Moving Towards a Trans-Friendly America

It has been a big week for transgender Americans, with a landmark U.S. Tax Court ruling and the passing of a bill in Massachusetts that will grant legal civil rights protection to transgender individuals. The Transgender Equal Rights bill, approved by the State Senate Wednesday, will, when signed by supportive Governor Deval Patrick, grants transgender MA residents protection against employment, education, housing, and credit discrimination, as well as include gender identity and gender expression to the state’s hate crimes law. Legislative Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Gavi Wolfe, stated: “This bill is about giving transgender people an equal shot at obtaining everyday basics we all need — a job, a place to live, an education. It’s a major step forward for fairness, and we urge the legislature to pass it right away.” The fight for transgender equality is not over, however, as a key clause calling for protection against discrimination in public accommodations was dropped two days before the vote after heavy criticisms from House Republicans.

In the U.S. Tax Court, a ruling may now force the Internal Revenue Service to allow transgender individuals to deduct unreimbursed medical expenses from federal tax returns, as any other citizen would a non-gender related medical expense. Rhiannon O’Donnabhain changed her sex from male to female and attempted to deduct hormone therapy and surgery from her 2010 tax return only to find the IRS disallowing on the basis that these procedures “did not treat a medically recognized disease or promote the proper function of the body.”

The Tax Court, however, saw things differently citing four bases for its ruling in favor of Ms. O’Donnabhain: “1) the disorder is widely recognized in diagnostic and psychiatric reference texts; 2) the texts and all three experts testifying in the case consider the disorder a serious medical condition; 3) the mental health professionals who examined Ms. O’Donnabhain found that her disorder was a severe impairment; and, 4) the Courts of Appeal generally consider gender identity disorder a serious medical condition.” Although she was not able to claim a deduction for her breast enhancement surgery – the court said her tits were fine without it – and although the ruling notes that it is “not to be relied upon or otherwise cited as precedent by taxpayers,” the IRS has agreed to no longer hold the official position of denying gender reassignment patients and those having treatment for Gender Identity Disorder the same tax rights as cisgender citizens.

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