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U.S. a decade behind Canada on LGBT rights, says activist

The U.S. is 10 years behind Canada when it comes to LGBT rights, says transgender American activist Stephanie Battaglino.

One of the two guest speakers the U.S. Embassy is bringing to Capital Pride next week, Battaglino will speak on issues affecting the transgender community, including social networking and workplace legislation for transitioning employees.

“Homelessness and unemployment are big issues for the LGBT community because we can't talk about marriage equality if you don't have a roof over your head,” she said from her New York office.

One of the pioneering voices in LGBT rights south of the border, the 55 year-old Battaglino, who admits that she was “deeply in the closet most of my life,” transitioned from male to female openly while working as the vice president of a major insurance company.

Following her gender reassignment surgery in 2006, she partnered with her company to create systems that help employees transition in the future and later co-founded the LGBT employee resource group NYLPride. She also works with a number of think-tanks and lobby groups, including the Board of Directors for the LGBT Community Centre of New York.

“Things are happening a little faster in Canada than here in the U.S.,” added Battaglino. “Canada's had marriage equality since 2003, and has moved on with better surgical supports and stronger human rights legislation, while in the States, we're still debating the issue of marriage equality. We have a long way to go.”

The New Jersey native, the youngest of four, knew that she was not like other boys at an early age, secretly cross-dressing in her mother's clothes when she was nine.

“I wasn't sure what it was, but I knew I was not the classic girl trapped inside a boy's body,” she says.

Defining her gender identity became a big motivating force, and like many transgender people, she began by challenging her maleness. She became a champion college athlete, married three times and had a son before initiating beginning the transition process in her 40s.

“I knew I had to have the surgery if I was ever going to have congruence, for the world to see me as I saw myself.  Surgery was the icing on the cake. I'll always be transitioning, but at least now, I'm living my truth and I'm euphoric. It's a blessing to have lived a life on both sides of the (gender) fence.”

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