When Ariana Losco felt her supervisor grab her wrist and push her back into her chair sneering, “You’re not going anywhere,” it churned up dark memories. Memories of when Ariana was David—his memories like a stranger’s, even though they were of her past.
The clench of her supervisor’s grip conjured up the recollection of walking through her high school parking lot after the homecoming football game when a group of schoolmates swarmed her, carrying her off in the dark, promising she would be hanged that night and not live to see the next day.
But that was more than 20 years ago and, after 10 years living as a transgender woman, Losco decided that dealing with the same kind of malice from her boss at the health-care facility where she worked, was just too much. Struggling with hate and fear in her workplace was not what Losco wanted in her new life. Driving home after work, sobbing uncontrollably, was not how she pictured ending her workdays.
Lawyers told Losco they would be happy to fight a discrimination case for her—that is, if there were a law on the books to protect her. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is “basically not against the law, simple as that,” explains John Black, one of the attorneys Losco had contacted.
So Losco now waits, pinning her hopes on a proposed bill at the 2008 Utah legislative session to extend workplace protection to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
And for members of the “trans” community, passage of this law will require more than winning the tolerance of staunchly conservative Republican legislators. They must also shore up solidarity with their allies in the queer community.
Workplace discrimination has always existed, and workers seeking protection from fear and manipulation on the job has been an evolving civil-rights battle. Over time, and with a growing body of case law, legal protection for employees now includes a number of categories—comprising both biological and chosen traits—including sex, race, age, religion, pregnancy and others.
While these reflections of individual citizens’ identities are protected, state and federal law have left in the lurch a person’s sexual identity and orientation. Critics have argued that such protections have gone too far, opening a Pandora’s box by which subgroups will clamor for special legal privileges.
Longtime gay- and transgender-rights critic Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, sees the argument this way: “They pass this law and, pretty soon, some guy with tattoos all over his face is going to sue for discrimination.” The slippery-slope argument presented by Buttars and other critics strikes to the core of the controversy surrounding the lives of members of the LGBT community.
The argument in Utah always comes back to the issue of choice. Should choice be granted protection of the law? Is it the Legislature’s place to validate some citizens’ choices and not others? Anti-gay-rights forces say gender identity and sexual orientation are “choices” and, as such, differ from skin color and age, neither of which can be changed or controlled. Others disagree.
“As a lesbian, I didn’t make a choice,” says Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, sponsor of the 2008 nondiscrimination bill. “I was chosen.”
Ultimately, the realization of this bill may hang on the idea of choice, which may be the reason that a federal version of Johnson’s bill (which passed the House on Nov. 7, 2007, but awaits Senate approval) left out the transgender community altogether.
It simply may be too much for some heterosexuals (and some gays and lesbians, too) to accept that a person could feel completely detached from the body he or she was born with. This detachment can grow so strong as to lead a person to change what nature initially imposed by employing hormone treatments and a surgeon’s scalpel.
But, then again, the reality of sex and identity is largely misunderstood simply because it’s one of the greatest taboos of public discourse.
For many trans individuals, however, the choice to change even under the surgeon’s blade is not only natural, but the only way to live authentically.