New State Law Clarifies: Transgender Discrimination is Illegal

California lawmakers recently took a significant step forward in protecting the rights of transgendered and other gender non-conforming individuals. Beginning on January 1st, 2012, a new state law known as the Gender Nondiscrimination Act (GNA) will go into effect. The GNA explicitly expands protections for individuals faced with discrimination or harassment on the basis of their gender identity.

Under California law, discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression has been illegal for several years in matters of housing, education and public accommodations. However, the existing laws on the subject were vague and confusing, making enforcement difficult.

In many cases, people suffering from illegal gender discrimination did not take legal action because they were not aware that they were protected under the law. In addition, employers, housing authorities and others bound by the law sometimes engaged in gender identity discrimination without realizing that their actions were illegal. The GNA addresses those problems by setting out the law in simple, direct language that is easy to understand.

Under the new law, "gender identity" and "gender expression" are specifically identified as protected categories, making transgender discrimination clearly illegal in nearly every aspect of life in California. This includes employment, housing, education, insurance and public services.

Put simply, no one in California can be fired, denied a job, evicted, refused housing or deprived of medical treatment because of their gender identity or gender expression. In addition, an individual may not be forced to use a gender-specific restroom or wear a gendered uniform that does not correspond with his or her own gender identity or expression.

By making the law more clear, the GNA will help employers and other officials understand their legal obligation to treat transgendered and gender non-conforming people fairly. In addition, the new law will educate individuals about their right to be free of this type of gender discrimination and empower them to take action in the event that discrimination occurs.