Sat., January 4, 2014 11:00am (EST)

Transgender Issues Follow Path Blazed By Gay Rights
By NPR Staff
Updated: 3 months ago

Laverne Cox, left, plays Sophia, a transgender character in Netflix's <em>Orange is the New Black</em>.
Laverne Cox, left, plays Sophia, a transgender character in Netflix's Orange is the New Black.
It may have been "the gayest year ever," as some gay and lesbian activists put it 2013 saw the Defense of Marriage Act struck down by the Supreme Court and the number of states offering marriage rights to same-sex couples doubled, to a total of 18.

But as 2014 begins, another issue is gaining traction: transgender rights.

A new transgender rights law went into effect Jan. 1 in California. Called the School Success and Opportunity Act, the law allows students to use the facilities consistent with their gender identity and to play on sports teams, and adds protections against bullying and harassment.

Transgender stories have registered in the media recently, too. Chelsea Manning, who came to prominence as Bradley Manning, is now in prison, convicted of leaking classified government information.

And a transgender character in Netflix's new series, Orange Is the New Black, was named one of Time magazine's most influential fictional characters of 2013.

Ross Murray, news director for GLAAD, an organization of gay and lesbian activists, says the character played by actress Laverne Cox who is transgender herself shows the complexity of transgender life that most people don't usually see.

"Most of the time in the media, on the news side of things, transgender people are often just the victims of violence, and they are not talked about until after they have been attacked and perhaps murdered which happened a lot also in 2013," Ross says in an interview with NPR's Linda Wertheimer.

"A character like Laverne Cox's character in Orange Is the New Black helped to provide a much richer character that people could actually relate to."

Interview Highlights

On public understanding of transgender issues vs. gay rights issues

It registers a lot less. I think that the support for marriage equality has been following the recognition that people know someone who is gay [or] lesbian, and once they feel like they know and have a relationship with someone,then they understand that folks need protections and responsibilities just like everyone else. The transgender visibility has not been as high. I think as the familiarity is going to increase, then some of those same protections are going to follow.

On other laws involving transgender rights

There's a lot of work this year, and I think something we're going to see in 2014 is a greater push for transgender-inclusive health care. Connecticut just became the fifth state to require transgender medical coverage, sending a directive to health insurance companies that operate within the state that they should include benefits for transgender people and transgender-specific care.

On the issue of transgender people and health care

Transgender people are denied health care, both for transition services things like hormones and sometimes even within private insurance the services that are covered are gender-specific, and so if someone, say, was born a man, suddenly they are excluded from receiving mammograms or issues for breast cancer. Those are things that need to get fixed to create consistent health care for transgender people.


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