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LGBTQ+ History Month Spotlight: Transgender Rights

An overview of the history of transgender rights in the United States

Pre-Stonewall Legislation

​​​​​​The Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) 

  • The Equal Protection and Due Process clauses in Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are ratified:

    • No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

  • While the scope of these protections has been slow to expand, they have served as the basis for many federal civil rights statutes, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which protect against discrimination "on the basis of sex" in education and employment contexts.

"Crossdressing" Regulations (Beginning in 1848)

  • Widespread urbanization in the 19th century enabled the formation of queer subcultures across major U.S. cities. The resulting social backlash to gender--nonconformity led to dozens of local and state laws banning "cross-dressing" or "masquerade". These laws reflect "an effort by states to symbolically reaffirm traditional sex, gender and sexuality roles," said Columbia law professor William N. Eskridge. 
  • Similar regulations are reemerging today in the form of "drag bans". 


Birth of the Modern LGBTQ+ Rights Movement

Stonewall Uprising (June 28, 1969)


Bragg, Rick. "From Night of Rage, The Seeds of Liberation." Clipping.1994. Digital Transgender Archive

Post-Stonewall Developments

Minneapolis Becomes 1st U.S. City to Pass Trans Protections (December 1975)

  • In December 1975, Minneapolis adopted an ordinance barring discrimination on the basis of “having or projecting a self-image not associated with one’s biological maleness or one’s biological femaleness,” becoming the first state to do so.


Crossdressing Ordinances Revisited (1970s)

  • As part of the organized Queer Liberation movement emerging from Stonewall, many crossdressing prohibitions were challenged and struck down using the vagueness doctrine which provided a winning argument against police harassment for improper attire. 
    • This is demonstrated by the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in City Of Columbus v. Rogers (1975) which struck down one of the first anti-crossdressing ordinances in the nation (1848). 
      • “The terms of the ordinance, ‘dress not belonging to his or her sex,’ when considered in the light of contemporary dress habits, make it ‘so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application.’” Columbus v. Rogers, 41 Ohio St. 2d 161, 165 (Ohio 1975).


Trans Tennis Player Wins in New York Supreme Court (August 16, 1977)

  • After undergoing gender-affirming surgery in 1975, ophthalmologist and professional tennis player Renée Richards was banned from competing in the women’s US Open. Richards challenged the decision and in 1977 the New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor and she competed in the 1977 US Open. 
    • Judge Alfred Ascione wrote, "the unfounded fears and misconceptions of defendants must give way to the overwhelming medical evidence that this person is now female.” 93 Misc. 2d 713, 722 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1977)


President Obama Designates Stonewall as a National Monument (June 24th, 2016)

  • The historic site of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City was designated as a National Monument by President Obama to honor and acknowledge the history and accomplishments of the LGBTQ+ Rights movement.


D.C. Residents Given Gender Neutral Option for IDs (June 27, 2017)

  • In addition to male and female, D.C. residents gained the option of selecting X as the gender marker on their driver's license and other identification cards.
  • Since this decision, 22 U.S. States have followed suit and adopted this policy.
  • In October 2021, the State Department announced that the first U.S. Passport with an X gender marker designation had been issued.


The State Department Announces Self-Selection Option (June 30, 2021)

  • The updated procedures allow applicants to self-select their sex marker for passports and “will no longer require medical certification” if an applicant’s self-selected sex marker doesn’t match the sex listed on other official identity documents.


The Social Security Administration Announces Self-Selection Option (October 19, 2022)

  • While people will still need to show documentation to prove their identity, they will no longer need to provide medical or legal records of their sex designation, the agency said.