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A sweeping look at transgender rights

USC Gould School of Law • June 30, 2020
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 David Cruz co-writes groundbreaking casebook, Gender Identity and the Law

- By Carren Jao

Professor David B. Cruz first met a transgender person as a 16-year-old attending a youth discussion program at the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center of Orange County. He recalled the speaker, a transgender woman, speaking frankly about her inner life and her medical transition to align her body with her gender identity. Since then, transgender people have figured prominently in his life, including a high school friend and a young relative. 

David Cruz teaching

This experience, combined with his work in equal marriage rights for same-sex couples and constitutional law, led him to a monumental project: Gender Identity and the Law, the first casebook of its kind. Co-authored with civil rights attorney Jillian Weiss, former executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, this undertaking is the result of more than a decade of study. Publication is scheduled for fall 2020.

Cruz started offering his course on transgender legal issues at USC Gould School of Law in 2010. However, his interest intensified in the last three years, as transgender issues became more high-profile in society and civil rights protections swung from one end of the spectrum to another with the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration. 

A daunting, but worthwhile, task

In spring 2017, Cruz used his sabbatical semester to flesh out a sample chapter — the tome’s longest — on employment discrimination. The chapter covers legal developments and theoretical issues and has “lots of practical impact for people,” Cruz says. 

“Without the ability to maintain a legal job, it makes it difficult to provide for oneself, to secure medical transition assistance ... to not get into illegal economies.”

From there, Cruz and Weiss completed a full book proposal, including a table of contents, which was eventually accepted by Carolina Academic Press. The result is a sweeping and thorough look at the many issues facing transgender people, from a foundational chapter on sex and gender variation reaching as far back as ancient times, to medical conceptions of sex and gender to just about every aspect of the law including health care inclusion and discrimination, family law and student rights. 

The task of researching, thinking over and setting down to paper centuries’ worth of concepts and cases surrounding transgender people, was daunting, but Cruz says his motivation stems from “the idea that none of us should be restricted in what we’re allowed to do and how we’re allowed to flourish based on sex or gender.” 

In writing his book, Cruz looks to the future generation of lawmakers to help create a better world. 

“If we begin to educate more and more law students who go out into the world and become part of the legal system … then we can move to a place where we are treating all people more equally and fairly,” he says. 

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