Articles Posted in Transgender discrimination

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Meggan Sommerville, a manager in Hobby Lobby’s Aurora, Illinois store, has filed a lawsuit against Hobby Lobby for gender identity discrimination because she claims that it will not permit her to use the women’s restroom.  For years, she says that her boss has insisted that she cannot use the women’s restroom because she is a transgender woman.  “Hobby Lobby’s taking the fairly absurd position that in order for Meggan to be able to use the female facilities, she has to undergo reconstructive surgery,” her attorney, Jacob Meister, explained.

Sommerville, who has worked for Hobby Lobby since 1998, transitioned from male to female in 2009 and legally changed her name the following year.  For purposes of her health benefits, provided by Hobby Lobby, she is classified as female.  But, when she used the women’s restroom at work, she received a written disciplinary warning.  It is unclear whether Hobby Lobby’s decision not to let Sommerville use the women’s restroom stems from its owners’ decision to run their business consistent with their religious beliefs.

“I’m just looking to be treated equally with every other female in the company—not just in the store, but in the company,” Sommerville said.  “If they recognize me as female for certain things, why can’t they recognize me as female for everything?”

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Last week, the City of Houston, Texas, passed an ordinance that prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Houston is the fourth largest city in the nation, with a population much larger than the entire state of Maine.  Under Texas state law and federal law, sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected characteristics.  Thus, for LGBT people who work in Houston, this new law provides important protections that they did not previously have.

The Houston City Council voted 11-6 in favor of the law.  Opponents and proponents of the law were very vocal in advocating their positions.  The City Secretary could not recall a longer list of speakers who wanted to testify before the Council in her six decades serving as Secretary.  Many opponents of the ordinance invoked their religious beliefs and they vowed to gather enough signatures to place a referendum on the ballot before next election in order to repeal the ordinance.

Houston’s mayor, Annise Parker, is openly gay and she has an openly gay son.  “This is not the most important thing I have done or will do as mayor, but it is the most personally satisfying and most personally meaningful thing I will do as mayor – not just for myself, but for my children and for all the other mothers’ children out there who have an opportunity to have redress if they are discriminated against here in the city of Houston,” Mayor Parker said.

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Connecticut has become the most recent state to prohibit employment discrimination against transgendered individuals. On June 4, 2011, the Connecticut Senate passed a bill prohibiting such discrimination and the Governor of Connecticut has promised to sign it into law. In a statement released after the vote, the Governor of Connecticut said, “[t]his bill is another step forward in the fight for equal rights for all of Connecticut’s citizens, and it’s the right thing to do. It’s difficult enough for people who are grappling with the issue of their gender identity, and discrimination against them has no place in our society.”

Maine has prohibited employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity since 2005. Earlier this year, Nevada enacted a law that prohibits employment discrimination against transgendered individuals. Massachusetts’ legislature is currently debating a similar bill. Recently, Tennessee went in the opposite direction of Maine. It passed a law which nullified a Nashville ordinance that prohibited discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Tennessee’s law is now the subject of a court challenge.

There is evidence that discrimination against transgendered individuals is rampant. According to the Human Rights Campaign , “in six studies conducted between 1996 and 2006, 20 to 57 percent of transgender respondents said they experienced employment discrimination, including being fired, denied a promotion or harassed.” Connecticut will be the 15th state to pass a state law that prohibits employment discrimination against transgendered individuals.

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