Tamsyn Waterhouse

Tamsyn Waterhouse, who had been a private pilot since 2003, called Transgender Law Center’s legal helpline in 2009 after she was told she would have to undergo burdensome psychological testing in order to renew her medical certification to fly. “I was honest with the Aviation Medical Examiner about my gender transition, and that’s when I was informed that I would have to undergo extensive psychological testing that non-trans people did not have to endure. It would have cost thousands of dollars. One psychiatrist described it as ‘every test in the book.’”

In response, Transgender Law Center, in collaboration with the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, began to advocate for policy changes to address this discrimination. Waterhouse’s cause was also supported by Waterhouse’s Congressman, Mike Honda, and Congressman Barney Frank. “I could have paid the money and tried to go through the process on my own,” noted Waterhouse. “But I wanted to make a difference for all transgender pilots.”

The FAA regulatory decision is a part of a growing trend among the courts, government, and private employers in removing barriers transgender people have historically faced in accessing employment and services. Most recently, in a case brought by Transgender Law Center, Macy v. Holder, the Employment Equal Opportunity Commission ruled that transgender people are covered under Title VII’s employment discrimination protections.

“Tamsyn had the courage to stand up and advocate for herself and other transgender pilots. Her willingness to share her story illustrates the power one person can have in making a difference. I am thrilled that Transgender Law Center was able to work with her to remove these excessive barriers,” said Masen Davis, Executive Director. “Transgender pilots, you are cleared for takeoff!”

Waterhouse now works at Google. She is currently brushing up on her flying expertise by training in the Bay Area, a busier airspace than she experienced during her rural upbringing, and hopes to be recertified soon. “One of my fondest childhood memories was flying with my dad in his small plane. I eventually hope to earn my commercial license,” she said.

Transgender Law Center’s legal helpline, which Waterhouse initially called, assists more than 1500 people each year in accessing appropriate identity documents, employment, healthcare, and housing.

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