Earlier this month, New York’s Gov. George Patterson signed an executive order outlawing discrimination against transgender New Yorker’s in the state’s hiring practices. While New York still doesn’t have the strong protection against discrimination in the private sector that Minnesota does, the state joins 5 others who have such an executive order. As some advocates are noting, Minneapolis got the ball rolling for non-discrimination more than 30 years ago.
“I’ve been working on transgender law for eight years, and when I started there was only one state, Minnesota, that had protections for transgender people statewide with an overall nondiscrimination law,” Lisa Mottet, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s transgender civil rights project told the New York Times.
While Minnesota was the first to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity with the 1993 Human Rights Act, Minneapolis added the language banning discrimination based on “having or projecting a self-image not associated with one’s biological maleness or one’s biological femaleness” in 1975.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force relays that history (PDF):
How did it happen? Minneapolis passed a non-discrimination ordinance covering sexual orientation in 1974. The next year, that law was revised by the City Council to include a more expansive, trans-inclusive definition of “affectional preference,” as part of a general overhaul of the local human rights ordinance. Although the inclusion of trans people in the 1975 revision was a historic moment for the trans community, it drew little notice from legislators. According to Diana Slyter, a long-time Minneapolis transsexual activist, the transgender-inclusive definition of sexual orientation “sailed through” in a general flurry of progressive legislation enacted just before a newly-elected, more conservative mayor started his term. The passage of that legislation in 1975 has turned out to be a tremendous benefit for trans people elsewhere. Because Minneapolis has had civil rights protections for trans people in place for so long, trans activists now working to pass similar legislation in their communities can point to that city’s experience with transgender inclusion to reassure their own legislators that the sky will not fall if trans people are protected from discrimination and allowed to participate as equal citizens.
Of course, Minnesota was also the site of the animosity between the transgender community and the Human Rights Campaign. Once Minneapolis was successful in banning discrimination against trans people, LGBT community leaders pushed for state level protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Two camps set up: one thought that a bill couldn’t pass with gender identity added and the other said no bill should be pushed through that wasn’t inclusive.
One of the people most responsible for excluding transpeople from an attempt to pass a gay rights law in Minnesota in 1975 was a gentleman by the name of Steve Endean, who in 1980 would leave Minnesota to help found the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the proto organization that later became HRC. Some Minnesotans assert that it’s not a conicidence that the same year HRCF was born in DC, Minnesota’s gay rights proposals became T-inclusive and eventually lead to the first T-inclusive law in 1993.