News | Transported: Bill to fight discrimination gets shuffled off to interim, and transgender Utahns grow impatient 

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The specter of suicide had hung close to Candice Metzler often in her life as she struggled to come terms with her female identity, but not so much as one day in September 2007. Facing separation from her children, having just lost her job and also discovering her insurance wouldn’t cover her upcoming sex-change surgery, Metzler set off alone by herself into Little Cottonwood Canyon and free-climbed a 260-foot cliff—with no ropes, harness or a care in the world if she were to slip and fall to her death.

“On top, I just sat down for about three hours debating whether or not to jump off the cliff,” Metzler says. Finally the image of her two children helped bring her down. For Metzler, the lingering fear of suicide is one—now as a fully transitioned woman—she wants to help others combat. The battle for recognition of the transgender community, she believes, can’t be delayed until legislation catches up.

And while Rep. Christine Johnson’s employment nondiscrimination act to protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from workplace discrimination has been forced into an interim study committee, Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, feels she is making slow but steady progress. “I consider it a little bit of a victory because they didn’t kill the bill on the spot. It’s very impressive that we are continuing the dialogue,” she says. Still others in the LGBT community worry about continued discrimination as the discussion creeps along.

The tricky notion of gender being something not solely identified by anatomy is one the conservative Utah Legislature has struggled with. But, for Metzler, sexual identity has everything to do with identity and nothing to do with sex. After completing her male-to-female transition surgery last December, Metzler now has the girlfriend to prove it. “People always tell me, ‘Wait—you got the surgery, and now you date women? What gives?’ And that’s the hard thing for people. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with sex; it’s about identity.

“There are people who identify as ‘bigender,’ no gender—both in the same day if they want. The [transgender community] is a huge continuum of possibilities,” Metzler says. While the law might only recognize anatomical male/female distinctions, Metzler still considers the law inconsistent in the way it treats individuals born intersex (male and female sex organs) and who were assigned a gender at birth. “Why is it sanctioned for a doctor to assign sex at birth, but not for an individual to choose that for themselves as adults?”

As long as the law fails to recognize gender self-identification, people in that category fear that discrimination will abound. Metzler lost her job as a home inspector last September. She thought her employer had been accepting of her transitioning, but when the housing market slumped, Metzler lost her job. She believes discrimination has kept her from finding another job.

Metzler has spent the last six months living out of her car and staying occasionally at the homes of friends and focusing only on finishing up her psychology degree at Salt Lake Community College. She is surviving on student loans and grants and has set a goal to gain her PhD. Metzler hopes to someday conduct research affecting policy for homeless, transgender youth. Meanwhile, she often speaks to groups, trying to educate them about the struggles of those the law has left in the margins.

When the House Business and Labor Committee heard Johnson’s legislation and voted to move the bill to an interim session so that more data could be collected, one concern was how to statistically document the level of employment discrimination against people in the LGBT community.

The panel decided to examine the issue in the interim, after monitoring for more complaints filed with the Utah Labor Commission of LGBT discrimination. As of press time, the Labor Commission has tracked 18 complaints filed since last July, and it will present more data and testimony at a yet to be determined committee date within the next few months.

Johnson was pleased a conversation began, even though the bill did not make it to the House floor. “They didn’t want the conversation to end; they had a lot of questions,” she says. For Johnson, the conversation is crucial and is the beginning of bigger things. “This is the only way we can stop the cycle of dehumanizing the LGBT community.”

Not everyone is impressed by the progress of the legislation. “Procedurally, it’s progressed,” says Paul Mero of the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank critical of the bill. “I still consider it a policy that arrived D.O.A., and now I guess it’s just moved to the funeral home.”

According to Mero, the legislation unnecessarily extends civil rights to a group, whose situation was one they chose. “These issues should be treated on a case-by-case basis,” Mero says. “To me, these are human choices being played out. I know it’s more complicated but, ultimately, it comes down to choice. I’m not trying to belittle anyone’s struggles, but the only way this rises to a level of civil rights is if some one is born that way.”

For Metzler, to think that choice was involved at all was an illusion forced upon her.

“In retrospect, it wasn’t the fact that I suddenly switched and decided to be a woman,” Metzler says. “It was that I stopped trying to force myself into a male mold. Looking back, I always knew I was a woman.”

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More by Eric S. Peterson

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