Last year in Rolling Stone we called 2014 “the biggest year in transgender history,” citing landmark legal victories, as well as an unprecedented level of visibility in television, music, film and fashion. This year should have been bigger. It was, after all, the year of Caitlyn Jenner, who singlehandedly turned “transgender” into a household term overnight. But as with any civil rights movement, backlash is an inevitable consequence of progress. This year has seen an unprecedented level of violence against transgender people, with 21 reported homicides so far. It was a year of painful contrasts and uneven gains.
So this year we’ve selected the five best and five worst trans moments of 2015, in an attempt to capture the ambivalence that many trans folks feel about being under the cultural spotlight with little in the way of protections.
The good: Progress toward transgender inclusion in the military.
Some 15,000 transgender people are already serving in the military, even if they cannot do so openly. The ban on trans inclusion will likely remain in place into 2016 but, given all the progress that took place in 2015, it can’t last much longer. In February, President Obama and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced their support for open transgender military service. And, in case there was any doubt that transgender people can be capable soldiers, the American Medical Association concluded in June that “[t]here is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from service.“
The Pentagon fell in line the next month, essentially ending the practice of discharging or denying re-enlistment to transgender troops. As of December, the ban on enlistment technically remains in place and transgender veterans still struggle to access appropriate health care, but this year will be remembered as the tipping point for transgender troops.
The bad: Houston’s non-discrimination act (HERO) is voted down.
In 2009, Houston made history by becoming the largest U.S. city to elect an openly lesbian mayor, Annise Parker. In 2015, it made history again by becoming the most populous city in the U.S. without LGBT legal protections. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was a sweeping piece of nondiscrimination legislation pertaining to employment and public accommodations that covered a wide range of characteristics including sex, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and pregnancy. The city council approved it in 2014, but the Texas Supreme Court forced the city to put it up to a popular vote this November.
The proposition’s opponents, including local pastors and former Houston Astros player Lance Berkman, turned the HERO debate into an ugly anti-transgender smear campaign, claiming that the bill “would allow troubled men who claim to be women to enter women’s bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms.” The bill failed 61-39 percent, proving that the myth of the transgender bathroom predator is still effective, despite a complete lack of evidence to back it up.