On August 7, 1995, Tyra Hunter, a transgender woman, died after a car accident in Washington, D.C. Hunter’s medical report predicted that she would have had an 86 percent chance of surviving the crash with proper care. Instead, the EMT shouted racist and transphobic epithets and refused to treat her. She died later that day, after being denied adequate care—first by the EMTs and then by the hospital.
Today, on the 20th anniversary of her death, LGBT people still lack clear and explicit protections against discrimination. According to a national survey by Lambda Legal, nearly 56 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual respondents and 70 percent of transgender respondents had experienced at least one instance of discrimination when attempting to access health care—including medical professionals refusing to touch them, refusing them care outright, or blaming the patient for their medical condition.
Last fall, when Michigan moms Krista and Jami Contreras brought their six-day-old daughter Bay to her first appointment with her pediatrician, they were shocked when she refused to care for their baby—simply because the Contreras are gay.
In addition to the difficulties they frequently encounter when seeking medical care, LGBT people lack clear federal protections from discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation in all parts of their lives. This means that many LGBT people still have to worry about discrimination every day—whether it’s being fired from a job, denied a loan, or refused life-saving care. The impact of discrimination is especially harsh for LGBT people of color, who face increased rates of unemployment, poverty, and housing discrimination.
Fortunately, there are signs of progress. Regarding medical care and health insurance coverage, the Affordable Care Act created protections from discrimination based on characteristics like medical condition, sex (including gender identity and likely sexual orientation as well), and disability. In the realm of employment, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is responsible for enforcing federal employment discrimination law, has similarly argued that workplace discrimination against LGBT people is prohibited under sex discrimination. Many states and localities have also implemented bans on discrimination against LGBT people, and just last month, legislators in both houses of Congress introduced the Equality Act.
If passed, the Equality Act would add protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, providing comprehensive protections for LGBT people in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, jury service, federal funding, and access to credit. The bill was introduced with 165 co-sponsors in the House and 40 in the Senate, but it will take time to gain the support it needs in Congress to become law.
The good news is that Millennials don’t need convincing. In a Generation Progress poll, 65 percent of Millennials expressed support for comprehensive LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination protections—including a majority of Millennials in every region of the country, and a majority in each of the three largest racial and ethnic minorities (African American Millennials, white Millennials, and Hispanic Millennials). Millennials believe in the full equality of every American, no matter who they are or who they love.
Earlier this summer we celebrated federal marriage equality as an important step towards equal rights. Today, as we remember Tyra Hunter’s death and the innumerable incidents of violence and discrimination against LGBT people, especially transgender women of color, there is much left to do.
In the words of John Lewis at the introduction of the Equality Act: “No longer should America turn her back on our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters– I’ve said it in the past and I’ll say it again, we’ve fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” By passing the Equality Act, Congress has the opportunity to finally affirm the full equality of all LGBT people.