educate and inform, it will be as if those protections do not exist, or they will exist only for the few lucky enough to have discovered the truth on their own.

I asked Mia Macy, the complainant in the case that bears her name, about her thoughts regarding her case and its impact over the ensuing 30 months. This is her response:

Macy v. Holder is the federal protection so many in the LGBT community have been dreaming of. Not only does it protect transgender individuals it protects anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, including those non-conforming to gender stereotypes. It has paved the way for two executive orders and changed this country forever. LGBT groups should have been rallying behind and celebrating this decision. Instead they decided to support a bill [ENDA] that was dead in the water.

I've sacrificed so much, this has always been about getting the word out. For many transgender individuals, employment is life or death. Suicides and misery from losing a job or not willing to risk coming out. Macy v. Holder is the only recourse for transgender employees discriminated against, in all fifty states. It's not just a federal worker protection! Contact your local or state EEOC office for more information. You have recourse, you have a voice, you matter. This case is not just a landmark decision, it has devastated my chances to ever find work, and left me shunned by the very people I swore to protect.

Clearly Mia has been devastated, as well as confused by the lack of engagement of our national organizations. Over the past two years she has been a guest panelist, speaker, and interviewee multiple times, yet little action has resulted.

I was curious about what another of our courageous legal trailblazers, Vandy Beth Glenn, thought as well. She was the complainant in a case brought against her employer, the Georgia General Assembly, which ended up in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2011. That circuit, which covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida, ruled in her favor on the basis of the 14th Amendment, as well as citing the importance of Title VII. Vandy Beth shared:

When I testified before the House Education and Labor Committee in 2009 on the need for ENDA, I was certain it would become federal law by the end of the year. Five years later, I no longer expect it to happen at all.

Fortunately, in December 2011 I won my federal lawsuit, Glenn v. Brumby, without help from ENDA. Mine was an equal protection claim under the 14th Amendment, but in her ruling, 11th Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett wrote "discrimination against a transgender individual because of his or her gender non-conformity is gender stereotyping prohibited by Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause." In short, discrimination against transgender people is sex discrimination, and therefore is illegal under Title VII.

This immediately became a binding precedent, protecting transgender and gender nonconforming public-sector workers, like me, in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Four months later, in 2012, the EEOC cited my case's ruling in its opinion for Macy v. Holder, extending Title VII employment protections to all employees. It's illegal, everywhere in the U.S., to fire an employee for being transgender, or even for being an effeminate man (gay or straight) or a masculine woman (lesbian or straight). I'm proud of the role I played in making this happen.

It occurred to me at the time that the presumption that men want to date women and women want to date men is a form of gender stereotyping, and that these precedents would someday be used as an argument to extend Title VII employment protection to gays and lesbians as well as transgender people.... Full employment equality may come to the full LGBT spectrum sooner than anyone has predicted.

I don't know why so many LGBT groups have been so shy about celebrating this fact.

So here's an opportunity for our national full-service advocacy and education organizations to step up and create real change in the lives of those transgender people who need the most help. This is an opportunity to educate the general population that discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression, which encompasses tens of millions of people, is illegal and harmful to the bottom line. This is an opportunity to humanize and overcome ignorance and fear so that there is no desire to deny employment in the first place, or to obstruct trans persons from using their skills to make this a stronger and more equitable country.

I don't mean to focus on HRC, but a few months ago President Chad Griffin went on the record with a great speech to the trans community at Southern Comfort, where he said:

I promise you here, with my sweet Southern mom and all of you as my witness, that we won't stop fighting until everyone in this room and everyone across this country has the equal protection, equal opportunity, and equal dignity that we all deserve as human beings.

It's now incumbent upon HRC and its sister organizations to take up that fight to ensure that "everyone in this room and everyone across the country has the equal protection, equal opportunity and equal dignity" inherent in Title VII and the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The fight can no longer be fought in silence.