Respecting Choice: Genital Surgery as an Option, (15 June 1995) Houston, TX
Martine Rothblatt, a prolific innovator, musician, and one of the wealthiest transgender people in the world, was born in 1954 in Chicago and raised in a suburb of San Diego. Rothblatt went to college at UCLA where they earned an MBA and JD.1 After graduating from UCLA, Rothblatt met and married their second spouse, Bina. The couple cross-adopted each other’s children, Eli and Sunnee, and eventually had two more children together, Jenesis and Gabriel. The family lived in Washington D.C., where Rothblatt worked for a law firm before enrolling in the University of Maryland’s graduate program in astronomy.
Rothblatt used their knowledge of law, business, and science to develop and found Sirius Radio and later United Therapeutics.2 They also created a science- and philosophy-based religion called the Terasem Movement, which is built on a central belief that artificial intelligence and other technologies will eventually make death optional and should be used to alleviate human suffering.3 In 1995, they published a book on the oppressive nature of the sexual binary, The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender. They argue in the book that limiting sex to two categories is unnecessary and scientifically inaccurate. They instead championed a new model of understanding sex as a continuum.4 The Apartheid of Sex epitomizes Rothblatt’s activism in support of trans rights.
Rothblatt’s activism also extends to medical science. They founded United Therapeutics to research and fund life-saving medication for their daughter’s rare and deadly lung disease, pulmonary arterial hypertension. This medication has helped thousands of seriously ill patients and encouraged Rothblatt’s innovative research on lung transplantation.5 Rothblatt often faced resistance in such medical breakthroughs from the medical establishment but such resistance made them all the more resilient. Rothblatt once said, “I’m a person who likes to hear why something can’t be done and I’ll whittle down every one of the can’ts one at a time.”6
Rothblatt delivered “Respecting Choice: Genital Surgery as an Option,” at the Respecting Choice Forum of the fourth International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy (ICTLEP) in 1995. Rothblatt was on the board of directors of ICTLEP from its inception in 1991 through 1994, and they spoke at each of their annual conferences from 1991-1997.7 ICTLEP was established by Phyllis Randolph Frye, a transgender lawyer from Houston, Texas, who began her activist journey by overturning an anti-crossdressing law in 1981. Partnering with Rothblatt and other trans activists, Frye’s goal was to engage with lawyers and grassroots organizers to establish legal protections for the transgender community. ICTLEP disbanded after the 1997 conference in part because of Frye’s fragile health, but also because the organization had largely accomplished its goal of creating transgender rights in the United States.8
When Rothblatt spoke at the conference’s Respecting Choice Forum, their audience members were at various stages of physical transition. The forum’s audience members included non-operative (not planning to have gender affirming surgery [GAS]), pre-operative (planning to have GAS in the future), and post-operative trans people like Rothblatt (already had GAS). By November of 1995, the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act had passed, just two years after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This act allowed judges to impose harsher sentences for crimes that targeted victims based on their “actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.”9 This was the first legislation that specifically protected people from being victimized based on their “actual or perceived” gender, signifying a level of federal protection against anti-trans hate crimes.10 While the conference as a whole centered on legal rights and protections, this forum focused on the different ways people could express transgender identity. The panelists’ speeches emphasized that the trans community needed to respect the gender-expression of all members in order to move forward as a group.11
- Rebecca Fritchman and Jay Premack, “Persistence Is Omnipotent,” USPTO, June 2, 2020, https://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/journeys-innovation/field-stories/persistence-omnipotent.
- Neely Tucker, “Martine Rothblatt: She Founded SiriusXM, a Religion and a Biotech. Now She’s the Top-Paid Female Executive,” Washington Post, December 12, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/martine-rothblatt-she-founded-siriusxm-a-religion-and-a-biotech-for-starters/2014/12/11/5a8a4866-71ab-11e4-ad12-3734c461eab6_story.html.
- “Terasem Movement Foundation –Mission,” Terasem Movement, 2021, https://terasemmovementfoundation.com/mission.
- Tucker, “Martine Rothblatt.”
- Fritchman and Premack, “Persistence is Omnipotent”; Tucker, “Martine Rothblatt.”
- “Martine Rothblatt,” Forbes, October 13, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/profile/martine-rothblatt/.
- Phyllis Randolph Frye, “History of the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy, Inc.,” ICTLEP, n.d., http://kdfletcherlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/05-FRYE11a-HistoryOfICTLEP.pdf.
- Frye, “History of the International,” 9.
- Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act of 1993, H.R. 1152, March 25, 1994, 103rd Congress, 2nd session, https://www.congress.gov/bill/103rd-congress/house-bill/1152/text.
- The terminology “real or perceived gender” referred to trans people in 1995 before “transgender” became a mainstream term. See: “LGBTQ Rights Milestones Fast Facts,” CNN, February 2, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2015/06/19/us/lgbt-rights-milestones-fast-facts.
- “Respecting Choice Forum,” ICTLEP, June 15, 1995, https://www.digitaltransgenderarchive.net/files/02870v908.