Our Top Ten Transgender News Headlines From 2017
By Mila Madison
The year 2017 was one that the transgender community entered with great trepidation. There was much speculation about the challenges we would face as we began the inaugural year of the Trump administration. We entered the year with the carryover from ongoing legal battles. There were ongoing “restroom” bills, the future of the transgender rights, the gains made in 2016, all of them had seemed to be at stake as we entered the unknown of the new year.
It was a year that we saw many loses, but also some great victories. We saw the rise of white nationalism, more political division, and facts became an endangered species. There was also a resistance to these ideals. 2017 would be a year that the transgender community would be tested beyond anything that anyone could have imagined. Nevertheless, we persisted.
Today, we take a look at the top transgender news stories from 2017. To make the list, we considered the impact theses stories had on our community. We also factored in the amount of comments, shares, and views on each of the topics. In some cases, we combined ongoing stories related to a particular topic. We also feel that this list could be ordered in a number of different ways, as we had a great debate about the final order within our own ranks. In the end, we felt that from our perspective, these ten stories had the most impact on our community.
Here are our top ten transgender news stories from 2017:
10. Discriminatory Restroom Bills Defeated
2017 had begun just as the news in 2016 had been dominated, with a slew of proposed discriminatory “restroom” bills aimed at erasing the transgender community. Most notable was Texas’ SB6 bill. Texas Republicans led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Lois Kolkhorst sought a state law to ban transgender-friendly facilities in public schools and government buildings. With Patrick presiding, the Texas Senate approved the bill, but it would ultimately not come up for a vote in the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Joe Straus, who refused to let the bill come up for a vote. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott then called a special 30-day session to try and push the bill through, but it again failed to gain any traction. By the middle of August, the bill was dead. The next Texas legislative session will not be held again until the year 2019, and the Governor is not expected to call another special session before then because he is running for re-election in 2018.
In March we also saw the repeal of North Carolina’s HB2, which forced transgender people to use public facilities based on the sex listed on their birth certificate. Though the law was repealed, many saw the new version of the law as a veiled attempt at getting corporations, sports entities and performers back to the state after reports surfaced that North Carolina will lose over $3.7 billion as a result of the controversial law. The new bill left the regulation of bathroom access in the hands of the state’s legislators and it prevents local governments from passing any non-discrimination ordinances relating to private employment or public accommodations until December 2020.
9. Companies Held to the Fire Over Transgender Discrimination
Throughout the year we saw many members of the transgender community stand up against discrimination in their workplace. Two notable cases that moved forward in 2017 were against Walmart’s subsidiary Sam’s Club. The first case in question was that of Jessica Shyne Robison, a longtime employee in Tampa and Bradenton Florida, where the EEOC found that Sam’s Club subjected her to adverse terms and conditions of employment including taking disciplinary action, forcing a demotion, and creating a hostile working environment. Robison was also denied medically necessary coverage based on the fact that she was transgender. In the second case, Charlene Bost, an employee at Sam’s Club in Kannapolis, North Carolina, claimed she was harassed and ultimately fired from her position as a cashier after she began transitioning. After Ms. Bost transitioned, co-workers and supervisors began discriminating against her for being transgender. She was repeatedly subjected to a barrage of hostilities on the job, which included being wrongfully disciplined and repeatedly misgendered. Both cases are still ongoing, and Walmart had its perfect HRC equality rating suspended pending the outcome of the cases.
Tech retail giant Amazon was also sued in August by two former employees who claim they were harassed and physically threatened by the company. Allegra Schawe-Lane and Dane Lane, a married couple who were both employed by Amazon, “experienced escalating and unrelenting discrimination and harassment” by supervisors and managers of the tech retail company after an Amazon employee told co-workers Schawe-Lane was transgender. In November, Dr. Rachel Tudor, a professor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, was awarded $1.2 million after a jury found she was denied a promotion and tenure based on the fact that she was transgender. Most recently. Paul Bray, 43, filed a lawsuit alleging that employees at Starbucks coffee shops in Eden Prairie and Edina, Minnesota refused to serve him after learning that he was transgender.
8. Chelsea Manning Freed From Prison
In May 2017, we saw the release of transgender woman and Army Intelligence Analyst Chelsea Manning after she had spent 7 years in Fort Leavenworth’s men’s military prison. President Barack Obama commuted her 35-year sentence in January before leaving office, as he concluded she had served enough time for her crimes. Her sentence was the longest ever imposed for someone convicted of leaking government information. Over the years, Manning’s story became one of national interest as it sparked a debate over the treatment of transgender people serving prison time. Despite her release, her story has been one of controversy in both military circles and the transgender community.
7. Non-Binary Recognition
We finally saw some recognition for the non-binary community in 2017. In March, one of the leading sources for news across the globe, The Associated Press, officially adopted the use of gender-neutral pronouns in their writing guidelines.
In June, Oregon became the first state in the nation to allow a third gender option for driver licenses and state identification cards. Their new policy goes into effect on January 1st, 2017. In June we also saw Washington D.C. adopt a non-binary option on driver’s licenses. California followed suit in October by allowing a non-binary option on state identification cards and birth certificates. The new California law will take effect on September 1st, 2018. In December, Washington State began to consider adding a non-binary “X” option on state birth certificates, with a decision expected to come in 2018.
6. Supreme Court Decides Not to hear Gavin Grimm Case
In March 2017, the Supreme Court announced that they would not hear the much-publicized case of Gavin Grimm after the Trump administration revoked the Obama administration’s guidance that said transgender students were protected in public schools under Title IX sex discrimination laws.
Back in April 2016, Gavin Grimm won his case in the 4th district court against the Gloucester County School District in Virginia after they would not allow him to use the school restrooms that matched his gender identity. The ruling was based on the Obama-Era guidance that has since been removed by President Trump. Shortly after the 4th district ruling, a Federal Judge from Texas issued an injunction that prevented the guidelines from being implemented. If the Supreme Court had heard the case in 2017, the outcome would have impacted the rights of all transgender students in the United States.
5. Transgender Symbol Creator and Activist Holly Boswell Passes Away
In August 2017, legendary transgender writer, activist, spiritual leader, and transgender symbol creator Holly Boswell passed away. It was in 1993 that she created the transgender symbol that is universally known and recognized today in a drawing that she gave to Wendy Parker, who in turn drew it for Nancy R. Nangeroni, who would later digitize the image and create the version that we all know today.
Boswell was a student of world religions, mysticism, and philosophies. It was her belief that human evolution must transcend binary gender. She worked as a transgender peer counselor, a community builder, and developer of educational curriculums. She founded the Phoenix Transgender Support group in Asheville, North Carolina in 1986 and was well known for her innovative seminars performed at transgender conferences since 1991. Boswell founded the “Kindred Spirits” trans spiritual network in 1993. In the year 2000, she built a year-round retreat facility for gender and spirituality called the Tree House.
4. Trump Administration Dismantles Transgender Protections
As transgender people braced themselves for a tumultuous 2017, there was a glimmer of hope that President Trump might not be as anti-transgender as everyone feared after he decided not to rescind protections for LGBTQ+ federal workers in the beginning of February. It was all downhill from there. By February 10th, just one day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions took office, a hearing to lift a court injunction against the implementation of transgender protections under Title IX in schools was canceled. Just two weeks later, the Department of Justice and Education would rescind the protection guidance issued by the Obama administration.
By March, the DOJ refused to appeal a court order that stopped the enforcement of the Affordable Care Act’s anti-discrimination protections for transgender people. Also in March, the Department of Housing and Urban Development removed resource links from its website that helped emergency shelters t serve transgender people who were homeless. The DOJ would then abandon an Obama administration request to issue an injunction against North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 law. By April, the DOJ dropped its lawsuit against HB2.
By July we had President Trump’s transgender military ban. In October, The Justice Department formally determined that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not protect transgender workers from employment discrimination, thus undoing the one positive step the administration took at the beginning of February. Soon after, the DOJ issued an order that allows federal agencies and contractors to discriminate against transgender people if it is based on their personal religious beliefs.
By December, there was the removal of the word transgender (along with six other words) from the CDC documents related to there 2018 budget, Though the director of the CDC denies there is such a ban officially, not being allowed to use a word would constitute a ban.
According to a recent report, nearly one-third of President Trump’s judicial nominees from 2017 openly oppose LGBTQ+ rights. He has also confirmed more judges than the past three presidents combined. As a result, we may see more dismantling of the few protections we have left in 2018.
3. Trump’s Transgender Military Ban
Perhaps no story had more twists and turns in 2017 than President Trump’s imposed transgender military ban. It started in July when the President released a series of tweets announcing his intention to impose the ban. He would officially issue his guidance in August, directing the military to cease funding transgender related surgeries and end an Obama Era directive that would have allowed transgender people to enlist. He also directed Secretary of Defense to devise a plan regarding how to address transgender service members who are currently serving by February 21, 2018.
Over the next six months, the admiration would face multiple lawsuits aimed at preventing them from implementing the new policy. In October, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly blocked the enforcement of the ban by issuing an injunction after ruling that it likely violates the rights to due process of the transgender troops who are currently serving. Despite multiple attempts by the administration to stay the injunction, they were denied on four occaisions in federal; court. In November, Kollar-Kotelly ruled that government must allow transgender individuals to enlist openly after finding no evidence to show why the ban was necessary. Pending any last minute ruling, transgender people will now be allowed to enlist in the military starting on January 1st, 2018.
2. Transgender Candidates Win
In what was the most positive story for the transgender community in 2017, November saw the election of 8 openly transgender people to public office. Danica Roem won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates after beating opponent Del. Bob Marshall (R), who had a long history of anti-LGBTQ views including transphobic smears against Roem during the race. Both Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham became the first two openly transgender people of color to serve an elected office in the United States by winning seats on the Minneapolis City Council. Lisa Middleton (California) and Stephe Koontz (Georgia) also won city council seats. Raven Matherne (Connecticut) won a seat on the Stamford Board of Representatives while Tyler Titus (Pennsylvania) and Gerri Cannon (New Hampshire) won school board seats. 2017 became the year that the transgender community began to see actual representation in government.
1. It Was Another Record-Breaking Year for Transgender Murders
2017 is being called the deadliest year for transgender people, particularly for transgender women of color. Though we have seen an increase in awareness of the issue as more news outlets than ever are reporting on the amount of transgender murders that take place all around the world, there hasn’t been much progress on what to do about the problem. Depending on where it is being reported, you will get a different number regarding how many lives were actually lost. This also does not include all the reporting where a person is misgendered, and the fact that they were transgender will never be known.
We hope that we hear more solutions to combat this issue in 2018. A good place to start would be for the media outlets that have ceremoniously reported the ongoing tally of transgender murders each year to make sure they are properly gendering the transgender individuals that we lost in their reporting. We should be honoring their lives instead of focusing on the tally and keeping score. A big part of the problem is the misleading information promoted by news outlets that take an anti-transgender stance that are only creating more fear and violence towards the transgender community. We will most likely see this horrible trend continue in 2018 if the rights of transgender people continue to be both a political and religious issue. The increased amount of transgender murders is a direct reflection of society’s attitudes toward the transgender community. Until transgender people are truly seen as people with equal rights and protections, we suspect this issue will continue to be our top news story year after year.