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George Diepenbrock
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Book details issues of transgender politics, policy

Fri, 01/09/2015


LAWRENCE — As judicial and elective victories in the past 10 years have made same-sex marriage legal in a majority of U.S. states, much media attention and research have focused on politics and policy regarding sexual orientation and gay rights.

However, transgender rights — even as the issue crops up at the national, state and local levels — have not seen much of the limelight. A University of Kansas professor's book researches issues that surround politics and policy for transgender people. 

Don Haider-Markel, professor of political science, said there's debate about whether transgender rights and anti-discrimination laws will become the next major civil rights issue because perhaps priorities of the transgender movement have been secondary in the overall LGBT rights agenda.

"There's a steeper hill to climb for the transgender movement than for the gay and lesbian movement, partly because it ends up being sort of a sticking point for politicians in a variety of policies," Haider-Markel said. "Where do transgender people fit in? Even amongst the advocates for anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation, it makes them politically uncomfortable because they don't want to risk losing the whole deal by trying to include transgender rights."

Haider-Markel, also chair of the Department of Political Science, co-edited the book, "Transgender Rights and Politics: Groups, Issue Framing & Policy Adoption" with Jami Taylor, an associate professor of political science and public administration at the University of Toledo. The University of Michigan Press released the book in December.

Haider-Markel, who also co-authored a chapter in the book with KU graduate student Jacob Longaker, said the book is meant to examine social science-related questions on many aspects of transgender rights and issues in the U.S. and Latin America. Little existing research has examined this topic empirically, he said.

In relation to the broader LGBT movement, national efforts to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, has faced ongoing uncertainty for roughly 20 years about whether to push for adding gender identity or not.

"That's where it exemplified both new additional arguments from opponents and also tension within the broader movement about where the priorities should be," Haider-Markel said.

Debates surrounding transgender rights legislation are often shoehorned into potential implications of new laws, such as questions about how to handle specific situations, including public restroom use, Haider-Markel said.

And the success of the same-sex marriage movement also ironically means less to transgender rights advocates, because their priorities tend to be more on laws that regulate recording a person's sex on government documents or health insurance coverage of sexual reassignment surgery.

"Those kinds of things I think are priorities for transgender people that aren't necessarily part of the broader movement's concerns," Haider-Markel said.

He said additional awareness and education for the public surrounding transgender issues could benefit the movement over the long term, much how the pendulum swung regarding public opinion of same-sex marriage. There are examples of legislators and executive branches grappling with demands for more equitable treatment of transgender people, but they have largely been executive orders that weren't permanent policy.

"Outside the issue of same-sex marriage, at least for the transgender movement a lot of the really problematic issues that the community has to address are in the legal system," Haider-Markel said, "and not so much to be addressed by legislative and executive institutions. So that makes for a different kind of struggle because it's more expensive and requires legal expertise."



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