Transgender people have never seen a year like 2011 -- nearly every month brought news of a major advance.
It began with a clarification that any physician can certify a passport applicant who had appropriate treatment for a gender transition. All that is now needed for a transgender person to obtain a passport is the correct name and gender.
Since passports are one of the few "gatekeeper" documents that can be used to change other forms of identification, such as driver's licenses, this change should go a long way toward lowering the rate at which trans people are involuntarily outed and exposed to prejudice.
In February, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force issued "Injustice at Every Turn," the largest transgender study ever. Documenting the many ways transgender people and their family members experience discrimination, violence and prejudice, the study was later augmented with special reports on the additional discrimination faced by African-American and Latino transgender people. Although data isn't a policy change, this study has already been used as justification for many advances and will continue to spur improvements for years.
In May, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management issued a suite of documents concerning the rights of transgender federal workers. Although federal employees account for only a small fraction of the workforce, the extremely progressive policies set the goalposts for other employers.
In June, the United Nations passed its first resolution focused solely on protecting people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The Veterans Administration also issued a directive requiring all VA facilities to provide respectful health care to transgender veterans "without discrimination." Up to 40 percent of transgender people are military veterans, and there were reports of care improving overnight.
In August, NCTE issued a Medicare fact sheet publicizing new and little-known benefits. Not only did they clarify that Medicare covers hormones used by transgender people, but they also published a special billing code (condition code 45) that, when used in conjunction with the appropriate specific procedure codes, prevents the automatic "error" rejection that usually complicates payment for sex-linked procedures. The code can also be used by health care professionals to bill insurance companies.
August also saw an advance that was 10 years in the making: the World Professional Association for Transgender Health issued its 7th Standards of Care for the health of transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people. The new standards are markedly more progressive.
In September, the Social Security Administration stopped issuing "no-match" letters telling employers when an employee has a different gender on Social Security records. Originally designed to combat domestic terrorism, the letters had instead served to out transgender employees.
In November, the White House hosted a meeting with transgender activists to discuss violence against transgender people. While FORGE announced there that it had received more than a half-million dollar federal grant to improve care for transgender crime victims, the meeting focused on what else the White House can do to address the problem. That month NCTE and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network issued a ground-breaking model policy for school districts to protect transgender and gender nonconforming students.
The year ended with news from the Human Rights Campaign that nearly one-third of the largest U.S. corporations now provide health insurance covering at least $75,000 worth of surgery for transitioning transgender employees, a rate that had quadrupled in just two years.
We're making progress.
Loree Cook-Daniels is policy and program director of FORGE.