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JOURNEY OF COURAGE P1 | Vegas woman's fight for gender recognition

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Updated: 2/28/2014 2:15 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV -- A Las Vegas woman's fight against the federal government has led to a national policy change that affects people across the country.

Jillian Destito was born a man, but now lives as a woman, and she wanted her identity with Social Security to reflect that choice.

She says her rights were violated when she was handcuffed and harassed while trying to change her gender marker.

Destito has only been legally registered under this name for two years, but she has felt like a female since she was 5 years old.

“I’ve known pretty much my entire conscious life that this is how I was,” Destito said.

She says she denied this part of herself for a long time, living as a man and even marrying a woman.

“My ex kind of knew,” she says. “But, obviously I was unsure. I always knew but I thought it would be something that would eventually go away.”

But it didn't, so eventually Destito made the decision to start dressing as a woman and taking hormones.

“When people see the inconsistencies in gender identity, it has a weird effect on people,” Destito said.

Destito also had problems at work. Destito was a union electrician for 12 years and she says she was harassed for using the woman's restroom, which led to problems with the corporate office.

“It was so embarrassing to be on a job site where I'm having issues because I'm transgender and then to have security humiliate me in front of all my co-workers like that,” Destito said.

She eventual lost that job just three months after she began her transition. She decided to make her choice legal with the correct documentation.

She changed her driver’s license and her passport to reflect her gender as female. She has yet to change her Social Security card.

“To be perfectly honest, I’m kind of afraid to go there (Social Security office),” she says. “I don't want all those memories to come flooding back in.”

Inside the Social Security office, Destito says she had the court order to change her name, but was confronted with the issue of her gender.

A security guard continuously called her "sir" and rudely asked if she had had gender reassignment surgery in front of 100 people. She got embarrassed and asked to see a supervisor.

“The big security guard told me I was born a man and I needed to act like a man,” she said. “They dragged me around to the side of the building.”

That's where she says they handcuffed her for almost an hour even though she was complying.

“At that point I got really scared. I'm on the side of this building, its freezing cold and I have these two guys who obviously have an issue with me being transgender,” Destito said. “The thought in my head was ‘I’m going to be murdered back here.’”

She says someone from Homeland Security eventually showed up and let her go. She reported the incident to federal agencies, Metro, and the Nevada Equal Rights Commission, but even after telling her story, little was done and no charges have been filed.

Now she is suing, and is represented by attorney Dan Winder.

“We would certainly like a letter of apology,” Winder said. “Jillian is entitled to receive her Social Security card and change in gender as required by the law.”

She attempted suicide after what happened at the social security office, but she's better now and stronger, pushing forward and sharing her story for one reason.

“It's going to make it easier for the next generation and they won’t have to endure that kind of stuff,” Destito said.

The policy changed 16 months after her visit to the Social Security office, when a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group used her story to help make changes that will impact people from all over the country.


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