Mass. Lawmakers Debate Trans Equality Bill; Conn. Gov. Set to Sign Similar Measure
Lawmakers in two New England states are pondering bills that would help ensure equality for transgender people.
In Massachusetts, both chambers of the state government deliberated over a bill that would do away with discrimination against trans people in the areas of housing, public accommodations, and the workplace, among others.
Meantime, lawmakers in Connecticut have already approved a similar bill. Gov. Dan Malloy has promised to sign the bill into law.
In both states, opponents sought to reduce the complex issue into a single, highly charged point of contention, claiming that under the provisions of such a law sexual predators would infiltrate women’s restrooms and locker rooms in order to spy upon, and possibly assault, women and girls.
But Conn. Gov. Malloy refused to be sidetracked by lurid rhetoric.
"This bill is another step forward in the fight for equal rights for all of Connecticut’s citizens, and it’s the right thing to do," a statement from the governor said, reported justout.com on June 7. "It’s difficult enough for people who are grappling with the issue of their gender identity, and discrimination against them has no place in our society. Connecticut has lead the way in other civil rights issues and I’m proud to be able to support and sign this bill."
The Connecticut bill would bar discrimination based upon "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," the article reported, quoting from the text of the bill itself.
The bill does not give carte blanche to non-transgender individuals who might attempt to sneak into women’s restrooms and then claim that they did so because they happened to "feel transgender" that day. Rather, the bill calls for trans individuals to be able to back up assertions of their gender identity through their medical history or through "consistent and uniform assertion," the justout article said.
Trans residents of Massachusetts found allies in a group of leaders from the faith community who renewed pressure on state lawmakers in April to pass a bill that would include trans people under anti-discrimination laws, the Boston Globe reported on April 5.
Among the faith leaders seeking comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation was state Episcopalian head Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, who told the newspaper that fully 25% of transgender Massachusetts residents had faced a loss of employment due to their gender identity. Almost all transgender citizens of the state had been harassed in some manner, he said.
"Supporting this legislation, and supporting transgender people in the life of the church and in secular society really has to do with the living out of my baptismal covenant," Shaw told the Globe.
The bill would cover transgender victims of bias crimes and ban discrimination based on gender identity in the areas of housing, education, and public accommodation, among others. The Globe noted that thirteen states have put similar laws on their books.
But it seemed for a time that Massachusetts might not join those states in the near future. State Rep. Carl Sciortino recollected how the bill had attracted strong legislative support from lawmakers in both the state house and the state senate -- but no action was taken to advance the bill after a candidate for the governor’s office, Charles Baker, chose the bill as a means of making political hay.
Calling it the "bathroom bill," Baker played on fears that such a bill could give sex criminals the opportunity to infiltrate women’s restrooms and prey on underage girls and adult women alike.
Other anti-gay individuals and organizations took up the theme, with the Massachusetts Family Institute organizing a lobby day on April 8, 2010, to protest the bill. The "biology-based bathrooms" argument was prevalent at the lobby day, reported Bay Windows in an April 25, 2010, article.
"[F]ormer Fall River school superintendent Joseph Martins addressed attendees and painted a nightmarish scenario in which school officials would be powerless to stop hordes of teenage boys from charging into the girls’ locker rooms to get a peek at their female classmates," the Bay Windows article reported.
"It is difficult enough to control student behavior, prevent discrimination of all students, and ensure the safety of all students without having to distinguish between truth and a lie of some student claiming, at will, a gender-related identity, appearance, expression or behavior other than that assigned sex at birth, simply to gain access to the opposite-at-birth-sex locker-rooms, showers, or lavatory facilities," Martins declared.
"Nothing in House Bill 1728 protects students using their birth-sex locker-rooms, showers, and lavatory facilities that may be in various stages of undress from unwanted eyeing or so-called, on purpose ’unintended’ body touching by students of the opposite sex," Martins went on to assert.
The Massachusetts Family Institute also issued warnings to state lawmakers that depicted the bill as practically being an invitation to sex criminals, Bay Windows reported.
"Due to this wording, any man can legally gain access to facilities reserved for women and girls simply by indicating, verbally or non-verbally, that he inwardly feels female at the moment," an MFI-written brief stated. "There is no way to distinguish between someone suffering from ’Gender Identity Disorder’ and a sexual predator looking to exploit this law. This is the dangerous reality of this bill."
The Globe article noted that following the midterm elections, the bill lost 35 supporters who did not run for re-election, or who were defeated at the polls. However, the bill reportedly still enjoys a great deal of support among the state’s legislators; moreover, the article said, 135 clerics support the measure.
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