Jenner’s gender identity speculation comes at key time for transgender rights

Laverne Cox speaks at the 2014 Glamour Women of the Year Awards at Carnegie Hall in New York on Nov. 10, 2014.
Laverne Cox speaks at the 2014 Glamour Women of the Year Awards at Carnegie Hall in New York on Nov. 10, 2014. Brad Barket, Invision (AP)

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Among activists and bloggers who focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, there’s widespread sentiment that Jenner alone should dictate the pace and the details of any disclosure he wants to make. Yet there’s also keen interest in what sort of impact he might have were he to confirm a transition that would make him arguably the most famous American ever to openly identify as transgender.

Depending on how Jenner’s story is presented and received, the revelation that a lauded athlete and member of one of the nation’s most visible families is transgender could be comparable to the cultural shifts that accompanied the news that movie star Rock Hudson was gay and died of AIDS-related complications and that basketball great Magic Johnson, a heterosexual, was HIV-positive.

“In the long term, we’d say the disclosures were helpful for the movement to normalize homosexuality and bring better medical attention to AIDS/HIV,” Franke said. “When celebrities came out as being members of these communities, it ended up shifting the national narrative.”

The narrative at the moment, for transgender Americans, is complex. On one hand, they have many recent breakthroughs to celebrate, including:

  • Several positive, high-profile portrayals of transgender people on popular TV shows, including the prison inmate played by Laverne Cox on “Orange is the New Black,” and the transgender woman played by Golden Globe winner Jeffrey Tambor in “Transparent.”
  • Moves by at least nine states to ensure that health insurers cover transgender treatment that’s deemed medically necessary. In a related move, the federal government ended a Medicare exclusion of coverage for services related to gender transition.

  • Steps by some states to eliminate requirements that transgender people had to undergo surgery before being allowed to change the gender on their birth certificates.

  • Moves by many schools and colleges to make transgender students feel more welcome – adopting new policies related to bathroom designations, sports teams, living quarters and other matters. Several women’s colleges have adjusted admissions policies to accommodate transgender applicants.

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call in his recent state of the state speech for an amendment to the state’s civil rights law to add discrimination protections for transgender New Yorkers. Discrimination based on gender identity is already prohibited in 18 other states.

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