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T: appending transgender equal rights to gay, lesbian and bisexual equal rights

Libby Adler, Northeastern University School of Law

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Originally published in Columbia Journal of Gender & Law, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 595-616, 2010.

Abstract

Advocates for transgender constituencies are making crucial choices right now about what kind of reformist tracks to lay for themselves. The appending of “T” to “LGB” suggests the likelihood of following in the steps of the mainstream advocates for the sexuality constituencies, one characterized by a quest for formal equality based on an assumed identity. This paper urges that transgender advocates consider fully the costs of this course before charging headlong in a direction that might at first hold obvious appeal. Such a course has had under-recognized costs for the sexuality-based constituencies and costs for transgender constituencies are already beginning to accrue. Assertions of equal rights are already inciting assertions of competing rights by anti-trans forces, just as they have in the gay and lesbian context. Moreover, even legal victories on behalf of identity groups taken as a given can have undesirable effects, such as the defining of identity categories in such a way as to cause divisiveness under a previously large umbrella.

Finally, equal rights work, as the same-sex marriage campaign illustrates rather extravagantly, has the potential to produce myopia to reformist possibilities that do not occur in an equality register. Some advocates have been pursuing a redistributive agenda on behalf of persons living on the gender margins, digging deeply into bureaucratic regimes that subtly distribute benefits, safety and other crucial resources. This paper advocates careful consideration of those kinds of less reflexive options.

Suggested Citation

Columbia Journal of Gender & Law, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 595-616, 2010.