Transgender people took a quantum leap forward in the past few weeks. And if history repeats itself, gays and lesbians will have our gender-bending allies to thank, again, for advancing a grand initiative to secure equal rights and protection under the law — for all people regardless of gender identity — and even for those of us who simply want to marry someone of the same sex.
Just last week, Argentina’s unanimous Senate vote granted its people the right to change their legal and physical gender identity simply because they want to, no longer requiring citizens to endure degrading judicial, psychiatric and medical procedures before doing so.
Just a few days ago in the United States, a landmark Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision went into effect, protecting employees who are discriminated against because they are transgender.
The EEOC concluded that “Intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, discrimination ‘based on … sex’ and such discrimination … violates Title VII.”
So, if you are among the masses of people who believe it is queer for a young boy to dress like Daphne from Scooby Doo, or that some men enjoy wearing make-up, or that many women wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress, you may be correct. It’s queer and ok.
After all, the periwigged fellows who framed our country didn’t fracture the foundation of society because they were wearing wigs and make-up while they were founding a nation. They weren’t gender bending because they were expressing an accepted norm at the time. But why should it be normal to get nasty today if someone expresses their right to gender self-determination?
Just because someone is genetically or medically male or female shouldn’t mean they must act out prescribed gender roles to be free of the fear of termination or eviction.
The EEOC rightfully has surmised that terminating a woman’s employment because she isn’t woman enough is no different than firing a woman because she isn’t a man. Soon, people will realize firing a man because he is gay is firing him because we expect him to love someone of the opposite sex. It’s just about sex.
In fact, in a case where a man was harassed at work for being engaged to another man, the EEOC decided the complainant had a plausible sex-stereotyping case since his coworker’s actions were motivated by the stereotype that marrying a woman is an essential part of being a man.
History will remember Argentina’s bold moves on social issues like legalizing same-sex marriage or providing individuals the right to gender self-determination as simply affording individuals rights that should have always been, and are, fundamental. It might not be immediately apparent, but the EEOC’s determination is a watershed development.
We expect women to wear dresses or clothes made for females; we expect men to stay out of stilettos and away from eye shadow; and we impugn expectations on others to restrict their loving partnerships to persons of the opposite sex. We all have inalienable rights, and as much as gender equality is linked to the sex of an individual, an individual’s freedom to act like himself or herself includes being able to act like a person of the opposite gender — or marry someone of the same gender.
Once again, the transsexuals, transvestites, drag queens and cross-dressers — the people so often “bargained out” when employment or housing laws are sought, for sexual orientation — have taken their fight to the street and are leading the rest of us in this parade. It won’t be long before denying two women a state-issued marriage license will be as absurd as requiring women to have at least one man on a state-issued business license.
So, if you are too “mainstream” to be comfortable with who is making advancements on Main Street, it might be a good idea to get comfortable with the back seat. Because you aren’t driving this progress.
Tony Plakas is the CEO of Compass, the gay and lesbian community center of Lake Worth and the Palm Beaches.