(IPS) Federal Court Grants Legal Victory to Transgender People

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This article first appeared on the Inter-Press Service website at: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=106224

ATLANTA, Georgia, Dec 14, 2011 (IPS) – When Vandy Beth Glenn, a transgender woman formerly known as Mr. Glenn Morrison, told her supervisors at the Georgia state legislature where she served as a legislative editor that she would start coming to work dressed as a woman, she was fired.

In her quest to get her job back and in a major victory for transgender people, Glenn has convinced the federal Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to establish transgender people as a protected class under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Glenn, who was born a biological male, was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder in 2005 and that same year began transitioning to become a woman.

In 2007, when Glenn – then still known at work as Mr. Morrison – informed her supervisor in the Georgia General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Counsel that she would begin arriving at work dressed as a woman, she was fired by Sewell Brumby, who heads the office.

Brumby later said in depositions that it bothered him because “he was a man dressed as a woman and made up as a woman”.

Brumby also said, “It’s unsettling to think of someone dressed in women’s clothing with male sexual organs inside that clothing.”

Glenn first filed her lawsuit in July 2008 with the help of Lambda Legal, a legal organisation whose mission is “to safeguard and advance the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and policy work”.

A federal court first granted her a victory in August 2010. The recent ruling by a three-judge panel at the federal appellate level, issued on Dec. 6, 2011, upheld the lower court’s ruling.

The ruling by the Court of Appeals court has even greater weight than the first ruling. Judge Rosemary Barkett wrote the ruling, with Judges Phyllis Kravitch and William Pryor concurring.

At issue in this case was whether the Equal Protection Clause, which grants equal protection on the basis of a number of classes including sex, extends to transgender people.

The court noted that previous courts had ruled that equal protection on the basis of sex meant that employers could not discriminate on the basis of a person’s conformity or nonconformity to expectations of how that person should behave due to his or her sex.

The court cited cases where discrimination had been ruled to have occurred where a woman had been a denied a promotion for acting too “macho” or men have been discriminated against for “wearing jewellery that was considered too effeminate, carrying a serving tray too gracefully, or taking too active a role in child-rearing”.

“A person is defined as transgender precisely because of the perception that his or her behaviour transgresses gender stereotypes,” the court wrote. “Accordingly, discrimination against a transgender individual because of her gender-nonconformity is sex discrimination, whether it’s described as being on the basis of sex or gender.”

“Although the past four years have been both uplifting and frustrating, I have remained optimistic that we’d prevail – and certainly a 3-0 decision from a federal appeals court is quite a compelling statement about the discrimination I endured,” Glenn said in a statement.

“I’m extremely grateful to everyone at Lambda Legal and I hope this decision means no one else will have to go through what I did. I’m very happy!” Glenn said.

“Certainly what the ruling is – to very specifically the transgender community in Georgia and the other states covered by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals – they really seem to have cause to be able to file discrimination suits,” Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, told IPS.

“It’s a very significant legal victory, especially for the transgender community. It should be seen as a wake-up call to businesses and government entities,” Graham said.

He noted, however, that it is remains important for the federal government to pass the proposed Employee Non-Discrimination Act to protect employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, for the State of Georgia to pass similar protections and for individual businesses and agencies to pass internal policies prohibiting discrimination.

“The victory bolsters our argument that these are important protections to put in place,” Graham emphasised.

“It’s a really important, great decision and it helps move us towards employment security for transgender people. It’s further proof that discrimination against transgender people is illegal,” Mara Keisling, who is executive director of the National Centre for Transgender Equality and is also transgender, told IPS.

“Having a court, particularly a conservative court in a conservative circuit, is really a big deal,” Keisling said.

Meanwhile, Glenn is waiting to see whether the State of Georgia will appeal to the full nine-judge appeals panel or even further, to the Supreme Court of the US.

Glenn went back to work, however, on Friday, Dec. 9, pending possible appeal.

(END/2011)

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