Transgender rights bill passes in Mass. House and Senate

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Once signed, the Law will go into effect July 1, 2012

By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter/

BOSTON-Casino gambling grabbed all the headlines, but in an historic vote the Massachusetts House of Representatives approved a measure Tuesday evening, Nov. 15, which would extend civil-rights and hate-crimes protections to transgender residents.

The vote was 95 – 58, with only one Republican voting in favor of the bill, Representative Daniel B. Winslow of Norfolk.

“This is our moment,” said attorney Jennifer Levi, Transgender Rights Project director for the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders.

“There is a deeper understanding in this building about the need for these protections,” Levi said, adding, “The number of people who have now met with legislators and talked about the reality of their lives made the issue understandable.”

“There are no legal arguments left to oppose civil-rights protections,” said Levi.

The measure, adopted by the House last night, passed the Senate by a voice vote this morning.  Governor Deval Patrick has indicated he will sign the bill into law. It would go into effect July 1, 2012.

The transgender civil-rights bill would add protections based on “gender identity” to the statutes banning discrimination in employment, housing, education, and credit. It would also add gender identity to current hate-crimes laws.

The measure, however, does not include protections for public accommodations, such as hotels and restaurants, restrooms, locker rooms, public buildings and transit, including subway and bus lines.

That omission bothers a lead sponsor of the bill, Representative Carl M. Sciortino, Jr. (D-Medford). But he said, the bill is a step forward  “It makes sure that people who have faced violence and discrimination have legal remedy.”

 

Public accommodations provisions were included in an earlier version of the bill but were dropped in a redrafting of the measure by the House Committee on the Judiciary, whose chairman is Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea).

The bill’s detractors zeroed in on fears about public safety in restrooms and locker rooms. In an effort to derail the measure, opponents derisively labeled it a “bathroom bill.”

Under current law, race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, among other categories are protected classes. The bill would add the term gender identity to the list.

The bill defines that term as “a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth. Gender-related identity may be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, as part of a person’s core identity; provided however, gender-related identity shall not be asserted for any improper purpose.”

Beacon Hill was a whirl of activity yesterday as lawmakers attempted to close out the legislative session.

The vote on the transgender bill came before 9:00 p.m. and after an unsuccessful attempt to refer the legislation to the Ways and Means Committee for study on the measure’s effect on state finances.

The vote also came after lawmakers defeated an amendment, proposed by Representative Paul Frost (R-Andover), to gut the bill of its civil-rights protections, leaving only provisions for hate-crimes protections.

Earlier in the day, a small group of lawmakers opposed to a bill said it would distract the Legislature from creating jobs and improving the economy and that the bill would usher in a flood of lawsuits and hurt small business.

“This is a bill about Beacon Hill once again taking up the wrong priorities,” said Representative Marc Lombardo, a Republican from Billerica. The bill “exposes small businesses to unwanted press and litigation and opens up the door to social change that would take away the rights of hard working men and women and parents.”

“This bill does not promote business,” he added. “We need to be focused on one thing in this Legislature: jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Joining Lombardo outside the House chambers were Representatives Kevin J. Kuros (Uxbridge), Peter Durant (Spencer), Keiko M. Orrall (Lakeville), Steven L. Levy, (Marlborough), James J. Lyons, Jr. (Andover), Angelo L. D’Emilia (Bridgewater), Paul Adams (Andover), and Shaunna O’Connell (Tauton), among others – all of them Republicans.

Lombardo’s comments came at a 10:30 a.m. press conference, which took place as news spread the transgender bill had received a favorable report from the Joint Committee of Judiciary.  And therefore, it would be taken up by the full House of Representatives.
“The bill comes with flawed assumptions,” said Representative Mark Adams during the press availability. “It assumes that transgender individuals need special protections in order to participate fully in society.”

“It encourages politicians to cater to special interests rather than working on issues that promote the common good – lower taxes, good paying jobs, and cleaner environment,” Adams said.

“Massachusetts has been very progressive on hate-crime laws, and we have plenty of laws on the books,” he said.  “If transgender people have opportunities for recourse if they feel they have been discriminated against.”Adams also said the bill “caters to Boston special interests instead of what is in the best interests of the Commonwealth.”

For her part, Representative Shaunna O’Connell said, “The bill is very difficult to interpret” and is “vague.”  And yet said “O’Connell, “No one in the Legislature tolerates violence against any person at all.”

Advocates for the transgender bill, however, remained resolute. They day before, activists held their own press conference.  Many of them were on hand Tuesday to hear opponents  – and to push back.

“Right now it’s legal for a business to fire a transgender person for no other reason than their gender identity,” said Sciortino. “A fully functioning, hardworking individual can be told, ‘No, you’re not welcome to work here, you’re not welcome to live here,’ for no other reason than gender identity.”

“I’d like to remind opponents that transgender people are human beings,” said Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. “Some lawmakers forget that.”

“Civil-rights protections never hurt anyone,” said Levi. “Providing support in the workplace for all employees is good for business.”

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