There is a national movement going on right now to boycott states that force transgendered individuals to use the restrooms of their biological sex rather than their chosen identity.
Many companies, including Target, have denounced laws that restrict a transgender individual’s choice of bathroom as sex discrimination. Some major American corporations have threatened to withdraw from North Carolina because it has limited the right of transgendered individual to use their bathroom of choice. Moreover, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit recently voted 2-1 to uphold the U.S. Education Dept.’s position that it constitutes illegal sex discrimination to exclude transgender students from the bathrooms of their chosen gender identities.
According to the most frequently cited estimate, 700,000 people in the United States, or about 0.2 to 0.3 percent of the population, identify as transgender.
Compare this to the millions of older workers who each year are subject to epidemic and overt age discrimination in employment with nary a hint of protest or outrage from anyone, including organizations that purport to advocate for older Americans and civil rights.
Indeed, at this point, transgender people technically have greater rights under the law than older workers to be free from invidious discrimination.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission contends that trangendered individuals are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin and color. By contrast, age discrimination falls under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), which permits “reasonable” age discrimination by employers. Title VII also contains penalties that are far more onerous than those of the ADEA.
Why have the rights of millions of older Americans to be free from irrational and harmful employment discrimination been ignored for 50 years?
The rights of transgendered individuals are at issue today because advocates in the gay and lesbian communities and in the entertainment community have taken a public stand to combat ignorance and prejudice against transgendered individuals. This has essentially forced major corporations to adopt policies prohibiting discrimination against the transgendered so as not to be seen as endorsing transgender discrimination.
Alas, the same is not true for older workers.
No one is demanding that Congress or the courts accord equal rights to older workers under the law, including the AARP, the EEOC and the American Civil Liberties Union. Meanwhile, the same corporations that demand rights for the transgendered are engaging in systemic age discrimination.
The plight of older workers began in 1964 when Congress refused to include age as a protected class in Title VII. After three years of lobbying by business interests, Congress passed the ADEA, a severely watered down version of Title VII that has exposed generations of older Americans to wholesale and perfectly legal age discrimination in employment, especially in hiring.
There also is little public sympathy for older workers. Stereotypes about older people are profoundly negative (i.e. rigid, feeble, depressed). Older workers often are seen by younger workers as impediments to job advancement and limited resources. Employers, including the U.S. government, treat older workers like an obstacle to a more diverse workforce. Moreover, researchers say many people subconsciously associate aging with death and disease. There also is little understanding about the long-term and severe impacts of age discrimination, which condemns millions of women to decades of poverty in their later years.
Of course, these observations are not meant to begrudge transgender individuals their basic human right to be treated with dignity and respect but simply to point out that older Americans too deserve to be free from invidious and harmful discrimination. If every type of irrational and harmful discrimination is treated with the same degree of condemnation and outrage, there will be far less discrimination against all Americans, including transgendered individuals.