Well before Caitlyn Jenner became one of the most high-profile reality stars on television, American families tuned in to watch Maura, the likable middle-aged protagonist of Transparent, who comes out to her adult children as transgender. The popular Amazon series has been at the forefront of pushing transgender awareness into mainstream media, but the show’s creator says there’s still a long way to go toward achieving transgender equality.
“We don’t have a trans tipping point yet—we have a trans civil rights problem,” Jill Soloway said at the Emmys on Sunday night while accepting the award for best directing for a comedy series. She referenced her own transgender parent, whom she lovingly called her “moppa,” a gender-neutral term combining "momma" and "poppa," to point out that a majority of states still lack civil rights protections for transgender Americans.
“She could tomorrow try to go find an apartment, and in 32 states it would be legal for the landlord to say, ‘We don’t rent to trans people,’ ” Soloway said. She used the personal example to point out that these states do not guarantee explicit protection against employment and housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The absence of legal protection also means that, as Rhode Island Congressman David Ciciline said when introducing the Equality Act
earlier this summer, “You can get married on Saturday, post your wedding photos to Facebook on Sunday, and then get fired on Monday because of who you are.”
His proposed bill would expand on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to explicitly ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity in public accommodations, housing, employment, federal funding, education, credit, and jury service.
Soloway urged the Emmy audience to visit the National Center for Transgender Equality’s website
to learn more about how to protect transgender rights.
The creator and director, who wore a polka-dotted suit and platform shoes, was not the only Transparent star to advocate for transgender rights on the Emmys stage. Jeffrey Tambor, who plays Maura, made history as the first actor—regardless of gender—to win an Emmy for portraying a transgender character. It’s a landmark title he also earned when he won the award for best actor in a TV series at the Golden Globes earlier this year.
“When you act, you have to act as if your life depends on it,” Tambor said during his acceptance speech on Sunday night. “And now I have been given the opportunity to act because people’s lives depend on it.”
He dedicated his award to the transgender community, which faces disproportionately high rates of discrimination, harassment, unemployment, and homelessness. Tambor thanked Zackary Drucker, Jenny Boyland, and Van Barnes—transgender women and activists who have all been instrumental in consulting on Transparent. All three have also appeared on Jenner’s docuseries I Am Cait.
“Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your stories. Thank you for your inspiration,” Tambor said. “Thank you for letting us be part of the change.”