Hillary Clinton rarely takes credit for this major transgender victory

Hillary Clinton marched in this year's New York City Pride Parade, the first major party (presumptive) nominee for President to do so.

Hillary Clinton marched in this year's New York City Pride Parade, the first major party (presumptive) nominee for President to do so. Erin Rook

Hillary Clinton has not always stood on the side of LGBTQ equality. Like most major party politicians, she has “evolved” on many of the issues that matter to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, including marriage. But she doesn’t always get—or take—credit for a quietly revolutionary act during her tenure as Secretary of State that some say contribute to her status as the most LGBTQ-friendly presidential candidate the United States has ever seen.

In 2010, Clinton made it possible for transgender Americans to get passports with gender markers matching how they live their lives—without the often insurmountable hurdle of requiring surgery. This groundbreaking action, little known to many outside the transgender community, is a key example of the intersection of Clinton’s progressive social views and her cautious and calculating approach to politics, Politico reports:

But five years before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage and President Obama lit up the White House in the colors of the rainbow, Hillary Clinton and her staff at the State Department made a change that for thousands of people was exactly that—revolutionary. Clinton enacted a new rule making it easier for transgender people to register their identities on their passports. Sexual reassignment surgery was no longer necessary; all that was required was a doctor’s note. At the time, this was the most pro-transgender action by the federal government ever, and—coming a full six years before the Pentagon announced transgender troops could serve openly—it stands as one of the most progressive things Clinton has ever done. In a single stroke, she made the passport the best way—for some, the only way—for American citizens to prove they were who they were. For transgender people, it was—according to recent conversations I have had with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experts and advocates—“huge,” “enormous,” “monumental.”

That’s huge. But Clinton and her staff have been reticent to acknowledge it. She doesn’t bring it up when discussing transgender issues and got defensive when pressed to talk about it on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, Politico notes.  They were supposed to be chatting about Clinton’s second memoir, Hard Choices. In the book, she makes brief reference to the passport policy change. Gross noticed, and asked her about it.

“Did you have to sneak that in without a lot of attention?” Gross asked Clinton. “I mean, I didn’t know you’d done that. But I have a feeling, if a lot of people had known you’d done that, you would’ve gotten a lot of pushback for that. I mean, ‘cause there’s still a lot of people in our country who oppose gay rights and would probably even more so oppose, like, any recognition of the transgender community.”

Clinton quickly pivoted to more general topics, but the question highlights a not uncommon political strategy among LGBTQ advocates—making quiet but meaningful changes to avoid unnecessary backlash.

“I think they were squeamish,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told Politico. “I think we were squeamish.”

Given the recent backlash to the transgender protection advanced by President Barack Obama‘s administration, it’s not surprising that Clinton and LGBTQ advocates took a more tempered approach. What waits to be seen—and what analysts struggle to agree on—is whether a President Hillary Clinton would be a bolder advocate for the LGBTQ community, or if she would remain cautious in support. Fans hope that her appearance at this year’s New York City Pride Parade is an indication of her full support.

Read the full feature on Clinton’s little-known victory for transgender Americans over at Politico.

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