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When I sat down to write about 2010, I wanted to tell you how horrible the year has been. Indeed, I could not help but look at the personal situations of my friends and myself, and conclude that the year was one of increasingly bad times.
It's not to say there isn't some truth to that. With the election year politics, the Tea Party, the return of the right and a president who seems to be willing to compromise away well, everything, one does find themselves feeling that there are not even table scraps left.
Certainly, to borrow a refrain heard from many, this is not the change that was voted for in 2008.
Meanwhile, the volume was raised within our community. Transgender people pitted themselves against our gay and lesbian siblings in an increasingly vocal war of words. People fought over inclusion, over the still dead Employment Non-Discrimination Act, over "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and – more than anything – over a single six-letter word: tranny, and when and who could use it. The latter fight seems to be a battle not yet truly over.
I would be remiss if I did not also mention that anti-transgender violence continued at the same rates as many other years. We saw reports like that of the murder of 17-month-old Ray A. Jones, allegedly killed by his 20-year-old babysitter because this supposed caregiver was "trying to make him act like a boy instead of a little girl."
On top of all this was a study put out this year by the National Center for Transgender Equality in conjunction with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Its findings were equally distressing, with half of those surveyed reporting discrimination in the workplace, transgender people being twice as likely to live in poverty, and harassment being common in school.
In the midst of such awful news, however, there were some positives. At first, I wished to dismiss them as mere crumbs. Yet the more I looked at them, the more I had to realize their overall importance.
One – actually coming in December 2009 – was the appointment of Dylan Orr as special assistant to Assistant Secretary of Labor Kathleen Martinez in the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor. That was followed shortly by the appointment of Amanda Simpson to a senior technical adviser post in the Commerce Department under President Barack Obama. Both openly transgender people have now weathered the first year in their positions, with initial attempts to derail them largely going unnoticed.
Second was the tax season victory of trans woman Rhiannon O'Donnabhain, with the courts agreeing that treatment for gender identity disorder is indeed medically necessary and deductible from one's taxes.
The third was in the middle of the year, as the U.S. Department of State issued new policies around passports. The change in rules allows for a transgender person to get the gender marker changed on their passport with certification from an attending medical physician.
Finally, in the November 2010 election we saw transgender candidates victorious. Stu Rasmussen won re-election as mayor in Silverton, Oregon; Kim Coco Iwamoto was re-elected to the Hawaii Board of Education; and Victoria Kolakowski was elected as a Superior Court judge in Alameda County.
Each of these shares a common thread. The appointments of Simpson and Orr, as well as the victories at the ballot box, demonstrate that we do have the ability to serve in public office. The religious right particularly took Simpson to task, but has long since moved on. Rasmussen and Iwamoto showed that their transgender status did not affect their ability to serve their areas well, and Kolakowski has broken new ground, becoming the first elected transgender trial court judge in the country.
Meanwhile, in somewhat mundane matters like passports and taxes, we've seen transgender people gain. The new rules on passports are the first real instance where the federal government has clearly understood the need for transgender people to be recognized legally in their preferred gender regardless of surgical status, while tax law now acknowledges the necessity of transgender-related procedures.
These aren't the sorts of victories one can easily shout from the rooftops. None of these stories exist above the fold in major newspapers, although Kolakowski's win garnered national and international media attention. Tax law, passports, and school board elections are, well, considered mundane by many. These are not as big a deal as, say, the repeal of DADT, a victory that will not benefit transgender people directly, but will have some indirect benefits to us. It is not like the passage of a transgender-inclusive ENDA, nor any other big-ticket protections for transgender and gender variant people.
Yet that is the importance of them as well. These may be viewed as less than extraordinary, but their value is huge. More so, that they're so far out of the mainstream radar speaks well to each of us being viewed as, well, just people. People who need rights, or can serve the president and the people of this country.
Don't get me wrong. After some 16 years, I would much prefer to see ENDA pass. But knowing that transgender people can write off medically necessary expenses and can get a passport in their preferred gender without surgery are huge advances in their own ways. Likewise, the fact that we can be mayors, school board members, judges, and presidential appointees should send hope to transgender people young and old, showing that they, too, can reach for greater things.
So in 2010, perhaps it was really about the quieter victories over the shouting matches – and maybe these are stepping stones ahead of advancements in 2011 and beyond. So ever onward I say, to bigger and even better things to come.
Gwen Smith wishes all the happiest of new years. You can find her online at www.gwensmith.com.