Today, March 8th, 2011 is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. Today we remember past feminist struggles and accomplishments and recommit ourselves to creating a world in which there is gender justice. As a feminist, I feel honored to work for the Transgender Law Center. The Transgender Law Center is at the heart of a movement of transgender people, our families and our allies who recognize that out struggles for equality and authentic self-expression are all connected and related.
Sexism is at the essence of the discrimination that transgender and other people who don’t fit gender stereotypes face. As women, as feminists, and as transgender people, our equality is deeply linked and we should be working together to achieve it. Narrow and outdated definitions of gender can turn everyday places – school, work, the doctor’s office – into hostile environments for people who don’t conform to current stereotypes, including people who transition from one gender to another.
This reality hit home for me recently when I was talking with Dawn Dickinson, an inspiring transgender woman from rural Northern California. Dawn owns an outdoor power sports equipment and services company that has been in her family since the 1950s. Dawn has run the company since 1996, and in the past two decades, her profits were steady. In 2009 Dawn made the brave decision to live as her authentic self and transitioned from male to female. She knew she would face hostility in the male-dominated field in which she worked, but she simply could no longer go on living in a way that was not true to herself.
Since Dawn’s transition, her business has seen a 60% decline in profits. She was forced to lay off her entire staff and had to reinvest personal assets, putting her family’s financial well-being at risk. Dawn told me that she heard customers say they would rather drive 200 miles than continue to do business with her after her gender transition. She overheard one customer ask, “How can he know what he is selling if he doesn’t even know what he is?” It broke Dawn’s heart that many of her customers completely discredited her decades of experience simple because of her gender.
Dawn’s story reminds us of the struggles that so many women working in male-dominated fields face. It reminds us that women continue to make less money than men across the board. It reminds us that women have shouldered the brunt of our economic downturn. And, it reminds us that even when transgender people and those of us who don’t fit narrow gender stereotypes are comfortable being who we are, society often isn’t, and we face harassment and discrimination.
As we continue to make progress on so many fronts, equality for the transgender community still lags behind. We need to work together to change that. One way to lessen discrimination against transgender women and all transgender and gender non-conforming people is by passing, strengthening, and effectively implementing nondiscrimination legislation. Assemblymenber Toni Atkins recently introduced the Gender Nondiscrimination Act (AB 887) into the California Assembly to do just that. Current California laws protect people from gender-based discrimination, but our non-discrimination laws are often confusing for employers. AB 887 would strengthen and clarify California’s non-discrimination laws by specifically listing gender identity and gender expression as protected categories. Please join us in supporting the Gender Nondiscrimination Act as we change the law and transform the legal system to allow us all to be who we are.