Dressed in a beige sweater and black jeans, Lucas Rosa walked into Park West Bank in July 1998 and gave the bank’s loan officer the three forms of photo identification required for a car loan application. The loan officer examined Rosa’s ID’s, looked at Rosa, and told Rosa to go home to change into a different outfit. Only after Rosa changed clothes would the bank give her a loan application.
The bank’s refusal to give Rosa a loan application brought Rosa and GLAD to federal court in one of the first federal cases upholding the rights of transgender people. In GLAD’s 2000 victory, Rosa v. Park West Bank, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit confirmed that sex discrimination laws extend to situations where people are discriminated against because they don’t conform to stereotypes of how men and women are supposed to look and act.
Born biologically male, Rosa had been expressing a female gender identity since at least age 15. At Park West Bank she presented in a more female gendered expression, as she did in one of her photo ID’s and as she did in her daily life. But in her two other ID’s, she presented differently—one photo was more gender ambiguous, and the third was more stereotypically male. The loan officer wanted Rosa to come back dressed like her more masculine photo.
Overturning a lower court’s dismissal of Rosa’s sex discrimination claim, the First Circuit Court ruled that there was no categorical exclusion of transgender people under the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Since then, the case has been a key precedent for federal courts in reversing the historic exclusion of transgender people from non-discrimination laws.
GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer Levi