In February 2016, BobbieJoy Amann stood before the Stevens Point City Council to urge the council to make it clear that the small, conservative community of Stevens Point, Wisconsin wanted to be on the leading edge of inclusiveness. She was speaking in favor of a local ordinance that would expand existing non-discrimination protections to transgender individuals, protecting from discrimination based on gender identity and expression.
In Wisconsin, people have been protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation since the 1980s – but that law has never been expanded to include gender identity, an enormous gap in full, fair protections. When communities like Stevens Point consider ordinances to expand these protections, it underlines with a thick, permanent marker that there is statewide momentum for full protections across the state.
At the hearing on the ordinance, each speaker was allotted five minutes to state their case for why the ordinance should move forward to better protect transgender individuals in the community. When BobbieJoy spoke, she made use of nearly every second of that time, determined to share her story and help push forward.
“I stressed the fact that this sends a good, positive message – that this is good for business – and that I’m someone who lives here locally, too,” BobbieJoy said. “I wasn’t an outsider, and I wasn’t angry about anything. But I lived in the community and had equity in this decision. And I think being able to put a face on this helped bring it away from being a theoretical discussion. I talked about my transition and the difficulties some people experience with employment. We have a local university in town, so I emphasized that passing this ordinance would send a message to those students that Stevens Point welcomes and values everyone.”
“I think being able to put a face on this helped bring it away from being a theoretical discussion. I talked about my transition and the difficulties some people experience with employment.” – BobbieJoy Amann
By the end of the meeting, the City Council unanimously voted in favor of extending non-discrimination protections to Stevens Point residents based on gender identity. The measure had strong support from the mayor of Stevens Point and is a testament to the vital work community organizers are doing on the ground in states across the country, including Wisconsin.
Since BobbieJoy was self-employed throughout most of her time transitioning – finding work as a flight instructor and through her DJ business – she didn’t have the concerns with employment discrimination that so many other transgender people face. But she does know that transgender people face discrimination – including some of the transgender people in her support group dedicated to transgender individuals in Stevens Point.
At the same time, many of the transgender people she knows in Wisconsin are protected explicitly from employment discrimination through internal, company-wide non-discrimination policies.
What’s important, BobbieJoy said, is that LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections bring everyone to the same page: To the understanding that discriminating against someone just because of who they are or who they love is not only wrong, but legally unacceptable.
BobbieJoy’s advice to others hoping to push forward on winning local protections for LGBT people is about building strong relationships with other community members.
“When transgender people see these protections get embraced by their community, it’s one more reason for them to be themselves – one more reason not to hide anymore about who they are.”
“The key is to work locally – and to encourage people that it may not be as tough as you’d imagine to work with your local municipality to get protections passed,” BobbieJoy said. “You need to have allies, you need to have positive visibility, and you need to show that the support for these protections is coming from the grassroots. It’s hard for representatives to ignore that support.”