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Guest Post: Oh Hey, Transgender Workplace Protections

When I woke up this morning and began the daily ritual of checking my phone’s notifications, I was greeted with several news articles about a new Supreme Court ruling that was handed down. “What could it be?” I thought. “Something on abortion? Perhaps legal immunity?” Nope, it was a ruling upholding LGBTQ+ workplace protections.

It slowly dawned on me, a transgender woman living in the American south, that I now had legal protections in employment via the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (also known as Title VII) thanks to this new landmark ruling.

On top of all that, Justice Neil Gorsuch ended up writing the majority opinion, according to the Associated Press. The very man who has former Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat ended up making this, not a 5-4 ruling, but a 6-3 ruling. I definitely didn’t have that on my 2020 bingo scorecard.

I woke my wife up with the news, and she was happy as well. In a state like Arkansas, lesbians and transgender women were unlikely to ever see any kind of workplace protections at the state level. In fact, my state’s lawmakers went so far as to craft legislation that invalidated any municipalities’ attempts at LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination ordinances of their own. That’s my home for ya.

And while I’m happy to now have those protections enshrined at the federal level, far out of reach of my state’s Legislature, I can’t help but reflect on the roller coaster of LGBTQ+ headlines over the last couple of weeks.

On Friday, the Trump administration finalized a rule that overturns protections established under the Obama administration for transgender people at risk of facing sex discrimination while seeking health care, according to USA Today.

There was no need for changing the rule, other than to allow some medical professionals and facilities to legally decline treatment for transgender individuals, folks who are already likely carrying the mental, emotional, and physical burdens of gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a “conflict between a person's physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.”

You want to know how that manifests? A wide variety of symptoms including depression, anxiety, distress, restlessness, and more. So let’s go ahead and toss on fear of a medical professional declining treatment on top of all that. Seems fair.

I’m sure the rule change will face a legal challenge, and who knows? Maybe we’ll all be back to watch the Supreme Court for a ruling on it this time next year.

So as I thought about how relentless the Trump administration had been in advancing anti-LGBTQ+ policies, my attitude on the workplace protections ruling grew a little more dry with each passing hour. But that’s how I process things. I try to be pragmatic, but cynicism often mixes in there as well.

It’s Pride Month, but our president’s administration has been busy doing things like filing Supreme Court briefs arguing that an organization that receives taxpayer funds should be able to refuse to work with same-sex couples and others whom the group considers to violate its religious beliefs. That’s according to NBC News.

Bully for any LGBTQ+ voters who were convinced the president would be an ally because he was photographed holding up a rainbow flag in 2016. His history is full of actions that show otherwise, like during 2019’s Pride Month when NBC News reported his administration rejected applications from U.S. embassies seeking to fly rainbow flags on their flagpoles.

Being transgender already comes with a host of challenges, like my birth state requiring a surgical procedure and a court order to change the sex marker on my birth certificate. This is ridiculous. It’s my identification document, but I need to go under the knife before my state will allow me to change it so it’ll more accurately reflect my identity.

Why doesn’t Arkansas start requiring other surgeries to change identification documents? Want to change the name on your driver’s license? Sorry. You need to get your wisdom teeth removed first. It doesn’t really have anything to do with your identity, but we could all use a few more obstacles in life. As Calvin’s father would say, it builds character.

So sorry if I’ve soured a little bit on Monday’s good news. But considering I’m still governed by representatives that are, at best, mildly hostile to people like myself, my thoughts on the ruling have lowered to, “Oh hey! Transgender workplace protections. That’s neat.” I might still be denied medical care or housing rights (don’t look up Arkansas’ record on tenant rights), but at least I have this going for me.

Let me conclude by saying I recognize my fortune. I have a great job with a boss and coworkers that understand the importance of pronouns and names. My wife has made it no secret to her employer that she’s married to a woman, and they haven’t let her go yet. I live in an area that’s progressive by Arkansas standards, so I feel safe walking the streets (or I would if we weren’t in a pandemic). And on a good day, I might even carry some passing privilege, so as to avoid random harassment while grocery shopping or dining at a restaurant (again, during normal times).

Not everyone in Arkansas is hostile to LGBTQ+ folks. But our state is still full of leaders who responded to Monday’s Supreme Court ruling by writing, “The decision today stating a Christian funeral home must allow a man to continue working in their business while dressing as a woman is insane. There are two powerful false gods that have been erected by the Supreme Court in our nation: 1. The False God to Abortion. 2. The False God to Homosexuality.”

What separation of church and state?

I want to hope for a future where both my federal and state government aren’t openly hostile to LGBTQ+ citizens who work and pay their taxes just like their straight cig-gendered neighbors. But right now, I’d even settle for half of that, because it doesn’t look like the American south is going to change its treatment of folks like myself anytime soon.

The happiness that comes from a ruling like Monday’s doesn’t take long to fade into the disappointing realization that legislation and rulings like it are not the norm in this country right now. They’re simply a rare exception.

C. M. Lanning is a journalist in Fayetteville at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. She’s earned a master’s degree in multimedia journalism and has been published in the literary magazines Nebo and Foliate Oak. Her poem "Epistles from the Year 2973" was published in Nebo, while her short story "One Final Note on Life" was published in Foliate Oak. When Lanning isn’t writing, she’s probably watching a movie, playing video games, reading, or out running. Her novel, Funky Dan and the Pixie Dream Girl, is slated for release in 2020. She can be found on Twitter @critical court and on Facebook @C.M.Lanning.

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