Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 22nd 2014 Contents A43
June 22, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
SAN FRANCISCO---President Barack Obama, who
established his bona fides as a gay and lesbian rights
champion when he endorsed same-sex marriage,
has steadily extended his administration s advocacy
to the smallest and least accepted band of the LGBT
(lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rainbow:
In this Tuesday,
June 17 photo
Obama speaks at
raiser gala in
Gotham Hall in
With little of the fanfare or criticism that marked
his evolution into the leader Newsweek magazine
nicknamed "the first gay president," Obama became
the first chief executive to say "transgender" in a
speech, to name transgender political appointees and
to prohibit job bias against transgender government
workers. Also in his first term, he signed hate crime
legislation that became the first federal civil rights
protections for transgender people in US history.
Since then, the administration has quietly applied
the power of the executive branch to make it easier
for transgender people to update their passports,
obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care
Act, get treatment at Veteran s Administration facilities
and seek access to public school restrooms and sports
programmes---just a few of the transgender-specific
policy shifts of Obama s presidency.
"He has been the best president for transgender
rights, and nobody else is in second place," Mara Keis-
ling, executive director of the National Centre for
Transgender Equality, said of Obama, who is the only
president to invite transgender children to participate
in the annual Easter egg roll at the White House.
Religious conservative groups quick to critisice the
president for his gay rights advocacy have been much
slower to respond to the administration s actions.
The leader of the Traditional Values Coalition says
there is little recourse because the changes come
through executive orders and federal agencies rather
The latest wins came this month, when the Office
of Personnel Management announced that govern-
ment-contracted health insurers could start covering
the cost of gender reassignment surgeries for federal
employees, retirees and their survivors, ending a 40-
year prohibition. Two weeks earlier, a decades-old
rule preventing Medicare from financing such pro-
cedures was overturned within the Department of
Health and Human Services.
Unlike Obama s support for same-sex marriage
and lifting the military s ban on openly gay troops,
the White House s work to promote transgender
rights has happened mostly out of the spotlight.
Some advances have gone unnoticed because they
also benefited the much larger gay, lesbian and bisexual
communities. That was the case Monday when the
White House announced that Obama plans to sign
an executive order banning federal contractors from
discriminating against employees on the basis of
their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In other instances, transgender rights groups and
the administration have agreed on a low-key approach,
both to skirt resistance and to send the message that
changes are not a big deal, said Barbara Siperstein,
who in 2009 became the first transgender person
elected to the Democratic National Committee.
"It s quiet by design, because the louder you are
in Washington, the more the drama," said Siperstein,
who helped organise the first meeting between White
House aides and transgender rights advocates without
the participation of gay rights leaders.
The 2011 meeting came 34 years after President
Jimmy Carter s administration made history by meet-
ing with gay rights groups.
Earlier this year, the US Education Department
informed public schools that under its reading of
Title IX, the 1972 law that bans gender discrimination
in education, transgender students are entitled to
federal civil rights protections.
In fall 2007, openly gay US Rep Barney Frank pur-
sued, with the blessing of the nation s largest gay
rights group, legislation prohibiting discrimination
against gays and lesbians, but not transgender people.
Transgender advocates who had lobbied for legal
recognition of same-sex relationships were livid and
persuaded more than 100 civil rights groups to oppose
a bill that left transgender rights for another day.
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