Gov. Patrick Signs Historic Executive Order Protecting Transgender State Employees

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February 18, 2011
By Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter

Governor Deval Patrick issued an executive order that prohibits discrimination based on “gender identity or expression,” a move that provides transgender workers in state government with employment protections.  The order, signed by the governor on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 17, applies to all state agencies  within the executive branch, as well as contractors doing business with the Commonwealth.

The order is an expansion of state’s existing civil-rights policy, which already bans discrimination based on race, gender, religion, marital status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, among other categories.

The governor’s action makes Massachusetts the 21st state to offer its transgender state employees employment non-discrimination guarantees.

While praising Patrick, transgender activists and allies hope the governor’s order will provide impetus for the Legislature to pass statewide protections.

“This is going to make a real difference in the lives of transgender state workers and their families,” said Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, the leading advocacy organization.  “No one should have to work in fear that they could lose their job simply because of who they are.”

“Governor Patrick is a true champion for the LGBT community,” said Kara Sufrendini, executive director of MassEquality, a statewide LGBT organization.  “We applaud the critical first step he has taken with this order toward creating a Commonwealth where all hardworking people, including transgender people, have the opportunity to make a living and provide for themselves and their families.”

The next step necessary, advocates say, is passage of a transgender equal-rights law, which would ban discrimination against transgender workers in both public and private sectors statewide.

Governor Patrick, a supporter of transgender equality, has said he would sign such a bill into law.

The transgender bill would add gender identity and expression to existing Massachusetts civil-rights laws that prohibit discrimination based on a host of characteristics, including sexual orientation, not only in employment, buy also in housing, public accommodations, education, and credit.

The bill would also add gender identity or expression to the state’s exiting hate-crimes statutes.

The bill defines gender identity and expression as “a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.”

An umbrella group, the Transgender Equal Rights Coalition, is the organizational force behind lobbying efforts to pass the bill on Beacon Hill.  Members include the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, MassEquality, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, Massachusetts Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus, the state chapter of National Organization for Women, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and Massachusetts LGBTQ Bar Association.

Arline Isaacson, chairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus, told the Boston Globe that Patrick’s executive order “is a powerful step that’s going to help us get the bill passed.”

Why?

“Because we can now go to legislators and say, ‘Look, it’s already law for state employees and vendors, and nothing bad has happened,’” she explained.

Still, the transgender equal-rights measure has its detractors, who dub it the “bathroom bill,” a highly offensive label to supporters.

Kris Mineau, president of the anti-gay Massachusetts Family Institute, voiced concerns.  The executive order, he told the Globe, “May well be a stealth bathroom bill, opening bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers to any gender in all government-controlled facilities, including public schools down to kindergarten.”

But transgender equality activists view those concerns as scare tactics.  The transgender bill, they say, is aimed at preventing pervasive discrimination and harassment.

In fact, Patrick’s executive order comes on the heels of  recently released report by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

A national survey of 6,450 transgender people, the report found that respondents had twice the rate of unemployment as the general population.  The report also found that  90 percent of respondents said they had been harassed on the job, with 47 percent believing they lost a job, were not hired, or had been fired or denied a promotion for being transgender.  A quarter of those surveyed said they lost a job, and 39 percent said they had not been hired because of their gender identity.

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The survey included 283 Massachusetts participants.  More than three quarters of respondents reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment at work, with 20 percent reporting a job loss.  Seventeen percent said they had been denied a promotion, with 39 percent saying they had not been hired for a job because of their gender identity.

“These statistics show the stark need for a statewide bill to prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity,” said state Representative Carl Sciortino, a lead sponsor of the bill.

“It is imperative that the Legislature pass the Transgender Equal Rights Bill,” said Richard Moore, co-chair of the Massachusetts LGBTQ Bar Association, a professional organization.

“Delighted” but “not surprised” by Patrick’s executive order, Joanne Herman, said she is “surprised by the difficulty we are having getting similar protection for all transgender employees in the Commonwealth, the first state in the nation to allow same sex marriage and the second state to protect gay employees against discrimination.”

Added Herman, author of a book, Transgender Explained for Those Who Are Not, “The delay in the legislature is based on misinformation by a small group of people, and that is inexcusable.