I would like to express my gratitude to The Record for publishing John Smith’s column, “I Am Transsexual”. His point about the relatively few people who have direct knowledge of transsexuality is extremely relevant as recently illustrated in the prosecution of the men charged with the murder of Gwen Araujo, a transsexual teenager, in California. The juries in both trials in this case have clearly struggled with the question of whether Ms. Araujo’s “deception” regarding her genital status during sexual encounters with the defendants allowed them to claim the offense was manslaughter rather than murder. Would more understanding among the public in general and the legal system in particular have avoided a mistrial in the first case and only a partial verdict in the second? Perhaps.
As a police officer who transitioned from one gender to another five years ago at my agency, I’m very pleased that employment discrimination against transsexuals is obviously less prevalent than it was when Karen Ulane was denied the ability to continue her career as an airline pilot by the Seventh U.S. Circuit in 1984 (Ulane v. Eastern Airlines, Inc). However, at the same time, I have peers who have been hounded from their careers because of an unwillingness to judge them on their work performance rather than their adherence to gender stereotypes and who cannot be assured that they might find relief within the patchwork legal landscape that exists for the transsexual litigant. As students at Harvard Law move forward into their careers, I hope that John Smith’s words will help them understand an aspect of human life that may well seem alien to them but which at the same time illustrates the most fundamental of liberties – the right to be who you are.
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