Don Haider-Markel

Professor and chair of the political science department Don Haider-Markel focuses research in transgender rights. 

With over 20 years of research under his belt, Don Haider-Markel is in the final stages of his second book about transgender rights which will come out next year. 

The book, titled “The Remarkable Rise of Transgender Rights,” will explore the rise of the transgender rights movement in areas such as health, criminal justice and education. It will also look into the reasons behind this rise. Haider-Markel is a professor and chair of the Department of Political Science.

The first book Haider-Markel co-edited is called "Transgender Rights and Politics: Groups, Issue Framing & Policy Adoption. Released in 2014, the book examines the issue of transgender rights in politics and the policy-making process.

Haider-Markel started researching LGBTQ+ issues as part of his focus on outsider groups while he attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. According to Haider-Markel, his master’s thesis was focused on gay and lesbian anti-discrimination laws.

For Haider-Markel, transitioning his focus to transgender rights “felt like a natural progression." This is because he followed the trend of the movement as a whole, which began with the discussion of transgender issues in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“Historically when any discrimination policies were considered, when priorities were considered for the movement and discussed, it was often times gender identity or transgender people that were left off the agenda,” he said.

Vanessa Delgado, coordinator for the Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity, said that the way society functions is a key reason why transgender individuals have struggled historically.

“It is important to consider the ways in which trans folks have been limited by our societal structure. In many ways trans individuals have been denied access to healthcare, workplace protections, and legal aid,” she said in an email. “There are exponentially more laws that limit the ways trans folks can live their truths, than ever existed for cisgender LGB folks.”

Throughout his years researching the movement, perhaps one thing Haider-Markel did not anticipate was the rapid successes the LGBTQ+ movement has seen in the last few years with the achievement of marriage equality.

“I thought those things were further down the road,” he said.

However, with the bathroom bill in North Carolina and President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender individuals from the military, Haider-Markel said the transgender movement is entering a period of backlash, similar to the one experienced by the gay movement in the late 70s through the early 80s.

That being said, Haider-Markel said he believes this setback period may be briefer than that from the 70s, especially considering the similar bathroom bill that failed to pass in Texas.

“I think it’s remarkable,” he said. “The fact that they couldn’t get that in Texas, with a conservative legislature and a governor that was ready to sign, so that’s, to me, a sign that maybe this backlash won’t be long,” he said.

Haider-Markel expects this backlash period will bring a change in public attitude. He said one of the big elements of changing public opinion on gay and lesbian rights is an education process that starts with backlash suffered.

“In the long run, it’s gonna create an atmosphere where people learn more about this issue,” he said.

He said the concept of a non-fixed gender or gender identity is a concept still foreign for most cisgender people.

“Even today, even in the gay community, there’s still a resistance to this notion of transgender and this focus on gender identity and the idea that sex, sexual orientation and gender identity are all separate things is still difficult for some people to wrap their heads around,” he said.

Positive representation in popular culture, Haider-Markel added, helps to educate and change perceptions.

Awareness is also key for cisgender people to be allies to transgender people, Delgado said.

“Cis folks must pay attention to the ways in which they perpetuate cissexism every day: When shopping, using a public restroom, or filling out a form, cisgender folks must recognize the privilege they have in being able to do that without having to out themselves or without fear of harm,” she said. “Once we have that awareness, then we can use it to push back on the systems that have left trans folks out.”