Little Justice Leaders Blog

Women’s and Nonbinary People’s Rights: A Recent History of Events

By Gabby Cushman

A look back at how far we’ve come in the fight for gender equality

Our monthly theme for August was the history of women’s and nonbinary people’s rights. During this time, we’ve gone over the progress made by gender equality advocates, from early suffrage movements to modern-day laws. 

Looking at our recent history of advancements toward women’s and nonbinary people’s rights will help us see how far we’ve come and what more we need to do to create an equal space for all genders. This post will cover a handful of events from the 1970’s to what’s happened in the 2020’s so far. As you read, think of other significant happenings not included in this timeline.

The 1970s

  • Title IX was passed (1972): Title IX was the first comprehensive federal law protecting educational institution students and employees from sex/gender discrimination. Title IX states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” This law requires schools to ensure that their programs, curriculum, and environment are free of gender bias. 
  • Women can serve on juries (1973): Women could now serve on juries in all 50 states. This movement began in 1895 when Utah was the first state to permit women on juries.
  • Equal Credit Opportunity Act was enacted (1974): A financial regulation law, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was signed into law by President Gerald Ford. The ECOA prohibits creditors from discriminating based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, or age, and creditors must provide a reason if credit is denied. This allowed women to apply for credit cards and have bank accounts without a male family member/spouse being required to co-sign. 
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed (1978): The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or other related medical conditions. This act protected childbearing people in the workplace from unfavorable treatment by employers regarding hiring, firing, wages, promotions, layoffs, training, and other aspects of employment.

The 1980s-1990s

  • The first female Supreme Court justice was appointed (1981): Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman on the Supreme Court. Justice O’Connor served from 1981 to 2006 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by President Barack Obama.
  • Columbia College allows women to attend (1983): The last all-male college in the Ivy League, Columbia College, began accepting women as students in their 1983 fall freshmen class. This led to the first coeducational class graduating in 1987, represented by a female valedictorian and salutatorian.
  • The term “Two-Spirit” was created (1990): The Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference coined the term “Two-Spirit” as an English umbrella term for gender identities unique to indigenous cultures that usually exist outside the Western gender binary. Two-spirit individuals used its creation to distance themselves from non-native interpretations of their gender.
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act is enacted (1993): The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year for the following reasons: for the birth and care of a newborn child, for the adoption or foster care of a child, to care for an immediate family member with a severe health condition, or to take medical leave when the employee themselves has a serious health condition.

The 2010s-2020s

  • DSM-5 includes “gender dysphoria” (2013): The DSM-5 was published and replaced “gender identity disorder” with “gender dysphoria” in an effort to focus diagnosis on gender identity-related distress and lessen the pathologization of transgender and nonbinary individuals. The DSM-5 states that “gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder.” This change helped reduce the stigma trans and nonbinary people face when seeking mental health support.
  • Nonbinary/gender-neutral identification options become available on legal documents (2017): Some states started making strides to include nonbinary gender identities in legal documentation. Oregan was the first state to issue gender-neutral IDs, and California became the first state to provide gender-neutral birth certificates. The District of Columbia also began offering a nonbinary gender identity option on means of identification, represented by an “X.”
  • A wave of trans/nonbinary officials are elected (2020): An unprecedented number of trans women and nonbinary people were elected to significant political seats during this year’s state elections. Examples include state senator Sarah McBride (Delaware) and state legislators Stephanie Byers (Kansas), Mauree Turner (Oklahoma), and Joshua Query (New Hampshire).
  • Our first woman and woman of color is elected Vice President (2021): Kamala Harris makes history as the first woman and woman of color to serve as the Vice President of the United States. In her victory speech, Vice President Harris said: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last…Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”
  • Roe v. Wade is overturned (2022): The US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, the landmark case that affirmed abortion as a constitutional right. The legality of abortion was left up to the states to decide individually. This move was seen as a massive step backward regarding reproductive rights.

While reflecting on the long history of women’s and nonbinary people’s fight for equal rights, it’s important to emphasize the events happening now that will affect gender equality moving into the future. Discuss with your little ones some impactful developments that have occurred in the last couple of years that directly influence women and nonbinary people. Then, consider how these milestones can pave the way for further strides towards gender equality.

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