Transgender Rights are Human Rights

By Nikki Bambauer

Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. federal government has done little to improve life for transgender individuals.  Despite progress in recent years, the transgender community continues to face widespread discrimination in the United States.  According to a 2015 study of nearly 28,000 transgender individuals, due to prejudice against the transgender community:

  • 54% of respondents reported mistreatment in school

  • 29% of respondents reported that they were currently living in poverty

  • 47% of respondents reported being victims of sexual assault at some point during their lives[1]

Participants at a July 2017 protest against the transgender military ban in Washington, DC. Image by Ted Eytan via  Flickr

Participants at a July 2017 protest against the transgender military ban in Washington, DC. Image by Ted Eytan via Flickr


In many policy areas, the administration continues to pursue policy changes that will further discrimination against this already-marginalized group.

One of the most visible of these attacks has been the administration’s attempt to ban transgender people from serving in the military.  Despite early legal victories against the ban, last week the U.S. Supreme Court nearly cleared the way for the discriminatory policy to proceed.   

Transgender Ban in the U.S. Military

The policy of transgender people being allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military is relatively new.  Under former President Barack Obama, the Department of Defense announced a policy change in 2016: transgender people who were currently serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly, and by July 2017, transgender individuals would be able to enlist.[2]  This policy change reversed decades of discrimination against trans people in the military.

Image by Israel Palacio via  Unsplash

Image by Israel Palacio via Unsplash

In July 2017, Trump attempted to reverse the new policy with three tweets. He stated that transgender people would not be allowed to serve in the military, citing the “tremendous medical costs” and “disruption” associated with the Obama-era policy.  Tweets do not constitute law, but by spring 2018, then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis prepared and released a memo outlining a policy that would effectively ban most transgender individuals from serving in the military.  Because it does allow for a few exceptions (for example, those who began serving openly as transgender since 2016 can continue to serve), this policy is sometimes referred to as a “partial ban.”

Since the announcement of this policy, groups representing transgender individuals have sued the administration and won early victories in lower federal courts.  As a result, several injunctions prevented the “partial ban” from going into effect.  Last month, however, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on attempts to block the transgender ban.  This decision means that the ban may soon take effect while challenges continue in the lower courts.[3]  

Transgender Rights are Human Rights

 Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”  By attempting to ban transgender people from serving in the military, the Trump administration is signaling that it does not agree with this fundamental tenet of human rights. 

The Trump administration states that costs associated with transgender service members’ medical treatment is the primary motivation behind the ban; however, its record on other trans-related issues seems to demonstrate the administration’s disdain for the transgender community overall.[4]  Under UDHR, LGBT people are entitled to exercise their rights, including the right to be free from discrimination.  By discriminating against transgender individuals, the United States is not securing human rights for all people equally.

What Can Be Done?

All hope is not lost.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) have been at the heart of legal challenges to the Trump administration’s anti-trans policies.  These organizations have pledged to continue the fight against the military ban.

While sometimes we feel powerless to fight large-scale discrimination, there are many actions that we can take at the local level to support the LGBTQ community.  As educators, we have the opportunity not only to teach students about the issues facing transgender people, but also to create an environment in our classrooms where all gender identities are uplifted and respected.  Inspiring LGBTQ student activists are leading us in this great work.  For example, Sameer Jha, a student in the Bay Area, founded The Empathy Alliance to make sure his school is a safe place for all LGBTQ teens. Additionally, his organization works to “educate the educator” on how to create inclusive spaces in their classrooms. His book, Read This, Save Lives offers educators actionable tips to promote and protect LGBTQ rights in their classrooms.

And it’s not just students and educators who can make a change. Have a little extra time on your hands? Volunteer for organizations doing work in the LGBTQ community.  Short on time but have a few extra bucks to spare? Donate to an organization fighting for transgender rights, such as the Transgender Law Center.  Together, we can fight to protect the rights of transgender individuals.

Resources for Educators


[1] Study conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality. See

[2] The Trump administration was able to postpone the start date, but by January 1, 2018, trans folks were legally allowed to enlist in the military.

[3] At the time of writing, there is one injunction that is still blocking implementation of the ban. Many commentators assume that the lower court will follow the Supreme Court’s lead and issue a stay on the injunction. If that occurs, the administration will be allowed to put the ban into effect.  See

[4] The Trump administration has rolled back protections for transgender individuals in many policy areas, including: health care, labor rights, and prison housing. See the National Center for Transgender Equality for more information.