Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Obama's made
progress on trans issues

Guest Opinion

President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally (Photo: Obama for America)
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"They are supposed to represent us, too." A transgender woman spoke these words to me as we stood gazing at the federal buildings in Washington, D.C. during an advocacy event I helped organize when George W. Bush was president. That event was an epiphany for her because she realized that she, too, had every right to be included in a government "of the people, by the people, for the people," but that goal seemed so far away. What has happened since that day is truly remarkable – transgender people have gained so many new protections against discrimination during President Barack Obama's term in office and that is why I've joined with other trans people and our allies to support Trans United For Obama, a national volunteer effort to activate transgender people, their supporters, families, and friends to re-elect the president. These efforts include fundraising, voter registration, and other grassroots efforts aimed at getting the message out that Obama must be re-elected.

Over the past four years, the Obama administration has made tremendous strides in living up to the promise of the American system of government. We have seen solid progress in laws and policies which impact transgender people every day of our lives. Literally, the world has opened up more fully to us because we can now obtain passports and immigration documents without having to undergo surgeries that many of us cannot afford and some of us do not want.

In a world where transgender people continue to face rampant discrimination in all areas of life, we now see these much needed protections added by the Obama administration.

At home: The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that nearly 1 in 5 transgender people had experienced homelessness during the course of their lives because of their gender identity; now, federal housing programs bar discrimination against transgender people, helping to ensure that this safety net exists for transgender people and our families as well.

At work: The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission clarified that the federal laws that ban gender based discrimination at work include protections for transgender people, as well as anyone who breaks sex stereotypes. When this administration began, we could be fired for no other reason than our gender identity in all but a handful of states; now, trans and gender non-conforming people across the country have a federal agency to file claims with to address discrimination against them. We still need to work for the passage of clear federal legislation to ban workplace discrimination, so that employers will proactively change workplace policies and cultures. Barack Obama fully supported a federal bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity even before he ran for the presidency. His administration has also banned discrimination based on gender identity in federal employment and provided information to help create safe working environments for the government's transgender employees.

At school and on the streets: For the first time in our nation's history, federal law protects transgender people since Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. In addition, the Obama administration has worked with members of our community to talk about ways to end violence against transgender people, including taking steps to address the bullying that many transgender young people endure.

In health care: Health programs that receive federal funds are now barred from discriminating against transgender people. The federal government is now collecting data on the health needs of LGBT Americans to address the ongoing disparities in health care we experience. Transgender veterans are benefitting from new policies that afford them equal access to the services they need and have earned. New grant opportunities are being made available for services that address the health care of transgender women of color so disproportionately impacted by HIV.

In our government: Obama has appointed three openly transgender people to serve in his administration, a first in our nation's history. And several government agencies are now collecting data about the well-being of transgender people in our country and across the world.

In the past four years, Obama has begun unprecedented work for the rights of trans people in our country. There is still much more to do before transgender people are truly equal in our country. Obama has gone so much further than any president in our history to protect the rights of transgender people in our country and around the world. We need to keep this movement going until the day when we and our families are safe and respected in all walks of life.

You can read more about the president's advances for transgender people on his campaign's blog: To join Trans United for Obama, visit


Justin Tanis is a co-author of "Injustice at Every Turn," the report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

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