A History of Transgender Rights in the United States

There's nothing new about transgender and transsexual individuals. History is replete with examples, from the Indian hijras to the Israeli sarisim (eunuchs) to the Roman emperor Elagabalus. But there is something relatively new about transgender and transsexual rights as a national movement in the United States.


Trans Rights activist sign
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The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified. The equal protection and due process clauses in Section 1 would implicitly include transgender and transsexual persons, as well as any other identifiable group:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

While the Supreme Court has not fully embraced the Amendment's implications for transgender rights, these clauses will presumably form the basis of future rulings.


The famous Berlin sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld during a trip to East Asia with his Chinese student from Hong Kong. Photograph. 09/12/1931. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) Der bekannte Berliner Sexualforscher Professor Magnus Hirschfeld während einer Osta
The famous Berlin sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld. Imagno / Getty Images

German physician Magnus Hirschfeld coins the term "transsexual" in a published journal article titled "The Intersexual Constitution" ("Die ​intersexuelle Konstitution").


green robe doctor and stethoscope,injection needle
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San Francisco physician Harry Benjamin pioneers the use of hormone therapy in the treatment of transsexual patients.


Crowd goers at GLBT march, Northbridge.
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Christine Jorgensen, a transwoman, is denied a marriage license in New York on the basis of her birth gender. Her fiancee, Howard Knox, was fired from his job when rumors of their attempt to marry became public.


Stonewall March
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The Stonewall riots, which arguably sparked the modern gay rights movement, is led by a group that includes transwoman Sylvia Rivera.


Rainbow flag waiving in the wind against blue sky
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In M.T. v. J.T., the Superior Court of New Jersey rules that transsexual persons may marry on the basis of their gender identity, regardless of their assigned gender.


The US Supreme Court
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Ann Hopkins is denied a promotion on the basis that she is not, in the opinion of management, sufficiently feminine. She sues, and the U.S. Supreme Court rules that gender stereotyping can form the basis of a Title VII sex-discrimination complaint; in the words of Justice Brennan, a plaintiff need only prove that "an employer who has allowed a discriminatory motive to play a part in an employment decision must prove by clear and convincing evidence that it would have made the same decision in the absence of discrimination, and that petitioner had not carried this burden."


Peter Sarsgaard Hilary Swank And Brendan Sexton III Star In Boys Don'T Cry Photo T
Peter Sarsgaard Hilary Swank And Brendan Sexton III Star In 'Boys Don't Cry'. Getty Images / Getty Images

Minnesota becomes the first state to ban employment discrimination on the basis of perceived gender identity with the passage of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. In the same year, transman Brandon Teena is raped and murdered — an event that inspires the film "Boys Don't Cry" (1999) and prompts a national movement to incorporate anti-transgender hate crimes into future hate crime legislation.


Wedding Ring on a Marriage License
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In Littleton v. Prange, the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals rejects the logic of New Jersey's M.T. v. J.T. (1976) and refuses to issue marriage licenses to opposite-sex couples in which one partner is transsexual.


USA - Same-sex Wedding Ceremonies draw protests in Witchita
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The Kansas Supreme Court refuses to allow trans woman J'Noel Gardiner to inherit her husband's property, on the basis that her non-assigned gender identity - and, therefore, her subsequent marriage to a man - was invalid.


Senate Democrats Hold News Conference On Employment Non-Discrimination Act
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Gender identity protections are controversially stripped from the 2007 version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but it fails anyway. Future versions of ENDA, beginning in 2009, include gender identity protections.


Wyoming Location Where Gay University Of Wyoming Student Mathew Shepard's Body
Wyoming Location Where Gay University Of Wyoming Student Mathew Shepard's Body. Kevin Moloney / Getty Images

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed by President Barack Obama, allows for federal investigation of bias-motivated crimes based on gender identity in cases where local law enforcement is unwilling to act. Later the same year, Obama issues an executive order banning the executive branch from discriminating on the basis of gender identity in employment decisions.