ACLU pushes for transgender rights

BY KRISTEN PRZYBYLSKI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 6, 2004

Michigan transgendered individuals are trivialized by the lack
of anti-discriminatory laws and specific health care coverage,
American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Kara Jennings said.

Jennings is currently working on the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual
and Transgender Legal Project in Michigan.

In an effort to educate themselves about transgender rights, the
University of Michigan Stonewall Democrats hosted Jennings at their
meeting in the Michigan Union last night.

Transgendered individuals often identifies with a gender other
than the one that they were born with, Jennings said. Sometimes,
transgendered individuals seek medical procedures to change
genders.

But in Michigan, most insurance companies won’t permit
transgendered individuals to have a “gender reassignment
treatment.”

“The health care issue has been really problematic,”
Jennings said. “Many times they say that no gender
reassignment surgery will be covered. Sometimes companies will
redefine treatment so that more and more procedures can’t be
covered.”

In addition to being denied insurance coverage for certain
medical procedures, transgendered individuals may also suffer from
the lack of state laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender
identity. While attempts at anti-discriminatory legislation have
been made, they have been relatively ineffective, Jennings
said.

“The Legislature is pretty hostile toward anything that
has to do with transgender affairs because it’s generally
Republican and conservative,” Jennings said. “There
have been bills introduced to prohibit discrimination based on
gender identity, but they’re just sitting there and will
probably die.”

But the state does allow transgendered individuals to legally
change their names to match their gender identities.

According to an ACLU LGBT Project publication, name changes can
be made through common law or court orders. A common- law name
change happens when people, over time, use names other than the
ones that appear on their birth certificates. A court-ordered name
change requires the approval of a judge.

The main opposition against anti-discriminatory legislation for
transgendered individuals has come from conservatives, religious
fundamentalists, the American Family Association and the Thomas
More Law Center, a non-profit-law firm in Ann Arbor dedicated to
protecting family values, Jennings said.

College Republicans Chair Allison Jacobs, said conservatives
oppose discrimination against transgendered people in the
workplace.

“College Republicans don’t support transgender
discrimination,” said Jacobs, an LSA freshman. “Work
and personal sexual identity are separate, but you should not be
discriminated against at work for your personal life.”

Stonewall Democrats invited Jennings as a way to discourage
discrimination within the LGBT community, UMSD Co-Chair Andrea
Knittel said.

“We want to make sure that we’re aware of all of the
things that we say that we represent,” said Knittel, an LSA
junior. “We didn’t know all that we could about all of
the letters in our acronym, especially the ‘T.’

Stonewall Democrats, the LGBT caucus of the University’s
College Democrats, was formed in fall 2003 to raise awareness of
gay and gender identity issues.