As children, we assumed (and were taught) that boys liked blue, and girls liked pink. Boys were dirty and liked to play with trucks and video games, while girls were more likely to nurture their dolls, dress up in mommy's heels, and play with makeup. Gender, it was assumed, had two options. Straying even slightly from one of these two options meant being met with laughter, derision, and a sense of being ostracized.

Now, we know that the strict line between male and female simply doesn't exist. While Americans have begun to better understand and embrace the complexities of gender, a lot of work remains to be done to protect the rights of the LGBT community.

This year has seen some decent progress when it comes to abolishing discriminatory laws and practices against transgender people. Just last week, the New York City Council passed a bill that would allow transgenders to change the sex designation on their birth certificates without requiring proof of sex reassignment surgery (SRS) — joining several other states in doing so. In Canada, a 12-year-old was given a birth certificate change after a judge ruled the law requiring surgery unjust.

Perhaps even on a more global scale, perspectives and notions about sexuality are changing. Pope Francis has made steps in the right direction, bringing believers of the Catholic Church a little closer to acceptance of LGBTs — albeit with some reluctance. “Who am I to judge?” the pope famously quoted in 2013, referring to homosexuals. “If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized.” But despite these comments being quite influential, many transgenders believe they’re not enough, especially with speeches Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict, made in which he denounced transgenders as people who strip humanity of its dignity.

Transgender Laws

So while it may seem like there has been progress, we still have a long way to go, particularly for transgenders, who still remain a largely unrepresented and misunderstood minority. And if religion continues to lag behind, the least we can do is start discussing ways in which our government can be more accommodating to transgenders in America.

One of the biggest examples of a backward law against the LGBT community is the recent bill passed in Michigan’s House that prohibits the government from interfering if health care workers or businesspeople refuse service on the grounds of personal religious beliefs. Known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the bill — no matter how it’s spun — is discriminatory, allowing people to choose against providing service to gay people if it goes against their beliefs. House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Mich.), who is an advocate of the discriminatory bill, said, “I have been horrified as some have claimed that a person’s faith should only be practiced while hiding in their home or in their church.” But that doesn’t make it okay for EMTs to refuse service to a sick LGBT person, or for pharmacists to deny filling critical HIV prescriptions to homosexuals.

gay pride
gay pride parade Photo courtesy of Stefano Tinti /

For one thing, more states should abolish the requirement that transgenders need proof of sex reassignment surgery in order to change their birth certificates. While it may not seem like a big deal to some, it can be degrading to transgenders, who’ve spent their lives fighting off silent discrimination. “I’ve spent a long time trying to be who I am,” Naz Seenauth, a transgender speaking about NYC’s recent bill, recently told the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund in a press release. “I faced many challenges when I began to live openly as a man. It has been difficult without an accurate birth certificate, and I often lived in fear of harassment and discrimination knowing that my birth certificate did not match the real me.”

The Minnesota High School League’s (MSHSL) Board of Directors is currently working on approving a policy that would allow transgender students to play on either the female or male team, depending on their gender expression. While many states have laws that protect transgender students in such cases, plenty of fear-mongering and discrimination still exists, such as this ad that appeared in the Star Tribune lamenting the fact that transgender students might be treated as equals in school sports:

Gender: A State Of Mind

Because such attitudes remain, not only do our laws need to accommodate transgenders — but Americans, as people and ideas, need to as well. Sexuality is complex; it isn’t black and white. “Gender is much more about what’s between your ears than what’s between your thighs,” wrote Sam Killermann for a TED talk. “It’s more about what’s outside our bodies and the way that we’ve been socialized. Gender is a social construction that’s been disguised as a biological imperative, a genetic law we live by. The more we learn about gender, the more we learn that’s a lie — to think that because this person’s born with a penis, he’ll grow up and act like a ‘guy.’”

Tiffany, a 19-year-old who identifies as a transvestite, shows a scar of a knife attack in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 2011. Edgard Garrido/Reuters

While scientists aren’t quite sure what may biologically cause transsexualism, research has shown that there are, indeed, differences in the brains of transgender people — particularly in the grey matter area in the brain known as the BSTc. One study, completed at the Natinoal University of Distance Education in Madrid, Spain, found that white matter in the brains of 18 female-to-male transsexual people were more “masculinized.” The authors hope that such findings would assist doctors in guiding transgenders to a successful sex-reassignment surgery sooner versus later.

While this doesn’t leave us with too much scientific answers, we can conclude one thing: Being transgender is not a disorder as previously assumed. It’s not weird, unnatural, or wrong, and legislation needs to reflect that more; to allow transgender people the right to pursue careers and happiness just like anyone else.

New York City Council Member Corey Johnson, who proposed the most recent bill to remove the requirement for surgery in order to change birth certificates, called the bill “the most progressive in the country,” not because of the law itself, but because it implies that Americans ought to see gender not as something that can be defined by physical features but rather a state of mind and personal identity. “Gender won’t be about your physicality,” he told the NY Daily News. “It won’t be about your body. It’s about how you identify.”

In other words, gender isn't about what's between your legs, it's a state of mind. The sooner we realize this, the closer we'll be to achieving equality in America.