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JOURNEY OF COURAGE P2 | A woman's struggle led to national change

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Updated: 2/28 2:15 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- A Las Vegas woman is using her personal struggle to spark change at the national level.

She says she was harassed and handcuffed at the Social Security office when she tried to change her gender marker from male to female.

Her story was one of the many examples used to lobby Washington, D.C. to enact a change in policy and questions about service to citizens at public institutions.

Making the choice to transition genders isn't easy and involves much more than just changing an outfit.

Transgender men and women face discrimination on a daily basis.

Even struggling to match their identification with the way they look.

Changing your identity means dealing with government agencies which can prove tedious under the best of circumstances. Now imagine doing it as a transgender person.

Jillian Destito, who was born a man, has been going by her current name since June 2011.

She says she has known about her gender feelings since she was 5-years-old.

She planned on making the gender change official on Feb 2, 2012 but things went wrong with a man at the Social Security office.

“He referred to me as sir and I told him it was ma'am. He got a little attitude with me and asked me if I had had the surgery. At this point we're standing in front of a room of 80 or 100 people all waiting at the Social Security office and I look around and everyone is staring at us, Destito said.

“At that point he told me to leave the building. I immediately got really embarrassed and told him I didn't think his question was appropriate.”

She says she was scared and was marched outside and handcuffed. She was left in the cold for almost an hour.

Mara Keisling executive director of the national center for transgender equality lobbied in Washington, D.C. to soften the surgery requirement.

Now a person simply needs a doctor’s note saying he or she has undergone “appropriate clinical treatment.”

Destito hasn't been back to the social security office because she is scared after what happened there. She has changed her passport and driver’s license to read "F" for female.

Her friend Jane Heenan, co-direcor of Gender Justice Nevada applauds the easier requirements.

“Some doctors are going to say until you've had bottom surgery, we aren't going to fill out the form where other docs are going to say, I get it, really it's not about surgery, it's about who you are, how you understand yourself and how you're presenting in the world,” Heenan said.

Still, it's a lot of work and potential embarrassment, but mismatching identities can make it difficult to get a job explains Mel Goodwin who runs a transgender support group at the center.

Folks are routinely denied jobs, denied promotions, : fired from jobs not able to obtain employment lawfully :16 and that impacts a person's mental health and quality of life in so many ways :20 >

Destito is an electrician but said she lost her job once she started transitioning. But it's the way it had to be.

She said she has never regretted herr decision to transition and to become a woman.

“My choice was to either die or transition,” she said.

The National Center for Transgender equality is working with other federal agencies to make changing gender markers easier.

Other transgender issues targeting today include better customer service as well as military discharge papers.

If names and markers don't match up, it can be difficult for a vet to get benefits.

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