By Matt Wood, op-ed contributor
April 10, 2012
Marriage for same-sex couples can be a divisive issue – not just for straight people, but among LGBT communities as well. While many LGBT people were thrilled when Maryland and Washington joined the growing list of states affirming marriage equality, others continue to question the logic of spending so much time and money on the marriage effort when other issues, like health care access and economic inequality, are more pressing for many of us.
This issue can seem particularly remote from the daily concerns of many members of transgender communities. A recent survey on transgender discrimination conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force revealed that transgender people are likely to live in extreme poverty, to be under- or unemployed, to be denied health care and housing, and to be harassed in school. Chillingly, a staggering 41% of survey respondents reported attempting suicide. (The full report is available online at http://www.thetaskforce.org)
It’s no wonder that some transgender people are frustrated by the significant resources that primarily lesbian and gay organizations have devoted to marriage equality efforts in recent years, a concern also raised by LGBT people of color, youth, and people living with HIV/AIDS. In the shadow of pervasive poverty and despair, and with virtually no national conversation about transgender rights, transgender community members see the allocation of scarce LGBT movement resources (staff time, community money, political will) on marriage as misplaced at best.
While this frustration is understandable, it may be short-sighted. First, it ignores the fact that many transgender people are also lesbian, gay, or bisexual, or in relationships that the government views as legally “same-sex,” even if the partners consider themselves to be different sex.
For instance, a marriage between a trans man and a non-trans woman might or might not be legally recognized as a valid different-sex marriage. That’s because the standard for having a person’s gender identity legally recognized depends upon where they were born, and where they currently live. While most states permit a person to change the gender on their birth certificate, many require the person to have some kind of medical intervention in order to do so — medical intervention that many transgender people may not be able to afford, or may not want. Some states, including Idaho, Tennessee, and Ohio, refuse to change the gender marker on birth certificates.